In the temple endowment, Latter-day Saints covenant to adhere to the law of the gospel, which they understand as “the higher law” Jesus taught while on Earth. Because of the way the word gospel is often used, this promise can be glossed over or taken for granted by outsiders trying to understand Latter-day Saints and their way of life.
For many Christians, including Latter-day Saints, the word gospel is often used as an umbrella category to refer to all the doctrines, practices, beliefs, and theology of their faith. When Latter-day Saints covenant to follow the law of the gospel, however, they are promising something much narrower and more fundamental. This promise plays a significant role in helping adherents grow closer to God and become more like Jesus Christ.
It has become a meme for outsiders to suggest that what Latter-day Saints do “seems to be excellent, what they say is mostly nonsense.” (That one is Charles Dickens.) But as Hal Boyd pointed out in The Atlantic, “Latter-day Saint behavior is strongly tethered to … [their] theology.” The Law of the Gospel also implies a stronger level of commitment.
The Law of the Gospel also implies a stronger level of commitment.
1. Faith in Jesus Christ
4. Receiving the Holy Ghost.
The gospel of Jesus Christ and the promise Latter-day Saints make to follow it is a powerful roadmap for personal growth and spiritual development. This process works both because this is a model of how to turn belief into action and because Jesus Christ is God, so faith in Him has the power to work miracles in our individual lives.
For Latter-day Saints, the temple endowment is an ordinance for well-established members. So it may not immediately be obvious why Latter-day Saints would promise to have faith, repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost since these first principles and ordinances of the gospel are prerequisites for receiving your endowment in the first place. But perhaps that is because we should consider faith, baptism, repentance, and the Holy Ghost not as one-time events but as a continual process of improvement.
Dr. Karen Shadle, the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship, has explained, “Repetition helps to transition a skill or an idea from the conscious to the subconscious mind. It is no longer something we have to think about because it is ingrained in our very being.”
For Latter-day Saints, the purpose of their religion is not merely to do the right thing but to become like Jesus Christ, as Dallin H. Oaks, a senior leader in the Church, has taught.
Promising to follow the law of the gospel as part of their temple worship helps Latter-day Saints transition from a mindset where faith and repentance are introductory steps in the gospel to a mindset where faith and repentance become a part of who they are.
Is it any surprise that Latter-day Saints have such a reputation for walking the walk when it comes to their faith?
This process is not reserved for the principles of the gospel but also the ordinances. Each week during Sunday services, members of the Church of Jesus Christ renew their baptismal covenants by partaking of the Sacrament. Latter-day Saint theology holds that for Latter-day Saints who continue to have faith and repent, this weekly ordinance acts like repeatedly washing their garments in the blood of the Lamb. The act of baptism by immersion is a one-time event, but it is a symbol of Latter-day Saints’ commitment to always cleanse ourselves of unrighteousness through repentance and the grace of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
To a Holier Sphere
This repeated process does more than help us deepen our ability to follow those initial principles, however. The Law of the Gospel also implies a stronger level of commitment. Valiant K. Jones, the author of “The Covenant Path: Finding the Temple in The Book of Mormon,” explained, “When we commit to keep the law of the gospel as part of our temple covenants, we are committing to live it in a higher and holier way, including the principles taught by Jesus Christ in His Sermon at the Temple and His Sermon on the Mount.”
The liturgical language of the temple explicitly teaches the expectation that as Latter-day Saints apply the principles of the gospel, this time, they will strive to do so in a way that elevates their holiness to prepare them to enter God’s presence. There have been several ways the language of the temple has taught members of the Church of Jesus Christ to accomplish this goal over the years.
One is to not “laugh to scorn,” as Matthew describes derisive mocking. Just like Matthew, the Book of Mormon writers also use the phrase to describe those who are derisive about the possibility of miracles. Asking us not to scoff at the things of God or the possibility of miracles raises our sights on what it means to be a person of faith, the first principle of the gospel Latter-day Saints are striving to follow in a holier way.
Another is not to make light of sacred things. William L. Fillmore, a prominent Latter-day Saint attorney, wrote about how his fellow members of the Church saw this principle, “At its worst, light-mindedness may become ridicule and then sacrilege and blasphemy—a deliberate irreverence for the things of God.” He went on to distinguish light-mindedness from light-heartedness, which he says “can complement spirituality.”
Injunctions against evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed similarly correspond with deepening our bonds of belongingness that begin in baptism, while injunctions against impurity allow us to better receive the Holy Ghost.
Today, instructions about how to follow the law of the gospel focus on love in line with the first two commandments to love God and love our neighbor.
Turning Toward Others
The covenants of the Latter-day Saint temple endowment progressively build upon each other to help us become more like our Savior. The first two covenants emphasize more internal commitments to love God and then progress towards more outward commitments of loving our fellow man in the final two covenants. The law of the gospel sits between these two covenantal couplets, and it bridges both, influencing both key relationships. God transforms our love for each other.
God transforms our love for each other.
This makes sense within the context of holiness through repetition. When members of the Church of Jesus Christ first follow the principles and ordinances of the gospel, it is about them working out their “own salvation with fear and trembling.” The purpose of the law of the gospel is not just to help us better follow through on our individual relationship with God, but by internalizing the holier lessons, to be able to better serve those around us.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ, taught, “God commands us to love Him because of what He knows it will do for us. He commands us to love one another for the same reason. Loving God transforms us. Loving God transforms our love for each other. This love is requisite for our coming to know Him … the key to our becoming like Him.”
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ make covenants to become more like Jesus Christ. The temple endowment, and its accompanying covenants, teach those disciples step by step how to return to the presence of God, both ritually and in how they live their lives as followers of Christ. The law of the gospel is a purifying and refining step that helps us to exemplify the two great commandments taught by the Savior.
We show our love to God and obey the first great commandment through our faith in God’s Son. No unclean thing can enter into the presence of God, and through practices of holiness, we can wash our garments in the blood of the Lamb, relying on the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.
The Law of the Gospel also helps us to honor the second great commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. Through baptism, we enter into a covenant community that requires us to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. We abstain from mocking, ridiculing, and demeaning others. We treat each individual, especially God’s anointed covenant people, as precious children of an Almighty God.
As outsiders consider how the Church of Jesus Christ is effective in creating members that embody the principles of Christian living, the covenant in the center of the temple worship may provide a valuable answer.