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We Are Not Our Own

I am so grateful to have this opportunity to join with you for this devotional today. I'd like to speak today as a professor and as a student and share things that I've learned that have made a difference for me.

All of us, students and teachers, learn new vocabulary. We learn new vocabulary in studying new languages. We learn new vocabulary in studying new disciplines, like biology, psychology, literature, or history. We all agree that this is useful and even essential. Today I'd like to share two examples from my own life of how learning the meaning of words can change your life. I would like to note, however, that in both cases, the life changing power did not come from the new words themselves, but from the scripture insights they opened up.

The first insight and change from vocabulary study came when I was examining an Old Testament passage with my father in my early teens. We read together Exodus 20:12: "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." My father loved studying the scriptures and had a number of study tools. Together we looked up "honor" in the Hebrew Dictionary in these reference works. I learned that in Hebrew the root meaning of honor is weight or weighty. It refers to the weight of respect or honor, as opposed to taking something lightly. [1]

At that moment this was not just a new vocabulary word that I had learned. In that moment of studying together the Holy Ghost spoke to my heart and taught me. I realized that my behavior with friends and my performance in school reflected on my parents. I realized that my choices affected the way other people saw them. I realized that I brought honor or dishonor to their name.

This obligation is something that each member of our family has felt deeply. My mother would often say to us "Clarks don't do things like that" or "we don't do that in our family." While our motivations deepened as time went on, this foundation of honoring father and mother has allowed me and each of my siblings to each serve missions, graduate with Honors, marry in the temple, receive doctorate degrees, and continue to serve.

While the command to honor father and mother was part of the Ten Commandments given to the House of Israel, the spirit of this principle, that our lives belong to and are part of a family, is widespread in most, if not all traditional societies around the world. The sense of obligation to our family and our family name can be a very powerful motivation. Examples of this can be found both in scripture and in Church history.

In Helaman chapter five we learn that the prophet Helaman gave his sons the names Nephi and Lehi so that: "when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good" (Helaman 5:6). Helaman continues: "Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them" (Helaman 5:7). Helaman hoped that when his sons remembered their family names they would feel a sense of belonging and obligation and thus continue this heritage of righteousness.

An additional example of the belonging and obligation that comes with our family names is found in this account of President George Albert Smith. "Once, when President George Albert Smith was seriously ill, he lost consciousness and thought he had died. He found himself standing near a beautiful lake. Soon he began following a trail through the woods, and after a time he saw a man, whom he recognized as his grandfather, coming toward him." [2] His grandfather, George A. Smith, had been ordained an apostle by Joseph Smith and served as a member of the First Presidency under President Brigham Young. [3]

President Smith said, "I remember how happy I was to see him coming, I had been given his name and had always been proud of it. When Grandfather came within a few feet of me . . . he looked at me very earnestly and said: 'I would like to know what you have done with my name.' Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen--everything I had done. . . . I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said: 'I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.' He stepped forward and took me in his arms." [4]

Our names reflect a sense of belonging and obligation. We often worry about who we are, but Church leaders have encouraged us to also know whose we are--who we belong to. [5] As I grew up, as all of us do, and became exposed to teachings of a modern individualistic society my sense of belonging and obligation weakened. Contemporary culture tells us that we are radical individuals, free from obligation. Who we are is supposed to be separate from whose we are. Moving away from home we sometimes feel that we need to be our own person, to enjoy our freedom by doing what we want, how we want, and when we want. It's our life, after all.

When I was in college I heard many of the world's voices about how to live and who we are. These are very persuasive voices and in the midst of them my sense of myself as belonging and being obligated started to be drowned out. At a turning point in my life, however, I heard a voice renewing that feeling of obligation and belonging. I took President Benson's invitation and started to read in the Book of Mormon daily and as I did so the feelings of connection were strengthened. The feelings of belonging were not only strengthened, but also deepened and clarified.

I was getting close to my twentieth birthday and I wanted to prepare to serve a mission. In Conference that fall President Benson spoke of his vision of missionaries going into the field with hundreds of passages of the Book of Mormon memorized. [6] When I heard him say that I had the same feeling I did when I learned about the meaning of honor from the Hebrew Dictionary many years before. The Holy Ghost spoke to my heart and taught me. I realized that this was something that I needed to do. So I took little 3 x 5 cards and wrote out Book of Mormon verses. I carried them with me and studied them as I walked between classes or ran errands. One passage that I worked on memorizing was 2 Nephi 31:13. As I went over this scripture word for word, again and again, the power of these words brought a change in my heart. As I studied Nephi's explanation of the covenant I had made many years before I began to understand how I belonged and who I was more deeply.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ , by baptism--yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel (2 Nephi 31:13; emphasis added).

When we are baptized we witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ. We renew this covenant every week when we take the sacrament.

Studying this passage, I realized that I was not just under obligation to bring weight and honor to the name of the Clark family, but I was under obligation to bring honor to the name of Christ. I wasn't just Jennifer Clark, but I had taken upon me the name of Christ when I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As I studied and pondered 2 Nephi 31:13 I was empowered as I realized that I was promised that the Holy Ghost would help me to keep my obligation. I received a witness this was real. I had to be willing to reflect well on Christ, to bring honor to His Church and Kingdom, but it was not just about me and my power. He has power to help each of us as we demonstrate our willingness to become like Him.

In the next few years my understanding of taking the name of Christ deepened. I had opportunities, first with my honors' thesis and then my master's thesis, to study the relationship of covenant and redemption in scripture. [7] This is the second episode where studying Hebrew vocabulary changed my life. It changed my understanding of myself and my relationship to others.

In my research I learned that in the ancient Near East one's name was seen as reflecting one's nature. So a new name indicated being in a new situation or having a new nature. Receiving a new name also reflected joining a family. This reinforced the Book of Mormon doctrine that the covenant at baptism meant entering into the family of Christ. King Benjamin explained that "because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters" (Mosiah 5:7). The covenants we make allow us to be called the children of Christ and to be a part of His family.

I also learned in my research that in ancient Israel there was a special relationship between family members and redemption. In the ancient world people who ran into bad luck or hard times could find themselves in bondage as slaves. Prisoners of war were made slaves. People in financial crisis could also sell themselves or family members into slavery. In Israelite society, however, the oldest male relative had a responsibility to serve as a redeemer. This kinsman-redeemer had an obligation to family members to redeem them from bondage. Redeem literally, both in Hebrew and English, means to buy out of bondage. This social institution reflects the Lord's relationship with His covenant people. Because of our covenants we are part of Christ's family. He is our Redeemer. As our Redeemer He has paid the price so we no longer have to be slaves to sin.

The voices of the world don't tell us that spiritual bondage is real. They tell us that we are free and the more we do our own thing the more free we are. But the Lord's servants have always and will always testify of the reality of spiritual bondage. When we go against the will of God or the nature of God to any degree we will be unhappy and we will be in the bondage of sin. Christ testifies that He has paid the price for our sins. He also promises us that if we have faith in Him and leave our sins behind then we can step out of our spiritual bondage.

The voices of the world tell us that our bodies are our own. We should be able to dress the way we want to. We should be able to act the way we want to. The servants of the Lord testify that our bodies are not our own. We are under obligation to dress so that we bring honor to the Lord and His Church. We are under obligation to treat our bodies and those of others in ways that the Lord has defined.

The apostle Paul taught:

Flee fornication. . . . know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price : therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's (1 Corinthians 6:18-20; emphasis added).

When Paul explains that we are bought with a price he is telling us that we have been purchased through the price of the suffering of the Son of God. We are not our own, we have been bought with a price. Our bodies are not our own. Our lives are not our own.

The price that was paid is described by Christ Himself in the nineteenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent . . . Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men (D&C 19:16-19).

Christ paid the price so that we would no longer need to be the slaves of sin. In exchange we owe ourselves to Him. The prophets testify that we are not our own; we are bought with a price. They also warn us that as the covenant people we need to stay out of the captivity of sin.

