On the other hand, the verse of scripture that sums up the doctrine of salvation as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). This doctrine says that to be saved we must put forth personal effort, striving diligently to obey all of God's commandments if we expect to be found worthy enough to receive eternal life.
According to this doctrine, it is through the atonement of Christ that makes it possible for us repent when we sin and have those sins forgiven. But if we do not repent then the Lord has said, "I [will] smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore-how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not" (D&C 19:15).
Because of this understanding of salvation, there are many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who feel that since Christ did His part by dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, it is now up to us to do our part by keeping all the commandments He has given us and repenting when we don't live those commandments as we should.
This then leads to the idea that if we don't keep all the commandments as we have covenanted, and don't sufficiently repent of our sins, there is the fear among some that they will never become saved. With this kind of attitude, it's easy for them to conclude that our individual salvation is entirely up to us and that if we are not working hard enough, or being diligent enough, or putting forth enough effort, we will fall short of achieving salvation and be cast out God's presence forever.
But the fact is that, no matter how hard we try, we can never be good enough to "earn" salvation. In other words, it is impossible for us to save ourselves. It is true that when we were baptized we made a covenant to keep the commandments of God and that without putting forth a sincere effort to keep those commandments we cannot be saved, but it is also a fact that we are incapable of doing enough work to save ourselves, no matter how hard we try.
To put this in perspective, expecting us to work out our own salvation through our own efforts would be like expecting a five year old child to successfully manage an international manufacturing company. No matter how smart a five year old may be, the task of overseeing, directing, and controlling such a large operation would be far beyond anything that child is capable of doing.
And the same is true of achieving salvation. What is required to become saved is so far beyond anything we as mere mortals are capable of doing as to make such a task impossible. And it is this fact that has led people of other faiths to conclude that salvation has to be a free gift of grace, based strictly on God's good pleasure rather than on anything we could possibly do to please a perfect God.
However, this conclusion is based on an erroneous understanding of what it means to be saved.
Salvation is understood to mean that we, as imperfect beings, get to live forever with a perfect God in a perfect world. For many people, this means that God graciously consents to allow imperfect, sinful, and unholy people to dwell in His presence where we will spend eternity thanking and praising Him for this unmerited favor (since the alternatives is to spend eternity suffering in the tormenting fires of hell). Others believe that salvation means that God will transform us, in the twinkling of an eye, through no effort on our part, from being a sinful disgusting creatures into perfect, glorious beings, where we will be capable of and fitted for dwelling in the presence of a perfect God.
Although both of these scenarios have some elements of truth to them, they miss a very important ingredient that is absolutely necessary to bring about our salvation, and that ingredient is the Holy Ghost.
Jesus told Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." When Nicodemus asked how this could be, "Jesus answered, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). There are two essential requirements needed to enter into the kingdom of God - being baptized in water, and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without meeting these two conditions, nothing else we do will qualify us to become saved.
These two prerequisites for salvation are so mandatory that even Jesus Himself had to obey them. When John the Baptist first refused to baptize Him, Jesus answered saying, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." Jesus, when he was baptized, "went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:" (Matthew 3:15,16).
Jesus was baptized and was given the Holy Ghost because that is what the law requires for entrance into the kingdom of God, and even Jesus had to fulfill the demands of this law. We all understand the importance baptism plays in the plan of salvation but we often don't realize how equally important our salvation depends on receiving the Holy Ghost. Without receiving him through the proper source and in the proper way, we can't be saved. Keeping all the commandments and enduring to the end in being faithful to Christ mean nothing if we have not first been given the Holy Ghost. That's how essential he is to our salvation.
The natural question is: why is this so?
It is true that we are imperfect, unholy beings, and it is just as true that such beings cannot dwell in the presence of a perfect and holy God. Therefore, it is obvious that for us to live with God forever there has to be a transformation take place in our character. However, that transformation doesn't happen in the twinkling of an eye. It happens through a long process of refining, and it is only through the administration of the Holy Ghost in our life that such a transformation can take place.
In our previous illustration of a five year old child managing an international manufacturing company, the reason why it is so impossible for that to happen is because the child lacks understanding, skill, and maturity. Understanding comes from gaining knowledge, skill comes from applying that knowledge, and maturity comes with time. Thus, a child could very well be able to someday manage an international company but it will take them gaining specific knowledge, developing necessary skills, and achieving a certain degree of maturity.
It does indeed bring God great pleasure to see His children live with Him forever, and He has given us the free gift of His Son, graciously dying on the cross, in order to buy us with His blood (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). That was God's supreme act of grace in our behalf and we didn't have to do anything to receive that gift. It was given freely to all men.
But in order for us to live in a perfect world, with a perfect and holy God, we must learn how to become perfect and holy ourselves. However, like the five year old child, we don't know how to do that because we lack the knowledge, skill, and maturity to be worthy (qualified, competent, fit, capable) of living with God. Therefore, we must be taught and instructed on how to be perfect and holy like He is. Then we have to be given opportunities to develop the skills necessary to live such a life. And, even after all of this, there still must be time given for us to mature to the point where we are able to think, act, and do the work that God is capable of doing.
It is for this reason that our life here on earth is like a school, and if the purpose of this school is to prepare us to live with God forever, then we can think of this life as the school of the gods where we are being taught how to become perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
All schools have two things in common - textbooks and teachers. In this school of the gods, our textbook is the scriptures and our teacher is the Holy Ghost. Most of us have had the experience of reading a verse of scripture many, many times, and then one day reading that very scripture and understanding it in a way we had never thought of before. When that happens, it's because the Holy Ghost has just taught us something.
The Lord has explained that "It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance" (D&C 131:6). If we are ignorant of what it means to be saved, ignorant of what it takes to be saved, and ignorant of how to be saved, then it is impossible for someone to become saved. But how do we gain this knowledge? The apostle Paul explained, "For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:11 NIV).
