In 1842 Joseph Smith, the first prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote down 13 of the religion’s fundamental beliefs. Number three on the list says this:
“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
So let’s talk about salvation!
Alright guys, here’s the deal. The big-ticket topic of this article of faith has to do with the age-old question: Are we saved by grace or works? — BUT it will help immensely if you first understand what salvation means for Latter-day Saints. So that’s what we’re going to cover in this video. I will dedicate an entire episode to the grace versus works question in the future (in fact I already have it written). But for now, just know that we believe we’re saved by GRACE. There’s absolutely nothing we can do to save ourselves or “earn” our way to heaven. But keep an eye out for an episode just about this in the future.
Now–Salvation. What do we need to be “saved” from? To put it simply: Physical and spiritual death.
Our bodies are gifts from God. Eventually, God wants each of us to have a perfected, glorified, eternal, and resurrected body like Jesus Christ. But, as we’re all keenly aware of, we’re all going to die. Our bodies are going to wither away and decompose, and there’s absolutely NOTHING we can do about it. That’s one problem.
Spiritual death, also known as sin, is another problem. No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God, right? Well, we’re kind of screwed because we have all sinned, and all come short of the glory of God. If Christ had not intervened on our behalf, sin would keep us forever banished from our heavenly home, and there would be NOTHING we could do about it.
Jesus Christ saves us from the consequences of both physical and spiritual death. Because He was resurrected, we will all be resurrected, thereby overcoming the obstacle of physical death. Because Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins, repentance is possible. We can be cleansed of sin, thereby overcoming the obstacle of spiritual death.
Technically, that’s what we’re saved from, and that’s salvation in its most basic form. That said, exaltation is a little different than salvation, though Latter-day Saints, including our prophets, will often use the two words interchangeably. That gets confusing for people outside of our religion, so I’m separating the two.
Before we move on to exaltation, let’s review Latter-day Saint teachings about heaven. To most Christian denominations, there’s heaven or hell and that’s it. It’s eternal happiness or eternal punishment. To us, we believe in at least three different levels or degrees of heaven. Those in the “lower” levels are more separated from God than those in the highest level. But because of Christ’s grace, essentially everyone who ever lives will eventually end up somewhere in those three kingdoms of heaven. But exaltation is more than just living somewhere in heaven, it’s living in the highest degree of heaven and having the opportunity to literally become like God. Yeah, I just said that. Not replacing God, but learning how to do the things He does, know the things He knows, and be the kind of person He wants us to be. Exalted beings live in God’s presence and share in His glory and joy.
So, salvation has to do with overcoming sin and death and inheriting a home somewhere in heaven. Exaltation has more to do with what you will be doing in Heaven.
Knowing the difference is important. So, when the article of faith says “that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel,” it’s actually referencing exaltation, not just salvation.
Salvation comes by grace alone. The scriptures are clear on that. Exaltation is also an act of grace, but its reception is conditional upon our obedience to God’s commandments. But again, we’re going to jump into that a lot more in an upcoming episode.
IF you still have questions about what salvation and exaltation are, check out the links in the description. Read more about this topic on saintsunscripted-dot-com, send us a message, leave a comment, or we’ll even leave a link that’ll let you live chat with missionaries if you’d like.
You guys are awesome. We’ll see you next time.
Many Latter-day Saints have had the experience of having another Christian walk up to them and say, “Are you saved”!? Often, a “Mormon” will hesitate, because salvation in our faith is not a yes or no proposition, it’s not just heaven or hell. When a Latter-day Saint hesitates, it’s because the answer is more complicated and he or she is trying to figure out how to make it simpler and how not to rely on Mormon jargon, which most friends of other faiths don’t understand. The fact is, any active Latter-day Saint is living in a “saved” state. He or she is always worthy of salvation, and you can’t judge them for that moment of hesitation.
Some people accuse us of having a “works-based gospel.” It’s easy to assume this, because Latter-day Saints have a lot of work to do. Except for our highest leaders, we have no paid clergy, so we all have “callings” or work to do in the Church. We also engage in a great deal of community service. So we are busy. As is typical of women, our “sisters” feel like they are never doing enough. Our leaders constantly caution us about this and bring to our minds and hearts that we can’t work our way to heaven.
Some friends of other faiths think the Book of Mormon says that we are saved by grace “after all we can do,” but they are misreading the message of the Book of Mormon, which says, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” But this verse is saying that we can never work our way to heaven. Even after all we can do, we are saved by grace. Note this Book of Mormon verse: “…for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free.”
In the video, we’ve tried to explain the difference between salvation and exaltation, which is salvation into the highest kingdom of heaven. This kingdom is unattainable without sincere repentance and the desire to live a consecrated life, including participating in eternally justified ordinances. The Church really doesn’t concentrate on salvation, but exaltation, and sets the standard high for all members because of that focus.
The Latter-day Saint view of heaven is the most inclusive after the Universalist doctrine which saves everyone. Latter-day Saints believe you can’t sin in ignorance, meaning you are not accountable unless you know and comprehend the law by which you are judged. Thus, those who never hear the gospel on earth will hear it in the Spirit World after death. Then they can make a decision whether to accept Christ or not. Those who refuse to accept Christ and His holy sacrifice will have to suffer for their own sins and then inherit a place in heaven. (For those who reject the Savior, it is as if there was no atonement made for them.) This suffering is called “hell” by Latter-day Saints, but it is temporary. Here’s how the Savior described this suffering (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 19):
Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken….
Even those who continue to reject Christ’s atonement can attain a lower, but glorious kingdom in heaven.
Eternal hell, which we call Outer Darkness, is reserved for the followers of Satan who never entered mortality and for those who commit the unforgivable sin, “the sin against the Holy Ghost.” This sin is defined as having a pure knowledge of Christ (in other words, seeing Him in person), and then denying Him, thus crucifying Him anew. Few on earth have committed this sin. Thus, you can see why the Book of Mormon says, “Salvation is free.”
Look forward to a future video about the kingdoms of heaven and what they are like. Know this, though, that Latter-day Saints believe in “eternal progression.” People don’t just spend the eternities praising God and playing harps. We have an eternity of learning and growing to look forward to.