When I was growing up, I saw commandments as something I was supposed to “do” not as something that helped me to actually “become” a certain type of being. It’s quite possible that such depth of gospel comprehension is hardly possible beneath the age of 16 without significant experience. I did believe that keeping the commandments would make me happy, but I didn’t think too deeply about why keeping commandments brought happiness. I simply had tested it a bit, and it seemed to be an accurate philosophy. I knew that fundamentally I wanted the Holy Spirit to guide me—it simply made sense. But, it never occurred to me that there was a larger purpose to having the Spirit with me beyond that it was something good.
I don’t think it was until I was in my late 20’s that it dawned on me that the whole gospel (grace, ordinances, commandments, covenants, etc.) was about “becoming godly” and not simply about “doing good.” It wasn’t about simply getting blessings, or avoiding pain and suffering—it was about those blessings transforming me despite the pain and suffering that would inevitably come.
The dissimilarity between doing good and becoming godly is vast. I think in general people define good far more broadly than they would ever define godliness. Which is probably why people like to stay away from the idea of becoming like God. They place it on a list of things that are ridiculous and simply not possible. Therefore, it never enters their mind that becoming godly the root of all spiritual growth and lasting change.
Law of Obedience
I remember the first time I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. At the time, I was already well read in the scriptures and even in some religious commentary. Yet, Lewis’s uncanny ability to take the spiritually complex and simplify it blew my mind. It was like drinking the purest water or eating the best food you’ve ever eaten. I simply couldn’t get enough. It was in my late 20s that I was coming to the realization of what the gospel was. And it was during that time I came upon this quote:
People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, “If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.” I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the other part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.
This quote sums up God’s law of Obedience. It sums up grace. It sums up the absolute possibility and the process through which we embark upon spiritual growth and realize the reality of lasting change—in our very being. It’s the only way that becoming like God becomes truly possible. We have to be able to change fundamentally, in our very being, for godliness to be within reach.
Grace is About Lasting Spiritual Change
So often grace gets boiled down to this godly bleach that simply wipes away sin and makes us clean enough to endure God’s presence. But, what good would such bleach be if, once in God’s presence, we still had the tendency to sin? Grace would be worthless if it couldn’t also bring about lasting spiritual change. Grace would be meaningless if it didn’t have the power to make us eternally clean. It has to have the power to cleanse as well as to make that cleanliness a permanent condition.
One of my favorite scriptures right now is 2 Nephi 2:14:
…for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
God didn’t create everything to act. And, in reality there are things that will never move or change or undergo any changes because they don’t have the power to act. Thus, they also have no power to change. Their course, state, and purpose is fixed in mortality.
On the other hand, God has created us, His children, to act and not to be acted upon. That power to act, to choose for ourselves, is also the very power that enables us to become godly. If we could be acted upon (or forced) to do things we wouldn’t have the power to change, grow spiritually, or ultimately become anything. We would always be subject to external forces. However, we are not.
Throw in the atonement of Jesus Christ, and suddenly our righteous choices and desires gain the power—over time through God’s forge of grace—to change our very being into something better, something godly. This is how the Law of Obedience works when we understand it and live it fully. Obedience slowly changes us (through grace) into a godly being.
Grace is the godly fire that makes it possible for our desires and continual righteous action (obedience) to bend our spirits into something better. The Law of Obedience is part and parcel with the atonement of Jesus Christ. We don’t obey to earn grace. We can never earn grace, nor will we ever truly deserve it. Thus, we obey to invoke the power of grace so that our hammering and attempts to bend (obey) actually work. If we don’t hammer or try to change and bend, grace serves little purpose. If we don’t show by our efforts to change, that we want grace, God will not force change upon us. He will not force us to accept His grace.
Obey and Repent: Steps to Lasting Change
So, throwing the doctrines of grace and obedience out there makes changing sound easy. It makes spiritual growth sound easy. It makes lasting change sound easy. However, though the doctrine is simple. It is not easy to change. It is not easy to become a spiritual powerhouse. It is not easy to make change permanent, to make it last, and to not revert to past habits. Change, however, is why we are here.
Yet, it does become easier to change when we understand that change rarely happens overnight. When we recognize that ALL of our efforts effect our central being, each effort gains importance. One act of kindness is powerful. And, that act gains power as it is repeated over and over and over again. Every hammer fall makes a dent.
Just as one hammer fall dents, so also no hammer fall means no progress. Thus, simply because we falter sometimes doesn’t mean we should stop keeping the commandments. Sincere, genuine repentance (full of godly sorrow) is a powerful blow to the forge of grace and ratchets up the heat toward any spiritual change. And, when we’ve made a significant effort to repent because we desire to be godly, our hammer falls gain weight and fine tuning. We progress faster and faster, and our lives become more directed toward God. We are no longer merely hammering madly all over the place. We start hammering (commandment keeping) with deliberate understanding, with eyes open to a grander pattern for our lives.
The reason true repentance has so much power is because our intent is clear and our desires our pure and deep. Even if we’ve been hammering for years on the wrong pattern, or not hammering at all, sincere repentance (because of grace) can grant us a monumental blast of energy to remake and hammer over our past patterns. The fire of grace burns hotter on our behalf.
However, that crank up on the furnace of grace isn’t permanent. We must keep hammering to maintain our new, more dedicated rhythm. Grace makes our changes last as we put forth the effort to maintain that change. Grace makes it possible to change. Obedience is the hammering that creates a change.
All the “little commandments” that we cast aside as things of minimal impact and importance tend to be those with the most power to change us and grant us lasting spiritual growth (Alma 37:6-7). They are the strongest spiritual pattern in our lives. An innumerable number of tiny dents and turns in our lives create a base spiritual strength. The repetition has a power that can’t be properly explained by mathematics or statistics. That base spiritual strength makes all of our other spiritual experiences, actions, and moments exponentially more powerful.
Testimony meetings come and go. Aha moments come and go. Miracles come and go. But, daily obedience in even the smallest things create a spiritual noise that buffers us from the distractions that would inhibit our desires to improve.
Spiritual math is obviously its own eternal subject. And perhaps we’ll study it in the eternities. I don’t claim to understand it. I do, however, claim to know it works—perfectly.
In Doctrine and Covenants section 93:20, we learn that we grow grace-by-grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ as we are obedient to all of God’s commandments.
For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fullness, and be glorified in me and I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.
Constant spiritual growth is possible with the endurance of obedient commandment keeping. We don’t have to keep commandments perfectly. But, we have to have genuine intent—a true desire to love God and become like Him. Then, through grace and with time, lasting change takes place even as C.S. Lewis described. We become a heavenly creature. We don’t simply “do” commandments, they become a natural part of who we are. We no longer have to think about being heavenly, we are heavenly.
The only way to constant spiritual growth and lasting change is to embrace the path to becoming like God. Our goal is not simply to do good. Our goal is to become godly.