What that clearly infers is that those who are not true and faithful to the covenants they make will not be chosen to receive eternal life. As such, they will receive a lesser reward. To understand why, we must realize that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not been established by God merely to get people into the celestial kingdom.
We believe that we are children of our Father in heaven but God doesn't live just in the celestial kingdom but in the highest realm of that kingdom. That's where we were born, lived, played, learned, and grew up among exalted beings. That's where we called "home." But since leaving that world there is only one way we can return home and that is to become exalted beings ourselves. Everyone else who goes to the celestial kingdom will live in a lower status as servants to those who are worthy of a much greater weight of glory and responsibility (D&C 132:16). What will make the difference of where we will go is how faithful we've been to the covenants we've made. Therefore it is important that we understand what those covenants are.
The very first covenant we make with God is at the time of our baptism, and whenever we partake of the emblems of Christ's flesh we renew that covenant. In the sacrament prayer we pledge to "willingly… keep his commandments which he hath given them." This covenant is known as the law of obedience which is that we willingly pledge to live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God and that we will hearken unto the counsel of the Lord.
Yet, despite the sincerity of that pledge, none of us keep it as fully as we should, and one of the reasons why is because we have trouble keeping another covenant known as the law of sacrifice. From the Book of Moses we learn that, after driving Adam and Eve out of the garden, God gave them the law of sacrifice which was performed through the shedding of blood (Moses 5:5,6). At first, Adam didn't understand why he had to perform this ordinance but he obeyed the commandment nonetheless, and this practice continued down to the time of Moses, where God renewed it and set it in stone. From the time of Moses down to the death of Jesus Christ, the law of sacrifice required the shedding of blood in similitude of Christ's blood which He would shed for our sins. But after Christ made that infinite atonement, the manner in which this law is to be observed has changed. Now we are required to sacrifice all that we possess and that's where the difficulty comes.
Perhaps we can illustrate this with an example. Those who hold the Melchizedek priesthood have a duty (obligation, requirement, responsibility) "to visit the home of each member" (D&C 20:51). We refer to this as home teaching. But to fulfill that duty requires us to sacrifice our time, energy, and money for gas. Those who have difficulty making this kind of a sacrifice are going to have difficulty obeying this particular commandment. And this same principle applies to keeping all the other commandments such as tithing, the word of wisdom, performing our callings, becoming temple worthy, going to the temple regularly, etc. What prevents us from living the law of obedience as we should is that we are unwilling to sacrifice some of the things we possess - be it money, time, material possessions, talents, desires, habits, fears, prejudices, fame, praise, or anything else - because we value them more than we value the things of God.
But it isn't enough for us just to keep the covenants we've made. We have to be true and faithful to them, but what does that mean? Does it mean just putting forth some sort of effort to show we tried to comply without fully complying? Does it mean doing only what is required of us and nothing more? Or does it mean doing more than what is expected?
Although there are many scriptures that could be cited to answer this question, all we have to do is put ourselves in God's position and the answer becomes obvious. If we hired someone to build a house for us at an agreed upon price, and when it was completed and the contractor came to us saying, "I have been in your employ and now I want you to pay me for my work as we agreed," yet when we look over his work we discover that the floors are not level, the paint job was streaked, and the windows and doors don't close properly, would we give him the full agreed upon price? What if he gave as a reason for his shoddy work that nobody's perfect, would we accept that as a valid excuse?
What if we took our car to a mechanic to have it fixed and they did just what they had to in order to barely repair the problem and nothing more, would we recommend them to our friends? Probably not. Now image if we took our car to a mechanic and, after fixing the problem, he made us aware that our tires were wearing on the inside and suggested that we might think about getting our front-end aligned, and then told us he discovered one of our sparkplug wires was frayed and replaced it free of charge. Would we feel good about taking our car to this person again to service it? In all likelihood, the answer would be yes.
