The scriptures talk a lot about signs, and it also talks about tokens. And although the scriptures tend to use these two words interchangeably, there is a significant difference between the two.
A sign is an object or a gesture we make that represents an idea, thought, belief, or concept. For example, a wedding band worn on a finger is a sign to others that the person wearing it is married. A driver's license is a sign that signifies that the holder has the right and permission from the state to drive a car. In the same way, a temple recommend is a sign to temple workers that the holder of the recommend is worthy to enter into the House of the Lord.
When we stand and place our hand over our heart as we take the pledge of allegiance to our country's flag, that gesture is a sign of our patriotism. When a man holds the door open for a women, that's a sign of chivalry. When a soldier salutes an officer, that's a sign of respect for their authority. When men come to church dressed in a suit and tie or a woman comes wearing a dress, that is also a sign of respect for God, just as kneeling in personal prayer is a sign of humility before God. When we dress modestly, that is a sign that we respect the sanctity of our body.
As we can see, we use a multitude of different signs to express different ideas, concepts, beliefs, and thoughts.
A token, on the other hand, is a small part of a whole. It is usually something given as a guarantee. For example, when a man gives a woman an engagement ring, it is a token, or a small expression, of the great love he has for her and represents an assurance that he intends to love, honor, cherish, and be with her through sickness and health, during good times and bad times, for as long as they two shall live.
When someone wants to take out a mortgage on a home, the bank usually asks for a down payment which can be anywhere from 10% to 20% of the loan. That down payment is a token or a small portion of the entire amount of money someone is borrowing from the lending institution, and it also signifies that the borrower guarantees to repay the loan in full. When a person has been charged with a crime and bond is set, the accused only has to put up one-tenth of the entire bond. For example, if bond is set at $500, the accused only has to pay the bail bondsman $50. The actual amount of the bond they pay is just a small part, or a token amount, of the whole sum. After Adam and Eve had been driven out of the garden, they offered up sacrifices unto God. "And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me" (Moses 5:6). The outward performance of offering a sacrifice was a sign made by Adam, signifying that he was willing to do what God had commanded him. But it was the reason why Adam did it that was the token of his obedience. The difference between a sign and a token is that we can perform an outward sign without being willing to give up a portion of ourselves. The sign is external but a token is internal. The sign may or may not be given by conscious effort but a token is given deliberately and willingly from the heart. As such, a sign, in a spiritual sense, is symbolic of promises we make, while a token is evidence of our attempt to fulfill that promise.
To understand this concept more clearly, let's apply this to our relationship with God.
When people come to church each week, that is a sign that they are willing to be a member of the church and be seen as a Christian. But a person can come to church for many different reasons. They may come just because of the fellowship experience. They may come for the social programs, or they may come because they need money from the bishop and church attendance is one of the criteria for getting those funds. In cases like this, people don't come to church because they want to be closer to Christ. They go through the motions of performing the outward signs of being a Christian but their heart isn't in it. In other words, they aren't willing to give up much of themselves to the Lord. They may make the sign but there is no token given.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we come to church each week primarily to partake of the sacrament - the emblems of Christ's body and blood which He offered to free us from our sins. Each week members of the Church take a small piece of bread and drink a small cup of water as a sign that they remember Christ's infinite sacrifice for their sins, that they are willing to take upon themselves the name of Christ, and are willing to keep His commandments. The partaking of the bread and water is the sign, or outward expression that we are willing to do all of those things.
But, while the sign is something we outwardly make, the token is something we inwardly give. The sign is made with outward gestures, while the token is given by the heart. When we mindlessly take the bread and water (which are signs in and of themselves), without giving any thought to why we are doing it, we are not offering anything of ourselves.
The taking of the sacrament is a time to "remember Him," to remember what He did for us, to remember what He suffered in order to cleanse us from our sins, to remember the covenants we've made with Him, to remember how well we've kept those covenants during the preceding week, to remember those things we need to repent of, and recommit ourselves to keeping the commandments He has given us.
At our baptism, we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, which means to behave and conduct our lives as Christ wants us to. It also means that we accept Christ as our head (1 Corinthians 11:3) and commit to serving Him and building up His kingdom. The taking of the sacrament is a time to reflect on how well we have honored the name of Christ and how well we have kept our baptismal covenant. If we have slipped in keeping that covenant, then during the sacrament we can recommit ourselves to doing better.
