Contracts have fine print. Promises have social context.

In a contract, the fine print sets out the contingencies and limitations to the commitments in the main body of the agreement.

In promises, all those limitations are implied by the social context. “I will do anything I can to help you get better,” when a doctor says it, doesn’t mean that he will kill for you to enable an organ transplant. It doesn’t even mean that he will forgo payment. It’s just a promise of zeal; the social context tells us that. When promises are made in ritual or formal settings, the social context is the other people who make the promise in that setting. How they break the promise are usually the implied limitations on it.

The promises we make in church are very expansive. Consecration has no obvious boundaries. Taking on the name of Christ–acting as Christ–is another promise that has no obvious stopping point. All our experience is that the actual content of those promises is what we see the Saints around us do. It’s natural to understand the promises that way but it is, I submit, is terrestrial covenant-keeping.

Celestial covenant-keeping is when we let God define the promise, and not the all-too-likely sinful habits of our peers.

If enough folks keep their covenants celestially, it will tend to increase the content of the covenant for the rest of us, piling on a little more tinder for when our own celestiality ignites.

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