Keeping the Commandments

Summary: To be saved we must repent, be baptized, and keep the commandments of God. However, the difficulty in this process is enduring to the end in keeping the commandments. But what does it mean to endure and when is the end?  This article seeks to answer both questions.

In Alma 7:15,6 we read: “go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism. And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me.”

In this sermon Alma tells us that to be saved we must do three things. The first is to show God that we are willing to repent. The second is that we need to make a covenant with him that we will keep his commandments, and we formalize this covenant “by going into the waters of baptism.” In other words, being baptized is similar in purpose to us putting our signature on a contract. The third thing we must do from that point forward is to honor that contract or covenant by keeping the commandments of God.

If we do those three things Alma then says that we “shall have eternal life.” The word “shall” has a very specific meaning. It doesn’t mean, we might, or maybe, or that there is a possibility that we will gain eternal life. It specifically means that we are assured or guaranteed that we will achieve this goal. In this sermon Alma says that according to the testimony he received from the Holy Spirit, if we do these three things it is an absolute sure thing that we will gain eternal life. There are no ifs, buts, or maybes about it.

But the difficulty in this process come when we realize that we must endure keeping the commandments to the end. But what exactly does it mean to “endure?”

To some people the word “endure” conjures up the image of us gritting our teeth and suffering through some sort of unpleasant, painful experience such as taking bad tasting medicine or getting a root canal done. Although things such as these are meant to make us better in the long run, they are not something we enjoy going through. This is the same way some people view keeping the commandments of God. It’s something they feel we have to do that somehow, in the long run, will make us better, but doing it is not a pleasant or easy experience.

Then there are others who think that enduring means that we have to keep all of God’s commandments perfectly all the time, which is an impossible task. And if that’s the case they wonder if they will ever be worthy of inheriting eternal life.

In the sense that this word is used in the scriptures, to “endure” means to “continue, persist’ persevere, strive, keep going, never give up.” Thus, to endure in keeping the commandments of God means that we will continually persist in trying to live the way God commands us to, no matter how many times we might fail to do so. It means that despite all the challenges, temptations, relapses, struggles, and difficulties we have in keeping God’s commandments that we will never give up trying and that we will persevere in our efforts for however long it takes to finally master keeping all of them all of the time.

But the scriptures seem to suggest that we are being tested to see how well we will keep the commandments until “the end,” but when exactly is “the end?” To most people, “the end” comes when we die. In other words, when our body ceases to function we have reached the end of our life and so has our test. And the Book of Mormon seems to verify this idea (Alma 12:24). However, we also know that our life doesn’t end when our physical body stops functioning. Our real self (which is not our body) is immortal and upon the death of our body our spirit goes to the spirit world where it continues to live.

Once in the spirit world, are we no longer required to keep the commandments of God? Of course not! We are under just as strict a requirement to obey God there as we are here. Then, if that is true, then it must also be true that we must continue keeping the commandments of God even after we die. Therefore, the death of our physical body cannot be “the end.”

We further know that there will come a time when our bodies will rise from the grave and be reunited with our spirits, which is known as the resurrection. At this time we will stand before the judgment bar of Christ where it will be determined which kingdom we will inherit – telestial, terrestrial, or celestial. Is the resurrection then “the end?” The Lord has told us, “blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life” (D&C 50:5, italics added). Therefore, if we must endure even in death it would appear that the resurrection is the end.

But we know that the term “eternal life” doesn’t just mean living in the celestial kingdom. It refers to a specific condition within the celestial kingdom known as exaltation. Thus, when the scriptures talk about gaining eternal life we can understand that as meaning gaining our exaltation. And it is those who are exalted who wear crowns and sit on thrones. All others who live in the celestial kingdom are not exalted beings but are merely servants to those who are worthy of a far greater degree and weight of glory (D&C 132:16).

