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The secrets of Godliness

I’ve heard some members of the Church who wish that they were converts to the Church instead of having been born into it. They look back on their supposedly straightlaced childhoods and say, “I wish I could have had my fun in my youth. You know, sow my wild oats and not worry. Then, after I’m married, I could hear the Gospel, join the Church, and live all the rules.” Sounds so appealing, right? Converts get the best of both worlds after all– they get to experience the pleasures of temptation and then the light of the Gospel once they’ve had all their fun, right?

I hope that idea makes you feel as sick as it makes me feel writing it just now. There are so many problems with that philosophy.

Wishing you sinned is like planning to sin

For starters, God’s not a big fan of us wishing we had engaged in more transgression in our lives. When we say that we would go back in time if we could and intentionally commit sins, that’s effectively the same as premeditating sin. Pres. Oaks taught:

We are concerned that some people have a very lax attitude toward sin. Some young people say, “I’ll just have a few free ones, and then I’ll repent quickly and go on a mission [or get married in the temple], and everything will be all right.”

Young people are not the only ones with a lax attitude toward sin. We know of mature members of the Church who commit serious transgressions knowingly and deliberately, relying on their supposed ability to repent speedily and be “as good as new.” Such persons want the present convenience or enjoyment of sin and the future effects of righteousness, in that order. They want to experience the sin but avoid its effects…

Latter-day Saints who wrongly think repentance is easy maintain that a person is better off after he has sinned and repented. “Get a little experience with sin,” one argument goes, “and then you will be better able to counsel and sympathize with others. You can always repent.”

… The idea that one can deliberately sin and easily repent or that one is better off after sinning and repenting are devilish lies of the adversary.

Second, even if it was easy to repent even of premeditated or “wish I had been born outside the Church” types of sins, it is an abuse and mockery of the Atonement of Christ. Intentionally adding inexpressible suffering to His load in Gethsemane and on the cross. Calling such people “jerks” would be an understatement. Probably closer to “crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh, and putting him to an open shame.”

Wicked seriously never was happiness

Why am I writing about such a disgusting, loathsome idea? Because, unfortunately, I think there is a little bit of the beginnings of that attitude in us, sometimes. Check out this verse I read in Mormon 8 the other day describing the “eat drink and be merry” crowd:

There shall be many who will say, Do this, or do that, and it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day. But wo unto such, for they are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.

Notice Moroni’s wording there: “they are in the gall of bitterness.” First off, what’s this about the “gall of bitterness?” Isn’t eating, drinking, and being merry supposed to be sweet? At least in the short run? I thought that was the whole trade-off, right? We pay 10% of our income and 30% of our time, never drink, stay celibate outside of marriage, and even give up an energizing cup of coffee every morning of our lives, stay away from amusement parks on Sundays, prudishly screen our movies, and forego all the fun, enjoyable pleasures of life here and now so that we can be happy in the eternity, right?

Satan’s tactic: confuse us about sin and obedience

I’ve always understood that to be sort of the understood premise of all religion. Self-denial now, exquisite joy in the future. But Moroni is telling us that’s clearly not the case. We don’t need to look back at Sodom and Gomorrah and say “Yeah they’re happy now, but just wait and they’ll be miserable when God takes them to task.” They are not happy right now. It’s not that they “will be in the gall of bitterness someday.” They “are in the gall of bitterness” today. Alma didn’t teach his sons that “wickedness won’t result in future happiness.” He didn’t say that “wickedness is happiness but watch out because it’s fleeting.” No, he emphatically testified from painful experience that “wickedness never was happiness.”

We sometimes look at the commandments as if God were telling his children, “If you drink soda during dinner I won’t let you have dessert.” When in reality it’s more like God’s saying, “Hey guys, I made some really great dessert you’re going to love and– wait what is that you have there? … Bleach?! … No, of course, you shouldn’t drink that, are you crazy?!” And Satan is the evil older brother whispering, “Dad just doesn’t want you to drink that because it tastes good and he’s trying to bribe you with dessert so you won’t drink it. There probably isn’t any dessert, anyway. In all likelihood, the cake is a lie.”

And just like the pain of sin is a real experience now, so too is the joy of obedience. God doesn’t wait for the eternities to reward us with “peace that passeth all understanding.” We are “blessed in all things, both temporally and spiritually” as we obey today. As I said, I’ve always been under the assumption that the overall premise of religion itself is “self-denial now, exquisite joy in the future.” But we know from the scriptures that is clearly not the case. That whole premise is flawed. It’s not a choice between one marshmallow now or two later. It’s a choice between gonorrhea or a buffet now and later. There really is no contest. Those who wish they had been able to “have fun and then join the Church” have never talked to a convert. Like, a single one. Ask anyone who walked that path– even unknowingly– if they wish they could wind back the clock and find the Gospel earlier in life and they will tell you right away they wish they could do exactly that. Those who look longingly on the life of those who “know not God” and His commandments are like Lot’s wife looking back longingly on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Commandments: the secrets of godliness

Satan tries to convince us to not see commandments in their true light. But it is God and the Scriptures that teach us their true nature. I remember a training on my mission I will never forget. My mission president (the amazing Alan Maynes) referred to D&C 59 where the Lord promises to bless faithful Saints “with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few.” He then asked us if it seemed a little weird that God would reward our obedience to His rules with.. wait for it… even more rules.

I perked up when he said this. I imagined Christ telling me “Good job being obedient, Elder. As a reward, I’m adding another 100 pages of rules to your white handbook. You’re welcome.” The thought didn’t exactly thrill me. But then my President wrote the following words on the chalkboard:

Commandments are the secrets of Godliness.

All of the sudden, everything clicked. Think of it: Heavenly Father’s work and glory are “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” He wants us to grow up and be like Him. The commandments are not arbitrary, obligatory hoops we must jump through to demonstrate we’re good, faithful little pets. They are God’s instructions for us to learn how to be like Him. He is teaching us how to be as He is. Eternal progression consists of a growing list of raised bars. Heavenly Father doesn’t give us commandments He Himself would not keep with all perfection, nor that we will ever be exempted from ourselves.

So if you are wishing you had been born outside the Gospel, or if you are just planning to put up with all these annoying restrictions for this life so that you can really be free and do whatever you want in the eternities, you may want to re-think your attitude. Maybe you’ll qualify for the celestial kingdom. But if more and more commandments is the future, would you actually want to stay?