The Atonement provides the way for us to overcome death and obtain eternal life. The Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.
“And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance” (D&C 18:11–12).
As a result of the Atonement, every person will be resurrected (see 1 Corinthians 15:22). However, to attain eternal life, which is exaltation in the celestial kingdom, we must have faith in Jesus Christ, repent, receive the saving ordinances of the gospel, and endure to the end (see 3 Nephi 27:16–19).
Ordinances for the Living
Baptism and confirmation, the first ordinances of the gospel, are the gate by which we enter the narrow path that leads to eternal life (see 2 Nephi 31:17–18). To continue on this path after baptism, we must also receive the sacred ordinances of the temple—the endowment and the sealing ordinances. We must remain faithful to the covenants we make. These ordinances are essential to our exaltation.
Ordinances for the Dead
What of those people who died without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ or receiving the saving ordinances? As part of his plan of salvation, our Heavenly Father has prepared a way for the dead to enjoy the blessings of the gospel.
While Jesus’ body lay in the tomb after his crucifixion, his spirit went to the spirit world. There he preached the gospel to the spirits of the just (see 1 Peter 3:18–20; 1 Peter 4:6; D&C 138:11–19). He organized missionaries to preach the gospel to those in spirit prison: “From among the righteous, he … appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead” (D&C 138:30). This great missionary work in the spirit world continues today (see D&C 138:57).
The people in the spirit world can exercise faith and accept the gospel message, but they cannot receive the ordinances of the gospel for themselves. The Lord has directed us to perform these ordinances for them. President Spencer W. Kimball declared:
“Missionary work is also continuing beyond the veil among the millions and even billions of the children of our Heavenly Father who have died either without hearing the gospel or without accepting it while they lived on the earth. Our great part in this aspect of missionary work is to perform on this earth the ordinances required for those who accept the gospel over there” (“The Things of Eternity—Stand We in Jeopardy?” Ensign, Jan. 1977, p. 3).
Each of us can play a vital role in providing ordinances for the dead. We can identify those who have died and see that temple ordinances are performed in their behalf. As we serve those who wait in the spirit world, we can come to know the blessing of assisting the Savior in the great work of salvation.