This article looks at the covenant relationship God offers those who wish to return to Him. I use here the covenant of baptism and the Abrahamic covenant to discuss the subject.
The Abrahamic covenant is pretty easy to discuss, so I spend the bulk of my time here talking about what goes into the baptismal covenant. There is a tendency to mentally oversimplify the baptismal covenant, as a result I address the needs for a covenant relationship more in detail with the baptismal covenant.
What does it take to repent?
Have you ever considered the question as to what it takes to repent of our sins? If you are at the age of accountability, and you find the gospel of Christ, here are the basic steps needed.
- Exercise faith in Christ. This means putting your belief in him into action by doing what he teaches us to do in the scriptures.
- Repent of your sins.
- Be baptized by one holding God’s priesthood authority then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost so you can have your sins remitted (forgiven or pardoned).
All of these steps are part of the repentance process. Repentance isn’t just step no. 2 on the list. One cannot separate exercising faith in Christ and doing good works from repentance. Nor can you ignore the key role of having the gift of the Holy Ghost in the repentance process. Without the gift of the Holy Ghost you cannot have your sins forgiven and have the strength of heart to remain in your repentant state. You need all of these steps in order to be forgiven of your sins.
The scriptures are clear that to retain a remission of your sins, you must first be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. So where does this leave those who wish to repent, but who haven’t yet been baptized by one holding God’s authority to baptize, and who haven’t yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost? I suppose it is like a person who has cancer, and who takes treatments, but the cancer never quite goes into remission. It is the gift of the Holy Ghost that brings the needed staying power to our repentance and a full remission of the sins for which we have repented.
For our turning to the Lord to be complete, it must include nothing less than a covenant of obedience to Him. We often speak of this covenant as the baptismal covenant since it is witnessed by being baptized in water (see Mosiah 18:10). The Savior’s own baptism, providing the example, confirmed His covenant of obedience to the Father. “But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:7). Without this covenant, repentance remains incomplete and the remission of sins unattained.
Our claim in the Church is that we have the authorized servants of God doing the baptisms. For this reason, no other baptisms are recognized by God as valid. One of the evidences of the validity of our baptisms is that it is ALWAYS coupled with the confirmation of your membership into the Lord’s Church, followed by the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost, in that order. You can’t get the gift until you are a confirmed member of God’s kingdom on earth. Following is a quote from Joseph Smith about anyone who would baptize without also bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost.
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. The Savior says, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:5.]” Joseph Smith, pg. 95
Here is another quote (pg. 91) from Joseph Smith:
“Upon the same principle do I contend that baptism is a sign ordained of God, for the believer in Christ to take upon himself in order to enter into the kingdom of God, ‘for except ye are born of water and of the Spirit ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God,’ said the Savior [see John 3:5]. It is a sign and a commandment which God has set for man to enter into His kingdom. Those who seek to enter in any other way will seek in vain; for God will not receive them, neither will the angels acknowledge their works as accepted, for they have not obeyed the ordinances, nor attended to the signs which God ordained for the salvation of man, to prepare him for, and give him a title to, a celestial glory; and God has decreed that all who will not obey His voice shall not escape the damnation of hell. What is the damnation of hell? To go with that society who have not obeyed His commands.
“Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, and to heaven that we do the will of God, and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come to Him to be saved, and enter into the kingdom of God, except faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, and any other course is in vain; then you have the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
The purpose of repentance is to make ourselves worthy to enter the celestial kingdom. If that is not our desire then we don’t need to repent, unless we might also want to escape having to pay for our sins come judgment day. In order to facilitate us access to Christ’s atoning power the Lord gave us a covenant relationship that provides us forgiveness, and at the same time opens the doors to being able to be personally tutored by the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost. This special relationship between the Godhead and mankind is only available to those who believe in Christ and want to obey him. Anyone else can live their life as they see fit, but they will have to answer for their own sins, and cannot expect Christ to forgive them, for they have not committed to live according to God’s laws of salvation, which begins with coming to Christ through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost for a remission of sins.
