My sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to compete on the school’s track team. In addition to enjoying to challenges associated with competition, I also experienced a great camaraderie with my teammates, most of whom had distinctly different backgrounds and interests.
I’ll never forget one particular experience with my team, warming up for the day’s practice. It was a Monday after one of those beautiful, cool spring weekends and everyone was discussing their weekend…let’s say “exploits.” Ironically enough, the conversation turned to the appropriateness of their “extracurricular activities” with the discussion finally escalating when someone said, “well, let’s just ask Gardner! He’s Mormon, he knows all the rules!”
The funny thing is, that wasn’t the first nor has it been the last experience like this that I’ve had. Whether it’s coworkers joking that I must have been the culprit that finished off the office coffee without starting another batch or questions from neighbors, I’ve found that people typically associate members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with having lots of rules.
This has lead me to ask myself, “so what IS with all the rules?!”
Purpose of Commandments
First off, to use biblical jargon, we’ll refer to rules as commandments. And whether we are looking at the Old Testament, New Testament, or the Book of Mormon, there are TONS of mentions of commandments. Let’s just say, it would be a trending topic on twitter.
One of my favorite scriptures on commandments comes from the New Testament. Specifically John 14:15 and 21 where Jesus said, speaking to His disciples, “if ye love me, keep my commandments…he that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me…”
I read these verses to mean that keeping the commandments or following the rules, is an expression of my love and discipleship of Christ.
Using two examples from the Old Testament (Proverbs 4:4 and 19:16) provides an additional and different insight into the purpose of commandments. They read, “…keep my commandments, and live,” and “ he that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul.”
The vibe I take here is that following the commandments also has a guiding purpose, and that keeping them results in a positive outcome for me.
Putting the Old and the New together, I get that God lovingly gives me these commandments for my benefit. They provide guidance and instruction on how to live a happy and fulfilled life.
This makes sense to me. I mean, I have a hard time imagining a Father in Heaven chuckling to Himself saying, “now to make life even MORE difficult, I’ll give them commandments! Mwah ha ha!” In fact, in 1 John 5: 3 reads, “his commandments are not grievous,” with grievous meaning burdensome and oppressive (emphasis added).
Seen in this light, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints go about life with all their “rules” because they see them as an expression of discipleship in Christ and believe they provide a guiding “hand rail” if you will, to life.
However, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m guilty of letting things become more about the rules and less about their purpose.
Can We Take It Too Far?
I’m a task-oriented person. What I mean by this is, I tend to create a level of business in my life. The day is only 24 hours and I’ve got stuff to take care of!!
Extending this to the discussion about commandments, I begin to see and behave in such a way that these guiding rules simply become “to-dos” on my every growing list of things to get done that day. I approach them like a checklist and sometimes even expand their scope, furthering the busyness of my life.
This hustle and bustle that I carry with me is the main window through which others get a glimpse of my faith. Probably not the best impression.
In fact, Christ spent a lot of His time on earth condemning this sort of behavior, (see Matthew 23 for example). He taught and reminded the people that life isn’t about commandments for commandments sake. They are meant to guide me to God (John 7:17).
Dieter Uchtdorf, whom members of the church support as a modern day apostle recently said, “salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God” (May 2015 General Conference).
When I heard him say I had an “oh-duh-light-bulb” moment. I realized/remembered that I don’t go to church or practice my faith to take copious notes on how to make my life more busy and challenging. I want to worship Christ because He has saved me. I need His grace.
Uchtdorf went on to emphasize that with Christ’s grace, commandments have yet another purpose, “living the gospel faithfully is not a burden. It is a joyful rehearsal—a preparation for inheriting the grand glory of the eternities” (May 2015).
Clearly, my zealous busyness misses the mark, and doesn’t necessarily reflect well on my discipleship of Christ. One particular commandment comes to mind here, the commandment to repent. My favorite definition of repentance comes from Ezekiel where he says to turn from where I was facing back to God and live (see chapter 33).
After that, commandments aren’t just rules. They have a specific purpose: to help teach me about Him, to guide me to Him, to show me how to be more like Him.