"And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (Abraham 3:24,25).
In this one short statement is summed up the purpose of the plan of salvation. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that the reason why the earth was created and we were born into mortality is "to see if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command [us]." Those who do what the Lord commands shall receive exaltation. Those who fail to follow the commandments of God will receive a less glorious reward after the resurrection.
Because of such a belief, we often refer to this life as a test of our faithfulness. Indeed, when the scriptures declare "we will prove them herewith" we usually interpret that to mean that during our life here on earth we are constantly being subjected to a series of tests and that God is grading us according to how well we do on the tests which He gives us.
The problem with this concept is that it infers God doesn't know how we will react to any given situation, therefore He must prove us, or test us to find out. If that is true, then God can't be all knowing. In other words, if God has to give us a test to see whether we'll be faithful to Him or not, that clearly infers that God doesn't know the results of the test before hand. But if God is all knowing, then He knows the results of the test before He ever gives it. In that case, what is the need for us proving to Him whether we will be faithful or not?
This dilemma arises because of an incorrect assumption about the word "prove." The dictionary defines "prove" as "to test the truth, validity, the worth or quality of something; to compare against a standard -- to show oneself to be worthy or capable (Meriam-Webster Dictionary). Since God knows everything, it's clear that we are the ones who need proof concerning our worthiness of receiving exaltation. We are the ones who must develop our capability of living up to the standard which qualifies us for the highest degree of salvation. Thus, we might better interpret the scripture as saying, "We will give them the opportunity to qualify themselves by observing if they will take advantage of all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them"
In order to give us this opportunity, God gives us tests, not because He needs to prove us worthy but because we need the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy.
The word "test" is defined as "a way of examining something to determine its characteristics or effectiveness; a series of problems to measure knowledge or intelligence" (The American Heritage Dictionary) "The procedure of submitting something to such conditions or operations as will lead to its acceptance or rejection. A basis for evaluation required as proof of conformity with a set of beliefs" (Meriam-Webster Dictionary)
Before we can inherit any degree of salvation, we must conform to the laws which govern that kingdom (D&C 88:38,39). When we came to earth as mortal beings, our spirituality was not sufficiently developed to qualify us for the greatest gift of salvation, and, while in this life, all of us struggle to conform to the standard which is required to achieve exaltation. In varying degrees, each of us constantly fails to fully follow the commandments of God. Our Father not only knows this will occur, but He expects it to happen. That is the reason why He prepared a Savior before the earth was ever created.
If that is so, then why does He need to test us?
The purpose of the test is not to make God aware of our faithfulness, but to give us repeated opportunities to conform to the standards and laws which govern exaltation. The tests are given for our benefit, not His. The tests are given to help us increase our knowledge, skills, and spiritual strength. Our Father in heaven gives us tests as a means of showing us our weaknesses. It's His way of saying, "Here's where you need to improve." As such, the tests which God gives are meant to assist us in becoming worthy or capable of inheriting the celestial kingdom.
But how does God administer the test and what exactly is He testing us on?
As quoted earlier, God sent us to earth so we could prove or demonstrate, more to ourselves than to Him, that we are willing and striving to do all things whatsoever He shall command us. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the time of our baptism, and as repeated in the sacramental prayer, we made a covenant to keep all God's commandments which He has given us. And how many commandments has He given us? The number ranges in the hundreds. In fact, no one has ever really calculated or listed all the commandments which we've received from God. If that is so, then how can we keep them all?
Fortunately, for us, God is not so much concerned about the mechanics of how we keep the commandments, but rather He judges the intent of our heart concerning why we keep them.
To better understand this principle, we need to understand why God gives us commandments. As the apostle Paul wrote concerning the law of Moses with its multitude of commandments, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ." (Galatians 3:24). In the same way, the commandments which God gives us are only tools which, if properly applied in our lives, will bring us to a Christ-like character.
Although the commandments themselves are important, what God is more concerned with is our character. In order for us to inherit what Christ has offered us, we must first become like Christ, and that is the purpose why we are asked to keep the commandments. However, if we fail to become Christ-like, no matter how many commandments we keep, we will not become exalted. So the question really is: What does it mean to be like Christ?
Jesus told His disciples, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34,35).
Jesus did a lot of things during His mortal life. He tirelessly traveled throughout the countryside preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out devils. He resisted temptation, raised the dead, corrected inaccurate understandings, cleansed the temple of corruption, comforted the grieving, gave blessings, cared for little children, built a church organization, instructed future church leaders and most of all, gave His life in a way that would atone for the sins of all mankind. Yet all of these many deeds can be summed up in one commandment - Love your neighbor as thyself.
But it's more than just doing good deeds. Loving your neighbor becomes more Christ-like when it is coupled with doing it to help God save His children.
That's what motivated Jesus. He declared, "I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which sent me" (John 5:30). Therefore, He preached the gospel to save people from the consequences of their sins because that's what was important to His Father. He cared enough about people to heal them, to forgive them, and to comfort them because that's what was important to His Father. He built a church organization and provided strong leaders to help perfect the saints because that's what was important to His Father. The greatest evidence of His love for us was His willingness to die for our sins. Truly "greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). And yet, even in this, He did it because that's what His Father wanted Him to do. This was Christ's character.
