In the last nine months since being home from my mission, I have learned the most valuable principle in the universe. That principle is the principle of honesty.
I learned this principle from my good friend Asa Laws. One night, after a particularly rough day for me, I stood at the bathroom sink sullenly brushing my teeth. Cheerfully and hopefully, as is customary with his demeanor, Asa stood there brushing his. We stood in silence. Discerning that something was amiss in my life, Asa leaned over, spit in his sink, and then turned to me and said, “You know what, Zach? I honestly believe that if everyone was fully and completely honest with themselves, all of our problems would be solved.” I ventured to comment on that statement, but couldn’t. I wasn’t in the mood.
To me, it was a nice sentiment, but that was all. I didn’t believe it. Why? Because I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know what it meant to be honest with myself, because honestly? I had never done it.
Now, I would like to testify to you of the truth that Asa taught me. If everyone were honest with themselves, they would be honest with God and their fellowmen, and they would be happy. I testify of this truth because I have come to understand the principle of honesty more fully in my life, and I have grown closer to my Savior. The fruits of love and peace are abundant in my life, and I would like to share them with all of you. I will discuss three things you need to know in order to find satisfaction with yourself, peace with others, and closeness to God: Truth, Honesty, and the Doctrine of Christ.
What is truth?
The Doctrine & Covenants (a book of scripture common in my faith), section 93 verse 24 defines truth in this way: “Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.”
The prophet Jacob, in the Book of Mormon, defines truth this way: “The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls” (Jacob 4:13).
The Savior, Jesus Christ, said: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
To summarize these scriptures, we learn that truth
– Is understanding things from all angles. Seeing things as they were, as they currently are, how they will inevitably be if left in the same condition, and how they could become.
– Truth is plain, simple, and straightforward. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Transparency and openness keep us clear of the negative side effects of secrecy.” Truth is simple enough for a child to believe and understand, but deep enough to be studied by the brightest intellectuals for millennia.
– Truth is made manifest, or shown freely, to all when needed.
– Truth edifies, blesses, and saves our souls.
– Truth sets us free.
Why do we need to understand what truth is? Because one of Christ’s names is The Truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He also told the people in the Book of Mormon, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect, even as I, or your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (3rd Nephi 12:48). If Christ’s name is Truth, and he has commanded us to be perfect like He is, we must become true as well.
This is where honesty comes in. Honesty is being true yourself. God has revealed that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He never breaks promises, and he is consistent in all of his attributes. He loves perfectly, He knows all, he has power to fulfill His words, and he pays no respect to specific individuals, but loves all with a perfect and equal love, and deals both justly and mercifully to the inhabitants of this world.
Being honest means knowing truth, understanding truth, and then as the Savior puts it, “Doing truth.”
The third chapter of John contains an account of Jesus Christ teaching the concept of doing truth powerfully to a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was, as the scriptures put it, “a man of the Pharisees…a ruler of the jews. The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”
To this, the Savior responded by teaching him the doctrine of Baptism. This man had come to Christ and confessed his belief that Christ was the Son of God. If he was true to his knowledge, and how he felt, he would have immediately accepted the invitation to baptism. Instead, he feigned ignorance. Christ told him that he had to be born again, and he asked, “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb?”
Without meaning any impropriety here, the Savior essentially responded, “Come on, Nick. You mean to tell me that you’re a ruler of the Jews and you don’t understand baptism? You know what I’m talking about here.”
He then explained to him the necessity of receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the grand importance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and God’s enduring love for Nicodemus as His son. Then, boldly, Christ taught about honesty. He said, “He that believeth on [me] is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”
What is evil? Those who sin and who know the truth – that they have either done wrong or know they should be doing the right thing, and then, for fear of punishment or repercussions from their actions, refuse to confess fully and entirely. The light is given to them, and they choose to reject it. Christ’s remarks were especially poignant to Nicodemus, who had chosen to visit Christ secretly, at night, in order to avoid being seen by his peers.
