Christmas has many symbols, but one of the most powerful is that of light. We put lights on our Christmas trees, lights on our homes, and lights on our tables. The lights often represent the star that led the way to the baby and then the child Jesus for those who knew what the star meant.
The light of Christ is another way for us to know how to follow Jesus, to find Him, and to recognize His divinity. LDS.org describes the light of Christ in this way:
“The Light of Christ is the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things. The Light of Christ influences people for good and prepares them to receive the Holy Ghost. One manifestation of the Light of Christ is what we call a conscience.”
Every person is given the Light of Christ from birth. Mormons believe we lived with God before we were born and there our spirits learned the Gospel and built a relationship with God. When it came time to leave that pre-mortal life and come to earth, we were told we would forget what we had learned there, but that we would have an opportunity to relearn the gospel. Jesus Christ offered to come to earth as our Savior, to redeem us from our sins and to break the bands of death so we could all be saved.
We had agency, the right to choose, even before our birth. One third of the spirits in Heaven chose not to accept the plan God had for us and rejected Jesus’ offer to be our Savior. They were not permitted to come to earth to gain bodies or families and they were exempt from the atonement of Jesus Christ. Everyone else came to earth and is covered by the Atonement.
Because we would not remember what we had experienced and learned in Heaven, we needed some way to recognize truth when we heard it. God sent here with each of us the Light of Christ to do this. We had the Light of Christ in Heaven before we were born and we would continue to have it after our death. It is an eternal part of us, a comforting continuity in our eternal lives. It helps us to know right from wrong and to recognize truth when it’s presented. Even those who did not hear the gospel in their mortal lives would know when they did hear something that was true and would have an understanding of morality, which they could then accept or reject. Of course, although we have the agency to decide what to do, we cannot avoid the consequences of those choices.
Many of us have had the experience of being in a situation and feeling uneasy, as though we were doing something wrong or were perhaps in danger. Some of us respond to that prompting and change our path. Often we call this our conscience, but it is really the Light of Christ guiding us.
Others choose to ignore those promptings. Over time, as they continue to reject the help offered and immerse themselves more and more in inappropriate behavior, their spiritual senses are dimmed. Our ability to be guided by the Light of Christ is dependent on our willingness to obey the promptings and our determination to flee situations we are warned can be dangerous for us. If we insist on continuing, soon we are on our own and no longer feel that light. Walking in darkness is a lonely and scary way to live life and it can lead to sadness, powerful trials, and danger. Although many trials come even to the most obedient and through no fault of the sufferer, others are caused by our own sins or those of others who do things that affect us.
A person who is trying to figure out which church to join can call on the Light of Christ to help with the choice. When I first started looking at churches, I tried to do the whole search intellectually. I had my trusty notebook with carefully drawn columns where I could categorize doctrines from each religion by what I thought was true, what I thought was false and what I wasn’t sure about. I thought that somehow this would allow me to choose a church.
The problem, of course, is that I was only guessing at what was true. I didn’t actually know. Reading the Bible wasn’t always helpful because sometimes verses seemed to contradict each other. It taught me the basics of the Savior’s church, but not specifically how to identify its modern counterpart.
What I needed was for God to tell me what was true. The only way to do that was to rely on the Light of Christ. When I first felt it, at age ten, I didn’t know what it was. I knew only that it was a glorious feeling I longed to experience again. Over time, I began to identify it as being related to religion, and most often with one particular religion. Still, when I began to study that religion—the Mormon religion—I didn’t really understand what I was feeling and how to use it.
In time, a friend taught me that it was the Light of Christ and that when this peaceful, loving feeling came to me it was the Light of Christ testifying to me that what I was hearing or experiencing was from God. Satan cannot deliver feelings of true peace, making it clear what comes from God and what does not.
God promised us that He would send us wisdom if we asked for it. (See James 1:5 in the Bible.) He always keeps His promise and He is capable of giving us the answer in a way we can recognize.
Once I learned to go to God in prayer and to wait quietly for the answers, I was able to begin identifying what was true. I learned to study the topic, come to an informed decision, and then to pray for confirmation. A peaceful feeling told me I was on the right track, and a confused or uneasy feeling meant I needed to start over. Answers didn’t come instantly all the time. Sometimes they took hours, days, or even months. When I didn’t get an immediate answer, I continued to study and learn. When I knew enough, I received my answers. Often, God wanted me to understand other issues that provided background before I could understand the question I was asking. For instance, I did not understand why Mormon women couldn’t hold the priesthood, but when I tried to pray about it, I felt I was not yet ready to receive the answer. First, I needed to understand the priesthood itself, the roles of men and women, and God’s plans for His children. Once I had testimonies of those things, I was able to pray for and receive an answer to my initial question. (You probably experience the same thing in secular things you want to learn. Often there are concepts you must grasp before you can answer your question.)
The Light of Christ is not the same thing as the Holy Ghost. While everyone has the Light of Christ, the Holy Ghost comes to those who have chosen to follow in God’s path. Mormons believe there are three personages—God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost, also known as the Holy Spirit, does not have a body.
When Jesus was nearing His death, He promised the apostles He would send them a comforter. This comforter was the Holy Ghost. When a Mormon child is baptized at age eight or a convert is baptized at any age after age eight, they are then confirmed members of the Mormon Church and are invited to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift can stay with them all day every day as long as they live in a way that is morally right. The Holy Ghost cannot be where wickedness is, so once prompted to leave a situation or to stop an action, the member must do so or the Holy Ghost will flee, leaving him to cope with the situation on his own. The Holy Ghost provides safety, truth, and comfort in all of life’s situations.
The Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ do not take away our God-given right to choose for ourselves how to live. They only teach us how God wants us to live. From there, we must decide whether to reject or accept its teachings and the consequences will develop naturally from our choice. Remember, we don’t get to choose the consequences either for ourselves or for others who are affected by our choices.
Every soul, no matter who or where or when, is a child of God. Our responsibility is to teach that “there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8).
President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke of the teachings of the Holy Ghost and of the Spirit of Christ: “Every man can receive a manifestation of the Holy Ghost, even when he is out of the Church, if he is earnestly seeking for the light and for the truth. The Holy Ghost will come and give the man the testimony he is seeking, and then withdraw; and the man does not have a claim upon another visit or constant visits and manifestations from him. He may have the constant guidance of that other Spirit, the Spirit of Christ.”3
The Spirit of Christ is always there. It never leaves. It cannot leave.
Everyone everywhere already has the Spirit of Christ, and while the Spirit of the Holy Ghost can visit anyone, the gift of the Holy Ghost is obtained “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (A of F 1:3), by submitting to “baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; [and the] laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” (A of F 1:4). It is not automatically present like the Spirit of Christ is present. This gift must be conferred by one holding authority (see A of F 1:5).
(Boyd K. Packer, “The Light of Christ”, Liahona, Apr. 2005, 8.
Watch this short video to find out how the Light of Christ impacted the lives of three people desperate to find peace and happiness in their lives.
About Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.