True Discipleship: It’s DOING more than KNOWING

Jeff Spectorchrist, christianity, Mormon, Mormons, testimony, thought 21 Comments

I recently lead a discussion in High Priests (I never call it teaching) about Discipleship, what it was and how we can become true disciples of Jesus Christ. I used several talks and articles by Elder Neal A. Maxwell. He spoke quite a bit about the concept of discipleship and he always had a manner of speech and writing that made what he said or wrote seem more important.

In his article from the Ensign June 1996, “Becoming a Disciple”, he makes some fairly profound statements. Such as:

“…He who bore the atoning yoke has asked us to “take my yoke upon you, and learn of me” (Matt. 11:29). So the taking of Jesus’ yoke upon us constitutes serious discipleship. There is no greater calling, no greater challenge, and no greater source of joy-both proximate joy and ultimate joy-than that which is found in the process of discipleship. This process brings its own joys and reassurances. We must not, however, expect the world to understand or to value our discipleship; they will not. In a way, they may admire us from afar, but they will be puzzled about the priorities resulting from our devotion.”

“…, the more we become like Jesus, the more we come to know Him. There may even be, more than we now know, some literalness in His assertion, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40). We lack deep understanding of the implications of that remark of Jesus. As with so many things, He is telling us more than we are now prepared to receive.”

Knowledge vs. Deeds

“One mistake we can make during this mortal experience is to value knowledge apart from the other qualities to be developed in submissive discipleship. Knowledge-discovery, its preservation, its perpetuation-is very important. Yet, being knowledgeable while leaving undeveloped the virtues of love, mercy, meekness, and patience is not enough for full discipleship. Mere intellectual assent to a truth deprives us of the relevant, personal experiences that come from applying what we profess to believe. There were probably orientation briefings in the premortal world about how this mortal life would unfold for us, but the real experience is another thing!”

“Thus, while knowledge is clearly very important, standing alone it cannot save us. I worry sometimes that we get so busy discussing the doctrines in various Church classes that talking about them almost becomes a substitute for applying them. One cannot improve upon the sobering words of King Benjamin, who said, “Now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4:10). Such is still the test. Deeds, not words-and becoming, not describing-are dominant in true discipleship.

So, what Elder Maxwell and King Benjamin are both saying is the DOING is more important than the KNOWING. I wonder how many of us, especially on the Bloggernacle are often caught up in “one-upmanship” of all that we know rather than finding ways to put what we know into practice and serve others.

“So it is that discipleship requires all of us to translate doctrines, covenants, ordinances, and teachings into improved personal behavior. Otherwise we may be doctrinally rich but end up developmentally poor.”

Overcoming the “Natural Man”

So, how do we really become a true disciple of Jesus Christ? Elder Maxwell goes on:

“The gospel’s rich and true doctrines combine to constitute a call to a new and more abundant life, but this is a lengthy process. It requires much time, experiencing the relevant learning experiences, the keeping of covenants, and the receiving of the essential ordinances-all in order to spur us along the discipleship path of personal progression. In the journey of discipleship, we lose our old selves. The natural man and the natural woman are “put off,” and then we find ourselves become more saintly (see Mosiah 3:19). One sees such saintliness all about him in the Church-quiet, good women and men, not particularly concerned with status, who are becoming saintly. This is what should be happening in the lives of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

We are called to “put off the natural man and become a new creature,” a new being, born again. Being born again, rather than a onetime event, is a lifelong process as we learn the meaning of true discipleship and go from just knowing to actually doing what the Savior would do.


“Sometimes, as we commence taking up the cross, we ignore or neglect the first part of Jesus’ instruction. He said, “Deny [yourselves], and take up [your] cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This self-denial is especially challenging in a world filled with so many sensual and secular stimuli. In our time, greed and lust, though they have always been friends, have never formed quite the cartel they have formed now. It is global; it is so profitable.”

“Denying oneself has never been popular as a lifestyle, and it is clearly not today. Self-denial is portrayed by many as too puritanical and too ascetic. Scoffers have acquired powerful pulpits from which they bray their message, which constantly puts down discipleship and encourages the natural man to think highly of himself and to please himself.”

“What is it that we are to deny ourselves? The ascendancy of any appetites or actions which produce not only the seven deadly sins but all the others. Happily, self-denial, when we practice it, brings great relief. It represents emancipation from all the “morning after” feelings, whether caused by adultery or gluttony. Being concerned with tomorrow, true disciples are very careful about today! Self denial also includes not letting our hearts become too set on any trivial or worldly thing. Then we can learn the great lessons about the relationship of righteousness to the powers and the joys of heaven.”

