Summary: We know that God gives us commandments, but why? Furthermore, why do we keep the commandments God gives us? People have different reasons for doing this, but if God didn’t give us any commandments, such as, “Thou shalt not steal,” or “Thou shalt not lie,” would we not steal or lie anyhow? This article takes a close look at these questions and seeks to provide an answer to them.
Father Lehi taught his children, “And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness” (2 Nephi 2:13).
Why do we keep laws? Most of the time it’s because we don’t want to reap the negative consequences that come from breaking them. For example, most people don’t follow the speed limit laws because they want to. They do so because they don’t want to get a speeding ticket. But if there were no speed limit laws and people could drive at any speed they wanted, very few people would actually drive no faster than what the speed limit sign now says.
God gives us commandments, but in reality, they’re God’s laws. The question we need to ask ourselves is, why do we keep the laws God gives us? Is it because we have to in order to please him or to show him our faithfulness? To most people that sounds like a good enough reason, but would we keep those laws if God hadn’t commanded us to do so? Most people would probably say that there would be no reason to.
Father Lehi taught that if there were no laws then there wouldn’t be any such thing as sin. In other words, if there were no laws then there would be nothing to tell us what is right or wrong, good or bad, righteous or evil. And if that were true, then there wouldn’t be any consequences to what we do because we couldn’t be rewarded for doing good or be punished for doing wrong. But everything we do – both good or bad – have consequences to them.
Let’s say that there was no law against stealing, would we steal? If there was no law against lying, would we lie? What if there was no law against committing adultery? Would we nonetheless remain chaste, or would we willingly violate our marriage vows?
In all probability, eventually we wouldn’t do any of those things because we would learn through painful experiences that such behavior does indeed bring negative consequences. But what if there were no negative consequences? For that to happen, there would have to be no laws, and if there were no laws there would be chaos, and chaos leads to destruction. Therefore, without laws, there can be no existence.
It’s rightly been said that God can do anything he wants, supposedly because there is no one greater than him who can tell him what he must do or not do. Therefore, if God wants to lie, there is no one who can stop him from lying. If he wants to steal, cheat, destroy, or seek revenge on someone he doesn’t like, there’s nothing preventing him from doing so. In other words, God can do whatever he wants.
And because of this, it is believed that God is a law unto himself, meaning, he’s the one who decides what is right and what is wrong but that he himself doesn’t have to live by the rules he makes others live by. As such, God has the freedom and the right to do whatever he wants without facing any consequences.
But God never lies, he is always fair and just in all he does, and despite being firm and strict, he is always willing to be merciful, loving and kind to us sinful mortals. Then if God can do whatever he wants, why does he choose to always do what he himself says is the right thing to do?
The reason is because God loves behaving that way. As the psalmist said, the Lord “lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness” (Psalm 45:7). God is honest because he loves being honest. He takes delight in telling the truth and he hates telling a lie. And he has that same attitude toward everything else he does.
And the same goes for us. If we could do whatever we wanted, we would do those things that we enjoy doing and that makes us happy. What brings God joy and happiness is being righteous, and because of that he hates wickedness, or doing that which is unrighteous.
For example, no one likes to be in pain, so if we were given the opportunity to have someone hit us on the head with a steel hammer, no one in their right mind would willingly agree to such a thing because that would cause us severe pain. Instead of making us happy it would make us feel quite miserable. Yet, there is nothing stopping us from letting someone do that to us. The only reason we wouldn’t subject ourselves to such a thing is because we don’t want to, no matter how much pressure is put on us or how much incentive we’re given to do it. Therefore, we would refuse to engage in that kind of action, no matter how many times we were offered that choice.
In the same way, good parents love their children and want what’s best for them. Therefore, what makes parents happy is doing things that benefit their children. For that reason, parents willingly, and oftentimes gladly sacrifice their time, energy, and talents in caring for, teaching, and helping their children. And they do this, not because they have to but because they want to. In fact, many times they endure negative consequences as a result of being kind and caring parents. But they’re willing to endure these hardships because of the love they have for their children. For that reason, a righteous parent would rather suffer for their children rather than see their children suffer.
We call God “our Father in heaven” because we are literally his children, and like every righteous parent, he loves us, and it’s because of that love that he is honest with us, will never steal from us, and will never do anything that is not in our best interest. It brings him great joy to see us grow to become like him and so he teaches us, guides us, helps us, and does all sorts of other things for our benefit, simply because it makes him happy.
And when we do things that are wrong, God punishes us, not because he’s being mean, but to teach us not to do those things that will eventually make us unhappy. Like every loving parent, God is patient with our shortcomings and failings and is quick to be merciful to us, not because he has to but because he wants to. He certainly has the ability to be mean, spiteful, and vengeful if he wanted to be that way, but he has no desire to treat us like that. In fact, that would go against his nature, which is to show great love, compassion, mercy, and caring towards his children.
Since God can behave any way he wants, he always chooses to do that which is in our best interest because he loves being that way, and it brings him great joy. For that very reason, he has no desire to behave any other way. In fact, if someone or something forced him to behave any differently towards us, he would no doubt suffer the consequences himself rather than having us suffer them.
If we want to become like our Father in heaven, then we too must come to love being righteous to the same degree that our Father in heaven does. In other words, to become as perfect as God is, we must not keep the commandments he gives us (which are given for our benefit) simply because we’ve been told to do so. The real reason should be because we agree with them and want to live our life according to its precepts.
