Talk: “Becoming Like Christ”

I was asked to speak in church today on Elder Scott D. Whiting’s recent conference talk, “Becoming Like Him,” for about 5 or 6 minutes. I delivered the talk in my congregation, the Sonoma Ranch Ward (meets here at noon) more or less as written below.

Good Afternoon! I’m Tom Nysetvold, and I just moved to the area for a new Valero assignment around September 1, with my wife Elissa and our kids. They are Dan, who’s 5; Will, who’s 3; and Marie, who just passed the 6 month mark. We like reading, writing, hiking, and making food. Will likes Dr. Seuss, Dan likes reading Roald Dahl, and Elissa and I are both big fans of Tolkien and Brandon Sanderson. I only have about 5 minutes, so that’s enough about us.

I was asked to speak today about Elder Scott D. Whiting’s October 2020 talk “Becoming Like Him,” which I’ll occasionally paraphrase. Elder Whiting references 3 Nephi 27:27, where Christ asked the people “What manner of men ought ye to be?” and answered “Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” We are commanded to become like Christ. Elder Whiting likened this to climbing Mount Fuji, a challenge that has to be approached one step at a time.

There’s a quote from President Oaks on this idea of becoming, which I like a lot. He said:

“…the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” [Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” October 2010]

The core recommendation of Elder Whiting’s talk on “becoming” is to pick a specific attribute of Christ to work on. I think a vague commitment to “be Christ-like” can end up reducing to “be nice” or “be a decent person.” It’s can be a kind of squishy concept. It’s the grown-up version of telling a toddler to “be good.” There are lots of ways to “be good.” There’s only one way to “obediently and quietly stay in your room after bedtime.” The specificity has value.

A narrower commitment to develop a specific Christ-like attribute, with harder lines around it, can help us precisely because it is narrower and better-defined. The attribute can remind us that the bar is high and firm. In a footnote, Elder Whiting shares an observation from minister Charles Sheldon:

If our definition of being a Christian is simply to enjoy the privileges of worship, be generous at no expense to ourselves, have a good, easy time surrounded by pleasant friends and by comfortable things, live respectably and at the same time avoid the world’s great stress of sin and trouble because it is too much pain to bear it—if this is our definition of Christianity, surely we are a long way from following [in] the steps of Him who trod the way with groans and tears and sobs of anguish for a lost humanity; who sweat, as it were, great drops of blood, who cried out on the upreared cross, ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?

So to truly follow the challenging path marked out by Christ, we need to do more than be decent – we need to become like him, in a specific attribute-by-attribute way. Elder Whiting explains the value of choosing one specific attribute to focus on:

“By focusing deeply on one needed attribute, as you progress in obtaining that attribute, other attributes begin to accrue to you. Can someone who is focusing deeply on charity not increase in love and humility? Can someone who is focusing on obedience not gain greater diligence and hope? Your significant efforts to gain one attribute become the tide that raises all boats in the harbor.”

Introspection and discussion with family or close friends can help determine an attribute to focus on. Elder Whiting also says “it is vital that we also ask our loving Heavenly Father what we are in need of and where we should focus our efforts. He has a perfect view of us and will lovingly show us our weakness. Perhaps you will learn that you need greater patience, humility, charity, love, hope, diligence, or obedience, to name a few.”

This makes sense to me – I’ve chosen an attribute to work on myself, and I think the specificity will help me. I invite you to do the same.

As we focus on a specific attribute, we will be able to see examples of it in others and in the scriptures. It can provide a lens to view the world, sharpening our vision.

We really can make progress. Elder Whiting references the scripture mastery classic, Ether 12:27:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

As always, we need not run faster than we have strength, but we must be diligent. Elder Whiting warns us that:

The commandment to be like Him is not intended to make you feel guilty, unworthy, or unloved. Our entire mortal experience is about progression, trying, failing, and succeeding. As much as my wife and I may have wished that we could close our eyes and magically transport ourselves to the summit, that is not what life is about.

You are good enough, you are loved, but that does not mean that you are yet complete. There is work to be done in this life and the next. Only with His divine help can we all progress toward becoming like Him.

I know that focusing on a specific attribute can help us learn of Christ and become more like him. I know that as we strive to become like Christ, we can know that we’re heading in the right direction, and we can feel the peace he has promised to his disciples. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that President Nelson is God’s prophet today, and that they will help us as we work to gain Christ’s attributes. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

I thought this went all right. Five or six minutes is a shorter window than I’m historically used to, with the service shortened for the pandemic, but I think I did a reasonable job of explaining something that is both true and important. Hard to gauge crowd reaction when everyone is wearing a mask, but if anyone keeled over dead from boredom, they did it discreetly. The “talk on a talk” prompt is always a bit constraining–this is not my most original writing–but in this case I really did like the source talk, and I thought the key recommendation to pick an attribute of Christ and work on developing it was a worthy topic.