In chapter 15, we find another insight to Laman and Lemuel’s murmuring. In verses 7-9 we find a commonality of disbelievers. “Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken… And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord? And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” Laman and Lemuel simply did not believe that the Lord could reveal such things to them. They did not believe in revelation or inspiration. They believed that God could not communicate with man in any way, shape or form. This is a major misconception! We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God (9th Article of Faith). Nephi also explains to them that the Lord indeed reveals his mysteries and his will to those who desire to know them. “If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (v. 11). Even more recently, President Faust has counseled, “Latter-day Saints, having received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, are entitled to personal inspiration in the small events of life as well as when they are confronted with the giant Goliaths of life. If worthy, we are entitled to receive revelations for ourselves, parents for their children, and members of the Church in their callings” (Ensign March 2002, Communion with the Holy Spirit).
I firmly believe that if we are obedient to God’s commandments and if we truly seek Him in faith, he will reveal to us that which we want and need to know. Many times I have received personal revelation on small matters. I have also gratefully received revelation on life-changing matters. Sometimes I actively seek the Lord’s advice. Other times His advice has come unsought.
As for understanding the mysteries of God … my belief is that individually, we can seek to understand the teachings and how to apply them to our lives. But obviously we need to guard against stepping outside the limits of our receiving revelation. For example, I think it is appropriate that we can seek to understand the teachings of Isaiah. But if we are sitting in the temple and receive a revelation to start a polygamist colony, then I think we’d be stepping outside those limits.
If we honestly keep the commandments and covenants with all diligence, then we put ourselves in a prime position to receive revelation. We can receive answers to our prayers. God wants us to know His will, but we must be willing to let him reveal it to us. Laman and Lemuel did not let God speak with them. They did not believe that He could communicate to them and therefore they were left in the dark and to struggle for themselves.
The Iron Rod is the Word of God
In verse 24, Nephi explains to his brothers what the rod of iron symbolizes. He says, the rod of iron “was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.” I honestly cannot fathom how a person, if he read and reflected on the teachings of the Book of Mormon and the Bible every day, could lead a life of sin and wickedness. In other words, I believe that if we study the scriptures daily (hold fast on them) and diligently try to apply those teachings to our own lives (hearken unto the word of God), then we could not yield to the temptations of Satan. And herein lies the key to living a Christian life … we must study the scriptures. If we do so, then sooner or later we will either consciously or subconsciously live the teachings of Christ and if we live the teachings of Christ, our works will be good. And if our works are good, then we will be judged to be clean and can live in the presence of God.
Judged of Works
The previous point leads me to the next point that Nephi teaches his brothers. In verse 30 he says, “the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire.” The justice of God is the judgment of our lives. “They must be judged of their works, yea, even the works which were done by the temporal body in their days of probation” (v. 32). He goes on to say that if you die in your sins and have sought to live a life of sin, then you are unclean and will remain unclean when you die. Consequently there is a place prepared for those who are unprepared to meet God … it is Hell.
Nephi’s teachings clearly demonstrate why Mormons believe the way we do. Some will attempt to go into the “saved by grace” vs. “saved by works” argument. Yes, we are saved by the grace of Christ … he has prepared a way. But we must choose to follow Christ and take advantage of his atonement. If we choose to sin our whole lives, then we will have missed our opportunity to take advantage of the Atonement.
Ultimately, we are judged for the things we do in life.