How to Know, Understand, and Act in Basic Gospel Doctrines

We celebrated a dear Uncle’s life yesterday as he has passed from his mortal life. I was asked to deliver the doctrinal speech.

It is my pleasure to honor John Louis Marsh today. Some of you know that as a young single adult, just out of high school, I went to live with his family to care for and help Aunt Ann as she was struggling with MS and carrying her first child after over twelve years of marriage. I cherish the time I spent with John and his family. Though, I am not sure the children appreciated me pushing them to eat their vegetables. John was very good to me. He offered me a job working at Spotlight video where cousins Donna, Mark and Linda, Aunt Janet, and Grandpa Rex worked. I have some wonderful memories there.

Although abrupt and frank, Uncle John loved me in his own way. He was generous, kind, and thoughtful, but you always had to look beyond his roughness. I knew he loved me.

Uncle John loved the Gospel. His testimony of the Savior and the Plan of Salvation was a pillar in his life. I remember many talks with him and Aunt Ann on the couch after the children had gone to bed. He was concerned that I knew what was good, true, and right.

As I have been pondering on my memories with Uncle John, I have felt strongly to talk about how each of us can know for sure what is good, true and right; each of these stands upon the pillars of the basic Gospel Doctrines.

We obtain power when we not only understand doctrine but when we act in it. “The doctrine of Christ is so pure, so obtainable, and so necessary to us becoming who He needs us to be. Further, we live in a world that claims a Christ that is permissible and accepting of all behaviors. While Christ’s love is ‘perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal’[i] his laws and standards cannot be violated if we”[ii] really want to know and act in what is good, true, and right.

Ultimately, we know that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”[iii] “I the Lord am bound when you do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”[iv] Additionally, the Lord has said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”[v]

As we make efforts to understand His doctrines, we are empowered against the false ideologies of Christ. Understanding His doctrines will refine and perfect us in this life and the life to come.

It is not given to us to be commanded in all things, we should not rely on the Church to teach us all we should know, but it is our responsibility to obtain knowledge for ourselves, understand how to use that knowledge, and develop our spiritual strength and stamina to stand firm and strong. Rather than tell you the golden answer as many have already expounded to you in the past, I wish to teach the method by which one can find out on their own. First, we need to differentiate between Doctrines, Principles, and Application. Elder David A. Bednar has laid out a methodology using Doctrines, Principles, and Application to help us seek for and understand for ourselves God’s doctrine.

Doctrines are unchanging eternal truths. They are those essential things that point us in the direction of Jesus Christ. Doctrines are very few in number—only about nine. Some of them are the Godhead, the Plan of Salvation, Prophets and Revelation, Ordinances and Covenants, the Family, and the Commandments. Doctrines answer the question WHY.

Gospel principles, different than doctrines, are also unchanging, are guidelines “for the righteous exercise of moral agency. Principles are subsets or components of broader gospel truths . . . Correct principles always are based upon and arise from doctrines.”[vi] They advise us HOW to use the doctrine. Principles answer the question WHAT. Here is an example: “The Word of Wisdom is a principle with a promise which helps us to honor our bodies. The doctrine of the body is central to the Plan of Salvation. We utilize our agency to live the principle so that we can be healthy and free from bad habits and addiction. Honoring our body helps us to feel and experience the doctrine of the Holy Ghost more profoundly in our lives. The Spirit helps us to prepare to live with God again.”[vii] Just in that principle alone, I enumerated 7 additional principles!

Now, applications vary as widely as the men and women in this chapel. Each seeks guidance from the Holy Spirit to know HOW to use the Principles in order to act in Doctrine.

Now that we have discussed the different roles of Doctrines, Principles, and Application, let us consider how to increase our learning in these Doctrines, Principles, and Applications.

