Attitude of Obedience
Why do we obey?
Why do we obey? Whether it be to God, the laws of our government, or our parents, we obey for one of 3 reasons.
Fear of punishment: Do we obey because we fear being punished or because we fear the consequence? If you steal a car, for example, the punishment is prison. Throughout the scriptures the Lord warns nations and people of punishment for their disobedience. "And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, exept he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him." (Helaman 12:3)
Hope for reward: Do we obey because we hope to be blessed or be rewarded? When a child performs his chores or duties, he or she hopes for a reward, perhaps an allowance. When we obey God's commandments, many of us may hope to be blessed. If we obey the Word of Wisdom, we hope the Lord would bless our health. When we obey the Law of Tithing, we hope the Lord would bless us temporally. It would seem to me that there is not evil in this. God's blessings make us happy and true happiness is what we seek. "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). "...prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room to receive it." (Malachi 3:10)
My wife and I are learning that as parents we need to teach our children obedience. Why do we as parents want our children to obey us? As parents we've laid down rules that we want our children to obey. We want to protect our children from harming themselves and we want them to act in such a way that will make bring them happiness. Why, then, does God want us to learn obedience? In the same way, our Heavenly Father has laid down rules that He wants us to obey. These rules, or commandments, protect us from harming ourselves and ultimately bring us everlasting happiness.
As parents, my wife and I try to teach our children consequences for their actions. We've tried to teach obedience sometimes by punishing. We may take away a privilege or use "time-out". We also have tried to reward him with good behavior. It seems, also, that our Heavenly Father does the same. He may punish us for our disobedience. The scriptures are filled with warnings against the disobedient. I used to see church disciplinary actions such as disfellowshipment or excommunication as something very negative. And while this is not something any of us would want to happen to us, my eyes have been opened to the amount of love that is present in a Bishop's counsel. Through my calling, I've had to sit through some Bishop's counsels and I've discovered that it is a counsel of love. "Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you." (Doctrine and Covenants 95:1). There must be consequences for our actions. And for serious sins their must be a serious discipline, or else there would be nothing to keep us from continuing on in our sins or in our bad habits.
Love towards God: Do we obey simply because we love God? Do we obey God's commandments without asking why? "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15). Also in John 13:34-35, "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." And finally in Matthew 22:37-39, "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
One of the greatest examples of obedience is found in the Pearl of Great Price. (Moses 3:5-6) "And he gave unto them [Adam and Eve] commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me." Adam didn't ask why and it seemed he didn't yet understand. All that mattered to him was that God commanded him to do it. Perhaps our attitude should be similar.
If you're like me, you want to understand all things and you may ask why the commandments are as they are. And I have found that understanding the commandments comes as you obey them. I used to wonder why sexual sin was considered so serious but it wasn't until I witnessed the birth of my first child did I understand why the law of chastity is so important. I realized that God had given us the power to create a life, and in doing so has made us more like Him. I could understand that when we misuse that power of creation we mock God. It is better explained in an article from The Ensign entitled "Ye Are The Temple of God":
"The body is an essential part of the soul. This distinctive and very important LDS doctrine underscores why sexual sin is so serious. We declare that one who uses the God-given body of another without divine sanction abuses the very soul of that individual, abuses the central purposes and processes of life, 'the very key' to life, as President Boyd K. Packer once called it. In exploiting the body of another - which means exploiting his or her soul - one desecrates the Atonement of Christ, which saved that soul and which makes possible the gift of eternal life. And when one mocks the Son of Righteousness, one steps into a realm of heat hotter and holier than the noonday sun. You cannot do so and not be burned."
Again, the answer to "why" comes after you have been obedient.
Ezra Taft Benson on Loving God First
"To love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is all-consuming and all-encompassing. It is no lukewarm endeavor. It is total commitment of our very being - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually - to love the Lord.
The breadth, depth, and height of this love of God extend into every facet of one's life. Our desires, be they spiritual or temporal, should be rooted in a love of the Lord. Our thoughts and affections should be centered on the Lord. 'Let thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord,' said Alma, 'yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever" (Alma 37:36).
Why did God put the first commandment first? Because He knew that if we truly loved Him we would want to keep all of His other commandments. 'For this is the love of God,' says John, 'that we keep his commandments' (1 John 5:3).
We must put God in the forefront of everything else in our lives. He must come first, just as He declares in the first of His Ten Commandments: 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me' (Exodus 20:3).
When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims of our affection, the demands of our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities...
The great test of life is obedience to God.
The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it.
