Is Exaltation a Gift?

Last Sunday, the Elders’ Quorum instructor based his lesson on a talk by Elder Faust in which something like “exaltation is the greatest gift from God” was quoted and used throughout the lesson. Now leaving aside my never-ending concern with superlatives in the Church (i.e., What about agency? The atonement? The utilitarian in me can’t help but rank these higher than exaltation to the extent that quite a bit more people are affected), I have a more specific question:

How can something be a gift if there are so many prerequisites in order to obtain it? What is a gift?

Notwithstanding the enlightenment I was receiving from the lesson, I leaned over and asked the person next to me this very same question, to which he responded: “I think conditional opportunity can often be a gift.”

I couldn’t help but answer with, “Perhaps, but I still don’t think of my salary as a gift.”

He laughed and agreed, though we didn’t have time to discuss it further. A nice definition from our folks at is the following:

“Something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation.”

I use this definition because I think it clearly and concisely defines it (and conveniently agrees with my internal definition, though I realize there are other definitions, such as “talent,” but that’s not really what we’re talking about here). So, in my mind, there are two problems with exaltation being a gift:

1) The aforementioned conditions that must be met before it can be obtained.
2) Depending on how deeply we want to dive doctrinally, God may actually receive compensation when his children are exalted.

Of course, these are my own thoughts on the subject. I’m open to the idea that Elder Faust just used the wrong word and didn’t really say what he meant. But, as a good Mormon, I’m also open to the idea that there is some other cryptic definition of “gift” that doesn’t necessarily contradict the most common definition while still making a case for exaltation to be considered as such.


  1. I’m probably going to have to go with the cryptic definition. If we really are less than the dust of the earth, how can becoming a God be anything other than a gift? The relative value of our contribution to the equation is dwarfed by what we receive in return. If I gave you $5 and you gave me a fully-functional, top-of-the-line aircraft carrier in return, would someone argue that I had earned the carrier? Outside of this, God really only asks us to do one thing (his will). All other commandment issues are side effects of the commitment to do this one thing.

  2. Bob, I will refrain from quoting from the Parable of the Bicycle here (Book of Robinson, Chapter 4: verses 7-19).

    My son is begging me for a Clone Ship for Christmas. I tell him he has to be a good boy, and maybe Santa will bring him one. If he’s good, and I give him the gift, is it any less of a gift?

    (Of course, this breaks down because I’ll probably buy it him whether he’s “good” or not–so I can play with it.)

  3. D&C 14:7

    And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

    I think that the Lord has said that it’s a gift, and we should get over thinking that we’ve done anything to deserve it.

  4. I agree that he used the right word.

    Doctrine and Covenants 6:13: If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.

    Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Jesus our Lord.

    Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

  5. Last Lemming says:

    This is another case where I think it is useful to disentangle salvation from exaltation.

    Let me define salvation for this discussion as “forgiveness of our sins without having to pay for them ourselves” (or TTTF #2). Our obedience and repentance are necessary conditions for salvation but not sufficient. Only the atonement makes our works of any consequence. Thus, I would not characterize salvation per se as a gift, but rather the atonement is the gift that makes salvation possible. When people talk of salvation as a gift, they are really talking about the atonement.

    In that same vein, I would not characterize exaltation per se as a gift either. The atonement still counts as a gift here, because we cannot begin to be exalted unless we have been saved. But once we have been saved is their yet another gift that enables us to be exalted? Or can we earn it from that point on?
    My working theory is that the personal reign of the Savior on earth during the millenium is the gift that will enable us to be exalted. Without it, I suspect that our efforts to build Zion and achieve exaltation would come to naught.

  6. Maybe the problem doesn’t lie with the concept of “gift” as much as with the current state of Mormon rhetoric, which, as Laurie is fond of pointing out, tends strongly in the direction of “Jesus loves you —- but only if you do your home/visiting teaching, stay out of debt, stock up on dried food, qualify for a temple recommend, go to the temple regularly, do your genealogy, stay at home (if you’re female), work hard (if you’re a male), attend every possible meeting, hold Family Home Evening each and every week, etc etc etc.” From that perspective, the number of hoops one is expected to jump through to get to the “gift” seems completely out of line with the gift concept.

    Seems to me we’ve struggled so much to avoid the concept of grace in the church, that we tend to make the gifts of God all conditional and “exalt” our capacity for saving ourselves, even though (as other commenters have noted) we ultimately rely on the grace of God exactly as much as any born-again evangelical.

  7. I’m not sure what kind of gift it can be if it’s only available to people who were able to flirt, attract the opposite sex and marry in the temple (and who are straight). Some people can’t help being gay, and some can’t help being single. Sounds more like an earned status to me.

  8. Most of the comments have focused on the idea that we all fall short of earning exaltation outright, but that we may get it nevertheless. I wonder if it might be worth looking at from the other side of things. Is something a gift if the “giver” is obligated to give it? And is exaltation something that God is obligated to give us after we’ve met some sort of criterion? Maybe the answer to those questions is “No”, but they seem like they might be worth asking.

    There’s a part of me that finds the more humanistic side of Mormon thought appealing. The idea that my exaltation is at least partly under my control is a beautiful Mormon idea at some level. Maybe it is also a somewhat heretical idea, but it is beautiful to me nonetheless.

  9. RE: potential greater gifts, I believe agency is as eternal as we are and I think the atonement and exaltation are confounded.

    …but to your thesis, I we take what we are as eternal, what could be greater than exaltation?

  10. Mike (#9) raises one of the thornier issues for me. The D&C section that promises us that we can bind or obligate God to give us blessings by obeying the right set of commandments has increasingly distressed me. It puts my relationship with my Father into a straight exchange theory mode: He cites a price for a blessing and I meet that price and force him to give me that blessing. Of course, the situation is a little trickier since the scriptute doesn’t include a table of rates, specifically tying each blessing with the “law” it requires as a price.

    Something in this model just doesn’t ring true to me.

  11. The way I always explained the grace/works gift/earned paradox to my Christian friends is thus:

    When I turned 16 my Grandma bought gave me a car, no strings attached. It is was a sublime gift for a teenager. However I was expected to get oil changes, fill it up with gas, and pay for insurance. Did this negate its giftness? Nope. So perhaps exaltaion is a gift, we just have to pay the insurance on it and keep it putting along.

    I like John C.’s analogy too, and yet while in that example you pay $5 (peanuts) and get an aircraft carrier in return (ching-ching!), in the case of exaltation, we are asked to give ‘all that we can do.’ While this may be peanuts on the eternal scale, in light of Hugh’s list of church duties, it certainly feels like a whole lot. Much more like emptying out the bank account than forking over a five spot.

  12. It seems conditions don’t entail being deserving. For instance when I climb a mountain I have the gift of seeing the vista. However it doesn’t entail that I deserve the vista. So the analogy to a worker is inapt because we recognize that the worker deserves his payments. The LDS position is, as I understand it, that none of us deserve exaltation no matter what we do.

    I prefer to thing of the conditions for exaltation to be the way we take hold of the free gift.

  13. John C knows that I think the Parable of the Bicycle is largely wrong. Therefore I think his $5 aircraft carrier analogy is wrong too.

    We are of course discussing the ol’ works vs. grace subject in this thread. There are those that believe in the free ride to exaltation idea and those of us who believe that exaltation is a natural result of our choosing to become like Christ over the eternities.

    I think Last Lemming described the gift concept most correctly so far. The gift is the atonement and the way that it enables us to choose to be in a closer relationship with God if that is what we want. If we want to draw near unto him, the atonement is what allows for it. but God doesn’t repent for us — he enables our choices to repent.

    I believe that there is not enough time in this probation to finish that journey (of drawing nearer unto God until we are in perfect unity with Him) so God allows us to continue the journey in the eternities to come (as he did in the eternities past). But our progres toward him or not is always based on our free choices.

  14. I agree with Katie regarding the relative worth of the $5 (or the bottle of pennies if you are in a cycling mood). All we can give is always just a widow’s mite, after all.

    Geoff, I think that we actually agree on most of the issues regarding exaltation. Your third paragraph also describes what I think about the atonement. Our point of departure seems to be regarding the relative worth of our contribution to our own salvation. I think that it is a necessary but microscopic contribution. I think that you think it is a necessary but small contribution. Does this make sense?

  15. Well John, I’m afraid the disagreement is more fundamental than that. I think we have different definitions of what exaltation is. You seem to refer to exaltation as something we get (presumably as a gift like a bike or aircraft carrier) and I think exalted beings are something we must become. If exaltation were a thing or prize I might agree with you, but since I think it is a state of being there is no way God could “give it” to me.

    Here is an analogy: A benefactor could give me a Steinway grand piano as a gift, but no one could make me a world class pianist as a gift. However a world class teacher could give me free lessons as a gift. And he/she could guide and teach and encourage me as I work dilgently to become like my teacher. I see exaltation as being analogous to becoming like the teacher after long and dedicated effort to do so. The atonement is analogous to the free lessons and total dedication of the world class teacher. Repentance and good works are analogous to our piano practice.

    Obviously this is very different than paying a nickel and getting a grand piano as a gift.

  16. Geoff,
    I agree with you (and Elder Bednar) that the kernal of the gospel is becoming like Christ. Where we differ is in what motivates the change in being. You seem to believe that people can change themselves spiritually in the way that they can change themselves intellectually or physically. I don’t. All good gifts, the things that we strive for in spiritual change, are, in my mind, exactly that: gifts. How we get them does depend on some effort on our part (in for a penny) but the rate and quality with which we receive them is dependent upon God (in for a pound). There is no way that I can earn a spiritual change; they are given according to the mind and will of someone whom I acknowledge is greater than me. They is no way that I can force a spiritual change; attempts to do so are counter-productive even. Patient readiness for and acceptance of God’s grace seems to be the method by which we change in this life and in the next.

    In other words, we may be given a piano, but we start out as a cat. Until someone changes us into something that can even comprehend what the thing is for, it isn’t possible for us comprehend what to do with the darn thing (as it would be for me if I suddenly had an aircraft carrier dumped upon me).

  17. You’ve inspired me John. Look for a new post on this at the Thang soon. In the meantime I’ll respond to a few things you said here:

    You seem to believe that people can change themselves spiritually in the way that they can change themselves intellectually or physically.

    Yes, exactly. And if we are really children of God why would I not. If there really is no ontological divide — if we are the same “species” as God — then this makes perfect sense and alternatives do not make sense.

    All good gifts, the things that we strive for in spiritual change, are, in my mind, exactly that: gifts.

    I agree. We just disagree on what the gift is. I believe it is guidance and love and assistance like a loving parent. You seem to believe it is some sort of transformation of being.

    There is no way that I can earn a spiritual change; they are given according to the mind and will of someone whom I acknowledge is greater than me.

    This where we fundamentally disagree. I would say that no one in this universe except for you can cause your fundamental spiritual change (aka change in your fundamental character). God enables, guides, encourages, and persuades, but he never compels or causes your change. Indeed, I believe one of the messages of section 121 is that God can’t make such a change happen in us because doing so would be compulsion.

    Patient readiness for and acceptance of God’s grace seems to be the method by which we change in this life and in the next.

    That’s way to Calvinistic (new word?) for me. What a blow to free agency that concept is! Rather, I think men are free to choose all of the time and that God’s hand is stretched out still all the time.

    In other words, we may be given a piano, but we start out as a cat.

    That is a tempting analogy to riff on (as Stapley can attest) but I will simply say that this magical transition from cat to human in your analogy sounds very much like a variation on creatio ex nihilo to me.

  18. Geoff,

    MMPs, bashing the parable of the bicycle, clear explanations of theodicy, throwing down false gods among the Saints…. you rock, dude! Keep it up.

  19. So, Geoff, for us simple-minded folk, can I just assume that your short answer to Bob’s initial headline question is “NO!” but probably not “Hell, no!”


  20. Geoff, could you clarify something? It almost sounds like you believe that, left to our own devices and independent of God we could all easily become like him. Surely that’s not what you are saying.

    It seems to me that God provides us that ability to transform ourselves, but that we don’t believe he’ll simply transform us with us being purely passive.

    Since we’re invoking popular Sacrament Meeting stories to illustrate our points, my favorite has always been the man who fell down a cliff and prayed for God to help him. As he is sitting there a climber near the top walks by and asks if he needs to have the rope lowered. The man says, no that God is going to rescue him.

    People on a boat on the river at the bottom of the cliff yell up to ask if he needs help. He once again says, no, that God is going to rescue him.

    Finally a helicopter passes over and asks if he needs help. Once again the man says, no that God is going to rescue him.

    He loses his strength to hang on to the cliff and falls to his death. Upon his death he meets God and asks why God didn’t rescue him. God responds that he sent a rope, a boat and a helicopter. What more did he expect?

    To me that has always been the perfect illustration of the atonement.

  21. Bob Caswell says:

    Whew, I’m back. I couldn’t do much blogging flying from North Carolina back to Utah… But I am fascinated by the discussion that has taken place on this thread. Finally! A post I write that provides grounds for a discussion offering new (for me, anyway) insights and compelling reasoning (and scripture) on multiple fronts (rather than the classic output of “You’re wrong and the Church is true!”).

    Having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with Geoff J this intensely before, the parable of the bicycle notwithstanding. I did like Katie’s comment about the car (even if, in answer to Ronan’s question, I believe that certain conditions change the nature of gifts. But it’s more complicated than just x condition causing y gift to be less of a gift… theory developing).

    And I have this thing for paradoxes, especially within the context of the Church / Gospel. I mean, that’s what we have here, right? On the one hand, what we do is peanuts because we can’t make it alone. On the other hand, what we do is everything and is the determining factor, as it’s the only part that hasn’t already been done (it’s definitely more than just feeling like a whole lot).

  22. Bob Caswell says:

    “It almost sounds like you believe that, left to our own devices and independent of God we could all easily become like him. Surely that’s not what you are saying.”

    I’ll answer since I’m right here (though Geoff probably will have a better answer). I think, to a certain degree, we are already like God. It’s more a function of becoming more like Him or progressing, eternally. Of course, this progression would be cut short without Him. But that doesn’t negate that within the context of my own progression, I control it, not Him. In other words, His involvement is a necessity but is not the actual progression itself.

  23. David J. – No dude, you rock!

    Hugh – What, me? I’d never say President Faust is wrong! Rather I’d say to most saints on the subject of exaltation (in my best Indigo Montoya accent), “I do not think that means what I think you think it means…” Like the piano analogy I gave, my becoming a world class pianist under the hand of a benevolent and master teacher could very well be considered a gift.

    It almost sounds like you believe that, left to our own devices and independent of God we could all easily become like him. Surely that’s not what you are saying.

    Tempting Shirley jokes aside, you are right, that is not what I’m saying. I will write my Parable of the Pianist post tonight or tomorrow to fill that in more. But briefly, just as I would have no chance of becoming a world class pianist without access to a piano and with no guidance (or possibly no idea what a world-class pianist actually is) so I would have no chance to become like God without the free gifts of probations and a constant on call teacher that loves and cares for me and encourages me all the way. Further, He (Jesus Christ) shows and showed me just what a God is. In the analogy the gift is both the piano and the freely donated access to constant mentoring lessons that I could never pay for.

    I know that classic old helicopter story well. I think it fails as an analogy for the atonement, or at least for exaltation because it makes exaltation a thing rather than a state of being.

    Bob – Nice! You intensely agreed with me. Dude, you rock too. As you point out, we can’t ignore the fact that God calls us children and Mormonism might be the only religion that takes that very literally.

    I actually really agree with your response to Clark as well. Very nicely stated.

  24. Geoff,

    Oh man, now you’re quoting Airplane! and Princess Bride… you’re the best, man.

    Seriously now, I remember something about “working it out for ourselves” in a systematic theology class I had. Some guy named Pelagius (I think) was running around saying that it’s possible to avoid all sin. Martin Luther apparently would have a coronary if he heard that, and I concur (save Jesus only, otherwise he’s not the only candidate for savior-hood). But it seems to me that just throwing exaltation at somebody (like me) doesn’t fit right in my mind. Indeed, it will be a gift when it is finally received, but not after the life I’ve lived so far. Again, enter MMPs. I wonder sometimes if we have to go and do something akin to what Jesus did… ouch.

    Who knows, all this is conjecture for the most part, right?

  25. Yeah David, we’re on the same page with this subject. That’s where the evidence points me as well. In fact I think any model short of that runs the risk of grossly undervaluing what it really means to become like and become one with God.

  26. I’m trying to hold back until Geoff posts his post, in part because I think that my quarrel is more with him than with Bob.

    I would say that my idea of how it all works does not “grossly undervalu[e] what it really means to become like and become one with God.” Even if it is fundamentally a gift. So, neener, neener until then

  27. So, neener, neener until then


    Alright John – It is done.

  28. I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to blogs my brother, Bob is a “comment magnet.” See, even I (who have nothing to add to this thread) feel compelled to post a comment. …can’t …hold …on …much …longer

  29. I was converted to Christ by the Holy Spirit showing me Romans 4:4-8:

    “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

    Very relevant.

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