There is often a difference between “being right” and “being righteous.” Wanting to be right isn’t a bad thing. This desire can stem from a desire to do good, to be obedient, and to be sure that the path we are on will take us to the right destination. It suggests that we are not only seeking good, but that we have found it, or at least some part that is worth holding on to. It may also be evidence that our faith has resulted in a knowledge of good and evil.
Our actions after we have found something good are what determine our own goodness. It is then that we find whether we match the goodness we have discovered, or if we merely admire something that is better than ourselves. I often sorrow for my own weaknesses when I have discovered the latter. Yet if I didn’t recognize this truth, I could never get past “being right” to “become" righteous.
I believe the desire for security to be innate in all of us. We want to be happy. We want to be successful, and we want the happiness we have found to continue. In order to do so, it is natural to guard what we have and what we know. We settle. We are willing to accept the little bit of success we have gained at the risk of forgetting there is much more. So, here lies the heart of the problem, and the difference between being right and being righteous. I have to be willing to ask myself a difficult question. “Am I protecting myself, my success, and my possessions, or am I protecting my ability to gain more truth?” My answer to this question should clearly define where I feel safe and show where my insecurities are.
Settling for a lesser truth can be very risky. Consider a difficult court case where a defendant is being tried for a serious offense. It is difficult to know whether the person is innocent, guilty, or merely negligent without proper evidence. If a verdict is determined too quickly based on a single piece of evidence, the judgment may not be fair. We may want to find a person either guilty or innocent, hoping for black and white clarity, when in fact the person may be some of each. I find that my imperfections put me in this camp more often than I would like. Just because I am trying to do what is right doesn’t mean I am completely right. Understanding this valuable truth will help me to turn to a more complete source. Personalizing this trial of faith will help me to understand that I have to defend truth without being personally defensive. If my own interests get in the way of the truth I am seeking, I become blinded and I stop seeing clearly.
In the coasts of Caesarea Philippi during his Galilean ministry, Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus then told Peter he was blessed because he had received this witness from the Father. Immediately after, Jesus began to teach those who were with him of the things he had to do as the Christ and Savior of the World. He told them how he would suffer and be killed. Peter quickly began to rebuke him, telling Jesus that this wouldn’t happen. Jesus’ response to Peter is a little disturbing. “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Matthew 16:15-16, 22-23)
I feel for Peter. What a difficult thing to have just had a spiritual experience – to have born witness by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, to be told that the Church would be built upon the principles of revelation and priesthood keys, and that Peter himself would be given these as well as the sealing power to perform God’s work – and then to be told that you are Satan because you care not for the things that are God’s. I think if I had been in Peter’s shoes, I might have been a little confused and frightened. It would be easy to take the accusation personally without some degree of faith that Jesus was merely preparing Peter for something greater. Shortly after, Peter was given those keys as Moses, Elias, Elijah, and John the Baptist appeared to him on the mount of transfiguration. He continued to grow from grace to grace though he was not perfect. He learned how to see larger perspective through God’s eyes. He learned how to be trusted.
The struggle with self is perhaps the most difficult battle we will ever face. So much happens in the heart that goes unseen. Each of us places things that we treasure in our hearts. We make rooms for people who are important to us. We choose what we will think and how we will act by what we allow into our hearts. If we are selfish and self focused, we will savor the things of men rather than God. Yet if we enlarge our perspective so that our focus is on truth instead of our desires only, then self gets swallowed up in something greater. We become greater. Our outward beauty becomes a reflection of the change that takes place in our hearts. It demonstrates whether or not we have taken the Lord’s image into our own countenances.
Being swallowed up may sound like a negative thing, but this should not be compared to a hostile corporate takeover. Jesus invites us to come unto Him, so that we can follow Him and be with Him, He offers us a grand gift, to be a joint-heir of all that the Father has. He asks us to do what He has done. Offering ourselves up to be swallowed up in the will of the Lord is much like Jonah recognizing his mistakes, offering to be thrown off the ship only to be swallowed by the whale, and then be delivered safely. Had Jonah accepted this principle sooner, he could have swallowed his pride and been blessed instead of having to endure the stomach of a whale. Consider the sign of Jonah. (Matthew 16:4)
The prophet Abinadi foretold the difficult things Jesus would do during his ministry. Interestingly enough, it is the same thing that Jesus foretold to Peter. To King Noah he said, “And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. … Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.” (Mosiah 15:5-7) By yielding to the Holy Spirit and submitting our desires for sanctification and approval, we allow our will to be swallowed up in the will of the Father.
