The sub-title for Chapter 8 of the Teachings of President Lorenzo Snow is “Righteous Latter-day Saints strive to ‘establish a character before God that could be relied upon in the hour of trial.” This sums up well the chapter’s thrust of encouraging people to develop a good character to win God’s approval. For example, a title of one of the sections is “If we have established a proper character, we can confidently invite God to search our hearts.” That section then continues with this quote from President Snow.
“I am under the strongest impression, that the most valuable consideration, and that which will be of the most service when we return to the spirit world, will be that of having established a proper and well defined character as faithful and consistent Latter-day Saints in this state of probation.” (p. 119)
This emphasis on the importance of a person’s character is summed up in the last paragraph of the chapter. “Our character, as Latter-day Saints, should be preserved inviolate, at whatever cost or sacrifice. Character, approved of God is worth securing, even at the expense of a life-time of constant self-denial. While thus living we may look forward. . .with full assurance that. . .we shall be crowned with the sons and daughters of God, and possess the wealth and glory of a Celestial kingdom.” (The quote contains the omissions indicated with the . . .)
Much of this chapter is based on David’s prayer in Psalm 139: 23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I find this reference to David’s prayer interesting for a couple of reasons. First, David is not held up as a model of virtue in the LDS Church. The LDS Old Testament manual says of David: “David is still paying for his sins.” (p. 291) And again, by having Uriah killed, “David thus moved from a serious but forgivable sin to an unpardonable one.” It further states that David will spend eternity in the lowest kingdom of heaven taught in Mormonism, the telestial kingdom. Therefore it is striking that President Snow holds David up as a model to follow.
But this use of David is also striking because the Bible points to him as a model – not of a man who trusted in his own righteousness – but one who trusted in God’s forgiveness! “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Romans 4:6-8)
It’s in that light that we need to read his prayer in Psalm 139. As one man commented on these verses: “David closes not with pride, but with humility. He recognizes that without forgiveness he too would fall under the wrath of a holy God. David circles back to the beginning of the psalm and asks that the Lord would use his knowledge of David to cleanse him from every evil way which would lead him away from God.” David never thought he would be blessed because of his own righteousness. He knew that he would be blessed only through the forgiveness won for him by the greatest Son of David, Jesus Christ.
So when you stand before God what will you point to in your defense? Will you point to your righteous character or Christ’s righteousness? When it comes to being worthy and acceptable to God, the only righteousness that stands is Christ’s righteousness. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.“ (Romans 3:20-24)
What will be your defense? I pray that the only evidence you will present will be Jesus’ righteousness. Everything else, especially pointing to your character, will ruin your defense and result not in praise but condemnation. David placed all his hope in the coming Savior. Because of that, in spite of all his sins, he now is living and will live for all eternity in Heavenly Father’s glorious presence. Place all your hopes in Jesus and you too will spend eternity with God.