In Doctrine and Covenants 76 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon record an expansive vision of the Plan of Salvation. Specifically, knowledge and clarification regarding life after this mortal life are provided.
Starting in verse 98, we read a description of those who will qualify for telestial glory. First, in verse 89 we learn of the glory of the telestial kingdom: “the glory of the telestial…surpasses all understanding” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:89). This context is important. We learn that this kingdom is better than we can imagine. A stricter reading would be that it surpassed the understanding of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon but I’m hesitant to say any other people understand better than they did so it’s a safe assumption to write that it is better than we can imagine.
Back to verse 98 and onward. Specifically, verses 111 and 112: “For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared; And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:111-112).
Those in the telestial kingdom receive great rewards (unimaginably good) according to their works. We can make an inference from these verses. That inference is that those in higher kingdoms do not receive rewards according to their works, or at least do not in the same way. Those in the terrestrial and celestial kingdoms partake of the goodness and grace of God and Christ.
Of those who receive terrestrial glory we read: “These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness. These are they who receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father. Wherefore, they are bodies terrestrial, and not bodies celestial, and differ in glory as the moon differs from the sun. These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:76-79; emphasis added).
These individuals receive of God’s glory as the moon receiving the light of the sun. They receive of Christ’s elevating grace but do not partake of His fulness.
Of those receiving celestial glory: “These are they who are just men [and women] made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood. These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:69-70).
Not only are those receiving celestial glory justified, they are fully sanctified through the Atonement of Christ. They entered into and remained faithful to the new covenant.
An analogy is seeing this life as a test (this is based on the general tradition of educational systems in the United States of America). Before we take the test we have multiple options.
- People can agree to do certain things (receive covenants and hold true to them) and have our promised grade be 100%. That’s not because of what they did but because of the Atonement and grace of Christ. Yes, they have to do certain things but the reward is much greater than what they deserve. The reward will be all the Father has.
- Or, people can strive to be good but not fully partake of the covenants. The Savior will curve our grade up higher to a B, which is great but not perfect. The reward will be incomprehensible but does not allow us to partake of all the Father has.
- Or, people do whatever they want to do and can get a C or lower on the test and still receive an unimaginatively good reward. There are dominions and mansions. The rewards for those in the lowest group depend on what someone did — did someone lie and cheat or commit mass genocide? Works are most important for the telestial realm with different levels of rewards like the varying brightness of the stars (unaided human eye from an earth frame of reference). The qualification for this kingdom and glory came by choosing to follow God’s plan and come to earth.
What people do during this life will determine what type of telestial glory they receive. What Christ did during this life determines the celestial (and to a lesser extent, the terrestrial) glory people receive. This isn’t to say that works are not important for celestial and terrestrial glories — they are very important — but in those glories the Atonement provides a curve. Those in the telestial glory are mostly left to their own strength. For those who fully partake of covenants and strive to be true to them (celestial), the blessings are what the Savior has. These are they who will become like the Son of God. These are they who fully partake of celestial grace.