The temple ordinances and attendant covenants are ancient. They began with Father Adam and Mother Eve. What was God’s purpose in providing a plan whereby his children could exercise agency and enter into covenants with Him, or by that same agency chose not to follow Him?
We start to find the answer by reading Moses 6:64-68:
64 And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water.
65 And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.
66 And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever;
67 And thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.
68 Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons.
President Ezra Taft Benson explains that, “when our Heavenly Father placed Adam and Eve on this earth, He did so with the purpose in mind of teaching them how to regain His presence. Our Father promised a Savior to redeem them from their fallen condition. He gave to them the plan of salvation and told them to teach their children faith in Jesus Christ, and repentance. Further, Adam and his posterity were commanded by God to be baptized, to receive the Holy Ghost, and to enter into the order of the Son of God.
To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord.
Three years before Adam's death, a great event occurred. He took his son Seth, his grandson Enos, and other high priests who were his direct-line descendants, with others of his righteous posterity, into a valley called Adam-ondi-Ahman. There Adam gave to these righteous descendants his last blessing.
The Lord then appeared to them.
The vast congregation rose up and blessed Adam and called him Michael, the prince and archangel. The Lord himself declared Adam to be a prince forever over his own posterity.
Then Adam in his aged condition rose up and, being filled with the spirit of prophecy, predicted 'whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation.' All this is recorded in section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants (verses 53-56) [D&C 107:53-56].
The Prophet Joseph Smith said that Adam blessed his posterity because 'he wanted to bring them into the presence of God.' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 159.)
Here is an illuminating passage from Section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants which tells us how Adam was able to bring himself and his righteous posterity into God's presence:
'The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and tightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.
'This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage in [order] … that his posterity should be the chosen of the Lord, and that they should be preserved unto the end of the earth.' (D&C 107:40-42; italics added.)
How did Adam bring his descendants into the presence of the Lord?
The answer: Adam and his descendants entered into the priesthood order of God. Today we would say they went to the House of the Lord and received their blessings.
The order of priesthood spoken of in the scriptures is sometimes referred to as the patriarchal order because it came down from father to son.
But this order is otherwise described in modern revelation as an order of family government where a man and woman enter into a covenant with God--just as did Adam and Eve--to be sealed for eternity, to have posterity, and to do the will and work of God throughout their mortality.
If a couple is true to their covenants, they are entitled to the blessing of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. These covenants today can only be entered into by going to the House of the Lord.
Adam followed this order and brought his posterity into the presence of God. He is the great example for us to follow. (From 'What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children About the Temple,' Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pp. 42-43; also, Ensign, Aug. 1985, p. 8; emphasis added.)
President Harold B. Lee taught, “The receiving of the endowment requires the assuming of obligations by covenants which in reality are but an embodiment or an unfolding of the covenants each person should have assumed at baptism, as explained by the prophet Alma to the effect that 'ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death' (Mosiah 18:8-9). Any [people] who [are] prepared to assume those obligations declared by Alma and 'who humble themselves before God ... and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits ... and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end' (D&C 20:37), need have no hesitancy in going to a holy temple and receiving, in connection with the covenants taken, promises of great blessings predicated upon compliance therewith.” (From Teachings Of Presidents Of The Church: Harold B. Lee (2004), p.99; emphasis added)
First what is a covenant? The Bible dictionary speaks of two different types of covenants: covenants between two equal parties (i.e between persons or nations) and covenants between God and man, “but in this latter case it is important to notice that the two parties to the agreement do not stand in the relation of independent and equal contractors. God in his good pleasure fixes the terms, which man accepts.” Or rejects, the same word is sometimes rendered 'testament.'
“The gospel is so arranged that principles and ordinances are received by covenant placing the recipient under strong obligation and responsibility to honor the commitment. Thus the severe consequences to Ananias and Sapphira, who deliberately broke their covenant and lied unto God (Acts 5: 1-11).”
In this history of Ananias and Sapphira we learn in that the apostles and a select group of followers had enter into the law of consecration where they all had promised to God their time, talents and possessions to the building of the Kingdom. (Acts 4:32-35)
32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
In chapter 5 we learn that Annanias and Sapphira his wife entered into this same covenant but willfully held back a portion of their goods and then lied to the to the Lord. The penalty for breaking their covenant was the loss of their lives.
In other words, as well as the promised blessings, there was a penalty affixed if they did not keep their promise. The penalty in the case of Ananias and Sapphira was death. Ananias and Sapphira willingly made a covenant with the Lord and not only were not willing to make the required sacrifices to receive the promised blessings but thought that they could deceive the Lord.
From this scriptural account and others, we see that making covenants with God is not something that should be treated lightly. God sets the terms and we can accept them and receive the fullness of His blessings or not, and receive the consequences of disobedience.
His covenants always require from us a willingness to be obedience, a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to keep all of His commandments, and ultimately a willingness to consecrate or subordinate our will to his, as exemplified by the Savior himself. His integrity is perfect; he will always fulfill his part of the agreement. He is our Father and desires to bless us. We are his work and his glory. He knows that we are imperfect beings and that we will struggle and fall from time to time. But through the gift and blessing of his only begotten son, through his atonement, we can be forgiven and strengthened as we progress toward the blessings of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom; even life eternal as husband and wife and families.
What are the promised blessings? What does Father in Heaven have in store for his children who will use their agency wisely? What is in store for those who will make and keep sacred covenants with Him, and act and enter into covenants with Him? What is promised to those who keep sacred those covenants and faithfully fulfill their part? In D&C 84:38 we find the answer. Speaking through his son Jesus Christ, Our Father in Heaven promises us this:
33 For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
34 They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
35 And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.
39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
Just as with Annanias and Saphirra, just as with the Nephites, there are serious consequences for those who enter into covenants and then turn away from their promises.
40 Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
41 But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.
If we want to return to the presence of the Father and live as families together forever, we must teach, make and keep sacred covenants which are only available in the House of the Lord. This is how we live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.