Satan wants us to see belonging to Christ and belonging to Christ's Church as limiting our freedom. He starts this attack subtlety. For many members of the Church, it will be by suggesting that they've worked hard all week and deserve to relax and have some fun on Sunday, even if it means breaking the Sabbath. He will also suggest that we've worked hard for our money and get us to think it belongs to us, rather than to the Lord with our tithes and offerings.

For us here at BYU-Hawaii Satan wants us to see the requirements of the Dress and Grooming Standards as limiting our freedom. The requirements that tell us not to reveal midriffs, cleavage or thighs are portrayed at too intrusive. The requirements that men keep their faces clean-shaven and their hair neatly trimmed are depicted as limiting expression. Satan wants us to believe that all this is asking too much and we can't really look good or be in style if we follow these rules. The voices of the world tell us to be our own person. The voices of the world tell us that we are free and that freedom means being without obligation to others.

The voices of the Lord's servants testify that our freedom came at an infinite price. They tell us that with freedom comes obligation. They promise us that as we live the covenants we have made we will know who we are as we demonstrate whose we are. Paul warned the early Saints, saying: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1).

In the Book of Mormon Helaman describes his valiant soldiers, the sons of the people of Ammon, the ones we call "the army of Helaman":

But behold, they have received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free ; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come (Alma 58:40; emphasis added).

If we are to be like the Army of Helaman, we must also stand fast in the liberty wherewith God has made us free. We need to understand that our liberty has come through a price. We must always remember the price that was paid so that we could be free from the bondage of sin.

The Army of Helaman remembered "whose they were" because "they [were] strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they [did] observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually."

Brothers and Sisters, we are not our own. We have taken the name of Christ upon us through covenant. Each of us has a mission to accomplish in building the Kingdom of God on the earth. We cannot accomplish those missions when we are in the captivity of sin. Like the Army of Helaman we can fulfill our missions as we "are strict to remember the Lord [our] God from day to day" and "observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually." We must daily remember that we have been bought with a price. We must daily stand fast in the liberty wherewith God has made us free so that we can do His work.

I bear you my witness that Christ is our Redeemer. He has paid the price to rescue us from being enslaved to sin. This is His Church. We have taken His name upon us as His covenant people. Our lives are not our own. We must have the faith and courage to find the missions He has prepared for us and then live to accomplish His work on the earth. In the words of the Primary songs:

Dare to do right! Dare to be true!
You have a work that no other can do;
Do it so bravely, so kindly, so well,
Angels will hasten the story to tell. [8]

The Lord needs valiant servants to do his work in the latter day,
Who follow the teachings of Jesus and serve his people in a loving way,
I will be his servant and keep my covenants valiantly.
I'll stand for truth. I'll stand for right. The Lord can depend on me. [9]

That we may all so live is my prayer.

[1] ??? , (kabed) "be heavy, weighty, burdensome, honored." Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1951), 457.

[2] S. Michael Wilcox, "The Beatitudes: Pathway to the Savior," Ensign (Jan. 1991), 19-20.

[3] CES, Presidents of the Church Student Manual , 18-1.

[4] Wilcox, "The Beatitudes," 19-20; citing Improvement Era, March 1947, page 139.

[5] This encouragement to remember whose we are can be found in the writings of Sister Ardeth Kapp, Elder Bruce Hafen, and others.

[6] President Ezra Taft Benson, "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon," Ensign (Nov. 1988): 6.

[7] For a summary of my research see Jennifer C. Lane, "Hebrew Concepts of Adoption and Redemption in the Writings of Paul," in The Apostle Paul: His Life and His Testimony , ed. Paul Y. Hossikson (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1994) 80-95 or "The Lord Will Redeem His People: 'Adoptive' Covenant and Redemption in the Old Testament," in Thy People Shall Be My People and Thy God My God , ed. Paul Y. Hossikson (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1993), 49-60.

[8] Children's Songbook , 158.

[9] Children's Songbook , 162.