There was an incident in the life of Christ "when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17)
There are many people today who ask that same question and the answer they receive depends on how the person giving the answer views heaven. The most commonly taught view is that heaven is a place where people sit around all day staring at the face of God and singing praises to His holy name. This view is further re-enforced when the scripture seems to say that God allows us to live in heaven strictly out of the goodness of His heart rather than because of anything we have done to deserve living there (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, to show our gratitude for this unmerited favor on God's part, it is believed that all He asks in return is for us to praise Him forever and ever for His great magnanimous goodness. Therefore, those who hold this view of heaven believe that all we need to do to inherit eternal life is merely accept the fact that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins. In other words, since we won't be doing very much in heaven then it's believed that we don't have to do very much to get there.
By way of contrast, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that those who inherit the kingdom of heaven will become like God. Therefore, their view of heaven is one of work. Not surprising, the answer they give to the question of what must a person do to inherit eternal life is that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Thus, it is our view of heaven that influences what we think we must do to get there.
However, even among members of the LDS Church, there are variations of ideas of what it means to become like God. To a new or young member it may mean the freedom to do whatever they want. To others it may mean having the power to tell others what to do. Some may envision God sitting around all day playing with His awesome powers by creating worlds and destroying them. Still others may think of it merely as a continuation of married life whereby we are able to spend eternity enjoying the companionship of our family. And with each of these views of heaven we also form an opinion of what we think we need to do to get there.
However, there are real and specific things that happen in heaven and it is important that we have a correct understanding of what those things are. Throughout His life here on earth Jesus would often begin many of His parables by saying "And the kingdom of heaven is like…." And the reason he did that is because He wanted to help people gain an accurate understanding of what heaven is like because if we have the wrong view of it then we will not do those things here in this life that will help prepare us to inherit that kingdom.
Perhaps we can illustrate this principle by way of an example or two. Suppose someone wanted to have a garden full of delicious fruit. If they know what it takes to grow a successful garden they will prepare themselves ahead of time before the planting begins. They will make sure they have the tools needed to plow the ground and plant the seeds. They will make sure they have the necessary seeds and, before starting to work, they will put on appropriate work clothes. Thus, when a person has a proper understanding of what they will be doing once they get to the garden then they can properly prepare themselves ahead of time. But, if a person has either a vague idea or no idea at all of what it takes to plant a garden they will come to their plot of ground inadequately prepared to do the work that gardening requires, and the results of their labor won't produce the fruit they desire.
Or suppose that someone wants to learn how to become the president of a large corporation. Even though they may not know exactly everything that the President does, they at least know they must learn all the aspects of the company and develop certain management skills. Therefore, an ambitious person will gladly start working at the lowest job and strive to advance themselves in knowledge and skill so they can be promoted to a higher position where they can gain further knowledge and skill. On the other hand, if someone has no idea of what it takes to become the president and doesn't do those things that will qualify them to rise to that position, they will always remain as an hourly worker. From the view of an uninformed observer it may see that what a president does is merely sit in a large office, wearing expensive suits and giving orders. Therefore, they may naively think that to become the president of the company they must come to work wearing an expensive suit and start bossing their co-workers around. If that person works in the mail room, not only would they be terribly mistaken of what it takes to become the president but their actions would also be quite foolish.
In the same way, in order for us to inherit eternal life we have to know what heaven is like otherwise we will be completely unprepared to spend eternity there. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we have a correct view of heaven. And the best way to gain that understanding is to have a correct view of God because God embodies the principles of heaven. That is to say, it is His character and His behavior that allows Him to live in heaven. The scriptures teach that eternal life means coming to know "the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He] hast sent" (John 17:3) because without knowing who God is, what He is like, what our relationship is to Him, and what His purpose is for us then we cannot possibly be prepared to someday be like God and thereby inherit eternal life.
In our day the Lord has reveal that to truly inherit eternal life a person must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (D&C 131:1-3). That means that first and foremost, godhood is associated with the union of a man and a woman in a marriage relationship that will last forever. If that eternal union doesn't exist then neither does godhood. And the reason why is because godhood is all about the begetting and raising of children. If there are no children being produced in heaven then there is no purpose to being a god.
While this concept is completely foreign to nearly all other churches, whether Christian or otherwise, it is at the heart of LDS doctrine. Without a proper understanding of this principle we cannot hope to have a proper understanding of what heaven is all about or what we will be doing there should we inherit eternal life.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is perhaps the only faith that teaches we were born to heavenly parents as spirit children before being born to mortal parents here on earth. That is why we refer to God as "our Father who art in heaven." We are literally His children and that makes Him our literal Father. And, like all parents, He cares about our physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. As such, He seeks to teach us everything we need to know to develop in all of those areas. Since God is perfect, His desire is to see us become as perfect as He is. Jesus taught, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48) and the apostle Paul taught that the purpose of the church is to help "perfect the saints" (Ephesians 4:12).
But not all of God's children want to become like Him, just like not all children here on earth want to grow up to be just like their father. Even so, a righteous earthly father still loves each of his children and still seeks to help each of them grow and mature to become the best they can be. Our Father in heaven does the same with each of His children. As such, He provides ample opportunity, training, and guidance for each son and daughter of His to become the best at what they want to do.
