Willing obedience is a very comprehensive subject. To cover all the aspects of obedience would take weeks of talking, and even then much would be left out. Today I am focusing on breaking down obedience into simple terms and ideas that should be easy to follow. I want to show how our agency is affected by our mortality, and how our ability to obey wisely makes all the difference between lasting happiness, and temporary happiness that turns into lasting sorrow.
Let’s start back where it all started, in the premortal world. In our premortal state as spirits we didn’t have the same capacity for disobedience that comes so naturally to us here. We had no body, so none of the habits and desires of the flesh were present.
True disobedience was not really an issue there. We lived in the presence of God. We could see and comprehend his might, power, and majesty. He was our father. We may not have understood all that he did or required of us, but His communication with us was perfect, because he is a perfect being.
So basically we were all pretty obedient as spirits. The only ones who openly rebelled against our Father in Heaven ended up here on earth as Satan and his minions. Since we now have mortal bodies, we know that we obeyed and supported the Lord’s cause in that conflict that resulted in the loss of a third part of God’s children.
I feel safe in stating that being disobedient was not something that came naturally to any of us. We were naturally obedient and compliant to the Lord and His commandments. It was difficult for us to truly understand fully what moral agency was and how it worked when we were living in the presence of the eternal law giver Himself.
To learn to exercise or use our agency in the same mature way our Father in Heaven uses His moral agency, we needed to be placed into a situation where we were truly free to choose good over evil without constraint. That is, without having to choose evil while staring down the giver of all eternal laws. We needed to have just as much freedom to choose disobedience as we were free to choose obedience.
If we were to be placed on the teeter totter of choice, with one end being complete obedience in all things, and the other end being complete and open rebellion, we needed to be placed dead center so we could choose to move gradually toward one end of the scale or the other without impediment or obstacles.
This is the whole purpose of earth life, of mortality. We are here to learn how to choose wisely. How we choose reveals to us and to God, our Father, where the true desires of our hearts lie. Since there is nothing to stop us from choosing evil over good, choosing good has to be done because we want it more than we want the corresponding evil choice. Almost all moral choices have a good or evil option. Every time we make a choice for good or for evil we have chosen the results of that choice. More on that in a moment.
Our spirits, who we naturally are, are accustomed to choosing good, or choosing the right. This is how we always lived in the presence of our Father. Our mortal bodies, on the other hand, have a nature that is in complete opposition to our spiritual state.
The mortal body loves to feel good. It is selfish and self serving. All it desires is physical pleasure, comfort. That is the nature of the physical body. This is why the natural man, the person who lives according to the desires of the flesh, is and always will be, an enemy to God.
The forgetfulness variable
If it isn’t difficult enough that we have come from a state of always living in obedience to God into a state of inhabiting a body that only feels the need to satisfy itself, in order for the Lord to place us squarely in the middle of the teeter totter of choice, He had to veil or mask our memory of our life with Him.
With our past life temporarily removed from our memories, we are now placed in the center of the board. We can move freely in either direction. We no longer have any memory of having to face our Father if we try to make a poor choice. We are now free to choose to satisfy the desires that come with our mortal flesh with few immediate consequences to persuade us not to.
Sources of pleasure
In mortality we can find “happiness” (and I put air quotes around the word happiness) from more than one source. When we lived with God happiness was defined by the way He lives. Happiness comes from serving others, thinking of the needs of others before our own. Happiness came from thinking higher thoughts and seeking beauty and refinement in character and behavior.
In mortality, “happiness” can also be found in excess – too much food, too much sex, too much sleeping, too much of this, too much of that, and too much of anything. And the body has the capacity, just like the spirit, to increase in capacity as we make choices to indulge it. If we take drugs, for example, we build up a tolerance, which requires we continue to need more drugs to get the same feeling the next time we take a hit.
