Any truly great metaphor is worthy of at least two lessons. And so I begin this post where I began the last one:
I used to be a great dancer! That is until my wife showed me just how bad I really was. Or perhaps better put until she showed me just how much I had to learn – or relearn as the case may be.
And so I did. With her as an example of the skill with which I could dance I signed up for dance lessons. And I learned A LOT! I had to humble myself – A LOT – and really work at it. I had to practice – A LOT – sometimes just to make the smallest of improvements or to figure out what seemed to be the simplest of steps. I had to recognize I didn’t know everything and acknowledge to myself that these people – the instructors and people I would dance with – had a lot to teach me. This proved harder than I expected. Yet through it all my wife was a measuring stick for how far I had come and how far I had yet to go.
I know. I know. “Why didn’t you just call her a ruler?” It is true that a ruler is a type of measuring stick, but a measuring stick has a different purpose than a ruler does. A ruler has a specific length defined by a system of measurement, such as one foot in the imperial system or one meter in the metric system. Each ruler has equidistant markings defined by the given measurement system to help us determine the length of an object or distance between two points. These are arbitrary systems of measurement defined by mankind to be the current standard. There have been numerous measurement systems in the millennia of mankind’s history, each being succeeded by a better or more precise one (or perhaps just one belonging to a conquering nation), and the fact that most rulers in the US today use both metric and imperial systems shows just how arbitrary our measurement standards can truly be.
Measuring sticks, by comparison, exist independent of any unit of measure. In fact, they are the unit of measure. They can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be made of any material or can be any object. But whatever they are or however long they may be, their primary function is comparison: comparing whether another object or distance matches or measures up to a required length.
I don’t wish to discredit the need for or importance of rulers. I’m sure it was an argument over the length of one man’s forearm compared with another man’s forearm in a neighborly land boundary dispute which brought about our need for standardized units of measure. But the intent for which we use rulers is very different from that for which we use measuring sticks. Rulers are primarily used to quantify an object, while measuring sticks are meant to qualify it. Rulers answer the question “How long is it?” while measuring sticks answer the question, “Is it long enough?”
Measuring Stick Or Ruler
Contrary to popular belief the gospel of Jesus Christ is more like a measuring stick than a ruler, even though it sometimes seems that much of Christianity uses it more like a ruler than a measuring stick. We sometimes are more like the Jews in Christ’s day than Jesus Himself – worrying more about the quantity and type of good works a person is doing than the quality of goodness that person possesses as a result of those good works. And according to Jesus those Jews who were dismissing others as sinners deemed as unfit for the kingdom were in a far worse state than the individuals they were dismissing (see also Luke 7:36-50, Matthew 23, Luke 11:37-52, Matthew 5:20).
I must admit it is very easy for us to think this way. The scriptures are full of passages which make it sound that we need to quantify for heaven. That’s right! Sometimes the scriptures lead us to believe that we must quantify for heaven. For example:
“For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us;” (Alma 12:14)
“But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
“Who will render to every man according to his deeds.” (Romans 2:5-6)
Each of these passages make it clear: the acts of our lives – what we do, say, and think – will be counted and calculated up to see whether we can be let into God’s kingdom. Hence we “quantify for heaven.”
Here’s another one:
“And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me.
“And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.” (Mosiah 3:23-24)
When reading this passage we tend to automatically connect the word “they” in the last two phrases with “his works,” in the one preceding them. This connection qualifies the works as good or evil, not the man. The man only makes it to heaven if after all his works are tallied up the result is having more good works than evil. Thus the man quantifies as good and is allowed to enter heaven.
What if we change which phrase the word “they” is connected with? What if it refers back to “every man” instead of “his works?” We are now qualifying the person rather than the works and the entire meaning of the passage changes. We come then to understand that it is the state of goodness of a man when compared back to the words of God given to King Benjamin that is brought to judgement rather than the sum total of good and bad works that man has done. In other words it is the condition of our heart and soul as a result of our works that will be judged, not just the collection of thoughts, words, and deeds from our lives. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said it this way:
“[T]he Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” (The Challenge To Become, General Conference October 2000)
To Rule Instead of Measure
So if it is so much more important for us to qualify for God’s kingdom than it is to quantify for it, why is it that so many of us focus so much on quantifying instead of qualifying? When and where did this mentality begin? I believe it has always been in mankind’s nature to do so because quantifying is so much easier a task than qualifying and we are prone to looking for the easiest, fastest, and laziest ways out. It is part of the weakness in man spoken of by the Savior in Ether 12:27, and perhaps the largest contributing factor in God’s decision to introduce a law at the time when He redeemed Israel from Egypt.
