The willingness of King Benjamin’s people to “enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days” (Mosiah 5:5), reflects a transition from one spiritual level to another. King Benjamin’s people had received a remission of their sins through their sincere repentance and their humbling themselves in the depths of humility, viewing their own nothingness before God and acknowledging their complete dependence on him. They had received the Holy Ghost, so that, “were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things” (Mosiah 5:3). They had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Of these events, King Benjamin acted as a catalyst (Mosiah 5:4).
The level the Nephites had now reached was what Latter-day Saints attain when we exercise the first principles of the gospel—faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. King Benjamin’s people accomplished this under the Mosaic covenant, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah to atone for their sins as if he had already come. The generation of Israelites born in the Sinai Wilderness had likewise attained this goal under Moses, which led directly to their inheriting the blessing of the Promised Land. The difference between the two is that, once in the Promised Land, the Israelites didn’t proceed further but instead regressed, so that within a generation “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).
By making a covenant with God, King Benjamin’s people bound themselves as individuals and as a people to ascend to the next level, to attain “everlasting salvation and eternal life” (Mosiah 5:15; emphasis added), or in other words, salvation and exaltation. Having received a remission of their sins through Messiah’s future atonement for sin, they were now redeemed from the Fall. They were no longer telestial beings but terrestrial ones.
The next step they could now work towards was to become celestial beings. The covenant they had made bound them to God, knowing that eternal life could be achieved only through a covenant relationship with him. God was a necessary and essential part of the equation, as without this covenant bond they could never attain it: “Under this head [under Christ their Savior] ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free” (Mosiah 5:8)—that is, free from bondage to sin and iniquity, free to be their own agents in performing good works. They became Christ’s spiritually begotten sons and daughters through faith on his name (Mosiah 5:7). From that point on, they could proceed further and ultimately become his heirs.
A few points about covenant relationships with God: “A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties”—in this case God and his (covenant) people. Such a relationship benefits the lesser party (God’s people), as God blesses them when they keep the terms of the agreement. God’s law and word, which are universal and eternal, constitute the terms of any covenant God makes. Whether a covenant is with his people collectively or with individuals, it is the same . . . People express their loyalty to God and their compliance with his will by keeping the terms of the covenant, thereby qualifying for blessings in their lives.
By complying with God’s law and word, we ascend (or progress spiritually), the terms of the covenant being the pathway that leads to heaven. Another way will not work. However, as each spiritual level is governed by its own covenant, each possesses a different set of terms. The loftier the level, the higher the law of its covenant. Thus, the “higher law” pertains to a higher covenant, while the “lesser law” pertains to a lower one. God requires more from those who have already come further up the ladder than from those still further down. As we ascend towards heaven (as we grow spiritually more refined), God’s word becomes more exacting and his requirement for loyalty greater.
God proves the measure of our covenant relationship, testing the level of our commitment. He adapts this trial to our own circumstances . . . In other words, our experiences intensify before we reach “chosen” or “elect” status . . . Covenant blessings increase dramatically as we ascend. As those on higher levels meet with escalating challenges, so their need for deliverance grows greater . . . The very purpose of any covenant God makes is to enable one to ascend from living a lesser law to living a higher law pertaining to a higher covenant. This means that eternal life and everlasting happiness are based on eternal covenant relationships, extending from this earth life into the Millennium and beyond . . . God never intended any covenant relationship to be temporary.
Now that the Nephites had obtained a remission of their sins, marking their transition to a higher spiritual level, King Benjamin exhorted them to “retain a remission of their sins” (Mosiah 4:12; emphasis added)—in other words, not to go back and become sinners, or telestial beings, again but to proceed forward and “grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true” (Mosiah 4:12).
To that end, King Benjamin exhorted his people to “live peaceably” and “render to every man according to that which is his due” (Mosiah 4:13). They should “impart of [their] substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants” (Mosiah 4:26). Moreover, they should ever retain in remembrance the name of Christ written in their hearts and be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works” (Mosiah 5:12, 15). If the Nephites did these things, God would “seal you his, that ye may be brought to heaven” (Mosiah 5:15; emphasis added).
Excerpts on covenant relationships taken from Isaiah Decoded, 51–52, 201, 207.