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‘You get to choose’: What Church leaders taught about the covenant path and agency in October 2023 general conference

My dear brothers and sisters, how and where and with whom do you want to live forever? You get to choose,’ President Nelson says

In his first message as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in January 2018, President Russell M. Nelson encouraged all to “begin with the end in mind.”

At the close of October 2023 general conference, he again emphasized this principle and what it means: “This means making the celestial kingdom your eternal goal and then carefully considering where each of your decisions while here on earth will place you in the next world.

“The Lord has clearly taught that only men and women who are sealed as husband and wife in the temple, and who keep their covenants, will be together throughout the eternities,” President Nelson continued, adding that those choosing to live telestial laws now are choosing not to live with their families forever.

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, how and where and with whom do you want to live forever? You get to choose.”

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Attendees stand to sing during the 193rd Semiannual General Conference.
Attendees sing during the 193rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, declared during the Saturday morning session that exaltation in the celestial kingdom “is the focus of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Detailing God’s loving plan for His children, President Oaks said foremost among the doctrine of Jesus Christ is that “He wants us to live with Him and His Son Jesus Christ eternally. He has given us the teachings and the opportunity to make the choices that will assure us the destiny and the life we choose.”

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become,” President Oaks said. “Because of Jesus Christ and His Atonement, when we fall short in this life, we can repent and rejoin the covenant path that leads to what our Heavenly Father desires for us.”

Several Church leaders, in addition to President Nelson and President Oaks, taught about the covenant path and agency during October 2023 general conference.

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President Russell M. Nelson speaks through video message during the 193rd Semiannual General Conference.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks through video message during the 193rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Walking the path with Christ

In her talk in the Sunday morning session, Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman defined what the covenant path is — “a path that begins with the covenant of baptism and leads to deeper covenants we make in the temple.”

A covenant is not only about a contract, she pointed out. It’s about a relationship with God. “He invites each of us to come as we are able, with full purpose of heart, and to ‘press forward’ with Him at our side, trusting that His promised blessings will come.”

She explained that Jesus Christ’s mission is one of condescension and ascension. Though He meets individuals where they are as they are, he doesn’t intend to leave anyone as they are. “Jesus Christ came to lift us. He wants to help us become. … We must remember, it’s not the course alone that will exalt us, it’s the companion — our Savior,” President Freeman said.

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Several general women leaders greet one another prior to the Sunday afternoon session of general conference.
Leaders greet each other prior to the 193rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Elder Yoon Hwan Choi, a General Authority Seventy, taught in the Saturday afternoon session that as individuals yoke themselves to the Savior through covenants, “we can do things we couldn’t do on our own because He can do the things we cannot do for ourselves.”

He quoted President Nelson, who taught: “Yoking yourself with the Savior means you have access to His strength and redeeming power. The reward for keeping covenants with God is heavenly power — power that strengthens us to withstand our trials, temptations and heartaches better.”

“My dear brothers and sisters, do you want to be happy?” Elder Choi asked. “Stay on the covenant path. Your life will be easier, happier and filled with joy. Our Savior is inviting us, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ He is the living Christ. He carries our burdens and makes our life easier.”

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‘The road that leads home’

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used the parable of the prodigal son to illustrate how God rejoices when His children return to His path. 

To those who have wondered if it’s possible to go back or how God will react to their return, this parable gives the answer. “Our Heavenly Father will run to us, His heart overflowing with love and compassion,” Elder Uchtdorf said during the Sunday morning session. “He will embrace us, place a robe around our shoulders, a ring on our finger, sandals on our feet, and proclaim, ‘Today, we celebrate! For my child, who once was dead, has come back to life!’ …

“Though choices may have taken you far away from the Savior and His Church, the Master Healer stands at the road that leads home, welcoming you,” Elder Uchtdorf continued. “And we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ seek to follow His example and embrace you as our brothers and sisters, as our friends. We rejoice and celebrate with you.”

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Attendees pick up up translation equipment during the 193rd Semiannual General Conference
Attendees pick up up translation equipment during the193rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the conference center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Speaking in the Saturday morning session to those who have fallen away from the covenant path, Elder Carlos A. Godoy of the Presidency of the Seventy emphasized the negative impact that decision could have on their posterity and reminded them that “anything broken can be mended through Jesus Christ.”

Elder Godoy quoted President Nelson’s plea: “Now, if you have stepped off the path, may I invite you with all the hope in my heart to please come back. Whatever your concerns, whatever your challenges, there is a place for you in this, the Lord’s Church. You and generations yet unborn will be blessed by your actions now to return to the covenant path.”

To Church members who are perhaps not as faithful as they should be, Elder Godoy lovingly counseled: “Don’t be the weak link in this beautiful chain of faith you started, or you received, as a legacy. Be the strong one. It is your turn to do it and the Lord can help you.”

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The sealing power and the temple

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles focused his remarks Saturday morning on the sealing power — “the power to validate all priesthood ordinances and make them binding both on earth and in heaven.” This power, he taught, “is crucial for gathering and preparing a covenant people on both sides of the veil.”

The validity the sealing power gives to priesthood ordinances includes those performed in the Lord’s temple. “Here we see the majesty and sacredness of the sealing power — it makes individual salvation and family exaltation universally available to the children of God wherever and whenever they may have lived on the earth,” Elder Christofferson said. 

The sealing ordinance that creates an eternal family “is the highest privilege of your membership in the Church of Jesus Christ. I promise that as you faithfully seek that privilege, in time or eternity it will surely be yours,” he said. 

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Conferencegoers stand outside on the balconies after the final session of the 193rd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Elder J. Kimo Esplin, who was sustained as a General Authority Seventy in April 2023 general conference, spoke of the blessings of the temple. “Through temple blessings, the Savior heals individuals, families and nations — even those that once stood as bitter enemies,” he said in the Sunday afternoon session. 

He shared the story of a woman who escaped the Battle of Okinawa in Japan in 1945, learned from missionaries about the spirit world and temples, joined the Church and traveled to the Laie Hawaii Temple to perform ordinances for her deceased family members. 

“Temple covenants are gifts from our Heavenly Father to the faithful followers of His Son Jesus Christ. Through the temple, our Heavenly Father binds individuals and families to the Savior and each other,” Elder Esplin said.

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