by Janice Graham
Book Review of Encompassing Charity by Joe Evans
What is charity in the true Christian sense? Is it merely an outward act, such as visiting the sick and afflicted, taking a meal to a neighbor, donating to a humanitarian cause, paying our tithes and offerings? Is the pure love of Christ mere kindness, tolerance, indulgence, or flattery, an emphasizing of the positive and an ignoring of the negative as is so often spouted by the world around us? The answer is a resounding "No," especially "if being self-concerned is the aim," writes Joe Evans, former BYU quarterback. In his refreshing book, Encompassing Charity, replete with spot-on scripture references and authoritative quotes, Evans fearlessly pops the complacent bubble of all complacent, church-going, blessings-seeking do-gooders, inviting us to step out of ourselves into the exalting light of Christ.
Evans briefly recounts his turbulent childhood and baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 12, but the bulk of the book is based on what he learned after his true conversion. Through the years he found that "those who displayed undeniable discipleship had a great effect upon me because they served with nothing to gain . . . These pure souls' charity was one of the instigators to motivate me to search the Church for truth."And as all who sincerely seek, Evans discovered the plain and precious truths of the gospel of Jesus, truths which are too often missed when pride creeps in, puffing us up and blinding us. For there is nothing else to see when we ourselves are taking up the whole picture.
I found this truly religious book blessedly short on fleeting human feelings and relations and wonderfully long on substantive faith and eternal truth. Evans says we must search our souls and examine our motives, for it is our intentions-the why behind what we do-that make up our dispositions.
Throughout the book the author points out specific common stumbling blocks that keep us from becoming truly like Christ (who showed pure selflessness of soul). No matter how much good we believe we do or have done, Evans says, "actions with selfish motives leave one empty and spiritual alone. I believe the misunderstanding of charity . . . cause[s] much of what ails us in today's world . . . Principled people with righteous motives can withstand the trials and temptations of the last days." Contrarily, poorly motivated, albeit good and right acts, "do not comply with true religion," and constitute the hypocrisy condemned by Jesus.
Because "without truth charity is not charity, " Evans indicates that the first step toward true charity is understanding basic truths, one being God's love, a love that was willing to give us a chance at everlasting life by way of the sacrifice of the Son. Knowing God loves you perfectly but that you are not perfect and need a Savior "changes what you pray for and how you respond to the roller coaster of life."
If humbly and sincerely believed, this simple knowledge should be a motivation to live the gospel fully from the inside out. It should cause us to repent, to pray, to serve, to do everything we do primarily and consciously out of a returned love for God (the first commandment). I agree with Evans that it is a basic understanding of God's perfect love and Christ's Atonement, and the gratitude and devotion that result, that "will drive consistent, righteous actions more than any other motive." Purifying our motives, or conquering "the inward man," is how we become like Christ.
Why is there so much resistance to true charity today, the kind that is long-suffering, that envieth not, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth in the truth, never faileth, etc.? Why in contemporary society, including within the Church (Evans points out), is there so much opposition to the surrendering of the Self? It could be that the modern precepts of men have so infiltrated our psyches that we have come to believe that the aggrandizement and fulfillment of the Self is where we can find our happiness (although we don't come out and say it quite that way). We may lack faith in these true doctrines and so tend to rely rather on the precepts of men, thus we overpraise each other, coddle and flatter our youth, and indulge hypocrisy, weakness, and sin in ourselves and others. This is to our detriment and is actually an anti-Christ philosophy. As we have become soft on sin, we have inevitably become soft on Christ as our essential Redeemer. In all our worldly learning we have set aside the things of God. Today's Self gospel denies the need for the Atonement, is grossly unreliable, and does not lead to eternal life.
In opposition to the pervasive philosophies of men, in the gospel of Jesus Christ we are called upon to resist vaunting ourselves. As Evans puts it, "You do not forget yourself by building yourself up . . . Taking on the characteristics of Christ happens only after we are 'stripped' (Alma 5:28) and see our 'nakedness (Mormon 9:5)." In fact, we are to get to the point of losing ourselves and glorifying only God, of sacrificing even our will, as Jesus exemplified, to God's.
Quoting Neal A. Maxwell, Evans points out, "'Only by educating and training our desires can they become our allies instead of our enemies!'" True joy will come only when "we are not entangled with our own selfish desires." These are hard doctrines, as Elder Maxwell used to say, especially to those who do an awful lot of outward good works (so they believe) without a thought to their selfish motives. But these doctrines are the only way to God.
In our churches and in our associations we do not hear the saving doctrines enough, at least we do not hear them emphasized. I believe, and so does Joe Evans, that these simple precepts-God's love, the need for a Savior, inward selflessness-can be instilled in us beginning at a very early age. Instead, we hear too much sociology and pop psychology, all based on feeling good about ourselves because we're special, or because we conform to traditions and perform outward acts deemed laudable.
Evans rightly warns us church-goers, "We will forget ourselves and follow the Lord, or we will be continually trying to find ourselves in some new gimmick." And in the end, when all things fail as Moroni explains, Evans reminds us, "No one will be left standing whose motives are not pure." We will fall short continually, but through repentance and reliance on Christ we can become holy, our love for God foremost and our intentions unselfish. "If our hope is centered in Christ, we will actually be purified even as he is pure.'"
We need more books like Joe Evans's and more people who care to read them.
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