When the Lord revealed to Moses the great purpose of life, he expressed himself in these words:
In other words, the Lord’s work is to bring about the resurrection (immortality) of all of his Father’s children and to make it possible for them to receive exaltation or godhood (eternal life). When one comes to understand these purposes, one’s heart rejoices in the knowledge that the greatest blessing available to man—godhood—may be received by those who desire it with all their hearts.
In a glorious sermon preached by the Prophet Joseph Smith, this same fundamental purpose of earth life was expressed—except that this time the other side of the matter, mankind’s responsibility, was emphasized: “You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 346.)
Fundamental to our understanding of the reason for existence in mortality is our knowledge that men and women were born as spirit children of the Eternal Father and that Jesus Christ is our elder brother in the spirit. Because their status is transcendently greater than ours, we stand in awe at the thought of one day becoming as they. Nevertheless, we are begotten spirit children of the Eternal Father—born in the lineage of the gods—and we have within us the power, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, to rise to the heights of godhood.
Earth life, a necessary part of eternal progression, is the proving ground for the exalted-to-be, a state in which we are undergoing a period of testing and proving to see if we will do the Lord’s will. (See Abr. 3:22–26.) A modern revelation speaks of those who are valiant in the service of the Lord during this testing period:
“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” (D&C 132:20.)
What is necessary to receive this inestimable blessing? The Prophet Joseph said that one must begin at the beginning with the first principles of the gospel:
“When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.” (Teachings, p. 348.)
Although the process of obtaining exaltation continues even into the spirit world, the knowledge that one will become exalted with the privileges of continuing on to eternal life can be certain in this life. This is what making one’s calling and election sure is all about.
Peter admonished the ancient saints to “make your calling and election sure,” and the apostle Paul also gave thanks to the Lord for providing such a sealing. (See 2 Pet. 1:10–11, Eph. 1:13–14.) In addition, the Prophet Joseph Smith used this same expression in discoursing upon Peter’s exposition and Paul’s teachings. (See Teachings, pp. 305, 149.)
Peter made it clear that a testimony of Jesus Christ is not in itself evidence that one’s calling and election has been made sure. Mentioning the manifestation on the Mount of Transfiguration with the Savior and his fellow apostles James and John (see Matt. 17:1–8), he said that although they had heard the voice of the Father declaring that Jesus was his Son, this was not sufficient to obtain the blessing—there was “a more sure word of prophecy”—the calling and election made sure. (See 2 Pet. 1:16–19.)
Concerning this instruction and testimony from Peter, Joseph Smith said: “Though they might hear the voice of God and know that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their election and calling was made sure. … They then would want that more sure word of prophecy, that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Then, having this promise sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation.” (Teachings, p. 298.)
What, then, is the calling and election made sure? The following scripture gives the definition:
“The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood.” (D&C 131:5.)
As expressed by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
“To have one’s calling and election made sure is to be sealed up unto eternal life; it is to have the unconditional guarantee of exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world; it is to receive the assurance of godhood; it is, in effect, to have the day of judgment advanced, so that an inheritance of all the glory and honor of the Father’s kingdom is assured prior to the day when the faithful actually enter into the divine presence to sit with Christ in his throne, even as he is ‘set down’ with his ‘Father in his throne.’ (Rev. 3:21.) (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, 1973, 3:330–31.)
As Elder McConkie goes on to indicate, the “unconditional guarantee” means that a person’s actions have been fully approved, that “there are no more conditions to be met by the obedient person.” (P. 335.) When one has been thus sealed up unto eternal life, he is “sealed up against all manner of sin except blasphemy against the Holy Ghost and the shedding of innocent blood.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:46.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s exhortation to press forward to this goal of assured exaltation is as follows:
“I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it.” (Teachings, p. 299.)
“Wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it” implies that every effort will be made by the member of the Church to obtain it. An eternal compact was made in the premortal world that the sons and daughters of God would receive an eternal exaltation provided they were true and faithful to covenants made in this life. (See, e.g., Titus 1:1–2.) Keeping in mind Peter’s injunction to his dispensation, Joseph Smith said:
“We have no claim in our eternal compact, in relation to eternal things, unless our actions and contracts and all things tend to this. But after all this, you have got to make your calling and election sure. If this injunction would lie largely on those to whom it was spoken, how much more those of the present generation!” (Teachings, p. 306.)
