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The Three Motivations Behind Obedience: Fear, Duty, and Love

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In Abraham 2:24-25, Heavenly Father describes one of the purposes of our mortal probation.

We will make an earth whereon these may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.

Are we willing to obey God’s commandments? Are we willing to sacrifice to do so? Will we choose God and his way over everything else? This truly is one of the greatest tests we face throughout the course of our lives. Obedience is essential!

The reason we obey God is also important.

Why do you keep the commandments? Answering this question can tell you a lot about the state of your heart, your relationship with God, and if you are letting obedience change you. Summed up, the three motivations for obedience are fear, duty, and love.


At first glance, there is scriptural evidence to fear God. In Ecclesiastes, we are told to Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

The Doctrine and Covenants also tell us to Fear God and give glory to him.

However, we misunderstand what the scriptures are telling us when they say to fear God. We often think we need to be afraid of God and his anger or wrath. God becomes vengeful in our minds; should we fail to obey in any way, we expect retribution.

This way of thinking limits our ability to first, understand the true nature of God, and second, emulate that nature in our own lives. How hard is it to have a true and trusting relationship with someone you are scared of?

Consider this description of godly fear from Elder David A. Bednar:

The righteous fear I am attempting to describe encompasses a deep feeling of reverence, respect, and awe for the Lord Jesus Christ, obedience to His commandments and anticipation of the Final Judgment and justice at His hand. Thus, godly fear grows out of a correct understanding of the divine nature and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ, a willingness to submit our will to His will, and a knowledge that every man and woman will be accountable for his or her own sins in the Day of Judgment.


To obey out of duty raises us to understand obedience in our minds, but not in our hearts. We go to church. We read our scriptures. We pray. We fulfill our callings. We recognize the blessing of the gospel in our lives and act out of a sense of duty as if our obedience is a payment to God for what he has done.

However, this sort of motivation often leaves us at the bare minimum line. We go just far enough to feel we have done what is necessary and then we back away. The soul-stretching, total consecration of our will is left undone.

Duty isn’t an ugly word. To obey out a sense of duty can be good to get us started and keep us going. Duty binds us in loyalty to God and recognizes our dependence on him. It just lacks the same opportunity to fully change our hearts and cement our relationship with God.


To obey because we love God is the ultimate motivation for righteous doing. This is perfectly exemplified in the interaction between Peter and the resurrected Christ. Three times, Christ asks if Peter loves him. Peter insists, Lord,…thou knowest that I love thee.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland describes what Christ’s response might sound like us today.

Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do.

Do we truly love God? To love him, we must know him. Do we know him? To know him, we must seek him out. Do we seek God out?

So we come back to our original question: Why do you keep the commandments?

Hopefully, after learning about these three motivators, you have a place to start answering this question.

Join the Discussion!
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Aleah Ingram
Aleah Ingram
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.

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