The power of God is manifest in the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:20). Our Father in Heaven uses the ordinances and covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ to teach us and to prepare us to live with Him. Ordinances are sacred, formal acts performed under proper priesthood authority. Ordinances symbolize gospel truths and teach us about Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Ordinances also teach us about who we are and remind us of our duty to God. There is symbolism in the ordinances and learning about that symbolism increases our understanding of the gospel more completely as well as to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ.
“In the Church, an ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. With each of these ordinances, we enter into solemn covenants with the Lord.
“Other ordinances, such as naming and blessing children, consecrating oil, and administering to the sick and afflicted, are also performed by priesthood authority. While they are not essential to our salvation, they are important for our comfort, guidance, and encouragement.
“Ordinances and covenants help us remember who we are. They remind us of our duty to God. The Lord has provided them to help us come unto Him and receive eternal life. When we honor them, He strengthens us.
“You may receive many opportunities to participate in priesthood ordinances. Whenever you have such an opportunity, do all you can to prepare yourself, whether you are performing the ordinance or receiving it. You can prepare by praying, fasting, counseling with priesthood leaders, and studying the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets. If you are a priesthood holder, you should always be spiritually prepared to perform an ordinance. Live a clean, worthy life, and strive to receive the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.
“Additional references: D&C 84:19-21; Articles of Faith 1:3-5” (True to the Faith, “Ordinances,” pp. 109-110).
The ordinances of the gospel teach about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. One example is the ordinance of baptism by immersion. When we are immersed or buried in the water and then brought up out of the water, it symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ as well as our own spiritual rebirth. (See Romans 6:3-6 and Doctrine and Covenants 76:51.)
“Baptism is the first saving ordinance of the gospel (see Articles of Faith 1:4). Through baptism and confirmation by priesthood authority, you became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“When you were baptized, you showed your willingness to follow the Savior’s example. He too was baptized, even though He was without sin. As He explained to John the Baptist, He needed to be baptized in order to `fulfill all righteousness’ (see Matthew 3:13-17).
“All who seek eternal life must follow the example of the Savior by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. The prophet Nephi said that the Savior showed us `the gate by which [we] should enter. For the gate by which [we] should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of [our] sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are [we] in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life’ (2 Nephi 31:17-18). We will receive eternal life if we endure to the end, keeping our covenants and receiving other ordinances of salvation” (True to the Faith, “Entering the Path to Eternal Life,” pp. 21-22).
The sacrament is another ordinance that teaches about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The sacrament represents the body and blood of the Savior. (See Luke 22:19-20 and 3 Nephi 18:1-11.)
“The sacrament provides an opportunity for you to remember with gratitude the life, ministry, and Atonement of the Son of God.
“With broken bread, you remember His body. You can be mindful of His physical suffering – especially His suffering on the cross. You can remember that through His mercy and grace, all people will be resurrected and given the opportunity for eternal life with God.
“With a small cup of water, you can remember that the Savior shed His blood in intense spiritual suffering and anguish, beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane. There He said, `My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death’ (Matthew 26:38). Submitting to the will of the Father, He suffered more than we can comprehend: `Blood [came] from every pore, so great [was] his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people’ (Mosiah 3:7). You can remember that through the shedding of His blood, Jesus Christ saved you and all other people from what the scriptures call the `original guilt’ of Adam’s transgression (Moses 6:54). You can remember that He also suffered for the sins, sorrows, and pains of all Heavenly Father’s children, providing remission of sins for those who repent and live the gospel (see 2 Nephi 9:21-23)” (True to the Faith, “Remembering the Savior and His Atonement,” pp. 147-148).
When we understand the symbolism of baptism and the sacrament and how they teach about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we will understand more fully the importance of the ordinances themselves.
Jesus Christ taught His gospel using parables and symbols. Parables illustrate meaning with words, and symbols are simply objects that represent something else. To illustrate that ordinances and covenants are inseparable, we can use a simple coin. While displaying a coin, we can ask “which side of the coin is more important?” Just as neither side of the coin is more important, both ordinances and covenants are important. They are inseparable and are both necessary for admission into God’s presence.
There are eternal truths or principles taught through the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament. Some of those truths are:
1) Baptism by immersion symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ and our own spiritual rebirth. 2) Every person who reaches the age of accountability must be baptized in order to enter the kingdom of God. Not even Jesus Christ was exempt from this requirement. 3) We renew our baptismal covenant each time we partake of the sacrament. 4) The sacrament represents the body and blood of the Savior. 5) Both baptism and partaking of the sacrament help us to become clean and worthy to enter God’s presence.
When we learn to understand the symbolism in the ordinances of the gospel, we are prepared to gain more understanding. With this preparation, we can better understand the temple ordinances because the teaching in the temples is done in symbolic fashion.
