In the journey to make it back to our heavenly home, we strive to understand and apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives. Part of that process leads us to His temple where we are able to receive ancient and sacred ordinances, and make sacred covenants with Him. In order to make those covenants we need to understand the “Law of the Gospel”.
When we refer to the Gospel, we mean the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In our attempt to explain the Law of the Gospel, let’s first consider the two terms, Law and Gospel, separately.
This is a relatively long post. If you don’t want to read it all, skip to the summary by clicking here TL;DR, which stands for “too long; didn’t read”.
I propose that Law is the ordering of relationships. It concerns relationships between people and God, but also includes man’s environment.
There are many types of law to consider:
- Natural Law – Laws of physics, gravity, thermodynamics, etc.
- God’s Commandments – Moral law from God, the Ten Commandments, et.al.
- Laws of Man – Codified civic law, corporate and military law, etc.
For the purposes of this text natural law completely disregards the philosophies of men. For centuries men like Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes and others have endeavored to define natural law. Herein we discard those theories and philosophies. Natural law, for our purposes, has nothing to do with the rights of men, but men are subject to it.
Natural law implies that the universe is made up of two, and only two, types of things:
- Things to act – intelligences and elements bound thereto (gods, man, animals, etc.)
- Things to be acted upon – elements
It is concerned with the elements, both those elements that act and those that are acted upon and it includes the following classes of laws:
All laws of physics, at least those of which man has discovered and identified correctly. The illustrious scientists of history belligerently assured us that the earth was flat, among many other theories since proven incorrect. So we must define laws of physics as 1) those which are correct in their entirety and 2) those we have not yet discovered. It is prideful and arrogant to assume otherwise.
All laws that are impossible for man to violate. These kinds of laws existed before man, and cannot be violated by man. No matter how hard we may try, we cannot contravene the law of gravity. Even a modern jet aircraft works with the law of gravity so that flight may occur. Other laws may be used to temporarily circumvent the effects, but the law itself cannot be violated. An aircraft may use the laws of velocity, lift, vacuum, etc. to fly, but again the law of gravity itself has not been violated.
Civil or man-made laws work within, and are subject to, natural law. However, God may directly or indirectly circumvent natural law. Take, for instance, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego1. They were thrown into the fire but were not burned. Another instance is the first recorded miracle that Jesus performed. He changed the molecular structure of the water in the six stone pots that it became wine. Our worldly understanding of physics cannot explain it, or reproduce it.2 I propose that God did not violate natural law but worked with it or temporarily worked around it. This leads to the question of how do virtue, honor, the elements, and the Priesthood work together. But that is a large topic that is beyond the scope of this text.
God set natural law in motion for our benefit. Without it planets, stars and the elements would not orbit and relate to each other as they do. The universe would be chaos and useless. Without it we could not learn the things we were sent here to learn. This is the perfect proving ground, or laboratory if you will. Things here on earth are a dim type and shadow of things in heaven. We are able to experiment and work with each other and the elements, learning along the way so that we may gain wisdom and maturity.
It is impossible for man to break one of these laws. Again, consider the law of gravity. There was a point in our history when flight would have seemed like a miracle. We did not understand the laws of physics well enough to allow man to fly. Today it is a relatively simple matter, but we still cannot violate the law of gravity. We can only suspend its effects temporarily.
We can here assert the second law of thermodynamics, a natural law, which simplistically stated says that all things in their natural state degrade and fall apart over time. God does not violate this or any other natural law. Elements in their natural state break down over time. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, etc.
So how do we explain the Lord raising Lazarus from the dead?3 Did He violate the second law of thermodynamics? No. The body of Lazarus was in its natural state of death when the Jesus visited his tomb. He acted on the body of Lazarus, using the Priesthood, raising him from a state of death to life. Therefore no law was broken, but another law was used to reverse the natural state of Lazarus’ body.
Again, the law defines an element in its “natural state” will break down. More simply stated an element will break down over time unless an outside force acts upon it. The Lord changed the elements that made up the body of Lazarus. He used the Priesthood to act on his body as an outside force of change, and commanded his spirit to return to his body. In the same way, would the law of gravity be broken or violated if we threw a ball into the air? No. We would serve as an outside force acting upon the ball. It would eventually return to earth, the same way that Lazarus eventually died like every other man.
