The following is a Sacrament Meeting talk I gave several weeks ago on the subject of obedience. More specifically, it was supposed to be based on Elder Hales’ talk titled “If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments” which I didn’t like very much. Too judgey. (I wasn’t sure how much of a jab was intended in the assignment of that particular topic – all liberal Mormons struggle with obedience, don’t they?) But I feel like I made the best of it and the talk was very well received by my super-conservative Utah County ward.
Forgive all the random links and footnotes, I’m too lazy to do much more than copy and paste my talk straight from the word doc I wrote it in.
In his most recent conference talk titled “If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments,” Elder Hales said:
“Because our Savior was obedient, He atoned for our sins, making possible our resurrection and preparing the way for us to return to our Heavenly Father, who knew we would make mistakes as we learned obedience in mortality.
“When we obey, we accept His sacrifice, for we believe that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws, ordinances, and commandments given in the gospel.”
I want to focus on two interesting points from this quote – the concept of learning obedience, and the concept of accepting Christ’s sacrifice and what that might have to do with obedience.
First, learning obedience. Sometimes we tend to view obedience as a state of being – it’s a boat, and you’re either on the boat with all the obedient people, or you’ve fallen overboard and are no longer obedient anymore. And I don’t think this is how the Lord sees it, I think he sees obedience as a process of learning, trusting, praying, and eventually understanding and loving the commandments.
Example: As a high schooler, I had a beloved bishop who challenged all of the youth repeatedly not to do our homework on Sundays. By my sophomore year, I averaged about 25-30 hours of homework per week, so I saw sundays as a valuable catch-up day. But I was struggling in a couple of my classes, as well as experiencing a lot of hurt in my relationships at home, so I figured I could use some extra blessings. So I prayed about it, and… didn’t get an answer. Nothing. But I did remember a song we were singing for YW about “experimenting on the word” and I had a good feeling about that, so as part of one of my personal progress goals, I committed to try out the bishop’s challenge for just one month. In my Personal Progress journal in the space that says “record your thoughts and feelings about this experience,” I wrote:
“This is probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. Bishop is awesome and all, but his kids are slackers. Does he even know how much the rest of us do? I am taking AP Sociology, AP Calculus, Honors Physics, Spanish 6, computer programming, and I have a giant mural painting due in two weeks. Plus I have 12 hours of Drill Team every week. I need my Sundays for homework!!!! (frowny face) The Lord better bless me for making this sacrifice. Sister Spencer told us that one time she did her visiting teaching even though she needed to study for a test, and the next day at the test the Spirit told her all the answers and she aced it! That’s the kind of miracle I’m praying for here. If not, that is all the proof I’ll need that I don’t need to look beyond the mark.”
So I tried it! Often, it involved getting home from practice at 5pm, eating dinner and running to work at 6pm, getting home at 10pm and doing homework until 2am, then waking up the next morning at 4:30 to make it to seminary on time. I had to admit, it felt great to rest on Sundays, but at the very end of my month when I sat down to a Calculus test (back then, my worst subject) that I’d forgotten to study for because I was so sleep deprived, I was kicking myself for being even thinking about being obedient. But then I remembered the faithful visiting teacher and her test, and prayed with everything I had that the Spirit would tell me the answers. And guess what!! I failed the test!! F minus! I got 8 points out of 50 and a “please see me after class.” FAIL.
I was so disappointed. There were a lot more grumpy faces in my journal that day. So I knealt to pray and said “Lord, I thought this was what you wanted me to do, so I did it, and I’ve had NO blessings from it at ALL. I still need my miracle. If you want me to quit the drill team, that’s what I’ll do. If you want me to work less hours, that’s what I’ll do. If you want me to keep doing what I’m doing–” and right then, I had a sudden, warm feeling of love and approval wash over me along with a flood of awareness of all the blessings I HAD been given over the last month. I had a really turbulent home life, but it hadn’t been so bad over the past month. I had received kind, inspired words of comfort and wisdom from friends who had probably never said anything wise or comforting in their lives. I’d had improved health and less conflict in my relationships and beautiful, spiritual and restful sundays and even improved grades (in everything but Calculus). And suddenly, I realized I didn’t WANT to live without those blessings anymore. Suddenly, that bishop was a genius!
I’m not suggesting that no one should ever do homework on Sundays. That was my own personal revelation within my own unique circumstances, so it’s not my place to pass judgement on anyone else’s Sabbath observance. I AM saying that we should take the responsibility upon ourselves to gain a testimony of what we’re being obedient to and make adjustments as the Spirit directs.
In a conference address in 1984, Elder Ron Poelman said:
Every church member has not only the opportunity, right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices, but has the need and obligation to obtain such assurance by exercising his free agency, thereby fulfilling one purpose of his mortal probation. It is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders. In response to study, prayer and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we should seek and obtain an individual, personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience.
[Speaker’s note: anyone recognize this talk? I took it from the original transcript from before it was edited and re-taped in order to drastically change the focus and intent. It was a marked shift from thinking for oneself toward blind obedience to church leaders. Obviously I didn’t share that bit of trivia with my ward :)]
This is a pattern of learning obedience that I’ve been able to apply throughout my life, and it helps me to stop seeing the commandments and principles of the gospel as a checklist to cross off and more as a process of becoming a disciple of Christ. For me in particular, it’s a long and arduous process, but for the principles I’ve gained a testimony of, mindful obedience has yielded many spiritual and temporal blessings.
Corinthians 3:3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, awritten not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in btables of stone, but in cfleshy tables of the dheart.
I’ve always loved that scripture dearly because it strikes a sharp contrast between obedience to written commandments vs. a true, internalized understanding of commandments and why we follow them. Obviously, we have to start out with a checklist before we can achieve that understanding, we have to experiment upon the word before we can truly experience the blessings that come from obedience to commandments we don’t fully understand yet – but once we do, then we can start maturing to a point where obedience to a particular commandment is no longer really “obedience” at all, but just the way we are. At this point, the law is written on our heart and we no longer have to make decisions about whether or not to obey anymore. It’s become an intrinsic part of our character.
Elder Bednar said:
God does not have a list of favorites to which we must hope our names will someday be added. He does not limit “the chosen” to a restricted few. Rather, it is our hearts and our aspirations and our obedience which definitively determine whether we are counted as one of God’s chosen.
This brings me to the second point, which is that of accepting Christ’s sacrifice and becoming one of his chosen people.
Another term the prophets have used for that is “peculiar people” it’s a term that has always fascinated me – does God really think we’re weird? Because if even God thinks his own chosen people are strange, we might be in trouble. But bible scholars have taken a closer look at the biblical hebrew and greek words that preceded the English word “peculiar” and have come up with meanings more similar to “precious,” “pecuniary” or “proprietary” – words that show value, purchase or ownership. We are a purchased people. We are bought and paid for through the atonement and sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ. We belong to Him. But we can only accept that purchase and ownership through covenants, including the covenant to obey the commandments. If ye love me, keep my commandments.
Sister Silvia Allred, formerly of the General Relief Society presidency said:
We demonstrate our acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior when we place our faith in Him, repent of our sins, and receive the saving ordinances required to enter God’s presence. These saving ordinances are symbols of the covenants we make. The covenants of obedience to His laws and commandments bind us to God and strengthen our faith. Our faith and steadfastness in Christ will give us the courage and confidence we need to face life’s challenges, which are part of our mortal experience.
Deuteronomy 26: 16 This day the Lord thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.17 Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice:
18 And the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments;
What’s being described here is a covenant between the Lord and the children of Israel, and we know that if they kept their end of the bargain, they were promised a land flowing with milk and honey. Today we make slightly different covenants with different promises, but it works the same way. The transaction is ours to accept to or leave sitting on the table (as illustrated by Bro. Taylor last week in the parable of the donuts). Christ has bought us – we are His, take him or leave Him. And to his people he says, If ye love me, keep my commandments.
Mosiah 5:7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
I testify that when we are mindfully obedient, that it can bring us closer to the Savior who has paid the price for us, and that if we will seek a true understanding of Christ’s commandments, with a focus on our own personal spiritual progression rather than how everyone else chooses to keep the commandments, that we will find greater happiness in our chosen spiritual path. I testify that the gospel Christ taught is true, that He is our perfect example, and that he atoned for us so that we would be able to learn obedience by our own agency. I leave these things with you in His name, Amen.