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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

13. Spiritual Ascension Step #6: Obey (aka "Why Obedience Is Not The First Law of Heaven")

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 13th examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

When one takes Elders Maxwell and Holland up on their invitations to not "wait too long to find the altar or to begin to place the gift of your wills upon it" and to "place it all on the altar of God, kneel there in silent submission, and willingly walk away" (their quotes, not mine), now comes the hard part:


But, obedience to who? A mortal leader? If you fear man more than God, if you place a man between you and God, then it's high time you reacquaint yourself with D&C 3:7, Luke 18:2-4, 1 Peter 2:17, Job 1:1 and D&C 122:9.

It's clear that we need to "live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4, D&C 84:44 and 98:11).

"We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know, unless we comply with or keep those we have already received." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256.)
Why is that? Because
"Once a person is true to the light he has received, he is then capable of receiving more light and obeying it. Until he is true to the light already given, additional light would only condemn him, for he is capable neither of understanding it nor appreciating it. Observing our covenants may not always be easy, and it may require sacrifice. The Lord said, 'Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice —- yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command —- they are accepted of me.' (D&C 97:8)" (Stephen R. Covey, The Divine Center, p. 213-216)
Thus, we see that further light and knowledge (a true blessing) is predicated upon obedience:
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:20-21)
So, here's my question: what is obedience predicated upon?

Is Obedience Really the First Law of Heaven?

There is no doubt that obedience is a vital, critical component to our eternal salvation. Over the years, it's achieved the remarkable status of being "the first law of heaven".

“Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 539).

Having a sincere interest in this doctrine (which is promulgated in almost all curriculum materials), I investigated the origins of this doctrine. Here's what I found:
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven—if there can be any law called the first or above all others. Without obedience there can be no order, no discipline, no government. The will of God cannot be done, either in the heavens or on the earth, except men will obey the will of the Father. And when men obey the will of the Father, order is the result. Confusion ceases, and peace is made to prevail, when men yield obedience to the requirements of the Father, or to the laws of God. Discipline is that practice which is necessary to bring men and women into an understanding of the laws and requirements of God; or, it is that condition which will exist when men understand the laws of God and yield obedience to them." (Joseph F. Smith, 1896. Brian Stuy, Collected Discourses Vol. 5, p.121)
  • It was quoted by Pres. David O. McKay in his book, Gospel Ideals.
  • It has been reiterated in many General Conferences in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The Problem With The "First Law of Heaven" Teaching

Again, there is no question that obedience -- the voluntary adherence to God's laws -- is essential for eternal salvation (Abraham 3:25–26; Helaman 14:30–31).

However, the notion that it is "the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest" is problematic:

1. I've known plenty of people who were flawlessly obedient -- attending all church meetings, paying full tithes/fast offerings, 100% home/visiting teaching, working in the cannery, going to the temple every week, doing family history -- you name it. Yet they avoided associating with people they didn't like. They prided themselves on not "giving in to those deceitful beggars" (a direct quote) just outside the Walmart parking lot. A few were verbally abusive to their spouses and/or kids. Wearing the finest clothes, driving the finest cars and living in the finest house was of paramount importance.

2. If you tried to count how many commandments we are to obey -- including instructions to grow a garden, visit the sick, do your family history, learn the signs of the times as well as all the written commandments – you'd find thousands. And what do you think the chances are that you'll obey them all. Zero, right? There are just too many "commandments" to keep them all perfectly. With that being the case, then technically, none of us should make it into heaven.

3. "Obedience" itself is never declared a "law". The Ten Commandments? The Law of Moses? Now, those are are laws! But obedience, as I understand it, denotes a voluntary compliance to laws (see D&C 130:21 above).

4. Logically, even if obedience were a law, it would be impossible for it to be the first law of heaven. After all, unless another law existed first, there would be nothing for obedient souls to obey.

The TRUE First Law of Heaven

Luckily, the Lord understood these four points just listed above. To clarify the matter, He stated:

"But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:34-40)

In other words, all the revelations which God has made to man in every age, all the utterances of the prophets, all the voices of history, lead us to one inescapable conclusion: we must FIRST love God. Then, immediately after that, we must love our fellowman.

These are the two grand links that unite God to man, man to his fellows, and men again to God.

Paul expounded on this fact:
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:10; emphasis mine)
The duties which we owe to God are founded in our relationship between God and ourselves. Were there no such relationship, the perfections of God might be a matter of admiration, but could not be the ground of duty and obedience.

Thus, if we love God, and consider Him as the Lord and Governor of the world, our love will soon become obedience:
“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
These acts of obe­di­ence then become outward indica­tions of an inward change...
"For the nat­ural man is an enemy to God, and has been since the fall of Adam and will be for­ever and ever, unless he yields to the entic­ings of the Holy Spirit and putteth of the nat­ural man and becometh a saint through the atone­ment of Christ the Lord. And becometh as a child, sub­mis­sive, humble, meek, full of love, will­ing to sub­mit unto all things whatso­ever the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth sub­mit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19; emphasis mine).
...and eventually elevate us to a discipleship level:
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35)

Resolving a Few Lingering Questions

Q: "So, how does one learn to love God?"
A: Good question. Christ answered, "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me." (D&C 19:23). So, read about Christ -- primarily in the four Gospels and 3 Nephi. If closing your eyes and visualizing Him helps, click here for some suggestions.