If we want to become like Christ, then we must have the same concern and love for people that He had. Whether we pay tithing, attend church meetings, accept callings, do our visiting/home teaching, prepare genealogical records of our relatives, regularly visit the temple, raise children or anything else we may be called upon to do, what matters most is the way we care for and show our love toward others the way our Father in heaven wants us to. If we are not performing the things which the Lord has commanded us with an attitude of love for others, we are not becoming like Christ. And without true, genuine, sincere love for the welfare of others, no matter how many commandments we keep, we are failing the test.
From the time of our birth, life is made up mostly of us doing "things." For example, to survive, we must eat. Because we need protection from the raw elements of heat, wind, cold, rain, snow, and other forces of nature, we must obtain housing and clothing. To maintain our health we need exercise, rest and sometimes medicine. And it is because of these and other necessities that we continually do "things" that will provide the temporal needs of ourselves and others. Therefore, we go to work to earn a living. We go to doctors to maintain or improve our health. We go to school to gain knowledge, which, in turn, helps us earn money to provide what we need or want. All these activities are "things" we do to survive and get along in life.
There's no question that having food, shelter, clothing, medicine, money, professional skills and other similar items are important. But when it comes to what we've trying to prove to God, none of these things matters, except as they help us to become more Christ-like. Earning a living, developing a trade, being successful in business, fixing up the home, buying food, attending to civic duties and the like are all busy work. Those are the things necessary to get along as a civilized society. However, because that's not what we're being tested on, those kinds of activities should not be the main focus of our life. It's the way we treat people that matters most.
Since we must do busy "things" in order to survive, the Lord designs His test to accommodate our situation. It is while we are busily engaged in the day-to-day activities of life that He watches to see how we treat others. The test is: Can we keep focused on what's eternally important while doing what is temporarily needed?
Let's look at some situations. A father must work to provide for his family, but does his work become more important to him than his family? During his busy work schedule, does he ignore his children and speak sharply to his wife, or does he make time to care for his children and court his wife? In business, a company must make a profit if it expects to survive, but how does a manager treat their employees when they're job demands they bolster a falling bottom line? A teacher has a lot of paperwork to do, both in preparing their lesson and evaluating the progress of their students, but does the paperwork take precedence over the needs of each child? A police office must deal effectively and swiftly in defeating crime, but do they know how to balance justice with appropriate mercy? A baseball player or a pop singer is expected to perform to the best of their abilities, but do they treat their fans with indifference or with gratitude?
The same holds true with keeping the commandments of God. We are commanded to do visiting/home teaching, but are statistics or our personal time more important than the families assigned to us? We are commanded to teach our children right from wrong, but is our approach dictatorial and demanding, do we teach with love and patience, or do we allow too much permissiveness in the name of free agency? We are commanded to magnify our callings. The calling of a ward librarian requires that they catalog, maintain, and account for all supplies, but can they do that effectively without being sharp or complaining of those who are not timely in returning items? The most common calling in the church is that of a teacher, but is a teacher glad when class is over or do they still care about their students even after they've left the room?
The busy "things" we do in life and the commandments we receive from God are only tools that provide opportunities for us to show love to others. It's when we think that the tools are more important than people that we lose sight of what we're actually being tested on.
There are people who buy a brand new car and spend all their time cleaning, waxing, and shining the outside of it. They fret over every speck of dirt, or every tiny scratch, yet they rarely lift the hood to make sure there is enough oil in the engine or that the air and gas filters are clean, or that the transmission fluid isn't dirty or burnt. But why do we buy a car? Is it meant to be a show piece that sits in the driveway for everyone to admire? Not at all. The main reason for purchasing a car is so we can get from one place to another in a quick and comfortable manner.
Although waxing a car is a good idea, it does nothing to increase the effectiveness of why we bought it. When the engine doesn't work properly, no matter how shinny the outside may be, we either don't reach our destination, or do so with much difficulty and inconvenience. The same thing applies to the commandments of God. Without the engine of love for others that drives our desires, we will not arrive at the celestial kingdom, despite all the other "busy work" and other "things" we do.
What makes the Lord's test even more challenging is that it's not always easy to put people first when the demands of life press hard against us. Many times we get so caught up in the busy "things" of life that we tend to focus on the here and now rather than on the hereafter. Stress, fatigue, frustration and the desire to succeed often cloud our judgment and confuses our priorities. When we're treated unfairly, impolitely, or rudely we often want to respond the same way. Yet, whether we realize it or not, the Lord continues watching to see if we will prove ourselves worthy of inheriting exaltation by the way we treat others regardless of how they treat us.
It was Jesus who counseled us to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you: that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven...For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?" (Matthew 5:44, 45, 46) That is the real test.
All the busy things we do are merely outward "things" that help us survive in this world, but they are inconsequential when it come to measuring up to the eternal standard. Rather than look on the outward appearances, the Lord looks upon the desires of our heart (1 Samuel 16: 8). Jesus taught, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Luke 6:45). "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:20-21).
If we are to inherit the kingdom of heaven, then we must treasure love in our hearts for others above everything else. When our hearts are set upon love of God and of others, then we will automatically bring forth an abundance of Christ-like qualities. When our heart loves God's children as much as He does, then we will have no problem keeping His commandments. We came to earth to prove we can do that. Therefore that is what the test is all about.
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