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Taking Upon Us the Name of Christ

I sometimes say that the gospel is like an onion. There are layers and layers of meaning that the Spirit can unfold to our view as we seek to study and learn and apply gospel principles. I ?m especially intrigued at how seemingly basic ? principles contain many layers of truth.

My son was recently baptized, and, not surprisingly, I ?ve been thinking about the introductory ordinances of the gospel. In particular, I ?ve been intrigued with the concept of the covenant we make to be willing to take upon [us] the name of Jesus Christ. ? What does this mean?

The oft-quoted answer is that we covenant to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places ? (Mosiah 18:9). Indeed, this is a significant part of what it means to be a member of the Savior ?s church. He asks us to act on His behalf, both for the sake of service and for the sake of being a light to other people so they might see His image in [our] countenances ? (Alma 5:14). We also need to be willing to bear witness of Him, to talk of Christ ?rejoice in Christ ?preach of Christ ?prophesy of Christ ? (2 Nephi 25:23). When we teach and testify, we should be willing and ready to bear testimony of Him.

But in my study on this topic, I have discovered there is more. Rather than try to summarize, I’m going to include some quotes that helped shed light on this concept for me. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77.) The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense ?.

When the children of Israel were still on the other side of the Jordan, the Lord told them that when they entered the promised land there should be a place where the Lord their God would ’cause his name to dwell.’ (Deut. 12:11; see also Deut. 14:23 ?24; Deut. 16:6.) Time after time in succeeding revelations, the Lord and his servants referred to the future temple as a house for ‘the name’ of the Lord God of Israel. (See 1 Kgs. 3:2; 1 Kgs. 5:5; 1 Kgs. 8:16 ?20, 29, 44, 48; 1 Chr. 22:8 ?10, 19; 1 Chr. 29:16; 2 Chr. 2:4; 2 Chr. 6:5 ?10, 20, 34, 38.) After the temple was dedicated, the Lord appeared to Solomon and told him that He had hallowed the temple ‘to put my name there for ever’ (1 Kgs. 9:3; 2 Chr. 7:16).

Similarly, in modern revelations the Lord refers to temples as houses built ‘unto my holy name’ (D&C 124:39; 105:33; 109:2 ?5). In the inspired dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked the Lord for a blessing upon ‘thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house’ (D&C 109:26).

Willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ can therefore be understood as willingness to take upon us the authority of Jesus Christ. According to this meaning, by partaking of the sacrament we witness our willingness to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and to receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Savior when he chooses to confer them upon us.

I was profoundly moved when I first read this. Elder Oaks’ words added a whole new layer of meaning for me of the sacrament. I love that the sacrament can draw my mind and heart to the temple and the covenants I have made there.

There is more significance to this covenant as well. We learn from the scriptures that the Savior ?s name is the only name given whereby salvation cometh ? (Mosiah 5:8; see also Acts 4:12; 2 Nephi 3:15; 2 Nephi 25:20; D&C 109:4; Moses 6:52).

The Savior said: [Y]e must take upon you the name of Christ ?.For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day ? (3 Nephi 27:5-6; see also D&C 18:24; Mosiah 5:7-14).

Again, from Elder Oaks:

The Book of Mormon explains the significance of being called by the name of Jesus Christ. When the Savior showed his spirit body to the brother of Jared, he introduced himself as the Father and the Son, declaring that through his redeeming sacrifice all mankind who believed on his name should have life eternal through him, ‘and they shall become my sons and my daughters.’ (Ether 3:14 [see also Mosiah 5:7]). Abinadi said of those who believed in the Lord and looked to him for a remission of their sins ‘that these are his seed, or they are heirs of the kingdom of God.’ (Mosiah 15:11.) He continued this explanation as follows:

‘For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed?’ (Mosiah 15:12.)

Speaking through the prophet Alma, the Lord explained the significance of this relationship: ‘For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.’ (Mosiah 26:24.)

In these great scriptures from the Book of Mormon, we learn that those who are qualified by faith and repentance and compliance with the laws and ordinances of the gospel will have their sins borne by the Lord Jesus Christ. In spiritual and figurative terms they will become the sons and daughters of Christ, heirs to his kingdom. These are they who will be called by his name in the last day.

According to this meaning, when we witness our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, we are signifying our commitment to do all that we can to achieve eternal life in the kingdom of our Father. We are expressing our candidacy our determination to strive for exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

There is clearly a great deal of depth to this covenant we renew each week. Now, consider also how all of these ideas can tie back to the third commandment to not take the name of the Lord’s name in vain. I found this article interesting. The author was pondering verses in Revelation and was thinking about what it really means to be a Christian. She wrote:

I wondered how often the concept of unworthily taking the name of Christ appeared in the standard works. I went to the scriptures on my computer and did a search of all verses that contained both the words take and name. Much to my surprise, the first scripture that appeared on my screen was Exodus 20:7: ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’

…I had previously understood that the meaning of this commandment was not to abuse the name of Deity. While this interpretation was not incorrect, to me it was now no longer complete. To take upon myself the name of Jesus Christ while not striving to make the necessary changes in my life through repentance was not only a misuse of the Savior ?s name but a…sin.

As I have pondered the significance of what it means to take upon me Christ ?s name, one more thought has come to mind. If the Savior ?s name is tied to His authority and His saving power, that means His name is inextricably tied to His Atonement. So, when I profess my willingness to take His name upon me, I feel that I ?m also witnessing my willingness to accept His Atonement. Thus, my covenants aren ?t solely about my commitment to do all [I] can do ? ? although that is certainly a significant part of the promise. It ?s also about recognizing all the Savior has already done! It ?s about remembering to rely on the Savior, and humbly and gratefully accepting His help, love, and grace (see 2 Nephi 25:23). I take the emblems of His Atonement into my body. Am I truly receiving and willingly accepting the power and potential of the Atonement into my heart and soul and life?

At least for me, at times this is the hardest part of my covenants. I care about doing what is right. I strive to keep the commandments. But sometimes I forget to really lean on the Savior for help, strength, support, and forgiveness. I forget that I can ?t save myself, and that I have to accept Christ ?s saving power for it really to make a difference. A willingness to take the Atonement into my life can turn my covenants from mere commitments to the foundation of hope and joy that they can be.

And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise (Moroni 7:41).

Additional resources:
Robert D. Hales, The Covenant of Baptism: To Be in the Kingdom and of the Kingdom, ? Liahona, Jan 2001, 6 ?9
Robert L. Millet, Honoring His Holy Name, ? Ensign, Mar 1994, 7
Ester Rasband, The Third Commandment, ? Ensign, Apr 1999, 13
W. Cole Durham Jr., The Sacrament and Covenant-Making, ? Ensign, Jan 1978, 45

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • CamBendy May 6, 2007, 12:11 am

    Michelle, thank you for this article. I like the click-on link to the scriptures because then I can read exactly the scripture. I had my own, private, gospel doctrine lesson reading it today.

  • mlinford May 8, 2007, 12:56 pm

    I’m grateful it was meaningful for you. I love it when we can learn a bit together. Thanks for your comment.

  • Oregonian May 9, 2007, 6:11 pm

    Michelle, you have given me a lot to think about.

    So, when I profess my willingness to take His name upon me, I feel that I ?m also witnessing my willingness to accept His Atonement.

    Am I the only one who has a hard time thinking they are worthy of this?

  • mlinford May 9, 2007, 6:56 pm

    In a sense, we aren’t worthy. 🙂 (We all sin, we all fall short of the glory of God.) That’s the wonder of the Atonement…that as we turn to Him, He can MAKE us worthy. And, ironically, our reliance on the Lord and recognition of our “nothingness” is what can help us turn to Him — if we really do turn to Him. I think somtimes, though, we stop at feeling bad about our weaknesses but don’t realize that being depressed about them is not what the Lord wants for us.

    BUT, as I said in my piece, though, this is something I struggle with myself…where to find that line between “all we can do” and His grace. Alma 33:16 is a scripture that really strikes me: “For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.” Are we sometimes too hard on ourselves and thus miss the mercy available to us? I would suspect that many of us are. (Of course, my guilt-prone personality would just then say, “Oh, great, add one more thing I’m not doing…I”m not “getting” the Atonement. 😉 ) But seriously, this is, IMO, one of the key purposes of life – to help us really understand how to have the Atonement active in our lives.

    One more thought for now, which has helped me a lot. My hubby attended a talk by Elder Eyring once where he basically said that if we feel the Holy Ghost, we can know the Atonement is at work in our lives. I thought that was an awesome, tangible test.

    I’m tempted to bring this discussion up a level because I think it’s an important one….

  • facethemusic May 9, 2007, 8:15 pm

    Mlinford, then this is case where I’d say that you should “cave into temptation”! 🙂
    I’m intrigued– what did you want to add to the discussion?

    Oregonian, what you brought up has always been one of my favorite points of doctrine — the Atonement and how we don’t deserve it… but that’s exactly why we need it! That’s where the grace comes in. We DON’T deserve it, we AREN’T worthy, but He did it for us anyway, because He loves us that much.
    The time I feel the most ‘uncomfortable’ about worthiness is during the temple recommend interview. I can answer those questions with complete confidence that my answers are honest and sure. Then it gets to that last question. “Am I worthy to go to the temple?” Yes, by the standards of the church, from my answers to the other interview questions… yes, I’m worthy to go. On the otherhand, it’s the house of the Lord. So sacred, so pure, so undefiled, so heavenlike. I’M not so sacred, not so pure, not so undefiled, and not so heavenlike.
    So how am I worthy to go? Because “perfection” isn’t the requirement. Being able to positively and honestly answer the interview questions is all that’s required. And where I fall short, as long as those shortcomings and faults don’t belie my answers to the previous questions, then His grace makes me pure ‘enough’.

  • mlinford May 9, 2007, 9:34 pm

    Hm. What I meant was to create a new discussion so people can join into this specific discussion on the Atonement. It’s something I think so many people struggle with.
    I think you responded well, btw.

  • mlinford May 10, 2007, 5:15 pm

    Well, I guess I’ll just chime in my vote on that book, too. I read it in article form as well, but I think it was when I read the book that it really hit me the hardest.

    Oregonian, I do have many thoughts on the topic, but yes, my comment was more wanting to know how other people approach the Atonement.

    (I read Following Christ while on train in Boston. Imagine a woman, dressed in her business best, sobbing her eyes out. Not pretty, but wonderful.) 🙂

  • ChanJo May 10, 2007, 11:34 pm

    This is a good article. Thanks for all the info. So, Allison, why did this book change your mind?

  • mlinford May 11, 2007, 12:33 am

    For any who haven’t read Stephen Robinson’s book or article, here is at least the article. WELL worth the read!

  • SilverRain May 11, 2007, 7:32 am

    Michelle, this is a beautiful article. Thank you.

    It has occurred to me in the past, that taking the name of Christ is even more than accepting His Atonement in the typical sense. When I took my husband’s name, I became part of his family. This means that all the things that are embodied with his last name (Irish temper, a propensity to blarney, a responsibility to his father and siblings) are all mine, now. In some senses, I still belong to my family with all that is embodied in my name (a love of debate, German temper, a tendency towards “stocky” build :sad:) but all of that is superseded by my husband’s family. The same thing is true when someone takes Christ’s name. Yes, there are blessings that come with that, the largest and most vital being the mercy of the Atonement, but there are also responsibilities and pain.

    I think the most tender moment of all time was when the Son pleaded with His Father to allow Him to not have to go through all the pain and horror of the Atonement, but then humbly added “Not my will, but thine be done.” He submitted to the Father completely and eternally. By being willing to take upon us the name of Christ, we are also saying that we are willing to do everything that God commands us, whether we want to or not. In other words, we are testifying that we are willing to be humble and submit. We are willing to get rid of extra earrings, attend the temple, wear the garment with respect, get married and have children and stay at home with them.

    As an aside, as I wrote that last sentence, it was reemphasized to me that it is testifying that we are willing to do all those things. If, for some reason, we cannot, our willingness is enough. That, it seems to me, is the difference between rationalizing our lifestyle to fit our own will (ie. but I’m not comfortable in the garment, or I need to work outside the home to preserve my sanity), and allowing our will become subject to His.

    The path Christ showed us through His life is not one of control, but one of submission. Submission to God is where happiness lies.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 11, 2007, 9:25 am

    Powerful insights, Silver.

    By being willing to take upon us the name of Christ, we are also saying that we are willing to do everything that God commands us, whether we want to or not. In other words, we are testifying that we are willing to be humble and submit. We are willing to get rid of extra earrings, attend the temple, wear the garment with respect, get married and have children and stay at home with them.

    LOVE that. Thanks. (Oh, oh, can I tell my earring story again?)

    FWIW, I still have my own Irish temper and did not take on the Smith tendencies to avoid speaking directly and to refuse to balance one’s checkbook to the penny. 🙂

  • mlinford May 11, 2007, 11:37 am

    SilverRain, you are awesome. Yet another layer of the onion to consider.

    (Incidentally, this is one reason why I have a hard time when women don’t want to take their hubby’s names (apologies if any of you fall into that category). The symbolism is powerful!)

    Alison, we don’t balance our checkbook at all. Does that help you feel better?

    And, btw, I don’t know that I have heard your earring story. Do tell!

  • Alison Moore Smith May 11, 2007, 12:18 pm

    Michelle, I did want to ask if you were comparing the gospel to ogres. 🙂

  • SilverRain May 11, 2007, 7:49 pm

    No – I took my husband’s name. It surprised and gratified him, because where he comes from it is unkosher for a woman to do so.

    Alison – I want the earring story, too!

  • mlinford May 13, 2007, 12:41 am

    For the record, this analogy came to me BEFORE the movie! 🙂

  • facethemusic May 10, 2007, 6:22 am

    Oh! I thought you meant you were tempted to bring up another point that you’d decided to leave out of the article. So then I was curious about what you’d left on the “cutting room floor”! 🙂

    One of my absolute favorite books on this subject is “Believing Christ” by Stephen R. Robinson. Simple comparisons, simple explanations that help so much in understanding the Atonement, which is sometimes so hard to comprehend.

    We learn about this all our lives, from simple, basic lessons in Primary, then into YM, YW, Seminary, Gospel Doctrine, RS, EQ, etc… and with each class geared toward older students, we delve a little deeper into the doctrine, discussing things more completely. But even though we KNOW the information inside and out, it’s still something that so many have a hard time believing applies to THEM.

    When I read “Believing Christ”, it suddenly became so clear. And I can’t even really explain why. Nothing was ‘new’ information. But sometimes, just the way someone says something can suddenly make things “clear”.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 10, 2007, 8:46 am

    Second the vote on that awesome book. It was first printed as an Ensign article and then expanded into a book. I was so struck by the message in the article that I used it as the monthly presidency lesson in Young Women, where I was serving at the time.

    Honestly, Oregonian, that article changed my heart, since I had truly believed IN the atonement, but, deep down, was pretty sure it didn’t apply to scum like me. Everybody else, sure, but not me.

    I also love his sequel Following Christ. I read the latter while…fun, fun, fun…miscarrying for the umpteenth time, while on a camping trip. Even then it lifted my spirits. I think that speaks volumes!

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