Degrees of Salvation

Summary: Most people believe that if they don’t do anything really bad that God will let them into heaven when they die, simply because they were good people. Many Christians believe that only those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior will go to heaven, not because of how they lived their life but simply because of God’s grace. However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches a very different view of what it takes to be saved into the kingdom of God. This article explains what that difference is and why.

The Bible tells us “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), and the apostle Paul wrote, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Christians believe that only those who accept Jesus as their personal Savior will get to go to heaven when they die, however, others say that since God loves everyone so much that he sent his only begotten Son to die for the world, that he should allow everyone into heaven if they’ve led a fairly decent life.

Most people believe they’re basically good, meaning that they don’t do anything really bad like murdering someone or robbing a bank. Although they’ll admit they’re not perfect, yet they argue that their sins are minor ones like telling little white lies now and then. They know they shouldn’t steal but don’t consider it stealing to take small items home from work that belong to their employer.

And even if they know that such behavior is being dishonest, they argue that everyone does things like that so it’s not really a serious sin. They further point to Christians who do the same kind of things or worse and conclude that if God lets them into heaven then they see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed into heaven as well.

The idea behind this kind of thinking is that God let’s people into heaven simply for being a morally good person. Their argument is that since God is good, kind, and loving, that as long as someone is good, kind, and loving to others, then that qualifies them to live with God. Furthermore, they feel that if God loves everyone and is no respecter of people then it makes perfect sense to them that God would let anyone who’s been a good person come live with him in heaven

On the other hand, nearly all Christians are convinced that the Bible teaches that we’re permitted to live in heaven with God, not because we’ve done anything good to deserve it, but simply because they’ve called upon the name of Jesus and asked him to save them. And it’s because of this profession of faith in Jesus that God graciously consents to let people live in heaven after they die. And it’s this belief that leads them to conclude that it doesn’t really matter if they commit sin now and then because God’s grace justifies anything they do wrong (Acts 13:39).

With such a belief, the idea of repenting has no real meaning to them. They reason that if they’re going to spend eternity living in heaven with God simply because they called on Jesus to save them, then there’s no reason for
them to repent of anything.

However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches a very different view of heaven and what it takes to be saved into the kingdom of God.

In modern times, the Lord has revealed that after the resurrection all men will inherit one of three degrees of glory – the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial – and he has also revealed who goes to which kingdom of glory.

The telestial kingdom is the lowest degree and will be the eternal home of those who are “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosever loves and makes a lie… These are they who are cast down to hell, and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet and shall have perfected his work” (D&C 76:103,106). Although they will inherit a degree of glory, “but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end” (D&C 76:112).

However, most people don’t fall into this category because they live decent and respectable lives. Therefore, they will inherit the terrestrial kingdom. “These are they who are [the] honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men…who received not (i.e, would not accept) the testimony of Jesus [when it was presented to them] in the flesh, but afterward received (accepted) it [in the spirit world after their death]. These are they who receive of [God’s] glory, but not of his fulness” (D&C 76:74-76).

The highest degree of glory, known as the celestial kingdom, is what most people would refer to as heaven because this is where Jesus Christ and God, the Father live, and it is the most magnificent of all the degrees of glory. Those who go there “are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given— That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power; And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true” (D&C 76:51-53).

However, the Lord has also revealed that “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage] (D&C131:1,2).

We learn three important things from these revelations. The first is that all three places – telestial, terrestrial, and celestial – are different degree of glory. The second thing we learn is that those who live in heaven aren’t all equal in majesty or glory. Some enjoy greater glory than others. And the third thing we learn is that a person’s glory is determined by the way they lived their life.

For example, those who behaved badly during life are only qualified to inherit the lowest degree of glory, known as the telestial kingdom. Those who were honest and decent people but who refused to accept the true gospel of Jesus Christ when it was presented to them, qualify to receive the glory of the terrestrial kingdom.

However, to live where God lives in the celestial kingdom, a person must have accepted Christ, been baptized into his church by someone who has been divinely ordained unto this power, received the gift of the Holy Ghost, and been faithful and valiant in keeping God’s commandments. Those who were not valiant in honoring the covenant or vow they made to God when they were baptized are not worthy to live in the celestial kingdom (D&C 76:79).

If there are three different degrees of glory, or heavens, in the celestial kingdom itself, and one of them is higher than the other two, then that must mean that one of the remaining two glories must be lower than the other. But why are there these different degrees or levels of glory?

If a person’s glory is determined by their obedience to the commandments of God, then it follows that the greater someone’s glory is, the greater their obedience must be to God’s laws. In other words, the more valiant a person is in obeying the higher laws of God, the higher their glory will be.

The Lord has explained that “there are many kingdoms…And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified” (D&C 88:37-39). “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore, he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore, he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory” (D&C 88:22-24).

What this tells us is that being allowed to live in heaven with God involves more than just being a good person, and it involves more than merely saying we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. In order for someone to live with God in the celestial kingdom they must be willing to live by the rules, regulations, procedures, conditions, directives, decrees, and laws that govern that kingdom. Those who are not willing to abide by those laws cannot remain there and must therefore, of necessity, live in some other kingdom.

The reason why honorable people who do not want to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Master, and who are not willing to keep his commandments, are not permitted to live in the celestial kingdom is because they’ve shown by their behavior that they’re are not willing to abide by its laws. Thus, the degree of one’s glory is a reflection of the degree to which they are willing to obey the laws of heaven, and the greater the law they are willing to obey, the greater their glory will be.