Again, in a methodological process, we increase our learning through three steps: Knowledge, Understanding, and Intelligence. In a nutshell, we assign knowledge to the head, understanding to the heart, and intelligence to a personal righteous application. Elder Bednar teaches that not all knowledge is equal. He says, “A hierarchy of importance exists among the things you and I can learn. Indeed, all information and knowledge are not equally important. The Apostle Paul taught this truth in his second epistle to Timothy as he warned that in the latter-days many people would be ‘ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7)

Knowledge pertains to facts, information, and abilities obtained through experience and education. Knowledge gained is stored in our heads, our brains. As we gather knowledge, we increase the ability to reason, reflect, and examine. Our Heavenly Father instructed us to gain knowledge, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (D&C 131:6)

Therefore, in the acquisition of knowledge, it is essential that we take that knowledge from our heads and drive it down to our hearts, where we understand. In Proverbs, it says, “And with all thy getting get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7) In the scriptures, understanding is repeatedly compared to the heart. Two examples are: in Proverbs 2:2 “So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding” and in Mosiah 12:27, “Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise.”

Clearly, we must use our minds to gain knowledge and we don’t usually apply our minds, but our hearts when seeking to understand. It is in the heart where we feel. It is in the heart that “we begin to understand the knowledge and experience a mighty change of heart as testimony and conviction move from our heads to our hearts.”[viii]

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Now, once we have gained knowledge and driven it deep into our hearts for understanding, we are ready to apply what we know according to our understanding. “Intelligence is the righteous application of knowledge and understanding in action and judgment.”[ix]

The following scriptures give us a picture of how intelligence or acting rightly comes directly from a sound understanding of the heart. “But a man of understanding walketh uprightly” (Proverbs 15:21). “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:34). “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). “[The sons of Mosiah] had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:2-3).

Intelligence is always linked to righteousness. In D&C 130:18-19, “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” Note in that scripture, knowledge comes before intelligence and each is linked to the respective following principle: knowledge requires diligence and intelligence is linked to obedience. Additionally, in the 88th section, verse 118 we learn that to increase our knowledge and intelligence we must “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” Again, we link knowledge with study and intelligence with faith.

British novelist and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, understood the process of increasing our learning through knowledge, understanding, and application using different words, but similar meanings. In his book, Abolition of Man, C. S Lewis taught three leading principles which give men their identity as human beings. Intellect is the head, he says, the heart is the chest and the belly is the instinct. He says using only our head and belly we become and are animals, however, when we add in the chest, the head begins to govern the belly through the chest.

Lewis believed that “…the traditional moralities of East and West, the Christian, the Pagan, and the Jew…” share similar beliefs between what is good and bad, right and wrong, and true and false. He calls this belief the Tao, which, in the Taoist, means the ultimate ‘way’ or truth in reality and human conduct. Any other path than the Tao, he says, would be creating men without chests or men without a heart, who are not really men at all; men who are unable to discern the truth from the false; men unable to recognize what they ought to do from the things they perceive.[x]

The Lord warned that in the latter days, “All things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” D&C 88:91. In our day, and as Lewis projected in his Abolition of Man, there will abound men without chests. Mankind will increase in knowledge, but not in understanding, unless they return to the Doctrines and Principles of the Gospel through careful study and faith in Jesus Christ.

The prophets and apostles, the true Watchmen on the tower, have seen our day and clearly teach us to be ever vigilant, ever seeking the truth, and acting on the truth. In recent years, President Eyring warned, “The spiritual strength sufficient for our youth to stand firm just a few years ago will soon not be enough. Many of them are remarkable in their spiritual maturity and in their faith. But even the best of them are sorely tested. And the testing will become more severe.”[xi]

Our Spiritual learning enhances Secular learning. Elder Eyring taught, “If we will keep spiritual learning in its proper place, we will have to make some hard choices of how we use our time. But there should never be a conscious choice to let the spiritual become secondary as a pattern in our lives. Never. That will lead to tragedy. The tragedy may not be obvious at first, nor may it ever be clear in mortal life. But remember, you are interested in education, not just for mortal life but for eternal life. When you see that reality clearly with spiritual sight, you will put spiritual learning first and yet not slight the secular learning. In fact, you will work harder at your secular learning than you would without that spiritual vision.”[xii]

Elder Eyring continues, and keep in mind the pattern of taking the knowledge deeply into our heart to make a lasting change and then acting on the knowledge and understanding. He says, “The purpose of God’s creations and of His giving us life is to allow us to have the learning experience necessary for us to come back to Him, to live with Him in eternal life. That is only possible if we have our natures changed through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, true repentance, and making and keeping the covenants He offers all of His Father’s children through His Church.”[xiii]

Let us return to Doctrine, which you know is a pillar of eternal truth upon which rests all the Plan of Salvation.

Let us focus on the Doctrine of Jesus Christ and particularly his Second Coming and our preparation to meet him. Jesus Christ is the “firstborn of the Father in the spirit and is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Messiah of the New Testament. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and made a perfect Atonement for the sins of all mankind. His life is the perfect example of how all mankind should live. He was the first person on this earth to be resurrected. He will come again in power and glory and will reign on the earth during the Millennium.”[xiv]

Our principal goal here, right now, at this moment, is to become like him. We can do that if we know Him, understand Him, and act in His name. Although we may not know when he is coming, He has admonished us to prepare now. “Our decisions determine our destiny,” said President Monson.

Dallin H. Oaks said, “While we are powerless to alter the fact of the Second Coming and unable to know its exact time, we can accelerate our own preparation and try to influence the preparation of those around us.[xv] He goes further to warn us “The good, the true, and the beautiful are being replaced by the no-good, the “whatever,” and the valueless fodder of personal whim.[xvi] It is time to increase our learning, understand doctrine and use the principles to act in righteousness.

In a recent email to all the youth of the Church, President Nelson told them:

I am deeply impressed by your goodness and potential. As we prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Savior, I want you to know that you have a personal role to play!

To help you gain a vision of who you truly are and understand your role in the latter days, my wife, Wendy, and I will share a special message with you on Sunday, June 3.

We have a role to play in preparing for the Savior to come again.

“My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory . . . of Zion” (D&C 136:31) Nephi said, “Blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day” (1 Nephi 13:37). Christ reveals through Joseph Smith in the 105th section, “And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself . . . and inasmuch as they follow the counsel which they receive, they shall have power after many days to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion” (D&C 105:37).

It is wise to fill our lamps with oil, wise to repent, wise to Know Jesus Christ through personal study of the scriptures, through ordinances performed for the living and the dead; through a deep study of secular and spiritual knowledge with the sole purpose of becoming like Jesus Christ. Filling our lamps with oil like this will precipitate the loving call, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21)

Enoch learned that the last days would be much like his own day in two respects: first, “the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth” (Moses 7:61); and second, there would be “great tribulations among the wicked” (Moses 7:66). In addition, Enoch “saw the sea, that it was troubled, and men’s hearts failing them, looking forth with fear for the judgments of the Almighty God, which should come upon the wicked” (Moses 7:66).

Our task is to become like Enoch’s people who “were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). And there shall God make his abode forever (see Moses 7:21).

It is my prayer that we may look deeply at our lives, the choices we are making, the education we are seeking and make necessary changes that will literally bring us to Christ as we prepare for his Second Coming. May we increase in our learning by knowing, understanding and acting in the Doctrines and Principles of the Gospel.



[i] Russell M. Nelson, Divine Love, Ensign, February 2003

[ii] Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt, As I have Loved You, Love One Another, BYU women’s conference, May 2018.

[iii] D&C 130:21

[iv] D&C 82:10

[v] John 14:15

[vi] David A. Bednar, Increase in Learning, Deseret Book 2011, pg. 154

[vii] Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt, As I have Loved You, Love One Another, BYU women’s conference, May 2018.

[viii] David A. Bednar, Increase in Learning, Deseret Book 2011, pg. 67

[ix] David A. Bednar, Increase in Learning, Deseret Book 2011, pg. 70

[x] C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man, Men without Chests,

[xi] President Henry B. Eyring was a member of the First Presidency when this article was published. Address at the Church Educational System Scripture Conference at Brigham Young University on August 14, 2001, published in Religious Educator 2, no. 2 (2001): 1–11.

[xii] Henry B. Eyring, Education for Real Life, General Conference October 2002

[xiii] Henry B. Eyring, Education for Real Life, General Conference October 2002

[xiv] Basic Doctrines,

[xv] Dallin H. Oaks, Preparation for the Second Coming, General Conference, April 2004

[xvi] Dallin H. Oaks, Preparation for the Second Coming, General Conference, April 2004


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