New Year Resolutions – How to Make Use of the Atonement

This was a talk I gave in sacrament meeting, 11 January 2015.  Enjoy!

Here we are in a new year, ready to put the past year behind us and start fresh.  Ready to become someone and something better, right?  Who here has made a new year resolution? How are you doing? Have you stuck to your guns for these first couple of weeks?

But why do we make resolutions in the first place when they seem to be forgotten after a month or two?  Why are we so anxious to put the past behind us and forget about it?

I was talking with one of my kids the other day about some things that happened at school and some choices they had made.  It was hard for them to talk about it because they knew they did wrong and they knew that they shouldn’t have.  They wanted to forget about it and start fresh.  I started telling them of some things that I had done in my school days – I won’t repeat them here – no one here needs to know what kind of young school kid I was.  But I was telling them these stories to let them know that I was much the same – I made to dumb, mean, stupid choices when I was in school too.  As a kid I tried to cover them up – I wanted them to disappear in the past and forget about them.

But do we ever really forget what we have done in our past?  Is that part of the forgiveness the Lord offers us?  Do we set resolutions that tell ourselves – I was terrible at <insert your vice> last year, so this year my resolution is to fix it?

I read a blog post the other day from a mother named Lily who is living in Korea.  She wrote about resolutions and the new year; about how all of us are made up of many persons – we are the person we were when we were 8, 12, 16, 20, and so on.  Every day of our lives we are molding who we are; each day makes up a part of us.  We can’t just throw that away and start over – those lives will always be a part of us.  She said, “carrying the past year with you doesn’t mean you have to be weighed down or shackled by it” (Such Small Hands).  Setting goals based on our failings from the previous year just enslaves us to it.  We can (and should) learn from our mistakes, but we cannot let them enslave us.

So how should we set goals if we don’t set goals to become better?  What truths have we been taught that can help us with this?  David O. McKay said once, “the purpose of the gospel is . . . to make bad men good and good men better, and to change human nature” (from the film Every Member a Missionary, as acknowledged by Franklin D. Richards, CR, October 1965, 136–37; see also Brigham Young, JD 8:130 [22 July 1860]).  How is this accomplished?  As is always the answer, by looking to Christ.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is meant to help us in all aspects of our lives.  We are all familiar with its redeeming power – save us from death and sin.  This is the part of the Atonement that I believe we are all intimately familiar.  Through the Atonement of Christ, through his grace, we are all to be resurrected to stand before the Father.  Through that same power Christ has been made our advocate and will argue our case before the Father,

4 Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;

5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.

Doctrine and Covenants 45:4-5

Through his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross he paid that price.  Because of his suffering, because of his blood which was shed, the Father will spare us and we will have everlasting life.  I love my Savior for this – I’ve gone through many hard things in my life; difficult addictions, the pains of sin, and I have also experienced the joy of redemption and forgiveness.  I testify with Alma that there is nothing so exquisite and sweet as the joy of forgiveness (see Alma 36:21).  I wouldn’t be who I was today had I not gone through the fire of repentance and tasted of what Christ has to offer us.  I testify that he lives and that he is there for us in any circumstance – all we need to do is remember to look (see Alma 33:19-23).

However, there is another aspect of the Atonement that is just as sweet and just as exquisite – the enabling power of the Atonement.  This is the other aspect of grace that we may not be as familiar with.  Once we have shown the fruits of repentance and have received the miracle and joy of forgiveness, Christ does not leave us alone to endure to the end.  I believe that the hardest moments are life are those enduring moments – the times in life where we are striving to be true disciples of Christ but mortality strikes, as it always does, and we have to struggle through it.  Those times are when we (meaning I) too often look to our own strength, our own testimonies, our own wisdom to support us.  In these moments, Christ is most willing to help!  Those are the moments where his grace can strengthen us.

Do a search in the scriptures for the phrase “in the strength of the Lord” and your search will yield pages of results talking about the strengthening power of Christ.  In Psalms 37:39 David sings, “but the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble.”  The scriptures are replete with examples of this strengthening power.  Here are just a couple:

  1. Nephi and his brothers return to Jerusalem to talk with Ishmael and his family.  They are successful in teaching them the word of the Lord and convince them to join them on their journey in the wilderness.  While returning to their father Lehi, Laman and Lemuel and others rebel and bind Nephi with strong cords, intending to kill him and leave his body in the wilderness.  Nephi understood the Atonement and the grace of Christ.  Listen to his prayer.  “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound” (1 Nephi 7:17).  How many of us would have prayed to have the strength to burst the bands?  I know I would have prayed, “Wilt thou send an angel to teach these two idiots a lesson?!”.  Nephi understood that the Atonement and his faith in Christ would enable him to change his circumstances.  He didn’t pray to have his circumstances changed for him.  I am a believer that the cords were not just magically loosed, but that Nephi was given additional strength to twist and bend and stress the cords until they finally broke.  Laman and Lemuel were angry that he got loose and were only stopped by the others in the party pleading with them to stop.  Nephi changed his circumstance; it wasn’t changed for him.
  2. Alma hearkened to the words of Abinadi and secretly taught the people in the forest.  After the people of king Noah were overthrown, some of king Noah’s priests escaped and joined the Lamanites.  Alma and his followers were enslaved by the Lamanites and specifically one of Alma’s old friends, Amulon.  Amulon and his people began to persecute Alma and his followers and lay heavy burdens on them.  Alma and his people would cry unto the Lord for help, but Amulon put a stop to that.  However, Alma and his people continued to pour out their hearts to the Lord for deliverance.  What the Lord did is instructive, “And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:14).  Again, the Lord simply blessed the people with strength, through the grace of Christ, that their burdens were light.  Verse 15 has the blessing, “And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15).  Once again, as with Nephi, the Lord did not change the circumstance of his people.  But he did give them strength to change it themselves.

One key aspect of all examples you can find the scriptures, and these two in particular, is that the Lord does not change our circumstances.  He doesn’t remove the trial.  He doesn’t interfere with the course of mortality.  However, he does bless us with his grace; his strength; the power to overcome.  I have felt this power many times in my own life.  One of my favorite scriptures describes this feeling:

“And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.”

2 Nephi 2:14

When I feel the grace of Christ in my life, strengthening me, helping me to change, I feel more empowered.  I feel more as a being who can act.  I can take charge of the situation and change it for the better.  As I went through difficult times experiencing the redeeming power of the Savior, I learned that he works in the same fashion.  He doesn’t change what happened – he doesn’t change the past – but he does change the circumstance – he changes it for the better.  He takes a bad situation and makes the best of it.  I feel the greatest strength of my testimony is in the atoning power of the Savior and his forgiveness.  The Lord was able to take a terrible situation and turn it into something that has blessed my life immensely.  He wants us to do the same for our lives – take our failings, our vices, our stress and make the best of it.  He will grant unto us the power to act – to change our circumstances ourselves.

As we look back on this past year and look forward to the coming one – how will we approach it?  Will we continue to enslave ourselves to our past and always keep trying to “remedy” what we do wrong?  Or will we look to the Savior for power to take charge and change our circumstance?

I love a quote from Elder Jeffery R. Holland which showed up on my Google+ feed the other day:

God doesn’t care nearly as much about where you have been as he does about where you are and, with his help, where you are willing go.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland

On Lily’s blog, she wrote that instead of making a set of resolutions fix things in our lives, let’s instead choose one word to dictate what this next year will look like for us.  Maybe your word is Charity; maybe it’s Forgiveness; maybe you are in need of more Grace; maybe you want to live with more Faith; maybe you just need more Love.  Whatever your word is, make sure it is something that you will focus on daily and sums up who you want to become.  Whatever your word is, let it change you for the better; let it help you focus more on our Savior.

Whatever you choose for your word, I know mine: Remember

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What I Learned from Marking the Bear

Starting in Logan, Utah, the Bear 100 is one of the top 100 mile ultra-endurance marathons in the country.  Managing the logistics of such an event is extremely difficult, so when my boss mentioned to me that the race coordinator was looking for volunteers, I jumped on board.  I was asked to mark a section of the course.  In a race where you run on trails in the middle of the night, especially where the trails fork often, it is very important that the correct route is clearly specified.  That was my job – ensure that there was no question in the runner’s mind where they should be and if they are on the right trail by tying bright-colored ribbons and reflective markers to trees and branches.

The race is held on a Friday and Saturday in September; so I headed up Logan Canyon earlier during the week to mark my section.  Unfortunately, I got tied up at work and hit the road later than I would have liked.  To make matters worse when I arrived at the trailhead, I realized that I was at the wrong one.  After searching my map for where I was and where I needed to go, I found the correct trailhead and got started at about 6:30 PM.  I didn’t realize how long it would take me to bike seven miles when I needed to stop every 100 feet or so to tie a ribbon.

After I had marked about a mile and a half, I realized that I would be working in the dark and that I did not have a flashlight with me.  I started to pick up the pace, marking only about every quarter-mile in some places.  Even still, it was getting dark fast. I was all alone in the Bear River Mountains.  It was a race against the sun; a race that I was not going to win.

