The core teaching of the LDS church about life after death are part of what is known as “the plan of eternal progression” or the “plan of exaltation.” The concept of the future life, after this life is over, lies at the heart of peoples’ motivation for obedience to the laws and ordinances of the LDS church, because the ultimate desire and goal of faithful Latter-day Saints is to attain godhood in the life to come. Mormonism teaches that a person can progress to attain to a the status and prerogatives God has now. This is one of the major purposes of the LDS temple.
No one can gain salvation after this life.
One ordinance practiced in the LDS temple is baptism for the dead. According to Mormon thinking, this practice makes it possible for people to receive the saving ordinance of baptism even after they have died. At the heart of this concept is the idea that after death, deceased Mormons can travel from the place of comfort, called “paradise”, to the place called “spirit prison”, where they will teach Mormonism to people who have died without hearing or accepting the LDS message. If these people accept that message, people who are still living on earth can be baptized by proxy in the name of those deceased souls. Then, having the necessary ordinance done for them, they can become members of the LDS church, even though they are no longer living on this earth.
Jesus told a story about life after death that helps us understand whether or not a person can change their destiny after death.
Luke 16:19-20 Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen who lived each day in luxury. And his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores.
Both men die. The rich man goes to a place called Hades, where he is in torment in flames. The poor man, Lazarus, goes to a place of comfort, with Abraham, the father of the Jewish. According to Jesus, these are the two possible destinies after death: one is a place of torment, while the other is a place of comfort. In this story, the rich man looks across a great chasm and sees Lazarus in the place of comfort.
Luke 16:24 The rich man shouted, “Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.”
Luke 16:26 But Abraham said to him, “…There is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.”
The rich man then pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers who are still living, to warn them that the place of torment after death is real.
Luke 16:31 But Abraham said, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”
This story illustrates, among other important points, that our eternal destiny is fixed when we die. There won’t be any spirit missionaries traveling back and forth between “paradise” and “spirit prison.” No one in the place of torment can change their address to the place of comfort. The Bible clearly says that now is the day of salvation. Now is the time of belief, not some time after this life.
2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
[Related: Mormon Beliefs about Pre-Existence and Afterlife]
[Related: The Mormon View of Atonement]
[Related: What You Need to Know About Hell]
There are only two possible destinies after death.
The LDS church also teaches that there are three levels of heaven and only one place of torment, which is called Outer Darkness. This place is reserved only for those who had a sure testimony of Mormonism but denied it.
By contrast, the Bible says there are only two places after this life. As we have seen, there is the place of joy and fellowship with God the Father. The is the destiny of those whose sins have been removed because of faith in Jesus Christ, who made the payment for our sin. The alternative is the place of separation from God forever. This is the destiny of those whose sin has not been removed because they have resisted trusting in Jesus alone.
John 3:35-36 The Father loves his Son and has put everything in his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgement.
When it comes to life after death, there are not three different levels of heaven. People will not be able to become gods. There are only two alternatives. Each of us will either be united with God forever because our sin has been removed, or separated from God and judged for our sin.
[Related: God’s Great Story]
[Related: The Good Place]