CLICK HERE to read Alma 5.
In the previous chapter, we read how Alma gave up his political post to focus on a full-time mission. This chapter is the speech he gave while out and about all over the land, trying to teach and build up the church. It’s the equivalent to a General Conference address, just old-school with the travel since they didn’t have the internet yet. He is in the role of Prophet, and he is speaking to members of the church.
Modern day prophets have listed this speech as one of the top 5 most important speeches in the entire Book of Mormon.
So we are commanded, even by modern day prophets, to pay attention to this speech, and to apply it to ourselves.
To help break up this long speech, focus on how he organized it. This speech has four parts. Alma explains what it means to be “saved”, teaches us about Judgment Day, addresses challenges that Church members face, and gives his own testimony of the atonement.
Alma begins his preaching in the land of Zarahemla, but then continues teaching the same points and giving the same speech throughout the land (verse 1). That’s how important the message of this chapter is (verse 2), that he felt all the people needed to hear it. So we, too, should hear it.
Before he gives his message, Alma clarifies that he has authority to be delivering a message (verse 3). He has the authority of the priesthood. He is set apart for this calling to preach. He has been given power from God to fulfill this mission, to deliver this message, and to establish the church.
Alma also reminds the people from whence they came. They are a free and happy people now, and Alma reminds them that they are doing well in life and enjoying it so much because the Lord delivered them. This I can liken to my own life: I was in bondage before, when I tried doing things my own way. It brought nothing but destruction. But I was rescued, “by the mercy and power of God” (verse 4). This is what makes my life so good now; this is why I am so happy now. It is not to my credit or because of my accomplishments; it is the mercy and power of God that has delivered me.
He reminds the people that they repeated their mistakes. After getting themselves into bondage, they made things worse so that their burdens became captivity. But once again, it was the Lord who was both capable to deliver them and faithful in doing so (verse 5). He keeps His promises, and so we are called to keep our promises. It is us keeping our promises – being at-one with Him and at peace with His people – that establishes Zion.
It would prove to me, at least, and what I may safely say to this congregation, that Zion is here. Whenever we are disposed to give ourselves perfectly to righteousness, to yield all the powers and faculties of the soul (which is the spirit and the body, and it is there where righteousness dwells); when we are swallowed up in the will of Him who has called us; when we enjoy the peace and the smiles of our Father in Heaven, the things of His Spirit, and all the blessings we are capacitated to receive and improve upon, then are we in Zion, that is Zion. What will produce the opposite? Hearkening and giving way to evil, nothing else will.
~ Brigham Young, Journal of the Discourses, Vol 1, page 3
To fully be Zion, we must be living the 5th Law of the Gospel, which is the Law of Consecration (see D&C 42). This is a requirement for celestial-ness.
Then he clarifies that he is, indeed, talking to members: “you that belong to this church” (verse 6). This is not a call to repentance for non-members, and it is not missionary work to baptize new members. These are members, this is us, getting called out to wake up and pay attention.
Do you remember, Alma asks, His mercy?
Do you remember, Alma asks, that it was Him who has delivered you?
“Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word…” (verse 7).
Were your ancestors destroyed when they deserved it? No. (verse 8)
Were you destroyed when you deserved it? No.
Those ancestors, those of you, even me – when we were drowning in darkness, suffocating in our own sin, being squashed by the consequences we earned, and shamed by the path of destruction left in our wake… did He leave us to suffer and die?
He suffered for us.
“And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved” (verse 9).
When my shame was so great that I ought to cease to exist, even then His atonement is enough to cover all of me. Instead of shrinking away, instead of being swept away, instead of being shunned or silenced or ignored… he did expand my soul.
There is air in expanding.
There is nurture and nourishment in expanding (Jacob 5).
Then Alma says something important: on what conditions are they saved? (verse 10)
This is from the Seminary Manual, quoting Elder Oaks:
Elder DallinH. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said: “As Latter-day Saints use the words saved and salvation, there are at least six different meanings. According to some of these, our salvation is assured—we are already saved. In others, salvation must be spoken of as a future event … or as conditioned upon a future event. … But in all of these meanings, or kinds of salvation, salvation is in and through Jesus Christ” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 76; or Ensign, May 1998, 55 ).
