Obedience can be seen in two ways:
- Obedience that leads to conversion
- Conversion that leads to obedience
1. Obedience that leads to conversion: is the idea that doing the right things will eventually turn into doing the right things for the right reasons. The common expectation is that we can fake it, until we make it. We attend our weekly meetings, we follow the rules, we do our callings, we fast and pray, and we do many things with the hope that someday we will be called up by God and found worthy. In this case, someone considers themselves converted when they are committed to obeying the laws. This kind of conversion takes years to develop. Many follow some laws, but following all the laws requires a big price of sacrifice most aren’t willing to give right away. Laman and Lemuel both took this route. They went back for the plates, they left with Lehi, they crossed the ocean to arrive in the promised land, they had a degree of obedience, but none of the external obediences could penetrate true conversion internally.
This process is merely one of self-discipline. If you don’t like fasting, just do it and some day, you’ll like it. If you have temptations, sing a hymn, redirect your thoughts, until the urge goes away. Eventually the temptation will go away. If you don’t like a person, pray and think happy thoughts or completely avoid all contact, and soon you’ll not think about them. This process is what I call, “holding your breath.”
Our discipline can increase the length of time we are able to hold our breath, until we become record breaking breath-holders. But no matter how long you can hold your breath compared to another, you can never hold your breath indefinitely. That’s called death. That’s why those who use this method believe that exaltation can only be obtained after death.
2. Conversion that leads to obedience: is the idea that one is converted to God (loves God with all your heart, mind and soul), and because they are converted, they choose to obey. Emphasis is placed on knowing God and developing a relationship with Him way before any obedience is ever expected. Conversion is not considered perfection. Instead, conversion is the foundational building blocks. It’s the hunger to know the mind and will of God, in order to return into his presence. Here, obedience is simply a bi-product. Once converted, obedience is meaningful and sought after. No compulsory means is necessary to produce compliance.
Nephi, after being visited by Christ, said that his heart was softened to all the words of his father, and that he believed everything that his father told him (1 Nephi 2:16-17). Later, Nephi is taken to a high mountain and asked by an angel if he believed all the words of his father. Nephi responds emphatically, “you know, that I believe all the words of my father.” Thus Nephi is the example of how easy obedience is once one is converted.
In this mind-set, our sins are considered merely mistakes that we are working to overcome. The guilt is swallowed up in Christ. We are saddened by our darkness and we plead for the light to chase the darkness within. However, we know that our discipline can only go so far, so rather than holding our breath, we seek out Christ and depend on the effects of the atonement to change our natural nature into a new creature.
“27. And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
We are instructed, not to discipline your way through your trials, but to humble yourself before Christ and have faith in Christ. It is He who does the heavy lifting. It isn’t your discipline in your strict adherence to Laws. When you submit yourselves to all things that the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon you (Mosiah 2:19), He makes up the difference and changes you, as he did the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s. Soon… you will be taught why you fast, and then fasting has greater purpose and enormous rewards. Temptations have no effect because we have no desires to do evil, but to do good continually. Ill feelings of your enemy transform into the love of God, and you are able to pray for your enemy, do good to them that hurt you, and love them who despitefully use you and persecute you.
One who obeys under the conditions of conversion, never… holds their breath. They rely wholly upon God. Their very nature changes. For this reason Christ teaches us that in that day, “you will know me, because you will be like me.”
No matter how god your intentions and how creative you may be in using compulsory means to manipulate others into obedience, obeying a law never produced conversion. However, if anyone loves God, no obstacle will be big enough to stop your obedience in their effort to return to His presence. Obedience is not what produces conversion. Obedience is a bi-product of conversion.