“A Place in the Celestial World”
By David W. Smith
In the early 1830s, Joseph Smith strove diligently to help the Saints build Zion. In one of the revelations given on how to build Zion, the Lord taught Joseph Smith and all the Saints: “For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.”
There are three points I would like to address from this scripture:
- God sets the conditions for exaltation.
- We do not earn our way to exaltation, but we must do the works required to get there.
- Creating Zion on earth prepares us to inherit a heavenly Zion.
First, God sets the conditions for exaltation (“the things which I have commanded you and required of you”) and we decide whether to accept or reject those conditions. If we accept them and fulfill our obligations, we receive the promised blessing of eternal life. If we reject the conditions, or if we accept the conditions and then fail to fulfill our obligations, we do not receive the promised blessing.
We do not get to choose or change the conditions required for exaltation. As President Russell M. Nelson explained, “Many verses [in scripture] affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional. . . . The resplendent bouquet of God’s love—including eternal life—includes blessings for which we must qualify, not entitlements to be expected unworthily. Sinners cannot bend His will to theirs and require Him to bless them in sin.”
There are some who want to stay as they are or act contrary to God’s law and still receive exaltation. Whether the issue is chastity, racism, the Word of Wisdom, or any number of issues currently prevalent in our society, we cannot receive exaltation until we overcome our fallen nature by fulfilling the conditions God has set.
But we don’t need to do it alone. In fact, we cannot do it alone. We have the promise that as we repent, the grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ will prepare us for eternal life.
Do the Works
That brings me to my next point: we do not earn our way to exaltation, but we must do the works required to get there (“you must prepare yourselves by doing the things”). Doctrine and Covenants 78:7 may seem to support the “earn our way into heaven” idea—which is that if we do everything right, then we deserve, or have earned, our place in heaven. But a more complete understanding of the gospel helps us understand that no one can earn their way to exaltation. Enoch noted that God gave “unto me a right to thy throne, and not of myself, but through thine own grace.” When expounding on Mosiah 2, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained, “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.” Only through Christ can we be saved.
But why then must we do something in order to gain exaltation?
I have come to best understand this principle through an analogy a friend once shared. Obtaining exaltation is like riding a bicycle. The Church and gospel of Christ are the frame, pedals, and wheels. The Atonement of Christ is the chain that links the pedals to the wheels. And our actions push the pedals. No matter how fast we pedal (or how much we work), without the Atonement of Christ we cannot receive exaltation. But even with the Atonement of Christ, we can only receive exaltation if we do the work necessary to obtain it. And what is that work?
That brings me to the third point: creating Zion on earth prepares us to inherit a heavenly Zion (“give unto you a place in the celestial world”). Enoch saw that as the Saints become a Zion people on earth, they will be prepared to inherit Zion when it comes down from heaven. The Saints will then receive the celestial kingdom. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained, Zion will come only as we live the principles of Zion. He taught that three things are necessary to become a Zion people:
- “Become unified in one heart and one mind”
- “Become, individually and collectively, a holy people”
- “Care for the poor and needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us”
Each of these activities could be a blog post in itself. However, I will focus just briefly on the first requirement: unity.
Unity has lately been a predominate theme of Church leaders. Here are just a few examples:
- “God wants us to work together and help each other. . . . Our common trial has the potential to help unite God’s children as never before.”
- “We have a primary responsibility to set a tone and be role models of kindness, inclusion, and civility.”
- “With our all-inclusive doctrine, we can be an oasis of unity and celebrate diversity. Unity and diversity are not opposites. We can achieve greater unity as we foster an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for diversity.”
- “Unity doesn’t magically happen; it takes work. It’s messy, sometimes uncomfortable, and happens gradually when we clear away the bad as fast as the good can grow. We are never alone in our efforts to create unity.”
In this day of contention and divisiveness, we can help build Zion through kindness and working to create unity around us.
Through unity, holiness, and caring for the poor, we fulfill the requirements God has laid out for building Zion and thus gaining the celestial kingdom. “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom.” “For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.”
Let us commit to meeting the conditions God has set for exaltation, performing the works He has commanded so that we might receive the grace of God as we create Zion and prepare ourselves to enter into the rest of the Lord.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
 Doctrine and Covenants 78:7
 See Alma 41; Alma 11:34-37.
 See Alma 12:33–35.
 Moses 7:59.
 See Alma 42.
 See Moses 7:62–64.
 See Ether 13:8–10; Doctrine and Covenants 88:25–26; Revelation 21:1–4.
 Doctrine and Covenants 105:5; cf. 1–6.
 Doctrine and Covenants 78:7.
David W. Smith has volunteered with FAIR since August 2019. He has had an article published in BYU Studies, and he presented at the Joseph Smith Papers Conference in 2019. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in public administration, both from Brigham Young University.