“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
When my family moved from Colorado to Illinois, I was sent ahead of the main body as the vanguard company…primarily to secure a place to live. I spent months looking at houses. One in particular stands out in my mind. It was a nice enough house—a foreclosure, so the price was right (even if it did need a little bit of work). Then my realtor and I went into the basement and we saw a crack running across the entire width of the house. It was about ½” wide and was offset by about 1/4”. That’s when I looked at my realtor and told her we could leave. It just didn’t feel right.
The parable Jesus told about the wise and foolish men came to mind. The foolish man built his house on the sand. When the rains came and the winds blew, the house fell. The wise man, however, built his house on the rock. When the rains came and the winds blew, his house stood firm because it was built on a sure foundation (Matt 7:24-27). I knew this house had a problem with its foundation—I wasn’t willing to establish our home in a house that didn’t have a good foundation.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:
“I think most of us intuitively understand how important the fundamentals are. It is just that we sometimes get distracted by so many things that seem more enticing.
“The holy scriptures and the spoken word of the living prophets give emphasis to the fundamental principles and doctrines of the gospel. The reason we return to these foundational principles, to the pure doctrines, is because they are the gateway to truths of profound meaning. They are the door to experiences of sublime importance that would otherwise be beyond our capacity to comprehend. These simple, basic principles are the key to living in harmony with God and man. They are the keys to opening the windows of heaven. They lead us to the peace, joy, and understanding that Heavenly Father has promised to His children who hear and obey Him. (Of Things that Matter Most)
I believe you can sum up the foundational principles in four bullets:
Receive the Saving Ordinances
Develop Christ-like attributes
Partake of The Atonement of Christ
The Foundational Principles
One of the best chapters in the Bible on faith is Hebrews 11. This chapter shows the raw power that true faith can have. It takes faith to feed the hungry, shelter the needy. Here’s the cool part…you don’t have to have a great experience to have faith. You don’t have to have visions, move mountains, or part the sea to have faith. Alma compares faith to seed. He tells us that if we no more than desire to believe, that it is sufficient (Alma 32:27). All we have to do is want to believe, then that faith will begin to grow within us. Even the Articles of Faith tell us that faith is the foundation…“We believe the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are, first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Articles of Faith 4)
Faith is not only a foundational principle, it is the foundational principle.
As an editorial note, the next two foundational principles (receiving the saving ordinances and developing Christ-like attributes) are really intertwined. You will develop Christ-like attributes as you receive the saving ordinances. For the sake of simplicity, I will discuss receiving ordinances first.
Receive the Saving Ordinances
Jesus showed us by his example the first saving ordinance: baptism.
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.(Matthew 3:16-17)
In his book, The Power to Become, Elder David A. Bednar identifies the saving ordinances as: baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, Priesthood Ordination for men, the Temple Endowment and the sealing of families in the Temple (pg 75). We should each follow the example of the Savior and strive to obtain the saving ordinances of ourselves and our family.
Develop Christ-like attributes
There are many Christ-like attributes that are worth of our emulation:
Humility, repentance, charity, love, virtue, knowledge, diligence, obedience, sacrifice, kindness, modesty, character, godliness, etc. I’ll speak on just a few of these.
In 1999, my family took shelter in the church because of Hurricane Georges. As the storm started to blow, a stranger came to our door and those in charge of the shelter let him come in. After an interview to be sure he understood the standards expected, he was given a room and remained with us until the storm was over. This was certainly the right thing to do, who wouldn’t invite a someone to take shelter? The real test came when everyone in the shelter had to give up some of their food, bedding, personal items (because he came with nothing). Amulek taught the Zoramites that after they did everything they’d been taught, they still had to have charity or everything else was in vain (Alma 34:28).
Another christlike attribute we might try to develop is kindness or friendship. A good friend from my youth once shared with me the definition of friendship he learned from my father. “A true friend” my father said “is one who will hold your place in line for the gallows.” Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
This leads to another Christlike attribute: sacrifice. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “the law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be” (Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice). We aren’t often asked to die for the Savior.
In another great hymn, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, comes the phrase “as He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free!” Today we are asked to live for Christ! Our sacrifice comes in different forms. We are asked to live for the Savior. Each time we are called to a position, we are sacrificing a part of ourselves for the Lord.
Partake of The Atonement of Christ
In my opinion, the Atonement is the most important principle of the gospel. Everything else we learn about in the gospel hinges upon the Atonement. Moroni taught that “[we] receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith” (Ether12:6). It is only after we develop faith, receive the saving ordinances, and develop Christ-like attributes that the fullness of the Atonement becomes effective in our lives.
In an address titled, Teachings of Jesus, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “We understand that the Atonement of Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to overcome the spiritual death that results from sin and, through making and keeping sacred covenants, to have the blessings of eternal life.”
These foundational principles really do build upon each other. The culmination of this earth life is the atonement. It is only through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we have hope of eternal life “for,” in the words of Alma, “it is expedient that an atonement should be made…or else all mankind must unavoidably perish” (Alma 34:9).
Living the Foundational Principles in Our Life
Elder Walter F. Gonzalez said “our task…continues to be seeking for the principles found in the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets and writing them ‘not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart’” (Writing Gospel Principles in our Hearts).
So where do we start? How do I write these principles in my heart? Perhaps more importantly, what should I be working on today? There is no way I can focus on every gospel principle at once…it just won’t work. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke on this in October 2015. He told us to “start where you are” (It Works Wonderfully).
As we walk the path of discipleship, we have to work on the principle that we need to work on. The most important principle for you and I to focus on right now, is the principle that we are struggling with, right now. If tithing is a challenge for you today, then work on paying an honest tithe. If charity is a struggle for you now, then work showing charity. We should start where we are. And the starting point is going to be different for everyone.
The other point that President Uchtdorf made in his address was to keep it simple.
[Living the gospel] is really straightforward. It could be described like this: Hearing the word of God with earnest intent leads us to believe in God and to trust His promises. The more we trust God, the more our hearts are filled with love for Him and for each other. Because of our love for God, we desire to follow Him and bring our actions in alignment with His word…we want to bless the lives of others and help the poor and the needy. The more we walk in this path of discipleship, the more we desire to learn the word of God. (It Works Wonderfully).
Let me now close by going back to the beginning. Just as a house will fall if it is not built on a foundation of rock, we will fall if we don’t have the right foundation. The words of Helaman to his sons, Nephi and Lehi, show us the foundation we should have:
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)
Build your foundation on Jesus Christ. It starts with a desire to believe—demonstrating faith, which leads us to receive the saving ordinances and develop Christlike attributes. This all culminates in partaking of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Start where you are, keep it simple.