Click to go to a previous installment:
Part IV: Judgment
Part III: Resurrection
Part II: The Spirit World
Part I: Death
V. Degrees of Glory
Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 15 that while all men will be resurrected, not everyone will be resurrected to the same state of glory. He compares these degrees of glory to that of the sun, the moon, and the stars respectively. In so doing he is merely using a comparison to illustrate the glorious nature of the resurrection of our bodies, and the difference in glory among the states to which a man may be resurrected.
1 Corinthians 15:35-43 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
Paul refers to the three distinct degrees of glory as that of the:
1) Celestial (which glory Paul compares to the glory of the sun)
a. “Those who have repented of their sins and received the ordinances of the gospel and kept the associated covenants will be cleansed by the Atonement of Christ. They will live in exaltation in the highest kingdom, also known as the celestial kingdom. They will live in God’s presence, become like him, and receive a fullness of joy. They will live together for eternity with those of their family who qualify.” (Preach My Gospel, p. 53). The Celestial glory is God’s glory, and is the glory enjoyed by those who abide in his presence. If we manage to attain this degree of glory through the grace and redemption of the Savior, we will remain in His presence, and in the presence of God the father for all eternity. Therefore in order to realize both immortality AND eternal life a man must reach the celestial kingdom. This is the state, or kingdom in which we will be able to continue to grow and progress to meet our full potential that God has laid out for us.
b. Who will receive a place in the celestial kingdom?
D&C 76:50-54,69-70(see also 70-112) And again we bear record—for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just—They 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. They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood. These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
2) Terrestrial (which glory Paul compares to the glory of the moon)
“People who refuse to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ but who live honorable lives will receive a place in the terrestrial kingdom.” (The Plan of Salvation, pamphlet published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p.14 emphasis added) People who receive a place here will never progress beyond this point. According to D&C 76:77, those who receive a place in the terrestrial glory will “receive of the presence of the Son, but not the fullness of the Father.” Thus these people will receive immortality, but will not gain eternal life.
3) Telestial [in the Joseph Smith translation, see footnote a for 1 Corinthians 15:40 in the LDS edition of the KJV Bible] (which glory Paul compares to the glory of the stars.) “Those who continue in their sins and do not repent will receive a place in the telestial kingdom.” These are the people that “received not the Gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus” (The Plan of Salvation, pamphlet pub. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p.14) “People who receive a place here will never progress beyond this point. These individuals will receive their glory after being redeemed from spirit prison [which I have already mentioned] which is sometimes called hell (see D&C 76: 84,106).” (True to the Faith, pub. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 94)
I have already established that the righteous who have been justified and sanctified through Christ will be able to withstand God’s glory, and so enter into his presence, and that the wicked withdraw from the presence of God under a consciousness of their guilt to a place or a state where they are comfortable. D&C 88 17-20 contains an explanation of precisely what happens to the souls of man upon returning to the presence of the Lord to be judged.
And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it. Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory; For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father; That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified. And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom. 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.
And so, what must one do (or become) in order to obtain the glory of the celestial kingdom, and God’s presence?
Receive and live the Gospel, which entails the following principles:
1) Believe in him(have faith) (Romans 10:9)
2) Repent (see Helaman 5:10-11; 14:17-19) with a broken heart and a contrite spirit (2 Nephi 2:6-8)
3) Be baptized in His name (John 3:5)
4) and be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 27:20)
5) Endure to the end (Matthew 10:22; 3 Nephi 27:16, D&C 14:7)
This is the same doctrine that Jesus Christ and his apostles taught, as evidenced by this exhortation by the Apostle Peter.
Acts 2:37-38, 41-42,47 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
I feel that is important to emphasize that we must receive these ordinances of the Gospel at the hands of someone who holds the authority of God to perform them. Joseph Smith said it best in the fourth and fifth articles of faith:
“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost
We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.”
