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. 1
I, the Lord am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise. 2
For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundations of the world. 3
Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves – to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life. 4
These four passages outline in a clear way the divine law of agency and accountability. The first point is that agency has been given to us all – to make our own choices. We are absolutely free to choose. But, once we’ve made a choice (or a series of choices) – good or bad – we are not able to change the consequences of that choice, nor are we able to somehow be free of them.5 We cannot have the precious gift of agency AND also wish to be free from the accountability of our choices. If we attempt to be free of the consequence – it would require us to be free from the ability to choose. It cannot be both ways.
With that foundation in place, we should understand why we have been given commandments. The commandments are given by a loving Father in Heaven, not because he is a tyrant who likes things neat and clean, or because he just likes to tell people what to do – but because he understands the law above and he understands that only by willingly choosing to obey the commandments can we enjoy the blessings that are associated with them.
Now, when we keep the commandments (any one of the many commandments that we have been given) we get to participate in one of the most rewarding elements of the gospel – receiving blessings. We may even think that this is the end goal of obedience (to gain the blessings) and while that may be partially true – let us remember that these blessings (ends) might be and often are disguised (at least to us) as means.
For example – by obedience to certain commandments – I may be blessed with strength, faith, or a spiritual confirmation. This blessing is often thought of as an end – but if we look at this strength as a means to a greater end – we may realize that this particular blessing of strength may be given to us in order to overcome or fulfill yet another or perhaps more difficult commandment in the future – or to share it with someone else. Thus, what was perceived as an end is actually a means to another end.
Now, here is where it gets really fun, because as we realize this (ends are means) it is important for us to view our entire lives as means to and end, but even then, the end result of all of our means, is also the means to a greater end. Let me explain: let’s say I spend my whole entire life obeying as many commandments as I can, and I receive blessings all along the way that have helped me gain strength (in order to obey even more commandments, help others learn and obey commandments, or to feel the spirit), these means (blessings) can be viewed as ends in and of themselves for particular purposes (someone fasts for a special blessing, or someone is struggling with a particular issue which gets resolved) which if looked at independent from other blessings could be viewed as ends – but when looked at over the lifetime of any one individual – we see a list (hopefully a long one) of means that were given as blessings with the end goal of helping that individual to become like Jesus Christ.
Obedience brings blessings, which when acted upon or implemented become ends (isolated instances of helping answer a prayer or need). These ends are also means that help us receive more blessings, which can be used as more ends (and on and on). The end of this process is that we have used the means necessary to ‘bring about a mighty change’ within us so that we don’t view the commandments as restrictions – but they have become the very means by which we can claim mercy through the atonement of Jesus Christ since it is by means of the atonement that any of us can ever receive the ends that we desire so much. As Alma put it (regarding our helpless state without the atonement) ‘there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man brought upon himself because of his own disobedience’.6
Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient and therefore was a perfect recipient of blessings. These blessings turned out to be ends for many people (miracles, healings, raising people from the dead, feeding the people, etc.) but also turned out to be means (added strength, faith, spiritual growth line upon line) for his future obedience and performance of the atonement. Then ultimately those means resulted in the perfect performance of the atonement, which brought about the ultimate end for all of us (possibility of repentance and resurrection). It just so happens that the atonement is also the means by which any of us are able to draw upon that power (receive those means), and become like him. Thus we use means to produce ends, which are means to our hopeful end – which will be the eternal development and use of means and ends in ‘bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’.7
I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ.8
1 D&C 130:20-21
2 D&C 82:10
3 D&C 132:5
4 2 Ne. 10:23. See also Hel. 14:30 and 2 Ne. 2:27
5 See also ‘Free Forever, to Act for Themselves’ by D Todd Christofferson, October 2014 General Conference and 2 Ne. 2 (the whole chapter)
6 Alma 42:12 (read chapter 39-42 for the proper context as Alma is teaching this to his son Corianton)
7 Moses 1:39
8 Alma 38:9