In April of 1820 the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith "Behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion; seek not for riches but for wisdom and behold the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich." (D&C 6:6,7). A few months later the Lord further revealed, "And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (D&C 14:7)
Most Christian churches are of the opinion that eternal life means living in heaven with God forever, or, in other words, eternally. However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the riches of eternal life are to be found exclusively in the temples of the Lord. The reason for this is because to Latter-day Saints the definition of eternal life is receiving and possessing all that God has, which means being able to do all that God can do. Thus, to a Latter-day Saint, eternal life not only means living with God but living like God. We call this condition exaltation.
However, to receive such a reward a person must go to the authorized House of the Lord, commonly known as a temple, and there make certain covenants. In its simplest definition, a covenant is a two way agreement where we make certain promises to God who, in return, makes certain promises to us if we are faithful in keeping our promises to Him. We see this kind of contract with colleges. A student pays a certain amount of money to a college or university who, in return for that money, agrees to teach the student certain subjects. If the student is able to learn their required lessons as evidenced by a getting a passing grade then the college agrees to award the student a degree in a certain field of education. But, if the student either fails to pay the agreed upon tuition or fails to demonstrate they have learned their lessons then the college is not obligated to award the student a degree.
When Latter-day Saints go to the temples of the Lord, they make sacred covenants where they agree to do certain things for God. If we are faithful in keeping those promises then, in return, God promises to give us all that He has. While it is true that we can go to heaven and live with God without making these covenants in the temple, we cannot go to heaven and be like God without them because without a promise on our part there can be no promise on God's part.
If that is true, then it is important that we understand what those covenants are. There are five of them. The first is that we covenant to be obedient to God, that we will hearken unto His voice and keep His commandments. Jesus taught, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). He also taught, "If thou wilt enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). He also said, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). The idea of listening to what God says and being obedient to His word is a constant and recurring theme throughout all the scriptures. It was required with our first parents, Adam and Eve, and it is likewise required of every one of us today.
In many of the parables of Jesus He likens Himself to the master of the house and likens His followers to the master's servants. A servant is, by definition, someone who is required to do whatever their master tells them. In several of His parables Jesus likened Himself to the groom and those who follow Him as his brides. The scriptures tell us that the husband is the head of the wife and that she is to obey him. In the same way, Christ is the head of the church and that we are to obey Him. (1 Corinthians 11:3).
When a person is baptized, of their own free will they voluntarily take upon themselves the name of Christ and commit themselves to obey Him as a wife is to be obedient to her husband. In the sacramental prayer we reiterate this promise "that [we] are willing to take upon [us] the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given [us]." Thus, we make the covenant to be obedient to God at the time of our baptism because it is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The second covenant that is made in the temple is that we agree to sacrifice everything we have, including our life if necessary, to defend, protect, sustain, support, and help prosper the kingdom of God.
In the Old Testament times, the idea of sacrifice was well know. However, the idea of sacrifice is something that is also part of the Christian way of life, except we no longer sacrifice the blood of animals. Instead, as the apostle Paul put it, "ye [are to] present your bodies [as] a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). From the time of the earliest Christians, believers in Christ have willingly sacrificed their lives rather than renounce their faith. Even today there are those who put their lives at risk by defending, supporting, and seeking to promote the message of Christ.
In a difference sense, members of the LDS Church sacrifice their time in fulfilling their church callings, they sacrifice their money in the form of tithes and offerings, and they sacrifice their worldly values by voluntarily adopting a godlier lifestyle that includes such things as holding daily family prayers, daily scripture reading, being honest in all of our dealings with others, not drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol, and not smoking. To do all of these things, and many others, often require some sort of a sacrifice on our part. Thus, the idea of sacrifice to God has always been a part of what He expects of us and is what people agree to do before becoming baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The third covenant made in the temple is to keep all the laws of the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the scriptures.
To be a Christian means much more than simply saying we believe in Christ. It involves living a Christ-like life that encompasses every aspect of what we do. It involves avoiding all sorts of unholy and impure acts such as "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, hatred, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revelling (which would include loud, boisterous laughter) and such like." It also includes showing forth love, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, temperance and things such as these (Galatians 5:19-23). It also includes such things as not taking the name of God in vain (Exodus 20:7), keeping the Sabbath day holy (Exodus 20:8), and refraining from speaking evil of others (Ephesians 4:31, Titus 3:2, 1 Peter 2:1) especially those who have rule over us in the church because God has placed them there to watch over our souls (Hebrews 13:17).
These are the standards that all LDS people are taught to keep and all of these things are contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the scriptures. Therefore, the scriptures become our manual on how to live a Christ-like life. This is why the LDS Church asks all of its members, whether they are newly converted or have been a member all of their life, to not only read the scriptures every day but to study and ponder them with the objective of learning how to apply them in our own everyday life.