Unfortunately, it is also the nature of the mortal body that once addicted to a substance or a behavior, it requires that greater dose until the death of the body is the result of the behavior. The body either demands more and more until death is the result or the body becomes so dependent on the behavior that it slowly wastes away, destroying any quality of life left to it. This is true for drugs, sex, eating, socially inappropriate behavior – anything that is attached to the desires of the flesh.
The choice (earthly pleasures or heavenly pleasures)
The difference between spiritual choices, those choices that strengthen our spirit and our natural resolve to do and be more good, and the choices of mortality that satisfy the flesh, is that the choices of the natural man all eventually lead to sorrow and loss, while the spirit-centered choices all lead to increased capacity, greater sensitivity, and a more godly life.
The problem is that the earthly choices feel good right now. Though it might be only temporary, these choices make us physically feel good at the moment. Often spiritual choices don’t bring a rush of physical sensations or that endorphin high that so many seek to feel better about themselves. Spiritual choices make us feel good over the long haul.
It is the nature of spiritual choices, the kind of choices we make when we keep a commandment, that we have to choose that choice first, then after we have deliberately lived that way for a while, the Lord will give us the spiritual confirmation that what we have done is right. It is then that the Spirit gives us a testimony or assurance of the goodness of that behavior. This also comes with sensations of pleasure, but of a different kind from normal pleasures of the body.
Living a spirit-centered life has to be done deliberately. We have to consciously make the choice to choose to live according to what we are taught is the will of God, whom we cannot see and we cannot remember. But it is by making these choices that our lives are gradually filled with the same natural joy that fills God’s life.
The commandments are the same kind of laws He lives. They are the laws of happiness. Living them results in happiness. But because our Father in Heaven is an eternal being, the laws he lives by are also eternal in nature, and result in eternal happiness. We are even told that our Father in Heaven’s goal and desire is for us to experience joy. 2 Nephi 2:25 says “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”
This is why we are here in mortality. This is our testing ground. The scriptures tell us that we have the ability to choose eternal life or eternal death. That always sounded rather drastic to me, but that is exactly what is happening to us each time we choose to live the commandments or do what makes us feel good right now. In 2 Nephi 2:27 Jacob tells us this:
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
Remember that Satan has power only here in mortality, not in the eternities. His object is to get each of us to choose captivity and death. In other words, to choose to be natural men and women, slaves to our fleshly desires. If he can keep us from choosing to obey the commandments our Father in Heaven has given us then he prevents us from accessing the Savior’s atoning sacrifice that provides the only way to overcome the power of the fleshly desires within each of us. The atonement of Christ makes the spirit the more powerful of the two parts that make up the soul.
When we choose to keep the commandments and learn to find joy in the things that are spiritual or eternal in nature, our body is actually changed. It adapts to accepting the glory that comes to us with each visit of the Holy Ghost.
This is the secret nobody talks about. Not only can the body be degenerative as it is lavished with earthly behaviors, but it can also adapt to the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, and become more refined and pure through the cleansing power of the Atonement. It is this very ability for the body to move in either direction that makes it possible for this weak vessel to eventually become the host for a celestial being.
Our mortal bodies may not seem like much to look at, but they are the vessels, the temples of our spirits. Our purpose in mortality is to choose one course or the other. Either we will ultimately choose the earthly, natural man path for our body, living only to please ourselves when and while we can, and letting our spirits starve, or we will choose to subject the desires of our flesh to the commandments and lifestyle we are given by our Father in Heaven. His lifestyle leads us to being able to experience all the joy and have all the power that comes with godhood.
It doesn’t all come in mortality, but we begin the process by choosing to keep the commandments. This takes an eternal perspective. As long as we only see this moment, the flesh will win out. It is when we keep in mind what we are working and living towards that we are able to find the strength to be obedient and have joy in that obedience. The rewards of the spirit are not temporary, and they are not base, like the physical pleasures. Spiritual rewards are the opening of our mind’s eye to the glories of eternity. It is the giving of hope, and the softening of the heart. The rewards of the Spirit teach us to think, and feel, and behave like our Father in Heaven. This is what Jacob meant when he said that we can choose “liberty and eternal life.”