For a human to discern physical things, light must first be reflected off that object and into the human eye.  We discern details such as shape, size, color, and distance.  Our brain will process all this information to form an image that we “see”.  In the same manner, in order to discern spiritual things, spiritual light must first be taught to us in a focused and clear manner.  From the light that has entered our spiritual eyes, we can discern details such as the source of the “light”, its truthfulness, and how we can apply it in our lives.  We are able to see things “as they [really] are” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24).

The Doctrine and Covenants teaches us, “that which does not edify is not of God, and is darkness.  That which is of God is light” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-24).  We also learn that light is what “giveth life to all things” and is “the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:13).  It is this same light, which Mormon calls the light of Christ or the Spirit of Christ (Moroni 7:16-19), which “quickeneth [our] understandings” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:11)

Paul also teaches us,

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:11-14)

As we study and seek the light of Christ, we will receive more light and truth.  The Lord taught the Saints when they dragged their feet in building the Kirtland Temple this principle,

If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness. (Doctrine and Covenants 95:12)

The application is simple – as we keep the commandments and seek for light, we will find it.  We will be able to understand the Gospel better, be able to teach it better, be able to serve better.  As new light is received, it will be easier to understand.  However, as we become cynical, critical, doubtful; or as we become lackadaisical with the light we have been given, the light we have received will lose its brightness, just as if the light was getting further and further away.  As the light recedes, it will become more difficult to discern spiritual things as eventually, if we continue on that path, we “shall walk in darkness” (Doctrine and Covenants 95:12).  This is one reason why the Lord stated to the Saints,

Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).

The light available to me was fading fast and so was my ability to discern obstacles on the trail.  According to my map, I still had about half of the route to mark.  I did not want to disappoint those who had put their trust in me to mark the trail for the runners so I pressed on, knowing full well that when I was finished it was going to be a very long walk through the darkness back to my car.  As I lost light, my perception of non-scary things changed.  I was not able to see things as they really were, just like we cannot see spiritual things as they really are without this spiritual light.

When I reached the last main junction before the end of my route, I was on the home stretch.  The map showed a relatively straight road going south with little elevation change.  “This will be nice,” I thought to myself, “It should be fairly easy-going.”  By this time it was past dusk and even the light of dusk was nearly gone.  As was my luck, there was no moon to help, just the dim light of stars to light my path.

Stopping to tie flagging to branches was extremely difficult when I could barely see the branches themselves.  Lucky for me my cell phone had just enough battery to light up its screen, allowing me to tie flagging and post the necessary reflectors at the required locations.

As darkness fully set in, my mind started to do funny things.  As I mentioned before, without light we cannot see things as they really are – trees look like big animals, rustlings sound louder and bigger, and ground squirrels become very startling.  Probably the scariest thought of all was, “how in the world am I going to get home?” As that frame of mind started to set in, I was grateful for the light taught me by my parents and primary teachers years ago about prayer and its calming influence and power to dispel fear.

As I prayed to my Father in Heaven, peace filled my soul and my mind was opened to some of the wonderful blessings I have received from Him: my family, my friends and neighbors, a good, enjoyable job, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church.  President Henry B. Eyring taught that “to be happy and to avoid misery, we must have a grateful heart” (The Choice to Be Grateful).  As I poured out my heart in gratitude for these wonderful blessings, peace filled my soul and all fear of the darkness was gone.  My fear of finding a way home to my family was gone and I knew that a way would be open to help me home.  A light had gone on in my heart and I felt the Spirit comfort me, telling me that the Lord would help me home.

I continued to diligently flag the trail until I finally reached the end of my route.  To my surprise, as soon as I had reached the end of the route, I saw a dim red light a few hundred yards off approaching me.  I waited a few moments until it got closer and spoke up, “Hello there!”  “Hello,” the light replied, “Nice night.”  I knew the Lord had answered my prayer by placing a young man from Colorado at that place at that time.  He was there to scout out the trail and was preparing to run the race that weekend.  He camping in the back of his car and just happened to be out on a late night walk at that campground just at the time I finished marking.  He gladly accepted my plea for help back to my car.

Light and darkness – two opposing phenomenon.  One cannot exist with the other.  Light dispels all darkness.  As we draw nearer to the Savior, we draw nearer to the source of all light and truth.  His light can shine in our lives “more and more until the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).

I testify that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. Through Him we can discern good from evil and obtain the vision required to guide us through an increasingly dark world.  I testify that He is full of grace and truth (2 Nephi 2:6),

Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. …

And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—

The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:7-13)

He lives.  He loves us.  It is my prayer that we can look to this Light, even the light of the Savior and come unto Him.