The fourth covenant made in the temple is that we will be chaste in our relationship with others which includes fidelity in marriage and sexual abstinence outside of marriage. The most common vice spoken of in the New Testament is fornication and adultery. Paul told the Corinthians, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind… shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9,10).
Before anyone - young or old, male or female - can become a member of the LDS Church they must not only promise to live a chaste life after they have been baptized but they must also be living this principle of chastity before they are allowed to be baptized. Obviously, then, a person must already be living the law of chastity before being allowed to go to the temple to make this covenant.
The fifth covenant made in the temple is that we agree to consecrate all that we currently have to God, as well as anything we may acquire in the future. The purpose of this consecration is to help build His kingdom here on earth and cause Zion to flourish.
To consecrate something means to "make or declare sacred… to dedicate to some service." (The American Heritage Dictionary). In the LDS Church, members are expected to pay tithing. This is money dedicated to God for the building of chapels, temples, and other church related buildings, to print and distribute scriptures, to finance missionary work, etc. Thus, that money is sacred, or, in other words, it is consecrated unto the Lord for doing His work. One of the things a person promises to do before being baptized is to pay a full and honest tithe. And only those who are full tithe payers are permitted to go to the temple to make this covenant.
Another thing that members of the LDS Church consecrate is their time to serve the Lord. Young men and women between the ages of 19 and 25 take two years out of their life and dedicate it to serving Jesus Christ as missionaries. Other people dedicate much of their time to serving in such callings as bishops and Stake Presidents. There are those who dedicate their talents to help build up the kingdom of God on the earth, even before going to the temple.
As we have seen, all of the covenants made in the temple are not only based on principles found in the scriptures but they are principles that we are expected to live even before going to the temple. In fact, a person is not permitted to attend the temple if they are not already keeping these principles of righteousness. But if that is the case, then why must a person make these same covenants in the temple in order to receive eternal life?
The simple answer is: Because they are being made for eternity. But to better understand this answer we must first understand the eternal nature of heaven.
The LDS Church teaches that before coming to earth we all lived in heaven with God, whom we called our Father. In that world we were taught by our Father the things He knows similar to how mortal parents teach their children what they know. But, with so many children, there had to be some system for managing them or else chaos would result. Therefore, it is obvious that we had to be gathered together in some sort of orderly way so that our learning was done in an organized manner.
The word "church" refers to a society of people who are brought together and organized in such a way as to teach them about the principles of godliness and lead them in their worship of God. If that is so, then we can rightly say there was a "church" in heaven before the earth was ever created whose purpose was for gathering the children of God together in an organized way to teach them the things of God.
The scriptures make reference to the "church of the Firstborn." The apostle Paul explains that since Jesus was the firstborn from the dead, He is the head of this church (Colossians 1:18). Paul also explained that in the resurrection the righteous shall be called up to "come unto mount Zion and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:22,23).
In our day the Lord has further revealed that those who belong to this church are they "who overcome by faith and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things. They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fullness and of his glory" (D&C 53:53-56).
While the church of God existed in heaven before the earth was created, and it also exists now upon the earth today, the scriptures tell us that the church of God, presided over by Jesus Christ, the firstborn, will also exist in heaven after the resurrection. Thus, we see that the church of God is eternal. It has always existed and will forever exist because it is the means by which God organizes His people in things pertaining to righteousness. However, only those who have been "given all things" from the Father and "who have received of his fullness and of his glory" will belong to this church. In other words, only those who receive eternal life by becoming exalted beings will be members of the church of the Firstborn.
The Lord has given us some information on what this organization will be like. He told Joseph Smith, "In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; and if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase" (D&C 131:1-4).
To become exalted and obtain all that the Father has, a man and woman must be sealed together as husband and wife for all eternity. But this is not all because children must also be sealed to their parents and parents to their children. Commenting on Malachi 4:5, Joseph Smith explained "that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or another between the fathers and the children… For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect." (D&C 128:18). He went on to explain that all the righteous must be brought together into "a whole and complete and perfect union and welding together… from the days of Adam even to the present time."
Thus, what the scriptures teach us is that those who will inherit eternal life will be organized as families, with each generation being sealed, linked, or welded together from the last all the way back to Adam thereby making one whole, complete, and perfect family union and at the head of this family is Jesus Christ. This, in part, is what the Church of the Firstborn will look like after the resurrection. The place where this sealing or welding together of families occurs is in the temples of the Lord but it is done only after each person has made anew in the temple each of the five covenants already discussed. But the full significance of this fact is often over looked by most people, as we shall soon discuss.
Because God rules over a kingdom, we call that the kingdom of God. However, this kingdom doesn't exist just in heaven. Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father which art in heaven… thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven." When John the Baptist went about preaching in the wilderness of Judea beyond Jordan, his message was "Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). As Jesus Himself went about preaching, His message was "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). When He sent his apostles out to preach He told them, "as ye go preach saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 10:7) and the last commandment He gave them before He made His final ascent into heaven was, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world" (Matthew 24:14).
The reason why they delivered this message is because wherever there are people who are willing to do the will of God, whether in heaven or on earth, that is where the kingdom of God is. And those who belong to the kingdom of God are gathered together in the Church of Jesus Christ, the Firstborn. Thus, the kingdom of God and the Church of Jesus Christ are one and the same, both on earth as well as in heaven.
With that understanding, we are now better able to appreciate why we make the covenants we do in the temple. Since baptism is an earthly ordinance, all covenants made at that time are meant to be kept while living here on earth. But, since everything done in the temple has to do with eternal life, meaning our life as exalted beings, the covenants made there are primarily meant to be kept while we are living in eternity. However, what we do on earth is not separate and distinct from what we will be doing in heaven. Instead, it is the preparation or foundation upon which our eternal life is built. Without this preparation, eternal life is not possible.
To illustrate this point, when someone builds a house, the first thing that needs to be done is to clear the land. After that, the foundation lines must be laid out and marked, then the foundation trench must be dug, and finally the foundation must be built. However, just because that task has been completed doesn't mean we have built a house. On the other hand, a house can be built without clearing the land and building a foundation but it will not be very secure or firmly grounded.
What we do in this life is similar to clearing the land and building the foundation. When we inherit eternal life we will build upon what we have done in this life. But, if we have not done the proper work here on earth then when we inherit eternal life, there will be nothing there for us to build upon. Thus, what we do on earth is directly linked to and is a part of our life in eternity. Therefore, with that understanding let's reexamine the five covenants we make in the temple.
First, since Jesus Christ is and forever will be the head of the Church of God throughout all eternity, we, as members of His eternal church, covenant in the temple to obey God, to hearken unto His counsel and direction and keep whatever commandments He gives us, not just in this life but even when we are living in eternity under His rule. Thus, it is an eternal covenant we are making, not just a temporal one.
Second, when we sacrifice our life and all of our possessions here on earth to defend, sustain, support, and promote the kingdom of God on earth, we are actually helping to increase the size of Christ's eternal church, not just on earth but in the eternities as well. The more people who accept Christ in this life and remain faithful to Him, especially because of the sacrifice we put forth in time, money, energy, and talents, helps to increase the church and kingdom of God in the eternities as well.
However, since everything done is the temple is eternal in nature, and since the Church of Jesus Christ, the Firstborn is eternal, when we make this covenant in the temple we are also pledging to sacrifice our life, time, energy, and talents to defend, sustain, support, and promote the church of Jesus Christ after we have become exalted. While the church at that time may indeed be perfect, there will still be much work that needs to be done. Therefore, when we make this covenant in the temple it signifies that after we have become exalted beings we pledge to continue sacrificing all that we have to advance that work.
Three, the freedom to choose how we want to behave doesn't end when we inherit eternal life, so in the temple we covenant that we will continue to obey the gospel principle throughout eternity. That means, we make a solemn promise that after the resurrection we will continue to avoid doing any and all unholy and impure acts and voluntarily continue to live a Christ-like life. While it is true that those who fail to keep that promise in this life will not inherit eternal life, when we make that commitment in the temple, our responsibility to keep that promise doesn't end upon death. It remains in force throughout all eternity.
Fourth, while the commandment to be chaste may seem to be only an earthly principle, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that exalted beings will have the same power to procreate as our Father in heaven. If that is not true, then it cannot be said that we will inherit all the power and glory that our Father in heaven has. Thus, when we make this covenant in the temple we are pledging our eternal fidelity to that spouse whom we have been sealed to.
Fifth, while in this life God has blessed us with much, at our baptism we promise to consecrate all that we have to help build up God's kingdom and establish the cause of Zion here on earth. However, since we have not yet been blessed with eternal life, in the temple we not only reaffirm our covenant to consecrate all that we now have here on earth in helping God's kingdom to grow but, when we finally receive all that God has, we also promise to consecrate all that we shall someday receive from Him in helping to establish the cause of Zion and build God's kingdom in heaven as exalted beings after the resurrection.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are two priesthoods - the Aaronic and Melchizedek. The Aaronic priesthood is known as the lesser priesthood and holds the power over temporal or earthly matters. The Melchizedek priesthood is known as the greater priesthood and holds power over spiritual matters. Since baptism is an earthly ordinance it can be performed by someone holding the Aaronic priesthood. However, the ordinances performed in the temple are spiritual in nature and therefore can only be performed by someone holding the Melchizedek priesthood.
The difference between the covenants we make at our baptism and the ones we make in the temple is that at baptism the covenants we make under the Aaronic priesthood are made for this time on earth only, while the covenants we make in the temple under the Melchizedek priesthood are meant to be kept for time and for all eternity.