The Pathway Back Home
I just returned from a Stake Baptism*, mostly relieved that everything had gone well for the 3 children that were excited about this special day, but also with a new feeling of understanding and appreciation of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus made it very clear that children under the age of 8 do not need to be baptized or forgiven of sins. Until they reach the age of accountability, children do wrong things of course, but their wrongs are not counted as sins because Jesus’s atonement removes the curse of Adam’s transgression until they truly understand right from wrong. Once a child reaches the age of 8, however, there are certain requirements that they must satisfy, just like the rest of us, so that they can return to live with Heavenly Father again once their turn on earth is over.
Is life random?
I was born in Canada, to good parents. My life isn’t random- I didn’t just pop out of nowhere and begin to exist in that little town full of mosquitoes. I am a child of my mom and dad, whom I love very much, and I am also a child of my Heavenly Father- just as you are. You are my brother or sister, and so is every person of every climate, color and culture, in this entire world. There is a purpose to our existence, and a purpose to where and when we were born here on earth.
Why are we here, and where did we come from?
Our spirits, our souls, are much, much older than this short time we have lived on earth. The time we spend on earth is just a drop in a full bucket of our existence. We did a lot of living and learning before we came to earth, but we each had the need to have a physical body so we could keep growing and learning as Heavenly Father wants us to. Like a caterpillar, we needed to find our ‘wings’ so we could see and experience things we never could without a body.
We had to leave the presence of God, a pure and clean place, in order to come to earth. The plan is for us to go back to God, to our Home, when our turn on earth is complete. The problem, though, is that we have to be clean from sin before we can walk back through that door of Home. In order to ‘decontaminate’ from the sins of the earth, there are steps we have to take- it doesn’t happen automatically. Jesus did the hardest part- He made the universal atonement for all the sins of all the people in all the world. In order to take advantage of the atonement, though, we have to do our part. The greatest part of it? We have help! God gives us pretty clear directions as to what we have to do, and gives us a companion to keep us on the right road home.
The first two pieces of instruction are principles: First, have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Have faith that Jesus is our most trusted tour guide in this life, and in His making the atonement available to me and you. Having faith in Jesus means to examine His life carefully, and follow in His footsteps the very best we can.
I am grateful to be able to report that God prepares a way for each person to gain faith in Christ when we are ready. He knows each of us personally, and, when we are ready He gives us the Holy Ghost, who will testify of the truth. Faith is a gift from God that we are required to accept of our own free will and choice. Faith is the key to our return Home. I received my gift of faith when I was 25. Some people are 8 years old, some are 108. Each of us starts life on a different road, but when we are truly ready, God makes sure our road converges with the pathway home- but we still have to choose to get on that path and stick to it.
The second principle is repentance. We cannot return to our heavenly Home (‘Be saved’) with sins attached. The atonement that Christ made for us has a condition: sincere repentance. Christ paid for our sins, but we have our part to do before it applies to us.
I was baptized when I was 25 years old. Unlike a child, I had a lifetime of sins that weighed me down. Having faith in Jesus was the easy part for me. Repentance took a bit longer to accomplish, but coming up out of the water washed as white as snow was worth the effort.
Repenting means to recognize and confess sins, then quit the sin and repair injuries, if any, that have been done. Repenting is much more than just saying “I’m sorry”, it means to have a contrite spirit and a softened heart, and the firm determination to do what Christ wants us to do from that point forward. When we have honestly gone through the steps of repentance, the stains of sin are taken away through the atonement of Christ- and we receive peace.
The next two directions that God gives us are ordinances.
‘In the Church, an ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism,<and> confirmation…’ 1
The first saving ordinance is baptism. Being baptized under the proper priesthood authority is an essential part of returning to God. It is a covenant that we make with God. During our baptism, we make four promises to God:
- To take upon us the name of Christ
- To bear one another’s burdens that they might be light. In other words, to help and serve other people
- To stand as a witness of God at all times, in all things, and in all places, even until death.
- To obey the commandments of God and to serve Him the best we can. (Mosiah 18:8-10; D&C 18:21-25)
What makes our baptism a covenant is that in return for our promises, God makes promises to us:
- To accept us as a member of his Church
- To forgive our sins if we repent
- To give us the gift of the Holy Ghost
- To open the door into the kingdom of God in heaven at the end of the path of obedience (we call that enduring to the end).
I have a personal goal of 100% integrity, 100% of the time. It’s what I desire, but it’s hard to make the right choice every minute of every single day. Sometimes I really don’t know what the right choices are. Heavenly Father knows that. He also knows that I am often forgetful, I’m rebellious at times, and sometimes I just make mistakes. So, God gave me, and each person who is baptized, a special gift- the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost is given to us to be our companion, a voice to help us choose the right. As long as we are repentant and trying to do our best to follow Christ, the Holy Ghost will be with us to direct us on our journey home. If we listen to its guidance, it will lead us right up the path back to our heavenly Home, and accompany us all along the way.
The Plan of Salvation is God’s work. He loves you and me and every other one of His children, and what He wants for us is the same as that which we want for our own children- that we will grow and learn, and be successful and happy, not only today, but throughout eternity. He hasn’t left us alone to muddle through life- He has given us very clear directions and continues to give directions as long as we are willing to listen to Him. Faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost are the keys we need to stay on the right path, make the right choices, and experience joy along the way back to our Heavenly Home. I can’t wait to slam open that door and yell to my heavenly parents- “I’m home!”
I can testify that the difference between just ‘existing’ in life and growing and enjoying life to its fullest is faith in Jesus Christ. Having the peace that comes from knowing God and Jesus Christ are rooting for me every day, and lovingly making up for what I lack, makes life so much less stressful. That peace fills me with the joy of knowing who I am, where I came from and where I am going.
‘ We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.’ 4th article of Faith
* Stake baptism: a Stake is an organized group of LDS congregations in a certain geographical area. Stake baptisms are held on a monthly basis (or as needed) to baptize the children of members of the congregations who have turned 8 years old, the age of accountability for their sins. The children are baptized by immersion, often by their father or another member of their family who holds the Aaronic priesthood. Following the baptism of each child, they are given the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by members of the Melchizedek Priesthood.