For example, God commands that we should honor our parents. However, it’s much easier to keep that commandment than the one that says, “Thou shalt not lie,” and that one is easier to keep than the one that says, “Thou shalt not steal.” Of course, stealing a hundred thousand dollars from your employer through embezzlement is a worse crime than stealing a candy bar in a grocery store.

Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). Although being baptized by someone having the authority from heaven is easy to do, yet without being willing to do this one thing a person is disqualified from entering heaven. What we see then is that not all commandments are equal, with some being more important than others. If there are three degrees or levels of glory within the celestial kingdom, and one of them is greater than all the others, what that tells us is that in order to obtain that glory a person must abide by the greatest of all laws.

The purpose of the church isn’t just to have us believe in Jesus Christ or to teach us how to live a decent life. It’s to help us become more like Christ so that we are able to keep the laws of the celestial kingdom to the same degree that he does. And when we’re able to do that then we’ll be able to share in the same glory he has. This is why Jesus told us to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and why the apostle Paul said that one of the purposes of the church is to help us to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… [until we can] measure [up to] the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, ESV).

Most people, including non-Christians, view the commandments God gives us in one of three ways. For many, the commandments are merely a set of rules that helps people get along with one other. For example, it teaches us not to steal, lie, or commit adultery. It teaches children to obey their parents and tells parents to teach their children to do good. Nearly all the laws of western culture are based on the laws God gave Moses on Mount Sinai, and if people will follow them, they will be able to live together in a society that enjoys peace and harmony.

Jesus taught that the greatest of all God’s laws is to love our neighbor as ourselves. He taught us to be kind to others, to care for the sick and needy, to be patient, and not return evil for evil. This was the message of the parable of the good Samaritan. If we follow these laws in all of our relationships with others, whether it be between nations, within communities, at work or at home, it would help avoid all sorts of interpersonal problems. And it’s this idea that leads people to believe that as long as they treat others fairly, that God considers them good enough to live with him in heaven.

Then there are others who believe that the commandments are primarily for the purpose of showing God that we love him. Since Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15), some feel that the only purpose of keeping the commandments to is show God that we love him, which is why he lets us into heaven. In effect, these people feel that they are pleasing God simply by doing such things as going to church, or paying their tithing, or by not smoking or drinking. To them, keeping the commandments is for the purpose of appeasing God, who then allows them into heaven as a reward for their obedience to him. This attitude is very similar to ancient pagan worship where people felt they had to offer sacrifices to the gods in order to please them, in return for their blessings.

And then there are those who believe that the only thing God requires in order for someone to be saved is for them merely to offer a heartfelt acceptance of Jesus Christ and a request for him to save them. It’s been said that once a person has done this, there is nothing they can do to lose their salvation. Even if they later leave the faith, or no longer follow the ways of Jesus, they are still guaranteed to live in heaven after they die. In other words, this kind of salvation is a complete and total free gift from God that comes with no strings attached.

Those who believe in any of these three kinds of salvation only expect to receive nothing more than a never-ending life of peace and happiness in heaven where there is no spiritual growth, no labor of love, nor any personal satisfaction. This kind of salvation rests on the assumption that no matter what kind of Christian a person is in this life, once they get to heaven that God will somehow suddenly transform their character into that of an angelic being.

But what the Lord has revealed is that the commandments he gives are the laws which govern the celestial kingdom, and those who don’t delight in keeping them now, will not be inclined to keep them should they get to heaven. Since God is a loving Father, he would not put his children in a position where they would fail, therefore, he does not allow anyone into heaven who is not prepared to live there, because to do so would ultimately do them more harm than good. Therefore, God has prepared a kingdom of glory for each and every kind of person, from the most righteous to the most wicked, from the most devout follower of Christ, to the most devout atheist.

Paul stated that “As in Adam all [men] die, even so, in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22, emphasis added). Because of Christ’s sacrifice that atoned for the sins of the world, all men shall rise from the grave. Yet, even though everyone – both saint and sinner – will be resurrected, Paul explained that not everyone will receive the same glory. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeneth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption… So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:41,42,54).

In the resurrection everyone will rise from the dead, never more to die. When that happens, everyone will have become immortal, and since their bodies can no longer perish, they are no longer subject to the process of decay. In that case, their bodes will have become incorruptible. This is what Paul means when he says that our corruptible bodies will put on incorruption, and our mortal bodies will put on immortality. Therefore, when Paul says that everyone will rise from the dead, that means both the most righteous and the most wicked will come forth in the resurrection with an immortal, incorruptible body. But that doesn’t mean they will all receive the same reward. This is what he means when he says that in the resurrection of the dead, we will all come forth with different degrees of glory.

Jesus taught, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27).

God is no respecter of people, and he does love everyone, so much so that he sent his only begotten Son to die for the sins of the world. But God is also fair and just and it is neither fair nor just to reward everyone the same for different behavior. What we do in this life determines the kind of reward or treasure we receive in the next life. That is only fair. Those who are more righteous should be rewarded more than those who are less righteous because that’s only just and right. To say that there are only two rewards – heaven or hell – based solely on whether someone accepts Jesus or not, denies the fairness of God.

Those who not only believe on the name of Christ but who are faithful and diligent in keeping his commandments, are entitled to receive a far greater glory than those who merely professed a belief in Jesus but did nothing more, or those who merely went through the motions of keeping the commandments without it changing their character to emulate Christ. At the same time, those who didn’t accept Jesus but led a morally good life should not receive the same reward as those who lived a life of wickedness.

Unlike what most churches teach, salvation isn’t a one-size-fits-all where everyone is given the same reward. Christ’s sacrifice made it possible for everyone to become saved, but then he gives us the freedom to decide for ourselves our own degree of salvation.



Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation