Usually defined in the Bible from mitzvâh (מִצְוָה) in the Old Covenants1 and entolé (ἐντολή) in the New Covenants as “an order, command(ment), charge, precept, injunction.”2 The Lord, in the Gospel of John, says, If you love me, keep my commandments (John 9:8). Modern revelation clarifies that a commandment is a communication that is sent by God. If you love me, stand ready, watching for every communication I will send to you…. He that treasures my teaching, and stands ready, watching for every communication I send him, is he who shows love for me…. If a man loves me, he will stand ready, watching for every communication I will send him (Testimony of St. John 10:11–12). As in the case of Adam and Eve who partook of the fruit “out of season,” mankind is commanded not to partake of some things out of season. Then they are commanded to partake within season. “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, Thou shalt not kill; at another time He said, Thou shalt utterly destroy. This is the principle on which the government of Heaven is conducted — by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire” (TPJS, 256). When man gets the timing wrong, he winds up with difficulties and problems he should not have encountered.3 “You can gain a command of many skills in this life by study and formal education. You can acquire wealth by effort and care. Skills in sport come from practice and good coaching. But an increase in light and truth is acquired through keeping the commandments and in no other way. Light and truth do not come by study alone, nor by effort, practice, coaching, or tutoring. Light and truth come to you from above, as you keep the commandments in your life. You must obey to obtain. The commandments are a revelation to you of God’s nature. By keeping them, you obtain from God light and truth as a by-product of obedience to them. They reveal to you, in a very personal way, what the mind of God is for your life. It is intensely personal because it is all internal. You cannot measure, count, or tally it. You must become something new through this process.”4 Christ defined Himself as the fulfillment of God’s commandments. When introducing Himself to the Nephites He explained, Behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drank out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning (3 Nephi 5:4). He is glorious and worthy of worship, possessing Powers, Principalities, Dominions, Kingdoms, and Thrones because He did what the Father commanded Him to do. The effect of obeying the Father was to fill Him with light and truth. By doing what the Father commands, anyone can qualify to receive the same things. Christ was unique in that He alone has done it perfectly. Because of Him, however, anyone can do it imperfectly and be forgiven of their sins and errors. His perfection in this undertaking allows all to become a perfect similarity, through His atonement. There is no magic, though. There is nothing given without effort. Christ paid the price to allow us to repent. But it is up to each person to choose for themselves the amount of truth and light they are willing to receive. The light and truth one is willing to receive is dependent upon his obedience. “How much light and truth are you willing to receive?”5 Christ says: I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fullness (T&C 93:7). So Christ gives men these sayings to teach them “how to worship.” This is no idle statement. In this is the essence of what everyone must do to worship the Father. Worship Him by keeping His commandments. Keep His commandments to follow the example of His Son. That example allows men to go from grace to grace. Eventually, having grown from grace to grace by keeping His commandments, everyone can receive a fullness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fullness and be glorified in me as I am glorified in the Father. Therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace (T&C 93:7). Keeping commandments is not keeping statistics. Nor is it to attract notice from others. It is not to finish some checklist of questions in an interview. It has a deeper meaning and serves a much higher purpose. “Would you like to proceed from a lesser to a greater degree of grace? Would you like to receive a fullness of what God offers to mankind in mortality? Then you must worship the Father in this way. He wants you to worship Him by keeping the commandments and growing thereby in light and truth and grace. And no man receives a fullness unless he keeps his commandments. He that keeps his commandments receives truth and light until he is glorified in truth and knows all things (T&C 93:9).”6
“There is an opposition to getting there. All must face an adversary who is committed to keeping them from receiving light and truth. He knows very well how this process works. Unlike you, he has no doubts about this process. So the adversary directs his efforts to keep men from closing the distance between themselves and God. Interestingly, his role in this process is described with perfect clarity in the scriptures as well: And that wicked one comes and takes away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers (T&C 93:11). The Adversary is trying to keep you from gaining light and truth. He understands how to do that: Get you to disobey the commandments. You think you are just struggling with a problem or weakness. You think you are having some temptation that drives you to distraction. The criticism, complaint, or weakness you have that challenges your faith is not that at all. It is your enemy working on taking light and truth away from you. This is the balance in which you find yourself. Choose the light.”7
Mortal men desire a list of “commandments” to keep; many people are sincerely trying to keep the commandments but lack a comprehensive list of them. It is not possible to list all commandments. In one sense, there are only two: Love God. Love your fellow man. All others are extensions of those. “If you love God you will do what He asks of you. Whenever something comes to your attention He would have you do, you do it. For example, Christ was baptized and said to ‘Follow Him.’ So because of your love of God, you follow Him. But Christ also showed, repeatedly, that the second commandment was greater than the rules. Keeping the Sabbath day holy, for example, was subordinate to loving and freeing His fellow man. He freed men from sin on the Sabbath by forgiving sins. He freed them from physical injury or disease by healing on the Sabbath. Both were considered work and, therefore, an offense to the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. At some point you will find that individual service and obedience to God’s will for you will create disharmony between you and others. It can’t be avoided. If you’re following Christ, you will find the same things He found. Helping someone in need will take you away from church meetings on occasion. You can’t make a list and keep it, because as soon as you do, the list will interfere with loving God and loving your fellow man. So the whole matter can be reduced to this: Follow Christ, receive the ordinances, accept the holy ghost, who will teach you all things you must do. Any list beyond that will inevitably result in conflicts and contradictions.”8 Commandments are given to teach men and women how they can continue to receive and renew a continuing conversion to Christ’s way of life. Commandments are not a burden to bear, but a roadmap to follow. They are not a measuring stick to judge and then abuse others. It is a light for man to follow.9 Commandments are often the things that produce condemnation. Encouragement and invitation are almost always the things that produce blessing. 10
1 Strong’s Concordance, H4687.
2 Strong’s Concordance, G1785.
3 Essays: Three Degrees, “The Mission of Elijah Reconsidered,” 63.
4 The Second Comforter, 289–290.
5 The Second Comforter, 294–295.
6 The Second Comforter, 295–296.
7 The Second Comforter, 298.
8 “Keep the Commandments,” March 1, 2010, blog post.
9 “3 Nephi 12:2,” Oct. 2, 2010, blog post.
10 “Remembering the Covenants” Conference, Aug. 4, 2018, Centerville, UT, 6, transcript of recording.