Jesus taught, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2.)
Heaven, in the most correct sense, is the place Jesus and God live, and it is where we may also go if we are worthy to enter into His presence. However, Mormons do not believe there are only two places a person can be sent after death. People live their lives with varying degrees of commitment to God and so there are several homes, or mansions, depending on the choices each person makes in life.
It is important to first understand that through grace and the atonement of Christ, all people who live on earth can be resurrected and live forever, without any action on their own part. Grace does not come with a price for those who made the choice to be born. Through grace, each person may be forgiven for his sins if he repents. Mormons are among the few religions that teach that grace is ours without works, not even the work of accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior. Of course, for those who do accept the Savior, there are even greater rewards.
Each person who lives on earth is given the gift of agency. We used our agency to choose life on earth and throughout our lives, we continue to use our agency to decide many eternally significant things. We decide whether or not to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior if we’re fortunate enough to learn of Him in this lifetime. We also decide how much we love Him and how many of His commandments we’re willing to live. Obedience requires sacrifice, but also comes with great blessings and each person decides for himself whether or not he is willing to give up some temporal pleasures in order to gain eternal ones.
Mormon beliefs teach that each person is accountable only for his or her own sins and not for the choices made by Adam and Eve. Accountability means we are held responsible for the choices we make and will be judged accordingly. The Bible tells us no unclean thing can enter into Heaven, meaning into God’s presence, and so there has to be a judgment. This does not mean a person must be perfect. As mentioned earlier, the atonement allows us to repent and to be forgiven if we do so.
Mormons teach that those who accept Jesus as their Savior, take His name on themselves, and honor that name through righteous living will be allowed to return to God’s presence to live forever. This is the Celestial Kingdom, God’s own home. Naturally, every faithful Mormon has this as his goal, as does every other faithful Christian. It cannot be won by simply accepting Jesus once and then going on about your lives unchanged. The process of exaltation into God’s kingdom is a lifelong and even eternal pursuit, requiring the faithful to strive each day to draw closer to God and to bring his life more in accord with the teachings of God.
Jesus taught: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,” (Matthew 7:21).
Naturally, those who can dwell in God’s kingdom will be good and valiant people.
Mormon beliefs include the promise that those who never heard the gospel but who would have accepted it if they had will have the opportunity to accept it after their death. This is not a second chance, but a first chance. A fair and just God would never punish someone for something entirely out of his control.
The second level of heaven is known as the terrestrial kingdom. While they may not live with God, they will be visited by the Savior. This kingdom is for people who were good people, but who allowed themselves to be misled by Satan and by other people. It will also include those who accepted the gospel but who didn’t live it to a celestial level. This demonstrates a reduced commitment to God and His teachings. Those who reject the gospel when they’re taught it on earth may dwell here if they accept it after they die. While this is a place for those who did not earn the highest reward, it will be a peaceful and happy place, even though tinged with grief over losing the presence of the father.
The third kingdom is the telestial kingdom. This kingdom will be a temporary place for those who did not receive the gospel or a testimony of the Savior during their lifetime. For these people, it will be a happy place if they lived their lives to the best of their knowledge and accept the gospel when it is presented. They will receive a greater glory in time.
There are, of course, some who will not dwell in any of these three kingdoms, known as kingdoms of glory. Those who have a sure testimony of Christ and then deny it and others who have forfeited their right to redemption will live in Perdition.
Generally, Mormons do not live lives of fear about their eternal state. They know what they need to do to be where they want to be, and they know that most people will live happy lives for eternity, even if there is some sorrow for missed blessings present.
Because Mormons believe in the gift of repentance, which comes through the Atonement of Christ, they do not live lives of fear. While they are accountable for their choices, and sin is serious, they understand they can repent. If that repentance is complete and sincere, they are forgiven.
For Mormons being saved is a lifelong process. Accepting Jesus as our Savior is only the first step in a life lived out of love for the Savior over any worldly concerns.