Suppose there was a father who operated a very successful business that provided him with a very comfortable living. That father would naturally want each of his children to become just as well off financially as he had become. No successful father would want to see any of their children live in poverty, yet if one of his children decided they wanted to be lazy and not take responsibility for their own welfare, the father can't force that child to do what is necessary to live a successful life. But what a father can do is to provide every opportunity possible, including offering encouragement and motivation for that child to become successful.
Our Father in heaven is perfectly successful, meaning that it is impossible to become more successful than He is. That state of success is called perfection. And, because of that, He is able to enjoy the greatest possible amount of happiness imaginable. Therefore, anything less than being perfect also means having a lesser degree of happiness. As a loving Father, God desires that each of His children obtain that same fullness of joy that He has and to do that He seeks to provide each of us with every opportunity to become perfect as He is, including giving us all the encouragement, motivation, support, assistance, and cooperation that He possible can. Yet, if some desire to live a life that is less than perfect, our Father still loves them and still seeks to help them become as happy as they are willing to become.
Because of this, God's entire life is centered around raising His children. That is His most important job. This is why He told Moses, "For behold, this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). God's glory doesn't come from people singing praises to Him. It comes from having helped his children to become perfect. And the more of His children He can perfect, the more glory it brings Him, much as it brings glory to a proud grandparent when he talks about his many grandchildren. It is even a prouder grandparent who brags about how many of those grandchildren have become successful in life. Nothing gives our Father in heaven more pleasure than to see His children become perfect. And the more children He can help achieve perfection the more glorious it is for Him.
If we are going to become like God then it is obvious that we too must learn how to raise children, just as our Father in heaven does. It is no accident that the first thing God did upon creating both man and woman was to marry Adam and Eve, telling them to cleave unto one another and become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). And then "God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Genesis 1:28). The whole purpose of earth's creation was to allow God's children to have the opportunity to learn how to become parents and thereby learn how to do what our Father in heaven does.
But, as is well know, nearly any man can father a child but not every man knows how to be a father to their child. Nearly every woman can bear children but not every woman knows how to be a mother to their child. With very few exceptions, most people who have raised children can testify that parenting is not an easy job, and to do it well takes a lot of skill, not the least of which is the skill of patience. If we are going to learn how to be the kind of parent our Father in heaven is, then He must, of necessity, provide us with the guidance and training we need to become successful, godly parents ourselves. And that is what the Church is all about.
The word "church" describes a certain type of organization just as the word "business" or "school" does and the word "organization" is defined as "a group of people arranged in an orderly manner for the purpose of planning and accomplishing certain specific tasks." A church is made up of a group of people who are organized in such a way as to teach others how to inherit eternal life. Although each denomination may arrange their people differently yet they each are considered to be an organization. And this is just as true with families. There has to be some sort of an organization if order is to be maintained in the home. And the more children there are the more orderly the structure needs to be or else confusion and chaos will result.
And the same principle applies to the life we had before the earth was created. With so many spirit children, our Father in heaven needed to organize them in an orderly manner, and part of the reason for that organization was to teach them the principles of godliness. Since that kind of an organization is what we today call a "church" then it follows that we attended "church" in heaven, even if we didn't call it by that name. And it was in this heavenly church that we were taught and instructed concerning our Father's plan for the salvation of His children, and no doubt where we were also prepared for our future journey here on earth just church here on earth is meant to prepare us for our future life in eternity. And the very essence of God's plan for us is centered around Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice because without that atonement there is no way for us to inherit eternal life. Therefore, we could accurately say that in heaven we attended the Church of Jesus Christ.
But, once we arrived here in mortality, our education did not cease. In fact, we need even more instruction here that we did in heaven. Therefore, our Father has organized His children here on earth according to the same pattern that was used in heaven. As Paul explained, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" And the reason for this kind of an organization is to help us come "unto a perfect man" until we can measure up to the full stature of Christ. (see Ephesians 4:11-13). Thus, the purpose of the church here is the same as it was in heaven, which is, to teach us how to eventually become like God, our Father.
As we said earlier, the most important work God does is raising His children. To do that requires certain skills and part of those skills involve acquiring godly habits and attitudes. After all, we can't teach our children the principles of righteousness if we are not righteous ourselves. But there's another reason why righteousness is so important to godliness. The Lord has explained, "the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness" (D&C 121:36). Without being righteous it is impossible for us to control the powers of heaven and without that power we cannot do what God does. And the ability to control the powers of the heaven reside in the priesthood.
If we were "to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens [would] withdraw themselves; [and then] the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man" (D&C 121:37). The reason why it is so important for us to be righteous is because that is what gives the priesthood the power to operate. Righteousness is like the gasoline that powers an engine. Without righteousness, the powers of heaven will not respond to our command.
And part of the powers of heaven involves the ability to save people from their sins. Since all of the ordinances of salvation are effective only because of the authority of the priesthood, and the priesthood only works upon the principles of righteousness, then it is crucial for those inheriting eternal life that they hold the priesthood and exercise it in accordance with righteous principles. Therefore, one of the main purposes of the church is to teach God's children the principles of righteousness and more than that, to help them learn how to apply those principles in their life.
