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The Plan of Salvation in Mormonism

All of the doctrines and practices of Mormonism are related to a core belief in a divine plan of salvation, or plan of happiness: a path that God Himself created for His children to become more developed and ultimately return to His presence. Mormons understand the basic elements of this great plan as follows.

Pre-mortal life refers to our existence before we came to Earth. We lived with the Lord, our Heavenly Father, as His offspring. We resembled Him much like any child resembles his father, but He possessed an inseparable body of both spirit and flesh, and we were mere spirits. Furthermore, although we were happy and learned many things in His realm, we needed more in order to truly progress according to our divine potential. God presented His plan for us to come to a world where we could gain our own physical bodies and experience. This earthly life would introduce us to opposition, giving us the chance to practice eternal principles such as faith, obedience, and charity. By living faithfully, we could gain great personal strength and prove ourselves worthy before our Heavenly Father.

God knew that we would often fall short of the perfect principles which we promised to uphold. We would need a Savior to fill in for our moments of weakness, the instances when we would sin against God's commandments. Because no unclean thing could return to Heaven, and because all of us, the moment we made our first misstep, would become unclean, it was crucial that the plan of salvation include a Redeemer.

Mormons understand that this Redeemer is provided as a divinely generous compensation for the law of justice to be fulfilled, or the price of sins to be paid. Try as we might by ourselves, we cannot overcome the fact that at some point in our mortal lives, we have broken the eternal law and are therefore not spotless. The penalty for our sins is eternal separation from our God. Only through a Savior is our hope of returning to God renewed; this great Mediator answers justice's demands for perfection, and our own pleas for mercy. Only as we cling to Him—in both faith and good works—do we have any hope.

The role of the Savior required that He come to Earth, live a perfect life, take all the sins of mankind upon Himself, and die. Who was to fulfill this noblest of missions? Two of Heavenly Father’s spirit children volunteered. Lucifer, now known as Satan, would do it, but he wanted all of the subsequent glory to be his own. He also wanted to destroy our free agency on Earth and force us to do everything required to come back to live with Heavenly Father. This loss of agency could not work; only a person who willingly submits to the eternal law can hope to become as God is and dwell where He dwells. So it was that the other volunteer was selected for the saving task. Jehovah, now known as Jesus Christ, was humble and true, seeking not for glory, nor domination. He would be the Savior of mankind (see Moses 4:1-3).

The Earth was created under the direction of the Father. Mormons believe that it was Jesus Christ and other special spirit children who were responsible for the execution of this marvelous labor (see Moses chapters 2 and 3).

Adam and Eve were placed on Earth, living for a time in the beautiful Garden of Eden and having association with God, who gave them commandments: they were to multiply and replenish the earth, and they were to eat the fruit of any tree they wished except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan, now a heaven-expelled spirit whose malicious desire is ever to make others "miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2:27), thought to thwart God's plan by causing Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. As it turned out, Adam and Eve's decision to do so was not an evil sin, but rather a necessary step in mankind’s progression. It is true that they were banished from the paradisiacal garden and no longer enjoyed the close interaction with Heavenly Father, and they also became subject to death. However, had Adam and Eve not eaten the fruit, they would never have had children—meaning none of us would ever have come to Earth—and they would never have been able to learn and grow. Although their temporary fall resulted in continual hardship for all of humanity, it simultaneously opened the door to the dramatic progression which God had intended His children to undergo since the beginning.

We all come to Earth in the time appointed by the Lord. This state of existence is known in Mormonism as mortal life. We receive bodies and association with family and friends, with whom we can seek mutual support during our sojourn. Although our mortal life is very brief when compared to the eternities before and after we come to Earth, it is nonetheless a crucial time. It is the time we prove ourselves to the Lord. We have free agency, which is necessary to make choices between good and evil. We have opportunities for learning and growth. We have the chance to find God despite having forgotten our pre-mortal experience with Him.

We will all make mistakes, but as the plan of salvation suggests, Heavenly Father always knew we would. Jesus Christ was born to a mortal mother, Mary, and to God His literal Father. He lived an utterly perfect life and, in the end, suffered for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. This is the atonement of Jesus Christ. As an eternal reconciliation, it is the only way we can be cleansed of our sins and forgiven by our Heavenly Father. This process of cleansing and forgiveness is known in Mormonism as repentance. When we sin we need to feel truly sorry for what we have done. We need to confess our mistakes to our Father in Heaven through prayer and seek the aid of priesthood leaders. We need to make amends to others whenever possible. Finally, we need to never repeat our sins. By taking advantage of Jesus Christ’s atonement, we can feel clean before our Father in Heaven. We need not feel guilty any more for sins we have repented of.

Special ritualistic ordinances such as baptism are also crucial to our forgiveness and eventual salvation. All the teachings and practices which God has established for our cleansing and progressive development are housed within a Church which He and His Son Jesus have established many times on Earth. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ Himself, and Joseph Smith all had key roles during their lives in establishing and restoring the Christian faith, the very vehicle of the plan of salvation. To this day, God continues to call to His children through the voice of His prophets. Mormons hold that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormon Church) is indeed the modern incarnation of God's Church, and that its leaders are God's modern prophets. This is why Mormons are so anxious to share their joyous beliefs with the world, and Mormon missionaries literally circle the globe with that quest.

The spirit world is the next phase of progression in the plan of salvation. It is commenced upon when the spirits of men and women are separated from their bodies in death. Mormons believe the spirit world is important because, besides its being a place of rest from the mundane and often cruel conditions of the world, it is where those who never had the opportunity on Earth to hear the gospel of Christ may be taught by those who did. It is therefore a time for further missionary work and learning. Spirits may choose to accept Christ's atonement in the spirit world and receive all the eternal blessings that come with that acceptance, thanks not only to the active missionaries in the realm of the dead, but also to yet living Mormons who complete the necessary ordinances for departed persons within the walls of Mormon temples.

The spirits residing in the spirit world will fulfill their appointed work until the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth, upon which all faithful spirits will be perfectly and permanently reunited with their bodies in the resurrection. Mormons believe Christ will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over all His creations. Satan and all of his influences will be incapacitated for a thousand years, and the earth will be a beautiful place to live, grow, and do further work for the Lord. At the end of this hallowed millennium, less faithful souls will finally regain their bodies in a second stage of the resurrection. To reemphasize this fact, Mormons understand that all who have ever lived on the earth—good and bad—will receive a physical resurrection as a free gift from Christ. On the other hand, salvation from spiritual death (separation from God) is contingent on the faith and works of each individual, and is decided as described below.

The final part of the plan of salvation is the designation of souls into three kingdoms, or degrees, of glory. Mormons believe this will occur at what is known universally as “judgment day.” Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will preside, and we will be judged according to our desires and deeds during our mortal life and finally sent to one of three kingdoms: the Celestial, the Terrestrial, and the Telestial. The Celestial kingdom is the highest and most glorious of all the kingdoms, and it is where we may live eternally with our families and with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Mormonism also teaches that each husband and wife—each celestial companionship—will gain the opportunity to have spirit children and create worlds of their own. This is known in Mormon theology as exaltation, and it is the ultimate goal in the plan of salvation. The state of being gods and goddesses—eternal parents—brings joy and happiness that last forever.

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