The whole point of mortality is to prepare us to return to live with God once again. The laws that make that possible were set up before the world was created. This plan requires that we enter into a series of covenants with God that will help us become more like Him. The crowning covenant is that of eternal marriage.
Note: There is a followup article to answer questions about this article. You can find it here.
How do we know this? Who taught this doctrine? God, Himself taught this doctrine. Here is Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4.
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
What if I don’t want to make covenants?
The nice thing about the love of our Father in Heaven is that there are glories prepared for those who don’t want to make covenants with Him. So for those who want to live their lives the way they choose, without restrictions or requirements, He has you covered. The kingdoms prepared for those who would prefer not to have to change to become different than they currently are are called the Terrestrial and Telestial. And the vast majority of God’s children will enter into their eternal rest in one of these two kingdoms.
Why are covenants needed?
A covenant is a promise with a blessing attached. The Lord sets forth a law that will produce highly desirable consequences. If we want those rewards we must be willing to submit to the requirements of the law that produces them. That is done by making a promise to live by the spirit of the law He gives us for the rest of our lives.
God promises that if we honor the conditions of His law then we will be able to claim the promised reward. That reward may be partially available while we are still in mortality, but the full benefit of the reward won’t be available until after the resurrection. When we are ready to make our promise that we will abide or live inside the requirements of the given law, and we actually follow through and do what we have promised, then He is required by His own law to reward us with the eternal blessings that law grants.
Here is how the Lord describes the covenant relationship in Doctrine and Covenants 82:9–10. To the Lord, salvation means returning home to live with Him. There are several lesser versions of what salvation can refer to, but in its fullest and most complete sense, to receive salvation means to return to the presence of God.
9 … I give unto you directions how you may act before me, that it may turn to you for your salvation.
10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
Who makes covenants?
The covenants of salvation are available in only one place, and they are available to only one Church, and that is God’s Church. When we enter into membership in His Church it is through covenant. When we receive the ordinances of salvation in the temple it is through His priesthood and the covenants that priesthood makes available to God’s children. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only place on earth where saving covenants can be found and can be made with God.
That means that salvation is available only in and through the priesthood power available in this Church. It can be had nowhere else on earth. Remember what the purpose of the covenants accomplishes? It is to bring us salvation, which is life back in the presence of God.
The covenants we make and live change us. They are designed to turn us into the kind of people who can, at some point, confidently walk back into God’s presence, knowing that we have learned to be kind, like He is kind, and being able to love, as He loves.
The commandments we have received from God are the laws that create the best opportunities for being happy. We are told that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). We are free to seek happiness anywhere we like, but God already knows what creates happiness, and has embodied the sources of happiness into commandments. When we live the commandments we find joy. Commandments are free to all of God’s children in one form or another.
Commandments are generic in that they apply to all of humanity, and will protect anyone who lives by them from the ravages of sin. Every society has some form of the 10 Commandments within their culture. But covenants are higher than commandments. In order to make a covenant one must already be obeying the basic commandments. Before a person is accepted in baptism they must already be keeping the basic commandments.
Baptism is an Aaronic priesthood covenant. It incorporates the general promises to keep the commandments and to represent the Savior in all that we do and in all that we say, and in whatever circumstances we experience. This is why baptism is the gateway covenant. It is the first of the covenants where we agree to live in a way that is different from other people.
The covenants of the temple are all Melchizedek priesthood covenants. Each covenant we make builds us up to the final covenant of the temple, which is the sealing ordinance. In the temple, the basic covenant we made at baptism is broken into specific promises we make to God, with specific blessings attached to each covenant.
The final covenant we make is to be sealed to a spouse for the rest of mortality (Time) and for all eternity. The greatest demonstration of God’s glory is the good his posterity create. It’s all about family and posterity. Just as we were raised in an eternal family in the household of God, so too through the marriage sealing we are able to create the beginnings of an eternal family unit while still in mortality.
Marriage in the eternities
The only place marriage exists in the eternities is in the highest degree of the Celestial kingdom. This is where God and Christ dwell. This is where we are promised a home and family if we keep the commandments and honor the covenants we make in the temple. The New and Everlasting Covenant includes the whole gospel of Christ, but the marriage part of that covenant is reserved for those who are willing to enter into temple covenants and live and honor those covenants the rest of their lives. Refer back to Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4 as quoted at the beginning of this article.
Consider this. The whole world lives without covenants. They all have some form of the commandments to guide their lives, and all commandments, if followed, will lead a person to eventually have the opportunity to make covenants. But the world does not have the privileges, nor the promises contained in the covenants of God.
If we want to be where God is, and experience life as our Father in Heaven lives it, we must start by keeping the commandments then follow that up with seeking out the covenants He has given to His children through the prophets. These are found mainly in the temples of God. After making all the other covenants available in the house of the Lord, we are able to receive the highest covenant/promise God offers His children, the sealing of a man and woman in eternal marriage, the kind of marriage He has.
What is that worth to you? What sacrifices are you willing to make to honor that covenant? Knowing that we cannot enter into Celestial glory as a single person, that makes our spouse every bit as important to our personal salvation as our own life is. That means that being critical of our spouse, unkind to our spouse, or neglectful of our spouse, is a vote to keep our own self out of the Celestial kingdom. I don’t know about you, but this knowledge elevates my spouse in my mind above all other worldly concerns.