“What is salvation?” New Era, Apr. 1971, 38
Answer/President Bruce R. McConkie
Salvation is exaltation. That is the sum and substance of the whole matter.
Salvation is eternal life. It is an inheritance in the highest heaven of the celestial world, the only place the family unit continues. It consists of the continuation of the family unit forever in glorious exaltation in the kingdom of God. It consists of the fullness of glory of the Father and of a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. It is not a lower or lesser state than that reserved for those who become as God is. It is godhood.
I know of only three places in all the revelations where salvation is defined to mean something less than the fullness of eternal glory in the presence of the Father and the Son. These instances, and their consequent limited usage of the term, have been given to us so we will have an overall perspective of the whole plan of salvation. All other scriptural passages use salvation as a synonym for eternal life or exaltation to hold up before us the high reward promised those who love and serve God with all their hearts.
Although salvation means eternal life, we have such special usages as the following:
1. Unconditional or general salvation.
This salvation is immortality. It means to be resurrected and go to any of the kingdoms of glory. It refers to being saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment. And it comes to all men except the sons of perdition.
2. Conditional or individual salvation.
By this is sometimes meant salvation in the celestial kingdom, which is reserved for those who obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel, although in the full sense it is limited to those who gain exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world.
3. Salvation by grace alone.
This is the same as unconditional or general salvation, the added name signifying that the salvation involved comes by the grace of God, gospel obedience not being required; that is, it comes through the love, mercy, and condescension of God.
4. Salvation by grace coupled with obedience.
All men are raised in immortality by the grace of God; those who believe and obey his laws are raised also unto eternal life.
5. Celestial, terrestrial, or telestial salvation.
These refer to inheritances in these respective kingdoms of glory.
However, almost without exception, when the scriptures speak of salvation, they mean full salvation; they mean eternal life or exaltation; and all of these terms are completely, totally, and wholly synonymous.
Eternal life is the name of the kind of life that God lives. Hence, the revealed statements: “… eternal life … is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7); and, “… there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation” (D&C 6:13), for there is nothing greater than God and the life that he lives.
Exaltation is an inheritance in the highest heaven of the celestial world, where the family unit continues and where those who so obtain receive the fullness of the glory of the Father and have a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. (See D&C 132:19–24.)
Joseph Smith defined salvation by saying, “Salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him.”
Speaking of the nature of salvation, the Prophet taught that it was to be “like unto” Christ, “and he was like the Father, the great prototype of all saved beings; and for any portion of the human family to be assimilated into their likeness is to be saved; and to be unlike them is to be destroyed; and on this hinge turns the door of salvation.” (See Lectures on Faith, pp. 63–67.)
These teachings of Joseph Smith are in thought-content the same as the Book of Mormon pronouncement wherein the resurrected Lord says of saved beings: “… ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one.” (3 Ne. 28:10.)
Thus, in the full, true, and accurate sense of the word, salvation, eternal life, and exaltation are all one—they mean to go where God is and to be like him!