When Jehovah gave the law to Moses He gave it to a people who couldn’t live under a law governing what they were supposed to be. They were so focused on their temporal existence that they couldn’t last even a few days without Moses before abandoning the principles he was already trying to get them to live and turning back to the idol worship of Egypt (enter the golden calf in Exodus 32). So instead He gave them a temporal law – a law spelling out for them exactly what to do and what not to do. Thus entered the law which quantified the process for God’s people to enter His kingdom and which became the ultimate right of passage for generations and millennia to come.
But since we do not quantify for heaven a temporal law is insufficient to get us there. Because we need to qualify to live in God’s presence we need a spiritual law to show us how, one that governs who we are not just what we do. That was the entire mission and message of Jesus Christ – to qualify us for God’s kingdom through His atonement and show us how the law of Moses was meant to prepare us to be governed by the spiritual law He would give. He came to teach a lost and wayward people that the purpose behind giving the law was not to quantify us for heaven, but that by living the law and keeping the commandments we could then hope to begin to qualify for it.
By the time of Christ’s ministry it had become impossible to use the law for any other purpose than quantifying mankind for heaven. The ecclesiastical leaders of the Jews had become so adept at counting up people’s works – even down to the last step – that there was no hope of using it to show people how to begin qualifying for God’s kingdom. The law was so distorted from what it was when it was originally given that it was no longer useful as a measuring stick – it could only be used as a ruler. And so the Lord spent His ministry – among other things – preparing us to stop thinking in terms of quantifying and begin thinking in terms of qualifying. One illustration of this is the following statement:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
“And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
With this statement Jesus is teaching us that amassing large amounts of good deeds – even if we think we are doing them in God’s name and for His glory – does not necessarily open the gates of heaven for us. The Savior doesn’t care about them as much as we think He does. What He does care about and what does contribute to getting those gates to open is whether or not we have come to know Him and His Father in the process of doing them and whether or not in so doing we have become individuals who willingly and with all our devotion do all They ask us to do. It is only by coming to know Them that we come to understand Their will and whether or not our actions fit into it. This knowledge then requires us to let go of our own will in order to do Theirs and allow Them to change our hearts and who we are to be more receptive to Them. Only by becoming people who hear Their voices and willingly follow Their instructions will we be found acceptable to enter into God’s kingdom.
Thus we see that we cannot actually quantify for heaven. It is an Intelligent Being who stands at the gates to judge and He is not swayed by a long or impressive resume of things we have done to quantify. He knows our hearts and He knows whether our deeds have made us into beings that qualify for entrance there.
From Old To New
Redirecting our attention to focus on what we are becoming instead of what we are doing required a dramatic change to the thinking, practices, doctrine, and culture of Jesus’ day, and because the leaders of the Jews were so steeped in the superiority of the law and their own abidance of it He could not trust them to keep His doctrine pure. Remember it was they who accused Him of breaking the Sabbath simply because He healed people during it (an act in and of itself intended to challenge the then cultural norms and help us focus on what really matters in our course back to God). He knew that if He entrusted the priests and rabbis of His day with the new law that it wouldn’t take long before the new law looked a whole lot like the old one – and we need only look as far as the book of Romans to see how easily that could happen. For this reason Jesus said:
“No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16-17)
Jesus’ teachings were a new way of understanding, perceiving, and living the law and the prophets – in short, the scriptures – one which undermined the constructs, authority, and power of those in high ranking positions among the Jews and which they met with great opposition and animosity. There was no way they could be trusted to embrace and teach His gospel. And so to preserve His doctrine for the generations to come between the one living at His time and the one living at His second coming, Jesus called twelve men with no theological training – men who were teachable because they were not educated in or rigidly fixed on adhering to a distorted law – to give the new law to and to be the leaders and apostles of His church after He departed from this earth. To them and His other disciples He said:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matthew 5:17; see also 3 Nephi 9, 3 Nephi 12:17-20, 3 Nephi 16)
Jesus was very clear and direct with them – the law of Moses was not given to be a permanent standard or final ends for getting us back to God. It was only meant to be a stepping stone and He had come to replace it. Not to destroy it – destroying it would mean that the law had had no point, that none of its principles played any role at all in getting us back to our Heavenly Father, and that there would be no more law governing us after Christ’s ministry. And that just simply isn’t true. If the law could be completely thrown away at the drop off a hat without any consequence over our eternal journey what was the point of Jehovah giving it at all?
