One of the defining characteristics of God’s kingdom on earth, His Church, is the presence of covenants. Covenants are not present anywhere else on earth, and in no other church. This begs the question of why covenants are a defining characteristic of His Church. Why don’t they exist anywhere else?
First Estate Covenants
In our first estate, when we lived with God before coming to earth, we were promised, through covenant, that if we kept and honored the requirements of our first estate we would have glory added upon our heads. The glory referred to was a resurrected body and eternal glory after the resurrection that would last forever. This resurrection is what our Savior would provide for each and every one of us. Every soul who ever came to receive a mortal body kept their first estate. This earth life is the reward promised us. We must receive a mortal body before we can receive an immortal body through a resurrection.
This doctrine of being added upon by keeping our first estate comes from Abraham 3:24–28. Abraham is being taught that in the premortal world (verses 24-25) Jesus announced that they would take the materials of the universe and build an earth on which we could dwell. And the purpose of our earth life would be to be proved, or tested, in all things.
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
In verse 26 we are taught that those who kept or honored the covenants of the first estate would be added upon with glory. These are all the people who come to earth to experience mortality. For everyone who comes to earth will be resurrected and receive eternal glory in a kingdom based on the amount of good they chose to embrace during their time in mortality and in the spirit world. Those who did not keep the covenants of their first estate would not receive any glory at all. These are the spirits that were thrust out of heaven with Lucifer in his rebellion (verses 27-28).
Notice that those who kept their first estate, and were privileged to come to earth to their second estate, have another promise made to them. If we keep our second estate, the covenants made available to us in mortality and the spirit world, there is the promise of having glory added upon our heads forever. This is referring to exaltation, the kind of life God lives. Those who keep their second estate will “have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.”
26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
27 And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.
28 And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.
Everyone on earth proved themselves in their first estate to be worthy of coming to their second estate. But mortality is is like going from grade school to university. It is much tougher. And mortality isn’t for everyone. The covenants available to us in mortality require that we undergo changes to our characters and personalities that are hard to do. In fact, we cannot make these changes alone. Only with the grace of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, in tandem with the Savior’s atoning sacrifice and the gift of repentance can these changes come about.
Most of us in mortality choose the gratifications of the flesh, and that is as much happiness as we seek after. But covenants aren’t for those who are satisfied so easily. Covenants are sacred promises God makes with those who want to do the work that will bring them back into His presence. This is what separates covenant makers and keepers from those who don’t want to be bothered by such things.
When we do missionary work to find those of the house of Israel, we are seeking those whom God has given to Christ as his inheritance, those who want to be, or at least have declared they want to be, like him. Some of these won’t receive their opportunity to embrace his gospel message until they are in the spirit world, while others will receive their opportunity here in mortality. The opportunity is the same no matter when it is received and accepted. The blessings are the same no matter when it is received and accepted. This is why we do missionary work for both the living and the dead. We are seeking out those among all the children of God who will accept this ultimate challenge to accept the task of becoming like Christ himself.
For most of God’s children, mortality is just the process of receiving their body promised them for honoring their first estate. They must have a body to get a resurrected body. This is why the Savior’s crowning act in his process of atoning for all of God’s children was his resurrection. He opened the door by which all of us could have that promise of eternal glory in a resurrected body fulfilled. It was by this act that God keeps His promise to His children.
Note, however, that no covenants in mortality are required for this promise to be fulfilled. None whatsoever. All they have to do is be born, live, and die, and they will receive their reward. The glory they receive at the resurrection will be based on the amount of light they embraced during mortality. The doctrine of this reward system is taught in the Doctrine and Covenants 88:31–35. Read these verses then I’ll talk about them.
31 And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
33 For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
35 That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.
These verses are talking specifically about those who go to the telestial kingdom, the lowest kingdom of glory, but the principle behind these verses apply to each of the kingdoms of glory equally. We will all receive the glory we are willing to receive (verse 32). This means that if we aren’t willing to do that which is required to receive a greater glory then we will receive the amount of glory we are willing to receive. It is completely up to each of us as to how much glory we end up with.
The doctrine or teaching here is that there are laws that govern and preserve all things, and those same laws are what will perfect and sanctify us. If we are willing to live by those laws then we will receive all that they have to offer us, but if we choose to live in sin and not repent when we have the opportunity to repent then those laws cannot sanctify nor perfect us, so when it comes time for our final judgment and the disposition of our eternal souls, we will remain filthy, having refused to cleanse ourselves through repentance.
It is important to remember that the repentance that sanctifies and purifies us can only be had through covenants. In the New Testament Jesus forgave people’s sins through their faith in him. So people can repent in this life and in the spirit world, but that repentance can only take us so far. It isn’t until our repentance is coupled with God’s covenants that we can be changed enough to become pure and holy, and worthy of returning to His presence.