The following are summaries of the six different meanings of which Elder Oaks spoke:
- We are saved from the permanent effects of death. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all mankind will be resurrected.
- We are saved from sin through Christ’s Atonement and by following the gospel plan. Repentance is an important part of being saved from the consequences of our sins.
- We are saved when we are “born again.” This happens when we enter into a covenant relationship with Christ by accepting baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and taking Christ’s name upon us. We must also faithfully keep and renew that covenant relationship.
- We are saved from the darkness of ignorance as we learn about the gospel plan. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings light into our lives.
- We are saved from the second death, which is final spiritual death, because of Christ’s Atonement. Everyone, except for those few who become sons of perdition, will enter into a kingdom of glory.
- Our hope is that we will be finally saved in the celestial kingdom. In addition to the other requirements, this salvation, or exaltation, also requires that we make sacred covenants in God’s temples and remain faithful to them (see Conference Report, pp.76–78; or Ensign, pp.55–57 ).
When we read our scriptures, truly study them, and when we listen to (and obey) the words of the prophets, we are changed – transformed – sanctified.
“And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true” (verse 12).
I couldn’t just change who I was overnight all by myself.
But each choice that was obedience, each moment of listening to what the prophets say (and doing what they say to do), each experience of responding to promptings from the Spirit – this is what changed my heart, so that I was brought in line with who I was created to be.
I am still in process, and have so much to learn, but He brings me there, step by step.
And even in two years’ time since baptism, He has brought me a long way already – the change in my heart has been mighty indeed.
“… they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God” (verse 13).
It was the letting go of who I was trying to force me to be, it was the stopping behaviors that were making me someone I was not, and it was the submitting to my Father – not in an oppressive, legalistic kind of way, but in a tender and gentle way that only comes from trusting one who loves you.
The more we do this, the more we are working that Great Exchange from Isaiah 22, where we let go of what is not of God (and so also surrender the burden, or message, of curse upon us) and receive His righteousness (and so also receive His promises and blessings). It is His righteousness, not mine. He gives it to me, molds me into it, fills me with it.
This is how He sanctifies me, by the work and power of the Atonement, not by anything I deserve or have earned.
As He makes me holy, I become one of His people, His family, His tribe.
As I am transformed, His light reflects in me. His Spirit fills me. My face shines with His light.
These are the questions Alma asks:
Have you become one of His people? Have you become holy?
Do you act like it?
Can people tell?
Can people sense the Spirit of God for you, whether they have words to explain it or not? Can they tell?
Does your presence reflect His presence?
Do your interactions testify of Him?
Do your behaviors reflect the holy people you have joined, the holy God you follow?
Can people see in you the mighty change in heart? What is different? How are you uniquely set apart? What do you have to share that the world cannot offer?
“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 might change in your hearts?” (verse 14).
Do you believe He can do what He promised?
This is more than just believing that Christ was who He said He was. This is more than just knowing Christ was born, died, and rose again. This is believing He can keep His promises, that He can do what He said He did.
Do you understand what He has done for you?
Do you act like you understand the Gospel Plan?
Do your behaviors match the Gospel? Your interactions? Your choices?
If answers to both his questions (Do you believe He can do what He promised, and Do you behave in a way that shows you understand and choose His plan), then you are ready “to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds” of this lifetime (verse 15).
And if you are ready, then you can look forward to that day.
It is only when we are not ready that we fear it.
“I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness…” (verse 16).
Am I, in and of myself, righteous enough to be all God-like at any moment? No.
But do I believe He can exchange for me, by the power and work of the atonement, He can exchange what is not God for His righteousness that brings me closer to Him – and that this power can be practiced as new skills… as that mighty change in heart does mean I make different choices than I did two years ago, so that I behave different, interact differently, love differently? Yes.
We must feel guilt and remorse (verse 18)when we make bad choices or do bad things. We should. That is good and right and as it should be. But those feelings of guilt and remorse should be part of repentance, and as we repent those feelings should lessen. We will still remember what we have done, so that we remember not to repeat the mistake. But the guilt and remorse feelings are gone, because we know He has covered our sins for us. And since He has covered them, completely, then even though we remember them – He does not.
