Three Things You Need to Get to Heaven

This speech examines an apocryphal story from the Nag Hammadi where Jesus teaches two apostles why they need to constantly demonstrate faith, love, and work to be admitted into a heavenly kingdom through the grace of Christ.

The Qumran Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi codices, which were discovered in the 1940s, contain copies of many books from our canonized Old and New Testaments. But they also contain additional books that were intentionally excluded from the Bible as a result of the various debates and councils between the theologians and political leaders that emerged in the centuries following the death of the original apostles.

Nag Hammadi Codices

Why were these writings removed? We can’t be absolutely positive since none of us were around at the time, but authorship and antiquity seemed to have played an important role, with the most famous and oldest sources taking precedence over more obscure or newer authors. Current orthodoxy also had a say in this canonization process, because historical records indicates that books which one faction of the Church enjoyed were often labeled heretical by their opponents. As with too many things in life, the telestial philosophy of “might makes right” won the day, and whoever wielded the most power won the argument. Furthermore, it would be rational to conjecture that some books were dropped simply because they revealed things that the compilers didn’t understand or wished to remain hidden. After all, divine inspiration and authorization goes away if you have leaders who are not worthy of the priesthood or fail to possess the keys to receive continuing revelation for the Church. Therefore, hundreds of these once sacred texts were dropped and largely forgotten to the world.

It was the Apostle John who wrote as the last verse of his gospel testimony:

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”

Of course, what was actually written differs dramatically from what should have been written but given the remnants of scrolls and plates that have emerged over the centuries [see note 1], historians feel confident that hundreds of other books were produced. Fortunately for us, dozens of these gnostic, pseudepigraphic, and noncanonical documents, such as those discovered last century in Israeli and Egyptian caves, can now be examined and translated. While most of these are fragments of books rather than complete manuscripts, they tantalize us with new observations and different perspectives. These records, like those found in the Apocrypha [see note 2], while not vital to our salvation, still provide interesting insights and fill in holes we didn’t know existed.

When examining writings such as these, it is important to strictly follow the counsel of the Lord. In 1833 when Joseph Smith received the assignment to restore plain and precious truths back into the King James Version of the Bible, he asked the Lord what to do with the apocryphal books. And the Lord replied:

 

“There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated. Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited.”

In the spirit of building faith by seeking for truth and wisdom out of the best books (D&C 88:118), I’d like to reference one of the books found in the Nag Hammadi collection. It is called The Apocryphon of James [see note 3] or The Secret Book of James.

This book is attributed to the apostle James, or in Hebrew, Ya’akov ben Zav’di (James the son of Zebedee), who was the older brother of John, not the son of Alphaeus, nor the half-brother of Christ. All three of these apostles were named James. To differentiate, this remarkable individual is also known as James the Great, the first apostle to be martyred, who, at the time, would have been serving in the presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ. James is writing a letter to a friend in which he recounts an experience when the resurrected Christ took aside the President of the Twelve, Simon ben Jona (a.k.a. Peter) and James to teach them something they needed to learn. Let me share with you a brief excerpt from the letter. Please keep in mind that this is NOT scripture (and may be mere fan fiction or even a forgery) but I’ll let you decide if it “tastes good” to you and fits within existing truths.

And Jesus said:

“Be eager for the word. The first aspect of the word is faith, the second is love, the third is works, and from these comes life. The word is like a grain of wheat. When someone sowed it, he had faith in it, and when it sprouted, he loved it, because he saw many grains instead of just one. And after he worked, he was saved because he prepared it as food and he still kept some out to sow. This is also how you can acquire heaven’s kingdom for yourselves.”

I like this passage because it is similar to other seed-based metaphors that we are already familiar with from various scriptural authors, but it suggests some aspects we may not have considered before. Jesus tells us that if we want to return to our heavenly home, we need to do three things with the word of God that we receive in our lives. (And I’d like to add that this divine inspiration can come from multiple sources, including scripture, modern prophets, personal revelation, lessons, sermons, music, art-any source of genuine light and authentic truth.) To review, those three things are faith, love, and work. Now, let’s examine each of these three things in more detail as we try to liken this counsel to ourselves.

Faith

First, we need to have faith that what we have received is a good seed and comes from a divine source. That doesn’t mean we place it in a jar and set it on the trophy shelf and gaze at it with wonder. Faith is a principle of action that requires us to do something with it. Like planting it and making sure it gets sufficient water, light, and warmth to eventually germinate, sprout, and transform itself into a viable plant.

