Eternal progression is a common phrase among Latter-day Saints referring to the idea that there is no limit to our potential. In other words, if we obey God and receive every blessing He has in store for us, we will increase in happiness and glory forever, just as He does. Mormons call this state of happiness exaltation.
Children of an Infinite God
As literal children of God, we inherit some of His divine attributes. We inherit intelligence. We inherit the capacity to be good, to be noble, to be happy, if we so choose. There is no limit to what God wants to give us, and therefore there is no limit to our potential after we die.
This idea of infinite potential is a great motivator to Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith wrote in the Doctrine and Covenants that "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally the Mormon Church, has always encouraged education. However, "principles of intelligence" include more than just education--they include goodness, kindness, gratitude, honesty, and every other good and glorious principle. Joseph Smith and every prophet since have been staunch supporters of such things. For example, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught in his Standing for Something,
- "It is surely neither coincidence nor happenstance that five of the Ten Commandments deal essentially with honesty in its broadest sense. 'Thou shalt not kill'(Exodus 20:13). It is an act of the most grievous dishonesty and betrayal to take the life of another. 'Thou shalt not steal' (Exodus 20:15). Stealing is obviously an act of dishonesty. It covers the whole broad range of theft, from cheating and plagiarism to lying, deceit, and taking to oneself that which belongs to another. It is reprehensible, inexcusable, and a violation of the standard of conduct that lies at the bedrock of civilization" .
Obviously, not all Mormons will hold to these values perfectly, but enough of them do to make the Church exemplary.
Eternal progression also refers to the principle of eternal increase. This means that those who are faithful, who are married and sealed in a Mormon temple, and who keep the covenants or promises that they make there, will be allowed to have spirit children in the resurrection and raise them up as our Father raises us. This is the greatest blessing that God offers to His children. When He promises that all that He has can be ours when we are exalted, He leaves nothing out. The power to create, even in a familial sense, can be part of mankind's celestial inheritance.
A Summary of the Plan of Eternal Progression
In premortal life we became the children of God the Eternal Father. Heavenly Father’s plan was presented and we accepted it, under the leadership of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty. All who have the opportunity to live on this earth were valiant in the premortal estate and were sent here to earth as mortals to work out our salvation through the gospel plan. Earth life is a test (see Abraham 3:25). We are given enabling power through the grace of God. Christ’s atoning sacrifice was the center of the plan of happiness and the very core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His Atonement makes possible not only forgiveness of sins if we repent, but provides for immortality and eternal life. Eternal life is given to those who qualify by entering into sacred covenants and ordinances and remaining true and faithful to them. We then can enjoy the blessings of exaltation.
The Scriptures Teach Us
• Romans 8:16—The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God
- The knowledge that we are the children of God the Eternal Father should give us a magnificent self-image and increasing self-esteem. We are created in His image and have the potential to become like Him if we are faithful to our covenants.
• Alma 13:3—And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
- We not only accepted the plan of salvation pre-mortally but we also proved our worthiness through our obedience and loyalty. Thus we became foreordained to perform covenant duties and services upon the earth.
• Abraham 3:25-26—And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
- We kept our first estate and are now here upon the earth to be tested to prove ourselves worthy of returning to the presence of our Heavenly Father. This is the time to prepare to meet God (see Alma 34:32). We have the blessing of moral agency which God gave so we could choose for ourselves—liberty and eternal life or captivity and death (see 2 Nephi 2:27).
• 2 Nephi 28:30—For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
- Here on earth we grow one step at a time—line upon line and precept upon precept. When we receive and hearken to the counsel and commandments, being obedient, the Lord gives us more. We grow and become like unto Him.
• Doctrine and Covenants 81:6—And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.
- The blessings of the resurrection and the opportunity of eternal life come as a result of the Atonement of Christ (see 2 Nephi 9:10-13). The blessings of following Christ and keeping the commandments are beyond comprehension (see Doctrine and Covenants 76:114). Surely the reward that the Lord has prepared for us should help us in our desire and effort in becoming like Him.
• Doctrine and Covenants 76:69—These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.
- As we seek perfection and strive to become like Christ, we are to be full of charity (see Moroni7:48). We can live by faith in order to become “just” men and women (see Galatians 3:11). Then through the grace of God (the enabling power) we can be exalted after all we can do (see 2 Nephi 25:23).
Quotes from Modern Prophets
It is much easier to believe in eternal progression than to practice daily improvement. Likewise, the need for humility is easy to assent to, but it is so difficult to receive corrective counsel humbly. The hard doctrines discussed in this chapter are more keys to personal growth. This scripture could well be their theme: “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” (Proverbs 15:32. Italics added.)
- (Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 71.)
Discipleship need not be hectic. The gospel suggests to us ultimate perfection, but eternal progression rests on the assumption of gradual but regular improvement in our lives. In the city of Enoch the near perfection of this people occurred “in process of time” over many, many years. This is also the case with us.
- (Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 70.)
The Church is the great teacher and builder of values. Its precepts are designed to lead men and women along the way of immortality and eternal life, to make their lives more complete, more rich and happy while moving through this vale of tears, and in preparing them for the beauties and wonders of that which lies ahead. Keep faith with the Church. It is true. It is divine.
- (Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 116.)
The joy and opportunity of becoming who we are intended to become—according to our divine potential—is the essence of life. We can become like our Heavenly Father and our Savior. The plan has been given, the Atonement has been wrought, and it is left up to us to choose. The only way we can truly grow is by making choices that lead to eternal life. We are responsible and accountable for our actions. God is full of justice and mercy. He seeks our happiness—our immortality and eternal life. If we fail, it is because we have broken ourselves against the commandments and have not practiced the life-saving principle of repentance. We can enjoy the blessings of exaltation and become perfect—simply by repenting perfectly. This will bring joy to our Heavenly Father and our Savior (see Doctrine and Covenants 18:13).
- Parts of this article have been adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.