On the surface, the word “law” sounds like something that is imposed upon us, something that we are forced to obey, on pain of punishment.
Book of Mormon prophets do in fact emphasize that there are consequences for disobeying the law. Lehi describes “the punishment which is affixed,” in contrast with “the happiness which is affixed” for the righteous (2 Nephi 2:10-13). And Alma taught his wayward son Corianton, who believed that negative consequences for lawbreaking were unfair:
How could there be a law save there was a punishment?…
Now, if there was no law given—if a man murdered he should die—would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?
And also, if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin.Alma 42:17, 19-20
Fear of punishment may serve a useful function in encouraging obedience, but God has greater things in mind for His children, and our relationship with His law must mature in order for us to receive those blessings.
Elder Dale G. Renlund explained:
Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him.“Choose You This Day,” General Conference, October 2018
Through Moses, God encouraged ancient Israel to not only obey His laws but to internalize them:
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
Jeremiah prophesied of a time when people would realize this vision of divine law:
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.Jeremiah 31:33
The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi reviewed the Ten Commandments with the wicked priests of King Noah, “for I perceive,” he said, “that they are not written in your hearts” (Mosiah 13:11).
In January 1831, the Lord promised members of His newly organized church that if they would relocate to Ohio, He would give them His law (Doctrine and Covenants 38:32). The following month, He said, “By the prayer of faith ye shall receive my law, that ye may know how to govern my church and have all things right before me.” And then He added, “He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple” (Doctrine and Covenants 41:3, 5). After giving His law, He encouraged members of the church to “instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given. And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be sanctified by that which ye have received” (Doctrine and Covenants 43:8-9).
It sounds as if God’s law isn’t so much something to live up to as something to grow into—a description of a better way to live which will bring us happiness as we learn to follow it, a roadmap to greater spiritual maturity. Perhaps that is why the Lord later taught:
That which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.Doctrine and Covenants 88:34
Today, I will strive to follow God’s law more fully. I will see His laws as a blueprint for a happy life, a set of instructions which I may not yet fully live up to, but which point me in the direction of greater spiritual maturity.