Mormons are a covenant-making people. When they are baptized, they covenant that they are willing to take on the name of Jesus Christ and to keep the commandments. In the temple, as adults, they make additional covenants with God, promising to keep the commandments at an even higher level.
A covenant is a two-way promise between God and man. God sets the terms, but if we keep our part of it, God will always keep his part. They’ve been a part of God’s relationship with mankind from the earliest days. The Old Testament is filled with stories of covenants God made with His people and the results that came about when people chose to obey or disobey the covenant.
You don’t have to be Mormon to make a covenant with God. Throughout the Bible, we find many places where God has asked us to do something and told us what He will do for us if we obey. As you read the Bible, begin marking those verses and recording them in a notebook. Be sure to record both the commandment and the promise. Then, as you pray, make a personal covenant with God to honor His request.
For instance, the Sermon on the Mount offers these possibilities for covenants:
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (See Matthew 5.)
In verse seven, we have the two parts required for a covenant. Your job is to be merciful. Your reward is to obtain mercy for yourself. In verse eight, you are asked to be pure in heart. If you do this, God covenants that you will see Him.
If you chose verse seven as your personal covenant, you would probably first want to find out what it means to be merciful. You might click on the word merciful if you went to the online verse I linked to. It would give you a link to the topical guide. If you click that, you get a list of scriptures related to the word merciful. The first scriptures are from the Old Testament. These are followed by New Testament verses. The remaining scriptures are from LDS-specific books. The Bible verses are from the King James translation, which is a very standard version of the Bible.
To begin you study on mercy, you would read each of the scriptures from the books of scripture you want to study. As you do so, you’ll record in your notebook what is expected of a merciful person, why it matters to God, and what God will give you if you are merciful. You may want to note people in the Bible who were merciful to use as role models.
As an example, you will encounter this scripture:
21 He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he (Proverbs 14:21). This tells you that mercy includes being kind to the poor. This aspect of mercy even comes with a whole new promise, making it a covenant all its own. If you are compassionate toward the poor, you will be happy.
You can see this covenant study will not be as simple as you expect. Now that you’ve learned that mercy includes your treatment of the poor, you will need to study the scriptures to learn how God wants you to treat the poor.
Of course, you don’t have to know or master everything about mercy in order to get started. You can choose the first thing you encounter and start living that. As you learn more, you can add to your commitment to living God’s commandments, gradually improving your ability to live the law of mercy.
You will find that the commandments tend to interconnect. Over time you’ll discover that your study of mercy will have you living many other commandments as well. This means that you can start perfecting yourself with just one covenant, but that it will spiral out until you are living all of them. God has told us the extreme importance of keeping the commandments. “21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” The process of making a covenant with God will help you to be a doer, not just a sayer.
Making covenants is a sacred experience. It must never be made lightly and it should not be made for the reward. Covenants are a sign that you love God and want to obey Him and that you trust Him, even when it comes to making hard choices. Making a covenant with no thought of reward, knowing the reward might not even come until the next life, is a sincere act of love and faith. After all, when you love someone on earth, you are willing to change your life and to make sacrifices for that person. Your willingness to do this for God should be even greater.
As long as you’re keeping a notebook that contains your research, why not also record your experiences with the covenant? What are your thoughts about what you’ve learned as you’ve researched? What actions did you take to carry out your end of the covenant? How did those choices change you as a person? How did they change the lives of others? What blessings have you seen in your life as a result of living that covenant?
As you monitor the miracles and pleasures that come with obedience from love and faith, your faith will increase and you’ll find it easier to make the next covenant or to move to keeping that covenant at a higher level. Your commitment to the covenant will increase.
God has asked us to make certain formal covenants in prescribed settings and under guidance from those in authority. Those are also important to make and although everyone makes them, they are entirely personal, made between you and God. For instance, in the Old Testament, God made a covenant with Abraham. This was a formal covenant, entered into in a prescribed way. For Mormons, these covenants are made at set times, such as baptisms and in the temple, but they are regularly renewed.
We need strong Christians who can persevere against hardship, who can sustain hope through tragedy, who can lift others by their example and their compassion, and who can consistently overcome temptations. We need strong Christians who can make important things happen by their faith and who can defend the truth of Jesus Christ against moral relativism and militant atheism.
What is the source of such moral and spiritual power, and how do we obtain it? The source is God. Our access to that power is through our covenants with Him. A covenant is an agreement between God and man, an accord whose terms are set by God (see Bible Dictionary, “Covenant,” 651). In these divine agreements, God binds Himself to sustain, sanctify, and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve Him and keep His commandments.
We enter into covenants by priesthood ordinances, sacred rituals that God has ordained for us to manifest our commitment. Our foundational covenant, for example, the one in which we first pledge our willingness to take upon us the name of Christ, is confirmed by the ordinance of baptism. It is done individually, by name. By this ordinance, we become part of the covenant people of the Lord and heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.
Other sacred ordinances are performed in temples built for that very purpose. If we are faithful to the covenants made there, we become inheritors not only of the celestial kingdom but of exaltation, the highest glory within the heavenly kingdom, and we obtain all the divine possibilities God can give (see D&C 132:20). (See D. Todd Christofferson, “The Power of Covenants,” Liahona, May 2009, 19–23.)
Elder Christofferson, in the talk referenced above, suggests three important benefits that come from making formal covenants with God.
The first is that we are strengthened by the gifts and benefits that come from making and keeping sacred covenants. Each time we keep the commandments, we are blessed by God for what we’ve chosen to do. The more commandments we keep, the more continual the flow will be. This doesn’t mean you will have a trial-free life. No one gets that because trials are part of the purpose of life. It does mean you’ll feel God’s presence more continually as you reap the benefits promised to us for each commandment.
The second benefit is to enjoy increased faith. Alma, a book of Mormon prophet, taught that in order to develop faith, we only need to have a desire to gain faith. From this we can begin to act like a person with faith. As we do this and we see how God blesses us, our faith grows. Each time we keep a commandment, our faith increases because we begin to understand the purpose behind the commandment—commandments are not random assignments—and that increases our faith in God’s wisdom and power.
Finally, he suggests we are strengthened with the power of Godliness as we keep our covenants. God promised us the presence of the Holy Ghost when He was gone from the earth. The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead who does not have a body. His purpose is to testify to us of truth and to help us make wise choices and to remain safe. The Holy Ghost can’t be where wickedness is, so in order to enjoy His presence and His help, we need to obey the commandments and keep our sacred covenants. This leads to a wonderful circle of blessings because the more the Holy Ghost helps you, the easier it is to keep your covenants, and the more you keep them, the more the Holy Ghost helps you.
As Elder Christofferson says, “Divine covenants make strong Christians.”