That is a powerful gift.
And that is the only way we are able to “look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clena hands” (verse 19).
And if the atonement is working in us, if we are really at-one with God, then it should show in our countenances (verse 19). People should be able to see it on our faces – see Him on our faces, feel it in our presence – feel Him in our presence. We should be giving off the same vibes as the Savior gives to us, demonstrating the same traits: love, peace, service, kindness, and forgiving-ness. This will be the evidence of our conversion, the fruit of the Spirit working in us, the proof that we are becoming more like Him, the results of that mighty change in heart.
But to become like Him, we must have that mighty change of heart. We must be purified, sanctified (evidenced by good choices we did not or could not make before), “washed white… purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him… who should come to redeem his people from their sins” (verse 21).
Our choices, behaviors, and interactions will be the evidence that testifies either for us or against us on that Judgment Day (verse 22).
Without evidence proving that we have had this change of heart, without proof of the results of this transformation, without righteousness showing ourselves as having been made holy, we cannot enter into the holiest of places with His holy people (verse 24).
We cannot go where we are not prepared to enter.
We will inherit only what we are prepared to receive.
So do you believe Him? Or do “ye make our Creator a liar from the beginning” (verse 25)?
But if you do believe Him, and if there is evidence, that gone from us is that old guilt and remorse (for that which was not of God, which has been exchanged in the great atoning sacrifice and is now gone through our repentance).
Instead, we are filled with His peace and His joy.
This is proof, evidence, results of the mighty change of heart.
“… if ye have experienced a change of heart, (then) ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love…” (verse 26).
If yes, if you are truly becoming His people, then do you act like it?
“Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble?” (verse 27).
Do you understand it is by His great atoning sacrifice that you are rescued?
And if you do, then have you responded to His invitation instead of fighting against Him?
And if you have responded, then do you live in a way that honors what He has done for you?
That’s what it means to be “worthy”. We say that all the time, but we do not pay attention to what it means. We think it means to be good, but it does not. It means much more than just being good. It means knowing that it is the Great Exchange, made possible by His great atoning sacrifice, that makes us worthy when we otherwise would not be. Then, part two is that now-made-worthy, we behave, interact, live, and serve in ways worthy of His sacrifice that made us worthy. Or, in other words, we make choices that honor the sacrifice He made for us.
We choose to become worthy (we do this for Him) of His making us worthy (which He did for us).
That’s the covenant.
And the number one thing that gets in the way is pride.
President Benson’s classic pride speech described pride as:
rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers. The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s…. (and) faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitudeand praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous.
Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. I repeat: Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.
If we take President Young’s teaching that Zion is here and now when we are at-peace with God and each other, and President Benson’s teaching that pride gets in the way of Zion, we can see clearly how pride ruins the way we interact with God and the way we interact with others. And if we cannot be Zion, if we cannot interact with God and others properly, then we “are not prepared to meet God” (verse 28).
In defining pride, Alma adds envy (verse 29), mocking (verse 30), and iniquity (verse 32).
But He is our hope. He is a hope for all of us, “for the arms of mercy are extended toward them” (verse 33).
But we must repent.
That remorse and guilt will be felt here and now, and dealt with properly so as to ease slowly through repentance and His mercy, or it will be felt later at Judgment, full-force, with full-awareness not only of our sins but of their consequences.
He wants us to take the easier way, even though it may seem hard in the moment.
“Repent,” He says, “and I will receive you” (verse 33).
“Yea, he saith, Come unto me, and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely;” (verse 34).
The “tree of life” is eternal life (the quality of our immortality), and so the “fruit” of it are all the blessings and promises that come with eternal lives and exaltations.
But to get that, we must “eat the bread and drink the waters”.
This is an allusion to Sacrament, to our baptismal covenants, and to what Christ has done for us.
The bread always represents His physical body, and our physical redemption and resurrection.
The water always represents the Spirit, and our spiritual redemption.
So we have the symbols of baptism and confirmation, ordinances required for salvation.
But there are more ordinances: we must also “come unto me” (verse 35), which is the making of covenants. It is the Great Exchange itself, which begins when we receive our endowment in the Temple.
