All the sects and churches, including members of the true church itself generally labor under a common misconception.
We think salvation is all a matter of obtaining a future reward that will be handed over to us as a sort of prize for how we behaved here on earth.
Where did we come up with such an idea? It is a pretty silly idea, really.
The correct idea is stated nicely in the scriptures:
Mosiah 3:19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
This is a completely different idea of salvation. This one makes sense.
The idea here is that we have been cut off from the presence of God, but we have a space of probation in which to seek redemption.
The point is that salvation is not some reward we hope will be handed to us like a birthday present at the judgment bar. Salvation is something we seek to obtain during this life.
The natural man is an enemy to God. After this life, if we have remained an enemy to God, we cannot hope for better than wrath.
The point is that we are to become the Sons of God here in mortality. We are to receive the blessings of salvation here.
Are we living so we can receive revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost here? Or do we hope to receive that handed to us like a birthday present at the judgment bar?
Are we living up to our privileges here? Or do we hope to have those privileges handed over to us as a prize at the judgment bar?
Joseph Smith said to the Relief Society: “If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates. Females, if they are pure and innocent, can come in the presence of God; for what is more pleasing to God than innocence; you must be innocent, or you cannot come up before God; if we would come before God, we must keep ourselves pure, as He is pure.”
The gospel is meant to save us in mortality. There are those whose days of probation are cut short, and the Lord has provided a means for them to find redemption in the spirit world. But the idea that we will be given salvation like an enormous gift being handed over to us at the judgment bar is a pretty silly notion founded in our rationalizations about ourselves.
Are we choosing a path that could lead us back to the presence of God here in mortality? Or are we hoping to have that handed to us wrapped up like a gift at the judgment bar?
Do we find genuine reproof if our faith is not even like a mustard seed? Or do we brush off such matters as irrelevant, thinking such faith will be bestowed upon us at the judgment bar? Do we find genuine reproof if the signs that follow them that believe do not also follow us whether male or female? Or do we think such things will simply be gifted to us at the judgement?
I do not know how far we need to go in mortality in order to continue on to exaltation in eternity. Certainly, we cannot finish the full path to exaltation fully in this life.
But the true church doesn’t save us by offering salvation in the next life. It saves us by offering salvation in this life. If we aren’t treading a path that can save us in this life, we aren’t treading a path that will save us in the next. Those works that will save us there will save us here.
D&C 107:18 The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—
19 To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
The idea that we can knowingly live beneath our privileges here and they will be handed over like they were on lay-away for us at the judgment bar seem like dangerous business to me, for God will not be mocked. If he offers grand blessings here that we happily live far beneath, I do not know but that he may allow us to live beneath them perpetually hereafter as well. After all, if that is what we knowingly choose, why should we be rewarded something different? It was for turning down the opportunity to receive the Lord’s own presence that the Israelites were cursed, and none of them could enter his rest while in the wilderness. Perhaps we can knowingly live far beneath our privileges as a people with impunity, but I wouldn’t bank eternity on it.
And as far as we find salvation in this life, we know we will have that portion at least in the next life. How far do we need to go to obtain the whole? I don’t know. But I know that the point is that, having been cast off from God’s presence we are given an opportunity here to return to it before we must be judged.
And the idea that it will simply be bestowed on us like it was an enormous Christmas present for “good behavior” is ridiculous. It it ridiculous because behavior that is not good enough to, in time, find ourselves being saved in this life, is not good enough to save us in the next. It is true that our first views are nearly blind, that our first steps are unstable, and that our first years of effort are uncertain. But in time we must find ourselves growing into the gift of the Holy Ghost in earnest. We must find ourselves growing into the principle of revelation in earnest. According to the scriptures we should eventually find that the Holy Ghost can show us the truth of all things, and that he can show us all things what we must do to gain eternal life.
Yes, we will be judged according to our works. That statement is perfectly true. But the works that D&C 76 lists as the works of those who inherit the celestial kingdom are largely the works of receiving salvation and redemption here in mortality.