Service and Sacrifice: Mormon Spiritual Cornerstones

This is the fifth and final in a series of posts that examines the topic of Mormon spirituality, or how we respond to the Divine in personal living. Readers can find the first here, the second here, the third here and the forth here. The purpose of the series is to explain why Mormons are the way they are and what that has to do with religion and doctrine. It was inspired by critics who seem to misunderstand or question the inner spirituality of Mormons as materialists or shallow.

Many years ago I wondered what constituted a Mormon spiritual life. This pondering was brought about by critical comments that the LDS religion contained mostly materialistic emphasis of an Earthly Kingdom of God and rejection of spirit/body dualism. Usually this criticism comes from those who either believe in “Faith Only” salvation or spiritual matters should mostly be separate from secular concerns. Research on the subject has brought me to a conclusion that might sound too much like a truism than a profound discovery. Mormonism teaches that true spirituality comes from self-sacrifice in the service toward others.

Almost from the start, the concept of self-sacrifice as spiritual power has been a central Mormon teaching. What can be considered the first Priesthood manual stated:

Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation. For from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It is through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life. And it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.

– Lectures on Faith, N.B. Lundwall Ed., pg 58.

The question is, to what end do we sacrifice?

Christianity in general, and Jesus Christ in particular, has stated that giving of ourselves for others is the greatest form of worship. Letting go of our own wants, needs, and desires leads us closer to God and Salvation. Matthew 25: 40, 45 explains:

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

These are statements of action. The fate and fortunes of Eternity rests on what each of us do to others. We can be kind, generous, helpful, forgiving, and other positive things or we can do the opposite. Service becomes more than just an action of faith, but the very process of faith. King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon was perhaps even more blunt in connecting service with worship in his famous sermon to his people:

16 Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

18 Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?

19 And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

Both Jesus’ statements and King Benjamin’s statements about service seem to suggest a royal duty for the subjects to serve others. We are, more or less, doing the will of God as Lord and King. Any less than this is actually a type of ingratitude or, in Jesus’ example, disloyalty and spiritual treason. This is, in effect, a point that Abinadi was making to the Priests of King Noah. They had flaunted their positions and completely rejected the true reasons for having Priesthood authority. Instead, they try to make Abinadi into a fool by quoting Isa. 52:7 with its declaration that prophets will have positive messages. In return, Abinadi argues (see Mosiah 15) only those who serve God and follow his Commandments are worthy of giving positive messages. And the only way to follow God’s Commandments is by having Faith in Christ, the Son of God and Father of Prophets, who the Priests of Noah have rejected.

Faith in Christ through sacrifice that requires service to others is the cornerstone of Mormon spirituality. As LDS President Hinkley said in a college forum:

Without sacrifice there is no true worship of God. I become increasingly convinced of that every day. “The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave his life,” and we do not worship unless we give-give of our substance, give of our time, give of our strength, give of our talent, give of our faith, give of our testimonies.

-Elder Gordon B. Hinkley, BYU Speaches of the Year, Oct 16, 1962.

It is time to adjust more than just our priorities. We should, as Latter-day Saints, adjust our attitude toward building the Kingdom of God. This includes doing our duties, whatever our callings, with happiness and a sense of worship. Preaching the Gospel, Perfecting the Saints, and Redeeming the Dead are acts of Faith that lead to our own Salvation. We draw closer to God by doing more for others. Service that requires sacrifice is the definition of Mormon spirituality that the theology ultimately points.

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