Help. Hope. Healing.

Because of the Covenant

By Rex Goode

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Around the time I turned thirteen, my family moved from one state to another. Due to many factors, our activity in the Church waned to the point where I did not attend Church at all throughout the eighth grade. My mother worked as a waitress at a restaurant affiliated with a local hotel and went to Church as her work schedule allowed and was acquainted with some of the sisters in the ward.

As my fourteenth birthday and the beginning of my freshman year approached, my mother desired that I attend seminary. Prior to this, I had begun to say my personal prayers on my own, feeling a need for some contact with my Heavenly Father, and having retained a testimony of His reality even through those months of inactivity.

My mother made a deal with me, that I would try Seminary for one week, and if I didn’t like it, she would not ask me to go again. She arranged for one of the parents to pick me up each morning and drive me to the Church for early morning Seminary.

The Lord pulled no punches in setting my feet along the seminary path. He used his most effective weapon right away, Sister Reed. This woman took me in, made me feel welcome, and taught with an enthusiasm that made the sunrise going on outside completely pale compared with the brilliance of light that emanated from her teachings. In all my life, I will never forget dear Sister Reed and the influence her teaching had on me.

I was hooked. I would stick with Seminary. Mom’s plan had worked. Several years later I heard Mark E. Petersen tell parents at Stake Conference that if they wanted their children to marry in the temple, convince them to go to Seminary.

At the same time, other more defeating events were taking place in my Church experience, because some of my seminary-mates were also the young men who were the most prominent sowers of wild oats at school. Their pastimes included smoking and drinking and other violations of the good LDS standards I had always been taught. Yet, I was in no position to be judgmental. I had begun my own activities that were contrary to the teachings of the Church and mine seemed so much worse.

Several weeks later my mother talked me into a similar deal with Priesthood meeting. I had been ordained a deacon back in our previous state. Mom arranged a ride to Priesthood and I was welcomed by the bishopric and after opening exercises, was sent to the deacon’s quorum. Over the summer between eighth and ninth grades, I had experienced my pubescent growth spurt, and while not particularly tall for a fourteen-year-old, I was like the jolly green giant compared to any deacon in the room.

Also, I found that the quorum leadership positions in the Aaronic Priesthood quorums were mostly held by these same young men of questionable values I knew at school. These two factors, feeling out of place in deacon’s quorum, and being disappointed at the behavior of my young priesthood leaders, contributed to my insistence that Seminary was all the Church activity that I would participate in for the time being.

To the same degree that I loved Seminary, I hated Physical Education at school. I didn’t like sports. I had a slight build and a pacifist nature and Physical Education class was full of bullies and coached by a man who either purposefully ignored their activities or was blatantly ignorant of them. More than once, while changing from my school clothes into my gym clothes, I was backed against a locker and slapped or otherwise abused while my classmates stood by and laughed. I was not the only victim in the class, but had my turn at it regularly. Because of this, I starting cutting class, sometimes not just Physical Education, but school entirely.

There was a Protestant church directly across from the front door of the school. My daily routine began to be, that I would go to class in the morning, then leave at lunch time with all the other students going to the local mall for lunch, but I would not return. Rather, I would go to the back of the Protestant church and hang out there with others who were “playing hookie.” Two of these boys were members of the ward, the ones I was so disgusted with at Church—a good lesson for the judgmental.

We would go to the mall daily, where I learned the finer points of shoplifting from this gang. Though they would never allow me to do it, I was permitted to watch from outside the windows. I had to wait till school was out to go and try it myself, because my friends wouldn’t let me participate. Neither would they let me drink or smoke, even when I asked.

Their usual reply was, “We know we shouldn’t be doing this stuff. You’re better off not getting started.”

Amazingly enough, my reprobate priesthood leaders, the ones I thought could offer me nothing at all, were the ones who were helping me to shape my life, testimony, and standards.

Due to association with them, I began to develop a deep gratitude for the commandments, especially the Word of Wisdom. During those days, they actually spoke of their envy for me to be able to keep the commandments. I eventually started going back to class and endured the abuses of my classmates and had discovered an ethic to live by. Also, I gained an appreciation and gratitude for commandments.

