Heavenly Father has prepared a plan to enable us to become like Him and receive a fulness of joy. The scriptures refer to this plan as “the plan of salvation” (Alma 24:14; Moses 6:62), “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8), “the plan of redemption” (Jacob 6:8; Alma 12:30), and “the plan of mercy” (Alma 42:15). The plan of salvation is the fulness of the gospel. It includes the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and all the laws, ordinances, and doctrines of the gospel. Moral agency, the ability to choose and act for ourselves, is also essential in Heavenly Father’s plan. Because of this plan, we can be perfected through the Atonement, receive a fulness of joy, and live forever in the presence of God. Our family relationships can last throughout the eternities.
We are participants in Heavenly Father’s plan, and our eternal experience can be divided into three main parts: premortal life, mortal life, and life after death. As we come to understand the plan, we find answers to questions asked by so many: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after this life (Gospel Topics: Plan of Salvation)?
These three questions burn in the hearts of many people, who wonder whether there is something beyond our experience on earth. Many new converts to Mormonism refer to a sense of emptiness and yearning that seemed to go along with living a material life. Learning the Plan of Salvation expands the heart and mind to encompass the eternities, stretching to infinity before and after this brief existence on earth. Once one learns the Plan of Salvation and embraces it as a life-guide, the unseen eternal world becomes real and connected to life on earth, and one’s world-view gains an eternal perspective. The Plan of Salvation is simple, but it embraces the most profound philosophical questions ever posed.
We have always existed
In the Pearl of Great Price, in the Book of Abraham, it says,
Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made;
And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof (Abraham 3:11, 12).
…if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are…eternal.
And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.
I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen (Abraham 3:18, 19, 21).
The Plan of Salvation reveals that we have always existed, first as intelligences in the eternities, then as organized spirits, actual spirit-children of our Father in Heaven. The period during which we lived with God as spirits is called the “pre-existence” or “premortal life.”
The purpose of earth-life
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39).
And there stood one among them (Jesus Christ) that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and 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;
And they who keep their first estate (premortal life) 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 (earth life) shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever (Abraham 3:24-26, parentheticals added).
The importance of agency
Free agency, the freedom to chose or reject the Lord’s plan, has always been of prime importance to the plan. The Lord will never do anything to compromise the agency of man, and always strives to uphold it. That is why Adam and Eve were allowed to be tempted and given a choice of behavior in the Garden of Eden. The Fall of Adam was actually necessary to the plan. The Pearl of Great Price talks about Adam after the Fall:
And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient (Moses 5:9-11).
The Lord knew we would sin
The Lord knew we would all fall short of meriting exaltation; only the pure and righteous can dwell in His presence after earth life. Thus, He provided a savior, Jesus Christ, to complete an atonement for our sins, if we would only repent and lay hold upon His eternal sacrifice. The atonement compensates for the Fall of Adam and obviates original sin. It provides a way for all men and women to be resurrected in preparation for exaltation. All on earth have the agency to chose Christ or reject him. Every prophet since (and including) Adam have known and testified of Christ and the atonement:
And unto him that repenteth and sanctifieth himself before the Lord shall be given eternal life (Doctrine and Covenants 133:62).
But learn 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 (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23).
I came unto mine own, and mine own received me not; but unto as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles, and to become the sons of God; and even unto them that believed on my name gave I power to obtain eternal life (Doctrine and Covenants 45:8).
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise (Moroni 7:41).
But, behold, ye not only deny my words, but ye also deny all the words which have been spoken by our fathers, and also the words which were spoken by this man, Moses, who had such great power given unto him, yea, the words which he hath spoken concerning the coming of the Messiah.
Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.
And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal (Helaman 8:13-15).