This Sunday, throughout the LDS Church, 1 Nephi 1-7 from the Book of Mormon will be studied in the adult Sunday School, or Gospel Doctrines class. Probably the most quoted passage from this section of the Book of Mormon is this part of 1 Nephi 3:7: “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Mormons have quoted it in many different settings and situations to urge people that they could do what was commanded of them. After all, according to this verse, the Lord would never give a commandment to you unless he gave you a way to follow it. And usually, at least with the Mormons who have explained it to me, the way the Lord has given to follow it is by giving you inner strength or ability to keep the commandment. Therefore, if you aren’t keeping the commandment, it’s because you are not using what God has already given you.
Apply that now to one of the most famous commands in the Bible, Matthew 5:48. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This is commanding nothing less than perfection – right now! Although many Mormons over the years have tried to explain this as a command to become perfect, that is not what Jesus said. He said “be” – not “become”. Neither does the Joseph Smith translation say “become”. It reads: “Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect.” Therefore, according to 1 Nephi 3:7, God has given people a way to be perfect, not sometime in the distant future, but right now. And if a person isn’t perfect right now, it’s because they are not using the way God has already given them.
And that’s serious because as James 2:10 says: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” “He is guilty of all”. Think of how a defendant in a courtroom feels when the judge says, “guilty on all counts”. Talk about being devastated.
As strange as it may first seem, that is one of the main reasons God has given us commandments. He has given them to devastate us. He has given them to show us just how sinful we are. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) The commandments are like X-rays that penetrate our spiritual being. We might think we are spiritual healthy but those X-rays tell a different story as they reveal tumors of greed, and lust, and envy, and bitterness, and worry, and the list goes on and on.
And one of the things the commandments convince us of is that we don’t have the ability to keep them. No matter how hard we try, we can’t stop sinning. It’s almost like the arcade game, whack a mole. We put all our effort into whacking down one sin, only to have a different sin pop in a different place. I use all my efforts to stop worrying only to have pride pop up over there. I focus on always treating my spouse in a loving way only to find myself trampling over my co-worker. As the Bible says, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:12)
As I said, this is what God wants us to see as we consider his commandments. He wants us to see our utter inability of keeping them. He wants us to literally despair of thinking we can keep them. He wants us to despair of ourselves so that we are eager, no, desperate for help. The help he has given us in the person of Jesus. What we couldn’t do, Jesus did for us. He did it all. He did it completely. Yes, there is a way that we can be perfect right now. And that is by being covered with Christ’s perfection. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)
If you haven’t yet done so, take a serious look at yourself in light of God’s commandments. Take them at face value. Don’t water them down. Don’t change “be perfect” to “become perfect”. Don’t call sinful words just mistakes or slips of the tongue. See how serious Jesus considers lustful, greedy, angry thoughts. See your tumors of sin. See that. And despair. Despair of yourself. Trust totally and completely in what Jesus has already done for you. That’s the only way that you will ever be able to stand in God’s presence.