So the real separator in this life is the making and keeping of covenants. Only those who make and keep covenants with God have an opportunity to change enough to become worthy of returning to His presence. The covenants are the key.
How Covenants make a difference
The reason covenants are so important is that the prophets have taught us that spiritual things can only be understood or discerned through the Spirit. In other words, the natural man cannot comprehend the things of God, because God has to reveal the reality of himself and his laws to a person for them to understand and comprehend Him. And this is done through the gift of the Holy Ghost. Basic information about God and his reality can be had through the Holy Ghost without having the gift of his company, but to have the deep things or the mysteries of His kingdom and personality revealed, it requires the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and that that is only available to those who have made and kept the covenant of baptism and have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Here is what the apostle Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 2:14.
14 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.
This is why you can’t argue with someone about the truthfulness of a gospel principle or doctrine. They have to have the Spirit reveal its truth to their soul. When we just use words, without the Spirit to carry the truthfulness into the heart and mind of the other person, they think we speak gibberish, or foolishness. This is the difference covenants make.
Mysteries of God are only mysteries because people don’t understand them. But to those who have made covenants through God’s priesthood power, the Holy Ghost reveals the truthfulness and reality of these things to our souls, and we are able to grasp them and comprehend them, and they enlarge our understanding of eternal things. To those to whom the Spirit has revealed these truths, they are no longer mysteries, but understandable. This is why those who come to understand the things of God rejoice in their knowledge and rejoice in their God, for He has enlarged their souls with understanding of eternal things.
Our second estate is the proving ground for those who want to go all the way. This is our opportunity to learn to live in a telestial world while living according to celestial laws and behavior. This is what our second estate provides those who want to become like Christ. But this opportunity is only available to those who seek after the covenants that allow the Spirit to teach us and train us in what it means to be like Christ. The whole Church of God exists to enable God’s children to learn to become Christlike. This is why we always have been, and always will be in the tiniest minority among the populations of the earth. Until Christ comes again to rule personally on the earth, those who choose to belong to his Church will have the possibility of experiencing the changes needed for each of us to become Christlike. This must be revealed to us, and this only happens through the Spirit, and because we have used God’s priesthood to make covenants.
Christ and covenants
All covenants point us to Christ and his work as our Redeemer. They require us to identify ourselves with Christ, represent Christ, and learn to emulate him in all things. In return he forgives our sins, making us clean and spotless before God, and more worthy of entering his presence once again. Because of the covenants we accept, we are held to a higher standard. More is expected of us in this life than anyone else is required to measure up to. The end result of honoring the covenants we struggle to keep is that we are ultimately cleansed from our sins and can return with our heads held high to greet our Father in Heaven someday. What makes this possible? The keeping of our covenants is what accesses the power of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, allowing him to forgive us of our sins and making us holy as he is holy. We begin to live like celestial people live, even while we are in a telestial world full of wickedness. This is what proves to our Savior and our Father that we are worthy and capable of being in their company for eternity in the celestial world.
It is the making and keeping of covenants that yokes us or ties us to Christ. A yoke is a farming implement that is placed across the shoulders of two animals that helps them share the work load of carrying heavy burdens or performing heavy work. It is the yoke that permits two animals of unequal strength and ability to share the load more equally. This is what Christ invites us to do. He invites us to yoke ourselves to him so he can make our burdens light. We yoke ourselves to him by doing all in our power to honor and keep the covenants we have made with our Father in Heaven.
It is important to remember that we cannot make up covenants on our own and be able to return to live with God. We must accept the covenants He has given us, for our return to Him must be on His terms alone. We cannot avoid repenting of our sins and still return to live with God. The whole point of our covenants is to help us become cleansed from our sins so we can be worth to enter again into His presence.
Christ’s atoning sacrifice is the key to our eternal happiness. Without his sacrifice, and the covenants he has given us, we have no hope of returning home. Yes, we can still have glory and a resurrected body, but no hope of eternal life with our family and loved ones, and no hope of eternal increase and exaltation. This is why Jesus offers to share our burdens and trials. He has already paid the price for our sins, and is willing to forgive our sins when we repent and change our lives to live more righteously. He is also willing to help us make the changes we need to make in our lives to become more like him and our Father, both of whom are already perfect, which is defined as whole, or complete.
Taking Christ’s yoke upon us means we enter into a partnership with our Redeemer, allowing him to show us where we need to change, and what we need to do to learn the lessons that will purify our souls. They are almost all painful and labor-intensive lessons, and they are made lighter by his help. This is why covenants are key.
We we serve others, remember that it is because of our covenants we do what we do. It is the offer of these covenants of Christ’s gospel that people can reach their full potential as children of God. We seek to do as Christ does, to lift, encourage, and invite all those around us to either come and make those sacred covenants, or to live by the covenants they have made. Our ultimate happiness is based on how we react to and treat the covenants we accepted when we embraced Christ’s Church through baptism.