The point is that its principles do have a place on our road back to God. So instead of destroying the law Jesus had come to fulfill it – to live the law perfectly and then complete its requirements over the human race by atoning for us; to give new doctrine and standards of living which include its principles, but completely replace its governance over our lives and religious practices with a standard that is more concerned with what we are becoming than with what we are doing. In this way the law (and the prophets) could remain a foundational and historical element on our journey back to God without us being required to rigidly follow all of its expectations, especially those which have no actual power over our salvation. By fulfilling the law He could then end the need for things such as animal sacrifice – which was only instituted to fix our minds on His great Redeeming Sacrifice anyway (see also 2 Nephi 11:4, Mosiah 13:31, Alma 5:15-16) – while at the same time still require adherence to commandments such as keeping the Sabbath day holy. The first act is dead to us because it has no power over the hearts of mankind to change us into celestial beings (see 2 Nephi 25:24-30), whereas the second commandment is all about us coming to know, communing with, and doing the will of Deity. Thus the law governing deeds and actions is dead – fulfilled by Christ – while its principles which govern the heart and state of existence of mankind’s souls are still in force.
The New Law – A Measuring Stick
Just because we no longer have a law governing and dictating every deed of our lives doesn’t mean there is no longer a law governing the expectations for entrance into God’s kingdom after this life. In fulfilling the old law Jesus replaced it with a new one, and this new law doesn’t make getting into heaven any easier than it was before. Instead it raises the bar from the lower temporal law to the higher spiritual one. It is a higher law because it governs who we are not just what we do, and as noted earlier it is therefore more difficult to live up to because we can no longer get away with “just . . . go[ing] through the motions.” This means that although we no longer have to count each and every step of our Sabbath day, because Jesus fulfilled and replaced the old law we must instead be aware of the affect those steps have on who we are and who we are becoming.
After His death and before His resurrection Jesus communicated this important truth to those living on what we now call the American continents. He said:
“Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.
“I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled.
“And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled.
“I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” (3 Nephi 9:15-20)
Jesus – the Messiah – came, lived, and died, and the scriptures concerning His coming – including the law which was intended to point us to that coming (the law of Moses) – were all fulfilled and it is no longer necessary, among other things, to perform animal sacrifices. They are no longer acceptable to God and have not been since Jesus fulfilled the law by His atonement. Yet in the place of the old law and old sacrifice He gave us a new law and new sacrifice – the law and sacrifice of the heart.
Jesus wants to help us become the “sons [and daughters] of God.” This is only possible when we learn, as discussed earlier, to do God’s will instead of our own. Remember that by doing God’s will we are transformed into beings who qualify for God’s kingdom. And so in order to help us qualify Jesus gave us a measuring stick to replace the ruler. He gave us a law requiring the sacrifice of our own hearts instead of the heart of someone or something else. In other words God requires the life altering sacrifice of our own will and desires in favor of His will and desires for us. By sacrificing these things with a broken heart and contrite spirit before Christ in order to become what He wants us to be we then begin to qualify for entrance into His kingdom.
The Eternal Measuring Stick
Jesus’ final act of fulfilling the law of Moses was His atonement. It is also the ultimate act by which He qualifies us for His Father’s kingdom. But to get to the atonement and be worthy to go through with it He first had to pass through life always doing His Father’s will and living the Mosaic law perfectly else He could not have been our Savior. In so doing He became our Exemplar – the perfect example of what it means to live both the temporal and the spiritual laws and which qualifies Him to call to us: “Come, follow me.”
In the day of judgement we will have to walk past the Savior in order to enter into God’s presence. But this is only the end of a long journey in which we come to the Father by Jesus. Jesus said, “[N]o man cometh to the Father but by me.” In order to walk by Jesus to enter into our Father’s presence we must spend the rest of our journey before coming to its end walking in the same way that He did. In other words we only come to the Father by first chosing to live after the manner of Jesus’ life and teachings, and then by literally walking by Him as we enter through the gates He has opened for us. Paul put it this way:
“[Jesus] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
In the eternal world – the kingdom of God – Jesus Christ is the standard unit of measure. He is “the way the truth and the life.” He is the measuring stick. He is our Measuring Stick. It is against Him we will be compared when we are judged to see if we are good or evil, to see if we qualify to enter into God’s kingdom. And it is He who determines whether we measure up to receive the full effects and blessings of His atonement. The day will come when we will be placed next to Him and compared with Him to see if we measure up to “the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
Even as I compared my own dancing skills to my wife’s so we will be compared to Jesus. And unlike the measuring systems of mankind or the judgements of others regarding our abilities, He is not an arbitrary unit of measure. “[H]e is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (See also Mormon 9:9) He is a Measuring Stick against which we can always and forever trust to compare ourselves to see how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.