The great commandment of life is, 'Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all they mind, and with all they strength' (Mark 12:30).
May God bless us to put the first commandment first and, as a result, reap peace in this life and eternal life with a fulness of joy in the life to come."
"The great test of life is obedience to God," states President Benson. This is reaffirmed as we read in the Pearl of Great Price. There it describes a council in heaven where they discussed the creation of the Earth and the Lord stated, "And we will prove them herewith [meaning you and me], to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (Abraham 3:25).
How should we obey?
To fulfill the law and obey the commandments is important, but that is not enough. Our attitude also matters. Do we go to church and accept callings with reservations or grudgingly? Do we unwillingly help clean the church building or help someone move when we're asked to do so? Do we reluctantly hometeach or visit teach our assigned families? Do we "murmur" and complain as we do what we're asked to do by our parents, by our church leaders, by our government officials, and by our God? Laman and Lemuel of the Book of Mormon are infamous for their wicked ways, yet they did everything they were asked to do. They left Jerusalem with their father into the wilderness. They returned to retrieve the Brass Plates. They returned again to bring Ishmael and his family. They helped build a boat and crossed the ocean to the promised land. Then why were they cursed by God and considered to be wicked? It was their attitude. (1 Nephi 2:11-13). They lacked faith and they complained about "many things". They even saw an angel of God and yet continued in their disbelief (1 Nephi 3:29,31). Even Nephi could not understand their attitudes. He reprimanded them, "...Behold ye are mine elder brethren, and how is it that ye are so hard in you hearts, and so blind in your minds, that ye have need that I, your younger brother, should speak unto you, yea, and set an example for you? How is it that ye have not hearkened unto the word of the Lord? How is it that ye have forgotten that ye have seen an angel of the Lord?...and how is that ye have forgotten what great things the Lord hath done for us, in delivering us out of the hands of Laban, and also that we should obtain the record?...how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him?....let us be faithful to him." (1 Nephi 7:8-12).
Another more recent example is that of Oliver Cowdery. Oliver Cowdery was at one time the "second elder of the church" and right-hand man to Joseph Smith. He assisted the Prophet in translating the Book of Mormon. He was with Joseph when John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood and when Peter, James, and John restored the Melchezidek Preisthood. He was one of the 3 witness of the Book of Mormon in which an angel of God showed him the gold plates and he also heard the voice of God declaring that the gold plates were translated by the power of God. He was a prominent leader of the early saints. He again was with Joseph Smith at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and beheld in vision Moses, Elias, Elijah, and the Savior himself. But in 1838, he was excommunicated from the church for rebellion against the prophet. Some have said that if Oliver Cowdery had been faithful, he would have been martyred along side Joseph Smith, instead of Hyrum, in the Carthage Jail.
It was pride that caused Oliver Cowdery to be disobedient. President Ezra Taft Benson, in his speech "Beware of Pride" explained that the central feature of pride is enmity toward God (meaning enemy of God). "Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers...Disobedience is essentially a prideful power struggle against someone in authority over us. It can be a parent, a priesthood leader, a teacher, or ultimately God."
Moroni explains how we should serve with "real intent". "For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such." (Moroni 7:6-10).
The Lord expects nothing less that our whole selves dedicated to him. "Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day...[and] an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work." (Doctrine and Covenants 4:2,5) In both James and Moroni, we are counseled to ask God regarding the truth, but that we should ask with "real intent" and with "faith, nothing wavering".
Obedience requires faith, and how we obey is a manifestation of our faith. Or in other words, when we disobey the commandments we are showing a lack of faith. President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote, "Our lives are the only meaningful expression of what we believe and in Whom we believe. And the only real wealth, for any of us, lies in our faith. Why do I say this? Faith in a Divine Being, in the Almighty, is the great moving power that can change our lives. With it comes the only lasting comfort and peace of mind. God is our Eternal Father, and He lives. I don't understand the wonder of His majesty; I can't comprehend His glory. But I know that He is intensely interested in our welfare and involved in our lives, that I can speak with Him in prayer, and that He will hear and listen."
I can remember when I was around 8 or 9 years old, while sitting in Primary, I made a decision that I would serve a mission and that I would not let anything get in my way. When I was a senior in high school, I was being recruited by several colleges to play football. All the universities, except for BYU, didn't know what to think about me leaving for 2 years. And at first, the coaches would question my decision, but I would tell them that I was going to serve a mission for my church, and if that was a problem for them that I simply wouldn't go to their school. I learned here that when we make a firm decision to be obedient, that temptation has no power over us. "...I will go an do the things which the Lord commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." (1 Nephi 3:7). And the Lord will prepare a way. "I believe that God will always make a way, even when there appears to be no way." (Gordon B. Hinckley). Also, we are taught in the New Testament, "There hath no tempation taken you but such is as common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1 Corinthians 10:13).
"Please never say: 'Who does it hurt? Why not a little freedom? I can transgress now and repent later.' Please don't be so foolish and so cruel. You cannot with impunity 'crucify Christ afresh' (Hebrews 6:6)...Why? Well, for one reason because of the incalculable suffering in both body and sprit endured by the Savior of the world so that we could flee [from sin]. We own Him something for that. Indeed, we own Him everything for that. 'Ye are not your own," Paul says. 'Ye [have been] bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.' (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)." - Elder David A. Bednar, president of BYU-Idaho.
Spirit of the Law vs. Letter of the Law
Many Latter-Day Saints rationalize their choices by leaning on the "Spirit of the Law". In keeping the Sabbath day holy, do we "bend the rules" a bit saying that spending the time at a baseball game with our family complies with the Spirit of the Law? In my opinion, we first obey the Letter of the Law and then take it a step further by obeying the Spirit of the Law. If I obey the Word of Wisdom to the letter, I am abstaining from alcohol, tea, coffee, tobacco, and illegal drugs. If I obey the Spirit of the Law, I would abstain from anything that is harmful or addictive such as caffeine, gambling, credit card debt, pornography, etc. Also, I would consider my body a temple of the Spirit of God (1Corinthians 3:16-17) and not "vandalize" it with tattoos or inappropriate piercings. Moreover, I would be actively involved in taking good care of my body with proper nutrition and exercise. In reference to the Word of Wisdom, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "We receive numerous letters inquiring whether this item or that item is proscribed by the Word of Wisdom. If we will avoid those things which are definitely and specifically defined, and beyond this observe the spirit of that great revelation, it will not involve a burden. It will, rather, bring a blessing. Do not forget: it is the Lord who has made the promise."
The Savior also taught, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28).
It would seem to me that God sees things in "black or white". It seems there are no gray areas for God. You are either sinning or you're not. You're either obeying His commandments or you're not. Read the following scriptures and see if you don't get that same impression.
Doctrine and Covenants 1:31 - "For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance."
Moses 6:57 - "Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence..."
3 Nephi 12:48 - "Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is heaven is perfect."
3 Nephi 13:24 - "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
Revelations 3:15-16 - "I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."
Moroni 7:11-13 - "For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil. Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and figtheth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God."
Alma 30:8 - "For thus saith the scripture: Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve."
It seems that God expects perfection. However, the sad truth is that we all fall short of perfection. Yet, there is hope for each of us thanks to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He suffered intolerable agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and he was tortured to death on the cross at Calvary...and this he did out of love. This He did so that we would be able to repent of our sins and gain entrance into His kingdom. John Gardner said, "Life is the art of drawing without an eraser," but there is an eraser. That eraser is found through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
President Hinckley wrote, "Without question, we find our greatest example to follow in the Son of God. He is the greatest example of excellence in all the world. He condescended to come to earth under the most humble of circumstances. He grew up as the son of Joseph the carpenter. He struggled with the adversary on the Mount of Temptation. He came forth resplendent and beautiful and magnificent to teach the world. During His brief ministry, He brought more truth, more hope, more mercy, more love than anyone else who has ever walked the earth. He died on Calvary's cross for each of us. He was the great paragon of righteousness, the only perfect man to ever walk the earth. His was the wondrous example toward which we might all point our lives in our eternal quest for excellence. None of us will become perfect in a day or month or a year. We will not accomplish it in a lifetime, but we can begin now, starting with our more obvious weaknesses and gradually converting them to strengths as we go forward with our lives. This quest may be a long one; in fact, it will be lifelong. It may be fraught with many mistakes, with falling down and getting back up again. And it will take much effort. But we must not sell ourselves short. We must make a little extra effort. We would be wise to kneel before our God in supplication. He will help us. He will bless us. He will comfort and sustain us. He will help us to do more, and be more, than we can ever accomplish or become on our own. Tremendous is our opportunity to reach beyond the hoped-for goal of wealth and wordly success to build and strengthen others, to relieve suffering, to aid in making the world a better place, to be as a light. Tremendous also is our potential for leading out and standing up, in every arena of our lives, for the virtues that will make our individual lives, our families, and our society strong and vibrant."
Since perfection is not possibly in this life, we must become familiar with the process of repentance. True repentance first requires us to recognize and admit we've sinned, and then to feel remorse, guilt, or otherwise described as having a broken heart and contrite spirit. We must confess our sins to the Bishop when appropriate. We must make restitution wherever possible. And we must forsake our sins, never to do them again. One of the greatest examples of repentance found in the scriptures is that of the Anti-Nephi-Lehites. They buried their weapons of war in the ground as a sign that they would rather die than return to their sins. "And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace." (Alma 24:19) And some of them did die, as later their enemies came upon them and began slaying them without resistance until 1,005 of them were killed (Alma 24:21-27). As this war continued, they showed great faith as they sent their young sons off to battle in their stead so they would not break this promise they made with God.
Every home library should have The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball. In this book, one learns the true process of repentance, one learns how often we do in fact sin, and one learns how truly it is a miracle to be able to find forgiveness.
Strength in Obedience
A patriarchal blessing is a sacred and personal blessing that generally is discouraged from being readily shared. It is our personal compass through this life. However, I would like to share some of the instruction I was given because I think all of us can benefit. I was instructed, "Learn the law of obedience. Be obedient and loyal to your parents. In obedience there is a strengthening process. You will find that as you obey you will develop the sinews of character and righteousness just as surely as when you train your body you develop physical muscles." Being familiar with the human body this statement makes much sense to me. Our bodies are bound by the "use it or lose it" principle. When people are incapacitated and are unable to move their body, the muscles begin to atrophy. A week of being "bed-bound" in a hospital can take several more weeks or even months of recovery. Oppositely, as we participate in exercise programs and train our bodies, we become stronger and healthier, our self-esteem improves, we prevent disease, and ultimately enrich our lives. Similarly, each time we resist a temptation and obey a commandment, we gain strength and power to continue obeying that commandment, and we find true happiness and favor in the Lord's eyes.
Only a few weeks ago, my wife commented to me that she thinks I've changed...that over the past 6 months I'm a better person, easier to get along with and easier going. I thought that maybe it was because we both re-discovered a talk by President Benson called "Beware of Pride" and that we've tried to implement that in our lives. Since then I've realized that about that same time, I decided to make some changes in my life and stop doing things that I know were wrong. I decided to overcome my weaknesses and turn them into strengths. As I remain persistent in being obedient, I've gradually felt a greater happiness within myself. Now, when I'm tempted to be disobedient, I choose to disregard the temptation because I don't want to lose this feeling of happiness within me. Again I refer to my patriarchal blessing as I hope you will apply it to your lives...it says, "You will be subjected to trying temptations, but if you are true and faithful you will know the peace and joy of godliness."
Examples from the Scriptures
Here are examples from the prophets of the scriptures:
Helaman's 2060 Stripling Warriors: (Alma 57:21) "Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness..."
Joseph: (Genesis 39:7-12) "And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. " Joseph literally "fled" from temptation and sin.
Abraham: (Genesis 22) The Lord tested Abraham's faith and obedience by asking him to sacrifice his only son. Abraham went faithfully, without murmuring or asking why, and was about to sacrifice his son when stopped by an angel of God. Would we be able to show as much faith and obedience?
King Lamoni: (Alma 22:18) "O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou are God, wilt thou make thyself know unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee...."
From elementary school through high school, I could think of many instances where the peer pressure was great to experiment with marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, and sex. Each time I refused and sometimes removed myself from that environment. However, as I look back, I would have been smarter to never have entered those environments. It would have been better to have associated myself with young people of my same standards and convictions. Even the strongest people will eventually break under constant pressure and temptation.
While serving as a missionary, we had a mission rule to be up by 6 a.m. I soon noticed that even if I arose at 6:01 a.m. that it was harder for me to have the Spirit of the Lord. This may seen trivial to consider that getting up at 6:01 a.m. was disobedient, but the fact remains that obedience brings the Spirit of God, and with His Spirit comes the fruits of the Spirit such as love, tolerance, patience, humility, charity, etc. (Galations 5:22,23)
A Word from A Modern-Day Prophet:
As President Hinckley spoke at General Conference in October of 2001, the bombing in Afghanistan began in response to the terrorist attacks on America. And in these difficult and violent times he assured us, "Our safety lies in repentance. Our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God."
I know that obedience to God's commandments brings true happiness and joy. And we should obey Him willingly and do so because we love Him, not asking why or complaining. If we make firm decisions now to obey Him, we will have greater strength to overcome the trials and the temptations that will surely cross our paths. We should also be wise by avoiding environments or groups that would tempt us to break our standards.