“Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness, that we may know that it is by his grace and his great condescensions unto the children of men that we have power to do these things.” -Jacob 3:8 RAV, 4:7 OPV
In Christianity there seems to be an ongoing battle between works and grace, salvation and exaltation, the Law and the fulfillment of that Law. Yet these are not opposites. The fulfillment of justice through mercy cannot be the opposite of judgment and justice as these forces, mercy and justice, are working in unity. Likewise, doing the works of God cannot be seen as evil as they are God’s works. The opposite of holy is the superficial, not the holy. We must therefore see not how to separate these two things of God, but how to unite them.
Mitzvah (or mitzvot, plural) is a Hebrew feminine noun, meaning “commandment” in Hebrew, but a better definition would be “a good deed done from religious duty.” Feminine in Kabbalah represents the will to receive while the masculine represents the desire to bestow. In mitzvah we then receive our duty, or the will of God, our duties. One might say that God offers us teshuvah and we choose to receive it in mitzvah.
The first time we see this word used in the Torah is Genesis 26:5: “Because that Abraham heard my voice, and kept my charge, my mitzvot, my ordinances, and my Law” (emphasis added). This is an important verse because it gives us a list of the things God desires of us:
- shama (verb feminine & masculine: to hear)
- mishmereth (noun feminine: charge; to watch, worship, or guard)
- mitzvah (noun feminine: obligation or duty)
- chuqqah (noun feminine: ordinance or statutes)
- torah (noun feminine: Law or instructions)
God wants us to listen to Him (shama), and note that this is both masculine and feminine. It’s to be a back and forth conversation and relationship, not one sided. He wants us to keep watching Him (mishmereth), to keep our obligations to Him (mitzvah), to obtain His ordinances for us (chuqqah), and keep His Law (Torah). What are the mitzvot? Anything the Lord asks us to do, as we are moved by the Holy Spirit. They are the terms of our Covenant with God. The mitzvah are the chuqqoth (plural for chuggah)/ordinances and the Torah/Law, but more that this to live in mitzvah is to live the Law, it is a way of life we embrace as Christians.
“Sacrament” is a Christian term from the Latin meaning “solemn oath.” The Sacraments are a portion of our mitzvah. The ritual Sacraments are the chuqqoth/ordinances God requires per the Torah/Law. We do not keep mitzvah to save ourselves, but rather they are a symbol that we are saved. Some of these mitzvah sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion, as outlined in the Fourth Article of Faith.
Many Christian denominations have lists of Holy Sacraments. These lists may include any of the following:
- Acceptance of Jesus Christ
- Communion or Eucharist
- Anointing the Sick or Afflicted
- Temple Initiatories
- Temple Endowments
Many of these rituals have been around far longer than Christianity. Baptism, for example, is a tevilah (טְבִילָה); a full body immersion in a mikveh (מקווה), a ritual bath by immersion to achieve ritual purity. But the nature of these has changed as our understanding of God has grown and as our cultures have evolved over time. Why? Because it’s what these represent that matters the most, and that is our internal changes.
Symbols are everywhere. We see them plastered on nearly everything. Why? Because symbols bypass our conscious filters and go directly to our subconscious. Symbols are the language of the inner us. They are our holy writ, if you will. This is why symbolic images and events fill our dreams. Symbols have the power to help inform, to help us understand, and even to rewire our thoughts. This is why spiritual paths and religions are filled with symbols. The Lord has told us:
“Thou shalt strive at all times and in all places to serve me, the Lord your God; and just as a man putteth on one set of clothing to plow the fields and another to sleep, so too doth man put on another to do the work of the Lord. Behold, the symbols of my garments were given in the Garden of Eden unto Adam and Eve, as they covenanted with me to take upon themselves my name and to use my holy priesthood; and they wore their garments when they cried unto me without the Garden, and when they did all the works I commanded them to do in my name; in them there was not salvation, yet there was strength given them from me.” -Revelations of David 4:40-44
The mitzvot and the sacraments, these are symbols. We aren’t good people because being good saves us. When we are washed clean in baptism or tevilah it is not the washing that purifies us, it is Christ. Why do it then? Because the symbol is a powerful statement that we have been washed clean. We are offered salvation by Christ’s grace and are exalted to do His works. This is how these flow together as one. It’s never been grace or works, salvation or exaltation, the Law or the fulfillment of the Law. It’s always been grace and works, as together these offer salvation and exaltation. And with these we grow in grace by obedience to the Law as the Law is written upon our hearts and fulfilled in Christ now as it always has been. We are saved, as Nephi puts it, “after all we can do,” because there is nothing we can do except that which we are moved to do by the Holy Spirit.