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Dear Gramps,

President Thomas S. Monson teaches that it is easier to obey commandments 100 percent of the time than 98 percent of the time.  I seem only to be able to manage no better than 50/50. Are you Gramps able to obey commandments 100 percent of the time? If not, why not if it is an easy thing to do? Do you expect that in your lifetime that you will be able to obey 100 percent of the time?  What percent obedience do I need to have for eternal salvation?

DF

 

Answer

 

Dear DF,

I think you may be misunderstanding the percentages used in the story President Monson shared. I’ll include a rather lengthy quote here so other readers can follow along.

In closing may I share with you an example of one who determined early in life what his goals would be. I speak of Brother Clayton M. Christensen, a member of the Church who is a professor of business administration in the business school at Harvard University.

 

When he was 16 years old, Brother Christensen decided, among other things, that he would not play sports on Sunday. Years later, when he attended Oxford University in England, he played center on the basketball team. That year they had an undefeated season and went through to the British equivalent of what in the United States would be the NCAA basketball tournament.

 

They won their games fairly easily in the tournament, making it to the final four. It was then that Brother Christensen looked at the schedule and, to his absolute horror, saw that the final basketball game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. He and the team had worked so hard to get where they were, and he was the starting center. He went to his coach with his dilemma. His coach was unsympathetic and told Brother Christensen he expected him to play in the game.

 

Prior to the final game, however, there was a semifinal game. Unfortunately, the backup center dislocated his shoulder, which increased the pressure on Brother Christensen to play in the final game. He went to his hotel room. He knelt down. He asked his Heavenly Father if it would be all right, just this once, if he played that game on Sunday. He said that before he had finished praying, he received the answer: “Clayton, what are you even asking me for? You know the answer.”

 

He went to his coach, telling him how sorry he was that he wouldn’t be playing in the final game. Then he went to the Sunday meetings in the local ward while his team played without him. He prayed mightily for their success. They did win.

 

That fateful, difficult decision was made more than 30 years ago. Brother Christensen has said that as time has passed, he considers it one of the most important decisions he ever made. It would have been very easy to have said, “You know, in general, keeping the Sabbath day holy is the right commandment, but in my particular extenuating circumstance, it’s okay, just this once, if I don’t do it.” However, he says his entire life has turned out to be an unending stream of extenuating circumstances, and had he crossed the line just that once, then the next time something came up that was so demanding and critical, it would have been so much easier to cross the line again. The lesson he learned is that it is easier to keep the commandments 100 percent of the time than it is 98 percent of the time. (The Three R’s of Choice).

The percentage Brother Christensen measures is obedience to one law or principle, not all laws and principles. He chose 100% obedience to the principle of “no recreational sports on the Lord’s day”. Had he chosen to carve out exceptions he reports that his 98% obedience would really fall into a much smaller percentage because (knowing himself) he would put more in the “exception” bucket than he really should. This in turn can be extended to other standards of gospel living. If a person chooses to abstain from tea, that person will find it easier to abstain 100%. If she carves out an exception to drink sweet tea with non-member family (98% abstinence), she will soon find herself considering if that includes purchasing it for when they come to visit, whether her children are included in the prohibition or exemption, what to do when some is gifted to her, what about close friends that she loves like family, and so on down the line. If she spends too much time and effort wrestling with these questions, she will find that 98% is slipping to a smaller percentage and she is qualified for a law degree. Her life would be much simpler if she avoided appeasement and instead stood with her standards. Observant readers may notice that this is a variation to the “slippery slope” argument. Although that is a fallacy in logical debate, it is a truism for human nature. Rather than take my word for this, you can ask teenagers and young adults what happens when they start carving out exceptions to morality standards and the law of chastity. The natural man, like water, follows the path of least resistance flowing ever downhill to a lower state.

In this light, there are a great many commandments that I suspect you are already living. Even if these are struggles for you, I’m certain you know individuals who practice 100% obedience to one or more of these standards:

  • abstaining from substances prohibited in the Word of Wisdom
  • full tithing every year
  • strict abstinence before marriage and absolute fidelity after
  • monthly fasting
  • church attendance
  • modesty in dress and manner

 

Gramps

 

 

 

 

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