OUR CHANCE FOR EXALTATION

To the early saints, the Lord himself said, "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). The early prophets living on the America continent taught their people, "if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness" (Mosiah 2:41). In our day the Lord has said, "blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life" (D&C 50:5).

All Christians believe that we can gain eternal salvation through the atonement of Christ, but not all Christians hold the same belief about how salvation is obtained. Some teach it is a gift, freely given just for doing nothing more than confessing that Jesus is the Christ. Others say that salvation is gained when we become baptized, while still others say that salvation comes only to those who keep God's commandments. And, in fact, there are versus of scripture that are used to support each of these claims.

For example, Acts 16:31 says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." It is argued that this verse shows that no other requirement is given to receive salvation except to believe in Jesus. Yet in Romans 10:9 it says "if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." According to this verse, belief alone in Jesus isn't enough to save us. To become truly saved we must also make a public declaration of that belief.

Yet 1 Peter 3:21 says that "even baptism doth also now save us." This scripture makes no other requirement for salvation except baptism, while Matthew 19:17 says, "if thou wilt enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments." Here there is no mention of believing in Christ, confessing that belief, or being baptized in order to become saved. The only requirement mentioned is to "keep the commandments."

However, because Christ has restored His gospel to the earth again in its purity, along with living prophets to once more guide our understanding, we now know that salvation requires a belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, a confession of that belief, repentance of our sins, baptism by immersion by someone authorized by God, not men, and for us to endure to the end in keeping the commandments of God.

But, as we have already seen, the Lord also taught on numerous occasions that in order to obtain "a crown of life," to be "received into heaven," and to "inherit eternal life" we must also be "faithful to the end." And if that is true, then it becomes extremely important for us to understand exactly what it means to be faithful.

The word faithful is defined as being loyal, dependable, dedicated, and committed to someone or something. This word also carries with it the idea of being diligent, steadfast, unwavering, and constant. Thus, someone who is faithful to God is someone who has dedicated themselves to serving God and is committed to doing whatever God asks of them. To be faithful means to be someone who God can always depend on and will be unwavering in their loyalty to Him no matter what situation they find themselves in.

The scriptures tell us that we can put our full trust in Christ because He is always faithful to us (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; Hebrews 3:2). As Christians we firmly believe that Christ will never let us down, He will never disappoint us, and will always keep His word. If, as Christians, our desire is to become more like Christ, then our desire should be to become as faithful to Him as He is to us.

But if our salvation is dependent on being faithful to Christ, no one will ever become saved because, despite our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, none of us keep every single one of God's commandment all the time. If we did then we'd be sinless, and since we are all sinners, that means none of us are perfectly loyal to Christ. But, if we fail at being faithful to God, and if salvation is only given to those who are faithful to Christ, then none of us will become saved.

However, since we know that the very reason why Christ died on the cross was to make it possible for us to be saved, therefore we must conclude that the customary definition of being faithful cannot be entirely correct when applied to our salvation. That then raises the question of what do the scriptures mean when they say that salvation comes to those who are faithful to the end?

As we study the scriptures we do not find anything that says that our salvation is dependent on us being perfect. In fact, just the opposite is true. Although our desire is to become perfect like our father in heaven is perfect, all of us fall short of that goal. That's why God has given us the principle of repentance. It is there precisely because God knows we are going to make mistakes, and if He knows that then it is clear that He also knows that we will be unfaithful to Him from time to time. If He expected us to be perfectly faithful at all times and in all places there would be no need for us to repent of anything, therefore, the very purpose of repentance is to give us a way to start over again when we fail in our efforts to become faithful to Him.

With this understanding, another definition of being faithful that is more in keeping with God's nature of mercy is: "to strive, to try, to do our best, to struggle, to overcome." In other words, it is the intent of our heart that God uses to judge our faithfulness to Him.

God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but what He is looking for is our willingness to serve Him with all of our heart. What he wants is for our desire to be towards Him, with an eye single to doing things His way. What He requires is a sincere desire on our part to keep His commandments, in striving to live our life according to His gospel, and our diligence in serving Him the best we can, given our weaknesses, shortcomings, and limitations.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints builds special, sacred structures called temples and each of them are literally considered to be a House of the Lord, just as were the temples that the ancient Israelites built. To a Latter-day Saint these buildings are representative of heaven, the place where God lives, and as such only those who are living worthy lives are permitted to enter into these sacred buildings.

To determine that worthiness, a bishop and a stake president interviews each person who wishes to go to the temple and what they seek to discover is if that person truly believe in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ, if they have a sincere testimony of the atonement of Christ, and sincerely believe that He is our Savior and Redeemer. They also seek to determine if that person has their own personal testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's kingdom here on the earth and that it contains Christ's true and restored gospel.

They seek to determine if the person has a testimony that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church are indeed true prophets, seers and revelators of God, and if they have such a testimony, if they willingly sustain them in their callings.

They also seek to determine if the person is striving to keep the covenants they've made with God, among which includes such things as living the law of chastity, paying a full tithing, keeping the word of wisdom, being honest in their dealings with their fellow beings, fulfilling their legal and financial obligation along with the other covenants they've made. They seek to determine if the person is striving to help build up Christ's kingdom here on the earth by serving God in His Church with all of their heart, mind, and soul.

They seek to know if the person is striving to live their personal lives in such a way that God would be pleased with what He sees. That doesn't mean we have to be perfect because none of us are. Each of us sin in one way or another, but what the Church leaders are trying to determine is if we are making an honest effort to emulate a Christ-like life. And if we have made any serious sins, they need to know if we have gone to the proper Church leaders to get that sin resolved.

