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Spiritual Life and Death

by Sue Bergin

Unlike physical life and death, over which individuals have little control, spiritual life and death are opposite poles between which a choice is required. Latter-day scripture states that all people "are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Ne. 2:27). This opposition between life and death is viewed as the fundamental dichotomy of all existence.

At one pole is Jesus Christ, who is described throughout the scriptures as light and life (e.g., John 1:4; 3 Ne. 15:9; D&C 10:70). He is the author both of physical life, as the creator of the earth and its life-sustaining sun (D&C 88:7), and of spiritual life, as the giver of eternal life (3 Ne. 15:9). To choose life is to follow him on a path that leads to freedom and eternal life.

Satan, at the opposite pole, is darkness and death (e.g., Rom. 6:23; Alma 15:17; D&C 24:1). He is the author of temporal death, as the one who enticed Adam and Eve to initiate the Fall, and of spiritual death, as the tempter who induces individuals to separate themselves from God through sin. To choose to follow Satan by succumbing to sin and resisting Christ's entreaties to repent is to choose death.

The freedom to choose effectively between life and death is a result of the redemption of Christ (2 Ne. 2:27), and it is God's work and glory "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).

The scriptures speak of two spiritual deaths. The first has already come upon all humans as a result of the Fall, separating "all mankind…from the presence of the Lord" (Hel. 14:16). The second will be experienced by only those who, having once known Christ, willfully deny him and refuse to repent, being thus "cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness" (Hel. 14:18). Spiritual death does not mean that a person's spirit literally has died (the spirit is immortal), but that one is in "a state of spiritual alienation from God" (Smith, Vol. 1, p. 45), a death "as to things pertaining unto righteousness" (Alma 12:16; 40:26).

Because little children are not capable of sinning (Moro. 8:10-14), the first spiritual death does not begin for an individual on the earth until the age of accountability (eight years of age; D&C 68:27). Generally, as individuals mature they begin to recognize the consequences of their acts and become responsible for them (D&C 18:42). Insofar as they do not harmonize behavior with an understanding of truth and goodness, they create a gulf between themselves and God—that is, spiritual death.

The first step toward overcoming this state was taken, paradoxically, before the Fall occurred: in premortal life. All who have been or will be born on this earth chose both physical and spiritual life when as spirit children of God they chose to follow the Father's plan for earth life. After they reach the age of accountability during earth life, they must again choose.

According to LDS understanding, the choice between spiritual life and death is made at the time of baptism and confirmation, the ordinances that symbolically reconcile a person to God and initiate a lifetime process of spiritual rebirth. Once baptismal covenants are made and the gift of the Holy Ghost is conferred and received, the symbolic rebirth must be made actual through the day-to-day struggle to repent and choose life—Christ and righteousness. The choice is not made once and for all, but many times during a lifetime.

Latter-day Saints do not view righteousness simply as a way to avoid an unpleasant afterlife and gain a heavenly reward. Following Christ is also the path to happiness in mortal life (See Discipleship). As people harmonize their lives with God's laws, they are "blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual" (Mosiah 2:41). In Christ is life abundant (John 10:10); "if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17).

In an everyday sense, choosing life for the Latter-day Saint should include loving and serving others, praying and studying the words of God daily, sharing knowledge of Christ and his plan with others, speaking the truth, remaining chaste before marriage and faithful after marriage, rearing children with patience and love, and being honest in all things. Enjoying such things constitutes the abundant life.

In the postmortal period, "life" again depends upon Christ's Atonement, which overcomes the first spiritual death by making it possible for all men and women to come into God's presence to be judged. At that point, everyone will be judged worthy of a degree of glory and its quality of life except the sons of perdition. These individuals suffer the second spiritual death for having committed the unpardonable sin, which is denying Christ in the face of full knowledge and truth (D&C 76:30-38; HC 6:314).

(See Eternal Life; Lifestyle; Opposition; Spiritual Death; Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About the Afterlife home page)


Hunter, Howard W. "The Golden Thread of Choice." Ensign 19 (Nov. 1989):17-18.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. DS, 3 vols.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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