“The fundamental fact is that if we do not deny ourselves, we are diverted. Even if not wholly consumed with the things of the world, we are still diverted sufficiently to make serious discipleship impossible. As a consequence, all the gifts and talents God has given us are not put meekly on the altar to serve others and to please God. Instead, we withhold to please ourselves. Diversion, therefore, is not necessarily gross transgression, but it is a genuine deprivation, especially if we consider what we might have become and what more we might have done to bless and to help others.”

Knowing That Our Lives Please God

“One day, if we remain faithful, we will, as the man or the woman of Christ, know that we, too, please God. Discipleship’s enlarged capacity to serve will bring enlarged joys. No wonder we read lamentations from the Lord about those who do not accept His invitation to discipleship. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37).”

“Or, from the Book of Mormon, “O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!” (Morm. 6:17). These lamentations measure the deep love Jesus has for us and underscore the importance of our accepting His invitation to discipleship.”

What does the true discipleship look and feel like?

And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received His image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Alma 5:14

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. Alma 13:12

So, I ask you, fellow members of the Bloggernacle, “Have ye received His image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”

Comments 21

  1. The funny thing is that knowing our lives please the Lord is usually indicated by humility, but it goes on forever. As soon as you think you’ve made it, you’ve got to keep working. For some people, that’s discouraging. For me, I am so glad that we have the idea of eternal progression. Sitting around playing harps in heaven would be rather boring.

  2. he always had a manner of speech and writing that made what he said or wrote seem more important.
    You mean “pompous”?

  3. “Have ye received His image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” Sometimes, yes. I believe that having inner peace is what it means to receive His image in your countenance, and inner peace is a spiritual quality that others can see and sense in your presence.

  4. I had the opportunity to get to know Elder Maxwell during his weeklong visit to the island of Okinawa for the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. At the time I was serving in a leadership position and therefore had lots of interaction with him and his wife. Some of why I think the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about loving God and our fellowman comes from my association with him.

    I must agree with Ray #3 on Neil Maxwell. No pomp, no pride, no perception of judgment, just humility and appreciation. I think Elder Maxwell got it. He seemed to understand what truly was important as opposed to what many in the church think is important. His focus on the Savior and discipleship inspired me. As you can probably tell, I liked the man and respected his ability to practice what he was preaching. I think one would be hard pressed to find anything dogmatic in his talks. If any of the GA’s could have been a NOM, it would have been him.

    To the point of the OP, I would probably give it a different label. Is True Discipleship more about Loving and Respecting instead of Knowing? The answer should be obvious in that light. You all know my opinion about the perceived truths of the restoration. However, my knowledge of the history of the church and my understanding of sincere but deluded early leaders isn’t going to help me get to heaven IMHO. Just as others supposed knowledge of the “restoration” isn’t going to help them. Learning to act and treat others like Neil Maxwell did, now there is some food for thought…

  5. Jeff said:
    “We are called to “put off the natural man and become a new creature,” a new being, born again. Being born again, rather than a onetime event, is a lifelong process as we learn the meaning of true discipleship and go from just knowing to actually doing what the Savior would do.”

    Being born again not a onetime event? Look at the scriptures. While there are many examples of being born again in the scriptures (Enos, people of King Benjamin, the 300 Lamanites, Cornelius, etc), perhaps Alma is the best illustration of the concept of being born again. Was his experience a lifelong process? No, it was not. It was a singular event followed by a changed life.

    Being born again is not the end of the path but the beginning. King Benjamin taught the people of his time what they needed to do to ‘retain a remission of their sins.’ Remission of sins is a result of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (2 Nephi 31:17). Alma also continued to seek after Christ following his born again experience as described in Alma 5:46:

    “Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.”

    Even after his glorious experience, he sought the wisdom and knowledge the Lord has promised each of us. Enos prayed well into the night to receive a remission of his sins. We are given this example in the book that teaches more about being born again than any other book.

    When the people of King Benjamin had been born again, they covenanted with the Lord and were blessed with being called the sons and daughters of Christ. That is, in my opinion, what true discipleship entails.

  6. Doug G.,

    Were you in the military district with President Mierzejewski? He was the district president when I arrived in Okinawa in 2001, but was released shortly thereafter.

  7. Kari,

    I was a member of his District High Council with responsibilities over the YM/YW programs. Actually, I was on the council before Mierzejewski was in the District Presidency and participated in the selection process when he was called by Elder Pinager. Interesting that he was released after only 5 or 6 years, I didn’t know that.

