Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. (3 Nephi 9:14)
I love the simplicity and the universality of this promise. Coming unto Christ equals eternal life. Not just for a select few who proved their valiance in the premortal life and are therefore predestined to exaltation. For everyone. "Whosoever will come, him will I receive."
Why then is the gate described as strait and the way narrow? If Jesus is reaching out in mercy, why does He say, "few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:14; 3 Nephi 14:14; 3 Nephi 27:33; D&C 132:22)?
I think it's because coming unto Christ isn't a once-and-done thing; it's a continuous process that both demands and makes more of us with every step we take to draw closer to Him.
I think the way is not just narrow, but narrowing. At first, all He asks is that we turn to Him and He pours out blessings. But then, in order to come closer, we have to surrender our treasured trash, our pride and our victimhood, our materialism and our rebellion, our apathy and our fear. Sometimes, He asks us to let go of something that afflicts us, that we want to surrender but don't know how. Other times, coming unto Him means giving up something we think we need. In both cases, we may have to wrestle with angels before we find the strength to let it go and to let God prevail. What matters at any given moment is not how far we've progressed, how quickly we're moving along the path, or how many times we've found ourselves facing the wrong direction and had to turn around, but that we continue coming, that our faces are turned toward Him, that we are taking even baby steps in His direction.
What is it that characterizes those that don't give up; that continue surrendering their trash, however awkwardly; that stay on the way? The scriptures call them the elect. But what is it that makes them so? I don't think it's strength because Jesus keeps showing us our weakness and elevating the "weak things of the world" (2 Corinthians 12:9; Ether 12:27; D&C 1:19; 35:13; 124:1). I don't think it's some sort of spiritual superiority, where some are just made of better material than others. We are all the literal offspring of perfect Heavenly Parents. Our spiritual genetics are glorious.
I think it is simply a matter of wanting Him more than anything else. Wanting Him enough to never give up. As the Lord states simply in D&C 29:7, "mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts."
Elect means "chosen." So what does it take to be elect of God? Just choosing Him. Every one of us is chosen by Him to be loved, to be called to Him by name. But then, we choose whether to respond. And when we do, He chooses us again. We become twice-chosen, elect, and we stay that way as long as we continue to choose Him. At some point, when we've chosen Him with our whole souls, those layers of choice -- His choice, our choice, and His again -- get sealed together, and we are sealed His.
Why does this matter to me?
First, it means that I don't have to worry about whether I'm made of the right stuff, or whether I'm good enough or strong enough to be elect. I just need to keep my focus on Jesus Christ and keep seeking to come unto Him.
Second, it means that I need to honour the choices of others in my efforts to gather the elect. I don't need to manipulate or pressure. I need to invite in a voice that resonates with His. And allow the Holy Spirit to work through me and touch their hearts. Whether they respond is their choice.And whatever they choose, I can come unto Christ by standing as a witness of His love.