But making covenants is not enough.
We must also keep those covenants, really living it out: “bring for works of righteousness…” (verse 35).
Every choice we make has consequences, either good or bad. Every behavior and interaction is either evidence of the Savior working in our life, or our rebellion against Him. So there is evidence, regardless; it’s just a matter of whether the evidence is for us, or against us.
“For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth good fruit (Alma then defines “good fruit”), or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness… the same will have cause to wail and mourn (because they will not receive their full inheritance)” (verse 36).
There is danger, he says, in knowing what you know but not living it.
There is danger, he says, in knowing what you know but not testifying of it.
There is danger, he says, in refusing to humble yourself, in refusing to repent, in refusing to do what He says (verse 37).
The danger is that this is the evidence, and so you have chosen your own verdict -and ruled against yourself.
“… the good Shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd” (verse 38).
All through the Old Testament, we see how new names are associated with covenant making.
When you no longer known your new name (not living up to it), it implies you no longer recognize who He is and what your relationship with Him is. When you will not keep your covenants, you prove yourself NOT to be one of His holy people.
“And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye of his fold…” (verse 39).
It’s this simple:
Good comes from God; Evil comes from the Devil (verse 40).
It’s that simple.
It’s that simple, meaning we ought to be wary of what evidence we are giving for whose we are, for whom we belong to moment to moment.
So our evidence is like a trail of breadcrumbs, leading to whom we belong: God or the Devil?
And our consequences, for good or bad, will come from those we serve: God or the Devil?
Alma makes sure we all understand how very plain and simple this is, and how very clear he has been in teaching these principles (verse 43). Alma reminds them again that these are not his words, but the words of the Lord, by the authority and power of the Priesthood (verses 44, 49). Then Alma testifies (verse 45)
“… I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit…” (verse 46).
He declares that Jesus Christ will come as promised, and that He is “the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world…” (verse 48).
Because He knows Jesus Christ is who He said He is, and because Alma believes that Jesus Christ can do what He promised, when Alma continues he testifies even of Christ’s second coming.
“… the Son of God cometh in high glory… Behold the glory of the King of all the earth…” (verse 50).
When He returns, with the sign of the covenant from when He promised to return (we promised to be watching and waiting, and the sign is the return of the city of Enoch, or the City of Holiness), all will agree He is King. They may not all immediately agree why He is King, and the sign (Enoch and the City of Holiness) will be “explained away”. But even then, He will be King, and all will know it. All will bow down and acknowledge that He is King – even those who do not yet accept Him spiritually.
So the cry is for us to repent, so that our hearts will be soft and prepared, so that we can “inherit the kingdom of Heaven” (verse 51) – receive Him and His people when they return, and receive His promised blessings when it is time. We will not choose it, in the very end, when all things are “explained away”, if we are not prepared to understand and to respond.
How do we prepare and respond?
By proving that we are, indeed His People of Holiness, that we are truly made holy.
And that we do with soft hearts consecrated to His service, meaning that we love others as He has loved us.
Or, our hard hearts will destroy us:
“Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God (priesthood, established premortally), wherewith they have been brought into this church, having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and they do bring forth works which are meet (evidence) for repentance…” (verse 54).
It is all about how we treat others:
“Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” (verse 55).
And our obedience – do we submit to Him, tenderly with our trust in Him who loves us?
Or do we rebel, kicking and fighting and doing our own thing our own way and wanting it now?
Do we humble ourselves and submit, or do we “persist in (our) wickedness” (verse 56)?
If we are truly His people, then we are separated – by that Great Exchange – from what is not of God. This is our being set apart; this is what makes us holy.
“And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things…” (verse 57).
So if he is a good Shepherd (verse 59), then we must come when he calls.
That’s the proof we are His.
“And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold (He will keep His promises!), and ye are his sheep…” (verse 60).
Alma closes his speech, finishes his testimony with the bookend of reminding the people that these words are not His, but the Lord’s. Alma speaks via the Priesthood, by the power and authority of God (verse 61).
And He speaks to the church, to members, to you, and to me.
And to those not yet baptized, he invites, “saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit (evidence) of the tree of life (eternal life).