If we want to inherit all that God has, then what kind of a craftsman is God? Does He do just barely enough to get by? Does He do only what is required and nothing more? Or does God do everything with excellence, exactness, and does more than is necessary, and to spare? (see D&C 104:17).
Suppose we asked someone to build us a beautiful piece of furniture like a grandfather clock. A carpenter has a lot of different tools he uses but one of them is something called a square. It is a piece of equipment that forms a perfect 90 degree angle. If pieces of lumber are not cut exactly to a precise measurement then the different pieces won't fit together properly. And the same principle applies to keeping the commandments of God. If we don't keep them precisely as given then they have not been properly kept. Our commission from the Lord is to build up His kingdom here on earth but if we are sloppy or slothful in our labors then we will not be capable of handling the more exacting standards that are required of those who inherit eternal life, therefore we cannot expect to receive the full reward he's promised us.
In a court of law, before a witness takes the stand, they place their hand on the Bible and raise their right hand to the square, meaning that the arm is held out from the body at shoulder level, thereby making a 90 degree angle to the body, and with the forearm forming another 90 degree angle upward from the arm. The normal way people do this is with the palm of their hand facing outward, their fingers held together and their thumb extended, thus making yet another 90 degree angle from the hand. When done this way, the act of raising one's hand to the square makes a triple 90 degree angle, symbolically signifying to the mind that the person is going to be exact and precise in the testimony they are about to give. In other words, they are not just going to tell the truth but will tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Of course, this is the proper way to raise one's hand but very often people don't do it so precisely. Instead they are sloppy in the way they raise their hand which also suggests to the mind that they may be sloppy in the oath they are swearing. But God is not sloppy in anything He does. Since we have made a covenant to keep the law of obedience, God expects us to keep it with exactness and with honor. The word honor as used here not only means to do something with excellence so that we can take pride in what we've accomplished, but it also means doing something out of great respect and esteem for the person we are performing the work for. This is what the scriptures means when it says "doing all things with an eye single to God (D&C 82:19). That is why when we build temples, we build them to rigorous standards of exactness because when we dedicate those building we honor God by giving Him our very best efforts.
The way we serve God says a lot about the kind of respect and admiration we have for Him. If we are not willing to serve Him with exactness and honor, then we are not prepared to live in a realm where exactness and honor in all things is not just expected but is required. Therefore, if we desire to someday be called up and chosen to become kings and priests unto the Most High God and to rule and reign with Christ (see Revelation 3:21; 5:10) then we should be striving to develop the habit of living the law of obedience with exactness and honor.
But that is not the only reason why we struggle to keep this covenant. As Christians we believe that Christ is God and the gospel of John tells us that He made the earth and all things on it under the direction of His Father, thereby making Him the God of this world. However, Satan also fancies himself to be the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). In all religions, men serve whatever god or gods they imagine exist, and a god is a being that people are to worship and obey. Since Satan imagines himself to be the god of this world, his goal is to get all men to worship and obey him. As such, there is a power struggle going on between Jesus and Satan for the souls of men, with Christ seeking to bring people to His way of thinking and behaving while Satan, from the very beginning, has sought to lead Adam and his posterity astray from all things associated with God.
The devil is often pictured as a hideous beast with a sneering, snarling face, dragging people against their will to hell in chains, but often times he is quite a different person from the way is portrayed. Sometimes he comes to us behaving as though he is our friend who only wants to help us to enjoy life. After all, "men are that they might have joy" (2 Nephi, 2:25). When we object to his suggestions because they may not sound quite right or ethical he answers, "I have said nothing about you sinning. I'm just trying to open your eyes so you can see other possibilities." However, in saying this, his goal is to make us believe that there is no other way for us to have what we want than the way he has suggested.
