Summary: The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” By this he meant that if we want to be saved there are certain specific rules, conditions, laws, requirements, or prerequisites that must be met, and if not then it is impossible for us to obtain salvation. But in order for us to adhere to the laws governing salvation, we first have to know what they are. This article looks at what knowledge we need to acquire and why that’s important in order for us to truly become saved.
The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6). By this he meant that if we want to be saved there are certain specific rules, conditions, laws, requirements, or prerequisites that must be met, and if not then it is impossible for us to obtain salvation. But in order for us to adhere to the laws governing salvation, we first have to know what they are.
The laws that govern salvation are, first believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, then a person must repent of their sins, be baptized by someone having the proper authority, receive the Holy Ghost, make covenants with the Lord, and endure to the end in keeping the commandments of God. Without doing each and all of these things a person cannot be saved.
Since God’s arch enemy, Satan, wants to thwart God’s plan, he attempts to either make sure we don’t gain the knowledge necessary to become saved, or he distorts, misleads, misinterprets, and alters the knowledge of salvation so that we become confused and thereby deceived into following a different path than the one God has ordained. In the words of Nephi, in this way “the devil cheateth their soul, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell (2 Nephi 28:21).
Take for instance the doctrine of baptism. In the early history of Christianity, from the records we have, it was administered by dunking an adult person completely under water. Later, baptism was changed to include infants, and since it’s dangerous to fully immerse a baby underwater, this action was replaced by merely pouring a small amount of water over the head of the infant. But within a short time this then became the standard way to baptize adults as well.
At the beginning of the Reformation it was still taught that baptism was essential to salvation and but instead of being administered only by an authorized priest of the Catholic church, the reformers changed the doctrine to allow any ordained minister of any faith the authority to baptize those who believed on their words.
As time went on and the idea of being saved by grace without having to perform any works became more popular, the belief that baptism was essential to salvation was no longer taught, and so this practice was slowly done away with. And even those churches who still perform baptisms today, the knowledge of its importance has been lost.
For this reason, merely knowing what the basic principles of salvation are is not enough to truly save us because if all we have is just a superficial knowledge of these laws we can easily be deceived into following a belief that leads to a very different destination than the one we think we’re headed towards. Therefore, the knowledge necessary for us to truly gain the kind of salvation God intends for us requires that we have a fuller, more extensive understanding of the basics.
To truly be saved we have to know exactly what it means to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We have to have a correct understanding of what it means to repent. We have to know why baptism it’s necessary, how it’s to be done, and who can perform it. We have to know exactly what the gift of the Holy Ghost is and why it is essential to our salvation. We have to have a firm knowledge of what the commandments of God are, why they are so important for us to follow, and why we must endure to the end in keeping them. And we have to know what covenants we must make with God and the reason why we make them. The more we come to know and understand these things the less likely it becomes that we will be led astray by the devil’s cunning lies.
But, in order to better comprehend these principles of salvation there are other things we need to learn that will give us the additional knowledge needed for us to increase our understanding of the basics. These include having a better understanding of the atonement, what it is, what power it possesses, and what it can do for us both in terms of our spirituality and in our everyday temporal life.
The doctrine of grace is another subject that, if not properly understood, can cause us to follow a path that leads us away from God. Throughout the New Testament, the word “grace” is used extensively by the apostles therefore, it’s clear they felt this was an important aspect of the gospel. However, as the centuries went by, the Catholic Church began to emphasize the need for us keeping the commandments so much so that the subject of grace was nearly forgotten, until Martin Luther came along. Now, centuries later, Protestants emphasize the doctrine of grace so much that they hardly mention the need for us keeping the commandments, even though that subject is mentioned more frequently in the Bible than is grace.
Those who don’t understand the proper role of grace can either become discouraged when they fail to live up to the standard of perfection that the New Testament calls us to strive for, or they can feel that if they just put forth a minimal effort in keep the commandments, that the grace of God will “make up the difference” and in the end we’ll be saved no matter how we lived our life.