Simply stated, Father in Heaven ordered the universe and keeps it that way through the Priesthood4. I propose that natural laws were called into existing through the priesthood, and the order of the universe is maintained through the same.
Do other types of miracles violate the laws of thermodynamics? Again, no. The Lord maintains a perfect relationship with those, and all other natural laws and with all elements in the universe. It is precisely because the Godhead will never violate natural law, that the Priesthood works.
We could write and read volumes on this subject but a sufficient definition has been asserted for our purposes.
Next we analyze God’s commandments.
Throughout history, God has given man commandments. They are a moral code revealed to, or given on behalf of, His children so that we may: 1) achieve maximum happiness, 2) become fit for God’s kingdom and 3) obtain power in the priesthood.
God’s commandments, when obeyed, allow us to be happy. Conversely disobedience brings misery5. The consequences of obedience or disobedience are as sure, and binding, as our friendly law of gravity.
They are distinctly different from natural law in the following ways:
A commandment may be altered or revoked whenever expedient. For example, Nephi was commanded to kill Laban in contradiction to the sixth commandment6, and Abraham may have been commanded to lie to pharaoh that Sarah was his sister.7
It is possible for man to violate a commandment. In other words commandments involve agency or choice. Man has the power to obey or disobey. See also the Doctrine of the Two Ways8.
Commandments can be personal and meant for specific individuals only. Answers to personal prayers may come in the form of personal commandments, which others may not be required to obey.
Obeying a commandment normally either requires, or builds faith, and over time a deeper relationship with God. Through our obedience we come to know Him and ourselves.
Obedience to God’s commandments always brings forth a blessing.9. Again, obedience to natural law is by default since it is not possible to violate such laws. It is by obedience to God’s law or commandments that we obtain any blessings.
It is by our obedience to His commandments that we:
- Obtain maximum joy and happiness
- Become fit for His kingdom
- Obtain power in the priesthood
I propose that benefit number one, above, is incidental. God always knows better than we do, and has our best interests in mind, so of course obedience brings forth happiness and joy because that is the fundamental reason we exist (or the reason we were created).10
The second benefit is both marvelous and exciting. Much of the non-LDS Christian world misunderstands LDS doctrine and mistakenly believes that we presume to “work our way to heaven”, by obeying a list of commandments and doing good works. Nothing could be further from the truth11. The fact is solidly attested by many prophets that there is nothing we can do to earn our way to heaven. No amount of good deeds will tip the scale of justice to our benefit. It is only by His grace, after all we can do12, that we have a hope of obtaining the brass ring. The exciting thing about this one is that obedience changes us. Read it again. Obedience to God’s commandments will change us. Obedience matures and refines us. Through obedience to His commandments we learn a better way, His way, and become fit for His kingdom. How does the change occur?
Through our obedience we are sanctified — by the grace of Christ — and that sanctification changes our very nature from carnal to Christlike. Through every single act of obedience we are sanctified a bit more. One drop at a time we are filled with the Holy Ghost until it consumes us as a fire. In the same way that one plus one always equals two, obedience to His commandments always sanctifies us and always changes us, bit by bit.
With a broken heart and a contrite spirit, we take upon us the name of Christ by offering up (sacrificing) our will in favor of His will. Our will is swallowed up in His, in the same way that His will was swallowed up in Father’s. I propose that our own will (or לֵב, leb)13 is all that we have to give. All property and elements belongs to Him and even our physical bodies belong (ownership) to Him. The only thing we truly possess is our own leb, or will14.
Lastly, power in the priesthood. We know that priesthood authority may be conferred upon any righteous (צַדִּיק, tsadiq)15 saint, male or female16. But that authority is only valid if and when we are righteous.17 When we sin, or do not obey His commandments, our authority is ended.18 When we constantly repent of our weaknesses and obey His commandments, we enjoy power in the priesthood. At some point after we have proven ourselves, we are appointed to the Godhead. We can command the very mountains, and they will obey us.19
Laws of Man
The last and weakest form of law is the law of man.
Throughout history, the laws of man have ranged from well-intentioned and righteous, to inherently evil20.
We learn from D&C 98:5-7 that the law of man is indeed evil unless it conforms to the heavenly inspired constitutional law of the land. This pertains to the original US Constitution.
5 And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.
6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;
7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
Any law of man, which does not support freedom in maintaining the inherent rights and privileges belonging to mankind is evil, period. It cannot be more direct or unambiguous than this.
I have law professor and attorney friends, who are members of the church, that find it very difficult to integrate this doctrine. There are countless writings of esteemed men in the law community on what is and is not constitutional. We can, however, all agree that the actual US Constitution itself is constitutional. I would also propose that the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) is constitutional.
The problem occurs when men try to interpret what is written in those documents to fit a certain agenda21. I don’t want to get onto a tangent about the Gadiantonism of modern civic law systems today, but aversion is an understandable reaction for someone whose entire career of study and practice is based upon the laws of men.
It is well understood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that the US Constitution was inspired by God22. As members of the church we are commanded to obey, uphold and sustain that particular document as the supreme, heavenly law of this land.
In summary, the laws of man are good and righteous only when they uphold the principles of individual (common) freedom and liberty23, laid out in the US Constitution, against the moral backdrop of natural law and God’s commandments. Any law of man, more or less than this is evil.
Oh, how I wish that all were required to read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in school. They are not difficult to read or understand and the value and insight gained is worth the effort.
Gospel of Jesus Christ
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is also known as “The Plan of Salvation”, or “The Plan of Happiness”.
The gospel encompasses every facet of life and existence. However, it can be generally summed up in the following principles and expectations:
We are all (everyone ever born on this planet) children of God.24
We are expected to learn and progress in knowledge and wisdom25 until we become fit for God’s kingdom, a highly advanced civilization and culture of immortal and perfectly righteous families.
The mistakes we make violate God’s commandments and require punishment or reckoning, through which the eternal Law of Justice has claim upon us.28
Jesus Christ, our literal spiritual brother, was born into this physical world, lived a perfectly loving and sinless life, obeying all of Father’s commandments and accepted the suffering (punishment, penalty, pain) for the rest of us, which punishment is necessary due to the eternal Law of Justice.
We are expected to accept and apply Christ’s atonement through sincere repentance, baptism and other specific temple ordinances and covenants. Such acceptance and righteous behavior invokes the Law of Mercy, in accordance with His will, upon which we have claim.29
If we do not accept Jesus and His atonement, the Law of Justice stands and we must suffer even as He did in the garden of Gethsemane, or be damned.
We are expected to listen to and obey (שָׁמַע, shama)30 the Holy Ghost, which is the personal and intimate word of God for us individually.
We expect our nature to change through this process, such that we have no more desire or disposition to do evil31 (that is anything contrary to the will of our Father in Heaven). We expect to reach a certain level of maturity through the application of this gospel program.
Along the way, we expect to be granted grace to overcome, through Jesus Christ our mediator. This grace is not easily won, but persistent, fervent prayer and fasting shows Him we are willing to do what it takes to become fit for His kingdom.
We are expected to sacrifice everything of self and the things of this world, so that we may experience this mighty change of character.32 We must want it badly enough to give up everything else.
At the perfect day33, we expect meet Jesus Christ face to face and for Him to accept us and welcome us home.
The Law of the Gospel
With the understanding laid out above, I propose that the Law of the Gospel is a covenant to obey all of the laws and commandments of God.34
That explicitly includes obedience to:
- The Constitutional law of the land
- The Ten Commandments
- The golden rule
- The Law of Consecration
- The Law of Sacrifice
- The ordinances of:
- ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood (for men)
- the temple endowment
- the marriage sealing
- Every whispering of the Holy Ghost to us individually
All of these are swallowed up by what the Savior said in Matthew 22:36-40:
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 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.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
He would have us know that
That which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
The Safety of the Gospel Law, William R. Bradford
The law of the gospel of Jesus Christ has decreed that every man must repent and be baptized by immersion, after the pattern of the Lawgiver, or he cannot be saved.
