As mentioned above, faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost (i.e. “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel”) are not enough to guarantee salvation; rather, after these initial steps a continuous, life-long commitment is required for continued personal progress. This life-long commitment, which Mormons call “enduring to the end,” includes both inward and outward changes. Inwardly, we must seek to change our hearts, to align our wills with the will of God. This comes as we develop faith in Jesus Christ. Outwardly, we must show forth good works by choosing to keep the commandments God has revealed through ancient and modern prophets and apostles. Rather than trying to find a religion that “best fits” our lifestyle or “picking and choosing” which religious directives we’ll accept (i.e. religion a la cart), we should instead actively seek to discover God’s will and to do it. God blesses those who endure to the end by striving both to develop faith in Christ and to keep His commandments.
The Mormon emphasis on keeping the commandments should not be misinterpreted. Specifically,
Mormons do not believe man’s goal should be to “win God’s favor” by doing His will, nor is ours an attitude of “obliging” God to save us or of “earning” salvation through good works, as some allege; rather, we see God as a kind, perfectly merciful Father who already loves us beyond our mortal comprehension and is anxious to see each of us reach our full potential. Aside from being perfectly merciful, however, He is also perfectly just. Salvation comes through both the perfect mercy and the perfect justice of God.
My Burden was Made Light
In order to satisfy the law of mercy, Jesus Christ offered to payóor atoneófor our sins. As sinners we all fall far short of being worthy to return to God’s presence. Jesus Christ atoned for our shortcomings. In His infinite mercy, He made it possible for us to return to God’s presence despite our imperfections, on condition of our repentance and faith in Him.
In order to satisfy the law of justice, however, God does not relieve us of our personal responsibility. As a just God, our Father requires that we do all we canóhowever insufficientóto live up to our potential. God would not be just if He allowed His Son to pay for our sins without requiring that we do our best to avoid sin in the first place.
While Mormons do believe that God will bless those who strive to keep His commandments, those blessings do not always come in this life, and, when they do, they are often spiritual rather than physical. I know of many faithful members of the Church who have difficult lives. Their dedication to keeping God’s commandments does not always lighten their physical burdens, but that dedication does give them the spiritual strength to bear trials in this life and the hope of an eternal reward in the next.
With this background, let’s explore a few of the commandments God has revealed through His ancient and modern prophets and apostles.
The Word of Wisdom
Trying to fit in...
In the early 19th century, many Mormons used chewing tobacco, including the prophet Joseph Smith. Emma Smith, Joseph’s wife, noticed that discussions about Christ and His gospel were often interrupted when members of the Church paused to spit tobacco onto the floor. She questioned the practice–especially because she was the one that cleaned up after the spitters–and so suggested that Joseph ask God for further instruction. What followed was a revelation, called by Mormons the “Word of Wisdom.” ()
Mormons describe the "Word of Wisdom," the Mormon dietary code
While initially given by God as a suggestion, perhaps in order to give members of the Church time to overcome difficult addictions, God has since made the Word of Wisdom a commandment and has added to it as changing times have required. The Word of Wisdom instructs members of the Church to avoid addictive substances. Specifically, it mentions:
Tobacco, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
“Strong drinks,” meaning alcoholic beverages.
“Hot drinks,” meaning coffee and black tea.
Meat in excess.
Drugs of abuse.
In addition, the Word of Wisdom encourages members of the Church to eat herbs, fruits, and grains.
God promises both physical and spiritual blessings to those who follow this Word of Wisdom. Although unknown to the early members of the Church, science has since proven the physical benefits of many word-of-wisdom recommendations. Indeed, epidemiological studies suggest that American Mormons live, on average, several years longer than their compatriots. The Word of Wisdom also brings spiritual blessings; with the mind free from addictions, the influence of the Spirit of God is more easily felt.
Fasting, a practice that dates to Old-Testament times, is to voluntarily abstain from eating and drinking with the purpose of drawing closer to God. While members of the Church are free to fast whenever spiritual strength is needed, the first Sunday of each month is specifically designated as “fast Sunday.” On this day,
Members of the Church abstain from two consecutive meals, donating the money that would have been spent on food, or more if one’s financial situation permits, to Church programs that care for the poor. This contribution to the poor is called a “Fast Offering.”
Fasting is accompanied by prayer in which members of the Church ask for strength and/or thank God for blessings received.
Additionally, members of the Church have the opportunity to declare their faith in front of the local congregation if they wish, a practice called “bearing one’s testimony.” ()
Christ Himself taught the sacredness of personal sacrifice when He was on the earth.
