Summary: The most prevalent theme found throughout all the scriptures is that in order for us to become saved in the kingdom of God and gain eternal life we must keep the commandments God has given us. Because God told Abraham, “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (Abraham 3:25) many people feel that God gives us commandments simply as a way to test of our faithfulness. However, this article seeks to provide a better understanding of why God gives us commandments.
Jesus told his disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10). The apostle John taught the early saints, “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22).
In our day the Lord has said, “be firm in keeping the commandments wherewith I have commanded you; and if you do this, behold I grant unto you eternal life” (D&C 5:22), and in the sacramental prayer in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is offered upon the emblems of Christ’s body and blood it says that we are “willing to keep his commandments which he has given them.”
The most prevalent theme found throughout all the scriptures is that in order to become saved in the kingdom of God and gain eternal life we must keep the commandments God has given us. In other words, it isn’t enough just to profess a belief in Jesus Christ and his atonement, we have to do what he tells us. As Jesus himself said, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things I say?” (Luke 6:46).
To many people, both within and without the LDS Church, the commandments are viewed as something we have to do in order to prove to God how obedient we are to him. And this concept is further reinforced when we read that God explained to Abraham, “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (Abraham 3:25). Thus, keeping the commandments is often considered as a test of our faithfulness.
For example, people think that God could ask us to stand on our heads for ten minutes each day and then watch to see how faithful we would be in doing exactly as he asked. In the Book of Mormon we read that when God commanded Nephi to kill Laban he responded by saying, “Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him” (Nephi 4:10). Nevertheless, when God commanded Nephi to do something that was contrary to the law of Moses, this was a test to see how obedient Nephi would be in doing whatever the Lord commanded him.
The most dramatic example of this is when God told Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. This was the child who was miraculously born in Abraham’s old age and through whom all the promised blessings would come. Therefore, it made no sense to Abraham why God would ask him to kill this child. Nevertheless, Abraham did as he was commanded and because of his obedience the Lord said to him, “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy son, thine only son from” me” (Genesis 22:12).
Abraham was obedient in keeping the commandments of God, even when it didn’t make sense to him, and he passed the test. The same happened with Nephi. However, such was not the case with King Saul. After being commanded to kill all the Amalekites along with all of their possessions, Saul kept some of their cattle. When the prophet Samuel confronted the king about this violation of God’s commandment, Saul said that he was saving the cattle for use in offering a sacrifice unto God. In a stinging rebuke, Samuel told Saul “Behold, to obey [the Lord] is better than [offering him a] sacrifice, and to hearken [to the voice of the Lord is better] than [offering him] the fat of rams” (1 Samuel15:22).
From stories such as these we get the very distinct impression that God gives us commandments primarily for the purpose of testing whether or not we will be true and faithful to his word and in doing no other thing than what he tells us. And for being valiant in our obedience to God, he rewards the faithful by allowing them to live with him in heaven.
This concept is further reinforced when the Lord told Joseph Smith, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20,21). As we have already seen, if we want to be blessed with gaining eternal life, then the law upon which that blessing is predicated is keeping the commandments of God, no matter what it is he asks of us.
In Arabic, the word Islam means “submission of desire to the will of God,” and in the Muslim religion the idea of total and complete submission to God’s will is expected in order to gain entrance into heaven. The reason why Muslims pray three times a day on their knees, with their heads touching the ground as they face towards the city of Mecca is simply because this is what they believe God has commanded them to do.
Yet, this concept of submission to the will of God is also evident in the Christian religion. We read where Jesus totally submitted his will to that of the Father (Mosiah 15:7) and because of this Jesus has been exalted to sit on the right hand of God. Also, because Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did none other thing than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation (D&C 59:9).
Thus, it is easy to conclude that gaining eternal life is our reward for being obedient to whatever God commands, no matter if it makes sense to us or not, or how unpleasant the command may be. With a view like this, it is natural to feel that if we can just grit our teeth and do as we are told in order to prove our faithfulness to God then, when we die, we will be rewarded with living in heaven with God where we can rest from our labors forever.
However, this is not the purpose why God gives us commandments. Rather than proving our love and faithfulness to him, the purpose of all the commandments is to help us to become just like him. Therefore, instead of thinking of the commandments as demands that God dictates to us, we can come to appreciate them more when we understand that they are part of the eternal rules we must learn to live by if we expect to be worthy and capable of living with a perfect God.
As in all things, God provides patterns to help us see and understand his ways and there are many patterns that show God’s purpose is giving us commandments. One such example is found in the relationship between children and their parents. Children tend to resent the rules that their parents make, mainly because they want to do things their way. This is especially true of teenagers who have reached a point in their development where they want to make their own decisions and feel that rules confine them and restrict what they want to do. This attitude comes from a growing feeling that they know more than their parents which then makes them think that their parent’s rules are either old fashion, unwise, and/or unfair and unjust.
