Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Plan for Salvation – Part V “Requirements for Exaltation”

Continuing from the previous post regarding the Plan for our Salvation and the Plan for Our Progression, we take a look here at the Requirements for Exaltation. 
     Again, Alma taught that the time to fulfill the requirements for exaltation is now, when he said: “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now…as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked” (Alma 34:32-35)
President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “In order to obtain the exaltation we must accept the gospel and all its covenants; and take upon us the obligations which the Lord has offered; and walk in the light and the understanding of the truth; and ‘live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God’” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:43).
    To be exalted, we first must place our faith in Jesus Christ and then endure in that faith to the end of our lives. Our faith in Him must be such that we repent of our sins and obey His commandments.” In addition, He commands us all to receive certain ordinances: We must be baptized; We must receive the laying on of hands to be confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; Brethren must receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and magnify their callings in the priesthood; We must receive the temple endowment; We must be married for eternity, either in this life or in the next through proxy work for the dead while in this life).
Under the New and Everlasting Covenant of Eternal Marriage, couples are sealed for time and all eternity by the proper authority holding the sealing power, in the proper setting required by Heavenly Father—Temple ordinances, including the endowment and sealing, are open for all qualified people who meet the ordinance requirements and is not restricted to any type of person, culture, race or individual. In addition to receiving these ordinances for ourselves, we can receive them for our deceased ancestors. In this way, people who died without receiving essential ordinances such as baptism and confirmation, the endowment, and sealing have the opportunity to accept these ordinances if they so choose
    In addition to receiving the required ordinances, the Lord commands all of us to: Love God and our neighbors; Keep the commandments; Repent of our wrongdoings; Search out our kindred dead and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel for them; Attend our Church meetings as regularly as possible so we can renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament; Love our family members and strengthen them in the ways of the Lord; Have family and individual prayers every day; Teach the gospel to others by word and example; Study the scriptures; Listen to and obey the inspired words of the prophets of the Lord.
    Finally, each of us needs to receive the Holy Ghost and learn to follow His direction in our individual lives.
    What happens when we have endured to the end in faithful discipleship to Christ?
    The Lord has 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.” President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “If we will continue in God; that is, keep his commandments, worship him and live his truth; then the time will come when we shall be bathed in the fulness of truth, which shall grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 268).
    Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God. He was once a man like us; … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, 1976, 345–46). Our Heavenly Father knows our trials, our weaknesses, and our sins. He has compassion and mercy on us. He wants us to succeed even as He did.
    Imagine what joy each of us will have when we return to our Heavenly Father if we can say: “Father, I lived according to Thy will. I have been faithful and have kept Thy commandments. I am happy to be home again.” Then we will hear Him say, “Well done…thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:23).
    Many good Christians believe that all they have to do is accept Christ as their personal savior and that is all they have to do to be saved. And that is true! Their saving grace reward is eternal life, i.e., they will be resurrected and live eternally. Kim Riddlebarger of the Christ Reformed Church put it this way: “But to those who understand what the bible teaches about the effects of sin, grace alone is our only hope of heaven. And thus when we speak of grace alone (sola gratia), we are speaking of the fact that God saves us, because of his mercy and graciousness toward us, and not because of something - indeed anything - in us that makes us desirable to God. We really cannot understand grace alone unless we understand what it is, exactly, that sin has wrought upon us.”
    Once again, they are right as far as it goes, i.e., the saving grace that enables us to be resurrected and live eternally is a free gift of God and granted to all mankind, no matter whether the man be evil or good.
    Thus Paul wrote to the Saints at Ephesus on the Western coast of Turkey (Asia Minor): “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). In this sense, then, no matter what a person does in this life, they will be saved by grace alone, i.e., they will gain resurrection and eternal life thanks to the free gift of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul added, “it is not by any works, lest any man should boast” of his own achievements and goodness. The resurrection is a free gift to all mankind.
    However, once again that is not exaltation. On the other hand, many good Christians, including Latter-day Saints, believe that “Every man’s work will become manifest, for the Day shall declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward(1 Corinthians 3:13-14).
    For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad(2 Corinthians 5:10). 
There is another group of believers who believe the Bible teaches that all Christians will receive the same rewards in heaven regardless of their performance during their earthly existence. They posit that our entrance into heaven is based on Jesus’ work, not our own; therefore, our works here on earth merit us nothing in heaven. Philosophically speaking, this would also preclude any sort of friction in heaven between those who receive more and those who receive less; everyone would be equal.
    To Latter-day Saints, however, exaltation is a state that a person can attain in becoming like God-salvation in the ultimate sense (D&C 132:17) Latter-day Saints believe that all mankind (except the sons of perdition) will receive varying degrees of glory in the afterlife. Exaltation is the greatest of all the gifts and attainments possible. It is available only in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom and is reserved for members of the Church of the Firstborn (Hebrew 12:23). This exalted status, called eternal life, is available to be received by a man and wife. It means not only living in God's presence, but receiving power to do as God does, including the power to bear children after the resurrection (TPJS, pp. 300-301; D&C 132:19). Blessings and privileges of exaltation require unwavering faith, repentance, and complete obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Savior stated the following conditions: "Strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me" (D&C 132:22). All Church ordinances lead to exaltation, and the essential crowning ordinances are the Endowment and the eternal marriage covenant of the temple (D&C 131:1-4; 132).

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