Thanks to Sister Reed, I had also gained an appreciation for the Book of Mormon and the other Standard Works. The course of study in my freshman year for seminary was the Book of Mormon. I was put on the scripture chase team and did very well, and though I rarely attended anything but seminary, was developing a deep and abiding testimony of the Savior, the Book of Mormon, and the mission of Joseph Smith.

Also, thanks to a very clever English teacher, Mrs. Highums, I was given the key to a sense of self-worth and determination to make something of my life.

During the time I was absent frequently from afternoon classes, Mrs. Highums approached me frequently in the halls before I disappeared for the day and expressed her hope that I would come to class that afternoon. I had always enjoyed her classes previously, but since her class was immediately following Physical Education, I was already long gone by that period.

One morning, instead of asking me to class, she said, “I’ve heard that you are a religious boy. Is that true?”

I answered, “Yes.”

She asked, “What religion are you?”

I proudly replied, “I’m a Mormon.”

Her life-changing answer was quick. “You know,” she began. “Mormons are such wonderful people, so industrious and talented. I never knew a Mormon that couldn’t do anything he wanted to.”

As she walked away smiling, I stood there completely taken in by this thought, and proud that my religion was so highly thought of by this well-respected teacher. Also, the realization came to me that armed with the gospel, I really could do anything I really wanted to. That afternoon I was back in English class and attended from then on until we moved away.

One morning, after I knew I would be moving, I overheard Mrs. Highums ask another young man his religion. He replied that he was Jewish.

She said to him, “You know, Jews are such wonderful people, so industrious and talented. I never knew a Jew that couldn’t do anything he wanted to.”

Her secret was revealed, but I found out all too late. I was already firmly convinced that I could be in charge of my own success, and finding out that this was merely a tactic did not diminish my resolve at all. In fact, I realized that what she said was true of anyone.

The result of these experiences is that I have learned for myself, that commandments are precious blessings. They are not only the means to obtain blessings, but are also the blessings themselves. I know this, because like almost everyone, I can recall the time when I did not keep the commandments, when I did not know them or have them, and how blessed I feel to have, directly from God, a pattern and a system to help me live life happily.

King Benjamin taught:

I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another-

I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another-I say, if you should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as ye hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast (Mosiah 2:20-24; emphasis added)?

Here the word, “immediately” has always stood out for me.

When I first learned this scripture back in Sister Reed’s class, I was struck with the idea that we ought to be humble, but I also could not remember any immediate blessings for obedience. Mostly the blessings I expected from keeping the commandments came long after I had kept them. Having faith in the truthfulness of King Benjamin’s words, I pondered what this immediate blessing might be.

Eventually, I came to the realization that the immediate blessing for keeping any commandment is the increased light and knowledge I receive. I gain a greater heart-preparation for receiving even greater, more life-changing, commandments, and in a very real way, the immediate effect of keeping any commandment is that of receiving firmer knowledge of the need to keep other commandments. Therefore, for me, commandments are not the whims of a God who seeks to control my life, but precious blessings that I hope to never be without again.

Of course, commandments are not the only blessings for obedience. There are also many other more visible and evident blessings for keeping commandments.

There is another way, other than explicitly obeying a commandment, to receive blessings from God. It is part of the blessing/obedience cycle. This way is to make and keep covenants. Blessings, including the blessing of new commandments, come by way of covenants made. Consider this statement by King Benjamin:

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made, ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters (Mosiah 5:7).

Here is the covenant these people made:

And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God (Mosiah 5:5).

Simply stated, they made a covenant to obey whatever God commanded them. They made the covenant in order to avoid never-ending torment and the wrath of God. This illustrates that covenants and commandments are not the same thing. Understanding this, then the question arises whether we are saved by obedience to commandments or by keeping covenants.

We’ve all heard how a covenant is a two-way proposition. In this case, the people covenanted to be obedient and the Lord promised to call them the children of Christ.

It is this idea of receiving a promise from God that makes covenanting a saving principle. We are a covenant people, a covenanting people. What is the importance of covenants? Why is it not enough to just be a good person? The key to answering these questions if the part of the covenant that is a promise from God. Without this promise, we have no claim on God, regardless of how otherwise righteous we may be. Without a promise from God, our goodness has no effect on our exaltation, because we can be as good as we can be, and without covenants like baptism, sacrament, endowments, and eternal marriage, we could not be eligible for the same blessings as those who have received a promise from God.