What, then, is necessary to make one’s calling and election sure? At the foundation of all blessings lies acceptance of the atonement of Jesus Christ by obedience to the first principles and ordinances of the gospel—faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then, following entry into the kingdom of God by baptism of water and of the Spirit, comes the need to overcome by faith to enter into certain sacred covenants by the power of the priesthood and be “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true” (D&C 76:53), and to endure faithfully to the end in these covenants.
To overcome by faith through the righteousness of God and Jesus Christ is to become “partakers of the divine nature,” as Peter testified. (See 2 Pet. 1:1–4.) The way to this blessing, he said, is “through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” (2 Pet. 1:3.)
The knowledge of Christ in this context is the emulation of his life and teachings. And what are the virtues found in Jesus’ life to which Peter refers? After one has escaped the corruptions of the world by sincere repentance in becoming a member of the true church, he is to add to the principles and ordinances that admitted him into the kingdom of God by being diligent in his obedience. One adds to “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.” (2 Pet. 1:5–7; see also Teachings, p. 305.)
Obedience and the gradual acquisition of this impressive array of virtues brings one nearer and nearer to the stature of Christ. (See Eph. 4:13.)
However, in addition to these required qualities of character, those who would have hope of the calling and election made sure must also receive the ordinances of salvation (exaltation) in the temple of God.
The Prophet Joseph Smith gave an ultimate definition of salvation as having the power to overcome all enemies in this world (meaning the vices which are the opposites of gospel virtues) and “the knowledge to triumph over all evil spirits in the world to come.” (Teachings, p. 297.) He further stated that the triumph over one’s enemies would come only through a knowledge of the priesthood. (See Teachings, p. 305.)
If we are to triumph over all of our enemies in this world in preparation for exaltation, wherein does the priesthood make this possible? Obedience to “the mysteries of the kingdom”—the higher ordinances of the gospel—is the answer. Higher ordinances of the gospel suggest there are lesser ordinances, these being the first ordinances and all other performances outside of the temple.
Jesus taught his disciples that they were to receive the “mysteries of the kingdom” but that others were not to receive them because they were not prepared for them. (See Matt. 13:10–13.) Similarly, the prophet Alma said that these mysteries were known to some but others were to receive only that “portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.” (Alma 12:9.)
Because Joseph Smith received “the keys of the mysteries of those things which have been sealed” (D&C 35:18), and because these keys remain with the prophet of the Church today, the member who keeps the commandments may receive “the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.” (D&C 63:23; see also D&C 42:65.)
Only through the priesthood may these blessings accrue to the member of the Church. The worthy male member must receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds “the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” (D&C 84:19; see also D&C 107:18–19), in order to receive these “mysteries.” Therein lies the key to the principal purpose of the higher priesthood—to reveal the principles of exaltation in the house of the Lord through ordinances, consisting of washings, anointings, the priesthood endowment, and marriage for eternity. (See D&C 124:37–42.) Marriage for eternity is an order of the priesthood “in which the participating parties are promised kingdoms and thrones if they are true and faithful to their obligations.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Ensign, December 1971, p. 98.) These blessings include the power to beget spirit children after the resurrection. In this regard, Joseph Smith said:
“The question is frequently asked, ‘Can we not be saved without going through with all those ordinances?’ I would answer, No, not the fulness of salvation. …
“If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.” (Teachings, pp. 331, 308.)
Both men and women receive the blessings of the “fullness of the priesthood” in the temple, even though women are not ordained to the priesthood; for as President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“Women do not hold the priesthood, but if they are faithful and true, they will become priestesses and queens in the kingdom of God, and that implies that they will be given authority. The women do not hold the priesthood with their husbands, but they do reap the benefits coming from that priesthood.” (Doctrines of Salvation, Bookcraft, 1956, 3:178.)
Concomitant to participating in ordinances and holding the priesthood is the making of covenants. Divine covenants must be entered into and honored before a person can have his calling and election made sure. To ensure that we receive the blessings of covenants righteously entered into and followed, the Lord has established a means by which ordinances and covenants may be approved. This is through the sealing power of the Holy Spirit of Promise. When the Holy Spirit of Promise (which is the Holy Ghost) justifies a person’s performance with respect to a covenant entered into, that performance is ratified, making the covenant effective for salvation.
The influence of the Holy Ghost received by keeping the commandments also leads one to sanctification, or becoming holy and pure in heart, which involves forsaking all evil and learning to “love and serve God with all [our] mights, minds, and strength.” (D&C 20:31.) The process of sanctification comes gradually, over a long period of time, “overcoming every sin and bringing all into subjection to the law of Christ.” (Brigham Young, JD, 10:173.) It means yielding one’s heart to God, becoming one with the Savior in building his kingdom, and working for the eventual establishment of Zion. (See Hel. 3:35.) The member of the Church prepares himself by striving for sanctification; and when he has become just through the ratifying of his covenants by the Holy Ghost, and in the sight of the Lord has sanctified his life, he is a candidate for having his calling and election made sure.
From the Prophet Joseph Smith we learn that the faith necessary to become sanctified and make one’s calling and election sure is gained through strict obedience to the law of sacrifice:
“From the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.” (Lectures on Faith, 6:58; see also D&C 98:11–15 and Teachings, p. 322.)
When faith is sufficient to sacrifice all earthly things, even life itself if necessary, it is possible for a person to know that he is accepted of the Lord for what he has done, and with this strong faith he may eventually receive eternal life.
Thus the Prophet Joseph said:
“After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure.” (Teachings, p. 150.)
Such a person eventually receives godhood and becomes a member of the “church of the Firstborn.” (D&C 76:54.)
Who were some of the saints who were accepted of the Lord through their sacrifices? The Prophet Joseph Smith indicated that when a person has been proved of the Lord by “hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God,” he may then have the privilege of receiving the Second Comforter. This Comforter is the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, “and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face.” Joseph Smith went on to say that this was the condition of a number of the ancient saints, naming Isaiah, Ezekiel, John the Revelator, Paul, and “all the saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn.” (See Teachings, pp. 150–51.)
The assurance of being accepted of the Lord was also known to many of the Nephites: Enos (see Enos 1:27), Alma the Elder (see Mosiah 26:20), the Three Nephites (see 3 Ne. 28:4–11), and others (see 3 Ne. 28: 1–3).
The promise of becoming a member of the church of the Firstborn is also made to Latter-day Saints. (See D&C 76:50–60.) In our dispensation many Saints have made their calling and election sure. (See, e.g., D&C 124:19.) Noteworthy among these was William Clayton, to whom the Prophet said:
“Your life is hid with Christ in God, and so are many others. Nothing but the unpardonable sin can prevent you from inheriting eternal life for you are sealed up by the power of the Priesthood unto eternal life, having taken the step necessary for that purpose.” (History of the Church, 5:391.)
Joseph Smith himself was told by the Lord that he had been sealed unto exaltation and that the Lord had prepared a throne for him “in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father.” (D&C 132:49; see also Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:347–50 for further discussion.)
President Marion G. Romney, as a member of the Council of the Twelve, admonished the Saints in general conference to make their calling and election sure and said:
“The fullness of eternal life is not attainable in mortality, but the peace which is its harbinger and which comes as a result of making one’s calling and election sure is attainable in this life. The Lord has promised that ‘… he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.’ (D&C 59:23.)
“I think the peace here referred to is implicit in the Prophet’s statement, ‘I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men.’ (DHC, 6:555.)
“I also think it is implicit in this statement of the late Apostle Alonzo A. Hinckley which he wrote in a letter to the First Presidency after he had been advised by his physician that his illness would be fatal: ‘I assure you I am not deeply disturbed over the final results. I am reconciled and I reach my hands to take what my Father has for me, be it life or death. …
“As to the future, I have no misgivings. It is inviting and glorious, and I sense rather clearly what it means to be saved by the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ and to be exalted by his power and be with him ever more.’ (The Deseret News Church Section, March 27, 1949, p. 24.)” (Conference Report, October 1965, p. 20.)
Inasmuch as the calling and election made sure is the greatest of all blessings received in this life, what greater counsel may Latter-day Saints receive than the following from the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“Then I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it.” (Teachings, p. 299.)