Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Plan for Salvation – Part IV “The Plan for Our Progression”

Continuing from the previous post regarding the Plan for our Salvation (which is being saved from physical and spiritual death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and comes to all mankind as a free gift from God) and the basis for exaltation (which is the highest state of happiness and glory in the celestial realm, and must be earned by our obedience and performance).
Salvation or eternal life (to live forever) is a free gift of God, brought about by the Lord’s conquering death and his resurrection
    While salvation comes to all mankind, “Through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (3rd Article of Faith) and all people will be resurrected and saved from physical death. People may also be saved from individual spiritual death through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, by their faith in Him, by living in obedience to the laws and ordinances of His gospel, and by serving Him.
    On the other hand, “exaltation” is a different matter. The dictionary lists “exaltation” as an “acclaim,” “an expression of approval.” In an early time, it was defined as “The act of raising high,” “elevation to power, office, rank, dignity or excellent,” and “elevated state; state of greatness or dignity.” It is interesting that in astronomy, it is defined as “the dignity of a planet in which its powers are increased.”
    In LDS doctrine, it is the highest level of description for God, i.e., as an “exalted being.”
    We need to keep in mind that not only does Heavenly Father have a Plan for our Salvation, i.e., eternal life, which is His free gift to us, resulting from the atonement and Christ’s conquest of death, that all might live again, but God the Father also has a Plan for our Progression, i.e, the progression of our being beyond the grave, or in the eternal sphere, the Third Estate, Eternal Life.
    As in the case of Abraham who “received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne" (D&C 132:29). Accordingly, Isaac and Jacob have also received exaltation (D&C 132:37).
    As stated earlier, when we lived with our Heavenly Father, He explained a plan for our progression. We could become like Him, an exalted being. The plan required that we be separated from Him and come to earth. This separation was necessary to prove whether we would obey our Father’s commandments even though we were no longer in His presence. The plan provided that when earth life ended, we would be judged and rewarded according to the degree of our faith and obedience.
The ancient prophet, Alma, in speaking to one of his sons, tells us exactly why these Plans were necessary: ”Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness. Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death. Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state. And now remember, my son, if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord. And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience; Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God. And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence” (Alma 42:8-14).
    However, thanks to God’s great plan of happiness,  families can be together forever—as exalted beings. Our Heavenly Father declared, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Both of His objectives were enabled by the Atonement of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. His Atonement made resurrection a reality and eternal life a possibility for all who would ever live.
    From the scriptures we learn that there are three kingdoms of glory in heaven. The Apostle Paul mentioned that he knew a man who was “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2). Paul named two of the kingdoms in heaven: the celestial and the terrestrial (1 Corinthians 15:40-42). The celestial is the highest, and the terrestrial is second. Through latter-day revelation we learn that the third kingdom is the telestial kingdom (D&C 76:81). We also learn that there are three heavens or degrees within the celestial kingdom (D&C 131:11).
Obviously, since all are not the same, there must be a difference or manner of separation between these three heavens. While resurrection, or immortality, comes to every man and every woman as an unconditional gift, eternal life, or celestial glory or exaltation, is a conditional gift—conditions that have been established by the Lord, who said, “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” The Book of Mormon further explains the conditional nature of this great gift, which states: “ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20). Those qualifying conditions include faith in the Lord, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and remaining faithful to the ordinances and covenants of the temple.
    For achievement in the highest degree, as an example, Elder Russell M. Nelson said: “No man in this Church can obtain the highest degree of celestial glory without a worthy woman who is sealed to him. This temple ordinance enables eventual exaltation for both of them.”
    So what exactly is “exaltation”?
    It is the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation.
    If we prove faithful to the Lord, we will live in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom of heaven. We will become exalted, to live with our Heavenly Father in eternal families. Exaltation is the greatest gift that Heavenly Father can give His children (D&C 14:7).
    What are some blessings that will be given to those who are exalted?
    Our Heavenly Father is perfect, and He glories in the fact that it is possible for His children to become like Him. His work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Those who receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ will receive special blessings. The Lord has promised, “All things are theirs” (D&C 76:59). These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:
1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (D&C 76:62);
2. They will become gods (D&C 132-10-23);
3. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase;
4. They will receive a fulness of joy;
5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (D&C 132:19-20)
    President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The Father has promised through the Son that all that he has shall be given to those who are obedient to His commandments. They shall increase in knowledge, wisdom, and power, going from grace to grace, until the fulness of the perfect day shall burst upon them” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:36; italics in original).
(See the next post, “A Plan for Salvation – Part IV “Requirements for Exaltation,” which add the third part to this great Plan for our Salvation)

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