Christ then mercifully taught Nicodemus about goodness and truth. He explained that those who are honest, who walk in the light and live transparently, no matter what justice may require of them, are those who are good. Then, all that they have done can be used to bless humanity. If you have done good in secret, God will reward you openly. If you make your evils known, renounce them as evil, and submit yourself to the consequences of your actions, God takes your evils and turns them to good.
This is how Saul became Paul.
This is how Alma the Rebellious became Alma the Prophet.
This is the difference between Judas and Peter. Both denied the Savior, but one chose to kill himself, while the other chose to repent and became so great that the sick would lay in the streets with the hopes that the shadow of Peter would pass over them and make them whole.
What an incredible principle! If you trust that God will fulfill his promises to you, you will not keep your sins hidden. Rather, you will seek the help you need, you will confess, be healed, and then use your experiences with repentance to help others repent.
As Richard G. Scott put it, “The Lord sees weaknesses differently than he does rebellion.”
I testify to you that I know this now, and since learning this principle, I no longer walk in fear. I no longer hide my weaknesses. And now that I live in truth, I no longer believe the lie that I am worthless. I no longer disparage my strengths. I am comfortable with my strengths, and progressive with my weaknesses.
3. The Doctrine of Christ
Father in Heaven wants us to live transparently. That was one of the first lessons he taught on this earth. In Genesis, we learn that after Adam and Eve had partaken of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that they “Knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” Unique to Latter-day Saint theology, we believe that Lucifer is the one that told them to hide.
Obviously, God created them naked. It wasn’t an issue to Him. But Satan told them to hide. Seeking to cover themselves through their own efforts, Adam and Eve were only able to make aprons out of fig leaves – shoddy aprons at best. No matter how much they tried, they never would have been able to cover their bodies, or their sins, on their own.
Eventually, God and Christ descended to meet with them, as they had promised to do. “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, ‘Where art Thou?’ And he said, ‘I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.'”
To this the Lord asked who had told them that they were naked. Adam and Eve both responded that the serpent, or the devil, had beguiled them. Interestingly enough, the Lord did not get upset at Adam and Eve. Instead, in his wrath, he cursed the devil all of the days of his existence, and cast him out. Then, gently, he explained the consequences of their actions, and prescribed just punishments to keep them from living in eternal misery. He then promised them children. He also promised them a Savior, and asked Christ to make for them coats of skins to cover their nakedness. This is what the temple garment signifies.
We learn from this that on our own, our own works and our own efforts to cover our sins will never be sufficient. But when we humble ourselves and confess our sins to God and humbly accept His commandments, the Atonement of Christ covers our sin and our nakedness, and we are made whole again. Not only are we restored, but the Lord blesses us with family, with experience, with knowledge, and the grace necessary to endure hardships.
The way we access the Atonement of Christ is through His Gospel. Gospel literally means “good news.” The gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ is that this life has been given to us as a time of learning and growth. A time to learn truth, love truth, and ultimately live truth. The fundamental doctrines of this good news are faith in Jesus Christ’s ability to forgive and cover our sins, and repentance. Repentance is the process of learning to distinguish when you are living dishonestly or out of harmony with the principles of eternal happiness, finding the courage to freely and promptly admit your error, gaining the strength to live consistently, making covenants to live honestly, and then teaching others the truth. In exchange for this, God promises forgiveness, comfort, peace, talents, energy, knowledge, wisdom, and abilities beyond our natural ability to acquire. All of these blessings are administered through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Parley P. Pratt taught, “The gift of the Holy Ghost…quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. It develops beauty of person, form, and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”
This is the Doctrine of Christ. This is the good news. This is the gospel. This is the only way to find happiness. Repentance and faith are essential, and honesty is both a manifestation of faith and repentance. I testify because of my extremely difficult, but ultimately rewarding decision to walk in the path of truth, to confess my sins, and to reform and repent, that you will find healing and happiness as you live honestly. To anyone receiving this message, I invite you to be honest with yourself. Be honest to God. Be honest with others. Encourage others to do the same. Do not run from your problems, but meet them head on. As you do so, you will be richly blessed, and find a happiness and peace that you have never known before.