What Does It Mean to Have the Commandments Written in Our Hearts?

The prophet Abinadi read the Ten Commandments to the priests of King Noah. They were all familiar with these commandments. They had probably all preached sermons about them. But Abinadi thought they needed to hear them again. Why? “I perceive that they are not written in your hearts,” he said (Mosiah 13:11).

What does it mean for God’s commandments to be written in our hearts?

When God gave His law to Moses, He told the children of Israel that He wanted it to become a part of their everyday lives:

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

The prophet Jeremiah lamented that his people had fallen short of that ideal, and he foretold a time when people would truly internalize God’s law:

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Just like Enos, who had often heard his father “speak concerning eternal life,” but without the words sinking “deep into [his] heart” until much later (Enos 1:3), we can be exposed regularly to gospel messages without fully embracing them. In the April 2000 conference, Elder L. Tom Perry gave the following warning:

Technology has blessed us with many new innovations to spread the message of the gospel….
But the bricks and mortar and the continued expansion of technology will only bring the messages to us. One challenge remains…[for] each individual and family, through personal and collective study, to internalize the messages of the gospel of our Lord and Savior (“Thou Shalt Give Heed Unto All His Words,” General Conference, April 2000).

You can memorize a checklist. You can memorize a set of instructions. But merely memorizing God’s commandments—getting them into our minds—is insufficient to accomplish their purpose. We have to get them into our hearts. We have to make them a part of ourselves, and use them to align our will more closely with the will of God.

Consider, for example, President Russell M. Nelson’s experience with the commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy:

In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear (“The Sabbath Is a Delight,” General Conference, April 2015).

As President Nelson indicated, a checklist will only get us so far. The ultimate goal is to understand and adopt God’s intent in giving us the commandments. When our will is aligned with His, our actions will be in harmony with His law.

Today, I will strive to write God’s commandments in my heart. I will remember that God’s commandments are not merely a minimum standard for my behavior but are instead principles which can help me become more like Him.

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