After Jesus chastened Peter, He taught him how to keep a clear perspective. He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) His disciples hadn’t seen him carry his own cross yet, but would according to his word. We may assume that they had seen others crucified along the roads of Jerusalem who had born their own cross before receiving their final sentence of death. In this symbolic act, if we take up our own cross, we may do something difficult that acknowledges the death of the natural man so that we can more properly follow the Savior. Jesus continues, “And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself of all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments.” (JST Matthew 16:26)
Jesus spake of His Cross and His deliverance as things that had already happened. He was obedient to the Father at every step. He also taught how we could follow him without having to make the same sacrifice, if we would just be willing to do so and then do whatever else He asks of us. The account of this story is recorded slightly different in three of the four gospels of the New Testament. Each one adds some insight to keeping a proper perspective.
In Matthew we read, “Break not my commandments for to save your lives; for whosoever will save his life in this world, shall lose it in the world to come.” (JST Matthew 16:27) Less dire than saving our lives is an attempt to save a mortgage, pay a bill, or provide for our wants and needs by breaking the sabbath or withholding our tithes and offerings from the Lord. If we are tempted to break a commandment to provide for a want, will we not be judged more harshly than if we were trying to save our lives? Still, the instruction remains not to break the commandments to save our lives. Rather than judging others for their decisions, I feel we are better off judging our own intent to see if we are trying to be right or trying to be righteous. If we are unsure, the Lord will help us to know if we ask in faith.
“For whosoever will save his life in this world, shall lose it in the world to come. And whosoever will lose his life in this world, for my sake shall find it in the world to come. Therefore, forsake the world, and save your souls….” (JST Matthew 16:27-29) Jesus’ words here have everything to do with priority. Do I give too much voice to my current needs that I forget about the tomorrow of eternity? Am I so focused on self that I lose my perspective? What am I willing to offer to make sure this does not happen? I find when I am not only willing to ask these questions, but answer them with positive action and choices, my perspective enlarges and I feel closer to the Holy Spirit.
In Mark we read, “For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; or whosever will save his life, shall be willing to lay it down for my sake; and if he is not willing to lay it down for my sake, he shall lose it.” (JST Mark 8:37) This account reinforces that our willingness is most important. We may not have to give up everything. In fact, it is Father who wishes to give us everything, but He can only do it if our hearts are set upon Him instead of the things He wishes to give us. We have to be willing to endure and not settle for anything less than Him.
“In Luke we read, “For whosoever will save his life, must be willing to lose it for my sake; and whosoever will be willing to lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and yet he receive him not whom God hath ordained, and he lose his own soul, and he himself be a castaway?” (JST Luke 9:24-25) Jesus enlarges this understanding beyond the will of the Father to include the words of those servants who have been called to teach us and chasten us. He does not ask that we give our lives in death, but to give our lives in service as we follow the Lord’s anointed. “Therefore deny yourselves of these, and be not ashamed of me.” (JST Mark 8:40)
On another occasion, Jesus taught this same principle and said, “Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:32-33) He then continued to tell them of some of the signs of the second coming, how there would be two and one would be taken and one left behind. If we wish to have oil in our lamps when the bridegroom returns for the wedding, we should be willing to put self aside and purify our hearts.
Jesus Christ has shown the way to eternal life with the Father. He has taught us the truth and has paid the price for our sins. As we partake the emblems of His atoning sacrifice, and swallow them to become part of us, we demonstrate a willingness to let him into our core, into our heart. By so doing we swallow our pride and offer up our hearts and our desires to Him. This offering is not so that we will give up, suppress, or deny those God given desires, appetites, and passions, but to allow him to purge “self” from them, making them more pure and more powerful. This sanctification of our hearts removes selfishness and makes room for Him whose love is as broad as the universe.
The hardest decisions I will ever make will take place in my heart. I tend to have more fear when I can only see the instant of now and what I have to give up. When I understand the larger picture, my judgment is clearer and I am more likely to swallow and offer willingly. Recognizing that God is the only complete source for truth and happiness helps me to turn my focus from self and keep it on Him.
This is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am solely responsible for the views expressed here.