The following discourse was written by me and delivered in a Sunday service in August of 2017.
I have a question I don’t want you to respond to, but to just ponder: How many people here today know for a fact that they will make it to the Kingdom of God, also known as the Celestial Kingdom?
My wife had an experience many years ago in a Gospel Doctrine class where those in attendance were asked that very same question by their instructor. Only a handful of members present in that class responded in the affirmative. This bothered me when she related this experience to me shortly thereafter, and my wife and I have had conversations about this topic on numerous occasions.
My feelings are that many people do not understand, or they limit their own understanding of, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I don’t pretend to fully and completely comprehend it either. But it may be possible that I either have a different perspective on the Atonement than most, or I have never been taught that I am beyond the ability to be perfected through the Atonement.
In this most recent General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a talk at the conclusion of the Saturday morning session titled “Be Ye Therefore Perfect – Eventually.” In this talk he says, and I quote directly:
Around the Church I hear many who struggle with this issue: “I am just not good enough.” “I fall so far short.” “I will never measure up.” I hear this from teenagers. I hear it from missionaries. I hear it from new converts. I hear it from lifelong members.
What I now say in no way denies or diminishes any commandment God has ever given us. I believe in His perfection, and I know us are His spiritual sons and daughters with divine potential to become as He is. I also know that, as children of God, we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become. No! With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem.
To put this issue in context, May I remind all of us that we live in a fallen world and for now we are a fallen people. We are in the telestial kingdom; that is spelled with a t, not a c.
My brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call “toxic perfectionism.” We should avoid that latter excessive expectation of ourselves and of others and, I might add, of those who are called to serve in the Church,which for Latter day Saints means everyone, for we are all called to serve somewhere.
The Atonement literally is the right to all wrongs, and that which satisfied the demands of justice. It is infinite and eternal. Those two words have no boundaries or limits. And neither do we. We were eternal beings long before our Father in Heaven gave us spiritual form. We were eternal beings when our Father in Heaven gave us our spiritual bodies before we came to this planet. We continue to be eternal beings now that we have received our physical bodies. We will continue to be eternal beings long after this life is over...
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "Because we have all “sinned, and come short of the glory of God” and because “there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God,” every one of us is unworthy to return to God’s presence. Even if we were to serve God with our whole souls, it is not enough, for we would still be “unprofitable servants.” We cannot earn our way into heaven; the demands of justice stand as a barrier, which we are powerless to overcome on our own. But all is not lost. The grace of God is our great and everlasting hope. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the plan of mercy appeases the demands of justice “and [brings] about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.” Our sins, though they may be as scarlet, can become white as snow. Because our beloved Savior “gave himself a ransom for all,” entrance into His everlasting kingdom is provided unto us. The gate is unlocked!"
What does the phrase "eternal progression" mean? Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in 2015, "It is important to recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fullness” of all He can give." He also said, "No one is predestined to receive less than all that the Father has for His children."
As a mathematician, I am bound every day to axioms, postulates, and theorems. As a physicist, I know there are universal laws by which the universe is governed. One universal law of heaven is the Law of Justice. President Ezra Taft Benson taught, "God’s law is irrevocable. It applies to all, whether they believe in God or not. Everyone is subject to its penalties, no matter how one tries to rationalize or ignore them."
However, perhaps the most important universal law of heaven is free agency. Free agency cannot be revoked or denied. Lucifer tried, and failed. As long as we are exercising our agency to continue on the road to perfection and exaltation, we will continually be allowed to progress.
God's work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. His work and glory is to lead others in the direction of being like him. We were all intelligences before the foundation of the world. Our intelligence was given a spiritual frame. That spiritual frame was given a physical body when we kept our first estate and came here. The resurrection, granted to all of us by the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, guarantees the inseparable connection and perfection of the combination of the three. The Atonement satisfies the demands of Justice. Our obedience allows the Atonement to work on our behalf. The Atonement will never expire.
D&C 45:3-5 states, "Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life."
Once again, the Atonement is both infinite and it is eternal. There is no one single "judgement day" in the classical sense. I always imagined in my youth that my judgment day would be this horrible experience where all of God's creation would sit in a movie theater and watches every embarrassing and regrettable moment that has ever happened in my life. I often need to remind myself that the Lord would not give us a commandment that he knew we could not keep.
D&C 58:42 says, "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more."
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said in an address in 1982, "everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though is far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he's on the straight and narrow, he's going to go on to eternal reward in his Father's kingdom. We don't need to get a complex or a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. You don't. There's only been one perfect person, and that's the Lord Jesus, but in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality, what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path, thus charting a course leading to eternal life, and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship. I'm not saying that you don't have to keep the commandments. I'm saying you don't have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved."
Elder Holland quoted Elder George Q. Cannon in a talk given in 2016, “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character [to do so]. … He will [always] stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them.”
So, next time Satan gets you down, or next time you feel like you'll never make it, or next time someone asks how many of you can guarantee that you will make it to the Celestial Kingdom, don't sell yourself short! If you want to be there in the end with God, then by all means, keep trying!
To quote my favorite poet, Robert Frost,
I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Elder Holland finishes his talk by adding, “If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete.”
Stay true to the faith, "try to cross the straight and narrow as often as [you] can," keep the commandments, and we will all see each other again on the other side of the veil. This is true Gospel. God loves us.
In the name of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Amen.