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).
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