If someone can answer yes to each of these questions, they are considered to be a faithful member of Christ's church and are given a small piece of paper called a temple recommend. When a person enters through the front door of the temple, they are greeted by a temple worker standing behind a desk who asks to see their temple recommend, and if it has been properly signed and dated, they are permitted to pass on into the temple.

The scriptures teach that "we hall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Romans 14:10) where every man shall be judge according to his works and his deeds (Revelation 20:13; D&C 19:3). Those who are found to have lived faithful lives will hear the Lord say to them, "Well done thou good and faithful servant. Thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee a ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matthew 25:21).

If the LDS temples are symbolic of the place where God lives then when we enter into the temple it is symbolic of us entering into heaven. And when we present our temple recommend to a temple worker at the front desk, this is symbolic of us standing before the judgment seat of Christ and Him finding us worthy of entering into the joy of His presence.

It should noticed that the temple interview questions don't seek to determine if we are living a perfect, sinless life, and this is just as symbolic of what Christ is looking for when determining who should be allowed into heaven. Christ doesn't ask us to be perfect. What He is more interested in is our faithful to Him and He determines that by how well we are striving to do what He asks of us.

In the 76th section of the D&C we are given a description of who goes to what kingdom. Speaking of those who inherit the celestial kingdom God said: "They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized. 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 powerů These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant" (versus 51,52,69).

Then, when speaking about those who go to the terrestrial kingdom Jesus said, "These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God" (verse 79). All that is required to be admitted into the celestial kingdom is to receive the testimony of Jesus Christ, be properly baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, keep the commandments, and be valiant in their testimony of Christ. In the context of this verse the word valiant is synonymous with the word faithful.

Christ knows our weaknesses and character flaws. He is all too familiar with man's inclination to doubt, be fearful, slip up, and back slide, and He is willing to work with us despite all of these spiritual infirmities but what He can't do without is our willingness to work with Him.

We see this in the way a parent helps their child with a difficult homework assignment. The child may be struggling to understand how to do the work but as long as they are willing to let their parent help them, the parent will continue to do all they can to assist the child. But when the child gives up or doesn't want to cooperate, then there is not much the parent can do to help their child.

And the same is true with us. As long as we are willing to put forth the effort to do what Christ asks of us, no matter how feeble or inadequate that effort may be, He will continue to help us improve. But when we give up trying and are no longer interested in putting forth any more effort to improve, there is little that Christ can do for us.

In the book of Revelation, we read letters that Christ dictated and had sent to seven different churches. Most of the Christians in these churches had gone back on their covenant with God for one reason or another. Some were not being valiant in their testimony, some were following the doctrine of false teachers, and some were following the ways of the world instead of following the ways of God.

In each of these cases, the Lord warned them that only those who overcome the temptations of the world will get to eat from the tree of life in paradise (2:7), will not have their name blotted out of the book of life (3:5), will be made a pillar in God's temple (3:12), and will sit with Christ on His throne (3:21). To be faithful to God and valiant in our testimony of Christ, means we are always striving to be obedient to God.

But the purpose of the gospel of Christ isn't just to get us into heaven. True salvation consists of inheriting eternal life which is the kind of life that God lives. Full salvation happens when we are able to receive all that the Father has and become kings and priests unto God (Revelation 5:10). Then we will sit on a throne with Christ (Revelation 3:21), wear a crown of eternal life (Revelation 2:10) and rule and reign with Christ forever (Revelation 5:10). This kind of life is what is known as exaltation, but if that isn't our goal then we don't really want the kind of salvation that Christ is offering us, therefore we will have to settle for something far less.

Jesus didn't die on the cross just to save us from our sins. The whole purpose of the gospel of Christ and His Church is to help us to become one with Christ and to measure up to His full stature (Ephesians 4:13). It is to help us to someday become perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). This is what God's work is all about. This is His plan for us, but He isn't going to drag us kicking and screaming into heaven. If this is not what we want, then God is not going to force eternal life on us.

But if it is our desire to inherit all that God has and to live with Him throughout all of eternity, He will never give up helping us, as long as we are willing to keep trying. Therefore, He is not so much interested in where we are at spiritually as He is in helping us to progress to where He is. As such, it doesn't matter to Him if we were just baptized yesterday or if we've been a member of His church our entire life. It doesn't matter to Him if we are struggling to live the Word of Wisdom and paying our tithing or if we are honoring every covenant we've made with Him. It doesn't matter to Him if we are a teacher in a ward's Primary class or if we are the President of the Church. What matters most to Him is if we are striving to keep His commandments because then He can help us to become perfect no matter what level of spirituality we are currently at.

As LDS members we tend to look at the President of our Church and think he is almost Christ-like but they don't see themselves that way. Although they have been called to be God's spokesman to the world, they are very much aware of how inferior they are to Christ. Even they recognize their need to grow spiritually, and so the Lord works with each person, no matter what their level of spirituality is, as long as they are willing to keep trying. This is what the scriptures mean when it says, "if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness."

The Lord has revealed, "For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepth my commandments, whether in life or in death, and he that is faithful in tribulations, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven" (D&C 58:2). Our struggles to become perfect will not end in this life but rather our efforts to fully keep the commandments will continue on in death, and there is every indication that our progress toward exaltation will continue even after the resurrection.

The path to salvation is a lengthy journey that started long before we came to earth and will continue long after we leave mortality, but the more effort we put into keeping God's commandments, the sooner we will reach our destination. However, for those who are struggling because of their weaknesses, it doesn't matter how fast they are progressing because as long as they keep trying they have all of eternity to reach their goal of exaltation.

Therefore as long as we remain true and faithful to God the time will come (it is certain; it is guaranteed) that we will become perfect, and when that day comes we will then inherit all that the Father has. It's when we stop trying that our progress to exaltation stops, and it's when we refuse to follow the commandments of God that we throw away our chance for exaltation.


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