“We get a glimpse into our Heavenly Father’s character as we recognize the immense compassion He has for sinners and appreciate the distinction He makes between sin and those who sin,” Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during the Saturday morning session of the 187th Annual General Conference.
“The Savior’s compassion in the face of our imperfections draws us toward Him and motivates us in our repeated struggles to repent and emulate Him. As we become more like Him, we learn to treat others as He does, regardless of any outward characteristic or behavior,” Elder Renlund said.
In the scriptures, disease is often used as a metaphor for sin. Elder Renlund taught, “As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ views disease in His sheep as a condition that needs treatment, care and compassion. This shepherd, our Good Shepherd, finds joy in seeing His diseased sheep progress toward healing.”
Throughout His mortal ministry, the Savior “helped and blessed, lifted and edified, and replaced fear and despair with hope and joy,” Elder Renlund said.
While God is empathetic, He is not accepting and open-minded about sin, Elder Renlund declared. “The Savior came to earth to save us from our sins and, importantly, will not save us in our sins.” To be saved from sin, “we must abide ‘the conditions of repentance,’ which unleash the Redeemer’s power to save our souls,” he said (Helaman 5:11).
God is clear about what is right and acceptable to Him, not because He wants mindless, obedient followers, Elder Renlund said. “No, our Heavenly Father desires that His children knowingly and willingly choose to become like Him and qualify for the kind of life He enjoys. In doing so, His children fulfill their divine destiny and become heirs to all that He has. For this reason, Church leaders cannot alter God’s commandments or doctrine, contrary to His will, to be convenient or popular.”
Jesus Christ’s example of kindness to those who sin is instructive for those who want to follow Him. “We, who are sinners must, like the Savior, reach out to others with compassion and love,” Elder Renlund said.
He quoted a parable the Savior taught, found in Luke 18:9-14: “ ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.’
“Jesus then concluded, ‘I tell you, this man [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the other [the Pharisee]: for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’
“The message for us is clear,” Elder Renlund said, “a repenting sinner draws closer to God than does the self-righteous person who condemns that sinner.”
This tendency to be self-righteous and judgemental was also found in Alma’s day, Elder Renlund said. As the church began to be more fully established, the people in it waxed proud and began to persecute those that weren’t members. “This persecution was specifically prohibited. ... The guiding principle for Latter-day Saints is the same. We must not be guilty of persecuting anyone inside or outside the Church.”
Elder Renlund explained that persecution comes in many forms, such as ridicule, harassment, bullying, exclusion, and hatred toward another. “Everyone, including people of religion, has the right to express his or her opinions in the public square,” he said. “But no one has a license to be hateful toward others as those opinions are expressed.”
In closing, Elder Renlund said, “As [Jesus Christ’s] disciples, let us fully mirror His love and love one another so openly and completely that no one feels abandoned, alone, or hopeless.”
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