President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: “Before going to the temple for the first time, or even after many times, it may help you to realize that the teaching in the temples is done in symbolic fashion. The Lord, the Master Teacher, gave much of His instruction in this way.
“The temple is a great school. It is a house of learning. In the temples the atmosphere is maintained so that it is ideal for instruction on matters that are deeply spiritual….
“If you will go to the temple and remember that the teaching is symbolic, you will never go in the proper spirit without coming away with your vision extended, feeling a little more exalted, with your knowledge increased as to things that are spiritual. The teaching plan is superb. It is inspired. The Lord Himself, the Master Teacher, taught His disciples constantly in parables – a verbal way to represent symbolically things that might otherwise be difficult to understand.
“The temple itself becomes a symbol. If you have seen one of the temples at night, fully lighted, you know what an impressive sight that can be. The house of the Lord, bathed in light, standing out in the darkness, becomes symbolic of the power and the inspiration of the gospel of Jesus Christ standing as a beacon in a world that sinks ever further into spiritual darkness.
“Upon entering the temple, you exchange your street clothing for the white clothing of the temple. This change of clothing takes place in the dressing room, where each individual is provided with a locker and a dressing space that is completely private. In the temple the ideal of modesty is carefully maintained. As you put your clothing in the locker you leave your cares and concerns and distractions there with them. You step out of this private little dressing area dressed in white, and you feel a oneness and a sense of equality, for all around you are similarly dressed” (“The Holy Temple,” Ensign, Oct. 2010, pp. 29-35).
Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander taught, “May we now turn our attention to a discussion of some of the factors that make personal and worthy participation in sacred gospel ordinances, properly administered, so significant in our determination to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.
“First, through personal participation in sacred gospel ordinances we come to know God. I refer to the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, in which we read:
“`And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
“`Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
“`And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh’ [Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-21].
“Our participation in sacred ordinances teaches much about the order of God’s kingdom and about Him. For example, it seems strange to think that one could enter a temple to perform some of the most sacred ordinances before submitting to baptism, which is one of the initial ordinances of the gospel. There is order in the kingdom of God, and there is order in the way we learn about it….
“We do not receive everything at one time but receive knowledge of holy things progressively and incrementally as we are worthy of, and obedient to, such knowledge…. Our participation in the sacred ordinances of the gospel orders our knowledge of the kingdom and thereby reveals the nature of God to us.
“Sacred ordinances and knowledge of God are closely related….
“As sacred ordinances reveal the order of the kingdom of God in a progressive manner, our participation in them reveals to us a knowledge of the personality and character of God that can be gained in no other way.
“Second, 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…. Our important steps toward God are introduced by sacred ordinances and are governed by the conditions of the covenants associated with those ordinances.
“Perhaps it would be good at this point to make just a comment on the nature of covenants. 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 cannot originate such covenants because we do not possess the power to guarantee them. Consequently, we can only enter into covenants that are offered to us by God, and we can enter them only in the way He prescribes.
“… [W]ithout the priesthood authority and the accompanying covenant, the power of the ordinance is denied. If we eliminate priesthood authority and the covenant portion of an ordinance, we are left only with the `form of godliness.’ [See Joseph Smith-History 1:19].
“Third, sacred ordinances provide an endowment of divine power in our lives. In His conversation with Pilate, the Savior said, `My kingdom is not of this world’ [John 18:36]. Numerous scriptures teach us that there is natural enmity between the world and the kingdom of God. One of the things that set the kingdom of God apart is the sense of the holy that exists therein. The world can have a sense only of the secular. Worthy participation in sacred gospel ordinances changes our lives and brings blessings and power to us that we would otherwise not enjoy. The power of the Atonement itself is unlocked by sacred gospel ordinances that are performed under the keys of the priesthood. Remission of sins is extended through the ordinance of baptism. Confirmation brings with it the promise of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood opens the way for `every man [to] speak in the name of God’ [Doctrine and Covenants 1:20] by teaching, blessing, and comforting others. Worthy participation in the holy ordinances of the temple reveals our eternal possibilities and places us in a position to realize them….
“One of the most beautiful yet most common of the gospel ordinances is that of the sacrament. We participate in it literally thousands of times throughout our lives. Yet because of its ever-present nature in our sacrament meetings, we can easily miss its supernal significance. Partaking worthily of the sacrament can bring a weekly endowment of divine power in our lives….
“Sacred ordinances are ordained of God. They are essential to our salvation and exaltation. Through the sacred ordinances of the gospel, we learn of His kingdom and learn of Him, we enter into holy and eternal covenants, and we receive an endowment of divine power in our lives. All of these things bring us to Christ that we may be perfected in Him” (“Ordinances and Covenants,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 20-26).
As I learn more about the symbolism in the ordinances and teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I am gaining greater appreciation for the covenants involved in them. I am grateful to know that I can make covenants with God and receive blessings from Him through the ordinances of the priesthood.