We are commanded to come together on the Lord's day to offer up our oblations and sacraments unto the Lord (D&C 59:12). The word oblation means to give an offering, and an offering is when we willingly give something we have or own to God. Thus, the sacrament is a time when we can offer up our gratitude and praise to Christ for what He has done for us; it's a time for us offer up a humble and contrite heart, pleading for God's forgiveness for our sins; it's a time for us to offer ourselves more fully to Him and to His cause. In short, during the passing of the sacrament it is a time for us to silently commune with God and renew and strengthen our relationship to Him. It is in this way that we are showing a token of our faith.
Under the Law of Moses, the Israelites were commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy, and in our day the Lord has given the command that "the inhabitants of Zion shall also observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (D&C 68:29). There has been much discussion among Latter-day Saints over what it means to keep the Sabbath day holy, and there have been those who have tried to define what activities we should or should not do on the Sabbath day. However, this should not be a hard question to answer because the answer is very simple.
If someone wants to go to the movie theater on Sunday, buy popcorn and soda, and watch an R rated movie, they can certainly do that. There is no one stopping them and they're not going to be disciplined or punished by any church authority. However, the Lord looks upon the heart (D&C 13:9) and what He is looking to see is the kind of token we are offering Him as evidence of our faith in Him.
You can tell what is important to a person by what they spend their time doing. Those who spend a lot of their time on Sunday doing worldly things are doing so because the things of the world are what's most important to them. However, those who choose to spend most of their Sunday time and even time during the week engaging in spiritual matters do so because that's what's most important to them.
A person may go through the outward performance of going to church as a sign that they are a Christian, yet still go out and lie, cheat, steal, and bear false witness against their neighbor. But when they do this their hearts are not set on the things of God but on the things of this world, therefore they are not expressing much of a token of love for the Lord. On the other hand, when a person loves the Lord with all of their heart, mind, and soul, then there is no difficulty in them keeping the Sabbath day holy because they love doing those things that are pleasing to God.
Then what should we do on the Sabbath day? The answer is: Doing those things that show the Lord how much we love Him, and we do that by doing the things that pleases Him. But, in order to know what pleases the Lord, we first have to know the Lord, and the more we know Him the more we better understand what pleases Him and what doesn't.
However, the more we learn of Christ the more He expects of us. For example, a parent's expectation for a five year old is not the same as what is expected of a fifteen year old.
Jesus taught this very lesson to His disciples. On one occasion, "Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury" (Mark 12:41-43).
It wasn't the amount of money people contributed to the temple treasury that mattered to Jesus. What mattered was the attitude of their heart. The token of love this poor widow gave was much greater than the token of love the rich men gave. The newest member of the church who strives to keep the Sabbath day to the best of their understanding is more pleasing in the sight of God than the life-long member who is not keeping the Sabbath day as well as they could, even though they are keeping it better than the newest member.
In the days of Samuel the prophet, God sent him to a man named Jesse to find the next person to become the king of Israel and when Samuel chose Jesse's youngest son, David, rather than any of the older sons, Samuel wondered how this could be. "But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
The Lord doesn't look on our outward performances so much as he looks inward upon our heart. It isn't our outer sign that impresses Him as much as it is the inner tokens we offer Him.
When the angel asked Adam why he was offering up sacrifices, he answered, "I know not save the Lord commanded me." Adam didn't know why God had commanded him to offer sacrifices but he did it anyway out of blind obedience. As a result, what Adam offered up to God on the altar was not as important as what he offered up to God from his heart. And because his heart was right with God, an angel was sent to give him greater spiritual light and knowledge.
But the angel only came "after many days" because God wanted to see how committed Adam was to obeying Him. It was after the tokens Adam gave from his heart that the Lord knew Adam was truly willing to keep the commandments he was given, rather than just going through the motions of making the sign of being obedient.
Thousands of years later the situation would be reversed. By this time the Jews had strayed far from the ways of God yet they continued to offer sacrifices, but now God said, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats... Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood" (Isaiah 1:11-15).
The Jews had made all the right gestures, and performed all the right outward signs, but there was no token of love in their hearts for God. As Samuel told King Saul, "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey [God] is better than [offering a] sacrifice, and to hearken [unto the Lord is better] than [burning] the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).
There is a saying: "If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" The scriptures repeatedly tell us that on the last day each of us will stand before the Lord to be judge of the things we have done, including every idle word we've uttered (Mathew 12:36; Acts 17:13). On that day, what evidence will there be to show that we truly took upon us the name of Christ, that we sincerely strove to keep the commandments He has given us, and that we honestly tried to live up to the covenants we made with Him? The answer is: the evidence will be found in the tokens we offered Him that came from our heart.
Signs are important but only as they are evidenced by the tokens we offer. Jesus willingly gave all He had to save us. That was a sign and a token of His love for us. We should ask ourselves, "What am I willing to give to Christ?" The answer to that question will be found in our signs and tokens.