When we talk about “eternal progression” what we are saying is that we are progressing towards becoming like our Father in heaven. Since he is perfect and there is nothing greater than perfection, then it is obvious that when we finally become perfect then our progression or journey to perfection has come to its ultimate end. Clearly we must continue keeping the commandments of God in order to become perfect, so is this when we have finally reached “the end?”

The Lord has explained, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). God teaches us truth and light and the more we keep his commandments the more truth and light we receive from him until we have gained all truth and have all light. When that day comes we will have become perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. Hence, the “perfect day” is the day when we become perfect, therefore it would appear that “the end” comes when we have finally reached perfection.

The idea of enduring to the end causes some people to wonder if such a requirement is fair. They argue that some people just can’t keep all the commandments no matter how much time they’re given so it would be unfair to deny them eternal life simply because they are incapable of doing what God asks of them. However, there are several things we all experience in life that illustrate the fairness of this concept.

For example, many companies offer a retirement plan whereby they offer their employees a paycheck every month even after they have stopped working for the company. However, in order to take advantage of this offer, a person must first be hired by the company. The process of getting hired begins by being interviewed to see if the applicant meet’s the company’s work standards. Then, once the offer to work for the company has been extended and accepted, there are usually a number of documents that must be signed to formalize the agreement.

Part of those agreements are that the employee will come to work and perform their duties at a satisfactory level of performance. The company then agrees that if the employee successfully meets this requirement for a specified number of years (such as 25 or 30 years) or by a specified age (such as age 60 or 65) they will allow the employee to retire from working but will still continue to pay them a certain amount of money each month for the rest of their life.

But someone who does not officially become hired by a company has no claim on participating in the company’s retirement program. An employee of the company who does not live up to their end of the agreement and is terminated is likewise no longer entitled to receive the benefits of the company’s retirement program. And the same is true of those who quit the company before working the required number of years or reaching the required age of retirement. Therefore, in order for someone to receive the benefits of the company’s retirement they must be a faithful employee in keeping the agreement they’ve made all the way to when they can officially retire.

We see this same concept with schooling. A young child starts their schooling in kindergarten but they must successfully graduate through twelve grade levels before they are awarded a high school graduation diploma. Those who fail to successfully complete all twelve grades or who drop out of school before finishing their education are not entitled to receive a graduation diploma.

From there a student may decide to further their education by going to a school of higher learning, however, there is a process to getting into any college. An application must be submitted and the college administration has to accept that application. Then, once a person has been accepted there are legal forms that must be signed that bind both parties to certain, specified agreements. Since not all colleges are equal in their academic standings, the requirements to enter college are different from one institution to another, as are the agreements made.

In addition to this, some colleges offer a degree in certain subjects that other colleges don’t offer. Therefore, if someone wants a degree in a certain field they must apply to a college that offers that particular degree. And in order for them to be accepted they must meet the requirements of that particular college.

However, once someone becomes a student, they are not guaranteed to earn the degree for which they are working towards. Just like with any company, they must be faithful in living up to the agreements they made at the time of their enrollment. If they fail their courses or quit their schooling before they have reached the end of their educational process, they are not entitled to being awarded a degree.

We see this same concept in sports. There are many contests that involve running a race. In most races the person who comes across the finish line first is awarded a prize. But winning a high school race doesn’t entitle someone to receive an Olympic gold medal. If someone wants to earn an Olympic medal, they first have to be accepted to play in the Olympic games. Those who fail to accomplish this first step have no chance of winning an Olympic medal, no matter how good they are.

But once in the game, a player has to train hard and work hard in order to win the prize. Those who do not put forth their best efforts into running a race are not going to be successful in beating their competitors. And only those who endure to the end in winning all the games against their opponents receive the highest medal.

