In the Book of Mormon, Lehi explained that if Adam had not eaten of this fruit, "he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin" (2 Nephi 2:22,23).
By partaking of this fruit which God had commanded them not to eat, Adam and Eve began to gain a knowledge of what both good and evil were, which is something God already knows and understands. Thus, by gaining this knowledge, they became more like God. Without this knowledge they would have remained in their innocent state for all eternity, unable to understand what was good because they would have had no sense of what evil was.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that one of the purposes of this earth life is to gain knowledge. The dictionary defines knowledge as "familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study." A synonym for the word knowledge is "learning." In other words, we were sent to earth to "learn." Certainly we will learn to distinguish between "good" and "evil," but we will also learn about pain, sorrow, darkness, repentance, faith, hope, perseverance, mercy, and many other things which God likewise knows and understands. The scriptures tell us "for the LORD is a God of knowledge" (1 Samuel 2:3). As we learn what God already knows, we become more like what He already is. Therefore, our life on earth is meant to teach us those things which will help us become like our Father in heaven.
It has often been said that "knowledge is power," however, that is only partially correct. Knowledge, in and of itself is meaningless, and therefore useless. It is when we apply that knowledge in our life that it then has any real power. For example, I may study books on how to build a house, and talk with building experts and closely observe the construction of many buildings, but until I actually try to put that knowledge to use it does nothing for me. No matter how much I study, learn, and understand, I will never be able to build a house until I put that knowledge into action. Therefore, we can more correctly say that "applied knowledge is power."
But we also need to define what we mean by the word "power." Often times it is understood as "to exercise control or have authority over someone or something." However, that is a limited definition. In a broader sense it means "the ability or capacity to act or perform effectively" (American Heritage dictionary). In other words, applied knowledge may give us the ability to have control or authority over others, but applied knowledge always gives us the ability to perform certain things more effectively than we otherwise could. Thus, it is most accurate to say that "applied knowledge gives us the power to accomplish things."
For example, I may gain knowledge about how to play the piano, but it is only when I use that knowledge that it gives me any power. However, no matter how great I may be able to play the piano, it gives me no control or authority over anyone. It's true that if I become extremely talented, I may have greater control in determining what people are willing to pay me for my services, or I may be put in a position of authority over some people of lesser ability, but generally speaking, it is more correct to say that the more I apply my knowledge of piano playing, the more power - or ability - it gives me to use the piano. And the better I become at it, the more "power" I have to entertain others, to make money from it, or to use it for my own enjoyment.
Since God has all power, by definition, that means He has all knowledge, which give Him the ability to do all things. Therefore, the more knowledge we gain, the greater ability (i.e., power) we have to do more things, which may include but is not limited to, having authority or control over others.
If gaining knowledge is one of the primary reasons why we are here on earth, then how do we acquire power through knowledge? The answer can be summed up in one word - experience. We learn to build a house, or play the piano, or understand math or anything else through experience. And the more experiences we have, the greater our knowledge becomes. This is exactly what is meant when someone is referred to as "being experienced." It is someone who has had a sufficient number of experiences with something that they have become extremely familiar or have gained a firm understanding of that particular subject.
When Joseph Smith was languishing for months in deplorable conditions at Liberty jail after having been threatened with death, torn from his family and put through a mock trial of his enemies, he cried out unto the Lord to know why this was happening to him. The Lord answered him by saying, "know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (D&C 122:7, emphasis added). Despite his miserable life in prison, Joseph Smith nevertheless became more familiar with, more aware of, and understood better the difference between good and evil through what he was forced to endure. As a result of this increased knowledge, he was able to have greater power to teach and lead the saints in becoming more righteous.
Even if we live like a hermit, having no contact with other people, we still cannot help but grow in certain kinds of knowledge, because it is impossible for us to go through life without experiencing it. And it is in the experiences of life that we gain knowledge and learn. This is true for everyone; not just Mormons. The nomads of the African desert, the primitive farmers of the Sudan, the aborigines of Australia, the remote Indian tribe people who live deep within the rain forests of South America, are all gaining knowledge which could not be obtained in the spirit world from where we came. As such, we can say that earth is like a classroom where the very environment itself helps us to grow through applied knowledge. Because of this, everyone who lives here on earth, regardless of who they are or what they do, or where they live, gains an increase of knowledge just by virture of being alive in mortality.
However, having said this, it is obvious that the more varied our experiences, the greater number of things we can learn about and the more opportunities we have to apply the knowledge we've gained. And as we use the knowledge we have, the more it increases. Therefore, if we want to gain greater power, then we need to gain a greater variety of knowledge by the experiences we have.
Some people argue that since we have been sent here to gain knowledge about both "good and evil" that it is necessary to engage in evil to better understand and become more familiar with it. While this is very true, it is still also true that "applied knowledge is power." In this case, such knowledge gives us the power, or ability to do evil. So, the question we need to ask is, what kind of knowledge should be gaining?
