One of the unique features of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the building of special, sacred edifices known as temples. Within these structures worthy members of the LDS Church make specific covenants with God and receive promised blessing from heaven for not only themselves but for those who have passed away. Further the LDS Church teaches that the making of these covenants are essential to inheriting all that the Father has and to enjoy living with him forever as glorified exalted beings.
Because these covenants (often referred to as ordinances) are required of everyone who desire to receive the highest glory God has to bestow upon his children, LDS members go to the temple often to participate in performing the ordinances of salvation for their departed loved ones so that they also have the opportunity to accept and take upon themselves these same saving ordinances vicariously done for them through the living. This is often referred to as "doing work for the dead."
However, the temple is much more than just a place where we go to provide the means of salvation for our departed relatives. After it is built, each temple is sanctified and dedicated to the Lord, and when that happens it literally becomes his house. That's why, on the entrance of each temple, is inscribed the words "Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord."
Just like the temple in ancient Israel, each LDS temple is considered to a place so holy that God is not only capable of dwelling within its hallowed walls but where God's Spirit resides in great abundance. Therefore, when people enter inside an LDS temple they experience a special atmosphere where God's presence can be strongly felt. Because of this, going inside an LDS temple is the closest thing to entering heaven that can be experienced on earth.
Imagine being allowed to be transported into heaven, even for just a couple of hours and being in the presence of God? How would you feel? How would you behave? And what would you do there? When entering an LDS temple these are the same question we should ask ourselves.
In all likelihood, if we were allowed to be in God's presence we would feel a sense of awe and great reverence. Imagine how unbecoming it would be to walk up to God and greet him with a casual, almost careless attitude. That would probably be a sign of disrespect. Therefore, when entering the temple, and during our time there, it is expected that we would exhibit the same attitude of respect, adoration, and worship we would exhibit if we were in his actual presence.
But, human nature, being what it is, we often find ourselves inadvertently following the old maxim, "Familiarity breeds contempt." We can go to the temple so frequently, and become so familiar with its charged atmosphere of spirituality, that we take being in there for granted. And when that happens, we tend to get lax in our own attitude and treat being in the temple as just an ordinary, common-place, everyday experience.
Doing the work for our departed relatives is a very important service we perform in the temple but it is so easy to get caught up in this effort that we rush into the temple, excited to check off yet one more name on our genealogy list that has had their work done for them that we don't take the time to reflect on the fact that we are performing a sacred and holy work and should behave accordingly.
Because the temple is literally heaven on earth, we are closer to the Spirit of God there than anywhere else we could possibly go. For this reason, people who have problems, concerns, or troubles go to the temple to commune with the Lord. Within its hallowed walls we can offer up the pleadings of our soul to God, seeking comfort, solace, guidance, and answers to some of our most deeply troubling questions. Through our worthiness, and because of our faith in Christ, our prayers are more likely to be answered there than anywhere else. Hence, temples are house of prayer and a house of faith.
The scriptures tell us that salvation is offered to everyone but there are requirements to receiving it. The first is to have faith in Jesus Christ but once we have done that, we next need to truly repent of our sins. If we have taken that step then the next requirement is to be baptized for the remission of our sins, and then we need to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Those who are not willing to abide by each of these four things, no matter how good a life they may lead, cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
But once these things have been accomplished, the real work of salvation begins, which includes enduring to the end in keeping God's commandments. It's been said that God will not save us in our sins. Instead, he saves us from our sins, which implies that we need to strive to live a sinless life and repent each time we fail to do so.
But in order for us to keep the commandments there are two things we must do. The first is to learn what those commandments are, and second is to learn how to live our lives in accordance with God's laws. However, neither one of these is an especially easy thing to do therefore doing both of them requires a life-long effort. Fortunately, this is where going to the temple can help.
The temple is a place of instruction where we not only learn what we need to do to live with God forever but where we learn of the glories that await us and the blessing that are promised to those who keep their covenants. As such, the temple is not only a house of learning but is a place where we can be motivated, uplifted, and strengthened in their efforts to remain faithful to God.
In a world where everything around us seems designed to lead us away from God, it is so easy to lose focus of our goal to be with God and become distracted and tempted to follow a path that will lead us away from, rather than closer to God. By going to the temple frequently, we are continually reminded of who we are, why we are here, and where we want to go. In addition to this, in the temple God blesses us with divine power to have greater strength to withstand the temptations of life and also provides us with greater divine protection.
If we were allowed to be in heaven for just a couple of hours, would we not desire to have God answer our prayers, comfort our souls, teach us his ways, and bestow upon us his personal blessings? But what if we approached God with a sinful heart? What if, instead of seeking God, we became amazed at the beauty of heaven and spent our time there wandering around, gazing upon all the marvelous things that are there to be seen? What if we entered heaven and behaved as though we were on a class trip, joking around with our fellow classmates and not paying much attention to what was going on around us? In cases such as this, our time in heaven would not be the full, uplifting, rewarding spiritual experience that it could be or should have been.