Our Father in heaven is in the business of saving souls and he invites us to come work with him. When we have repented and are baptized we have made a commitment to God to keep his commandments. Then there are the work requirements necessary to help God build up his kingdom. At the end of our labors God promises to let us enter into the joy of his presence where we will retire from our labors and receive all that he has. But those who don’t join his church, or who are not faithful in keeping his commandments, or who quit in laboring in his kingdom are not entitled to the retirement program that he offers.

In college there are certain specific courses that must be taken in order to receive a specific degree and each course is designed to teach students to become knowledgeable and proficient in a particular field of endeavor. In the same way the commandments God gives us are not arbitrary rules he has made up just to test our faithfulness. They are designed to teach us how to become like him and be able to do what he does. In this sense, earth life is like going to the university of the gods and if we successfully complete all our courses, in the end we will be awarded with a degree in godhood.

But there is only one church that prepares people to receive this kind of a degree. People may attend other churches and come to know God and serve him and do good in his name but if they have not entered into a formal covenant with Christ by being baptized by the proper authority into his one and only true church, and have not been faithful in keeping their covenants with him all the way to the end, they cannot expect to receive the honor of inheriting eternal life.

The apostle Paul likened life to a race where the winner receives a crown (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-29), but in our spiritual journey to become like God, all who finish the race will receive a crown of eternal life. But if someone runs in a race different from the one God has decreed, or if someone quits the race before they get to the finish line, then they forfeit the crown of victory which could have been theirs.

Repentance and baptism are just the entrance requirements needed to be accepted into the kingdom of God. It is just the beginning of our journey to becoming like God. Alma says that all those who remain faithful in keeping the commandments of God all the way to the end will inherit eternal life. In other words, once a person has been properly baptized, as long as they are continually striving to keep God’s commandments, and never give up until they have reached perfection, they will eventually reach the end of their journey and will be awarded their exaltation, and be given a crown of glory.

What’s important isn’t how long it takes for us to become perfect. What’s important is how persistent we are in persevering until we reach the end. But if the end doesn’t come until we become perfect, and perfection may not come until long after the resurrection has taken place, then why does Alma say that it is our life here on earth that is our “probationary state, a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state…which is after the resurrection of the dead” (Alma 12:24)?

In this life we are faced with innumerable things that seek to sway us to disregard or discourage us from living the commandments of God and Satan and his followers lay in wait for every opportunity to persuade us to follow the path that leads to hell. But in the spirit world there are no such temptations. If we can remain in the race, stay the course, and never give up striving to honor our covenants in this life, despite everything around us that is trying to get us to follow the ways of the world instead of following God, then it is almost certain that we will continue striving for perfection in the next life when there will be nothing persuading us to do otherwise.

On the other hand, those who have turned away from upholding their covenants while in this life will not suddenly find themselves wanting to do so in the next life. If they lacked the desire to follow the commandments of God in this life, they will carry that same attitude with them when they enter the spirit world. Thus, our life here in mortality can either strengthen our resolve to follow God or it can weaken it. However, the choice of which course to follow is ours to decide.

This is why Alma says that if we can remain faithful to God to the end of our life here on earth it is guaranteed that we will continue to strive in our efforts to keep the commandments of God after we’ve laid our mortal bodies in the grave. And even after the resurrection, when our bodies rise from the grave, our desire to keep our covenants will remain with us until we are finally able to become perfect in keeping all the commandments all the time, just as our Father in heaven does.

But once we become exalted beings, does that mean we no longer need to keep the commandments? The reason why our Father in heaven is God is precisely because he completely and fully obeys the laws of truth and righteousness at all times. If he were to do just one unrighteous act, the heavens would withdraw themselves and he would lose the power and authority of his priesthood (see D&C 121:37), and if that were to happen then he would cease to be God. The commandments God gives us are designed to teach us how to obey the same laws of righteousness that he does.

Therefore, if God himself must continually keep the laws that govern the celestial kingdom in order to retain his power and glory, then clearly all other exalted beings must likewise be required to do the same. And if that is true then it appears that there is really no end to us keeping the commandments of God.

 

Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation