Obedient or Faithful?

If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God…

Doctrine and Covenants 6:13

I just finished reading An Early Resurrection: Life in Christ Before You Die, by Adam S. Miller, and I probably will turn right around and read it again. I can’t recommend it highly enough. One concept presented by Brother Miller that particularly caught my attention is the idea that you can be obedient to the commandments of God without actually drawing closer to Him. The covenant path isn’t just about obedience. It is about faithfulness.

This brings to mind the religious culture at the time of Christ. We sometimes forget that the ecclesiastical elite who persecuted Jesus weren’t wrong in obeying the law of Moses. At that time, the law of Moses represented God’s covenant with His people. Jesus and His apostles also obeyed the law of Moses, even as they prepared their followers for a higher law and covenant.

The problem wasn’t obedience to the law. The problems was a mindset that was so slavishly focused on obedience to the law that it lost sense of the purpose behind the law. Thus, even though they were strictly obedient to the law, they were unable to recognize the very Messiah to whom the law pointed. Somehow, they had followed every direction given by the GPS and ended up in Tampa instead of Seattle.

Although we no longer have the law of Moses, we are certainly capable of being obedient without progressing spiritually. Utilizing the ever popular “checklist” approach to the Gospel of Christ, we can be diligent about doing everything we are supposed to do, but negligent in becoming was we need to be. Drawing closer to the Lord’s light requires not merely obedience, but faithfulness.

Faithfulness implies a harmonizing of our will with the Lord’s. It is about loving and trusting Christ so much that we want to be like Him. We want to live in a way that reflects His countenance. We are so committed to His cause and thankful for His redemption, that obedience is merely a secondary result of changed hearts. We obey not just to avoid punishment, but as a result of His guiding presence in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong: This is aspirational stuff for me, not experiential. Most of my life in the Church has been about avoiding getting smitten. I’ve read the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and there is a lot of smiting going on in those books that I want to avoid. I’ve gone to Church, fulfilled my callings, and served a mission mostly for the sake of not finding frogs or locusts in my kitchen.

But thanks to taking a deeper dive into the doctrine of Christ, I am gradually coming to learn that the Lord’s law is very different from the kinds of laws we establish in mortality. For us, laws are written to proscribe or require certain conduct on the pain of penalty if you are not compliant. At one level, God’s law can be seen the same way.

But what I am coming to understand is that the Lord’s law is more like a treasure map, laying out precisely what we need to do and where we need to walk in order to come to Him and be like Him. Sort of an Mortality for the Complete Idiot. Yes, there are laws and even punishments, but the underlying goal isn’t to control our conduct. It is to prepare our hearts for the grace He has given us.

Too often we think of obedience as the passive and thoughtless following of the orders or dictates of a higher authority. Actually, at its best, obedience is an emblem of our faith in the wisdom and power of the highest authority, even God.

L. Tom Perry
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