Sunday, September 6, 2015

"Keep the Commandments" - Here's How

The admonitions of prophets and the dictoms of Holy Writ to "keep the commandments" are legion in number. This simple declaration on its face seems easy enough, but then we think upon the lists of all those things we are admonished to do (or not do), and it seems the task becomes more daunting than we originally thought.

When one ponders the Christian way of life, and seeks to emulate Jesus in all He taught in His gospel, one can easily become overwhelmed with what seems to be the magnitude of the task to "keep the commandments". I remember well an encounter with a person not of our faith many years ago who "came close" to joining the Mormon church, he said, but "I just couldn't follow all the rules - there were too many," and he elected to remain as he was without the church.

Even people who do come into the Church often find kinship with my friend's observations. They flourish for a season, then fall by the wayside for a host of reasons. I've known too many returned missionaries who find it difficult to do the things they taught their investigators to do when they were teaching them the principles of the gospel. They suffer with living what I once called an "impossible gospel" of perfect compliance with a seemingly endless list of commandments.

President Harold B. Lee
It is hard to find a more iconic statement than the one offered by President Harold B. Lee in 1972, at his inaugural press conference after being named the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We even have a Primary song with the title to memorialize his statement. When asked what message he would give to the then-3 million members of the Church, he responded, "The greatest message that one in this position could give to the membership of the Church is to keep the commandments of God, for therein lies the safety of the Church and the safety of the individual. Keep the commandments. There could be nothing that I could say that would be a more powerful or important message today." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 85).

In the Bible, we read about a remarkable doctrine of being "born again". It comes in the story of a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to Jesus by night so he would not be detected as a secret admirer of the Savior. He declares his testimony of the Savior's identity, when he said:

Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man he born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

Then the Savior added a final meaningful observation: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:2-8).

There are many commentaries that have been offered on those verses, but perhaps the thoughts I offer here will be sufficient. We must be born again to even see the kingdom of God. This is often the experience of new converts as they describe what first attracted them to the Church. Without the benefit of all the commandments, or as we might say, "the law", they are spiritually attracted to the teachings of the Savior. They become spiritually "born again" before they are shown the long lists of commandments. It suggests that to become truly converted, one has to have some spiritual change in order to know the gospel or to first see the Church. There must be some kind of spiritual experience.

And then subsequent to that spiritual enlightening, to enter into the kingdom of God — to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — there has to be a new birth "of water" and "of the Spirit" after they become more familiar with the commandments the Lord has given us. This entrance into the kingdom, of course, is baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of the hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The final observation I would offer is that how this spiritual rebirth takes place is just as impossible to explain as to explain where the wind comes from or where it goes. It is a spiritual reality that is as mysterious in its definition and as varied in its manifestations. It may be as elusive as a moonbeam, just as the origins and direction of the wind. And notwithstanding its elusive nature, it is precisely what makes our ability to keep the commandments possible.

I would suggest that being born again spiritually is the vital key to keeping all the commandments. Think of it this way: You do not know all the civil laws on the books in your city, state and nation, because mastering such a task would be nearly impossible. Lawyers go to school to learn those laws and how they are applied, but no one can attempt to master them all. However, if you as a citizen are determined to "be a good boy" and follow the light of your conscience within your heart, you will seldom run afoul of all those laws of which you have no knowledge.

I have known many, many Latter-day Saints who could not possibly come close to being or ever becoming gospel scholars capable of learning all God's laws. But they know and recognize the powerful influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives, and they live the commandments to the best of their ability without even knowing them in fine. The law was never written for "born-again" saints who know and recognize the Spirit in their lives and give heed to its promptings. Living in the Spirit assures compliance with "the law", whether it be God's law or civil law.

Elder Orson F. Whitney
Elder Orson F. Whitney expanded on the magnitude of the scope of the commandments we have been given in these words: "The principles which compose the gospel — and not merely the first principles, but all that have been or will ever be revealed — are self-existent and everlasting in their nature. They have existed from all eternity, and will endure through all eternities to come, for they are absolute, essential, uncreated truths, without beginning of day or end of years, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Concerning the time, place, and method of their compilation it is not man's present province to enquire." (Elder's Journal 4:26.)

We live in a day when the words of Nephi are truer than ever: "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do. Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark. For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way [get baptized], and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do." (2 Nephi 32:2-4, emphasis mine).

If you are currently a member of the Church, care-worn and still suffering under the illusion you can and should be toiling harder and harder to keep all the commandments of God perfectly before you will be an acceptable candidate for eternal life, think deeply on this message of liberation. You are like one of His lost little lambs. Embrace the Spirit instead and begin feasting upon the words of Christ. Accept the embrace of His loving arms around you. If you do, you are promised you will know the truth of all things and you will in process of time be keeping all of God's commandments without the stress that now accompanies your efforts under the law that is impossible to keep perfectly. Rely instead upon the perfection of the Savior to deliver you from the demands of justice. He is your Redeemer.

If you are one who became weary and lost your way in paths that now seem twisted, corrupted and confusing, turn around and come back home. He welcomes and searches for all His lost lambs in whatever paths they may have wandered. The path back into His warm embrace is the same for you. Become "born again" by feasting on the words of Christ, seeking for the spiritual experiences you have been lacking, and come back into the light of the Holy Ghost. You will find your mind embracing and eagerly welcoming the principles that comprise the gospel. These truths in the words of Elder Whitney that are "absolute, essential, uncreated truths, without beginning of day or end of years, the same yesterday, today, and forever" will begin to cast aside the scales of darkness that have shrouded your view until now. You will be "born again" and that rebirth will be glorious beyond description.

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