What does it mean to be a disciple? Is it merely someone who, as the root of the word suggests, is disciplined? Or rather, does it imply a continuing commitment to a cause? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a disciple is defined as, "One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another."1 Interestingly enough, this website also informed me that the word "disciple" is currently in the top 40% of words being searched. Therefore, I can conclude that I am certainly not the only one striving to understand what this word means. However, it is not enough merely to know what a certain word means. With understanding comes an expectation of living in accordance with what you know. As James tells us in scripture, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."2 If the Savior simply wanted us to know that He existed, then all purpose for this mortal experience would be unnecessary. There is something more weighing in the balance. Notice again the meaning of "disciple" as defined by Merriam-Webster: "One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another." In a nutshell, this is our commission as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We first accepted Him as the Savior in our pre-mortal life, and have been commanded to do so again while on earth. Baptism is our first sign to God that we are willing to be disciples. Turning again to the scriptures, and this time to the words of Alma the Elder, we read the following about our obligation: "Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life."3 Not only do we covenant to follow Him, but to follow Him always. This can be especially difficult in a world that is influencing society more and more to focus on themselves. The world offers many things that are enticing and easy to grab onto. While these things may be convenient and certainly can make our lives much easier at times, the truth is that nothing worth having is easy. The Savior taught us that we must forsake the world, but also introduced the idea that we must forsake ourselves: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"4 We must become selfless individuals, meaning that we focus on the needs of others above our own. Being a college student and caught up in all the personal concerns that it brings, I testify of the difficulty of constantly striving to live this principle. However, as with all other things the Lord asks of us, this is not an impossible task. In truth, the quest to become true disciples of Christ is a lifelong one that does not stop even when we pass beyond the veil.
So, what must we do after covenants have been made to ensure that we stay on the path the Lord has marked for us? First and foremost, we must have a burning desire to do the Lord’s will no matter the circumstances. If we have no desire, then it won’t make much difference how well we keep the commandments and fulfill our various Church responsibilities. The Lord’s requirement has been, and always will be, "the heart and a willing mind."5 Anything less than this means that we are withholding a portion of ourselves to give to the Lord. Alma the Younger’s great sermon on planting the seed of testimony deep within our hearts is a preparatory course for those wanting to be true disciples.6 I return to a principle I mentioned earlier about knowledge of the Savior and why that alone is insufficient for a fullness of salvation. One of the greatest disciples of this dispensation, Elder Neal A. Maxwell, explained this concept with a depth and brevity that only he can conjure: "The more we become like Jesus, the more we come to know Him. There may even be, more than we now know, some literalness in His assertion, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ (Matt. 25:40). We lack deep understanding of the implications of that remark of Jesus. As with so many things, He is telling us more than we are now prepared to receive. The Prophet Joseph Smith, writing redemptively to his rebellious brother, said to William, ‘God requires the will of his creatures, to be swallowed up in his will.’ The Prophet Joseph then pled with William to make ‘one tremendous effort … [to] overcome [his] passions, and please God’ (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jesse , 115). Alas, William didn’t do it, just as some of us fail to overcome our passions and thereby fail to please God. We are too busy pleasing ourselves."7
Further, the prophet-king Benjamin taught that, "The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."8 Herein, King Benjamin teaches that we must exhibit the qualities of a child; not childish, but childlike. Further, he states that we must also be, "willing to submit to all things which the Lord [sees] fit to inflict upon [us.]" The ability to endure and, at the same time, learn from our trials is one of the most important aspects of a true disciple of Christ. We can’t tell the Savior anything about suffering that He hasn’t already felt. Humility during trials is therefore a necessity. A scripture that always comes to my mind and humbles me when I am experiencing difficult times comes from precious counsel the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph when he was in the midst of a sore trial while in Liberty Jail. It is this: "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?"9 Our most common response to difficulties is to complain, to wonder what we have done wrong, and most damagingly, to cry to the heavens as if they are somehow responsible for our hard times. In a way, they are. However, it’s not in the way that you are probably thinking. The renowned author and Christian scholar, C.S. Lewis, had this to say about God’s "role" in our trials: "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."10 In the Old Testament, the Lord summarized it this way: "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."11 I bear witness that the best way to valiantly testify of the Savior is to become like Him. When we are becoming like the Savior, then we are truly standing as witnesses of Him and of His Father. As we do this, we will come to truly know Him. This next promise in scripture is just one of many that the Lord promises to those who are willing to pursue the course of true discipleship: "Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am."12 By following these tried and true principles, there will be no trial that that can defeat us, no war against Satan and his angels that we cannot win, and lastly and most beneficial, there is no telling how many of our Father’s children will be influenced by our righteous examples. As the Savior said, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."13 The truest test of our discipleship to the Lord will be in those situations where we are not comfortable, where our beliefs and standards may be compromised. On these occasions, the Lord separates His disciples from the Pharisees. Which side do you currently stand on? What do you need to do to ensure that you will forever remain on the Lord’s side?
I bear my solemn witness that there is nothing the Lord wants more than for us to become as He is; it is only by reaching for this standard that we will one day qualify for the celestial kingdom. Do not be content with simply having a testimony of the Savior and His gospel. Let that testimony change you into who the Lord wants you to be. In the end, the Lord’s will is the only one that really matters. I testify that this Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, and every aspect of it is designed to help us become the disciples that the Lord wants and needs us to be. The world is moving in the wrong direction, while the kingdom of God rolls forth and will continue to do so until it fills the whole earth. I challenge each of us to stay off the sidelines and face the world head-on. This is the only way we can grow and realize our potential. I still have much to learn in the area of becoming a true disciple, but I do not regret anything of what I have learned thus far. I promise you that it is worth any sacrifice that you would have to make.