Commandments vs. Covenants
The commandments of God are found throughout the scriptures. They are the pronouncements that, if followed, lead us into the ways of happiness and peace. Commandments are the strongest language God can use to show us how important it is for us to do something so that we find happiness in the end. He never mentions, suggests, or hints at anything. God always commands. He is that sure of Himself that following that path will lead us into good places in our lives.
The Come, Follow Me manual for the Old Testament (p. 27) tells us that covenants are a way to “secure … trust” between people. “So when God spoke to Noah, Abraham, or Moses about covenants, He was inviting them to enter into a relationship of trust with Him.” Covenant relationships are only offered to those who seek to return to live with God in the celestial kingdom. There is no need for a covenant relationship if you have no desire to return to live with God again.
Since we have already discussed repentance at the beginning of this article, let’s look at it once more from the covenant point of view. The atoning sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to save any and all who seek to be saved from their sins. Whether only one of us seeks so to do, or if all of us seek it, Christ’s sacrifice and payment was enough. But those who have no interest in conforming their life to God’s ways will have to pay for their own sins. It is for such people God has already created lesser kingdoms of glory to house the bulk of His children in the eternities. The atonement of Christ can only apply to those who repent of their sins, meaning they have exercised faith in Christ, been baptized, and have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. All of these have to have happened in order for the remission of sins to take place. Each week we renew this covenantal relationship with God when we take the sacrament and promise to remember Christ every day of the week, so we can always have his Spirit to be with us.
The relationship of trust God is offering us in the covenant of baptism is bound up in His two-fold gift to us. First, He has offered us His well-beloved Son who paid for our sins and made it possible for us to be forgiven for them. Second, He gives us the third member of the Godhead, the testifier of truth, to teach us, lead us, comfort us, and show us the way back to God and Christ. He gives us this unspeakably glorious gift because we are willing to put our trust in Christ and follow him.
Yes, we are commanded to be baptized, just as God commands us to do everything that brings us happiness. But the covenant relationship that is the whole baptismal package is a bond of trust God gives to those who promise to follow His Son. This covenant relationship is not available to anyone else. This is the nature of all covenants.
This next point will be repeated in the next section. Covenants aren’t just about what we get from God. Covenants are designed to help us become more godly people. The covenants themselves act as a conduit to help us bless others, as God is blessing us. We enter into a partnership with God to bless the lives of all His children. In the case of the baptismal covenant we promise to represent Christ in all places and circumstances we may be in. This is a great responsibility. It also serves as a great way to help us become more Christlike as we seek to become more like Jesus.
The Abrahamic covenant
God invites us to become more like Him through the covenant relationships He offers us. Here are some points about covenants made in the Come, Follow Me manual (pg. 27).
The covenant offered to Abraham wasn’t so much about what Abraham and his posterity would receive as it was that he and his posterity would be able to bless all the nations of the earth. “The focus of this covenant was not just on the blessings Abraham and his family would receive but also on the blessing they would be to the rest of God’s children.” It is because Abraham sought “to be a greater follower of righteousness” (Abraham 1:2), that God invited him to share in the same blessings He gave Abraham’s forefathers. This is the key to the Abrahamic covenant, this relationship makes it possible for each of us to become a blessing in the lives of all those around us. It becomes our responsibility to bless others. This is what a follower of righteousness seeks after.
This is what the manual says about the promises made to Abraham, and his response to those promises.
The family of Abraham were to “bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations,” sharing “the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal” (Abraham 2:9, 11).
This covenant was the blessing Abraham was longing for. After receiving it, Abraham said in his heart, “Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee” (Abraham 2:12).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only Christian sect that offers Priesthood-based covenant relationships with God. What a privilege and blessing to have such relationships of trust with our Father. His work and glory is to exalt all of His children who are willing to receive such a blessing, and to that end He has offered covenant relationships to those who are working to return to Him.
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