“Since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church, what will happen to good people of other faiths?” Ensign, June 1988, 57–59
George Lyman, bishop, Salt Lake University Twenty-first Ward. Our Heavenly Father has designed a wonderful plan of salvation that provides a glorious reward for all good people. What is more, everyone will have opportunities—in this life, in the spirit world, or during the Millennium—to learn of the gospel in its fulness and to receive the benefit of the ordinances of salvation.
To understand what has happened and what will happen to good people, we must understand the plan of salvation. That includes knowing how good people fare and what their opportunities are at each stage of the plan: the premortal existence, mortality, the spirit world, the Millennium, and finally, heaven.
The Premortal Existence. We must understand that all people who come to this earth are, in one sense, good. In the premortal life, they chose to follow God’s plan, and in the war in heaven, in which one third of the host of heaven were cast out, they took God’s side. (See Rev. 12:1–10; D&C 29:36–37; Moses 4:1–4.)
Those who were not cast out were promised bodies and a chance to come to this earth, with the agency to choose between good and evil. They were promised a redeemer, who would overcome death and give them the gospel, which would include divine instruction, commandments, and ordinances designed to enable them to return to the Father’s presence. Part of the plan was that they would be born innocent and free of sin (see D&C 93:38) and that they would be given the Light of Christ to guide them to truth and to the greater light of the gospel (see John 1:1–4, 9; Moro. 7:16–18.)
Mortality. Essentially, then, because of our faithfulness in the premortal existence, our Heavenly Father blesses each of us greatly when we are born. We are given physical bodies, the agency to choose between good and evil, the Light of Christ to guide us, and approximately eight years of innocence before we begin to be held accountable for our sins. (See D&C 20:71; D&C 68:27.)
Mortality itself is an incredible gift. Although we are subject to pain, sorrow, and death, we have the opportunity in mortality to grow spiritually in ways we could not in our Father’s presence. And although we have the capacity to sin, through Christ’s atonement we also have the capacity to overcome sin and prove ourselves worthy of living the kind of life our Heavenly Father lives.
In large measure, this life is a time for testing, for discovering how we will perform in an environment away from our Father in Heaven where we can be tempted. The test is to see who will come unto Christ and obey God’s commandments. The greater our faith and obedience during this probationary period, the greater will be our growth and the more responsibility we will be entrusted with hereafter.
This situation allows us to help shape our own destinies, but it also creates problems. No unclean thing can be received into the kingdom of God (see Alma 7:21; Eph. 5:5), and since we all sin, we are all cut off from the presence of our Heavenly Father. But our Father in Heaven has provided a way whereby we can return to him. As John has so poignantly written, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.)
The atonement of Christ makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins as we exercise faith in Christ, covenant with him in baptism to keep God’s commandments, and repent of our sins. That covenant and our repentance and faithfulness entitle us to the gift of the Holy Ghost, by which we can grow spiritually and become more like Christ. As we mature in the gospel, the covenants and ordinances of the temple are made available to us, including the ordinance of eternal marriage, by which we can live with our loved ones in the presence of God.
All these ordinances are administered by a loving Heavenly Father through his authorized servants on earth. Through them—the priesthood holders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the power of godliness is manifest. (See D&C 84:20–22.) Through them, Jesus Christ directs his work for the salvation of all mankind. Through them, every son and daughter of God will have the opportunity to accept or reject these great gifts.
Some may wonder how that is possible, since many good people have lived who have never even heard of Christ. And what about children who die without being baptized? What happens to them?
The Spirit World. The good news restored in this dispensation through the Prophet Joseph Smith is that the plan of salvation makes it possible for every person to be taught the gospel—if not in this life, then in the spirit world. Not only did Jesus Christ organize his Church and choose missionaries to teach the gospel on earth, but he also spent three days in the spirit world, where the spirits of those who have died await the resurrection. There he organized his work so that all the dead will be able to hear the gospel fully. (See John 5:25; 1 Pet. 3:18–20; 1 Pet. 4:6.) President Joseph F. Smith wrote about his vision of the dead:
“I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. …
“While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
“And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel. …
“I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
“But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.” (D&C 138:11, 18–19, 29–30.)
The Savior has also made the ordinances of salvation available to all by setting up vicarious work for the dead. Baptism for the dead, as well as other ordinances performed by proxy, allows us—the living—to be baptized on behalf of those who have died. The promise is that all shall hear the gospel and all shall receive a chance to enjoy the saving ordinances. No wonder that Joseph Smith, in discussing this subject, wrote:
“Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead.” (D&C 128:19.)
We know, then, that the people of this earth who lived before the time of Christ were given the opportunity to accept the gospel in the spirit world if they had not received it during mortality. Likewise, the people of the earth who have lived since the Savior’s time will hear it preached in its fulness in the spirit world and have the chance to accept the covenants and ordinances of salvation performed for them by proxy on earth.
Resurrection and the Millennium. For many, the Second Coming will be a time of rejoicing. Jesus Christ has promised that the good people of the earth will be resurrected at the beginning of the Millennium in the resurrection of the just. Those who have accepted Christ in the waters of baptism, personally or by proxy, and have kept his commandments will be resurrected at the second coming of the Savior to participate in his return. (See John 5:28–29; 1 Cor. 15:22–23; Rev. 20:4–6; D&C 76:50–70.) Children who died without baptism will also be resurrected at this time as heirs of eternal life. Those who rejected the gospel in this life or in the spirit world but who otherwise lived good, honorable lives will be resurrected shortly after the Millennium begins. Among this group will be Latter-day Saints who were not valiant in their testimony of Jesus but who nevertheless lived clean, honorable lives. (See Mosiah 15:24–25; Moro. 8:22; D&C 45:54; D&C 76:71–79.) For a thousand years, while Satan is bound, all these people will enjoy the guidance of Jesus Christ himself. (See Rev. 20:1–6; D&C 45:58–59.)
At the end of the Millennium, the resurrection of the unjust will occur. This resurrection includes all the wicked who never accept the gospel and who remain in their sins—those who merit only a telestial glory. (See D&C 76:81–82.) Last to be resurrected are the sons of perdition—those who knew fully the Lord’s power and partook of it, yet turned against the truth, sinned against the testimony of the Holy Ghost, and defied God’s power in order to join Satan’s rebellion. They are the only ones to be cast out with the devil and his angels forever. (See D&C 76:31–43.)
At that time, Satan will be loosed, and he will gather up the wicked to battle the righteous before Judgment Day. (See Rev. 20:7–10; D&C 88:110–16.) All good people, then, may expect to join Michael in fighting Satan and to see the ultimate triumph of God over evil.
The Judgment Day and “Heaven.” At the great day of judgment, what will happen to the good people of this earth? It is overly simplistic to think that all who are members of the Lord’s church by that time will go to “heaven” while those who do not belong to the Church will go to “hell.” The Lord promises that all people will be judged and receive degrees of glory according to their works, the desires of their hearts, and their faith. In referring to the afterlife, the Savior taught that our Father’s house contains many mansions and that there are three degrees of glory—celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. (See John 14:2–3; 1 Cor. 15:41; D&C 76:96–98.) Even the lowest degree of glory, the telestial kingdom, “surpasses all understanding.” (D&C 76:89.)
In this way, the Savior will truly be able to reward us according to our works. Those who receive the terrestial kingdom will not enjoy the presence of the Father, as will those who inherit celestial glory, but they will enjoy the presence of the Son. And those who receive the telestial kingdom will enjoy the administration of the Holy Spirit and the angels appointed to that kingdom. (See D&C 76:71–79, 81–88.) Only the sons of perdition will not receive any degree of glory.
The Plan of Salvation. Truly the love of God and Jesus Christ is beyond comprehension. Who else would be so magnanimous, patient, and comprehensive in aid and judgment? The plan of salvation is sweeping: it extends to every person who has lived, who is living now, or who will live on this earth. It denies no one because of station or situation and gives everyone full opportunity for the greatest riches of God’s kingdom. It includes nonbelievers and believers, as well as those who have never heard of Jesus Christ. It manifests itself plainly to man in ways that are totally good. As such, it is a reflection of the deep love that God has for us.
As Nephi said: The Lord “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Ne. 26:33.)