08 June 2011

Covenants, Contracts and Promises

This was a religion assignment that I did not want to do, but was finally convinced to do it.

As members of this marvelous church, we often are told, and comment, that we are “covenant making people”. I have been told this so much in my young life, that I first what a covenant was and then, if I made so many of them, where did I put them all. Only later in my life did I begin to understand what a covenant was and why they were so important to me.

I have often heard covenants described as a two-way promise or a divine contract. I would suggest a covenant is at once the same as and nothing like these concepts. While each of these concepts are helpful they are also limited based on our individual mortal experience. To any individual who was promised something they never received or who entered into a contract that was later broken—or to those who have been the one to break a promise or cancel a contract—the mortal experience pales in comparison to the divine experience of covenants.

Divine covenants do resemble promises and contracts made here on earth in that they are binding agreements entered into by two parties: God, the Father, and an individual child of His. Within these agreements, God promises us certain blessings and rewards based on certain conditions. These conditions are clearly presented, as are the blessings, so that the covenants can be made in full force with no plausible deniability.

Divine covenants are unlike promises and contracts made here on earth in that they permanently binding based upon our performance; they leave no room “wiggle room” for either party, no subject of interpretation. Either the child did or did not perform the required task, in which case God will give the promised blessing. In this respect, too, divine covenants differ from earthly ones: God fulfills His end of the promise with unfailing exactness.

There are five basic covenants we enter into with the Lord:

1. Baptism
2. Confirmation
3. Priesthood (for the brothers)
4. Endowment
5. Sealing

I wish to point out that, as with all covenants, the Sealing covenant is between an individual and God, not between two individuals.

Accompanied with each covenant is a specific ordinance. Just as any earthly contract is not considered valid until some agreed upon ritual or rite is execute, so to with divine covenants. Each ordinance contains a set of specific words and physical motions that are used to signify their performance by one in authority to act in God’s stead and the willingness and understand of the child to enter into and maintain the covenant. Once completed, these ordinances “activate” the covenant and its force in our lives.

The promised blessings are always based upon our faithfulness and worthiness. There is a separate, inclusive, worthiness standard included with each covenant. In this way, God is available to prevent those who partake in an ordinance for the wrong reasons from benefitting from the process. Personal worthiness is an important part of maintaining covenants. It is not enough to simply complete the ordinance; we must strive to maintain the purity required by God in our day-to-day lives.

Worthiness disappears as we partake in activities or lifestyles that are contrary to those outlined within the covenants we have made. For example, with the covenant of baptism we promise to care for the needy, remain chaste and to pay tithing. Failure to maintain any one of these will make us unworthy until we repent and begin doing them again. Unworthy activities do not just include failure to perform gospel tasks, but also includes participation in unworthy endeavors. These can include the places we choose to visit, the jokes we choose to repeat, the company we choose to keep, the physical actions we choose to do and even the private thoughts we choose to entertain.

It is important, if we expect to retain the blessings promised within a covenant, that we maintain our worthiness. When unworthy activities do occur in our lives, it is important to repent of them as quickly as possible in order to restore ourselves to a worthy state and reinstate our lost blessings.

Worthiness is coupled with justification, a process used to gauge the attempts of actions to remain worthy based on the covenants made, our knowledge and understanding of the gospel, and the intends of our heart. It is through justification that the mercy portion of the gospel is put into action.

A continued improvement of our covenant keeping abilities allows us to access another portion of the atonement: sanctification. Sanctification is the purifying power of the atonement working to make us better. Where justification is concerned about maximizing our blessing now by ensuring we get as many as we deserve, sanctification is concerned about maximizing our blessing is the future by ensuring that we continue to progress to our full potential.

In most cases, justification and sanctification work together to propel beyond the lowly constraints of our mortal selves by allowing us to obtain ever greater heights of spirituality and perfection. They can, however, leads to great disappointment if misunderstood. For example, to believe that upon completion of the sealing ordinance one’s exaltation has is assured could lead to a rude shock when, upon death, you are informed that your deviant, post sealing and unrepented behavior has disqualified your salvation.

While justification can often enable us to receive blessings beyond what we thought we could qualify for, my general rule is that whenever I think I am justified I have just lost the last excuse to receive the justification. Remember, the gospel plan is about becoming like God, not trying to see how much you get away with.

As we learn to better understand the role of covenants in our lives, the symbolism embedded within the ordinance we use to make those covenants, the grace we receive through justification and the purifying power of sanctification in our lives, we will be better positioned to take advantage of each and use those to progress every quicker towards our final, celestial goal.

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