Covenants – What do they mean to us?

I was having a conversation with my brother-in-law a while back about the Church and we got onto the topic of what the Church is all about.  Is it simply another church in the world that professes to believe in Jesus Christ?  Is it just another religious organization?  Or is it something more?

In the Spring of 1820, Joseph Smith entered a grove of trees and came out a changed person.  What he experienced in that grove changed his life, the lives of his family, and the lives of millions of people to this day.  It continues to change lives.

While in that grove, he prayed to ask God which of all the churches in the world were correct and which one he should associate himself with and receive baptism from.  He was shocked to hear from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ himself that he should join none of them.  Joseph says this,

 18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.

19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

Joseph Smith – History 1:18-19

I am a person who likes to avoid confrontations, so when I read Joseph’s statement “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong” I think that is pretty bold to condemn all of the other churches of the day as wrong and false. However, as I ponder Joseph’s statement, I feel that my interpretation is what was wrong and false.

I feel that many people incorrectly believe (I was guilty of this myself) that when we testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Jesus Christ, that it means that all other churches and creeds are wrong and false; that we have to tear down the walls of ‘ignorance’ and ‘false doctrine’ that the faith of those adherents is made of before there is any hope of salvation for them. Fortunately, that is incorrect.  Church leaders are trying to teach us the principle that there is good and truth everywhere; from Catholicism to Protestant, Baptist to Methodist, Buddhist to Islam; all have pieces of the truth. When we say the Church of Jesus Christ is the only true church on the earth, all that means is that we believe that this is the Church that Jesus organized while he was on earth and which He restored through His prophet Joseph Smith. We do not say that there is no truth outside of our doctrine; nor do we say that we have all truth; the critical point is that we believe that the Church of Jesus Christ holds all the truth and wisdom necessary to enable individuals and families to return to our Father in Heaven and receive the full blessings of salvation and exaltation.

Good doctrines and good people can be found anywhere in the world, in any religion.  President Hinckley taught that when we preach the Gospel, we are no arguing our point; we are not debating; “We, in effect, simply say to others, ‘Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.'” (The BYU Experience)  I really like what Elder R. Lloyd Smith said about testifying that the Church is true:

The expression “I know the Church is true,” while a powerful testimony by itself, can be strengthened and made more effective with our friends when we also testify of principles that show the Church is true. Testify of how the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ have changed your life. Testify of Joseph Smith as a modern-day prophet and relate experiences that have brought you knowledge and peace. Testify of the feelings you have when you read the Book of Mormon and of how you came to know it is the word of God. Testify of the Restoration of the priesthood authority to the earth and the blessings that have come to you through the priesthood. Testify of modern-day prophets and explain the teachings of President Hinckley that have touched you personally. Testify of the joy and happiness you feel as a member of the Church. Testify that it is because of all these things that you know the Church is true.

Elder R. Lloyd Smith, Sharing the Gospel with Sensitivity, Ensign June 2002

So what does this have to do with covenants? Well, I believe that this is where we differ from all the other churches on earth. There are many churches that teach that Jesus is our Savior; many that have very faithful members who do much good in the world; in fact, I would dare say that many members of other faiths are more faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ than many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  However, through the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ also came the authority to act in His name, which is His Priesthood. With the Priesthood of God, we are able to perform certain saving ordinances with the assurance that those ordinances are recognized by God as valid.  Because of this, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is more than just another church among the many; more than just a religious organization.  It is the true Church of Jesus Christ.  It contains the organization that Christ setup in His time; the same authority of the Priesthood.  It is only through this Priesthood that we can receive the necessary ordinances and make the requisite covenants to receive a fulness of salvation and exaltation.

There are specific covenants that we all must enter into to receive all that the Father hath.  However, before getting into what specific covenants we make as members of the Church, it is important to distinguish a characteristic that must be present for a covenant to have efficacy it must be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.  The scriptures teach us that the Holy Ghost is the Holy Spirit of Promise, it ratifies the covenant that has been made.

3 Wherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples, as is recorded in the testimony of John.

4 This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom;

Doctrine and Covenants 88:3-4

7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.

19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Doctrine and Covenants 132:7,19

In reference to the above scripture, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said this,

The Holy Spirit of Promise is the ratifying power of the Holy Ghost. When sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, an ordinance, vow, or covenant is binding on earth and in heaven. (See D&C 132:7.) Receiving this “stamp of approval” from the Holy Ghost is the result of faithfulness, integrity, and steadfastness in honoring gospel covenants “in [the] process of time” (Moses 7:21).

