Note: The following was originally printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
If you were to ask any Latter-day Saint if they are keeping all of the commandments or have repented of all their sins, the answer you are likely to hear is, “I’m doing my best” or “I’m trying.” While this desire to keep all of the commandments is certainly commendable, it does not fulfil the requirement of “celestial law” that a member must meet in order to qualify for the celestial kingdom. For example, in a correlated manual, 12th Mormon President Spencer W. Kimball said, “The Lord will not translate one’s good hopes and desires and intentions into works. Each of us must do that for himself” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2006, 8).
Instead, what you may find are Mormons who pick and choose to follow commandments that are within their ability to keep. For instance, more affluent members may find it easy to budget 10% of their income to pay their tithes, while at the same time, having difficulty overcoming impure thoughts. Another Mormon who struggles with pride may find it easy to attend the temple regularly, while another member may faithfully fulfill their calling in their local ward but harbors unforgiveness towards a fellow member for a perceived wrong done to them. Still, another Mormon may be extremely hospitable, while secretly violating the Word of Wisdom (Mormon health code in D&C 89). Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson addressed this in another LDS correlated manual:
Listen to the spiritual promise: “All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments,… shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” (D&C 89:18, 19; italics added.) Some have thought this promise was contingent on just keeping the provisions of the Word of Wisdom. But you will notice we must walk in obedience to all the commandments. Then we shall receive specific spiritual promises. This means we must obey the law of tithing, keep the Sabbath day holy, keep morally clean and chaste, and obey all other commandments” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, 2014, 164. Italics and ellipsis in original).
In the context of Mormonism, success in one area does not overcome failure in another. In other words, being faithful to certain commandments of one’s choosing does not qualify a person for celestial glory since the person has come short of meeting all of the necessary requirements. When serving as an apostle, Russell M. Nelson, currently Mormonism’s 17th “prophet, seer, and revelator,” said the following in an April 2011 general conference message:
This practice of picking and choosing will not work. It will lead to misery. To prepare to meet God, one keeps all of His commandments” (“Face the Future with Faith,” Ensign, May 2011, 34, Italics in original).
Mormon Apostle L. Tom Perry admonished members not to “pick and choose which commandments we think are important to keep but acknowledge all of God’s commandments” (“Obedience to Law is Liberty,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2013, 88).
In one of many conference messages he has delivered, Henry B. Eyring, who currently sits as Russell M. Nelson’s second counselor, cited another member of the First Presidency, Reuben J. Clark, when speaking of the danger of being selective regarding commandments that are kept:
Third, we promise as we take the sacrament to keep His commandments, all of them. President J. Reuben Clark Jr., as he pled—as he did many times—for unity in a general conference talk, warned us against being selective in what we will obey. He put it this way: “The Lord has given us nothing that is useless or unnecessary. He has filled the Scriptures with the things which we should do in order that we may gain salvation.” President Clark went on: “When we partake of the Sacrament we covenant to obey and keep his commandments. There are no exceptions. There are no distinctions, no differences” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1955, 10–11). President Clark taught that just as we repent of all sin, not just a single sin, we pledge to keep all the commandments. Hard as that sounds, it is uncomplicated. We simply submit to the authority of the Savior and promise to be obedient to whatever He commands (see Mosiah 3:19). It is our surrender to the authority of Jesus Christ which will allow us to be bound as families, as a Church, and as the children of our Heavenly Father” (“That We All May Be One,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1998, 67-68)
I often compliment Mormons who are trying their best to be “Christlike,” even though no sinful human will ever consistently behave like Jesus. The danger lies when an organization demands that keeping all of the commandments is required to earn God’s approval. This crosses the boundaries of New Testament teaching, and often brings guilt upon the LDS member.