Heavenly Father desires a fulness of joy for all of His children. He provided a plan whereby His children may become like Him and receive a fulness of joy. This plan is often referred to as the plan of salvation, the plan of redemption, or the plan of happiness. Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice are essential in this plan.
There are three stages of Heavenly Father’s plan: premortal, mortal, and postmortal. Three vital elements that make the plan possible are the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. In our premortal existence as spirit children of Heavenly Father, we could not become fully like Him without the experience of living in mortality with a physical body. Accordingly, under the direction of the Father, Jesus Christ created the earth (see Hebrews 1:1–3). The Fall of Adam and Eve made it possible for us to be born of mortal parents, receive a physical body, and exercise agency in choosing between good and evil (see 2 Nephi 2:25–27). The Atonement of Jesus Christ provides for a resurrection, forgiveness of sin, and a judgment into a degree of glory (see 1 Corinthians 15:40–42; Revelation 20:12–13; 2 Nephi 9:22; Alma 42:23).
Jesus Christ is central to all parts of our Heavenly Father’s plan. He suffered and died to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life (see Moses 1:39). We accept His atoning sacrifice by having faith in Him, repenting, being baptized by one having authority from God, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and living in harmony with His commandments.
There are three stages of Heavenly Father’s plan: premortal, mortal, and postmortal.
Jesus Christ is central to Heavenly Father’s plan.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible to overcome the obstacles of spiritual and physical death.
Heavenly Father prepared degrees of glory for His children.
■ Knowing where we came from and why we are here in this mortal life helps us understand that we are living in a three-stage journey. The first stage was our premortal life, the second is mortality, and the third is our postmortal life. Mortality prepares the faithful to return to live in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
■ As a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Alexander B. Morrison taught that there is a plan that will enable us to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father: “Latter-day Saints affirm that life is a three-stage process, to be viewed within the context of the Father’s ‘great plan of happiness’ (Alma 42:8). Long ago, before the earth on which we now dwell came into existence, God our Father, the mighty Elohim whose children we are, established a plan whereby his offspring would experience life in mortality, with all its trials, temptations, and opportunities, and then return to dwell with Him in eternal glory. The plan provided the perfect way for all of God’s children to receive immortality and gain eternal life. Indeed, the very purpose of God’s existence—His work and glory—is to ‘bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39)” (“Life—the Gift Each Is Given,” Ensign, Dec. 1998, 15–16).
■ Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave the following analogy: “This is the day of our mortal probation. We might compare our eternal journey to a race of three laps around the track. We have completed the first lap [our pre-earth life] successfully and have made wonderful progress. We have started on the second lap. Can you imagine a world-class runner stopping along the track at this point to pick flowers or chase a rabbit that crossed his path? Yet this is what we are doing when we occupy our time with worldly pursuits that do not move us closer to the third lap toward eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God [see D&C 14:7]” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 15; or Ensign, May 1998, 14).
■ Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave perspective and hope regarding man’s eternal existence: “Life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. Prior to our birth, we dwelled as spirit children with our Father in Heaven. There we eagerly anticipated the possibility of coming to earth and obtaining a physical body. Knowingly we wanted the risks of mortality, which would allow the exercise of agency and accountability. ‘This life [was to become] a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God’ (Alma 12:24). But we regarded the returning home as the best part of that long-awaited trip, just as we do now. Before embarking on any journey, we like to have some assurance of a round-trip ticket. Returning from earth to life in our heavenly home requires passage through—and not around—the doors of death. We were born to die, and we die to live (see 2 Corinthians 6:9). As seedlings of God, we barely blossom on earth; we fully flower in heaven” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1992, 102; or Ensign, May 1992, 72).
■ President Thomas S. Monson, a counselor in the First Presidency, described some of the reasons we chose to come to mortality and be separated from our Heavenly Father: “Clearly, one primary purpose of our existence upon the earth is to obtain bodies of flesh and bones. We are here to gain experience that could come only through separation from our heavenly parents. In a thousand ways, we are privileged to choose for ourselves. Here we learn from the hard taskmaster of experience. We discern between good and evil. We differentiate as to the bitter and the sweet. We learn that decisions determine destiny” (“Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign, June 1993, 4).
■ Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about our feelings in the premortal life regarding our coming to mortality:
“One of the most exhilarating moments of your life—when you were filled with anticipation, excitement, and gratitude—you are not able to remember. That experience occurred in the premortal life when you were informed that finally your time had come to leave the spirit world to dwell on earth with a mortal body.
“You knew you could learn through personal experience the lessons that would bring happiness on earth—lessons that would eventually lead you to exaltation and eternal life as a glorified, celestial being in the presence of your Holy Father and His Beloved Son.
“You understood that there would be challenges, for you would live in an environment of both righteous and evil influences. Yet surely you resolved that no matter what the cost, no matter what the effort, suffering, and testing, you would return victorious” (in Conference Report, Mar.–Apr. 2001, 5; or Ensign, May 2001, 6).
■ The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the Savior’s Atonement was essential to the plan of salvation: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 121).
■ Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy taught: “When we speak of the Atonement, we speak of the voluntary act of Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, who came to earth to provide a means whereby all mankind could elect to return to their loving Father. This ‘great plan of happiness’ is important to us and should inspire us to qualify under the provisions of the Atonement to receive salvation and eternal life” (The Atonement: Fulfilling God’s Great Plan of Happiness , 8).
Recognizing that Jesus Christ was foreordained as the Redeeming Messiah before the foundation of this earth enables us to better recognize our dependence upon Him. He was central to Heavenly Father’s plan in our first estate and is central to His plan in our second estate and postmortal existence. Without the Atonement of Christ, immortality and eternal life would not be possible. Only in and through Christ can the Father’s plan for our salvation be accomplished.
■ Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that Christ is the central figure in the plan of salvation:
“Our Father in Heaven understood the need for His children to be reminded of the promises He has made to us if we would obey His laws. In making such covenants, the Lord offered blessings in exchange for obedience to particular commandments. A plan was laid out for us from the very beginning. The central figure in His plan of salvation is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His atoning sacrifice for all mankind is the centerpiece of the history of our Father in Heaven’s children here on earth.
“Each of us who accepts the divine plan must accept the role of our Savior and covenant to keep His laws that our Father has developed for us. As we accept Christ in spirit and in deed, we may win our salvation. We read in the scriptures: ‘Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore’ (Moses 5:8)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 77–78; or Ensign, May 1996, 53).
■ From the beginning, Jesus Christ was the key to Heavenly Father’s plan for His children:
“Before you were born on the earth, you lived in the presence of your Heavenly Father as one of His spirit children. In this premortal existence, you attended a council with Heavenly Father’s other spirit children. At that council, Heavenly Father presented His great plan of happiness (see Abraham 3:22–26).
“In harmony with the plan of happiness, the premortal Jesus Christ, the Firstborn Son of the Father in the spirit, covenanted to be the Savior (see Moses 4:2; Abraham 3:27). Those who followed Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were permitted to come to the earth to experience mortality and progress toward eternal life. Lucifer, another spirit son of God, rebelled against the plan and ‘sought to destroy the agency of man’ (Moses 4:3). He became Satan, and he and his followers were cast out of heaven and denied the privileges of receiving a physical body and experiencing mortality (see Moses 4:4; Abraham 3:27–28)” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 115–16).
■ Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained the roles Christ plays in the salvation of man:
“Before we can even begin to understand the temporal creation of all things, we must know how and in what manner these three eternal verities—the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement—are inseparably woven together to form one plan of salvation. No one of them stands alone; each of them ties into the other two; and without a knowledge of all of them, it is not possible to know the truth about any one of them.
“Be it known, then, that salvation is in Christ and comes because of his atoning sacrifice. The Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ is the heart and core and center of revealed religion. It ransoms men from the temporal and spiritual death brought into the world by the Fall of Adam. All men will be resurrected because our blessed Lord himself died and rose again, becoming thus the firstfruits of them that slept.
“And further: Christ died to save sinners. He took upon himself the sins of all men on conditions of repentance. Eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God, is available because of what Christ did in Gethsemane and at Golgotha. He is both the resurrection and the life. Immortality and eternal life are the children of the Atonement. There is no language or power of expression given to man which can set forth the glory and wonder and infinite import of the ransoming power of the great Redeemer” (“Christ and the Creation,” Ensign, June 1982, 9).
