Several years ago I wrote an article about the gift of the Holy Ghost. While preparing to repost it I reread it and had some insights I hadn’t seen before. This article takes off from where that one left off and explores the gift of the Holy Ghost and how it relates to grace.
The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by His atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.
Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the Fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). It is truly the grace of Jesus Christ that makes salvation possible. [Bold added for emphasis.]
The Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost is sent from our Father to all of His children. His role is to teach them as much as their faith will allow him to teach them. That teaching is meant to lead them to the gospel of Christ. If they are truly humble and seeking for truth, his influence will help them accept the true gospel when they find it or it is presented to them. Remember, those without the gift of the Holy Ghost are no different than those who possess that gift in that we are only susceptible to his influence when we are humble and seeking. The Holy Ghost can strive with us all day long, but will accomplish little if we are resistant to what he tries to teach us. Those who have received the gift of his companionship through baptism and confirmation by one holding God’s priesthood authority have the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, but that is no guarantee that we will listen. Only we can make that determination.
Those without the gift of the Holy Ghost can be enlightened, guided, and blessed by his companionship. They can recognize his influence, and can accomplish much good because of his presence in their life. But they are not entitled to his constant companionship. Nor are they able to repent in such a way as to obtain eternal life. Those are two very big differences between those who have received the gift through the priesthood authority, and those who have not.
Note that the definition of grace says that it is “through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means.” Those who do not have the gift of the Holy Ghost are “left to their own means” most of the time. Without the gift of the Holy Ghost they can become better people, but lack the means necessary to become celestial people. This is why we need the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is why making and keeping covenants, like baptism, is so important to anyone whose goal is to return to God one day.
So far we have covered only the most basic part of the gift of the Holy Ghost. As the teacher and revealer of all truth, he is invaluable in our quest to return to our heavenly home. But that is only the first part of what he does. The Spirit is also the instrument of grace. It is through the Holy Ghost that we receive Christ’s redemptive and saving grace. More on that later.
5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that things shall be unto thee according to thy , for thou shalt ask that which is contrary to my will.
2 And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do , but to do good continually.7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are through faith on his name; therefore, ye are of him and have become his and his daughters.
What grace is not
So how you see grace depends on how you define it. It was promised to us, but that doesn’t make it a payment we are owed. It is still a divine gift.
Many in the Christian world define grace as a universal payment for sin, thus freeing them from the need to repent. Once we either spiritually or intellectually accept Christ’s gift, his atonement, his grace saves us from damnation. To many, this is a universal gift that takes only stating that we accept it for it to become operational in our lives. This is, of course, not true. Another part of the accepted definition of grace is that “grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient.” This is why we turn to 2 Nephi 25:23. It reminds us that grace may be freely offered, but it isn’t a “freebie.” It requires work in order to use it. This is why the scripture tells us that we are saved by grace, after all we can do.
Grace is not an add-on that fills the gap between performance on our part and where we need to be. It is very tempting to treat all gospel concepts like we treat most academic subjects. We tend to separate everything out in to component parts, like laying out ingredients for a recipe, as though all things are done by picking and choosing the right ingredient to use next. Expecting to use grace by itself is like trying to bake a cake without first mixing the necessary ingredients in the right order and in the prescribed manner.
Grace is a principle that works with our works. It also works with the atonement, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the priesthood. We cannot address grace as a stand alone object, for without all these other parts we are literally left with just a single ingredient, not the desired whole.
Combining the Spirit, grace, and works
25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be ; yea, , from their carnal and state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his and daughters;
26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in inherit the kingdom of God.
Key: We need to become new creatures.
4 I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their , whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their , whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is ; but he that good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of .
Key: We will be given our heart’s desire, whether to eternal life or eternal death.
24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye , that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
9 Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a for the of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did my whole soul unto God for them.
12 And it came to pass that after I had and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy , because of thy faith.
13 And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him—that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be , and the Lamanites should not be , that the Lord God would a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be unto salvation.
Key: The granting of our heart’s desire is based on our faith, and progresses incrementally outward from selfish desires to godly desires.
6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath them, should and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
14 But behold, the Jews were a people; and they the words of , and the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their , which came by looking beyond the , they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may .
2 O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are before thee; because of the our have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.
12 Having gone according to their own carnal wills and desires; having never called upon the Lord while the arms of mercy were extended towards them; for the arms of mercy were extended towards them, and they would ; they being warned of their iniquities and yet they would not depart from them; and they were commanded to repent and yet they would not repent.
Our relationship with God
The problem lies in the process of becoming like God. For those who want to return to the celestial realm, we have a lot of changing that needs to be affected before we are prepared to enter and present ourselves before the throne of God with joy. I hope it is already clear that we cannot make the needed changes by ourselves. If we were able to repent and improve sufficient to become holy and perfect then there would be no need for a Savior.
27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their . I unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my is sufficient for all men that themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make things become strong unto them.
1 We cannot progress with ease. We lose all desire for change when we are comfortable. Because this is our nature, God has given us weaknesses to overcome, because He knows which weaknesses will produce the final product we each need to be perfected in Christ. So each of us has our own set of trials and hardships in this life, all of which are designed to humble us and bring us to Christ so we can be made strong through his Atoning sacrifice and his gift of grace.
2 God does not make weak things become strong without our elbow grease. That change requires our participation. Don’t get me wrong. We cannot do it alone. We need the gift of the Holy Ghost, the atonement, and Christ’s grace for it to happen. But because all three ingredients are plentifully available to us, it can happen.
The gift of the Holy Ghost
The Spirit also has the ability (and I think this is his most underrated ability by far) to grant unto us the changes we have asked for and worked for. This is the application of Christ’s grace. This is how it is done.
Application of grace
Grace is not a standalone spiritual ingredient. It requires other things in order to work. It’s full power is generated from the atonement of Christ, and is activated by our own works, and the covenants we made at baptism through the gift of the Holy Ghost. For example, my wife and I were having problems early on in our marriage. Like most couples, we were learning to get along and to appreciate each other better.
I remember standing on the opposite side of the bed from her and thinking to myself that this one thing was going to be more than I could change on my own. I realized, probably for the first time in my life, I was going to have to take this to the Lord, for this was going to require that my heart be changed. My attitude was bad, and I simply couldn’t fix it by myself.
I prayed for several months to have this irritant removed from my heart that I might love my wife more purely, and more generously. I knew there was nothing wrong with her. It was me that needed changing. Then one day we were having another discussion, amazingly again on opposite sides of the bed, and I suddenly realized that what was happening in the discussion between us that drove me so nuts a few months before, no longer bothered me. I realized that my love for my wife was completely unimpeded by what had hampered my love before. My heart had been changed, and I hadn’t even noticed it happening.
This was Christ’s grace in action. I was exercising faith in him and his atoning sacrifice that with his help I could change – my heart could be changed. I sought for the Spirit to guide me and teach me what I needed to know and do for this change to take place, and over time it did. This is grace.
Notice that nothing stood alone. Grace did not do everything. My work did not do everything. The Holy Ghost did not do everything. All the parts were required for grace to do its job. I had to exercise my faith and pray, work, and plead for help. Christ’s payment for my sins opened the door and created the path for the Spirit to step in and begin to change my heart and open my mind to better things. My desires changed. I no longer have the need to be irritated over what bothered me before. My capacity to love has increased incrementally.
Did I deserve that blessing? Did I earn that blessing? Was it a gift? I would argue that the answer to all of these questions is yes. Grace is activated by the Spirit in our lives. The Holy Ghost affects the changes we need to have made to bring us closer to the perfection of Christ. It happens one small step at a time. And I could not have had the blessing of that change had I not also been exercising my faith in the power of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
This is what grace is to me. It is the process by which, by our consent, and our petitioning the Lord in faith, He is able to use the Holy Ghost to enable us to become more than what we can achieve on our own. This growth, brought about by the atonement of Christ, is the definition of grace. This is the recipe for creating a celestial person or people. This is how we become born again as new creatures in Christ.