What is the difference between eternal life and immortality? Each of Heavenly Father‘s children, every single person born into mortality, and yes, that includes you, will be resurrected regardless of their level of righteousness. This was assured by our Savior, Jesus Christ, when He broke the bands of death and arose in that garden tomb as our resurrected Lord and Redeemer. That is immortality.
Eternal life, on the other hand, has to be earned. It is something to be greatly desired and every effort, part and parcel of our lives should be dedicated to that end. Harold B. Lee, the eleventh called prophet in these modern times, tells us more, using the events of the Apollo 13 emergency return to earth from the vastness of space:
Some months ago , millions of watchers and listeners over the world waited breathlessly and anxiously the precarious flight of Apollo 13. The whole world, it seemed, prayed for one significant result: the safe return to earth of three brave men.
When one of them with restrained anxiety announced the startling information, “We have had an explosion!” the mission control in Houston immediately mobilized all the technically trained scientists who had, over the years, planned every conceivable detail pertaining to that flight.
The safety of those three now depended on two vital qualifications: on the reliability of the skills and the knowledge of those technicians in the mission control center at Houston, and upon the implicit obedience of the men in the Aquarius to every instruction from the technicians, who, because of their understanding of the problems of the astronauts, were better qualified to find the essential solutions. The decisions of the technicians had to be perfect or the Aquarius could have missed the earth by thousands of miles.
This dramatic event is somewhat analogous to these [troubled] times in which we live. … Many are frightened when they see and hear of unbelievable happenings the world over—political intrigues, wars and contention everywhere, frustrations of parents endeavoring to cope with social problems that threaten to break down the sanctity of the home, the frustrations of children and youth as they face challenges to their faith and their morals.
Only if you are willing to listen and obey, as did the astronauts on the Aquarius, can you and all your households be guided to ultimate safety and security in the Lord’s own way. … (“Chapter 1: The Way to Eternal Life,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 1)
Returning to our Heavenly Father and gaining our eternal reward relies completely on us and our willingness to not only follow in the footsteps of our Savior, Jesus Christ, but to also allow Him to shoulder our burdens when they become too heavy to bear.
To understand eternal life, we must understand the three basic principles of the foundation of the plan of salvation.
First, is free agency. Next to life, this is God’s greatest gift to mankind. This critical principle was the basis of the war in heaven. Heavenly Father knew we had to have free agency in order to choose for ourselves “liberty and eternal life through obedience to the laws of God, or captivity and death as to spiritual things because of disobedience.” (Ibid, 2 Nephi 2:27)
Second, a Savior had to be provided. In order for the plan of salvation to work a savior had to be provided in order that the atonement might be put in place for the salvation of mankind, in addition to breaking the bands of death. Jesus Christ stepped forward and was chosen by our Father in Heaven to be that Savior. He was born into the world approximately 2,007 years ago and in April 33 A.D. He suffered for the sins of the world in the Garden of Gethsemane, was crucified and resurrected, breaking the bands of death. “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)
Third, was the provision that all mankind could be saved if they followed the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Harold B. Lee said,
This same teaching was forcibly impressed by the resurrected Savior to the saints on this continent, in what it appears likely was his final message to his disciples. The Master taught his faithful saints that “no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel. …” (Ibid, 3 Nephi 27:19–21)
on that great judgment day. To live, once again, with our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ is eternal life.
Harold B. Lee also tells us of the promise given to us if we abide by this:
If the children of the Lord, which includes all who are upon this earth, regardless of nationality, color, or creed, will heed the call of the true messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as did the three astronauts on the Aquarius to the trained technicians at Mission Control in the hour of their peril, each may in time see the Lord and know that he is, as the Lord has promised. …
This promise of the glory which awaits those who are faithful to the end was plainly portrayed in the Master’s parable of the Prodigal Son. To the son who was faithful and did not squander his birthright, the father, who in the Master’s lesson would be our Father and our God, promised this faithful son: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” (Luke 15:31.)(Ibid)
Eternal life is the greatest reward any human being can reach for. We have been blessed with a loving Heavenly Father who wishes to see us return home. We have been blessed with a loving Savior, Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our sins, satisfied justice and broke the bands of death. We have been given the path to eternal life and the invitation remains open . . . In my mind’s ear, I can hear Him say,
“Come home my little ones, for eternal happiness will be yours if you will but trust in that which your heart knows to be true.” Jesus Christ lives. Heavenly Father lives and they have paid the ultimate price in providing that path home to eternal life. Jesus Christ paid with the suffering for the world’s sin and crucifixion, Heavenly Father paid in having to watch His Son suffer so that all of us could be redeemed, if we so chose.
I invite you to join me on that path, hard as it may be at times. The rewards far outweigh the cost. And the cost for eternal life? Turn from the ways of the world and embrace that great plan of happiness, for within that plan is your map back to your heavenly home.