Why Covenants?

Why do we make covenants to do things we are already commanded to do? For example, in the temple we make a covenant to obey the law of chastity. That is, no sexual relations outside marriage. We also make covenants to do things like obey God and to follow the Gospel. But these things are already commandments. So why are we making covenants to do things we are already obligated to do? That is the question I shall explore.

Related Posts: Mormon temple garments ; Justification ; Grace ; Election ; Faith and Charity ; Justification and Salvation

See also:A closer look at the Draper Temple, Mormon Times.

A covenant people
President Ezra Taft Benson once said, “We are a covenant-making people. The temple is one of the holy places in which the Savior commanded the faithful to stand. It is a holy place because it is a house of covenants” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 250).

When God covenanted with Abram, Abram was given the name Abraham and was promised he would become the father of many nations (Gen. 17:1-8).[1] But why would God enter into a covenant with Abraham? Abraham was his obedient servant. If God commanded Abraham to do, Abraham would do. And God didn’t need to make any kind of promise to Abraham in order to make him the father of many nations. So why make a covenant with Abraham? or anyone else?

One of the analogies used to describe our relationship to God is the relationship between a master and servant. Jesus taught that when a master gives a command to a servant, “Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him?” Jesus answers his own question with “I trow not.” In other words, “I think not.” (Luke 17:9-10.) It is the servant’s duty to obey his master. And so it is with us. We are obligated to obey God’s commandments. Naturally God will give blessings to his faithful servants, but technically they cannot earn it. A servant can serve with devotion and faithfulness, but obedience is still an obligation, not an offering. So every blessing God gives to his servants is a gift, given to each according to their capacity and God’s wisdom (Matt. 25:14-29).

Commandments go one-way. Covenants go both ways. When God offers a covenant relationship to his servants, they may accept or reject his proffer. This is very different from the treatment found in a master/servant relationship and tells us that God ultimately does not want servants. The Lord has said, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate…and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters” (2 Cor. 6:17-18). The Book of Mormon teaches that “all mankind, yea, men and women…must be born again; yea, born of God…becoming his sons and daughters” (Mosiah 27:25). After entering into a covenant we become perspective children. God’s work and glory is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:34). Thus he condescends to enter into an agreement with us, his servants, so that we may become his children and be exalted.

Covenants separate us from the world by changing our relationship with God. It’s only natural that we start out like servants, being told what to do and what not to do. But if we are being treated like servants how can we become sons and daughters? By entering into a covenant with God, God is no longer treating us like servants but like children. As sons and daughters we become heirs of God: All those who have hearkened unto [the prophets]...and believed that the Lord would redeem his people...these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God (Mosiah 15:10-11); Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal. 4:7); And if children, then heirs; heirs of God
(Rom. 8:17).

When entering a covenant one is put under solemn obligation to obey commandments received as a servant. And this makes perfect sense. As servants our obedience is an obligation. If we serve faithfully God will gift us greater things. We are offered a covenant relationship with God. We are put under solemn obligation to obey commandments we received as servants. God’s gifts become promises and we become children of the promise (Gal. 4:24; Rom. 9:8), children of the covenant.

But how does one enter into a covenant? The covenant is a holy contract between God and man and includes a set of terms. Basically, “If you do this then I’ll do that.” We enter into the contract with God by doing the required ritual: baptism, taking the sacrament, temple covenants. Doing the ritual is equivalent to putting your name to a document. But if a covenant is to be valid it must be officiated by an authorized person and witnesses must be present. So covenants are administered by priesthood authority and two witnesses observe the “signing” of the contract.
Because of the serious nature of covenants, if one is unable to keep such a covenant it would be better not to enter into it. Thus a baptismal interview is a prerequisite for baptism, and a temple recommend is a necessary condition for entering a temple and making temple covenants.

Elder Russell M. Nelson (Apostle) said,

Our Redeemer requires that His temples be protected from desecration. No unclean thing may enter His hallowed house. Yet anyone is welcome who prepares well. Each person applying for a recommend will be interviewed by a judge in Israel—the bishop—and by a stake president. They hold keys of priesthood authority and the responsibility to help us know when our preparation and timing are appropriate to enter the temple. Their interviews will assess several vital issues. They will ask if we obey the law of tithing, if we keep the Word of Wisdom, and if we sustain the authorities of the Church. They will ask if we are honest, if we are morally clean, and if we honor the power of procreation as a sacred trust from our Creator. Why are these issues so crucial? Because they are spiritual separators. They help to determine if we truly live as children of the covenant, able to resist temptation from servants of sin. These interviews help to discern if we are willing to live in accord with the will of the true and living God or if our hearts are still set “upon riches and … vain things of the world.” (“Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign, May 2001)

Again, Elder Russell M. Nelson taught,

The temple is the house of the Lord. The basis for every temple ordinance and covenant—the heart of the plan of salvation—is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Every activity, every lesson, all we do in the Church, point to the Lord and His holy house. Our efforts to proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead all lead to the temple… In the temple we receive an endowment, which is, literally speaking, a gift. In receiving this gift, we should understand its significance and the importance of keeping sacred covenants. Each temple ordinance “is not just a ritual to go through, it is an act of solemn promising.” The temple endowment was given by revelation. Thus, it is best understood by revelation, prayerfully sought with a sincere heart. President Brigham Young said, “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father,… and gain your eternal exaltation.” (“Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign, May 2001)

Take an inside tour of a temple.

End Notes___________________________ [1] Abraham's name was changed: “My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham” (Gen. 17:4-5).


  1. See "Covenants and Contracts" at ldsphilospher.com for the difference between a covenant and contract.

  2. Baptism opens the door to the kingdom of God...Over time and with obedience, we progress into the ordinances of the temple...

    ...sacred gospel ordinances are the gateway to solemn covenants with God. Ordinances and covenants can hardly be understood apart from each other. By ordinances we enter into covenants, and by covenants we receive the ordinances. Though there may be ordinances that do not have an associated covenant—such as the blessing and naming of children, anointing of the sick, or blessings of comfort—there is no eternal covenant that is not connected to an ordinance. Our important steps toward God are introduced by sacred ordinances and are governed by the conditions of the covenants associated with those ordinances.

    ...Eternal covenants are extended or offered to us only by God. He is the originator of all such covenants, as He is the only one who has authority and power to guarantee their validity beyond the grave.... we can only enter into covenants that are offered to us by God, and we can enter them only in the way He prescribes.

    (Ordinances and Covenants, Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander, Engign, Aug 2001.

  3. Remember your baptism? You first agreed to have faith in Him, repent of your sins, and live a good, righteous life. And He agreed to help you go back. That was the agreement, that was a covenant you both made.

    But then you had to make the agreement official—just like you do when you write down an agreement on paper, but to make it official, to make it stand, you both sign your name on that written agreement. When you want to make an agreement with the Lord official, you don’t sign a document; you perform an ordinance.
    (Covenants and Ordinances, Elder Jorge Rojas of the Seventy, Ensign, May 1995.)