Father: A Title of Holiness to Emulate

Father playing with his children

When Christ taught the Nephites a discourse similar to the Sermon on the Mount, He instructed the gathered multitude, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name” (3 Nephi 13:9; Matthew 6:9). One of the important doctrines that Jesus made clear during His ministry in Israel and His appearances on the American continent was the importance of worshipping God in the name of the Father.

Jesus Christ teaching the people

Generally, the Saints of Old Testament times addressed their prayers directly to “God,” “Lord,” “Lord God,” or “Lord God Almighty” (Genesis 4:26; Moses 5:5; 1 Samuel 2:1; Psalm 99; 1 Nephi 1:14; 1 Nephi 18:3; Helaman 11:3-16; Ether 2:14; see also Bible Dictionary, Prayer). They were well aware that they had a Heavenly Father, but it was not something that they expressed frequently. For example, in the first five books of Moses in the Holy Bible, there is only one referral to God as their father: Deuteronomy 32:6. Another complication is that divine forms of address can have multiple meanings as explained in the Bible Dictionary, God:

“When one speaks of God, it is generally the Father who is referred to; that is, Elohim. All mankind are His children. The personage known as Jehovah in the Old Testament times, and who is usually identified in the Old Testament as Lord (in small capitals), is the Son, known as Jesus Christ, and who is also a God. …Many of the things that the scripture says were done by God were actually done by the Lord (Jesus). Thus the scripture says that “God created heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), but we know that it was actually the Lord (Jesus) who was the creator (John 1:3, 10), or as Paul said, God created all things by Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:9). The Holy Ghost is also a God and is variously called the Holy Spirit, the Spirit, the Spirit of God, etc.”

There are approximately 25 to 32 references to Father in the Old Testament, and most of those are referring to the attributes or works of Jehovah—Jesus Christ—who is also referred to as “…The everlasting Father…” (Isaiah 9:6).

The understanding of the Saints living in the meridian of times would change dramatically with the birth and ministry of the long awaited Messiah. In the Gospels, there are about 172 references to God as the Father. The remaining New Testament books have approximately 75 references: for a total of 247. The Book of Mormon parallels this same type of usage. The books prior to the birth of Jesus have a total of about 45 uses of Father, but Third Nephi uses the term about 178 times, and some 32 references in the books that follow: for a total of about 220. One of the most sacred examples of addressing God as the Father in the Book of Mormon is when Moroni recorded the exact words to be used in the introduction to the sacrament: “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ…” (Moroni 4:3; 5:2). It is crystal clear to whom these hallowed prayers are addressed.

Jeasus Christ and Heavenly Father

Another level of understanding the organization of the Godhead is evident in the title “the Son of Man,” which is used about 80 times in the Gospels in referring to Jesus. This phrase confirms a special and sacred name of the Father that was first expressed in the language of Adam: “…Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ,…” (Moses 6:57). Holiness is a defining characteristic of both the Father and the Son. As explained in the Bible Dictionary, God: “The God of the scriptures is a holy being. Man is commanded to be holy because God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2).” These Old Testament commands are repeated by Jesus during His Sermon on the Mount: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). In the Book of Mormon, the resurrected Lord makes the following addition to this challenging commandment: “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). The resurrected Christ has now also become a Man of Holiness like unto his Father. The words perfect and holy are interchangeable in this context. Like Saints of olden times and in the meridian of times, modern-day Saints are to be holy as both the Son and the Father are holy.

As we prepare to celebrate “Father’s Day” on June 17, 2018, one of the key questions for all prospective fathers, fathers, and grandfathers to ponder in our minds and hearts should be: How can we strive to become holy in our thoughts and actions?

Father helping his son get ready for church

We are continually challenged to do the following:

  • obey the first principles and ordinances of the gospel,

  • strengthen our families,

  • study the scriptures,

  • honor the Sabbath day,

  • worthily partake of the sacrament,

  • pay a full tithe,

  • righteously exercise priesthood duties and blessings,

  • gather Israel through missionary work,

  • minister to the poor and needy,

  • receive the ordinances and keep our covenants made in the temple,

  • enable the salvation of the dead.

As we endeavor to do all that we are commanded to do and all of the good causes that we are “…anxiously engaged in…” (Doctrine & Covenants 58:27), it is important that we not become discouraged. In Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s General Conference address “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” he counseled:

With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem. That is not what the Lord wants for Primary children or anyone else who honestly sings, “I’m trying to be like Jesus.”

Elder Jeffery R. Holland quote on earthly parents.

We should strive with all our hearts to be like Jesus. President Russell M. Nelson explains, “…our adoration of Jesus is best expressed by our emulation of Jesus.” (Ensign, November 1995). Our goal both in mortality and in the eternities, is to become holy men—fathers—like unto our Heavenly Father and the Son of the Man of Holiness—even Jesus Christ.