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How Personal Revelation can bring me closer to the Savior

I appreciate my ward's Bishop in assigning topics in this new year and trying to connect all of them directly back to the Savior. It is my hope, through the help of the Holy Ghost, that this talk accomplishes that specific purpose in answering the following: How does Personal Revelation bring me/us close to the Savior?

I take as a text the following from the Bible Dictionary:

"The principle of gaining knowledge by revelation is the principle of salvation." (Bible Dictionary, Revelation)

Note how it says that gaining knowledge by revelation is THE principle of salvation. It doesn't say that it is one of the principles of salvation or even one of the few most important principles of salvation. To the layman Latter-Day Saint, if you ask them what the most important doctrine or principle is for our salvation they would probably almost universally answer "The Atonement of Jesus Christ."

I 100% agree with that answer and I think the scriptures, the words of prophets, and the Holy Ghost amply attest to that. 

How does one square, therefore, the idea that the Atonement wrought by Jesus Christ himself is the central doctrine of the gospel with the idea that revelation is THE principle of salvation?

I see this as an opportunity for discovery. Neal A. Maxwell once said that "Puzzlement is often the knob on the door of insight" (Endure it Well, April 1990 General Conference). Joseph Smith, on a similar note, once said that "by proving contraries, truth is made manifest" (HC 6:248).

For me, doing a word study in the scriptures is always helpful to get a better grasp on things. For example, we learn also from the Bible Dictionary that the word "revelation" in the New Testament is a translation, universally, from the Greek apok├ílypsis (1)(2). which literally means to uncover. In English, the word "revelation" comes from the Latin revelatio which literally means "taking away of the veil" (3). Back to the Greek meaning to uncover, interestingly, the Hebrew for atonement is Kippur which means to cover. So we literally have two words that at their core mean opposite things, but somehow are both central to our salvation.

Almost universally in the New Testament, apokalypsis or revelation is used in reference to revealing Christ (see 1 Peter 1:7 & 13, 4:13, Revelation 1:1, Ephesians 1:17, Galatians 1:12, 2 Corinthians 12:1 & 7, 1 Corinthians 1:7). This word is used about 18 times in the New Testament. One of those instances was in our Come Follow Me reading this past week when Simeon holds the Savior in the temple.

To reconcile both ideas isn't rocket science, but it appears to me that as we Come Unto Christ He will cover our sins (kippur) so that he may uncover Himself to us (apokalypsis); this is articulated well in the Book of Mormon when King Lamoni's father said, "I will give away all my sins to know [Christ]" (see Alma 22:15).

Bruce R. McConkie articulated the point this way:

"God [and Christ] stand revealed or [they] remain forever unknown." (4)

Thus revelation appears to be an indicator of how close we actually know the Savior and, possibly, how well His atonement is working in our lives. This is, perhaps, what the classic verse in John 17:3 means when it says:

"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."

With this in mind, namely, the idea that revelation is about divine relation and kinship with the Savior, the following statement from President Nelson takes on increased light:

"One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as President of the Church is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will... I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that “if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know... To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe! ... My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation." (5)

Why is the Lord so willing "to reveal His mind and will"? Why is he "giving away the spiritual secrets of the universe"?  

The answer is quite simple. Christ loves us. He wants to redeem us. "If you wish to go where God is, you must be like God, or possess the principles which God possesses" (JS, TPJS, p. 216-217). Revelation from the Holy Ghost is calculated to teach us about Jesus Christ and renovate our souls so that we can, eventually, "see Him as he is... that when He shall appear we shall be like him" (Moroni 7:48).

Having connected the line between revelation and the centrality of Jesus Christ, the following are some musings that have been helpful for me.

1. Revelation almost always comes in response to a question and after much seeking

Elder Holland has observed that "revelation almost always comes in response to a question" (6). To gain revelation, the Lord has revealed three words to convey the kind of effort he is looking for as he reveals Himself to us: ask, seek, and knock. Nephi, in the opposite direction, says, "If ye cannot understand [his words] it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock" (2 Nephi 32:4). 

In light of this, it is worth pointing out that the Hebrew and Greek used for "ask", "seek", and "knock" are used often in a temple setting in the scriptures. (7) The Bible Dictionary, in addition, says that many blessings and revelations God is already willing to grant are conditional on our asking for them. (8) One wonders, therefore, what could be learned or what blessings are awaiting us if we learned to ask, seek, and knock.

2. The personal revelation we receive need not always be about our personal matters

We are counseled to pray over our crops, fields, flocks, and household in Alma 34:18-26. I have had experiences in my life where I have shed many tears seeking revelation on a personal matter concerning my "crops, fields, flocks, and household". With this in mind, I recall an experience I had about 5-6 years ago.

After having gone through a divorce, there was a 4-year flat period in my life where not much was happening for me, and I felt I was stuck. In being stuck, I made it a matter of study to look at the kind of questions holy men in the scriptures asked and what kind of answers they would receive to those questions. Going through this study I noticed the words of Nephi & Abraham who both open up their books of scripture speaking about possessing great knowledge and desiring to possess even greater knowledge (see Abraham 1:2 & 1 Nephi 1:1). I noticed Nephi would frequently go to the Lord to ask Him about the interpretation of dreams and would boldly ask to see and hear things his father Lehi had. I noticed that Abraham saw the Lord because he "sought [him] earnestly" (see Abraham 2:12) and I also noticed his visions of creation and the cosmos were a result of questions and seeking. I noticed that these two men (along with many others in the scriptures) both sought this type of knowledge while at the same time getting revelations about how they should navigate their families through the treacherous wilderness. 

