Free Will vs God’s Control- 2 Nephi 2:5, Moroni 7:16

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

COMMENTARY

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil
Another way that God intervenes for our liberty is in giving us commandments and instruction. These include those written within the scriptures, of course, but also the ones written in our hearts. For into each of us God placed the spirit of His Son, commonly referred to as the conscience, and because of it we can innately perceive when we have done something that is right, or something that is wrong.
If there were was no law given, and if there was no conscience to direct us, then there would not be any moral choices to be made. For example, we would not be able to perceive the difference between helping or hurting another, and thus could not make any conscious, intentional choice about which act to perform.
This would not be freedom, this would be the bondage of homogeneity. One can be made a slave by not being allowed to make their own decisions, but one can also be made a slave by not being able to have their decisions mean anything. For even if one can choose what they do, if those choices carry no moral weight they still cannot choose whom they will become.
Thus our freedom actually depends upon the control of a God. We require Him to place rules in our books and in our hearts so that we can choose meaningfully. He comes into our vacuum and gives us something to either push off of or pull into, and thus we begin to have movement.

The Way That Things Are- It’s True, Isn’t It?

The following is quoted from Gordon B. Hinckley, who was speaking at a Conference in April 1973. He was speaking of a young naval officer that he once met, one who had recently converted to Christianity.

He was introduced to me just before he was to return to his native land. I said, "Your people are not Christians. You come from a land where Christians have had a difficult time. What will happen when you return home a Christian?" 
His face clouded, and he replied, "My family will be disappointed. I suppose they will cast me out. They will regard me as dead. As for my future and my career, I assume that all opportunity will be foreclosed against me."
I asked, "Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?"
His dark eyes, moistened by tears, shone from his handsome brown face as he answered, "It's true, isn't it?"
Ashamed at having asked the question, I responded, "Yes, it's true."
To which he replied, "Then what else matters?"

Often the world criticizes the principles and commandments found in religion, stating that adherence to a strict moral code is outmoded, and that the gospel needs to get with the times. They focus primarily on the behaviors that religion calls for, but do not ask whether those behaviors are based upon true premises.
In my experience, the observances followed by most world religions are remarkably consistent with the claims of that gospel. For example, Christianity teaches that each person is composed of an immortal spirit paired with a mortal body. It teaches that God created the first man and woman, and authored the institution of marriage between them. It teaches that we come to this earth life in order to gain a body, to learn to follow God’s will, all so that our perfected self can live with Him after the resurrection.
Now if all of these claims are true, then obviously there is an awesome responsibility related to birth, life, and the union we call marriage. If these premises are true, then it matters greatly how we deal with these subjects, and it is only logical that there would be laws to govern them.
If these claims are true, then doesn’t it make sense for there to be laws of chastity and sexual purity? Doesn’t it make sense for there to be safeguards that protect the sacred procreative power which binds an eternal soul to a mortal body? Doesn’t it make sense for marriage, and the definition of it, to be under the purview of the God who invented it? Doesn’t it make sense to master one’s appetites as necessary to pursue the true purpose of life?
If these claims are true, then what else matters? If these claims are true, then any argument that God’s laws are “outmoded” become hollow. If these claims are true, then these laws are simply the natural, logical extension of what is right.
Thus the only meaningful question is the one asked by that young sailor. Is it true, or not?

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- 1 John 5:1-3, Luke 16:13, Revelation 3:15

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

No servant 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.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

COMMENTARY

We keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous
There are two types of disciples: those that are social disciples and those that are actually disciples. Social disciples maintain a connection to the environment of the gospel. They like the culture that surrounds it, but they aren’t very devoted to the actual doctrines being taught. They are afraid of judgment, and because of that try to keep the commandments, but have little love for them.
I have certainly been one of these social disciples. I was raised in a gospel-centric home, and that made it easy to take my beliefs for granted. Of course I was a Christian, it was all I knew, how could I possibly be anything else?
But then passages like this one from John stuck with me, because absolutely there were commandments that felt grievous to me. Since I was convinced that I was already best pals with Jesus, I didn’t feel any need to know him better. And because I wasn’t actively trying to know him better, there were all manner of vices that I was susceptible to.

No servant can serve two masters
I would thou wert cold or hot
For a long time I was too terrified to admit that I wasn’t really a Christian in my heart, just someone who happened to have a lot of trivia knowledge about Christianity. But frankly, once I was able to admit that I was “cold” in my discipleship, then at last I could begin looking for ways to bring my temperature up.
Furthermore, I found that God wasn’t disappointed by my admitting that I wasn’t following him very well. Quite on the contrary. He was already abundantly aware of my tepidness, and thrilled that I was finally ready to do some honest work.

Faith vs Fear- Isaiah 41:13 (NIV), Mark 9:23

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

COMMENTARY

All things are possible to him that believeth
I am the LORD…who takes hold of your right hand…Do not fear; I will help you
We have observed how faith is a principle of action, one where we choose our behavior based on the directions we receive from God. But if we stop at that definition, we may run the risk of thinking God assigns us to do things by ourselves. That is never the case. An action of faith is an action done together with God. When we act in faith, we will always witness more good brought about than we could ever take sole responsibility for, because God was an active part of it.
Perhaps the most basic example of this is that God gives us commandments and we follow them, hoping to have joy and fulfillment in so doing. We do the good things and we see the good of them, but along the way we find miracles as well. Things like the stars aligning to double the impact of a kind act we were giving, or feeling that subtle change of heart inside, or finding an unexpected healing for past hurts. These are things that we cannot explain by any mortal system, things we do not have the power to do ourselves, things that can only obtained as a spiritual gift.
In short, it is through faith that we accomplish the things that we, alone, cannot accomplish. Because actions of faith are never made by us as individuals, they are always a joint effort between us and our Maker.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- Summary

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.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- Life Examples

I mentioned yesterday 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.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- 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;

COMMENTARY

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.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- 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.

COMMENTARY

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.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- 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.

COMMENTARY

For your good I gave unto you a commandment
Yesterday we 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.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- 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.

COMMENTARY

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.