Unless we are skilled horticulturists, we are likely to make mistakes along the way, such as planting the seed in the wrong type of soil, planting too late or too early in the season, getting the seed spacing wrong, planting too deeply or too shallow, or planting in too wet or too dry soil. Learning how to plant seeds for optimum germination takes education, experimentation, and endurance, because we won’t see immediate results. This is really hard for most of us in our impatient “give it to me now” world. In fact, depending on the variety of wheat, it takes between one and seven months for a seed to germinate and root in the ground. That’s a lot of time when you’re hungry and hankering for a hunk of homemade bread.

Some liken faith to walking into a darkened room and then having faith that when you flip on the light switch the light will turn on. But I don’t believe God is a genie in the sky who immediately grants your wishes. He doesn’t always take you out of the darkness immediately. Instead, He often waits with you if you are too frightened or too anxious to move, and then, when you are ready, gently guides you through the mists towards the light. The virtue of patience is indisputably interrelated with faith. In fact, they grow together in a symbiotic relationship.

Faith in God is also instantiated and propagated without tactile proof or rational logic. In fact, by definition, it transcends the physical and become metaphysical:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Faith allows us to know things we can’t know in any other way. As the offspring or seed of Heavenly Parents, to become more than a solitary seed and unlock our potential, we have to spend some time in the earthy, dark, and lonely world before our faith germinates and roots and sends a shoot upwards toward the Son’s light.

Love

Second, after we see that our faith is growing and is likely to produce many grains, we love it because it turns out to have been a wise investment. A single wheat embryo can produce about five sprouts, which mature into stalks, with an ear forming at the top of each stalk. Because each ear produces about 20 kernels on average, one wheat seed can produce 90 or 100 children in its first generation.

Like all wise plants, animals, and people, as it journeys through mortality and beyond, and listens and obeys the voice of its creator, the seed will try to fulfill the measure of its creation and multiply itself so it can find joy therein. By the way, being fruitful and multiplicable doesn’t necessarily mean breeding literal offspring while you’re sporting a mortal body. It counts anything you contribute that is lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy-anything you create that blesses the lives of others, builds up the kingdom, and gives glory to the Father. In the end, those who create more than they destroy, who build up rather than tear down, who produce more than they consume-these are they who will continue to create and progress throughout the eternities.

As our little plant starts to show its potential, we initially intend to pay close attention to it as it develops and matures, lovingly protecting it from dangers like disease and insects. Sometimes we unwisely forget our ministering stewardships and other responsibilities and go for weeks or months without paying any attention to it. This might hurt its potential yield or even permanently damage it. Of course, sometimes, despite our best efforts, we lose some or even all of our crop to uncontrollable forces such as storms, droughts, plagues, or pestilences. That’s the nature of our fallen, thorny, and noxious weed-filled world, where we find opposition in everything, especially when it concerns things we ought to love.

If we have been blessed with bountiful crops in the past, then hopefully we prudently stored away same of our abundance for just such a foul occurrence. But many of us haven’t had this good fortune, despite our best efforts. This is why we need to surround ourselves with loving family and friends. If we run short, because we have built covenant relationships with other planters in the kingdom who are trying to love us as Jesus loved, we may find individuals who are willing to sacrifice and consecrate their resources to build up the kingdom. They’ve contributed to the Lord’s storehouse, and the Lord, because He truly is our Master, will always take care of His humble servants.

As all the laborers in Zion become of one heart and one mind and one body in Christ, we will also be transformed into a people who can survive the great and terrible years ahead when the Savior establishes the Kingdom of God on a translated earth; when those who choose to live telestial laws rather than terrestrial or celestial laws will find themselves suddenly disembodied and banished into the corner a non-corporeal room, where they can sit and think about their naughtiness.

Work

Third, after we’ve planted and rooted our faith, and have lovingly nurtured it as it grew to maturity, it is finally time to harvest (and we are likely to have many harvest periods throughout our lives). Now we need to roll up our sleeves and really get to work to process our wheat. We grab our sickle or scythe and chop down the yellowed stalks of grass, bundle them together, and let them dry for a couple of weeks. Then we thresh the grain off the stalk and husks, winnow away the chaff and debris, and sift it with a sieve. We then prudently set aside some kernels that we can plant in the future because we now know it is a productive seed. But then we take the remainder and grind it into flour, then mix it with salt and oil and leaven and let it rise, before stoking up the oven and baking the bread.