Q: "As you said, there's no way I can be perfectly obedient to all the commandments. Am I doomed?"
A: Nope. Remember that we are to "live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4D&C 84:44 and 98:11). President Monson's story (here) of leaving a church meeting to give someone a blessing, only to find that the man had died a few minutes earlier, is a perfect example of this concept. I'm sure Pres. Monson felt that attending the church meeting was an act of obedience. But after learning of the consequences resulting from disregarding divine promptings, he learned a valuable lesson: the Spirit can be the final say in what is "totally obedient" and what is not.

Thus, you can be totally obedient, even when a few things remain undone. If and when the Spirit sends you out to say hi to a neighbor instead of doing your family history work, you will obey. If He never sends you to plant a garden, you will also obey. You simply are obedient. In the final analysis, the Lord will not judge us according to our gardens nor our family history work; He will judge us according to our hearts -- what kinds of beings we have become.

When your heart truly loves God, you seek after -- and receive -- the Holy Ghost. When you do that, you are sanctified and spotless before God (3 Ne. 27:19-20), even if some things remain undone.

If You Want To Truly Understand The First Law of Heaven...

Besides the scriptures, I have two resources for you:

1. Go buy "Spiritual Roots of Human Relations" by Stephen R. Covey. The book's basic premise is simple: The way we treat God is also reflected in how we treat others, and visa versa. Both our relationships with God and others emanate from our spiritual roots. Thus, if we love God (The First Commandment), we'll also love others (the Second Commandment), and if we love others, we love God (Mosiah 2:17).

2. Listen to this song, "Love is the Answer" by England Dan and John Ford Coley. The lyrics are below.

In Conclusion

In my previous posts, we discussed giving everything -- everything -- to God at our own altars. I have found that the toughest challenge I face in holding to that commitment is letting go of my pride and loving others. I mean TRULY loving them:

No judgmentalism.

More understanding.

Respecting others' feelings.

Patiently and caringly building relationships with inclusion, not exclusion.

It has been said that the Savior was able to perform the greatest act of consecration -- the Atonement -- because of His love for every one of us. I truly believe that. I also believe that as you, too, subjugate your will to God's, and seek out and perform acts of love for your fellowman, you will be all that our Father has hoped and dreamed for you.

And that Perfect Day?

Yep. It'll come.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:48)

"Love is the Answer"
Performed by England Dan and John Ford Coley
Written by Todd Rundgren

Name your price
A ticket to paradise
I can't stay here any more
And I've looked high and low
I've been from shore to shore to shore
If there's a short cut I'd have found it
But there's no easy way around it

Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer.
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer.

Who knows why
Someday we all must die
We're all homeless boys and girls
And we are never heard.
It's such a lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely world
People turn their heads and walk on by
Tell me, is it worth just another try?


Tell me, are we alive,
or just a dying planet?
(What are the chances?)
Ask the man in your heart
for the answers

And when you feel afraid
love one another
When you've lost your way
love one another
When you're all alone
love one another
When you're far from home
love one another
When you're down and out
love one another
All your hopes run out
love one another
When you need a friend
love one another
When you're near the end
love, we got to love,
We got to love one another



  1. All you need is Love!

  2. I have been recently wondering how obedience can be the first law of heaven when the first great commandment is to love God. When I told my 9 year old primary class that obedience was the first law of heaven, I immediately thought of the first great commandment and something about that saying felt "off". I had decided to think about it and work it out in my mind later. But I am forgetful so I am glad that you did that for me!
    As far as consecration goes, I had been doing amazingly well but feel in a funk lately. How do you place your will on the alter and walk away? Oh, how I wish I could do that! Every time I walk away from the alter, my will jumps off and follows me.

  3. Good post as usual!! Been forever since I have heard that made me smile.

  4. Thank you for this post. This song came to me as an answer to prayer a few years ago. Love IS the answer.

  5. Thank you for this post. Many saints believe that salvation is the result of a spread sheet mentality. They say within themselves, "I've made some mistakes in column A, but look at all the boxes that I have checked off in column B. Column B outweighs column A and that is how I get home." That is false. It isn't how much good that we do, but what happens internally (True conversion through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost) will ultimate decide what happens to us eternally. This is why the Lord has said that we much love Him with all our hearts first and foremost. Our desires determine the rest of our lives, namely our thoughts, words, deeds, and how we spend our time. Thank you again.

  6. If I could add one more comment. One of my axioms. To love someone for the person that they are is good. To love someone for the person that they could become is charity.