The Covenant Path of Discipleship Leading to the Tree of Life

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "The Strait and Narrow Path: The Covenant Path of Discipleship Leading to the Tree of Life" by Aaron Schade in the book Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi's Dream and Nephi's Vision.)

Through the vision of the tree of life, we enter the world of symbolism underlying the necessary discipleship that leads to exaltation. If we carefully examine the vision, the pathway leading to the tree of life seems to reflect the covenant road (which leads to eternal salvation in God’s presence) rather than to describe the rough roads of life (where we are to do good and avoid temptations to the best of our ability). Thus, on the path of discipleship, “enduring to the end” has a greater covenantal significance. In discussing Lehi’s dream, it should be stated that the covenant path not only symbolizes ordinances and covenants but also represents the lifestyle of one who has entered, and continues to enter, into those ordinances and covenants with God throughout the course of life—one who moves forward on that path and attempts to stay faithful to the end of this mortal journey. The strait and narrow path and the iron rod are components of the dream that make obtaining the fruit of the tree possible. Elder Neal A. Maxwell described the path of discipleship in these terms:

Deeds, not words—and becoming, not describing—are dominant in true discipleship. Of necessity, of course, we are to teach and learn the doctrines. We would be spiritually stranded without them and, likewise, without the saving and exalting gospel ordinances, because ‘in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh’ (D&C 84:20–21). So it is that discipleship requires all of us to translate doctrines, covenants, ordinances, and teachings into improved personal behavior. Otherwise we may be doctrinally rich but end up developmentally poor. . . . The gospel’s rich and true doctrines combine to constitute a call to a new and more abundant life, but this is a lengthy process. It requires much time, experiencing the relevant learning experiences, the keeping of covenants, and the receiving of the essential ordinances—all in order to spur us along the discipleship path of personal progression.

The necessity of staying on the path of discipleship is highlighted in Lehi’s dream as he witnesses individuals partake of the fruit of the tree and then fall away from the path. The people partaking of the fruit of the tree are a representation of individuals who had taken upon themselves all of the ordinances and covenants necessary to qualify for eternal life (thus receiving conditional blessings contingent upon obedience and enduring to the end). Because they fall away, these individuals do not witness the ultimate fulfillment of those blessings (receiving exaltation in the presence of God and entering into the rest of the Lord). President Joseph F. Smith highlighted the meaning of entering into the Lord’s rest in both immediate and future contexts:

What does it mean to enter into the rest of the Lord? Speaking for myself, it means that through the love of God I have been won over to Him, so that I can feel at rest in Christ, that I may no more be disturbed by every wind of doctrine, by the cunning and craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; and that I am established in the knowledge and testimony of Jesus Christ, so that no power can turn me aside from the straight and narrow path that leads back into the presence of God, to enjoy exaltation in His glorious kingdom; that from this time henceforth I shall enjoy that rest until I shall rest with Him in the heavens.

Lehi’s vision teaches of fidelity to covenants—a topic applicable to all. As President Boyd K. Packer has taught, “You may think that Lehi’s dream or vision has no special meaning for you, but it does. You are in it; all of us are in it.”

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