This also applies to our time in the temple. Going to the temple, in and of itself, does not guarantee that we will receive any of the blessings offered there, nor will it be instrumental in helping us draw closer to God or becoming more like him. Just like there are requirements to being saved, so also there are requirements that need to be met before we can access the blessings of the temple.
The Lord instructed Moses, "Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). If we want to stand before a holy God, then we must come before him in holiness. In speaking of the temple King David told him people, "Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" (1Chronicles 16:29). In our day the Lord has said, "Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will" (D&C 88:68).
At the entrance to each temple are inscribed the words, "Holiness to the Lord." The Lord is already holy and doesn't need us to tell him that. It is we who need to come before him in an attitude of holiness. Moses sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might see the face of God as he had, but the people refused to sanctify themselves (D&C 84:23). As a result, God took away the blessings he had intended to give them.
Going to the temple isn't like going to visit a museum or do work for the poor in a church kitchen. It is not a social event. When we go to the temple our attitude should be the same as if we were going into the presence of a king or very important person who has graciously allowed us an audience before him.
Imagine spending money to take a college course but once in the classroom we don't listen to what the teacher is saying because we're too busy thinking about something else. Being in the temple is no different than sitting at the feet of a learned professor and being taught great and marvelous truths. But if we don't go prepared to learn, or we allow ourselves to become distracted by worldly thoughts, or become focused on doing our own thing, or behaving in the temple as though we were at a social gathering, then we are missing out on all the glorious blessing that God has prepared to give us in his house.
The temple is a place where we are able to draw closer to God and learn more of him and how to become more like him. But in order for that to happen we have to come prepared with eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart that is humble and obedient, and a mind that is open and receptive to the whisperings of the Spirit. If we want a holy God to help us to become holy as he is then we have to demonstrate our willingness to at least want to be holy, and we demonstrate that by the attitude we bring with us into the temple.
The nation of Israel lost the blessings of God that could have been theirs because they would not sanctify themselves before him. The sad part is that they never realized what blessings could have been theirs. They still had Moses to tell them what God wanted them to know. They still had God's law. They still had God's priesthood among them, so they thought they had gained a lot. But because of their unwillingness to prepare themselves to approach God, there were many more blessings that God was prepared to give them that they never received.
There are people who go to the temple who talk about what a wonderful experience they had and how peaceful it was, and the great Spirit they felt while in the temple, and they walk away thinking how blessed they were for going to the temple. But they walk away with far fewer blessings than God was prepared to give them simply because they did not properly sanctify themselves beforehand nor did they come with an attitude of holiness to the Lord.
The Lord has counseled us to "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 6:7). Most people have had the experience of having read a verse of scripture many, many times only to one day have that same scripture take on a new or more significant meaning to them. This is a common occurrence and when it happens we talk about how God has opened our eyes.
God has the tendency of hiding his mysteries in plain sight. We see this most vividly in the story of the two disciples who were traveling along the road to Emmaus after the death of Christ. As they were walking, another man came along and started talking with them and soon began teaching them from the scriptures about how it was prophesied that Christ would die and be resurrected. All along their journey the three men talked but it wasn't until later that evening that the two disciples had their eyes opened and suddenly recognized the very person they were disciples of.
It is the same way with the scriptures, and it is even more so in the temple. In the temple the Lord speaks to us through the use of symbols and to those who come unprepared to be taught, they see only perplexing ceremonies and come away with only the simplest literal meaning from them.
However, there are great and marvelous truths upon truths upon truths that are often right in plain sight but are unseen until the Spirit uncovers our eyes. And when that happens we are left to exclaim, "How did I ever not see that before?" And each time we go to the temple, having first sanctified ourselves, and coming prepared both mentally and spiritually to be in the presence of a holy God, we come prepare for the Spirit to open our eyes to see more and more of his mysteries.
The Lord has said "I give unto you… a commandment that you assemble yourselves together, and organize yourselves, and prepare yourselves, and sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts… that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;" (D&C 88:74, 78). If we will do as the Lord has instructed in preparing ourselves he has promised that we will see him because he will unveil his face unto us in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. As we attend the temple with our mind single to his glory, coming with holiness before him, we will see the fulfillment of that promise more and more frequently.
As Latter-day Saints we talk about doing our temple work but there is so much more than just performing the saving ordinances for the dead. Whereas that is indeed an important part of what temples are for, going to the House of the Lord encompasses so much more than that. First and foremost the temple is a place where we go to be with and commune with our Father in heaven and be shown how to return to him. Perhaps we might have a better understanding of its importance if we said we are going there to do our temple worship.