What is the difference between commandments and laws?
Thanks for your question. In a religious context, a “commandment” is an imperative instruction from God or one of his agents (prophets). When God instructs us to do a certain thing or to act in a certain way, that is a commandment. God gave Moses a set of ten commandments as a foundation for the children of Israel to build their society. During his mortal ministry, the Lord taught that all commandments spring from the two most basic commandments: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. When we obey God’s instructions, we are “keeping the commandments”; and as Abinadi taught, if we keep the commandments, we will be saved.
Religiously, a “law” can mean one of two things:
- In the first sense, a law is any instruction from God — that is, a law is a commandment or a set of commandments, as in the “law of Moses”. This is the sense we are using when we speak of the law of tithing, the law of the fast, and the law of chastity, among many other laws.
- In a larger sense, a “law” is an eternal truth, a description of the way things really are. Such laws are seen in scriptural passages such as “thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie” and “wickedness never was happiness“.
A “law” in sense 2 above is an immutable condition of reality. When God gives us commandments (or “laws” in sense 1 above), he is giving us instruction to help us to receive blessings or navigate problems that come about because of the eternal laws (sense 2) of reality. When we truly understand this fact, then we begin to see how God’s commandments point us toward the greatest blessings we can receive. In the Lord’s own words:
I give unto you a new commandment, that you may understand my will concerning you; or, in other words, I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for your salvation.
God’s commandments to us, so often foolishly seen as a burden, are themselves among the greatest of God’s blessings. If we prove faithful, our Father in heaven will bless us with ever more commandments. We would do well to remember the great promise made to us in Doctrine and Covenants section 59, verses 3 and 4:
Yea, blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength. And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me.