All of us who have accepted Christ and been baptized have every intention of obeying all of our Father in heaven's commandments. None of us deliberately want to disobey God, so the way Satan gets us to follow him is to blind and confused us by mingling his philosophies with scripture. He did this with Jesus while He fasted in the wilderness, quoting scripture in an effort to tempt the Savior to sin. As members of the LDS Church we often think that it is the other Christian faiths who mingle scripture with the philosophies of people like Luther, Swingli, Calvin, Wycliff, Wesley, Knox, and others. In this way they teach for doctrine the commandments of men, making them appear to have a form of godliness, but this also happens even within our own faith.
Even though we have four sets of scriptures instead of one, and over a hundred and fifty years worth of words from living prophets, there are still members of the LDS church who quote numerous scriptural statements from both ancient and modern prophets to back up their own personal philosophies on just about any subject from religious doctrine, to political viewpoints, to eating habits, to marital behavior, or to anything else. And it is in this way, if we are not careful, we can become vulnerable to being stirred up to contend with one another, thereby violating the second greatest commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
To aid us in our quest to gain eternal life and counter the effects of Satan, God has given us two divine gifts. The first is the gift of agency - the freedom to choose. We are free to choose for ourselves what we will be. God will not force any man to heaven and Satan doesn't have the power to force us to hell. God will persuade and direct us to choose the right while Satan will likewise persuade and direct us to do that which is evil, but we alone have the power to choose for ourselves the path we want to follow. That's why agency is such a sacred principle.
Although members of the LDS Church talk a lot about the sacredness of man's agency to choose, the scriptures are crystal clear about what this means. Father Lehi explained, "Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Nephi2:27). "And now remember, remember, my brethren… for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves… He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you" (Helaman 14:30,31).
There are two great beings who are vying for our affection - Jesus and Satan - and we have been given the freedom to choose which one we want to follow. If we choose to follow Jesus He will lead us to eternal life, but if we choose to follow Satan he will lead us to eternal death. That is the choice we have been given and we have been allowed the freedom to decide for ourselves which path we want to follow. It is that choice which is so sacred that God will not take it away from us.
As stated earlier, both Jesus and Satan claim to be the god of this world. The only choice that has been placed before us that really matters is, which of these two gods will we choose to obey? Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15). To the degree that we are not following them as precisely as we should then, by default, we are worshiping Satan. If we are not striving to keep the commandments of God with exactness and honor, Satan is perfectly content with that choice because it allows him the opportunity to get us to deviate from the path that leads to eternal live. Even if we are off just a little, we may end up somewhere different than where we wanted to go.
Then how do we make the right choice of which path to follow? God has given us a second divine gift to aid us. For lack of a better term we can call it a compass. As every Boy Scout knows, a compass is a tool used to help someone find their way to where they want to go. When Lehi and his family were instructed to leave Jerusalem for good, they found a ball of curious workmanship that had two spindles. For all practical purposes, this was a compass because it pointed the direction in which they should travel. However, today most people are not familiar with a compass. Instead, we rely on a GPS unit to help us get to our destination.
A GPS unit shows the road that a person should take to get to a specific location but neither a compass nor a GPS can force us to go where we want to go. We can ignore their directions and choose to follow our own path. But, if we were to do that then these guiding tools would not be of much use to us.
God has given us a compass with three pointers - the scriptures, modern-day prophets, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. When we combine these three together they point the way to an undeviating path that leads to eternal life, but we can choose to ignore these directions, which is exactly what Satan encourages us to do. Satan wants us to believe that God's ways are too strict so it's okay not to follow them precisely, that God's commandments are too hard for us to follow and that He'll understand if we don't keep them as well as we should, or that it's impossible to be perfect in this life so God doesn't expect us to try to be perfect, or that we'll never make it to heaven any way so why even try, or following the commandments will interfere with the things we want in life.
He'll tells us to "eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God-he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God" (2 Nephi 28:8) He'll tell us these or a thousand other different lies to get us not to keep the commandments of God with exactness.