And the word “saved” is another concept that is used a lot by Protestants. To them, what this means is going to heaven where we will live with God and his angles, as we spend eternity sitting around in a blissful, happy environment, doing nothing more than singing praises to God. Yet the New Testament makes numerous references to us inheriting the kingdom of God, of being a joint-heir with Christ, of wearing crowns and sitting on thrones. The writers of the New Testament also repeatedly tell us that there are rewards waiting for us in heaven based on how obedient, faithful, diligent, and steadfast we’ve been to Christ in this life.
In order to gain eternal life we must have a correct knowledge about God, the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. We need to know who they are, what their relationship is to each other, what they are like, their attributes, character, thoughts, and feelings. Jesus taught this principle when he said: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
For example, in his sermon of the mount, Jesus told us to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and the apostle Peter taught: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15,16). If we are to become as perfect and holy as God then we have to learn exactly how he is perfect and holy.
Today, nearly all Christian faiths teach that it is impossible for us to actually attain such a condition, therefore, instead of taking these scriptures to mean what they say, they are rationalized away. But in the records we have of the earliest church Fathers, dating from between 100-200 A.D. we find a number of references indicating that the reward of the faithful is to become gods ourselves, yet over time this doctrine was changed to teach that man was “born in sin” and therefore his natural character is described as being “depraved.” This idea teaches that all men are wicked and evil from the time of their conception, but that God, in his infinite mercy, will nonetheless allow such vile creatures to live with him in heaven if they only accept his Son, Jesus, as their Savior. Under this view of salvation, there is no possibility that we can ever approach being as perfect and holy as God.
Closely associated with this is the doctrine of the resurrection. In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees believed that in the resurrection the dead will live again, while the Sadducees didn’t. When Lazarus died and Jesus came to his tomb three days later, Jesus said to Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again. And Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:23-25).
Clearly, Jesus taught that there will be a resurrection which is defined as the graves giving up their dead and their physical bodies coming back to life, yet, today, very few Protestant ministers talk about our bodies coming forth from the grave in a literal resurrection. Instead, they teach that when we die the spirits of those who believe in Jesus immediately go to heaven to be with God, while the spirits of those who did not accept Jesus go directly to hell to spend eternity to suffer alongside of Satan and his angels.
And there are many other subjects, besides the basic, fundamental doctrines necessary for salvation, that we need to know in order to keep from being led astray by the cunning lies of the devil. Thus, when Joseph Smith said it is impossible for us to be saved in ignorance, there is more involved in that statement than just having faith in Christ, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the Holy Ghost, making covenants, and enduring to the end in keeping the commandments.
The knowledge we need to gain in order to become truly saved covers a wide range of subjects which are all interwoven into the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it’s because they are so closely connected to each other that they all are part of what it takes to become saved.
We can think of the gospel as a puzzle that has many different pieces. If we put together just a few pieces of the puzzle we may feel like we have a clear understanding of what the final picture looks like, but in reality that only gives us a small view of the entire picture. The more we come to understand the gospel in its fulness the less likely we are to be deceived by false ideas. Therefore, the more knowledge we gain about all aspects of the gospel the easier it becomes for us to stay on the path that leads to our salvation and the more possible it becomes for us to be saved.
But knowledge, in and of itself, is useless unless we are able to put that knowledge into action. For example, knowing how to drive a car is meaningless if we never get in a car and drive it. Theoretically knowing how to fix the engine of a car does us no good unless we can actually apply that knowledge to repairing a car’s engine. And the same principle applies to learning the gospel.
Knowing all the correct facts about who Jesus is, what his mortal life was like, what he did, what he said, and what he taught is all well and good but unless we can take that knowledge and apply it in our life, it does us no good. For example, it does us no good to know that we must have faith in Jesus Christ if we don’t exercise that faith. It does us no good to know we should repent of our sins but don’t do it. It’s ineffective for us to make covenants with God if we don’t understand what they are and why they are essential for our salvation because we will be less likely to keep them.
