Becoming Saints before gods

By February 8, 2008

Guest post by BHodges.

Discourse by Heber C. Kimball
June 29, 1856
JD 4:1-7

Much criticism of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church in general stems from the doctrine regarding the eternal potential of mankind. The Church believes that men and women are the “offspring” of Heavenly Parents (see Acts 17:28-29) composed of the same eternal substance (see D&C 93:33-35), and as such, have divine possibilities. However, there are many names for and many interpretations of the doctrine in and out of the Church. Describing the various schools of thought on the subject is not the purpose of this post, however.

In this discourse, President Heber C. Kimball tangentially referred to deification; not as a glorious declaration that we can become gods, or godlike, but to remind his listeners not to put the cart before the horse. We ought to consider becoming true Saints before focusing too much on being gods:

Many think that they are going right into the celestial kingdom of God, in their present ignorance, to at once receive glories and powers; that they are going to be Gods, while many of them are so ignorant, that they can see or know scarcely anything. Such people talk of becoming Gods, when they do not know anything of God, or of His works; such persons have to learn repentance, and obedience to the law of God; they have got to learn to understand angels, and to comprehend and stick to the principles of this Church.

“I bear testimony of this, and I wish you would listen to counsel and lay aside every sin that doth so easily beset you, and turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart.

Similarly, during the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith taught:

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel–you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation.

But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave (History of the Church, 6:306-7).

Christ said “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (see Matthew 5:48) and Mormons tend take that charge literally; perhaps sometimes a little too literally for the time being. The trouble is, some Saints might feel they can, or even must achieve this impossible goal through their own efforts. In conversations about grace and works Mormons are quick to quote: “faith without works is dead,” (see James 2:20). We would do well to remember that works without faith is also dead, and I believe Heber is trying in the discourse to express that message.

Here we see an early example of a Church leader expressing grace, though he still maintains a “work-heavy” perspective. It is for us, today, to focus on today, and retain a remission of sins relying on Christ, as the light grows brighter and brighter until the perfect day. In the meantime, probation continues, and Heber has a few pieces of advice to impart:

We cannot become perfect, without we are assisted by our heavenly Father. We must be faithful and of one heart, and one mind, and let every man and woman take course to build up and not pull down. See that you save your grain, that you may save yourselves from the wicked of the world. Try to take care of every thing that is good to eat, for this is the work of the Lord God Almighty, and we shall have times that will test the integrity of this people, that will test who is honest and who is not.

Omitting prayer is calculated to lead the mind away from those duties which are incumbent upon us; then let us attend to our prayers and all our duties, and you will know that brother Brigham and his brethren have told you of these things…

There are trying times ahead of you, do you not begin to feel and see them? If you do not, I say you are asleep. I wish that the spirit which rests upon a few individuals could be upon you, everyone of you, it would be one of the most joyful times that brother Brigham and I ever saw with the Saints of God upon this earth.

We have enough on our plates to worry about today without being presumptuous about our future estate. Certainly we can have the end in mind, remembering the relationship of Father to child is crucial. He will always, through all eternity, be our Father and our God. Still, it would be unwise to jump the gun and assume we are practically almost there; we have plenty to do in the meantime.

We believe we can become gods, but can that belief interfere with our probation?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Interesting post, Blair. I agree that it is very important to focus on righteousness in this life rather than neglecting it in favor of fantasizing about the next.

    Comment by David G. — February 8, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

  2. Yes, this belief can interfere with our probation if we don’t understand it, if we assume all we need to know and do to reach such a lofty goal can be accomplished within our 80 or so years of mortal life. Such false understanding can lead a man to think if he prays and attends church and sins as infrequently as possible, he is close to godhood. But since progression is eternal, and we are still so inexperienced and imperfect even having gone through mortality, the road ahead is long and goal not clost to appearing in sight. This is not to say we will never progress and become more and more like God, but the process is so gradual and as you reinforce, not done on our own.

    On the other hand, the knowledge of the doctrine of eternal progression helps us greatly while during our probation. It helps us understand our Father, our earthly journey, and our own divine potential.

    Great post BHodges, thank you!

    Comment by ingrid — February 8, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

  3. I think it’s an interesting paradox; the inherent godhood vs. the corruption of the flesh. It can lead to self-righteousness on one hand to self-loathing on the other.

    Comment by BHodges — February 8, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

  4. Very interesting, yes, such a paradox. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for some to grasp, so easy to reject. It doesn’t make sense on the surface.

    Comment by ingrid — February 8, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

  5. if you read them closely, the Smithian-era sources suggest this divinization was inextricably tied to the temple, and the temple itself was a heavily familialized ritual system. There were of course elements of simple perfectionism, but it was also a claim about what it meant to be part of a family.

    So if you wanted to emphasize this piece (and I don’t personally think it’s wedded to any particular ideas about the meaning of gender), you don’t have to drop into sanctification vs. self-loathing. It can also be a statement about the power of our willed allegiances to each other.

    Comment by smb — February 8, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

  6. Indeed, the idea of becoming gods was often tied in, not just with families, but with a Zion community as a whole. Thinking of becoming Saints before becoming gods should evoke the recognition that “Saints” are a community. The eternal individual tied into a relationship with a family, and a community beyond that, where unity was a paramount feature. Great point, smb.

    Comment by BHodges — February 9, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

  7. […] The Juvenile instructor has a illuminating post and discussion centered around a message from an Apostle over 100 years ago titled Becoming Saints before Gods. […]

    Pingback by Points of Interest 2/16 « Mind, Soul, and Body — February 16, 2008 @ 10:02 am


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