The promise from God was so important to Jacob that he wrestled all night to receive one. I remember that Bruce R. McConkie said that the visitor in this story was neither God nor an angel. Rather than argue that point, I’ll say that without regard to the identity of the other wrestler, it is a perfect analogy of my own wrestle with God.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.

Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank (Genesis 32:24-32).

Such was my own wrestle with the Lord, the night I finally called an end to my homosexual encounters. As I have described before, I had spent many nights in inappropriate sexual activities. I was a teenager, a mere child, but with years of experience and addiction.

Many times I had prayed, prayers of deep lament, prayers of promise to God that I would stop, prayers of excuse, but until that night, I had not wrestled with God for a promise from him. They had all been promises to him, promises I was powerless to keep.

Like Jacob, I wrestled with the Lord so persistently that he told me to let him go, and still I held on and insisted, “Not until thou bless me.” I received my promise. The Lord has kept it.

We should be like Israel, and wrestle with God for a promise. What is it that we want him to promise us? Surely there are many things we desire, but the greatest of all of these things would be the promise of eternal life. We want him to promise us that we are forgiven. We want him to promise his blessings.

As the author of Hebrews said:

And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.

For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth (Hebrews 9:15-17).

The King of Kings left a will, and we are the beneficiaries of that will. What is our inheritance? “And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life (1 John 2:25).”

Who is the executor of the will? In this instance, it is the same as the testator.

When a person leaves a will, all of his children do not automatically receive an equal inheritance. Frequently the testator will choose who will receive and the amount to be given. Requirements are often attached. If I am not named in the will, yet fulfill the requirements, do I receive an inheritance along with the children? No. Only those who are named to receive an inheritance are heirs, providing they meet all of the other requirements.

Speaking of the idea of an enforceable will, Elder John Taylor, writing about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith remarked, “The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force (D&C 135:5).”

We, therefore, need more than to be righteous and keep the commandments. We need to have a promise from God that our obedience will be effective. This promise we obtain by being faithful to the covenants we make. Paul, speaking of the Savior said:

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise,

Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).

When speaking of “earnest”, we think of money that we pay as a promise to complete a transaction later. Therefore, the earnest of our inheritance is the promise from God that we will receive eternal life, a promise that is ours until the transaction is completed. With that promise, or that earnest, we then are empowered to act as heirs, before we actually possess our eternal home.

Earnest money also has requirements. By our actions, we can freely return the earnest and deny our inheritance, and under some conditions, be required to return it. The promise of an inheritance is in force as long as we are named in the will.

For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Ephesians 5:5).

Even if we are named in a will, we cannot claim the inheritance without first meeting all the conditions set forth in the will. Thus, to remain heirs, we must be faithful.

I knew from the moment I arose from my knees, that the covenant I had made with God could still become null by my behavior. I had much to do to keep my part of the covenant.

Finally, no one can name me as beneficiary of the wealth of another without authority to do so. The Lord told us in the latter days:

And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these:  All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandments through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and keys of the priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead (D&C 132:7).

It is, therefore, not enough to merely abstain from acting out behavior. Many people overcome sexual addiction and bring their lives into conformity with divine standards of sexual behavior. Latter-day Saints do not have a monopoly on recovery. God surely blesses obedience, even when it is without knowledge of Him or his plan. However, eternal life requires a covenant with God. I want more than to live out the rest of my life abstaining from sexual sin. I want to return to be with God and have the life He offers through the Gospel.

I encourage anyone who reads this to have that wrestle with God and keep doing it. Wrestle for the promise. You’ll wear out before God does, but He’ll expect you to persist. Because of the covenant you will surely receive, you will have eternal life.

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2 Responses to “Because of the Covenant”

  1. urb0123 said:

    I am not ready to have that particular wrestle. I don’t feel that I have progressed to a point I can rightfully expect any promise, since I can’t expect myself to keep my end of the bargain just yet.

    Is this what you have been spending 3-4 hours a day working for?

  2. Rex Goode said:

    Then wrestle about the stuff leading up to the big wrestle. God’s always interested in a good wrestle with a son.

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