    Kari, you’re ruining my anonymity on this board…

  8. Thank you Spektator? Sometimes I think I am the only one in the church who believes what you so eloquently said. It’s good to know I’m not.

  9. Stepheny,
    Likewise. Perhaps it is because people don’t talk about what they can’t comprehend. I think we shortchange ourselves when we accept a lesser goal. I would expect that anyone who diligently studies the topic of baptism of fire in the scriptures would come to the same conclusion.

    There are four places in the scriptures where the gospel is defined. In each case, the definition includes either sanctification or baptism of fire. Unfortunately, it is common to portray the gospel as all knowledge that God has given us. I can’t find scriptural validation of that idea. I am reminded that Paul preached to the Galatians not to be swayed by ‘another gospel.’ Before one can understand what ‘another gospel’ is, one must understand what the ‘gospel’ is.

    As it states in 2 Nephi 31, the baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost is the ‘gate’ we must pass through before we are on the strait and narrow path to eternal life. Does that make it sound like a lifelong task? I think not.

    I would be interested to hear your perspective on the topic.

  10. Post

    to Spektator and Stepheny,

    While I can understand where you are coming from with regard to the examples of being “born again” that you cited, this is not the normal course of events for most people. I give you two quotes from Apostles that mirror my own thoughts on the subject:

    First, Elder Bednar from April 2007 conference. (his pickle story, “a cucumber does not become a pickle all at once.”)

    “Because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).

    The spiritual rebirth described in this verse typically does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process—not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience. ”

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “Except in … unusual circumstances, as with Alma (Mosiah 27), spiritual rebirth is a process. It does not occur instantaneously. It comes to pass by degrees. Repentant persons become alive to one spiritual reality after another, until they are wholly alive in Christ and are qualified to dwell in his presence forever” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 3:401).

  11. Jeff,
    Are we reading the same Mosiah? The quote you referenced is what King Benjamin pronounced based on the event that happened a chapter earlier. Here is what Mosiah 4:2-3 states?

    “And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
    And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.”

    So this is not typical? 2 Nephi 31:17 tells us that we receive a ‘remission of our sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.”

    Enos states: “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.” I guess what you are saying is that despite the examples in the Book of Mormon of being born again, that doesn’t happen to us?

    Going back to 2 Nepni 31:18, we find that after the baptism of fire, “then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” I would suggest that the strait and narrow path is the part which is the lifelong process, not the baptism of fire.

    I understand what Elder Bednar said. Which should I believe, his conference talk or the scriptures? Why would Mosiah contain the description of what happened to the people of King Benjamin is it wasn’t for us to seek after? Why would we have the narrative of Enos? Why such emphasis on the born again experience of Alma? Are we not to liken ourselves to the scriptures? I guess each one must make a prayerful choice on this matter.

    Baptims of fire and the Holy Ghost is the gate to the strait and narrow path. This is how we are washed of our sins. Here is what Christ said on the matter:

    “20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
    21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;” (3 Nephi, chapter 27)

    The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost how we are sanctified and are presented spotless before God. While the first seven verses of Moroni are of interest, I will only quote verse 4:

    “And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.”

    Was the cleansing described here something that happened over a lifetime? I think not. In fact, it was a requirement to be in His Church.

    If Elders Bednar and McConkie are right, you have nothing to fear. If they are incorrect, and the scriptural examples are indeed what we should strive for, what will you have missed? It could mean the difference between dwelling with God and the second option of still wearing the stain of sin. You pick.

  12. 3 Nephi 9:20 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.

  13. Post


    Receiving a remission of one’s sins does not constitute “being born again” unless one loses the desire to sin and does not from that point forward. It can be a singular event as has been described in scripture. That is why those examples are there. But practically speaking, that is not the case with most of us. the spiritual re-birth is the end result of the process, not the beginning.

  14. Kent,
    You used the scripture, 3 Nephi 9:20, that has been used often to support the idea that baptism by fire can happen without our knowing it. Prior to the 1981 update there was a footnote on that verse pointing back to Helaman 5:45. For many years, these two verses were cross referenced to each other. Today, only one of those two links remain. If you look at the footnotes for Helaman 5:45 it points to 3 Nephi 9:20. So what is so important about this footnote? It is identifying the event that 3 Nephi 9:20 is discussing.