And nowhere are these principles of righteousness more important than in the rearing of children. The Lord has further explained that "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge" (D&C 121:41-42). These are the principles God uses not only to gives power to His priesthood but to guide and direct His children as well.
If we are to become like our Father in heaven then we too must learn how to use these same principles in the rearing of our children, both in heaven as well as here on earth. And for those who inherit eternal life we will teach our spirit offspring those same principles by organizing them into an orderly structure that could rightly be called a church. Thus, the church of God will always exist both in heaven as well as on earth.
And the purpose of teaching our children the principles of righteousness is to prepare them to someday become like God themselves. And to do that we will create earths for them to dwell on and provide them with the same saving ordinances that our Father in heaven has provided for us. But to do those things require the righteous use of the priesthood. Thus it is not only imperative that we receive the priesthood but learn to exercise it in righteousness.
Since parenting also involves the interaction of both a husband and wife, it is just as essential that men and woman learn the skills of becoming "one flesh." In heaven there is no such thing as divorce, therefore, to inherit eternal life husbands and wives must be able to properly work together throughout all eternity as they raise their family. That means husband and fathers must learn how to preside in their home in righteousness, and wives and mothers must learn to serve along side the authority and under the direction of their husband. The Lord has said, "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27). This applies just as much to husbands and wives as anyone else. If these two people have not learn how to become as one flesh in this life they will remain separate and singly throughout the rest of eternity and will not inherit eternal life.
Our life here on earth is part of our continuing training to learn how to develop all the skills necessary to become like God. Those who do not adequately learn these skills cannot be permitted to inherit eternal life because they will not have the ability to properly raise spirit children in the eternal worlds of heaven. If God were to allow unrighteous parents to beget children in eternity He would be damning every spirit child born to those parents. And the reason why is because those parents wouldn't have the ability to control the powers of heaven and thereby wouldn't have the power to lead their children to eternal life. That is something God cannot and will not permit because His glory comes from helping people inherit eternal life, not from excluding them from having the opportunity to become as perfect as He is.
With this view of heaven, we can come to have a better understanding of what we must do to inherit eternal life. Eternal life isn't granted to us merely for belonging to the correct church. It isn't based on whether we attend church or not or on how faithful we were in reading the scriptures. While all of these things are necessary and important they are simply tools meant to aid us in our spiritual progression. However, if we don't properly use them to achieve our goal then we're no better off than if we didn't have them to begin with.
It's important to belong to the correct church because only there can we learn the correct principles that lead to eternal life but, attending church without learning to apply the principles of righteousness in our life is like attending classes in college and falling asleep during the professor's lecture or not doing the assigned homework. If earth-life is like a school then the Bible is our textbook, but if we don't read it with the intent to learn and apply the lessons it teaches then we will never develop the skills needed for godhood.
To illustrate what I mean, just because someone graduates from college as a lawyer doesn't mean they have the right to practice law. It isn't until they pass their state bar exam that they are then given the authority from the State to act in the capacity of a lawyer. In the same way, each of us will someday stand before the bar of Christ and be examined as to whether or not we have sufficiently learned the skills necessary to inherit eternal life. It is only those who pass that bar exam who will be given the authority to "enter into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods" (D&C 132:37).
Every calling, every assignment, and every request for help in the Church is an opportunity for us to practice the skills necessary to become perfect. Since raising spirit children involves teaching them the principles of godliness, then every teaching call in the Church gives us the opportunity to learn how to teach God's children the gospel. Since raising a spirit family entails watching over them and caring for them then every home-teaching and visiting-teaching assignment provides training on how to care for and watch over families. Every calling to preside over a church organization such as the Young Men/Young Woman program, or the Primary, Sunday School, Relief Society and the priesthood quorums provides us with the opportunity to learn how to organize and preside in righteousness over our own eternal family organization.
The Lord has told us, "For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying of their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies" (D&C 84:33). In order to inherit eternal life we must not only obtain the priesthood of God and be sanctified by the Spirit, but we must also magnify our callings, which is another way of saying that we must be faithful and diligent in performing our duty in the Church. Perfection comes as we faithfully and diligently practice the lessons that our callings provide.
While some callings in the Church may seem trivial or unimportant, each of them allows us to learn valuable lessons that will help prepare us for eternal life. Those who faithfully serve in the Church and seek to magnify their callings are like students who study hard to get good grades. Those who take a slothful approach to their callings and assignments are like students who feel they can graduate by doing only the minimum requirements. What they fail to realize is that everyone on earth will eventually graduate but only those who have learned their lessons well and have become perfect will inherit eternal life.
If we have a misunderstanding of why we are here on earth or what the Church is all about then we may think that God will save us for doing very little. On the other hand, if we have a correct understanding of where we are going after death and what we will be doing once we get to heaven then we are more apt to work harder doing those things that really matter. Thus, how we approach our duties in the Church will largely be determined by our view of heaven.