■ Why do we need the Atonement to return to Heavenly Father’s presence? Is not our best effort enough to return us to our Father? President Joseph Fielding Smith described our condition and the reason for our dependence on the Savior’s sacrifice:
“A man walking along the road happens to fall into a pit so deep and dark that he cannot climb to the surface and regain his freedom. How can he save himself from his predicament? Not by any exertions on his part, for there is no means of escape in the pit. He calls for help and some kindly disposed soul, hearing his cries for relief, hastens to his assistance and by lowering a ladder, gives to him the means by which he may climb again to the surface of the earth.
“This was precisely the condition that Adam placed himself and his posterity in, when he partook of the forbidden fruit. All being together in the pit, none could gain the surface and relieve the others. The pit was banishment from the presence of the Lord and temporal death, the dissolution of the body. And all being subject to death, none could provide the means of escape.
“Therefore, in his infinite mercy, the Father heard the cries of his children and sent his Only Begotten Son, who was not subject to death nor to sin, to provide the means of escape. This he did through his infinite atonement and the everlasting gospel” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:126–27).
The great joy and good news of the gospel is that we will live again because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ all obstacles can be overcome by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. He alone can succor and save the children of men because He “descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things” (D&C 88:6). He paid the price for our sins; therefore, as we come unto Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, we can return to the presence of the Father (see D&C 45:3–5). In addition, “as we rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, He can help us endure our trials, sicknesses, and pain. We can be filled with joy, peace, and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ” (Preach My Gospel , 52).
■ Elder Russell M. Nelson shared his feelings about the Atonement:
“I weep for joy when I contemplate the significance of it all. To be redeemed is to be atoned—received in the close embrace of God with an expression not only of His forgiveness, but of our oneness of heart and mind. What a privilege! And what a comfort to those of us with loved ones who have already passed from our family circle through the gateway we call death!” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 46; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 34).
■ “As used in the scriptures, to atone is to suffer the penalty for an act of sin, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinners and allowing them to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross. He was the only one capable of making a perfect Atonement for all mankind. He suffered the penalty for our sins in Gethsemane and died on the cross. He took upon Himself the pains, sicknesses, temptations, afflictions, and infirmities of us all (see Alma 7:11–12)” (Preach My Gospel, 58).
■ Spiritual death is described as “separation from God and his influences; to die as to things pertaining to righteousness. Lucifer and a third part of the hosts of heaven suffered a spiritual death when they were cast out of heaven (D&C 29:36–37).
“Spiritual death was introduced into the world by the fall of Adam (Moses 6:48). Mortals with evil thoughts, words, and works are spiritually dead while still alive on earth (1 Tim. 5:6). Through the atonement of Jesus Christ and by obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel, men and women can become clean from sin and overcome spiritual death” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Death, Spiritual,” 62–63).
■ Elder Earl C. Tingey explained the need for overcoming physical death:
“Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the physical body. At death, the body is laid in the ground, and the righteous spirit is received into a state of happiness called paradise (Alma 40:11–12). Those who are wicked and choose evil rather than good while in mortality go to a place within the postmortal spirit world referred to as ‘darkness’ (Alma 40:13–14) or spirit prison. From among the righteous in paradise, missionaries are selected to teach the gospel to those in spirit prison (D&C 138:30).
“It was never intended that the spirit and the body remain forever separated. After all, ‘the spirit and the body are the soul of man’ (D&C 88:15). Man was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–27), who is a glorified personage possessing a spirit and a perfected physical body (Joseph Smith—History 1:17). When we, as personages of spirit, were in the pre-earthly existence, we recognized that God had a spirit and a perfected body. Could we, in a spirit state only, become like God? No. We had to gain physical bodies through birth on a physical earth. That process began when Adam and Eve became the first physical beings on earth, possessing bodies that housed their spirits (Moses 3:7). When Adam and Eve died physically, as does every other human being, their spirits were separated from their bodies.
“One of the missions of Jesus Christ was to overcome physical death by providing a literal and universal resurrection for all mankind” (The Atonement, 56–57).
■ Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles bore testimony of the Savior: “The Atonement of Jesus Christ, an act of pure love, overcame the effects of the Fall and provided the way for all mankind to return to the presence of God. As part of the Atonement, the Savior overcame physical death and provided immortality for every one of God’s children through the Resurrection. He also overcame spiritual death and provided the possibility of eternal life, the life that God lives and the greatest of all the gifts of God. This He did by taking upon Himself the suffering for the sins of all humankind” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 96–97; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 71).
■ The Savior’s suffering for our sins was a part of His Atonement. We needed the Atonement to be rescued from our physical and spiritual deaths. Elder Bruce R. McConkie described the Lord’s ordeal:
“We do not know, we cannot tell, no mortal mind can conceive the full import of what Christ did in Gethsemane. …
“We know that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name. …
“… On a hill called Calvary … the Roman soldiers laid him upon the cross.
“With great mallets they drove spikes of iron through his feet and hands and wrists. Truly he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. …
“… While he was hanging on the cross … all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred.
“And, finally, when the atoning agonies had taken their toll—when the victory had been won, when the Son of God had fulfilled the will of his Father in all things—then he said, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), and he voluntarily gave up the ghost. …
“His rising from death on the third day crowned the Atonement. Again, in some way incomprehensible to us, the effects of his resurrection pass upon all men so that all shall rise from the grave” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1985, 9–11; or Ensign, May 1985, 9–10).
■ Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the Seventy taught what we must do to overcome spiritual death: “The Savior has atoned for our personal sins on the condition of our repentance. Personal repentance is a necessary condition of salvation but is not by itself sufficient to assure salvation. Without the Atonement, our repentance will not save us. One must also accept the ordinances of baptism and receive the Holy Ghost, by which one is born again as a spiritual child of Christ” (“The Restored Doctrine of the Atonement,” Ensign, Dec. 1993, 12).
■ Both ancient and modern scripture help us understand that all the children of God, except the sons of perdition, will be saved in a degree of glory (see D&C 76:41–43). The glories of the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms surpass our ability to comprehend. The celestial kingdom is the highest degree of glory and is the only kingdom where we can become like our Heavenly Father.
■ Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described how comprehensive the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is: “The theology of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is comprehensive, universal, merciful, and true. Following the necessary experience of mortal life, all sons and daughters of God will ultimately be resurrected and go to a kingdom of glory. The righteous—regardless of current religious denomination or belief—will ultimately go to a kingdom of glory more wonderful than any of us can comprehend. Even the wicked, or almost all of them, will ultimately go to a marvelous—though lesser—kingdom of glory. All of that will occur because of God’s love for his children and because of the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, ‘who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands’ (D&C 76:43)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 115; or Ensign, May 1995, 87).
■ Elder David B. Haight, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught how we are all equal as we seek to inherit the celestial kingdom:
“Revelations to Joseph Smith expand man’s knowledge that Jesus Christ was crucified to save the world from sin, that through his act of redemption all mankind will be resurrected from the grave and given the possibility of eternal life if obedient to gospel principles.
“We are taught further enlightenment on Jesus’ statement ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ (John 14:2). We learn not only of the degrees of glory and those eligible, but that man should strive for the highest ‘heaven’ which is available, and is reachable only through obedience to all of God’s commandments. President George Albert Smith said: ‘One of the beautiful things to me in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it brings us all to a common level. It is not necessary for a man to be a president of a stake, or a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, in order to attain a high place in the celestial kingdom. The humblest member of the Church, if he keeps the commandments of God, will obtain an exaltation just as much as any other man in the celestial kingdom. The beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it makes us all equal. … As we keep the commandments of the Lord … we have equal opportunities for exaltation’ (in Conference Report, Oct. 1933, p. 25)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 33–34; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 23–24).
What is the importance of agency and accountability in the three stages of our eternal existence?
How does our immortality and eternal life depend upon Jesus Christ?
In what ways can the Fall be considered a positive event for mankind?
Why is the combining of spirit and body essential to our salvation?
“Plan of Salvation” (pp. 115–17)
“Jesus Christ” (pp. 87–89)
“Spirit” (pp. 164–65)
“Creation” (pp. 44–45)
“Fall” (pp. 56–59)
“Atonement of Jesus Christ” (pp. 14–21)
“Death, Physical” (pp. 46–47)
“Death, Spiritual” (p. 48)
“Resurrection” (pp. 139–40)
“Kingdoms of Glory” (pp. 92–95)