Why the 'higher law' in 3 Nephi isn't as impossible to live as it sounds


Editor's note: “Resources to follow Him” curates study resources, teachings, and thoughts to deepen your study of this week's Come, Follow Me.

In this week’s Come, Follow Me, we are invited to “live a higher law—to be righteous not only in our outward actions but also in our hearts.” As we live that higher law, repent, seek forgiveness, and come unto Him, the Savior has promised that He will receive us (3 Nephi 12:24).

Sometimes the higher law might seem impossible to live up to, since we make mistakes daily as mortal beings. But Church leaders have reminded us that we need not be too hard on ourselves. In his October 1995 general conference address, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson emphasized that “men are that they might have joy—not guilt trips!” He also promised that as we strive to live a higher law, love God, and keep His commandments, we will find eternal blessings are in store for us, including “thrones, kingdoms, principalities, powers, and dominions.”

It is true that we cannot receive these blessings solely on our own, as it is only through the Savior’s atoning sacrifice that we can return to our Father in Heaven. But in the meantime, we can strive to live His laws and more fully understand them. As we do so, perhaps we can evaluate our lives and determine how to become more like the Savior, who, as Come, Follow Me says, is “the only One who can save and perfect us.”

The Higher Law

In order to understand the higher law Christ outlines in 3 Nephi, it may be useful to take a look at the law that preceded it—the law of Moses. In a 1991 Ensign article, Larry E. Dahl, professor emeritus of Church History and Doctrine, discusses how contention, anger, adultery, divorce, and lust were all issues that the Israelites had to deal with anciently. He also compares the law of Moses to the new, higher law that the Savior gives the Nephites when visiting the Americas.

For instance, in 3 Nephi 12:38–42, rather than exacting an “eye for an eye” or a “tooth for a tooth,” Dahl explains that Christ tells the Nephites to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies “that ye may be the children of your Father who is heaven.”

“But aren’t we all children of our Father in Heaven already?” Dahl asks. “Although God is the Father of our spirits, another dimension of being His children is implied here: becoming ‘begotten sons and daughters unto God’ through the Atonement of Christ (D&C 76:24). We then become ‘children’ in the exalted family of God, joint-heirs with Christ of all that the Father has.”

The higher law, therefore, takes more of a spiritual than a literal approach as the Savior asks us to become like Him. In a “Don’t Miss This” YouTube video, host David Butler discusses how the Savior asks the Nephites to reframe their way of thinking when it comes to living this higher law.

“What’s so awesome with His style here is He gives a new way of thinking about the law. Higher law is one way to think about it. Another way to think about it is an inward law versus an outward law. He was like, ‘I want you to think about the insides of you as you approach each of these.’”

A benefit of living the “inward” or “higher” law, adds host Emily Belle Freeman, is that it brings you closer to your Father in Heaven and encourages you to be more connected to the Spirit.

“When it’s an inward law, or a higher law, it really requires you to be engaged with the Father and the Son and the Spirit, and thinking through, ‘Okay, how should I approach this situation?’ Altogether, it can feel really overwhelming. But in pieces, not as overwhelming.”

0:00 / 0:00
Video Companion
Come Follow Me 3 Nephi 12-16 (Sept. 21-27)

The higher law and Christ’s fulfillment of the Mosaic Law was also highlighted in this week’s Sunday on Monday Study Group episode, “I Am the Law, and the Light.” In the episode, podcast host Tammy Uzelac Hall calls attention to 3 Nephi 12:17–18, which reads:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfil; For verily I say unto you, aone jot nor one tittle hath not passed away from the blaw, but in me it hath all been fulfilled.

While breaking down these verses to understand how Christ fulfilled the law, Tammy explains what a “jot” and a “tittle” are in the Hebrew language—small markings that change the pronunciation of a word—and its symbolic meaning in scripture.

“And so here’s Jesus Christ saying, ‘Listen, not one little dot, not one little dash is going to be missed or forgotten. I will remember it all and it’s all going to make sense,’” Tammy says. “He’s saying every single tiny, minute aspect of the law is going to be fulfilled by His atoning work, death, and Resurrection. Nothing and no one will be forgotten.”

Podcast guest Lenna Panisi Loveridge added her thoughts about how the higher law can bring comfort to us today, and how it is reassuring that everything will be fulfilled through Christ.

“It actually gives me a lot of peace,” she says. “He gives us these laws and gives us these commandments and the promise that as imperfectly as I’m trying to keep them, that He’s taking note of that and that it’s fulfilled. And so for me, it’s just a comfort to know that everything is counted and everything is noted—every jot, every tittle,” she says.

The Sunday on Monday Study Group is a Deseret Bookshelf PLUS+ original presented by LDS Living. You can access the full study group discussion through the Bookshelf app. Listen to a segment of this week's episode above or listen to the full Sunday on Monday episode here.

Being Perfect 

The Come, Follow Me manual highlights a standard of the higher law that Christ declares in 3 Nephi 12:48:

I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.

Although this might seem like an impossible task, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson reminded Latter-day Saints in an October 1995 general conference address titled “Perfection Pending” that “the Lord gives no commandments that are impossible to obey.” Looking at the origins of the word "perfection" as it is used in the New Testament, President Nelson explained the following:

In Matthew 5:48, the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means “complete.” Teleios is an adjective derived from the noun telos, which means “end.” The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means “to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.” Please note that the word does not imply “freedom from error”; it implies “achieving a distant objective.” In fact, when writers of the Greek New Testament wished to describe perfection of behavior—precision or excellence of human effort—they did not employ a form of teleios; instead, they chose different words.

President Nelson continued by giving another scriptural example of the word “perfect.”

With that background in mind, let us consider another highly significant statement made by the Lord. Just prior to His crucifixion, He said that on "the third day I shall be perfected." Think of that! The sinless, errorless Lord—already perfect by our mortal standards—proclaimed his own state of perfection yet to be in the future. His eternal perfection would follow His resurrection and receipt of ‘all power . . . in heaven and in earth.

Therefore, the reality of our own imperfections does not need to be disheartening, because as President Nelson said, perfection is a long-term goal.

“The perfection that the Savior envisions for us is much more than errorless performance. It is the eternal expectation as expressed by the Lord in his great Intercessory Prayer to his Father—that we might be made perfect and be able to dwell with them in the eternities ahead,” he said.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland also testified that we have the divine potential to become as God is and that the Lord has never given us a commandment we cannot keep. In his October 2017 general conference address, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” Elder Holland says:

We are in the telestial kingdom; that is spelled with a t, not a c. As President Russell M. Nelson has taught, here in mortality perfection is still "pending,” . . . So I believe that Jesus did not intend His sermon on this subject to be a verbal hammer for battering us about our shortcomings. No, I believe He intended it to be a tribute to who and what God the Eternal Father is and what we can achieve with Him in eternity.

0:00 / 0:00
Video Companion
Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually

Promised Blessings

The Nephites were promised in 3 Nephi 13:33 that as they would first seek the commandments of God, all things would be added unto them. As we take to heart the words of prophets past and present about living the higher law, surely we will also experience happiness and find that all things are added unto as God has promised.

In a Church News video, President Nelson shared how blessings come from knowing the laws of God. Whether these laws are physical or spiritual, he said, laws cannot be denied.

“Divine law is incontrovertible,” he explained. “Everyone receives a blessing from God because they were obedient to the law that pertained to that area. Our job is to teach people about these eternal laws. They’re called commandments, but they are just as true as the law of lift, the law of gravity, the law that governs the heartbeat.”

Following the laws also brings guaranteed happiness, President Nelson testified.

“It becomes a rather simple formula,” he said. “If you want to be happy, keep the commandments.”

0:00 / 0:00
Video Companion
Eternal Laws | From Scrabble to the commandments

Featured image by Simon Dewey, Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content