16. Search for principles.
The scriptures are one of your best sources for finding basic gospel principles, and it is truly worth great effort to search the scriptures in order to obtain and understand them. As you read and study the scriptures, try to “boil it down” in order to distill what you read into basic, simple principles. Everything you read about in the scriptures can be stripped back to reveal the most basic gospel principle behind it. For example, when you "boil it down" the ten commandments are essentially based on two eternal principles: love God and love your neighbor. If you truly love God, you will love your neighbor. If you truly live these principles, nobody should have to tell you not to kill people, or steal from them, or lie to them. Principles are the commandments by which you keep all the other commandments. As you begin to recognize the underlying principles behind almost everything you read in the scriptures your understanding and appreciation of the scriptures and the gospel will grow and so will your ability to actively apply the gospel in your every day life.
“As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances. It is worth great effort to organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle” (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86).As you search the scriptures and learn to recognize and apply the principles of the gospel contained in them you will become more independent and capable of making better decisions on your own.
"Joseph Smith’s inspired statement, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves,’ still applies (quoted by John Taylor, in Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1851, p. 339). The Lord uses that pattern with us. You will find correct principles in the teachings of the Savior, His prophets, and the scriptures—especially the Book of Mormon." (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 1993, 32, 34).The reason why learning correct principles frees us to "govern ourselves" is because principles represent the gospel in it's simplest, clearest, and most basic form. In the light of such clarity and understanding it becomes much easier to discern right alternatives from wrong ones which helps you to make correct decisions. Moreover, when you recognize and understand the fundamental principles behind God's laws, you no longer need to wait until someone "commands" you before you will keep a commandment. You don't have to have something spelled out for you before you will obey it. You will naturally seek to do what is right, because that's who you are now: you have the power, the capacity, and the natural inclination to keep the commandments on your own without compulsion.
"A principle is an enduring truth, a law, a rule you can adopt to guide you in making decisions. Generally principles are not spelled out in detail. That leaves you free to find your way with an enduring truth, a principle, as your anchor" (Boyd K Packer, Ensign, May 1996, 17).This is why the gospel is called the higher law. Under the gospel we are held to a higher standard of obedience. The gospel is simpler and less complicated because no longer is every little detail spelled out for us like it was under the lesser law of Moses, but for the same reason the gospel is more difficult than the lesser law because it requires us to act for ourselves, of our own free will, without waiting to be commanded or compelled to keep those commandments. This frees us from the onerous burden of having to keep track of a thousand picky little laws, and confusion when a situation arises that is not specifically addressed by any of those laws. It also frees us from the burden of stubborn literalism--"if it isn't specifically written in the law, I won't keep it." Or in other words, keeping the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law.
"[Finding and living basic principles] yields two fruits. The first is inspiration to know what to do. The second is power, or the capacity to do it. These two capacities come together. That’s why Nephi could say, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” He knew the spiritual laws upon which inspiration and power are based." (Richard G. Scott, To Acquire Spiritual Guidance," Ensign, Nov. 2009).
D&C 58:26-29 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
A good example of this is the Mosaic health code vs. the word of wisdom: Under the mosaic law everything you could put in (or on) your body was clearly and specifically spelled out, and everything that was forbidden was also specifically and exhaustively cataloged. The word of wisdom, on the other hand, is actually relatively short, and there are only a few things specifically forbidden in the body of its text. The reason the word of wisdom is so much less extensive is because the word of wisdom was "given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints" (D&C 89:3). Instead of providing a comprehensive legal code, and thereby relieving us of the responsibility of making our own decisions, the word of wisdom frees us to choose to obey the principle of our own free will, without first requiring to be told. We therefore do not partake in illegal drugs and narcotics, even though they are not specifically mentioned in the word of wisdom, because the principle behind the word of wisdom is that our bodies are a temple to and a gift from God, that we are not our own and we are bought with a price. It doesn't matter that illegal drugs are not specifically prohibited by the word of wisdom--when we understand the principle behind the word of wisdom (the spirit of the law) it becomes clear that we must avoid anything that might violate, harm, or destroy our bodies which we seek to preserve as a temple to the Lord. We are smart enough to reason out for ourselves whether or not illegal drugs fall into that category, and this frees us to choose to act accordingly.
However, this freedom places a greater level of responsibility upon each of us to live up to the higher standard of the gospel, which requires us to actively study to search out those principles on our own so that we have the knowledge necessary to make the right decisions of our own free will and choice. Learning to live by principles is also difficult because we are required to live according to the spirit of the law, and not just the letter of the law. This requires actual conversion and dedication on our part. This requires a fundamental change in our whole way of thinking and our way of life.
"While easy to find, true principles are not easy to live until they become an established pattern of life. They will require you to dislodge false ideas. They can cause you wrenching battles within the secret chambers of your heart and decisive encounters to overcome temptation, peer pressure, and the false allure of the ‘easy way out.’ Yet as you resolutely follow correct principles, you will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Your consistent adherence to principle overcomes the alluring yet false lifestyles that surround you. Your faithful compliance to correct principles will generate criticism and ridicule from others, yet the results are so eternally worthwhile that they warrant your every sacrifice." (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 1993,32, 34).If you can master the concept of gleaning what you read for eternal principles, the scriptures will come to life before your eyes as you learn to actively identify and apply the principles of the gospel in your life. Decisions that may have frightened or confused you before will become plain to you as you develop the tools you need to recognize the fundamental truths and deceptive pitfalls in any situation and make your choices accordingly. The scriptures will come to life because you will see that they contain principles and solutions that apply to any dilemma, and consequently you will feel a greater urgency to search their pages to find the answers you need. As you do this your understanding of scripture will improve and increase by leaps and bounds.
Next tip: Scripture Master Tip #17: Look For Patterns, Connections, Lists, and Themes