Parents are required by the law of the gospel to teach their children to understand the doctrine of repentance; to have faith in Christ, the Son of the living God; and pray and walk uprightly before the Lord; and to go into the waters of baptism at the age of accountability.
That which is governed by law will continue to be preserved by law, and that which will not obey the conditions of law will not be justified in salvation.
We could talk about the law of sacrifice and service to one another, moral cleanliness, tithes and offerings, honesty. Indeed, we could review all the many laws that together comprise the law of the gospel. But perhaps enough has been pointed out to draw focus on their exactness, the protection and salvation they provide us if we obey, and the serious consequences for noncompliance.
In summary, obedience to the Law of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is required to inherit the Celestial kingdom of God. We covenant to obey this all-encompassing law, and in keeping that covenant we are sanctified, by the grace of Jesus Christ. We exhibit our faith in Him and sacrifice all that we have. In turn He puts His stamp of approval upon us in the presence of our Father. He says, if you will, “Father,
-insert your name here- is one of my friends and has become fit for the kingdom.”
Our hearts are changed and we are molded into people that can withstand and enjoy the sociality of gods, even Jesus Christ and The Father, and eventually become gods ourselves, enjoying the company and companionship of our families throughout all eternity.
Brother Nibley lays down the evidence that God upholds and protects His creations against the second law of thermodynamics. The Meaning of the Temple, Hugh W. Nibley. Temple and Cosmos, volume 12 in The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 1—41.↩
There are many arguments over the original meaning and intent of the sixth commandment, widely interpreted as “Thou shalt not kill”. One such example is that of John W. Welch in his “Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban”: “The primary biblical text explaining the enforcement of the general command, “Thou shalt not murder [Emphasis mine] (rasah)” (Exodus 20:13), is found in Exodus 21:12-14. It reads: He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand, then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.”↩
Why would Abraham lie? – FairMormon. It is also worth noting that Sarah actually was Abraham’s sister from a spiritual perspective. It was still a deception, sanctioned by the Lord for a righteous and expedient purpose.↩
Premortal Disunity & Creation – Hugh Nibley. “But why leave one’s heavenly home for a dismal earthly one? To that question, constantly reiterated in the Mandaean writings, the Gnostic answer was that we were forced to make the move as a punishment; but the “Treasure” doctrine was the very opposite–we are here as a reward, enjoying an opportunity to achieve yet greater things by being tried and tested, “that each one might be promoted, according to his intelligence and the perfections of his way, or be retarded according to his wrong-doings.” This is the well-known doctrine of the Two Ways: For this reason the world has existed through the ages, says the Clementine Recognitions, so that the spirits destined to come here might fulfill their number, and here make their choice between the upper and the lower worlds, both of which are represented here. In what has been regarded as the oldest ritual document in existence, the so-called Shabako Stone from Memphis, we find the concept full-blown: “To him who doeth good will be given Life and [off Salvation [htp]. To him who doeth evil will be given the Death of the Condemned [criminal] … according to that decree, conceived in the heart and brought forth by the tongue, which shall be the measure of all things.””↩
We Own Nothing – Tsem Rinpoche, “Nothing is owned by us. Everything will be given, taken, lost, abandoned or forgotten in the end. We came into our current lifetimes with nothing and no matter how much we accumulate, we leave with nothing. So wouldn’t it be wise that in between, we develop no real attachments or put so much emphasis on the material?”↩
D&C 121:36 “That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”↩
D&C 121:37 “That they [the powers of heaven, or priesthood] may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”↩
D&C 50:29-30 “And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done. But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask; and as ye are appointed to the head, the spirits shall be subject unto you.”↩
We Are Children of God – Russel M. Nelson, “We are dual beings. Each soul is comprised of body and spirit, both of which emanate from God. A firm understanding of body and spirit will shape our thoughts and deeds for good.”↩
Alma 42:22 “But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.”↩
Alma 42:23 “But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.”↩
2 Peter 1:10 “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:”, D&C 50:24 – “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”↩