But what they fail to realize is that civilized life cannot exist without rules that everyone is expected to follow. For example, everyone must follow certain rules when driving a car. To a teenager, some of these rules may seem illogical and excessive but, in reality, they are necessary and have been implemented to help avoid certain kinds of accident that have happened in the past, that teenagers lack the experience to understand or appreciate. And the same is true of rules that employees must follow at work. In marriage there are rules that, if followed, will make for a happy home life, but when those rules are violated then discord develops, which can lead to hurt feelings, that can grow into an attitude of bitterness, that can lead to divorce.
Another name for rules is a formula. For example, there are rules or a formula that must be followed when cooking or baking. If we want to make a tasty meal or a delicious cake, or a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner there are certain ingredients that must be used, put together in a precise manner, and cooked at a precise temperature for a specific amount of time. There is another formula that must be followed when erecting a structure. Whether it is high-rise office building or a simple, single story house there is a common formula that must be strictly adhered to.
For example. every building must have a foundation on which a skeletal structure is built that includes the walls and roof, which is later covered both on the outside and the inside. In addition to this, there are rules for how foundations are to be made, and the taller and stronger the building needs to be, the stricter the rules for a foundation becomes. There is a certain order in which things must be done. For example, you have to run the electrical wiring and the plumbing before the drywalls are put up.
More than this, when putting in electrical wiring there are rules as to what size wire is to be used, depending on what appliances are to be connected to it. When putting in plumbing pipes there are rules governing their size, depending on what they are going to be used for, and there are rules for how they are to be installed. In addition to these, there are rules for the construction of the framework that make the walls. Without the proper bracing technique, the walls would be unstable and easily collapse. The same is true of building the roof. Plus, there are rules of what size beams are to be used for the walls, floors, and roof.
However, none of these rules were arbitrarily made. Each of them came about through years of building experience that helped us learn what produces the best result. When people decide that following these rules cost too much money and decide to use cheaper material or they take shortcuts rather than doing things thing according to the construction codes, the end product is not as safe as it should be. Of course, there are people who are content with living by an inferior standard and who are willing to take the risks that go along with that, but when we decide to take shortcuts in keeping the rules that God gives us, we risk losing our salvation.
Another way of looking at this subject is going to college to learn a profession. For example, if someone wants to become a doctor, one of the many classes they have to take is the anatomy of the human body. However, this course is far more in-depth than a regular biology class. They have to know the name and function of every muscle, bone, ligament, tissue, and organ. They not only also have to know how each of these parts of the body works but how they work to optimal efficiency They also have to know about all the various known diseases and maladies of the human body and how to cure or at least help fix them. This also includes knowing all the medical devises and medicines available, how they work, and what they are used for.
When a medical student has graduated from college they still cannot practice medicine. To do that they need to be tested to see if their knowledge meets at least the minimum state requirements in order to be given a license to treat patients. However, the license is not a reward for passing the test. Instead, it certifies that this person has the knowledge and skill to give proper medical care to the sick and injured. Therefore, when a patient sees that certificate of license hanging on the wall of their doctor’s office, they feel confident that their physician is highly competent to care for them.
The commandments that God gives us are to provide us with the knowledge of righteousness that is necessary for us to be capable of living in heaven. Unlike most Christian faiths who teach that all we will be doing in heaven is spending eternity singing praises to God, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that heaven is a place of work. Instead of sitting around doing nothing, we will be ministering to the needs of others on a vastly grander scale than anything we can do here on earth. But in order for us to fulfill those duties, we need to gain the knowledge of righteousness that will allow us to function in a perfectly righteous world. Thus, when we follow the commandments God give us we are preparing ourselves to live and work comfortably alongside God and the angels.
At the same time, when we choose not to follow the commandments of God, we are deliberately refusing to learn those things that are necessary in order for us to gain eternal life. As such, God doesn’t “reward” people for keeping the commandments by allowing them to live in his kingdom forever but rather he certifies those who have kept his commandment as having been found sufficiently worthy and capable of inheriting eternal life.
There’s yet another way of viewing the commandments. When someone wants to become healthy and strong, especially competitive athletes, they use the help of a trainer. One of the things they do is work on various exercise machines that are designed to strengthen specific muscles. For example, there are machines designed to strengthen the upper chest muscles. There are machines that are design to strengthen the abdomen muscles. There are machines meant to strengthen the back muscles, the upper thigh muscles, the lower leg muscles, and the upper arm muscles. There are also machines meant to improve a person’s cardiovascular system.