In the early 19th century, Mormons adopted a communal economic system called “the United Order.” Members of the Church gave everything they earned to the Church, and the Church redistributed those earnings according to individual members’ needs. Some early members, however, lacking the required dedication, resisted this system. God, recognizing that the Church was not prepared for this higher law, instructed us to switch over to capitalism. In place of the United Order, God established the twin commandments of tithing, designed to care for the financial needs of the Church, and fast offerings (described above), designed to care for the financial needs of the poor. ()
Tithing, defined as 10% of one’s earnings, is a financial offering given to God by way of the Church. Like many of God’s commandments, the practice also has Old-Testament origins. Tithing funds are used to build chapels and temples, finance the Church’s missionary program, and in general to build up and strengthen what Mormons consider to be God’s kingdom on earth.
One distinguishing characteristic of the LDS Church is that tithing funds are not used to pay “the pastor’s salary.” With very few exceptions, members of the LDS clergy are unpaid. The Mormon clergy is comprised of Church members that volunteer their time free-of-charge after hours in hopes of strengthening the Church they love. Rather than paying the salaries of individual clergymen, tithing funds are used for purposes that benefit the Mormon community at large, reminiscent of the original “United-Order” philosophy of the 19th century.
God has commanded His children to meet together frequently; Mormon congregations meet once a week, on Sunday. Frequent Church attendance brings blessings that are not possible when members of the Church worship only at home. ()
The Sacrament, a sacred ordinance called in some religions “the Lord’s Supper,” is administered to Mormon congregations during the weekly meetings. The Sacrament serves to renew baptismal promises; members of the Church receive the influence of God’s spirit by promising to remember Christ’s sacrifice, to take His name upon them, and to keep His commandments. The frequent renewal of these sacred promises brings continued spirtual strength.
Because the LDS Church has no paid clergy, members of the Church voluntarily accept various Church responsibilities, called “callings.” In fulfilling their callings, Mormons serve both God and their fellow men. This service brings spiritual strength and helps Mormons feel that they are a part, however small, of God’s great latter-day work. As we serve God and His children, our love for them grows in ways that would not be possible if we stayed home every Sunday.
While God can certainly communicate with us directly, He often chooses to teach us through others. By attending Church regularly, Mormons benefit from the insights, understanding, and feelings of their fellow Church members. Additionally, the sense of community that comes from frequent attendence often helps members maintain their faith in difficult times.
The constant rush of modern life can often cloud our minds with mundane worries, causing us to loose our focus on Christ and His gospel. While members of the Church are encouraged to reserve time for prayer and scripture study at home, weekly Church meetings are also critical in reminding us of what’s really important in life.
A group of LDS women gather for a service project.
Some mistakenly see the Church as a religious social club. When key friendships wane or social irritants arise, they stop attending Church. Rather than attending Church for social reasons, we should attend Church because of our desire to worship God and to strengthen ourselves spiritually. Regardless of how irritating so-and-so isówhat sizable congregation of any denomination doesn’t have some irritating members?óGod has commanded us to be active members of the Church, and our love for Him should compel us to obey that commandment. In the end, God will judge us based on our individual, personal dedication. I doubt He will accept excuses in which we try to place the blame for our inactivity on another’s irritating habits or another’s waning friendship. That having been said, Mormons are known as a very friendly people. While any social benefits of Church attendence should be secondary to the desire to worship God, the wonderful friendships often formed among members are both rewarding and faith-promoting.
A group of Mormons sing a comedy song about the importance of waiting until mariage. Pardon the inside jokes... but I think you get the point.
Mormons believe that intimate relations prior to marriage, including sexual intercourse (fornication), petting, masturbation, and pornography, run contrary to God’s will. Likewise, having intimate relations with someone other than one’s spouse after marriage (adultery) is also considered a grevious sin. By using our free agencyóour ability to choose between right and wrongóto choose to give ourselves only to that person with whom we are prepared to make a full, marital commitment, we show our love for God and for our (future) spouse. I like to think that this “commitment to commitment” makes Mormons a particularly romantic people! ()
In order to guard against immorality, the LDS Church counsels its members to wait until they are 16 years old before dating, an age at which most (hopefully) have the maturity to make wise decisions. Group dates are typically preferred during the early dating years. As young adults, Mormons begin to think in terms of marriage, and couple dates become more common. As pairing off occurs, temptation naturally increases; Mormon couples often receive council from Church leaders in order to strengthen their resolve to wait until after marriage before sharing themselves fully with one another.
As with nearly all sins, Mormons believe that one can repent of fornication or adultery by taking advantage of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Members of the Church who have fornicated or committed adultery but have walked the oft-times arduous journey of repentance can once again enjoy all the benefits of Church membership. This principle of repentance is particularly important for those who wish to become Mormons, many of whom did not appreciate the importance of chastity before they encountered the Church and its teachings. Such converts can and do enjoy the full blessings of Church membership.