There are also saving ordinances that can only be performed in the temple, which are necessary for our own exaltation. According to the lds.org Gospel Library, “Temple ordinances lead to the greatest blessings available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Some examples of these ordinances would be:
Celestial marriage: in which a man and a woman can be sealed for time and all eternity through covenant. “A sealing performed in the temple continues forever if the husband and wife are faithful to the covenants they make.” (lds.org, Gospel Library, Temples)
The endowment: “The word endowment means "gift," and the temple endowment truly is a gift from God. The ordinance consists of a series of instructions and includes covenants to live righteously and follow the requirements of the gospel. The endowment focuses on the Savior, His role in Heavenly Father's plan, and the personal commitment of each member to follow Him.” (lds.org, Gospel Library, Temples)
Ordinances performed in proxy for those that have passed on: “The Atonement of Jesus Christ assures each of us that we will be resurrected and live forever. But if we are to live forever with our families in Heavenly Father’s presence, we must do all that the Savior commands us to do. This includes being baptized and confirmed and receiving the ordinances of the temple.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have each been baptized and confirmed by one having the proper priesthood authority. Each of us may also go to the temple to receive the saving priesthood ordinances performed there. But many of God’s children have not had these same opportunities. They lived at a time or place when the gospel was not available to them.
"Heavenly Father wants all of His children to return and live with Him. For those who died without baptism or the temple ordinances, He has provided a way for this to happen. He has asked us to perform ordinances for our ancestors in the temples.” “Chapter 40: Temple Work and Family History,” Gospel Principles, (2009),233–39
“People who have died without essential gospel ordinances may receive those ordinances through the work done in temples. You may do this work in behalf of your ancestors and others who have died. Acting for them, you can be baptized and confirmed, receive the endowment, and participate in the sealings of husband to wife and children to parents.” (Temples, True to the Faith, pp. 171-172)
I want to reiterate the fact that each individual that resides in the spirit world retains their agency (free will or the right to choose) when they pass into the spirit world, and they can elect to accept or reject the gospel and its associated ordinances if they so choose.
“In the spirit prison [there] are the spirits of those who have not yet received the gospel of Jesus Christ. These spirits have agency and may be enticed by both good and evil. If they accept the gospel and the ordinances performed for them in the temples, they may leave the spirit prison and dwell in paradise.” (“Chapter 41: The Postmortal Spirit World,” Gospel Principles, (2009),240–44)
Baptism for the dead was practiced anciently, as evidenced by Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Performing saving ordinances on behalf of those who cannot ensures that all men will have an equal opportunity to hear the gospel (and receive the accompanying ordinances) and to choose whether to accept or reject it. Each person will be judged according to the choices that they make to accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ (just as we who were lucky enough to receive the gospel in this life will be judged for our choices in this life). Thus both the living and the dead will be judged according to the light that we have received whether in this world or out of it, and no one can claim that they did not have the same opportunity that any other may have had in life. It is for this reason that the gospel is taught to the dead in the spirit world in the first place, as Peter explains:
1 Peter 4:6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
In addition to obedience to the principles of the Gospel, and as part of the principle of enduring to the end (or continuing steadfastly), each of us must become like the Savior, and in the process become justified and sanctified through the merits, and mercy, and grace of our Savior Jesus Christ. The scriptures make it clear what it is that we must do in this regard:
3 Nephi 12:48 (see Matthew 5:48) Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I [Christ], or your father who is in heaven is perfect.
2 Peter 1:4-7 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
Moroni 7:45-48 9 (see also 1 John 3:1-3) And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
Moroni 10:32-33 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
If, through the grace of Christ we can enter into the presence of our Father in heaven, we will know a joy beyond anything that we can experience in this life, as we learn and grow and progress as children of God, and through eternity live to realize our divine potential. Anything less than Celestial glory means damnation, in the sense that we would be dammed in our progress, just as surely as a dam stops the progress of a river. Jesus Christ died, not just to bring us before God to be judged, but to make it possible for us to make the choices necessary to return to live in God’s presence. Without him we would have no hope in this life or the next. The testimony of a life after death brings me great joy, for as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:16-19, 57: “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable…But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”