As spiritual children of our Heavenly Father, God established a plan for our eternal progression and salvation, sometimes called The Plan of Happiness. Understanding this plan teaches us that our challenges in this life are important and temporary learning experiences; making them much more bearable and life more worth-while and fulfilling.
A couple of years ago I was heavily involved in running a political campaign. During this nearly year long period of time, I got to meet a lot of people and learn about a lot of their concerns. It became a testimony to me of the hope the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation brings to my life. It has brought a great deal of peace and stability to me which I otherwise would not have had in my life. Certainly we all have concerns and challenges in our life, but knowing that God has a plan for us all, that this life has real propose makes those concerns and challenges smaller then they otherwise would seem. I also view this plan as the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The plan starts when we were still spirits living in Heaven1. Our ultimate desire was to enjoy the same kind of life our Father in Heaven lives; referred to as Eternal Life. For this to occur we had to be separated from our Father in Heaven3, to be born into a physical body, to experience mortality6, to be tested5, and eventually die7.
When the plan was presented, a great war in heaven arose, over the plan. Satan felt he had a better way and desired the glory of God, but Jesus wished to carry out the will of the father. In the end one-third of the spirits refused to accept the appointment of Jesus Christ as the Savior, and they along with Satan were removed from Heaven for rebellion2.
For the remaining two-thirds of us, a physical location was needed for our mortal lives to be lived, and a where a veil was to be placed over our minds to block our memories of the premortal existence4. Most importantly a Savior would be needed.9
In the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, Chapter 3, Section 3, President Smith likens this fallen, lost state of probation to having fallen into a pit:5
All being together in the pit, none could gain the surface and relieve the others. The pit was banishment from the presence of the Lord [spiritual death] and temporal death, the dissolution of the body. And all being subject to death, none could provide the means of escape.
The Savior comes along, not subject to that pit, and lowers the ladder9. He comes down into the pit and makes it possible for us to use the ladder to escape.
In his infinite mercy, the Father heard the cries of his children and sent his Only Begotten Son, who was not subject to death nor to sin, to provide the means of escape. This he did through his infinite atonement and the everlasting gospel.
Since our spirits cannot be made perfect without a body of flesh and bones, and Eternal Life required us to also overcome the spiritual death of being removed from our Father in Heaven, God allowed his Son Jesus Christ to atone for our sins, and overcome physical death, so that through him we could repent and be forgiven of our sins to not only overcome spiritual death9 but also to be reunited with our bodies through resurrection10.
While physical resurrection is a saving grace given to all, thanks to Christ overcoming death himself, we learn from John 5:29 that not all resurrections are equal. The in John14:2 Jesus mentions that there are many places prepared for man. In Acts it mentions a resurrection of “both of the just and unjust“, and 1 Peter of Christ visiting those in a Spiritual Prison.8 Modern day revelation tells us (see D&C 76) there are different degrees of glory that can be obtained after resurrection:
. . . all those who are just and true. They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things – D&C 76:53-55
These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness. These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father. – D&C 76:75-77
These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus. – D&C 76:82
Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame. . . the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath. – D&C 76:35-38
So how do we successfully navigate this Plan of Salvation? The before mentioned President Smith answered this question with five steps: