I know that the commandments can be a delicate topic in today’s world. Some feel that certain commandments don’t apply anymore and others despair at a world that has abandoned God’s way. We know that Jesus brought a close to laws regarding animal sacrifice, and the question arises whether that is validation for us declaring other laws as out-dated as well. Perhaps God has a more lenient view of society’s current trends than we give Him credit for… or maybe we are just trying to refashion Him into an idol that permits us to do all the things we want to.

Now I do not intend to use this blog to try and argue which commandments still apply and which do not. Rather I want to explore the question of how can a sincere disciple seek to know and follow God’s will in such a puzzling word? With so many competing voices how can we tune into His alone and know what He wants us to do?

That directly leads us to the issue of personal revelation. We pray to God and we want to hear Him speaking back to us, but recognizing revelation as such is a difficult process. How do we know that what we felt was really God’s message to us, and not just us projecting our personal desires onto Him? What if we feel we aren’t receiving any message at all?

The questions are many, hopefully we’ll be able to find some satisfying answers to them. We’ll begin by taking a closer look at the commandments and the purpose of God in giving them to us.

Exodus 20:3-4, 7-8, 12-17; Matthew 22:37, 39-40

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honour thy father and thy mother…
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet…any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Moses’s ten commandments are far more verbose than Jesus’s two. Even after reducing the record in Exodus 20 to its most succinct form, as I have done here, it weighs in at 76 words, while the full text of Jesus’s guidance is a mere 28.
And yet Jesus states that his two commandments encapsulate the entirety of the others. And not only of these ten…

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Notice that Jesus says his two commandments are the points upon which all of the law hangs and upon which all of the teachings of the prophets depend. The ten commandments is not the entirety of the law and prophets, they are only the briefest summary of a much, much larger body!

If you read out the entirety of the five books of Moses, the Torah that forms the foundation of Jewish Law, you will find that it is overflowing with commandments. Depending on where exactly you draw the lines between where one law ends and another begins the total comes to about 613 commandments in all!

And that’s just five books of scripture. Other commandments get added all throughout the rest. And on top of those there are additional thousands of pieces of wisdom and advice, things that may not be explicitly declared as commandments but which counsel us on how to live.

Is it any wonder that Jesus felt a need to simplify such a monument of instruction? And make no mistake, it is not that he is abbreviating all of the other commandments, it is that he is explaining the reason behind all of them. Simply put, God has not given us any instruction that falls outside of the umbrella of either:

  1. Loving Him with all your heart, soul, and mind
  2. Loving your neighbor as yourself

And between those two commandments there is a single common trait, the reason behind the reasons. It is a word that we frankly tend to forget as soon as we start talking about commandments. Love.

John 14:15; Hebrews 12:6; Matthew 22:37-39

If ye love me, keep my commandments.

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.

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 neighbour as thyself.

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.
These scriptures illustrate a beautiful symmetry in the commandments. Why does God give us commandments? Because He loves us. Why do we keep the commandments? Because we love God.
And yet this seems far removed from the way commandments are typically viewed. The world teaches us that commandments are given by a mean and angry God, and that they are followed by us only because we are afraid of His punishments. It is suggested that commandments are restricting, that they prevent the full expression of the self.
Laws of physics are celebrated, mathematical principles are praised, but laws to govern human behavior are always considered suspect. I guess it’s not too surprising, though, we humans have had a very bad track record when it comes to enforcing “correct” behavior. Most attempts to do so quickly turn into cruelty, intimidation, and fear-mongering.
And so the idea of being led by love instead of being driven by a stick might seem unnatural, and I guess given the ways of the world it is unnatural. But I can affirm it is also the truth. Anyone that has felt “chastened” by God knows it is an overwhelmingly loving experience. How did Jesus correct the woman caught in adultery? He saved her life, then told her “neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
The symmetry of love as being the motivation for God giving us commandments and our following them is expanded still further when we realize that the commandments themselves are merely injunctions to love. Love God, love yourself, love others. God does not command us to hate, to steal, or to hurt. He does not command us to condemn or judge. If we respond to those that break the commandments in a way that is other than loving, then we have then broken the commandments also. The beam remains in our eye.

Proverbs 6:23, 19:16; Doctrine and Covenants 61: 13

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.

He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul.

And now, behold, for your good I gave unto you a commandment concerning these things.

For your good I gave unto you a commandment
We have examined how the commandments are given to us by God because He loves us. The question that the worldly view raises is “why would He restrict us if He loves us?”
This view of commandments as restricting is a rather strange perspective, given that it is not at all the same one we hold for any other natural laws. Is the law of gravity restricting, or does it keep us safe from floating into empty space?
And imagine if tomorrow there were to be discovered a new law of physics, something as fundamental as the Newtonian principles. Would that news be received begrudgingly, seen as a limiting rule to tie us down? No, it would be the greatest cause of excitement! It would allow us to better understand our world, the natural order of things, and empower us to greater accomplishments.
When we launch our shuttles into space, we do not do so by defying the laws of physics, we do so by strictly adhering to them, utilizing them, and by so doing are empowered to propel man beyond the confines of this temporal world. It is the same with God’s commandments.

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light
We need to let go of the notion that things are bad because God told us not to do them. Rather God told us not to do them because they are bad. Some things are just fundamentally wrong.
All of us who have told lies know that with them comes a certain anxiety, a fear of being discovered in our deceit. Then, if we are discovered, there is inevitable hurt to the party that was lied to. Make no mistake, these feelings of anxiety, fear, and hurt are not punishments from God. These are simply the natural consequences of a fundamentally wrong action. These are the experiences God was lovingly providing commandments to try and protect us from.

He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul.
The commandments are not a set of arbitrary rules. They are instruction on how to navigate a set of natural laws that are as fundamental to the universe as “an object at rest will remain at rest.”

  1. An object in motion will remain in motion…so get out of the way of a moving train!
  2. The soul includes a spirit, which like the body requires nourishment to thrive…so remember the sabbath day to keep it holy!

Keeping the commandments is really one of the most self-interested things you can do! Keep the commandments and you are keeping yourself.

Galatians 3:24-25, 3 Nephi 9:17, Matthew 5:27-28

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

For behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled.

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.

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.
In me is the law of Moses fulfilled.

Thus far we have explored the motivation and purposes behind the commandments. The reasons why God gives them to us and the reason why it is in our best interest to follow them.
But the question still remains: just which commandments still apply? The two passages I have mentioned above make clear that there were certain components of the Law of Moses that served as moral training-wheels, strict observations meant to help a generation that did not yet have the benefit of Christ’s ministry and atonement.
In the time of Moses there had not yet been any sacrifice of the Lamb of God, and so they were required to make animal sacrifices in the interim. After Jesus Christ’s atonement the need for those sacrifices then ended.

But…whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery…already in his heart.
But clearly there are elements of the Law of Moses that were not done away with. Rather than dispel the ten commandments and its injunction that “thou shalt not commit adultery” Jesus actually reinforced and expanded that law. So clearly some elements of that law were not intermediary observations, they were universal truths.
Within Christianity alone there are heated debates as to where those lines should be drawn. Seventh Day Adventists maintain that Saturday is still the proper sabbath and other sects say it is Sunday. There then remains further uncertainty as to what the exact point of restriction is on that day. Jesus clearly showed that one need not worry about walking about and serving others, but what about long-distance travel? Exercising? Doing housework? Rough-housing with your kids?

It’s certainly a confusing dilemma. The Pharisees tried to remove any ambiguity by spelling out their rules to an exhaustive degree. Sometimes that might sound like a welcome relief, at least then we would know exactly what we can and cannot do, even if we don’t understand why. I think this is the reason that most of us subscribe to one particular church or another and then just accept the commandments that they give to us. But the fact is that these approaches will never take away all of the ambiguity either. We’ll look into why that is tomorrow.

Mosiah 4:29, Isaiah 42:21, Doctrine and Covenants 58:25-26

And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.

The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable.

They shall counsel between themselves and me. For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things;

For there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them
It is not meet that I should command in all things
The simple truth is that there are too many permutations of possible actions for a written law to ever encapsulate the entirety of all forbidden behavior. Even the same action can be considered both right or wrong, depending on its context.
Those that seek loopholes in any law will always be able to find them, no matter how far the law bloats itself to try to and thwart their mischief.

They shall counsel between themselves and me
He will magnify the law, and make it honourable

If I am to have any hope of truly following the commandments I am going to need some sort of constant and living guidance. A pastor will never be available enough to guide me in every life situation, and two different pastors might even give me conflicting advice.
The only solution, then, is to have personal revelation. Or as these above scriptures describe it: to counsel with God and learn from Him how we should magnify the law in our individual circumstances. By communing with Him and receiving instruction perfectly fitted to our need in that moment, we are finally able to dispel any ambiguity and act with full confidence.

Life Examples

I have mentioned that even if we agree that a commandment is a commandment there still can be a variety of opinions on how exactly one should follow that commandment. Take for example the question of how to keep the Sabbath Day holy. I always believed that that meant not going to the store then, because that would make other people work during the Lord’s Day.
It was a nice and tidy solution, but then it became more muddled with the advent of online shopping. Is it wrong to make a computer algorithm process my purchase on the Sabbath? Is just accruing a charge on my credit card breaking the Sabbath?
And even if I decide to not make online purchases on the Sabbath, packages that I am waiting for are still going to be processed through packing facilities and transported on shipping containers on that day. It’s unavoidable.
Does keeping the Sabbath require that I just abstain from online shopping entirely? Or am I just overthinking things and shouldn’t even worry about it? Where should the line be drawn?

This brings me to a memory where I was attending a Sunday School lesson and a similar quandary emerged. We were discussing the commandment to give to the poor and the question was raised whether we should give money to panhandlers or not.
Some of those present said they refused to do that, because they feared their contribution would just be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. Their charity would actually be enabling harmful behavior. They suggested that people buy food for panhandlers instead.
Others said they tried buying food and had it rejected, in which case they had just wasted their money and no one was benefited at all. They suggested it was better to volunteer at halfway-homes and soup kitchens where one knew that the needy were receiving real nourishment.
Still others said it wasn’t for us to judge how the panhandlers were using our money. Just give to them, and whether they use it for good things or not is on their own heads.
There were so many different opinions, and all of them had valid points. As the class discussed this we slowly uncovered what I believe was a gospel truth. Our conclusion was that the commandment was to “Give to the Poor.” If Brother Jones examines his conscience and counsels with God and decides that means he should give money to panhandlers then that is fine. If Sister Stevens examines her conscience and counsels with God and decides she would rather volunteer at a soup kitchen then that is fine too.
So long as you are doing something and your conscience is truly content with it, then you are keeping the commandment. You do not need to be concerned that someone else’s method of commandment-keeping is different from your own, we all have our own song to sing.

This, then, is commandments combined with personal revelation, and this makes the commandment become more alive! The law has now been made personal, not general. Now you have your way of giving to the poor, and your way of keeping the Sabbath, and your way of nourishing your body. Now you have ownership of your own faithfulness.


This study was an excellent opportunity for me to dive into a topic that has been a big source of confusion to me, and I am sure to many others as well. It’s important to remember that just because one has questions about the commandments does not mean that they don’t want to keep them. That desire naturally wants knowledge to be able to steer correctly, and so studies like these are important. Though I should add that the greatest understanding of commandments does not come by study alone, but by actively living them.

Commandments are Given and Followed By Love

One of the ways I’ve come to measure my understanding of a commandment is whether I can see the element of love in it. Can I see the love from God in giving it to me, and the love for myself and others in following it? For example, one could view laws of sexual purity as restricting one’s pleasure, or they could see them as protecting oneself from deep wounding and facilitating a more abiding romance.
Jesus came at a time where the law had been inflated into an oppressive and unwieldy mass. I believe a very real part of his mission was to remind his contemporaries of this love that had been originally intended by the law.
John 13:34- A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
John 14:15- If ye love me, keep my commandments.
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 neighbour as thyself.

Commandments Should be Personal

There already existed in the Mosaic Law provisions for the poor before Jesus’s ministry. For example, farmers were required to leave portions of their fields for the impoverished to freely glean from.
When Jesus instructed the rich young man to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor, though, he was asking for something that went far above what the law required. Of other people he had different life requirements.
“Go and sin no more.”
“Behold thy mother.”
“I will make you fishers of men.”
In each case Jesus understood that we need the explicitly spelled-out commandments, but that we then have additional personal needs fitted for our individual growth. To each of us he promises this same personalized guidance.
John 14:26- But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things

Commandments, Guidance, and Revelation

I know there all manner of voices that can cast confusion on the commandments. The world calls them unnecessary, the faithful give different interpretations to them, and your own mind may obsess over whether you are following them properly or not.
Even so there are answers if we look for them. There are resources to guide us rightly. Specific injunctions like those in Moses’s ten commandments lay the ground rules for us. General guidance like those in Jesus’s two great commandments explain what our intentions should be. Personal communion from the spirit adds the final element in being able to make personalized and worthy decisions.
And it is alright if our initial thoughts of what we are supposed to be doing are imperfect. We can be sure that God will steer us as needed, just so long as we are trying sincerely.
Isaiah 28:10- For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.