Under the direction of a competent coach, as he sees the person is making progress, they increase the amount of weights on each of the machines, thereby helping to further strengthen all the various muscles in the body. They also make sure that the trainee is doing their exercises properly and safely and they monitor their workouts to insure that they don’t overdo their exercises and are doing enough of them.
But to be healthy also includes eating the right kinds of foods. Therefore, nutrition is an important part of their overall fitness program. A coach makes sure that the person they’re training is eating the right amount and kinds of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, and nutrients. They also counsel them about the kinds of food to avoid in order for them to gain optimum health and strength.
For those who are professional athletes or those who are preparing to participate in competitive games, such as the Olympics, such a regime is extremely necessary if they want to be in the best physical condition to win against other highly proficient players. Therefore, when their coach sees that they are not following the rules of their training program, they do everything they can to talk them back into doing what they should.
If our desire is to inherit eternal life, then the commandments of God spells out the training program we must follow in order for us to achieve that goal. The commandments cover a wide range of areas and as we apply them in our life we find ourselves becoming spiritually stronger in all the difference ways of godliness. In addition to this we need to partake of nutritious spiritual food which has often been referred to as feasting on the word of God. But that also means not partaking of spiritual junk food, which is anything that will weaken us spiritually. And when we do get off our training program, or we indulge in unrighteous behavior, the Holy Ghost, who is our coach, calls us to repentance in an effort to get us back to doing those things that will help us to be spiritually strong enough to endure living eternally with God.
But being spiritually strong is only half of what’s needed to inherit eternal life because God is not only perfectly righteous but he is also perfectly wise, and if we want to inherit his kind of life then we too must learn to become perfectly wise as well. And here again there is a pattern that can help us see and understand this principle.
Suppose there is the president or a CEO of a very large successful company who has several children. Every father wants their children to grow up to become successful and if his children want to be part of their father’s business and be able to do what he does, then that father will train them in every aspect of his business.
He will perhaps start them off in the mailroom where they learn that part of the business. Then he will move them to the production line to understand what that is like. Then he will move them to the shipping and receiving department. If they do well there then they will be moved to the customer service department, and then to marketing, finance, sales, and, as they show potential, their father will move them into supervisory positions. If he sees that they are applying themselves and have the talent, he will move them into upper management with the goal of them someday becoming vice presidents where they will be able to assist him in managing his business and helping it to become even more successful.
However, at each level there are rules of the company that must be followed. For example, in the mailroom, the mail comes in from the Post Office every day at a certain time, and it has to be checked in and signed for. There are also packages coming in that have to be properly received. All of this has to be sorted according to departments and placed in their proper bins. Then, at a certain time each day, the mail has to be delivered throughout the various offices. There is also the outgoing mail that has to be collected, grouped, and prepared for pickup by the Post Office. And throughout this mundane routine, there are company regulations that govern how employees are expected to behave.
And this is not only true of the mailroom but each department has its own set of company rules that have to be followed. And there are no more stricter rules to follow than those in the finance department where every cent has to be properly accounted for as money comes in and money is spent paying bills.
However, each of these rules and regulations have been developed over years of experience and are based upon proven management principles. And, in large measure, it is by following these many and varied rules that has made the company become successful. Therefore, it is by following each rule and regulation exactly that helps the business to run smoothly, efficiently, and profitably.
Now imagine a new employee who thinks that they know better how to do things than the president of the company. This would be like a five-year old thinking they know more than their parents. The president of the large corporation didn’t become highly successful in a very competitive business by not knowing what he was doing, therefore, it is the employees who need to listen to the experience of their company’s president rather than the other way around.
Our Father in heaven is in the business of saving souls, and the name of his company is called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint. Since those who belong to this organization have expressed a desire to become perfect as God is perfect, then he is willing to train us not only in how to become perfectly righteous but how to become perfectly wise as he is. To do this he places us in all the various departments of his company so we learn all the different aspects of what it takes to save souls.
Since God is perfect, then it follows that everything he does is perfect, and it is impossible to make something more perfect by adding something to it or taking something away from it. Therefore, as children of a perfect, heavenly king, who want to someday be able to be and do what he does, then our duty is to follow what God asks of us, and to do it as exactly as we can because the commandments are a major part of his training program for us to become like him.
On the other hand, those children who are not diligent in gaining the necessary knowledge and skills needed to perform the various aspects of their father’s business cannot be promoted above their level of competency, not because their father doesn’t want them to advance but because they are not qualified or capable of holding any higher positions of importance and responsibility in his company.
And the same is true with our Father in heaven. If we are not diligent in keeping the commandments then we are not learning the skills and gaining the knowledge necessary to take upon us the duties and responsibilities that go along with eternal life. In that case, we will have disqualified ourselves from inheriting this greatest gift that God wants to bestow upon us simply because we were not willing to keep the commandments.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation