A prayerful study of symbolism in the gospel enables us to understand and better appreciate the doctrines, principles, commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel more completely. When we do, we are filled with gratitude, which is the ultimate catalyst for personal change. As our understanding of the gospel and the ordinances of the temple matures, we want to know even more. We become more like the Savior, and we desire more strongly to please God. That has been for me a delicious and deeply satisfying spiritual experience. My hope is that you will have the same kind of experience.
For example, there are two words that, when understood, will give us greater understanding of our lives and the endowment. Those words are garment or garments and naked or nakedness.
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Adam and Eve, having transgressed by partaking of the forbidden fruit, knew they were now “naked” (see Moses 4:13, 16‒17), so the Lord made a covering for them: “Unto Adam, and also unto his wife, did I, the Lord God, make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Moses 4:27). Thus “nakedness,” as used figuratively in the scriptures, often seems to indicate a fallen, sinful, or guilt-ridden state away from the presence of God: “For behold, when ye [those who have transgressed and not repented] shall be brought to see your nakedness before God, and also the glory of God, and the holiness of Jesus Christ, it will kindle a flame of unquenchable fire upon you” (Mormon 9:5).
The prophet Jacob indicates that two groups are involved in this concept: the “naked” and the “clothed.” At the day of judgment, not only will we “have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness,” but the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, “being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Nephi 9:14).
The Apostle John also wrote of clothes covering our nakedness: “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (Revelation 3:18). What does it mean to wear rich raiment or be clothed in the robes of righteousness? Isaiah teaches us, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
Isaiah rejoiced, for he had been clothed in “the garments of salvation,” a symbol of eternal life. The “robes of righteousness” are a direct reference to the holy garment. Nephi also speaks of being encircled by the Lord’s robe of righteousness: “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy” (2 Nephi 4:33).
We read that Nephi, encircled within the robe of the Lord’s righteousness, may now escape from his enemies (and anything associated with evil). Elder Carlos E. Asay associated the robe of righteousness with the armor of God:
We must put on the armor of God spoken of by the Apostle Paul and reiterated in a modern revelation (see D&C 27:15–18). We must also ‘put on the armor of righteousness’ (2 Nephi 1:23) symbolized by the temple garment. Otherwise, we may lose the war and perish.
Elder Asay continued:
And in a letter to priesthood leaders dated 10 October 1988, the First Presidency made the following important statements regarding how the garment should be worn: “Church members who have been clothed with the garment in the temple have made a covenant to wear it throughout their lives. This has been interpreted to mean that it is worn as underclothing both day and night. This sacred covenant is between the member and the Lord. Members should seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to answer for themselves any personal questions about the wearing of the garment. . . . The promise of protection and blessings is conditioned upon worthiness and faithfulness in keeping the covenant (“The Temple Garment: An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, 19).
Elder J. Richard Clark spoke of the garment as a protection against temptation and evil:
Sacred temple clothing is a shield and protection against Satan. As you receive your endowments in the temple, you receive the privilege of wearing the sacred temple clothing and the garments of the holy priesthood. The garments are a tangible reminder of your covenants with God. . . . The temple garment reminds us that virtue sets us apart from the world and, in a special way, makes us one with God (“The Temple—What It Means to You,” New Era, Apr. 1993, 4).
The garments are also associated with being prepared to greet the Bridegroom. In the parable of the bridegroom, some invited guests were rejected because they were not wearing the wedding garment (see Matthew 22:11-13). Others were welcomed: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:7-8).
We understand from scripture that the garment must be made clean through the blood of the Lamb—that is to say, it symbolizes our need to repent and apply the enabling power of the Atonement to our lives. As we know, it is only by grace—after all we can do—that we may enter into the presence of the Father (see Rev. 7:14; 1 Ne. 12:11; Alma 13:11; 34:36; Morm. 9:6; Ether 13:10-11).
Speaking to the Saints, the Prophet Joseph Smith prayed at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple “that our garments may be pure, that we may be clothed upon with robes of righteousness, with palms in our hands, and crowns of glory upon our heads, and reap eternal joy for all our sufferings” (D&C 109:76.)
Through studying the symbolism and scriptures related to the garment, we come to see that the garment of the holy priesthood symbolizes both coats of skin and robes of righteousness. They are a protection against temptation and evil and a reminder of the covenants we make in the temple. Our garments may be cleansed in the Lord’s blood, even the blood of the Lamb, through the enabling power of the Atonement, and we are to wear them when we meet the Lord. They cover our nakedness—our sins and our guilt—and they are an armor or righteousness that protects us in our hour of need, as they did Nephi. Above and beyond these things, there is yet more to understand and appreciate concerning naked and garments that personal study and revelation can reveal to us.