The idea of wearing ceremonial clothing for special occasions isn’t too hard to understand. Putting clothing on and off is part of how we put an identity on and off. Throughout the world there are special occasions that we dress up for, either for cultural or religious purposes. Even if we don’t like “dressing up” for fancy occasions, we might feel it’s okay to dress up to ritually play a role in a ceremony or special event, such as a wedding, funeral, party, or graduation. In the modern world we tend to be grateful when the special occasion is over, glad for the return to informality and the opportunity to take off the ritual clothing and get back to “being ourselves.”
But what if we were not supposed to put off our new self, with our new name and covenant identity? The Church has stated, “As part of entering into these covenants in the temple, members receive a simple undergarment—often referred to as the ‘temple garment’ or ‘garment of the Holy Priesthood.’ Unlike other ceremonial clothing used during the endowment, the garment is worn underneath members’ normal clothing for the rest of their lives, serving as a daily physical reminder of their covenant relationship with God.”1
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For some, the requirement of wearing the garment of the Holy Priesthood, given as part of the endowment, may be a source of confusion or frustration for various reasons. In a modern world in which self-expression and personal comfort are highly prized, the expectation to wear the temple garment day and night could be challenging.
As we understand the endowment, we come to realize that our covenant identity and name are manifest in daily practices of what we wear. As we choose to wear the garment of the Holy Priesthood day and night, we are fulfilling what the Lord told Moses: “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests [and priestesses], and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). I saw this covenant faithfulness modeled by my devoted parents, who wore their temple garments under knee-length shorts in the stifling heat and humidity of Virginia summers. They might have found excuses to remove the garment, but they didn’t.
Baptized into His Death
The meaning and purpose of wearing the temple garment may best be addressed by exploring how, with the garment of the Holy Priesthood, we “put on Christ” as part of our covenant relationship with Him. A fuller sense of how we ritually embody Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and thus “put on Christ” through making temple covenants, can be found in scriptures that explain baptism.
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Paul referred to the radical change that covenants make possible, and he used the language of clothing to communicate his point: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). How do we “put on” Christ through temple ordinances? Paul developed this idea more fully in Romans by pointing to the ritual identification with Christ that comes with the ordinances: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). We ritually experience His death and burial in the ordinances.
After a lifetime of always doing the Father’s will, Christ gave up his life, fully expressing His humility and submission to the Father. His death was also the source of new life, eternal life for Him and for us. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). After ritually participating in the death and burial of Christ through baptism, we ritually rise with Christ. As in baptism, in the ordinances of the temple, we ritually experience Christ’s atoning sacrifice and Crucifixion through symbolic actions and then ritually enter into newness of life in the celestial kingdom.
In our ritual submission and resurrection with Christ through the ordinances, we begin to walk in a new way with a new identity, having taken His name upon us. It’s a way of walking that requires a lifetime of practice and repeated, even daily, repentance to keep learning and becoming what we have promised (and been promised) to become. Our discipleship is an apprenticeship in putting on Christ, practicing taking on a new way of being in the world. In the temple we are ritually clothed with the robes of the Holy Priesthood. In our temple worship we learn to embody a new name and identity as a perfectly obedient child of God, even as Christ is. After leaving the temple, we are daily reminded to put on Christ as we put on the holy garment that points to Him.
Newness of Life
Through the ordinances we are promised and ritually experience redemption and salvation so we can enjoy a freedom from sin the rest of our lives, walking in the newness of life we are given. In teaching about baptism, Paul explained the larger pattern of ritual participation in temple ordinances that orients us toward a new life in Christ: “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). By embodying Christ in the ordinances, we experience both the submission of death and the exalting power that lifts us to a holier form of life.
Just as with baptism, when we participate in the temple ordinances, we move forward having received the promise of a glorious resurrection and a life with Christ. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6). In other words, the pattern that we experience in the ordinances of salvation is this: by ritually embodying Christ’s death, He redeems us, and we emerge to serve Him rather than serving sin. But even though we covenant to serve God in the temple ordinances, learning to serve God rather than sin requires a lifetime of practice.
By regularly participating in temple ordinances, our actions, hearts, and minds can gradually change. Elder David A. Bednar taught, “Our hearts—the sum total of our desires, affections, intentions, motives, and attitudes—define who we are and determine what we will become. And the essence of the Lord’s work is changing, turning, and purifying hearts through gospel covenants and priesthood ordinances.”2 The Lord gives us the covenants and ordinances to help us have this change of heart, to more fully put off the natural man and become saints through the Atonement of Christ (see Mosiah 3:19).
As we participate in temple ordinances, our sinful life ritually dies with Christ, and we emerge victorious through Him, empowered by covenant to live unto God. “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God” (Romans 6:8–10). Going forth from the temple, as we wear the temple garment, we remember that we have been redeemed from sin and are living unto God. “The garment provides a constant reminder of the covenants made in the temple. ... When worn properly, the garment provides protection against temptation and evil. Wearing the garment is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.”3 The garment is not “magic underwear” that keeps us from any physical harm, but faithfully keeping our covenants does protect us from the spiritual power of the evil one. …
To me, the gift of wearing the garment of the Holy Priesthood is being covered with the love of Christ, “who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar [or purchased] people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). Christ gave Himself for us, but we have to choose to receive Him in the ordinances. We have to choose to receive Him in keeping our covenants. He wants to be our dearest possession. We can wear that love and that gift day and night for the rest of our lives.
Worship in the house of the Lord can help us find answers to questions deep in our hearts. As this book illuminates, through the ordinances and covenants of the temple, Latter-day Saints can come closer to Christ and the abundant life that He offers.
- Gospel Topics, “Garments,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/garments?lang=eng.
- David A. Bednar, “Let This House Be Built unto My Name,” Ensign, May 2020, 85.
- (Gospel Topics, “Temples,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/temples?lang=eng.