In school a student may read the textbook but usually it isn't until a teacher explains what is written in it that the student begins to really understand what they are reading. In the same way, we may have the scriptures, but it takes the Holy Ghost to fully explain it to us. The reason why is because we don't fully understand the mind of God, but the Holy Ghost does, therefore he reveals to us the mind and knowledge of God.
The apostle Paul wrote, "No man can [even] say that Jesus is the Lord, but (except) by the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3). This is why Paul asked, "Who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:14,16). And why did they have the mind of Christ? "[For] God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10, emphasis added).
It is the Holy Ghost who teaches us the "deep things of God," but without his assistance we are left on our own to learn about an incomprehensible God, whose thoughts and ways are far beyond our own. But it's worse than that. As Paul explained to the Corinthians, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Even though we can't know of heavenly things except a heavenly being reveals them to us, the natural man doesn't want to know the things of God because such things seem foolish to him. Therefore, it is the Holy Ghost, working on our hearts that creates within us a desire to want to know the things of God. But without his efforts, we would seek after the things of the world rather than the things of God.
In 1615, while using a telescope and making meticulous observations and calculations, Galileo discovered that the earth actually rotates around the sun, which defied the commonly held belief that the sun revolved around the earth. But without the invention of the telescope such a discovery would not have been possible. In the same way, without the instrumentality of the Holy Ghost, we can come to incorrect assumptions about salvation.
The more we truly understand the plan of salvation, the more we realize how important it is to gain the correct knowledge of God, and the way we gain that knowledge is through the revelations of Holy Ghost. However, like students in class, we have to do our part. If the Holy Ghost is the teacher then it is important that we put forth the effort to listen and learn what is being taught. Often times that takes study and prayer on our part, but without our efforts, all the teachings from the Holy Ghost won't do us much good. However, the more effort we put into learning, the more knowledge of godliness we'll gain.
But knowledge by itself is useless. It isn't until we apply that knowledge that we can learn the skills necessary to become perfect. Yet, even here, the Holy Ghost is there to help us. As Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13). Implied in this is the fact that Paul can do some things on his own, but he can't do everything. To do everything that is necessary for salvation Paul acknowledges that he needs Christ's help and that help comes through the Holy Ghost.
However, it should be noticed that Paul does not say that Christ does everything. The Holy Ghost is not going to do for us what we can do for ourselves. Just like with gaining knowledge, we have to do our part in developing the skills needed to be worthy of living with God. And the more effort we put into practicing the knowledge we gain from the Holy Ghost, the sooner we develop the skills needed to achieve perfection.
But we are not expected to develop these skills by ourselves. The Holy Ghost is like a training coach, working alongside of us, helping us to hone our skills. Just like a boxing coach who oversees the training of a boxer so they can become a better fighter, or a swimming coach who helps a swimmer improve their swimming technique, the Holy Ghost is our personal trainer, teaching us how to improve ourselves and becoming more spiritual. Without his support and assistance we could not progress in our spiritual development nearly as well or as quickly as we can with his help.
However, unlike how people naturally mature with age, in the gospel we become more spiritually mature the more we strive to live the gospel. Therefore, in order to mature in the gospel we have to be diligent in staying close to the Lord because it is possible to become immature in the gospel if we neglect the Spirit. And the more diligent we are in our efforts to learn the lessons of salvation and strive to faithfully apply those lessons in our lives the more mature we become.
Yet, even here, the Holy Ghost is there to help us. It's all too easy for us to become lax in doing our spiritual duties, or become discouraged, or get off course. It's all too easy to allow the cares of the world to take precedence in our life and to lose sight of our eternal goal. It's all too easy to convince ourselves that the little things in life - both the good and the bad - are insignificant and don't matter.
Therefore, besides being a teacher and a personal trainer, the Holy Ghost is also our friend and, like a friend, he is there to encourage us, motivate us, guide us, and comfort us. No matter what happens he will remain true to us and be there for us. We might desert him but he will never desert us. We may feel as though we are far from him because of things we have done in our life, but he will always strive to be close to us.
There may be times when, because of transgression, we may not feel his presence or feel like he no longer hears our prayers but, like a good friend, he is nonetheless there beside us. He may choose to remain silent until we are ready to live our life in accordance with the laws of righteousness, but he will never leave us.
The challenge we face is to constantly strive to stay close to the Holy Ghost and we do that by focusing our thoughts and actions on the things of God and earnestly seeking his counsel, advice, and guidance in our life. This is why personal prayers, reading the scriptures, magnifying our calling, going to the temple, and other spiritually related activities help us be more receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost and his influence.
But there is another benefit that comes when we do that. When we turn and face the sun on a clear day, its rays warm us. Or when we are around people who are happy, we can't help but feel happy ourselves. In the same way, when we stay close to the Holy Ghost his radiance bathes us in his godliness. Because the Holy Ghost is holy, the closer we stay to him, the holier we feel. And the more we want to be with him the more we find ourselves loving what he loves and wanting to do the things he does.
The more we strive to cultivate a friendship with the Holy Ghost, the more of a friend he becomes to us and we find ourselves naturally becoming more calm, more patient, more temperate, and more loving of others. And when that happens we become more mature in the gospel which, in turn, inspires us to want to learn even more about the gospel and further motivates us to want to practice the skills we need in order to live in heaven.
Salvation isn't about God accepting us into heaven as we are, and neither is it that we have to become perfect by ourselves. As children of God, we are being schooled in how to become like our Father in heaven. Our duty is to study hard and do our homework assignments. But teaching us the lessons we need to learn and helping us to graduate with honors is the role of the Holy Ghost.