It was shortly after this realization that I was driving, and a classic early 2000s country song came to my remembrance that revealed this principle in an extremely unconventional way. It was Toby Keith's hit song "I Wanna Talk About Me". Instead of the song being about Toby Keith and his lover, the spirit repurposed the lyrics for me and it was like the Savior and Heavenly Parents talking to me. I take as a text the first verse and chorus of that song:

"We talk about your work

How your boss is a jerk

We talk about your church

And your head when it hurts

We talk about the troubles you been having with your brother

About your daddy and your mother

And your crazy ex-lover

We talk about your friends

And the places that you've been

We talk about your skin and the devils on your chin

The polish on your toes and the run in your hose

And God knows we're gonna talk about your clothes

You know talking about you makes me smile

But every once in a while

I wanna talk about me, wanna talk about I

Wanna talk about [myself], oh my me my

What I think, what I like, what I know

What I want, what I see

I like talking about you, you, you, you usually

But occasionally

I wanna talk about me"

The message was clear to me. Sometimes, we ought to approach prayer with the intent to be taught whatever the Lord wants to teach us. 

On an additional note, since that revelation, I have found that often a revelation received about the Father and the Son kills two birds with one stone. Usually, what they want to teach me about themselves, or eternity, has direct application to the personal troubles I experience in my life.

2. Revelation goes hand in hand with Sanctification

The older I get and the more I study the gospel of Jesus Christ I find that we too often compartmentalize gospel principles and doctrines. For example, these two quotes present to us what appear to be different functions of the Holy Ghost:

“No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” (10)

 "... the Holy Spirit [is] the medium through whom atoning grace is applied to remit sins and sanctify souls." (11)

If read closer, you see that receiving the Holy Ghost inevitably brings both revelations, remission of sins, and sanctification. In other words, a good measuring stick on if we are becoming more holy is if we are receiving revelation. If you desire to Come Unto Christ and become like him, receiving revelation is a good indication that process is taking place. Revelation also has a quickening ability that can only be described as quickening or sanctifying our natural capacities:

"The Lord could teach a man more in five minutes than volumes could contain." - Joseph Smith (Messenger and Advocate, III (June, 1837), pp. 513-514)

3. How does revelation about meeting and serving the needs of others fit into this?

Merging two thoughts from King Benjamin is instructive:

"... when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (see Mosiah 2:17)

"For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?" (see Mosiah 5:13)

In addition, this insight from President Marion G. Romney is precious: 

"Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made." (12)

In short, if we are to ask, seek, and knock to receive revelation, then one of the best signs we can give to heaven that we are seekers and we desire to know about eternal things like Nephi & Abraham, is to serve others who bear the image of Christ and our Heavenly Parents. To become a seeker after Christ requires us to serve God by serving others. And when we become a little wiser, we will understand that this service is not about practicing for eternity, but it is about participating in eternity and the mission of Christ now. It is about bringing to earth that which is in heaven. This is why many revelations some of the holiest among us receive is an insight into who or how to help someone in need.

4. The kind of revelation we can receive is wide

This point has been made clearly by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

"Personal revelation is not limited to gaining a testimony and knowing thereby that Jesus, through whom the gospel came, is Lord of all, nor is it limited to receiving guidance in our personal and family affairs -- although these are the most common examples of revelation among the lord's people. In truth and in verity, there is no limit to the revelations each member of the Church may receive. It is within the power of every person who has received the gift of the Holy Ghost to see visions, entertain angels, learn the deep and hidden mysteries of the kingdom, and even see the face of God. If all things operate by law, and they do; if God is no respecter of persons, and certainly he is perfectly impartial; if his course is one eternal round, never varying from age to age, and such truly is the case -- then all of the gifts and graces and revelations ever given to any prophet, seer, or revelator in any age will be given again to any soul who obeys the law entitling him so to receive." - Bruce R. McConkie (New Witness of the Witness of the Articles of Faith, Chpt 51 paragraphs 9-10, pg 489)

CONCLUSION

It is my hope that the spirit has witnessed to us how revelation is THE principle of salvation. It is my hope that we realize, in the words of President Nelson, that "the most important truth the Holy Ghost will ever witness to you is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God." (13) All revelation is to that end.

To close, Joseph Smith once wrote a poetic rendering of the revelation he received in D&C 76. Speaking as if he were Christ in this poem, he covers the gamut of, in President Nelson's words, how willing the Lord is to reveal his mind and will:

"For thus saith the Lord, in the spirit of truth,
I am merciful, gracious, and good unto those
That fear me, and live for the life that's to come:
My delight is to honour the Saints with repose,

That serve me in righteousness true to the end;
Eternal's their glory and great their reward.
I'll surely reveal all my myst'ries to them--
The great hidden myst'ries in my kingdom stor'd;

From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth,
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure and will, what the kingdom will do:
Eternity's wonders they truly shall know.

Great things of the future I'll show unto them,
Yea, things of the vast generations to rise;
For their wisdom and glory shall be very great,
And their pure understanding extend to the skies.

And the secrets and plans of my will I'll reveal,
The sanctifi'd pleasures when earth is renew'd;
What the eye hath not seen, nor the ear hath yet heard,
Nor the heart of the natural man ever view'd." (14)

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