Elder David A. Bednar, Ye Must Be Born Again, April 2007 General Conference

Without ratification by the Holy Spirit of Promise, the covenants we make on earth do not have efficacy in heaven.  Since the Holy Spirit of Promise is the Holy Ghost, it makes sense that we would be required to take upon ourselves the ordinances and covenants required to receive that gift, namely the ordinance and covenant of baptism.  Nephi, son of Lehi, teaches in the Book of Mormon the following,

17 For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

2 Nephi 31:17-18

It is critical that baptism be done in accordance with the revealed word of God.  Paul wrote to the Romans about baptism and taught them,

3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

Romans 6:3-6

The purpose of baptism is to free us from sin, to cleanse us from our iniquities.  That is why we must have repented of those sins before we enter into that gate, for what do we gain if we cleanse ourselves of sin only to go and repeat those same errors in the next breath?  To repent is to turn away from, to have a change of heart.  To truly repent, we must confess and forsake what we have done wrong.

Further clarity is offered in the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

37 And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.

Doctrine and Covenants 20:37

In that same section, the Lord also clarifies what the proper mode of baptism is (see verse 74).  Those scriptures make it clear that when we are baptized, we covenant with our Father in Heaven that we will take upon us the name of Christ, serve God and not sin, and manifest by our works that we are not servants of sin, but that we have received the Spirit of Christ and are new creatures (see Mosiah 27:26).  Alma, when baptizing at the Waters of Mormon, taught ways in which this conversion is manifest in our lives (see Mosiah 18).

Baptism by immersion, however is really only half of a proper baptism.  If not followed by the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, it is of no effect.  The book of Acts relates an account of Paul in Corinth when he came upon a group of believers who had no received the Holy Ghost.

1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,

2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.

3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.

4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.

5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

Acts 19:1-6

The importance of the Gift of the Holy Ghost is clear.  Since these saints in Corinth had not received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, Paul saw it necessary that they be re-baptized and confirm that baptism by the laying on of hands.  Without that gift, the baptism of those saints was ineffective.  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this,

You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Volume 5:499

After we have entered into the covenant of baptism and have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we must enter into the oath and covenant of the Priesthood.  This consists of being ordained to offices in the Priesthood and magnifying our callings therein.  The Lord describes the blessings of keeping this covenant in this manner,

33 For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

34 They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

35 And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.

40 Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-40

For women, the realization of these blessings comes to them through the marriage covenant.  The blessings are no less, nor are the responsibilities.  The only difference is the manner in which the covenants is entered into.

After the oath and covenant of the priesthood, comes the covenants associated with the Temple and the endowment ceremony.  These covenants are critical for us to receive a fulness of the blessings of salvation and exaltation.  Really, it is through these ordinances and covenants that enable us to receive the blessings of exaltation in the first place.  Brigham Young taught,

Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels.

Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 302

Finally, the last covenants we enter into, which seal all these covenants together (not to be confused by the sealing performed by the Holy Spirit of Promise), are the covenants of marriage performed in Holy Temples.  The Doctrine and Covenants teaches this clearly.

19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.

22 For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me.

Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-22

Up to this point, each and every covenant entered into was done as an individual.  We were required to enter into those covenants after repenting of our own sins and being “born again” as new individuals.  We work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  However, to receive the highest blessings the Lord has to offer us, we must do so as a family.  The covenants associated with a Temple marriage open the door for us to enter into the highest degree of glory the Father has prepared for us.  We can only enter through that door as a family unit.  As individuals, we are stopped and can go no further in our eternal progression.

To summarize, there are specific ordinances and covenants which must be made in order for us to receive a fulness of the blessings the Lord has to offer us.

  • Baptism
  • Gift of the Holy Ghost
  • Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
  • Endowment
  • Marriage

Builders build buildings in their own way; each has their own sense of style and what makes a beautiful building; but there are certain characteristics that must be part of the building for it to be structurally sound and able to stand.

Covenants are what make us different as a church. They set us apart from all the other churches and belief systems in the world.  It is through the covenants we make that save us through the atonement of Christ.  Through the covenants we make and our faithfulness to them, we become the sons and daughters of Christ for whom He can intercede before the throne of God.

Further Reading

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, The Power of Covenants, April 2009 General Conference

Elder David A. Bednar, Ye Must Be Born Again, April 2007 General Conference

President Boyd K. Packet, The Gift of the Holy Ghost: What Every Member Should Know, Ensign August 2006

Elder Russell M. Nelson, Celestial Marriage, October 2008 General Conference

Elder Russell M. Nelson, Salvation and Exaltation, April 2008 General Conference

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