That means, if there was no law against lying, we would still choose never to lie. If it was perfectly permissible to steal someone else’s property, it would greatly bother us to take something that didn’t belong to us. If it was perfectly acceptable to hurt someone, we would rather suffer the hurt ourselves than see someone else suffer.
In the Book of Mormon we read where, after King Benjamin had taught his people about Christ, the people said “because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). After Ammon had taught King Lamoni and his people about Christ he said “their hearts had been changed, that they had no more desire to do evil” (Alma 19:33).
In order for us to become like God, we need to have a change of heart to where we have no more disposition to do evil, and the desire of our heart is to do good continually. When that happens then we are beginning to become more like our Father in heaven.
However, there are consequences to everything we do, and that applies to God as much as it applies to us. There are eternal laws that even God must obey, and when he abides by them the consequence is that he’s able to exercise enormous power. But should he ever violate those laws, he will face an almost immediate negative consequence, whose effect could very possibly result in him losing all of his godly power. (see D&C 121:37).
The scriptures tell us that no unclean or sinful thing (or person) can live in heaven (1 Nephi 10:21), but who decides what is a sin and what isn’t? The Lord has revealed that each kingdom is governed by law, and in order to live in a particular kingdom a person must abide by the laws of that kingdom or else they are not fit (worthy, capable) of living there and must therefore live in another kingdom (D&C 88:22-24). The reason why God lives in a sin-free kingdom is because he abides by its laws, and it’s those laws that define what is acceptable behavior. Anyone who doesn’t conform to those laws is “unclean,” or sinful, or unrighteous.
If we want to live with God, then we too must obey the same laws he does. Should we ever choose not to obey them then we will not be able to live in that kingdom. However, there won’t be any celestial police who will come and physically escort an unclean person out of heaven, with a guard stationed at the front door to prevent them from returning. It will be the law itself that will prevent an unclean person from staying in a kingdom in which they’ve violated its rules.
When we use the term “eternal laws” we’re not talking about a list of written rules that’s posted on some heavenly billboard. When speaking about these laws, we’re referring to natural laws, such as the law of gravity, the law of magnetism, the law of aerodynamics, the law of nuclear force, etc. These laws are not dependent on anyone agreeing with them. Instead, we’re the ones who must agree with them or suffer the penalty for our disobedience.
For example, if an airplane violates the law of aerodynamics, either deliberately or unintentionally, there is no one who comes along and imposes a fine for violating it. Instead, the plane will immediately no longer remain airworthy, and when that happens, the plane becomes subject to the law of gravity, which will exert its own power on the plane and forcibly pull it to the ground. Depending on how high up the plane is at the time it violated the law of aerodynamics, it will become subject to the law of stress upon impact with the ground, and if the stress is greater than what the material of the plane can withstand, it will break apart. What we see then is that the law is capable of imposing its own consequences on those who violate it.
Another example is found in chemistry. If we combine two atoms of hydrogen with one atom of oxygen, we get water, and that happens without fail each and every time we do it because it’s a law of nature. But if we combine one atom of hydrogen with two atoms of oxygen, we don’t get water, no matter how much we wish it could happen. Instead, we get hydroperoxyl.
In the same way, there are other natural and eternal laws that govern the kingdom of God, and those who do not follow those laws, either deliberately or unintentionally, will find themselves totally unable to remain there, and not even God can prevent that from happening. For example, the law of aerodynamics doesn’t do away with the law of gravity, but it provides a way to counteract or mitigate its effect, but only if we obey it.
In the same way, Christ’s sacrifice was able to provide a way to mitigate the negative consequences we should face for the sins we commit. But in paying that awful price for our sins, Christ’s atonement didn’t do away with the law of justice. It’s still there and in full force. In the same way, the law of mercy doesn’t do away with the law of justice, but it can only be applied if we obey the law upon which mercy exists. If we don’t abide by the terms of the law of mercy, we then become immediately subject to the law of justice.
To live in heaven with God is not the same as living in heaven like God because the laws are not the same. If we want to become like God, then we have to be willing to abide by the very laws God himself must obey. On the other hand, if our desire is to merely to be like the angels who live in heaven, then we won’t be required to live by the higher eternal laws that God does.
However, everyone who lives in any part of heaven is forever allowed to decide for themselves what choices they want to make. If they choose to abide by the laws of the celestial kingdom, then they reap the benefits that are attached to those laws. But if they choose to violate those laws, intentionally or inadvertently, then they must reap the consequences that come with that disobedience.
And the greater the law, the greater the benefits are for obeying it, and the more severe the consequences are for disobeying it. Since God is the greatest of all, it stands to reason that it’s because he obeys the greatest of all laws. Should he ever fail to do that, the consequences would be the greatest of all.
It is our Father’s desire to help us become like him, but for that to happen we must first learn how to obey the same laws that he himself does. Since we are eternally allowed to make our own choices, there is always going to be the possibility that we could choose to violate the eternal laws.
Therefore, what God seeks to do is help us learn to love righteousness as much as he does because if we do, then we will never be tempted to do evil, and that happens when we no longer have any deposition or desire to do anything but good. It’s when we get to the point of hating wickedness to the same degree that God does, that he knows that we will abhor even the thought of doing that which is wrong. It’s when we have come to that point in our spiritual growth that God, our Father, knows we’re ready to safely keep all the eternal laws.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of God