As a ward we have been following a gospel focus each month and the next few months are actually a series of topics that we hope will go hand in hand. This month the topic is Covenants followed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ next month, the Sacrament the following month and Change/Personal Growth concluding this topic set in April. I have been asked to introduce this topic set and attempt to illustrate the connection between the topics. When we enter into the waters of baptism we are in a spiritual sense “born again.” We are entering into a covenant with our Heavenly Father and promising to change, to put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ.a. This covenant is a sacred agreement between God in which he sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey those conditions. Baptism is just the beginning of our covenant path.
Our Covenant Path
A couple summers ago Alli and were crew members for a bike race called “Race Across America.” The race started in Oceanside California and ended less than a week later in Annapolis, Maryland. The race was not a free for all just to see who could make it across the country as fast as possible, but each team had a specific route that they had to follow and many rules to follow along the way. To make sure we were following the rules and staying on the path, every 100 miles or so we had a time station, that as we passed it, we would have to call in to a call center and give them our time and they would give us a confirmation number. During this call they would also let us know if we had broken any rules and if so what the consequence would be. Sometimes it would be a warning or other times could be a penalty where a team would be instructed to stop racing and wait for a specific amount of time to start again. The point of the process was that if you followed the path and followed the rules you would safely arrive at the destination on the opposite side of the country. Pacific to Atlantic. Our Heavenly Father has provided us with a covenant path to help us safely navigate this life. It is the crucial test of our lives to see if we will make and keep our covenants with him.
So, what are those covenants? They include being baptized, being confirmed and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, (for young men) being ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood and then (once they’re at least 18) to the Melchizedek Priesthood, receiving the temple endowment, and being sealed in the temple. With each covenant, we promise Heavenly Father to strive to live as He has asked us to. As we do, He promises we can have His Spirit to be with and guide us.
Ordinances Are Covenant Signature
Covenants and Ordinances are directly connected. When my wife and I bought a house we had to agree to terms with a bank that they would lend us the money as long as we promised to pay it back within a certain time frame. When we came to an agreement we signed a lot of documents in order to make it a legally binding agreement. When you want to make an agreement with the Lord official, you don’t sign a document; you perform an ordinance. Ordinances are also very sacred and again we do not set the terms of the ordinance but God in His good pleasure fixes the terms, which man accepts. The gospel is so arranged that principles and ordinances are received by covenant, placing the recipient under strong obligation and responsibility to honor the commitment.
Covenants burned like unquenchable fire in their hearts.
Somehow we need to instill in our hearts the powerful testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ like unto that of our pioneer forefathers. Remember when Nauvoo fell in September of 1846 and the unbearable conditions of the Saints in the poor camps. When word reached Winter Quarters, Brigham Young immediately called the brethren together. After explaining the situation and reminding them of the covenant made in the Nauvoo Temple that no one who wanted to come, no matter how poor, would be left behind, he gave them this remarkable challenge: “Now is the time for labor,” he said. “Let the fire of the covenant which you made in the House of the Lord, burn in your hearts, like flame unquenchable.” Within a few days, in spite of near-destitute conditions at Winter Quarters, many wagons were rolling eastward to rescue the Saints in the poor camps along the Mississippi River. We often hear of the suffering and the sacrifice those early Saints endured, and we ask ourselves, How did they do it? What was it that gave them such strength? Part of the answer lies in President Young’s powerful words. Those early Latter-day Saints had made covenants with God, and those covenants burned like unquenchable fire in their hearts.