Becoming saved isn’t like taking a bar exam to become a lawyer or taking a state medical exam to become a licensed doctor. Getting into heaven is more like learning a trade skill, where a degree of excellence is awarded to those who can perform a particular kind of work that meets a high standard of achievement. For example, someone is referred to as a master mechanic, not just based on how much they know but on how well they can apply that knowledge to fixing a piece of machinery.
All Christians agree that heaven is the place where God and his angels live, and all Christians agree that God is totally righteous and sinless. Therefore, if we want to live in heaven with God and feel comfortable being there, then we too have to become as righteous, perfect, and holy as he is. Therefore, the purpose of learning as much as we can about the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t simply to gain more knowledge. Rather, it’s to help us become “a new creature in Christ” (2 Corinthians5:170), but to do that requires us to have a mighty change of heart to where “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).
Although nearly all Protestants say they believe this, what they actually promote is the idea that when a believer in Christ dies that God will somehow, magically, transform them instantly into a perfect and holy person with no effort on their part, but if that is true, then it is just as true that God could do that to us now. However, in all of recorded history, there has never been anyone except Jesus who has ever come close to imitating those attributes of God, so it seems evident that a belief in that kind of knowledge will not save us.
The scriptures tell us that we should “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The scriptures tell us that even “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). In other words, grace, knowledge, faith, wisdom, and favor with God doesn’t come to us in an instant. Rather, they come gradually, with effort, through a process of growth. If this isn’t so then there would no reason for us to endure temptation in order to receive a crown of life (James 1:12).
Instead of God waving a magic wand to make us suddenly holy through no effort on our part, as sons and daughters of God, we are being prepared a little at a time to become more and more like Christ, so that when he comes in glory “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). And when that time comes, we will be ready and capable of living in heaven with him.
Then how do we grow to become like Christ?
It’s the knowledge we gain about God and his plan for our salvation that helps us know how to do that, and the more knowledge we gain about his plan for our perfection, and the more we apply that knowledge in our life, the more we will find ourselves gradually becoming less sinful, more righteous, and holy. It’s no different than learning how to cook. Reading all the cookbooks in the world won’t produce a single meal until we take the knowledge learned in those books and follow their instructions in preparing food. And the more knowledge we gain and the more practice we put in, the better cooks we become.
The scriptures talk about God teaching us by the use of “types,” “shadows,” and “patterns.” For example, when Abraham sacrificed his beloved son Isaac, that was a type, shadow, or pattern of how someday God, our Father, would sacrifice his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. The ancient Israelites were commanded to offer up a lamb “without blemish” that was to be slain and its blood spilt for a remission of their sins, but that was just a type, shadow, or pattern of what was to come when Jesus, the sinless lamb of God, would shed his blood to atone for our sins. The holiest part of the Israelite temple was a type, shadow, or pattern of the throne of God.
Children don’t come forth into the world as full-grown adults who can immediately perform great feats of accomplishments. Instead, they grow slowly and gradually from being a helpless infant, to an unsteady toddler, to a playful child, to an immature teenager, to a young adult and then finally to becoming an adult who is capable of composing great music, creating stunning works of art, constructing great buildings, managing international companies, or even going to the moon.
Nowhere in life do we see people instantly being transformed from a know-nothing individual into a highly skilled and capable person. The pattern we see over and over again in all of nature is that people learn by doing, and the more they do the more they learn and the better they become. This is the way people change, gradually, a little at a time, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:13). Even Jesus himself “learned” to be obedient “by the things he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). And that is the same process by which we grow to become like Christ and thereby become worthy to be a joint-heir with him.
But learning about God doesn’t come just from our efforts alone. In fact, we cannot truly know the things of God unless it is revealed to us (Matthew 11:27; 1 Corinthians 2:10,11), and that is the role of the Holy Ghost. It is he who enlightens our mind, and changes our heart, and as we act on the truths he gives us, the more willing he is to give us even greater knowledge. Jesus explained it this way when he said, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
This is how salvation is obtained, but if we are ignorant of this process then it becomes impossible for us to be saved.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation