“Learning to Live for Eternal Life,” Ensign, Aug. 1995, 38
The scriptures, ancient as well as modern, testify that from before the creation of this world, our Heavenly Father proposed his great plan with the declared purpose that all of his spirit children who lived with him in heaven might obtain the same blessings and privileges of Deity he enjoys. The process includes our gradually obtaining a clear understanding of the eternal principles that prepared and placed him in his current exalted condition.
The learning and practicing of these principles would take place primarily on one of his innumerable creations, an earth where there would exist an opposition in all things. We would be granted the marvelous and eternal gift of being able to freely choose for ourselves, together with the understanding that we would receive the consequences of our own choices (see 2 Ne. 2:10–12, 15–16, 26–27; Abr. 3:24–25).
This learning process would require a temporary separation from our Heavenly Father. This separation came as a result of the Fall, which Mother Eve spoke of gratefully in the following manner: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).
Because of the Fall, it was imperative that there would be a Savior with power and authority to redeem us from sin and death. We rejoiced in heaven when Christ, the Firstborn of the Father and preeminent among His spirit children, accepted the will of the Father to become the Savior of His family.
Mortality, our second estate, would be a most delicate and decisive probationary phase of our learning process because of the experiences to which we would be subjected. Through our application of eternal principles during our mortal journey, our experiences would permit us to further develop such divine attributes as love, patience, forgiveness, service, kindness, charity, humility, holiness, and obedience. Further, we were advised that we would not be alone, that we would receive divinely directed instructions and guidance as often as we were willing to seek and obey them.
Our birth into mortality marks the beginning of this second estate. To ensure that this probationary time would be of greatest value to us, the memory of our previous experiences with Heavenly Father would be veiled. We would learn to walk by faith aided by the Light of our Creator (see Moro. 7:16–19). All who would come into the world would have an inner spiritual voice that we call the Light of Christ, which would help us distinguish right from wrong. If we would learn to listen, it would point us to the truth of Christ. Adversity, sadness, pain, sickness, as well as rich blessings and achievements and joys would also be a part of this temporal second estate. Physical death would be our avenue out of mortality.
The sacrifice of Christ would provide a universal resurrection by which all of us would rise from the tomb, regardless of the kind of life we have led. Also, we would be evaluated and receive a reward largely based on our mortal performance and by the grace of God. The Lord’s just judgment of us would determine whether we would return with resurrected bodies endowed with glory and eternal life to the presence of God or whether we would receive a lesser reward in direct relationship to the type of life we would choose. The name we give for all of this—and much more—is the plan of salvation, or the great plan of happiness. As it was planned, so it has gone forth.
Through a succession of prophets from Father Adam to Joseph Smith and onward to the current President of the Church, God in his mercy has made known his will and our divine origin and purposes. All these prophets have spoken of the plan of salvation. They have also declared to us with joy and profound understanding the need for us to obey all God’s covenants and ordinances, for they center in Christ, the dominant figure of the plan. Every symbol, every teaching, every revealed principle is a reminder of his redeeming work, and every covenant and every ordinance points to him as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind (see 2 Ne. 11:4; Heb. 5:9). As a covenant people we ought to maintain ever present in our minds the fact of our fallen condition and live with the sure hope of being forgiven of our sins and being drawn to God through the Savior.
The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ in itself was a miracle. As the Only Begotten in the flesh of his Heavenly and Eternal Father, Christ inherited his Father’s divine qualities. For example, he inherited the absolute power over life and death. As he declared, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again” (John 10:17).
The Savior also inherited the divine authority to forgive sin (see Luke 5:18–24; Luke 7:46–50). Further, even Satan is subject to the Lord’s power. “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8; see also Matt. 8:29).
From his mortal mother, Jesus inherited human characteristics such as the potential for physical death, the possibility of succumbing to temptation, and the need of nourishment and rest. Jesus was the perfect combination of humanity and Deity. “He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them” (D&C 20:22), and he overcame all adversity (see Eph. 1:22; D&C 19:16–19; D&C 88:6). With impressive discipline, he submitted himself to everything that was required of him in our behalf (see Matt. 26:36–39).
During the Savior’s earthly existence, he testified with power and authority that he was the Son of his Father in heaven; repeatedly he declared his divine origin (see, for example, John 6:51, John 8:12, 58, John 9:35).
Yet his divine origin notwithstanding, the Savior never took upon himself more authority than was rightfully his. To the contrary, he humbly yet boldly recognized who had sent him and from whom he received instructions. To a certain ruler, Jesus said: “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19). To the Jews in the temple, Jesus taught: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me” (John 7:16; see also John 7:28–29).
If we seriously desire to return to our celestial home, Christ is the pattern that we must follow.
In order to achieve his perfection, he obeyed every requirement established for that purpose. In a supreme act of conscience and unbounded love and obedience, our Savior, submitting his own personal desires to the will of his Father, gave his life for all mankind, saying, “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). All who profess being his disciples must develop the same attitude and allow the will of God to be manifest in our lives; or in other words, we must live, serve, and obey him in complete faith.
Acting under the direction of his Father, the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled his exalted purpose in the plan of salvation, shedding his blood for our sins in Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha. He reaffirmed that to gain eternal life we must come unto him and seek to do his will. He has told us that in order to receive the essential saving ordinances for our benefit and to observe every covenant made with him, it is a vital principle to first have faith in him (see A of F 1:4).
Our Savior also taught us that all who would be associated with him must repent and come unto him confessing their sins (see D&C 19:20). He is the only one who can cleanse sin. Further, he has said he will remember them no more (see D&C 58:42) if we repent with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
The ordinance of baptism is a sign of our covenant and desire to be part of the Lord’s kingdom and is the third principle of the gospel. He personally showed us the way by being baptized (see 2 Ne. 31:5–11; Matt. 3:15–17).
Immediately after baptism, Jesus received the Holy Ghost (see 2 Ne. 31:8). Jesus promised us the gift of the Holy Ghost as we come unto him through baptism (see 2 Ne. 31:12). In this way the Father through his Son established the simple but inalterable model that all his children are to follow in order to enter by the strait gate into the narrow path that will lead to eternal life (see 3 Ne. 27:13–22).
The impact of Christ’s teachings is so profound that those who put his principles into practice will experience dramatic inner changes often so outwardly evident that people who have known these converts before their conversion are amazed.
To his Apostles, those special witnesses to Christ’s ministry and divinity and to whom he gave the keys of the priesthood, Jesus also explained the fulness of his ordinances, including temple blessings for both the living and the dead. The ordinances concern the living as well as those who did not have the opportunity to hear his doctrine in this life but may have since heard it in the spirit world (see 1 Pet. 3:18–19). Among these ordinances are baptism for the dead and the sealing of husband and wife for time and for all eternity. All of these ordinances have the eternal purpose of linking together the human family with God. These sacred ordinances are performed only in holy temples. President Howard W. Hunter said: “No work is more spiritual than that of receiving the ordinances and entering into the covenants of the temple. This work helps place the Savior at the center of our lives” (letter to priesthood leaders, 16 March 1987).
The account of the rich young man illustrates the price to be paid to gain eternal life. Apparently, the young man had complied with basic requirements. However, he sincerely desired to know what he yet lacked in order to gain the greatest of all gifts and therefore asked, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus then reminded him of the commandments of the law given to Moses, and the young man responded: “All these have I observed from my youth” (Mark 10:20). Jesus recognized his efforts and “beholding him loved him,” then added, “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” The Lord extended to him the opportunity to serve in the kingdom with these words: “Come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21). Christ called him to be one of his servants, but the young man did not accept that sacred calling. It was the ideal moment to put his priorities in order; first the spiritual, the eternal, the kingdom of God, and then all else. But “he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22).
The spiritual motivation within us, which is private and sacred, is the essence of who we really are. It determines the reward we will receive from him who knows and sees all. The world measures success by material achievements, academic titles, social status, and athletic accomplishments—all of which, when placed as one’s top priority, can be in opposition to God and disqualify us for the promised glory. Elder Spencer W. Kimball described this as idol worship: “Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood. …”
“Intangible things make just as ready gods. Degrees and letters and titles can become idols. Many young men decide to attend college when they should be on missions first. … Some neglect Church service through their college years, feeling to give preference to the secular training and ignoring the spiritual covenants they have made.
“Many people build and furnish a home and buy the automobile first—and then find they ‘cannot afford’ to pay tithing. Whom do they worship? Certainly not the Lord of heaven and earth, for we serve whom we love and give first consideration to the object of our affection and desires” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, pp. 40–41).
Contrast that attitude with that of a converted king in the Book of Mormon: “What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy” (Alma 22:15). We will only have eternal joy if through the appropriate exercise of our agency, we voluntarily submit ourselves to the will of Christ. This implies obeying his commandments, the express purpose of which is to make us like him, so that we may live with him eternally and live the kind of life he leads.
Hearing Jesus warn of the dangers of being ruled by the things of this world, his own disciples wondered, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). On another occasion, the disciples said, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
“… Many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
“Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:60, 66–69).
Christ is the perfect model of everything that is good. “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27). The Savior’s earthly life marked the path that all his disciples are to follow; his teachings and example clearly established the pattern. The Lord teaches us that the perfection he asks of us is not an event but rather a day-to-day process.
A vital part of our Lord’s example involves service to others. The Savior said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). The testimonies of thousands of youth and adult couples who have served as missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the testimonies of thousands of priesthood leaders and members who give service voluntarily, affirm the principle of service. As a result of their labors, they have learned to know for themselves that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). This service must be performed with charity, which is the pure love of Christ, denying ourselves any personal or family gain. Only by losing ourselves in this kind of service of others will we find ourselves, and only by serving in this manner will we learn to know the love of God in its most exalted form. Knowing him means understanding him as he is, his desires and his will, and what he expects of us individually and as his covenant people.
Thus, the voluntary laying aside of our desires, and the offering of all that we are and possess, are the highest evidence of our obedience to the plan of salvation. Serving our neighbor in a manner based upon obedience to the principles taught by Jesus Christ and enduring righteously in thought and act until the end are elements that will qualify us to gain eternal life. Only then will we understand what the Savior meant when he prayed to his Father: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).