    As you know, the event described in Helaman 5 is the baptism by fire of 300 Lamanites which occurred at the time that Lehi and Nephi were delivered from prison. I would suggest you read the entire chapter. In this story, Aminadab teaches the Lamanites what they must do to have the cloud of darkness removed from them. In the process they are encircled by fire:

    “44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
    45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.”

    There are two options in my opinion relative to this verse. First, they were not aware of the baptism of fire occurring all around them. This is the option that I assume you are suggesting. The other option is that they were VERY aware of what was going on around them but didn’t KNOW what it was. There is where Aminadab, the voice from heaven and the angels come in. They are taught about what is happening to them.

    I suggest then, that the real meaning of 3 Nephi 9:20 is that they didn’t understand what the baptism of fire was until they were taught. I see this as a much more plausible answer given the existence of the cross reference. In my opinion, this reinforces the idea that baptism by fire is a singular event. And yes, it can happen to people who don’t yet understand what the event means but there is no mistaking it for a gradual process.

  15. Jeff,

    Receiving a remission of our sins is accomplished through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Here are some scriptures on that point:

    “… For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life…” 2 Nepni 31:17-18

    I don’t think it can be more clear. The baptism of fire is how one receives a remission of sins. Is the baptism by fire the end or the beginning? I strongly suggest that this event is the gate to the strait and narrow path leading to eternal life; just as the scripture states. Moroni 6:4 also indicates that it is the beginning not the end where it states that those who were baptized by water and then were ‘cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost’ BEFORE they were ‘numbered among the people of the church of Christ.’

    “AND it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
    2 And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.” 3 Nephi 12 1-2

    Jesus Christ is the one who baptizes us with fire and with the Holy Ghost. That second baptism is, again, how we receive a remission of our sins.

    “And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” D&C 19:31

    This is what the early missionaries of the restored gospel were told to teach. Again, remission of sins through the baptism of fire.

    So, my point is that what Alma defined as being ‘born again’ was this same baptism of fire.

    You are suggesting that once a person receives a remission of their sins, they can’t sin any more? This is the typical quandary of evangelical Christans: Can one sin after being born again? I suggest that the answer is in the sermon of King Benjamin. Beginning in verse 9 of Mosiah 4 and continuing into chapter 5, King Benjamin tells the people what they must do to ‘RETAIN a remission of their sins.’ If we follow the admonition of King Benjamin, we can retain our sanctification.

    The scriptures also contain an example of someone who received a ‘remission of his sins’ then then blew it. That was none other then Joseph Smith as described in the following from D&C 20:5-6:

    “After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;
    But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;”

    So should we take the scriptures as an example for ourselves? If we receive a remission of our sins, the best solution is to stay the path. If we stray, we will need to deeply, deeply repent and humble ourselves, then God will ‘restore’ our sanctification. I doubt, though, that we have many chances to stray and repent. Christ knows our hearts. I don’t think He would bless us with a remission of our sins if He didn’t think it would stick.

    Jeff, the baptism of fire is a glorious and penetrating experience. It encompasses incredible joy and lightness. It is the fundamental component of ‘coming unto Christ.’ Such is my testimony.

  16. Ray,
    If you mean by overcoming sin, that I received a remission of my sins? Yes, I did have an experience that I now, years later, classify as being baptized by fire. I didn’t understand what had happened to me at the time but I do now after several years of study and prayer. I relate very much to the quote from D&C 20 about Joseph Smith getting entangled in the world after receiving a remission of his sins. That is where I have found myself. I know what I need to do…as I work to get myself untangled.

  17. Nice to see something focused on the topic of Discipleship…. In the coming days my website will go live –

    I recently traveled across Europe (always a great trip) but I was taken by the amazing portals, paths and passageways in the cathedrals, old buildings, parks and the many side streets of the old cities… I came up with theory around them as it relates to our Discipleship…. Portals are the big decisions in life, the big commitment like marriage, missions, career, deciding to pursue Discipleship etc. Paths are the principles that guide our way – like humility, integrity, excellence etc. (kind of a way of being or traveling) Passageways are the strategic things, goals, plans etc. which help us navigate through challenges or opportunities…

    I finished my travels in Copenhagen at Our Lady of Lords, where the original Christus and statues of the Apostles by Thorvaldson are kept… it brought it all home – the journey was done and at the same time, just begun… You can watch a highlight of the journey to Discipleship – Portals, Path and Passageways on youtube – just search journey to discipleship and look for TheSageCoach…

    Thanks for adding to my journey – best wishes with all of yours….

    The SageCoach

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