To understand the scope and importance of being obedient to the laws of the gospel of Christ, we should first look at why they are in place, and what they mean for us. First, let’s look at why the Church and kingdom of God need to be on the earth.
When our Father in Heaven presented the plan of salvation to us he was giving us the pathway back to Him. We all understood that coming to earth would cause us to be cut off from His presence, to become fallen from His grace. The only way to return to a state of grace and approval in his sight would be to use the atoning sacrifice of Christ to repent of our sins.
It was also understood by all that every opportunity to improve ourselves and become more like our Father in Heaven was to be optional, not required. Only those who professed to desire above all else to become like our heavenly parent would need to accept the set of laws that Christ’s atonement would activate. Anyone who wanted to become like God would have to find and accept with all their heart, might, mind, and strength, the laws we would have to obey in order to become like Christ. This is what would bring us back into the presence of the Father.
All who come to earth will receive some degree of glory in the resurrection. This is the result of their keeping their first estate. But only those who keep their second estate will receive eternal life, the kind of life and glory our Heavenly Father has. To keep our second estate requires that we make sacred covenants with God to receive His blessings.
These blessings include such things as the use of his priesthood power, instruction and guidance from the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost, and all the revelation and inspiration that accompanies his companionship. It is important to stress that to become like God requires that we enter into a covenant relationship with Him.
Those willing to make binding covenants with God are blessed with things unavailable to those who are not willing to make those covenants. These are the rewards available only to those on the path to godhood. To receive those rewards means we are advancing down that road to eternal life. The only way to obtain those rewards is to be obedient to the covenants we have made.
Those who do not make covenants with God will receive their rewards for their behavior and desires in this life by Christ at the resurrection and judgment. They don’t have to do anything specific or special to receive those rewards, but the closer they live to the Christlike ideal, the better their rewards will be. But eternal life is not an option for those who do not make the covenants required to enter the path to exaltation.
What is obedience?
We are told in D&C 130:20-21 that obedience to laws is required for any blessing to be granted.
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.
But what is the relationship between laws and obedience? Is obedience fulfilled by mentally accepting the concept of a given law? Is agreement sufficient for fulfillment? Here is a great quote on laws that might shed some light on the answer. This quote is from Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, (2000), 46–48.
Cecil B. DeMille, director of the epic biblical film The Ten Commandments, told the student body at Brigham Young University:
“We are too inclined to think of law as something merely restrictive—something hemming us in. We sometimes think of law as the opposite of liberty. But that is a false conception. That is not the way that God’s inspired prophets and lawgivers looked upon the law. Law has a twofold purpose. It is meant to govern. It is also meant to educate. …
“… And so it is with all the Commandments.
“We must look beneath the literal, the surface meaning of the words. We must take the trouble to understand them; for how can we obey commands that we do not understand? But the Commandments too have an educative function—which you can see in the life of anyone who keeps them. They produce good character. The Ten Commandments are not rules to obey as a personal favor to God. They are the fundamental principles without which mankind cannot live together. They make of those who keep them faithfully, strong, wholesome, confident, dedicated men and women. This is so because the Commandments come from the same Divine Hand that fashioned our human nature.
“God does not contradict Himself. He did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules. He made man free—and then gave him the Commandments to keep him free” (“Commencement Address,” in Commencement Exercises, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [31 May 1957], 4–5).
So whether or not someone makes a covenant with God, obedience to commandments will bring blessings. If that is the case then what is the difference between someone who makes a covenant and someone who does not? Cannot the person who refuses the covenant still obey the commandments and be blessed? The answer is sometimes yes, sometimes maybe, and sometimes no.
The basic 10 commandments are in the yes category. They are easy and universal in their application. The covenant we make at baptism is under the maybe category. There are many good people who do their best to stand for and live a Christlike life, but they are hampered in their efforts because they do not have the gift of the Holy Ghost. Their obedience is not as refined as they need it to be in order to receive the full measure of God’s blessings. This is the purpose of the Holy Ghost.
Those covenants we make in the temple are all priesthood-related covenants. Those covenants are not available to those who are not willing to make covenants. Therefore the blessings we receive for living those laws are not available to those who have not yet made the respective covenants. Remember that the law states that we must obey the law in order to receive the blessing. If we don’t have access to the laws and the covenants that go with them we don’t have access to the blessings they bring either.
The purpose of the laws
The purpose of the laws God gives us in the gospel of Christ, the plan for our salvation, is to teach us how to transform ourselves into celestially worthy people. This is done through obedience to the set of laws that celestial people live. Repentance is provided through Christ’s atonement to help us repair the damage we do through our sins so we can be forgiven and continue to move forward in our progress toward becoming holy people.
Remember that these laws are not available to anyone outside of the covenant. Only those who make covenants with God receive these laws, and hence these expectations to live up to the requirements of these laws. By striving to live the gospel in every aspect we become better and better people, and freer and freer from the sins that fetter our progress. We become more comfortable with that which is holy and sacred, and learn to live in the world, surrounded by wickedness, but still live outside the world, being obedient to the laws that will raise us above the lusts of the flesh and the doctrines of the world.
After you have read this piece, go back and reread the lesson. See if you don’t have a new perspective on what he is encouraging us to do as covenant makers. There is a good reason why he tells us in the lesson that we should be better than the crowd, that we should rise above the crowd, and that through our obedience we will receive a shower of blessings from our Father in Heaven.
The Lord’s greatest hope for any of his children is that they would want to become like Him. What parent who lives a perfect and blissful existence with ultimate power wouldn’t want their children to share in their glory? His covenants, given by Him to us are tailored to produce just that result if we are true to the covenants we accept. The more obedient we learn to be to the spirit behind each commandment, the greater the spiritual enlightenment He can bestow upon us.
Blessings do not just help us be happy in this life by preventing bad decisions or putting coins in our pockets. The blessings covenant people receive are more in the line of spiritual benefits. We come to understand the way our Father in Heaven thinks, feels, and acts, allowing us to become like Him. The more obedient we are to the laws we covenant to keep the more comprehension we have of the things of eternity where God dwells. We begin to see and grasp the bigger picture. We see beyond our short time in mortality and begin to understand how our life here is just the springboard for the rest of eternity.