A verse in the book of Jacob has been on my mind for the past several weeks. In Jacob 4:5 the prophet explains: "Behold, they (the prophets) believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and we (the Nephites) also worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son." This verse is loaded with doctrine. By dissecting this single verse of scripture we learn a) how to worship God, b) the purpose of the law of Moses (as well as the purpose of all God's laws and commandments), c) the definition of righteousness, d) why Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, and e) the symbolic significance of Abraham offering up Isaac.
Here Jacob plainly asserts that worshiping God requires faith in Jesus Christ. We are commanded to worship the Father in the name of Christ. The Bible Dictionary explains this concept in relation to prayer: "Christians are taught to pray in Christ's name. We pray in Christ's name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ - when His words abide in us" (Prayer). In order for His words to abide in us, we must know His words. In order for His will to be our will, we must know His will. Some of the most precious gifts we have for this purpose include the scriptures, the words of modern prophets, and (most importantly) the gift of the Holy Ghost.
It's remarkable how clearly the Christians of the Book of Mormon understood the purpose of the law of Moses in relation to the Savior's Atonement. Nephi taught: "And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments" (2Nephi 25:24-25). Abinidi taught: "I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses. And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses. And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God; therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him. But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come" (Mosiah 13:27-31).
The verses quoted above provide astounding examples of intelligent faith and obedience. These prophets knew the higher law while obeying the lesser law. Jacob's verse teaches the same concept with fewer words: "For this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to [Christ]; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness". The same approach can be applied to any law or commandment. I believe in Christ and worship the Father in His name. For this intent I keep law of tithing, it pointing my soul to Christ; and for this cause it is sanctified unto me for righteousness. For this intent I partake of the sacrament, it pointing my soul to Christ; and for this cause it is sanctified unto me for righteousness.
To go through the motions and merely obey a commandment because someone said so would be to quench that commandment's sanctifying power. This doesn't mean I shouldn't obey a commandment of God if I don't fully understand it. But it does mean that I should be diligently trying to understand how that commandment points my soul to Christ. Intelligent obedience requires knowledge of the truth, at least to some extent. Blind or casual obedience is like sleeping on a train. Sure, you're moving along quite smoothly like all the other passengers, but you've just missed your stop. There it goes. You're still moving, but who knows where you'll end up! Intelligent obedience is like driving a car. To drive, you must know how to operate the vehicle, remain alert, follow all traffic laws, and know your directions. You also need to make sure the car has enough fuel to reach your destination.
I don't believe there are very many saints that practice blind obedience in its purity. President Boyd K. Packer taught: "Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God. We are the sons and daughters of God, willing followers, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and under this head are we made free. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see." (Agency and Control). I believe this is true. Righteous obedience begins when a person simply believes that the commandment they're keeping is from God. But I also believe that Heavenly Father wants us to actively seek further light and knowledge, for "if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:19). The Lord through Joseph Smith emphasized that "it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance" (D&C 131:6).
This brings us to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob taught in Jacob 4:5 that Abraham's obedience in offering up Isaac was sanctified unto him for righteousness. Jacob here implies that Abraham believed that his obedience in this situation would help point his soul to Christ. This is reinforced in the explanation that this act was "a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son". Paul taught that "by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him [Isaac] up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:17-19). President Spencer W. Kimball provided further clarification: "Knowing that God would make no capricious nor unnecessary demands, that the lad could be raised even from death if necessary, Abraham obeyed." (Oct. Conference, 1954). Abraham's obedience was motivated by something more than a basic belief that this commandment was from God; he knew about God's character, trusted Him, and even had faith in the doctrine of resurrection. The same can likely be said of Isaac's obedience.
Joseph Smith taught that "three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Lectures on Faith, 3:2-5).
Abraham believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in His name. For this cause he offered up Isaac, it pointing his soul to Christ; and for this cause it was sanctified unto him for righteousness. (See also: James 2:21-23).