Power in Covenants
Sometimes we are tempted to let our lives be governed more by convenience than by covenant. It is not always convenient to live gospel standards and stand up for truth and testify of the Restoration. It usually is not convenient to share the gospel with others. It isn’t always convenient to respond to a calling in the Church, especially one that stretches our abilities. Opportunities to serve others in meaningful ways, as we have covenanted to do, rarely come at convenient times. But there is no spiritual power in living by convenience. The power comes as we keep our covenants. As we look at the lives of these early Saints, we see that their covenants were the primary force in their lives. Their example and testimony were powerful enough to influence generation after generation of their children. If a God “cannot break” a covenant, then why could not the laws of justice recognize the effects of a covenant prior to its performance? B. H. Roberts believed this to be the case; “The effects of the atonement were realized by the ancient saints previous to the coming of Christ to the earth and hence previous to his actually making the atonement; but that was because the Atonement for man’s sins, the satisfaction to Justice, had been pre-determined upon [by means of a covenant], and this fact gave virtue to their faith, repentance and obedience to ordinances of the Gospel.” It may have been that such a covenant helped sustain the Saviour in the Garden when all his apparent spiritual and physical energies had been exhausted, when there was “nothing left” to combat the Evil One and sin itself but the pure covenant to atone. How many such covenants have lifted men to loftier heights, conferred upon them added strength, and generated new-found reservoirs of resistance when all else seemed to collapse around them? So it may have been that, in some way, this covenant satisfied the laws of justice for those who lived before the Atonement was performed, and, in addition, helped to sustain the Savior in his hour of greatest need. Infinite atonement pg 75
Father Of Lies
Satan, the father of all lies deceives man in many ways. One of his favorites is to use decoys or half truths to lead us from the covenant path. He 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. Then with his double edged sword of lies he once again deceives us when we recognize that we have strayed from the covenant path and need to repent. He makes us believe that we have strayed too far and are unworthy of grace. No matter where you are on the covenant path set your sights on that next check point. For some it may be Baptism, or advancing in the priesthood, going to the temple for ourselves or to be sealed to our eternal companion. For some it may be a return to the covenant path that you once followed steadfastly but somewhere along the line got onto what felt like a parallel path that gradually veered far from what we know to be right. Do whatever it takes to correct your path. Elder Bednar has taught: “Sporadic and shallow dipping in the doctrine of Christ and partial participation in His restored Church cannot produce the spiritual transformation that enables us to walk in a newness of life. Rather, fidelity to covenants, constancy of commitment, and offering our whole soul unto God are required if we are to receive the blessings of eternity…. Total immersion in and saturation with the Savior’s gospel are essential steps in the process of being born again.
The Atonement Makes It Possible
He has also taught: “Covenants help us access the power of the Savior’s atonement—and in covenants we use our agency, we express and exercise our agency, to accept the terms and conditions of the covenants as they have been established by God. In doing so, we give to God, the only thing we can give him, which is our agency. And in so doing, in essence we say not my will but thy will be done. Then and only then are we free. And then and only then do we have access to the full power of the Savior’s atonement. And only in that way do we really understand what it means to be happy. Covenants are essential. They are not merely rituals. They are doorways to the blessings of the Savior’s atonement.
Weekly Covenant Renewal
Those who have received the saving ordinances of baptism and confirmation partake of the sacrament each week to renew those covenants. While partaking of the bread and water, we remember the sacrifice the Savior made for us. In addition, we ponder the covenants we have made to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. In turn, God extends the promise that His Spirit may be with us always. The ordinance of the sacrament is an opportunity each week to renew sacred covenants that allow us to be partakers of the Savior’s atoning grace with the same spiritually cleansing effect of baptism and confirmation. Church leaders have also taught that when we take the sacrament, we renew not only our baptismal covenants but “all covenants entered into with the Lord.”4 Elder Spencer W Kimball observed: “When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be ‘remember.’ Because all of [us] have made covenants … our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day—to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that [we] ‘… may always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us].’… ‘Remember’ is the word”
Leads to Change Personal Growth
To sum up the topic for the next 4 months in our ward in a sentence it may be: Each Sunday we come to church to partake of the Sacrament and renew Sacred Covenants made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ as we seek to be a little better. President Henry B Eyring taugh. “The fruit of keeping covenants is the companionship of the Holy Ghost and an increase in the power to love. That happens because of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to change our very natures. We are eyewitnesses of that miracle of greater spiritual power coming to those who accept covenants and keep commandments. For instance, there are families across the Church who read and reread letters from their missionary children with wonder, and a few tears, at the miracle that in so short a time they have become new, better people. Yet I have also seen that same miracle in a mature man and woman, called to serve as proselyting missionary companions in the most difficult of circumstances which would have taxed the bravest youth. As the husband made his report, I thought back to the man I had known. I realized that the promised miracle of spiritual growth is not a product of youth but of the faith simply to try to keep covenants. That couple went out to love the people and to bear witness, and they returned transformed as much as any 21-year-old.”
Throughout the rest of this month we will be focusing on Covenants and for the next few months on Personal growth and change, My challenge is that we remember the promises to the Lord that we have already made.