Filthy Rags

A few months after I got baptized into the LDS church, I had a good Protestant friend of mine invite me to go on this backpacking trip with him and his parents. I thought nothing of it, I hung out at their house many times over the years. My friend and his parents were always doing outdoor adventures. We start off at a meadow early, then climb up this mountain, then scramble along this ridge until we come to the trail to this lake. By the time we get there, it is late in the evening, and we set up camp.

Things are going well, that is until by friend’s mom looks at me and says “Jim, I want to talk to you about your salvation”. She drags this Bible out of her backpack and proceeds to tell me how my new faith is wrong. By planned circumstance, I guess you could say she had a captive audience. At the time, being brand new in the church, I had very little knowledge about the Bible or how to refute what they were telling me.

She tells me that in my faith, I am trying to work out my own salvation, rather than having faith and relying on Christ. Being a brand new Mormon, I had no way to explain or refute the scriptures she was showing me. All I knew is I was attempting to follow Christ’s example, and yet was falling short.

The Dilemma

What she was saying bothered me, we are supposed to be saved by grace through faith in Christ, and nothing we do will help. Why then, are we taught to go to church, to be honest, to….. do all these works? Nevertheless, I charged ahead in my new religion.

The common mistaken analogy is that we do what we can to work out our salvation, and then Christ makes up the rest. Makes sense, that is until you read Romans Chapter 3 and understand that we ALL come short of the glory of God. No matter what we do, we cannot do anything to earn our way into heaven. Are we then stuck? Hardly, Christ is there to lift us out. Why then, should we even try? We will continue to fall short, no matter how hard we try.

Piano Lessons

We used to have our younger daughter taking piano lessons. We paid this neighbor of ours to give these weekly lessons. During the week, my daughter was supposed to practice. She got pretty good at recognizing the notes, but made mistakes often, and she was in no way prepared to do a recital in Carnegie Hall. But, she practiced (sometimes). Her practice in no way paid the piano teacher the money for her time, neither did it pay us the money back. But what practicing did is show appreciation for this gift. Also, it helped to prepare her for playing the piano in the future. Maybe in the future she will take it back up.

Similarly, we are given the gift of salvation from Christ. He has made the payment for us. Whether we decide to show appreciation by “practicing” heaven, that is up to us. And, as we do so, we prepare ourselves for the kingdom.

Would Heaven Be Heaven to Some?

I have a friend from the days before I went to church. He smokes dope, has been in and out of jail, and is very rough around the edges. A couple years back, we invited him over. While there, I could tell he felt uncomfortable. At home, we have various religious pictures hung up. My kids are rowdy, but very clean in their speech and mannerisms. He felt out of place, and soon left. I remember feeling that way when I was a kid before I was in church, visiting some people who were very religious. I did not feel comfortable there, like I was some stain on the mattress.

Early on after I was baptized, I imagined getting to the pearly gates like being in some interview, nervously biting my fingernails to see if I can get in or not while Jesus is pouring over my book of life. However, the older I get, I see it more as an unrepentant sinner standing at the pearly gates saying, “Get me out of here! I do not feel comfortable here, please put me somewhere where I can be at peace with myself.” All the while, Christ will be beckoning us into his kingdom.

John 14:2 states, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” I believe God will put us in a place where we will be most comfortable with ourselves. If we feel worthy to be in the presence of God, it will be so. If not, it will be so. Just as my 9 year old daughter would feel uncomfortable performing at Carnegie Hall, we would feel uncomfortable in God’s presence. In a sense, we will be able to determine what mansion in the Kingdom of Heaven we will go, even if we do not pay the price of admission.

Where does that leave us?

In this life, nobody is worthy to be in God’s presence. However, through the gift the Christ has given, we can be washed of our uncleanliness in order to become worthy. In return, Christ asks us to “Come Follow Me”. Not because we are to earn our own salvation. We are not going to pay God the Father back for our misdeeds, nor are we going to pay Christ back for paying for our sins. However, like my daughter shows appreciation to us by practicing her little heart out, we show appreciation to our Savior by living a clean life. And in doing so, helps prepare us to feel worthy to be in the presence of God so that Heaven will in fact, be Heaven.

Author: Jim Johnson

As a man in his early 40's, I grew up on a dairy farm in an irreligious home. Disgusted with the choice of women out there, I looked into religion to find a worthwhile mate. At 23, I joined the LDS (Mormon) faith, married, became a civil engineer, and now have six children. My favorite things are puppies, long walks on the beach, and the color blue (not really).