My family read scriptures together as I was growing up. I began reading them on my own in high school. Up until that point I had felt that the church was true, and had even prayed to receive my own witness from Heavenly Father when I was twelve. I received an answer (in the affirmative) and continued on in faith believing that everything I was being taught was true, but not at all understanding how the gospel would help me attain my biggest dreams. I spent a lot of time examining my life and my choices, which while not terrible did not match the standard ('no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of god') that I knew from my scripture study was required. At least not as I understood it. Here are some examples of scriptures that added to my confusion (because I misunderstood them):
" . . . for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." 2 Nephi 25:23
" . . . work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling." Phillippians 2:12I added emphasis to these excerpts to try to illustrate my incorrect interpretation. The way I understood these verses made it appear that I was going to have to do everything perfectly all the time, and then I would be saved by my belief in Christ. Whenever I spent any time thinking about it I would get incredibly discouraged because I believed what I had been taught, but I wasn't sure that it was going to work for me. I knew beyond a doubt that even if I was able to do everything perfectly from the moment I started reflecting on these things, that it wouldn't change any mistakes I had made prior to that. They would still be on the record.
The summer after I graduated from high school I participated in The Hill Cumorah Pageant, a show put on by the Church to teach about the Book of Mormon, in New York. As I participated in the performances, we got to re-enact the account of Christ visiting the people in the ancient Americas. It was poignant and powerful. During that scene there was a line spoken that made me weep:
"And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day."I wept because I knew that this was exactly what I wanted, but I still didn't know how it was going to be done! On my flight back home an acquaintance from the pageant offered to let me borrow a book for reading since I had nothing with me. It was the book, "Believing Christ," by Stephen Robinson. Finally it made clear to me how it could be done. The very scriptures that had confused me were addressed in his book, and the correct interpretation clarified. I wasn't expected to become perfect on my own. I was expected to do my best to follow Christ, and live on borrowed perfection until the time when I really will be able to do everything perfect all the time (it won't be in this life).
Since his perfection is infinite, it swallows up my imperfection as long as I stay teamed up with him. Any mistakes I'll ever make will be stricken from the record as long as I am doing what he asks of me; have faith in him, repent (as often as necessary), keep my baptismal covenants, and endure to the end. That's a sweet deal. One that I can handle and will one day make my greatest desire a blessed reality.
" . . . for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" 2 Nephi 25:23. There is a limit to what we can do, but there isn't a limit to what Christ can do. Our capacity to do will grow in this life, but we'll still need his help to get the rest of the way.
" . . . work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling" Phillippians 2:12. This just means that we can't save anyone else. The concept is similar to doing your own school work. You can get help from the teacher, but you should be doing the work, and you shouldn't be trying to do the work for someone else or let someone else do it for you.God is good, and He wants us to return to Him. The Atonement has made it possible. So live the dream.