The Gift of the Holy Ghost
As fearsome as loss of control is, it may not be the most fearsome thing about the self-emptying required by the welcome of the Holy Ghost. Our greatest fear is that if we empty ourselves of our will, then effectively we will cease to exist. Giving up our will is frightening because we think it means our extinction. As a person, I believe that "I am my will," and if my will is no longer mine, what personality can I continue to have that is mine?
But giving up my will only means my extinction if personal identity is a function of will. For a long time, several hundred years, we have thought that identity and will cannot be separated, so we cannot be blamed for our fear of giving up our will. But for a very long time before we thought that personal identity is a matter of will, we understood that it is a matter of love. What if that earlier thought is right, as I think it is (an idea hardly original with me)? What if we are who we are because of who and what we love rather than because of what we will?
If so, then loving God and other persons enough to empty ourselves of our will, yet continuing to love, would reinforce rather than extinguish our identity. Extinguishing our will would remove the impediments to love that the will might raise. The loving welcome of the Holy Spirit requires that we give up our will, but it also gives us ourselves in a new form, the form that comes about in love.
Having trusted God and come to mortality, those who come to Christ are learning to live by faith in him, trusting that he can make us otherwise than we are. As we live by faith, the way in which we see and experience the world changes; we repent. And as we live repentant lives, in principle our fallen state is overcome: we return to a direct relationship with God if we welcome the Holy Spirit.
The assurance given to those who welcome him is extraordinary. Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-46 promises that if we exercise whatever supposed authority we may have over others "by persuasion, by longsuffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned," and if we let our "bowels also be full of charity towards all men," and if we allow "virtue [to] garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly," then, "the Holy Ghost shall by [our] constant companion."
All those "ifs" seem of-a-piece to me: to exercise authority by persuasion, longsuffering, gentleness, and meekness requires that I have charity. Those things are charity. And I cannot have charity for anyone if the center of my being is not strengthened and supplied—garnished—with moral excellence in the broadest sense, the excellence of God. Being loving as God is and being morally good are the same thing.
Living in God's presence in mortality, in other words having the Holy Spirit, doesn't mean power, will, and vainglory. It means meekness, love, and moral excellence. That's the newness of life toward which the commandment to receive the Holy Ghost leads us. Welcoming the Holy Ghost is the culmination of faith, repentance, and baptism.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.