Finally, after four to nine months have elapsed since we first faithfully planted that single seed, we can finally joyfully and thankfully consume it, and we, and our loved ones, can live happily ever after. Of course, in order to survive off bread alone, we need to plant at least 75 pounds of wheat on a football field size plot of ground, for each person, each year. But this isn’t a course in agriculture, this is an allegory.

The Work of Salvation

Did you notice the amount of work that is necessary all along the entire process? It starts with having enough faith to plant the seed, then enough love to nurture and protect it, and then ending with significant effort to harvest and transform the wheat into something that can not only bless your own life, but the lives of those around you. As the industrious Little Red Hen taught us, personal initiative and hard work is essential to survival. It cannot be avoided.

The apostle Paul told us:

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

This is quite similar to what Amulek taught:

“And now, my beloved brethren, I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye should work out your salvation with fear before God.”

Both of them repeat the sentiment that we have to work out our own salvation. This is a personal responsibility that cannot be shirked or neglected. We cannot delegate or hire others to do it for us. If we want the rights and privileges that come with salvation, we must also accept its responsibilities. Which really comes down to one thing. Jesus said:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

The logical corollary to that is if we don’t keep God’s commandments, then we don’t really love Him. We love ourselves or something or someone else more. Which infers that we don’t really want to live with Him for eternity, much do the things that support His work and His glory. We can’t be saved if we don’t love and obey God. He cannot take away our agency and give us what we don’t really want.

Of course, as recovering sinners, we don’t deserve this opportunity for salvation at all. Nevertheless, it is freely given to everyone through the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ. But we are asked to do something with the Savior’s gift and do it today. Here are the words of Paul in his second epistle to the saints of Corinth:

“We then, as workers together with Christ, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith, ‘I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee; behold, now is the day of salvation.’”

He then goes on verse after verse explaining just what kind of daily tasks we are expected to do when we are laboring with Christ in the work of salvation, and what virtues we should adopt, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.

Concluding Thoughts

The idea that using faith, love, and work to help us tap into the Savior’s grace, fulfill our part in the Father’s Plan of Happiness, and reach our desired goals in this world and the next, applies to everyone.

The period of planting and rooting faith may take place in infancy and childhood, where children are somewhat innocent and in the dark but are responding to the nutrients, warmth, and light they are provided by others. When they reach their teen years and young adulthood, they emerge into the world and start to encounter its trials and temptations. Because they are still tender plants, it is then when they need extra love-the type of love Christ would have them experience as they try to establish themselves in this world of strife. In adulthood, they become self-sustaining, start families of their own, careers of their own, hobbies of their own, and get to choose whether to destroy or create with their innate talents, skills, and gifts.

They are also faced with tremendous challenges and need the safety and protection offered by nearby stalks. As they try to be obedient to the Word of God, regularly repent, return, and report to Him, participate in the ordinances that make them part of the body of Christ, are fruitful and multiply their potential, endure to the time of harvest, and sacrifice and consecrate all they have, including themselves, if necessary, then they are invited to be a part of the supper of the Lord. But like Isaac on Abraham’s altar, they are not slain and consumed, but are rescued by the Redeemer the Ram, who substitutes Himself as the sanctified sacrifice on the altar as the Holy Lamb of God. At this point, Abraham, Isaac, and all of us who have disciplined ourselves as children of the covenant, are able to sup with the Lord as His fellow servants; where we hunger and thirst no more, yet live together and forever in the heavenly mansions above.

References

[Note 1] For a list of the known apocryphal books from the New Testament era, view the following link. Retrieved 30 December 2022 from https://www.interfaith.org/christianity/apocrypha/

[Note 2] Traditionally, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha included: 1st and 2nd Esdras (sometimes called 3rd and 4th Esdras, because in the Douay Bible, Ezra is 1st Esdras, and Nehemiah, 2nd Esdras); Tobit; Judith; the rest of the chapters of Esther; Wisdom of Solomon; Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus; Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah; additional parts of Daniel, including the Song of the Three Holy Children, the History of Susanna, and the History of the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon; Prayer of Manasses; 1st and 2nd Maccabees.

[Note 3] The Apocryphon of James from “The Nag Hammadi Library” as translated by Ron Cameron. Retrieved 30 Dec 2021 from http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/jam2.html

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