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Why Ordinances and Covenants Matter

To the prophet Moses, God delivered in clear language His ultimate desire for each member of the human family: “For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (see Moses 1:39). The way all of us can receive these gifts is through obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ. He is our Savior, the only One who has the power to save us from the effects of sin and death. As we give our all to change our behavior to match His will—a process called repentance—He can change our attitudes, give us additional strength to choose the right, and ultimately change our nature. In short, Jesus Christ can help us become like Him.

God has provided a clear plan for you and your family to return to Him. This plan is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because God loves all of His children, every person will eventually have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel, whether in this life or the next. You accept the gospel by exercising faith in Jesus Christ, repenting, receiving sacred ordinances, and then obeying His commandments throughout your life.

An ordinance is a sacred religious ceremony performed by someone who has authority from God. When you receive an ordinance, you show your love for God as you make sacred promises to Him and He makes sacred promises to you. The promises you make when you receive an ordinance are called covenants. God has revealed that making and keeping covenants are necessary to receive the gift of eternal life that He wants to give each of us.

An experience from the life of Jacob, an Old Testament prophet, illustrates the importance of covenants. As a young man, Jacob was sent to a distant city by his father with a specific assignment. He camped during his journey. One night, he experienced a vision. He saw the Lord, and communicated with Him. The Lord made specific promises to Jacob regarding himself and his posterity. After the vision, Jacob set up a stone as a memorial for what he had experienced there. He named the place Bethel, which means “the house of God.” In connection with this sacred event, he also made a promise to God that he would be faithful in observing a specific commandment (see Genesis 28).

President Marion G. Romney (1897-1988) related the following about Jacob’s experience: “When Jacob traveled from Beersheba toward Haran, he had a dream in which he saw himself on the earth at the foot of a ladder that reached to heaven where the Lord stood above it. He beheld angels ascending and descending thereon, and Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord there were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings—blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord.” (Temples—The Gates to Heaven, Ensign, Mar. 1971) Just as Jacob had to climb each step of the ladder to ascend to heaven, so we must receive and obey the ordinances and covenants of the temple to return to God’s presence and become like Him.

The Covenant Path Leads to the Temple

President Boyd K. Packer explained that the temple is the ultimate earthly destination in our gospel journey: “All roads lead to the temple, for it is there that we are prepared in all things to qualify us to enter the presence of the Lord” (Remember Me: Relief Society Personal Study Guide 1, p. 84).

The ordinances and covenants of the temple are not merely important to our exaltation—they are essential. President Packer further explained, “Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into His presence. To worthily receive them is the quest of a lifetime; to keep them thereafter is the challenge of mortality” (Covenants, April 1987 General Conference). Faithfully obeying covenants made with God is the most important goal we can pursue in this life. In the words of President Russell M. Nelson, “The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper. The rewards for a covenant keeper will be realized both here and hereafter” (Covenants, October 2011 General Conference).

Learning From the Lord Through Ordinances and Covenants

In vision, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah saw temples that would be built in a future day, as well as the faithful who would enter these sacred houses of worship. He prophesied:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3).

Isaiah speaks of God’s people going up to the House of the God—the temple—, where God teaches them of His ways. The ordinances and covenants of the temple reveal to us His way of learning, and His priorities for those who desire to follow Him. When we are baptized, for example, God desires that we give particular attention to the commands to “mourn with those that mourn (…) and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things” (Mosiah 18:9). These commandments are emphasized at the time of baptism to show us how to live after making a covenant to follow Jesus Christ. In a similar way in the temple, God directs our attention to specific commandments to emphasize how we can deepen our relationship with Him and our loved ones, and to give our true best to the Lord—in other words, to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Proxy Temple Service—A Gift to Others and an Opportunity for Continued Growth

To fully understand the plan of salvation, we must also understand the principle of vicarious service—that is, that one person can act on behalf of another. In other words, one person can act as a substitute for the benefit of another. The principle of vicarious service is best shown through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, as He made payment for the sins and shortcomings of all humanity. President Gordon B. Hinckely taught: “We must never forget (…) our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave Himself, a vicarious sacrifice for each of us” (The Symbol of Our Faith, Ensign, April 2005).

Heavenly Father knew that many of His children would not have a chance to learn about the plan of salvation in this life. He provided another way for them to receive ordinances and covenants. In the temple, those who are deceased can receive baptism and other ordinances by proxy, meaning that someone living receives these ordinances on their behalf. Those who have died can then choose whether to accept the ordinances performed for them. President Gordon B. Hinckley explained: “Through living proxies who stand in behalf of the dead, the same ordinances are available to those who have passed from mortality. In the spirit world these same individuals are then free to accept or reject those earthly ordinances performed for them, including baptism, marriage, and the sealing of family relationships. There is no compulsion in the work of the Lord, but there must be opportunity” (Why These Temples?, Liahona, June 1992). After receiving temple ordinances for ourselves, we can return to the temple again and again to both serve those who died without these opportunities and to deepen our own commitment to the covenants we have made there.

President Russell M. Nelson taught how our temple service follows the example of Jesus Christ: “Ordinances of the temple relate to personal progress and to the redemption of departed ancestors as well. (…) Service in their behalf provides repeated opportunities for temple worship. And that service deserves commitment to a planned schedule. By doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, we emulate the pattern of the Savior, who wrought the Atonement to bless the lives of other people” (Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings, April 2001 General Conference). Proxy ordinances extend the saving grace of Jesus Christ to all people, and are a clear reflection of God’s love for all His children.

President Boyd K. Packer further highlighted our duty to provide temple ordinances to our deceased ancestors. He said, “Once we have received [temple ordinances] for ourselves and for our families, we are obligated to provide these ordinances vicariously for our kindred dead, indeed for the whole human family” (see Covenants, April 1987 General Conference) God has promised that the blessings of marriage, family, and eternal life will be made available to all of His children who faithfully accept and follow His plan of happiness.

Providing Ordinances for My Deceased Family Members

Worthy Church members as young as 12 years old may receive a temple recommend to be baptized and confirmed on behalf of others who died without receiving those ordinances. Worthy adults age 18 and up may receive a temple recommend to receive all other ordinances of the temple, and then to perform them by proxy. A number of resources are available to help you identify the names and vital information of your ancestors, and to provide temple ordinances for them. You can contact the missionaries in your area, your bishop, a fellow ward member, or visit www.familysearch.org to get started.