There was a book written by J.R.R. Tolkien called "The Hobbit." It's a story about Bilbo Baggins, along with his band of dwarfs and Gandalf, the wizard, who journey to the Lonely Mountain to take back their kingdom and their treasure which was stolen from them by Smaug, the dragon. In their journey they come to the black forest of Mirkwood. This is a very dangerous place where evil creatures with great powers roam and where there is very little sunlight because of the thick tree covering. It is at this point that Gandalf announces he must now leave them. Distressed by this news, the rest of the travelers complain but Gandalf consoles them by showing them the entrance into the forest. He explains that if they will stay on this path until they get to the other end of the forest they will be safe. However, he also warns them that if they leave the path for any reason they will be at the mercy of any of the creatures who live there. Worse yet, once they leave the path they will never be able to find their way back to it and the protection it provides.
Like a compass, God's commandments are meant to guide us along a path through this ever increasingly dark and dreary world that will keep us safe from Satan's evil designs, where he waits in the shadows with his camouflaged traps, anxiously hoping to ensnare us. If we are not careful, we may find ourselves in a situation from which we may not make it back to the path of salvation or, if we do, it will require great effort as Satan continually tells us it's useless to even try. When we choose not to live up to every covenant we make with God, with exactness and honor, we can find ourselves in Satan's power.
For this reason, keeping the commandments of God acts as a shield and a protection against the fiery darts of the devil and the more exact we keep the commandments the better protection they provide us. In olden days people going to battle would choose the strongest shield, the hardest helmet, the most durable breastplate and sharpest sword possible rather than a shield that would crack after just a few blows or a sword with a dull edge.
When American soldiers fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the temperature can get up to 110 degrees in the shade, they were still required to wear their full body armor at all times. Because of the high heat, it was natural for a soldier on patrol to sit down in the shade and take off his helmet to get some fresh air to his head, but they were trained never to do this because when they laid their armor aside they were leaving themselves exposed to being killed with a shot to the head by an enemy sniper.
This is why we sing: "We are marching on to glory. We are working for our crown. We will make our armor brighter and never lay it down. Then day by day we are marching. To heaven we are bound. Each good act brings us closer to that home where we'll be crowned. We are marching, marching onward to that bright land afar. We work for life eternal. It is our guiding star" (hymn 225).
But weapons of war, like a compass or a GPS unit, doesn't do us much good unless we know how to use them properly. And the same is true of the commandments. We have to understand them well enough that we don't become deceived into following Satan. This is why Jesus said, "Take my yolk upon you and learn of me … and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:29, emphasis added). In the days of the Nephites we're told, "And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people; [because] they searched the scriptures, and hearkened no more to the words of this wicked man" (Jacob 7:23). "And if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by grace ye may be.... sanctified" (Moroni 10:32,33, emphasis added).
In our day Jesus explained, "For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken and the magnifying their calling (i.e., being true and faithful to the oath and covenants we've made) are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing for their bodies (i.e., being called up in the first resurrection)… [and] receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my father hath shall be given unto him (which is the definition of eternal life)… [Therefore] give diligent heed to the words of eternal life. For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God" (D&C 84:33,38, 43,44). "For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fullness and be glorified in me as I am in the Father… he that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things." (D&C 93:20).
This is one of the reasons why we have been instructed to go to the temple frequently because it is there that we can truly receive the words of eternal life. In this world Satan creates a mist of darkness in an effort to blind us from the path that we should follow, but in the temple that mist is dispelled and we can clearly see the path we need to follow to return home. More than that, in the temple we are strengthened and fortified in our fight against Satan so that we are better able to resist his influence.
The more faithful we are keeping the commandments of God with exactness and honor, not only will we enjoy greater safety from the whirlwinds of evil, deceit, and the false philosophies of men that are raging all around us but, more importantly, when the day comes for those worthy to be called up and chosen to be sanctified, glorified and receive of the fullness of the Father, we will be among them because we were true and faithful in keeping the law of obedience.