There are many ideas in the gospel that are easy to misunderstand if not approached with Christ’s Atonement in context. I was recently reminded of one of those principles. Ever since the Lord helped me understand the difference between earning and qualifying for blessings, I have been extra careful in how I speak of where, how, and why blessings from God come the way they do.
To begin, I’ll start with a few scriptures and an everyday situation (in that order). The first scripture is found in King Benjamin’s speech.
20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you. (Mosiah 2:20-22)
Much of what the scriptures can teach us are in what they do not say—in this case, what verse 22 does not say. It doesn’t say, “therefore, because ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.” It says “if,” suggesting a simple matter of cause and effect. However, the cause for our receiving blessings is not our obedience, which is supported by King Benjamin’s words. It might be tempting to say this contradicts Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21, but even in those verses it does not use the word “because.” It says “…when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” [emphasis added]. I have learned to appreciate specific prepositions much more in the last year in the scriptures.
I believe that little word by could also be put “by means of”; and the if in Mosiah 2 could be accurately supplemented with because of Christ’s Atonement. I’ll explain using that everyday situation I said I would talk about.
Let’s say a man named Jimmy works hard all day at a Fortune 500 company and has to deal with hard things and annoying situations, but chooses to respond in a Christlike manner anyways. When his paycheck comes, he feels entitled to it because he did the work needed to earn it. It’s his hard-earned money, especially because he did it with a good attitude, right? I think King Benjamin would disagree, because he taught that everything we receive, no matter the means of our receiving it, comes from God. Everything in this world was given to us by God. But what about the big gifts, the ones we got with no effort on our own in this life, like our agency? Did we not earn those by choosing the Lord’s plan in the pre-earth life?
Not quite. This is where qualifying comes in. Speaking of our character, Jimmy, let’s say he has a secretary named Don. Don also works hard for his paycheck and also does it with a good attitude. Where Jimmy budgets well, prays with his wife about important purchases, and is a good steward over the money he gets from his job, Don feels that because he earned his paycheck, he alone should get to determine how he spends it. He doesn’t always make the best choices with his money, but he does still provide well enough for his family and doesn’t necessarily squander it all on useless things. Both Jimmy and Don worked the same for their money, but even though both “earned” their money, which of them is truly qualified as a person to receive it? Which of the two has grown into the gift of monetary income that God has blessed them with, as opposed to just following mankind’s laws enough to receive it? The answer, of course, is Jimmy.
I sometimes think of the blessings of eternity as a big coat that Christ gives us that is far, far too big for us. It’s something that He bought for us with His own life and atoning sacrifice. If anyone earned the blessings we receive, it was Him. He bought that coat of eventual exaltation — godhood — and gave it to us knowing that all of us have the potential to grow into it, and then He taught and showed us how to do it. He has bought and earned each of us one of those coats. He paid the entire price for it. If we don’t grow into it, if we don’t qualify for the blessings of eternity by having our very hearts and natures permanently changed to celestial condition, giving those blessings to us will only do more harm than good. If it wasn’t for Christ’s atoning sacrifice, agency would have been spiritually fatal for us, whether we had earned it or not, no matter how many good deeds we could rack up. The good we do assists us in the process, but it isn’t the same thing as qualifying.
Qualifying for something feels better than earning it, anyways. I remember buying a pair of sunglasses as a teenager and the guy at the cash register asked me, “Are they yours?” echoing the idea I had heard my brothers talk about that “fashion standards” dictate that everyone has one pair of shades that specifically suit them. That might be kind of a pointless idea from an eternal perspective, but the principle stands true for every blessing we receive from God, including even our agency.
Jesus’ Atonement was to pay the price even for that, because if we had been given that gift straight up, we would never have grown into it or qualified for it. It would have been the very reason we would have been lost and separated from God forever. We didn’t earn it and the only people who will qualify for unlimited use of agency forever are those who grow into it properly by using it correctly. To qualify is far better than to earn. We can’t actually earn anything in this life, and even if we could, if we haven’t qualified for it — if we haven’t become the kind of person who is a perfect fit for any blessing we receive — it won’t even be truly worth having anyways.
Christ earned every blessing He gives you. The only way to have true, lasting peace in this life and the next is to qualify for them. Does the “coat” of celestial, eternal life fit you? It’s shrink-proof and will never get smaller in the wash, so the only way to qualify for it is by growing into it.
Paul served a mission in the then Canada Toronto West Mission and is currently in the process of moving to St. George after living for ten years with his late wife, Lorraine, in Hamilton Ontario before her passing this year. He loves missionary work, piano, blogging (you can find his personal blog here!), deep spiritual conversations with friends, and hosting his podcast, Stepping Into Freedom. He can solve a 5x5x5 Rubik's cube, and puts a lot of time into gospel scholarship.