The power of the gospel of Christ isn’t that it points to a glorious outcome and cheers us on. The power lies in the fact that from the moment of our birth, through every decision and trial in our lives, to every necessary enhancement to our souls, to purging our sins, to lifting us beyond our mortal abilities, to cleansing, sanctifying, and purifying, Christ not only showed us the way, He is the way. It is through the grace of Christ that we can become these things which are far more than any mortal can achieve and be on their own.
He said “Come follow me” not because He had a great idea and defined a pathway toward that goal, but because He became “the way” by the shedding of His blood, and offered salvation to us at a cost that is well within our mortal budget.
It is within our reach because God does not require perfection of us per se. He requires obedience to His voice, which is His law (D&C 88:13), and in return He sanctifies, He purifies and He changes us by virtue of His grace that we become like Him. It doesn’t happen—it can’t happen—as a result of our works, no matter how impressive they may seem to be. It is eternally beyond our ability to perfect ourselves by our works. It can only happen because we obey laws that trigger eternal gifts of grace that lift us to divine climbs.
We look upon Christ as the great exemplar because He is the Son of God—and so we do, and so we should. A possible perspective on Christ’s life is that two notable things which Christ did occurred by virtue of his divine parentage. Everything else He did, He accomplished by obedience to the same laws He laid before us, and having lived His own plan flawlessly, he became perfect. He beckons us to follow Him and do the same.
Those two divine accomplishments are firstly that He lived a perfect and sinless life. He did this because He is the Son of God, He is Jehovah, and He was in His lifetime the greatest of all dwelling in a tabernacle of clay. This made Him different from us. It is not possible for us to duplicate this attribute.
The second thing is that Christ wrought out the perfect atonement by the shedding of His blood. In that great atoning act He paid the price of sin infinitely (which means that there are no limits to its power), and eternally (meaning from the beginning of existence to the end of forever), and He broke the bands of death for all of the creations of the Father. He suffered and descended below all things to obtain all truth and all understanding so that He could become the only Light of Truth (D&C 88:2) eternity will ever need or know. This only He could do because He is the Son of God. These are not things we can or are asked to duplicate.
This perspective of Christ’s life suggests that everything else Christ did, He accomplished by obedience to laws established by His Father, which Christ embraced within the gospel He established. This is something we can do. The mere fact that Christ said “come follow me,” tells us that, equipped as we are, and uplifted by His grace, we can follow Him.
10 [T]he words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.
11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.
12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. (John 14:10-12)
The point of Christ’s words above is that He was not doing His work, but His Father’s. He is here saying that the Father gave Him the power to do the works He did, and that when He returns to the Father that He, Christ, will empower us to do even greater works. He will distill into us the same power that the Father instilled in Him.
Elder Bednar taught us in these words:
“All of our worthy desires and good works, as necessary as they are, can never produce clean hands and a pure heart. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that provides both a cleansing and redeeming power that helps us to overcome sin and a sanctifying and strengthening power that helps us to become better than we ever could by relying upon our own strengths.” (David A. Bednar, Ensign, November 2007, 82, italics in original)
In other words, we have the same privileges “in Christ” as Christ had in His Father. Christ will show us all things whatsoever we should do, and then empower us to do them. Thus, faith in Christ, and works in Christ, and words spoken in Christ are the means whereby we may not only do as He did, but do even greater things.
The great chasm that we must cross to follow Him and to do the works that He did, and greater, is that we are not able in and of ourselves to be perfect, as he was. But, we do have the ability to be perfectly and flawlessly obedient—as Christ was. The beauty and power of Christ’s plan is that as we obey Him, He will provide all that we lack. He will close the great chasm we cannot cross by changing us so that we meet the standard of righteousness.
As the above reference teaches us, Christ did nothing of Himself. That doesn’t mean that He couldn’t put one foot in front of another, or that He had to be commanded to swallow food in His mouth. It means that, in all matters of His ministry, He relied upon the voice of His Father to direct Him. He did nothing more, and nothing less than what the Father commanded Him to do. He spoke only the words the Father put in His lips.
Elder Jeffry R Holland gives us this clear insight:
“Christ’s final triumph and ultimate assumption of godly powers on the right hand of his Father came not because he had a divine parent (although that was essential to the victory over death) and not because he was given heavenly authority from the beginning (although that was essential to his divine power) but ultimately because he was, in his own mortal probation, perfectly obedient, perfectly submissive, perfectly loyal to the principle that the spiritual in his life must rule over the physical. That was at the heart of his triumph, and that is a lesson for every accountable man, woman, and child who ever lives. It is a lesson for which Abinadi—and Christ—were willing to die. It is the lesson for which virtually every prophet has given his voice and his life: spirit over flesh; discipline over temptation; devotion over inclination; “the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.”
(Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 193.)
To do as Christ did we must be as obedient to Christ’s voice, as Christ was to the Father’s voice. This is well within our power. We can in all matters of our ministry speak every word that Christ puts to our lips, and perform every service that He asks and directs us to do. And then comes the absolute power of the gospel of the Son of God. When we command such obedience of our hands, hearts and lips, then Christ applies the atoning blood He spilt in Gethsemane and upon the cross, which cleanses, sanctifies and perfects us in that thing so that we “in Christ” can do all the works that He did—and in time, even greater.
(Paraphrased from The Triumph of Zion, page 285-288)