To answer that question, we need to ask ourselves what kind of power do we want to have. Do we want to know about good and evil the way God does, and thereby become more like Him, or do we want to know about good and evil as Satan does and become more like he is? The Lord revealed that "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:18,19). That works both ways. If, through our diligence and obedience to the laws of wickedness, we gain greater power to do that which is ungodly, that knowledge will rise with us in the resurrection, and we will have so much the advantage in the world to come among the wicked.
Concerning the resurrection, Alma, the younger explained to his son Corianton, "And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order... The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh" (Alma 41:3,4,5).
God certainly didn't place us in this mortal learning environment to gain a greater ability to do evil. Therefore, since we will all be rewarded according to our works, what is most advantageous for us is to learn, through experiences (i.e. gain knowledge ), how to do good and to resist doing evil.
The purpose for our existence here in mortality is to develop spiritual power so that we progress to become perfect and holy, even as our Father in heaven is perfect and holy (Genesis 17:1, Leviticus 11:44, Matthew 5:28, Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 13:11, James 1:4). The very purpose of having a church organization is to help us do just that as we strive to measure up to the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Since this earth is a school to help us gain knowledge about good and evil, it is only logical that God would give us a learning environment that would help us gain a greater degree of power to do that which is right and good. And that is exactly what we find in Christ's true church.
As Latter-day Saints, we talk a lot about the word "covenants." In fact, a lot of what we do as Saints is connected with covenants we have made. When we are baptized we covenant to keep all of God's commandments. When we partake of the sacrament, we remember and renew the covenant we made at our baptism. There is the oath and covenant of the priesthood, and there are the covenants we make with God in the temple. Yet, very few other churches use the word covenants, and when they do it doesn't have the same meaning as it does to us.
To a Latter-day Saint, a covenant is our promise to God to do certain things. In general, it means that we give our word to obey whatever commandment God may give us. And usually when we talk about a covenant, we refer to it as being a two-way agreement. That is, we promise to do something for God, and, in return, God promises to do something for us. However, a covenant is actually a training tool to help us become more like God, by giving us the opportunity to gain a greater knowledge and power to do that which is righteous and good.
As stated earlier, knowledge, in and of itself, is useless. It is only when we apply that knowledge in our life does it then give us the power or ability to perform things which we couldn't otherwise do. When we use knowledge, that very act becomes an experience for us. Thus, the more we apply knowledge, the more experiences we have. But the opposite is also true. The more experiences we have, the more opportunity there is to apply the knowledge which we've received.
When we attend Sacrament Meeting, read the scriptures, listen to General Conference, attend Sunday School, Relief Society or priesthood classes, we are receiving knowledge. But that knowledge is useless without putting it into practice. Therefore, in the LDS church, we are given opportunities to apply that knowledge through the callings we receive. In effect, we are being placed in a position that creates experiences for us, rather than us trying to find ways to create our own experiences. In order to faithfully fulfill the callings we've accepted, we must use the knowledge we have gained from our meetings and scripture study. And as we apply that knowledge through these calling experiences, we grain greater knowledge and power.
But a covenant does even more to help us grow in knowledge. The act of making a promise to God to keep any and all commandments He gives us, and having that promise reinforced each week through the sacrament, motivates us to actively apply that knowledge in areas other than our callings.
Take for example, tithing, or the Word of Wisdom. Both of these commandments are difficult for some members to live by. Then why do they keep them? Initially because they gave their word to God, in the form of a covenant, that they would. Therefore, the act of making a covenant, of their own free will, obligates them to have certain righteous experiences. In order to pay their tithing or keep the Word of Wisdom they must apply the knowledge of faith, which, initially, they may have little of. But as they have more and more experiences in keeping these commandments, the more their faith grows and the greater power they develop to do what is right and avoid that which is wrong.
During these experiences they will encounter temptations to give up, and they may even give into those impulses. But either way, they are still gaining a knowledge of good and evil. And as they continue to honor the covenants they've made, they gradually begin to develop the power to consistently choose that which is good, and, at the same time gain the power to resist doing that which is not good. When that happens to us, we become a little bit more god-like in our abilities to know good and evil.
And the more we become like God, because of His justice, in the resurrection we will have restored to us that which we have desired. And covenants are a way to increase our desire to do that which is right and good. If all men will be judged and rewarded according to their works at the last day, then covenants help motivate us to perform good works. Therefore, if we keep our covenants, it is easy and natural for God to promise us a glorious reward at the last day because all He has to do is restore the good desires of our hearts which we made and kept in our covenants with Him.
The concept of making and keeping covenants with God is almost exclusively a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet, it is a brilliant teaching tool to help us grow in the proper knowledge and power of godliness when properly used. As such, by the use of covenants, God has given us the means by which we can become more like Him. And that's the whole purpose of why were sent to earth in the first place.