We cannot understand the purpose of this mortal life—why we are here—unless we first understand who we are, where we came from, and what our eternal destiny is. These truths, found in the scriptures and restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, teach us that we are literal spirit children of God, that we lived with Him in a premortal existence, and that we have within us the seeds of godhood, the potential to become like Him. This was our great desire in the premortal world, and to achieve this desire we understood that we would need to leave His presence, obtain physical bodies, learn to walk by faith, and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ become “submissive, meek, humble, patient, [and] full of love” (Mosiah 3:19).
“Adam fell that men might be,” Lehi declared, “and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). But we cannot achieve the eternal joy our Heavenly Father experiences unless we also possess glorified, resurrected physical bodies. “The elements are eternal,” the Lord instructed, “and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33–34).
All who come to this earth and obtain mortal bodies will be resurrected, but the glory and joy of eternal life in God’s presence are reserved for those “who overcome by faith” (D&C 76:53) in the Lord Jesus Christ. “We came to this earth that we might have a body,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom.”1
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained further: “We believe that the purpose of mortal life is to acquire a physical body and, through the atonement of Jesus Christ and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, to qualify for the glorified, resurrected celestial state that is called exaltation or eternal life.”2
In our premortal life we were in God’s presence. We walked by sight. But in this life, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). The scriptures teach us that “faith is … the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1; emphasis added), and “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Walking by sight restricts our ability to develop and exercise faith.
“Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith in Jesus Christ we cannot be saved. While we lived in God’s presence, we were able to acquire and exercise a certain degree of faith, but we needed to leave His presence and have a veil drawn across our memory so we could develop the quality of faith necessary for us to lay claim upon eternal life.
Moroni expands upon the idea that “faith is things which are hoped for and not seen,” explaining that God withholds sure knowledge from us until our faith has been tried: “Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6). To have our faith tried, then, is another major part of our purpose in leaving God’s presence and coming to earth.
The Pearl of Great Price gives an account of Abraham’s vision of the premortal existence. Speaking to the spirits “who were with him” in the premortal world, Jesus Christ said, “We will make an earth whereon these may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:24–25). This life, then, becomes a proving ground, “a probationary state” (Alma 12:24), a time to show that we can lay hold upon the powers of Christ’s Atonement and become sanctified, as He is.
This test of our faith determines whether or not we will “do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command [us].” To pass the mortal test, we must repent of our sins, receive essential ordinances, make and keep covenants with God, and endure in righteousness to the end. But the Lord is concerned not only with what we do in this life; He cares deeply about what we are and become. “The Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34). He also requires each of us to become “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” and become “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” (Mosiah 3:19). He expects us to come unto Him and experience a “mighty change … in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).
The true test of mortality is to see if we will accept the Savior wholeheartedly, apply His atoning blood in our lives, do “all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23) to keep His commandments, and, finally, through His grace be made perfect in Him (see Moroni 10:32).