Relief Society Lesson 17: the Great Plan of Salvation

by EmilyCC

My comments and questions are in italics, and the manual stuff is in regular font.  There’s lots of juicy stuff in this lesson for some good discussion, but it was hard to make this a smoothly flowing lesson.  It feels like jumps are made from topic to topic.  Please add your insights and presentation ideas for this lesson in the comment field.

From the Life of Joseph Smith

The Prophet later said: “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors. … Look at Hebrews 6:1 for contradictions—‘Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.’ If a man leaves the principles of the doctrine of Christ, how can he be saved in the principles? This is a contradiction. I don’t believe it. I will render it as it should be—‘Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.’ ”

Although this may not relate directly to the Plan of Salvation, I think it might be a good place to start discussion.

How is your scripture study of the Bible affected by the understanding that the Bible isn’t necessarily always translated correctly?

Teachings of Joseph Smith

This lesson dives right into the plan of salvation without defining much. If your ward has a lot of new converts, I would recommend spending some time going over the famous chart—I like this one because it could be cut out and put on the board. Um, maybe I’ve been in Primary too long.

“At the first organization in heaven we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it.”

Anyway, point is, if there are investigators or converts looking confused, I’d have a quick overview of the chart as a back-up. Or if you’re lazy like me, ask the women to tell the story of the War in Heaven (hmm, is that capitalized?), or ask questions to elicit the definitions of the degrees of glory…have them explain the Plan.

What do you think of this statement? Do you find it comforting, disconcerting, relevant?

“The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he would save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him.”

What does this say about free agency? Is this applicable to our daily lives? How so?

We are eternal beings; we can advance toward exaltation as we obey the laws of God.

“I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it has a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits. …

If I had my act together, I would find someone musically-inclined to perform “If You Could Hie to Kolob” for this section (note the lovely gender-equality in the use of the words, “God” and “Gods” without pronouns).
“Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.

Does our religion share the concept of eternity with others? Might this be a place for ecumenical discussion?

“The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.”

Hmmm…this could be a place for discussion, “He has power to institute laws to instruct weaker intelligences.”

Who are the weaker ones? What’s our responsibility to the “weaker?” This could be some really meaty discussion or could fall flat on its face (I suspect it would fall flat on its face in my ward).

Abraham 3:22–25—does this passage change how we define intelligences? 

We came to earth to obtain a body, to gain knowledge, and to overcome through faith.

D&C 101:78—a helpful scripture for this section

“We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into the herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine’s body to having none. All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not.”

The ultimate punishment is not having a body…how does this make you feel about your body? What does our society say about bodies these days?

“The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent; and every one that does not obtain knowledge sufficient to be saved will be condemned. The principle of salvation is given us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

What kind of knowledge are we talking about here?

God has given us moral agency and the power to choose good over evil.

“All persons are entitled to their agency, for God has so ordained it. He has constituted mankind moral agents, and given them power to choose good or evil; to seek after that which is good, by pursuing the pathway of holiness in this life, which brings peace of mind, and joy in the Holy Ghost here, and a fulness of joy and happiness at His right hand hereafter; or to pursue an evil course, going on in sin and rebellion against God, thereby bringing condemnation to their souls in this world, and an eternal loss in the world to come.”

What do we gain by having bodies?

How do you gain knowledge?

Is there a difference between spiritual and secular knowledge?

How do you feel when people exercise their agency in harmful ways? Is there anything we can do?

Eliza R. Snow recorded:
“[Joseph Smith] said he did not care how fast we run in the path of virtue. Resist evil, and there is no danger; God, men, and angels will not condemn those that resist everything that is evil, and devils cannot; as well might the devil seek to dethrone Jehovah, as overthrow an innocent soul that resists everything which is evil.”

Why do we feel guilty when someone makes bad choices? Is this productive?

What is Eliza saying here? How does this make you feel?

Close with testimony.


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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20 Responses

  1. Rob Osborn says:

    First off, it may be of note to discuss what Satan was really after when a savior was being chosen. Everyone of us has been led into the lies of satan to some degree. What we must realize is that he has not changed from where he was in that council. He is a liar now, and he was a liar then.

    What most seem to miss, including myself for a very long time, is that Satan lied when he said that he would save all that not one soul should be lost. You see, that was his lie- he never had, and still doesn’t have, any intentions to save mankind. All he wants is to lead them captive according to his evil will and pleasure to reign over them in his own kingdom. What we must realize is that he came out in open rebellion to Christ- as the savior of mankind.

    Now to talk about agency. What is agency? Some say it is free thought or even free will or both coupled together. I am going to suggest something similar but different. Agency is like a drivers license to cruise around in gods kingdom and be able to act and choose within morally strict guidlines. It is a gift that can be surrendered just like a drivers license can be surrendered if the rules get broken. So, as long as we act within the strict moral code god has given as his eternal laws, we have that agency- the divine right to freely act and choose within his kingdom. But, once we start rebelling and be disobedient to the moral laws he has given, he limits our agency- or should I say, “we” limit our agency. This is what is meant by Satan wanting to destroy our agency.

    He was not in a position to “force” us to be obedient- never was any part of his intentions. He wants us to be disobedient to gods laws so that he can rule over us- so that he can “chain” us down having destroyed our agency by causing us to choose to be disobedient to gods moral laws.

    So, in reality, the contention in heaven was that Christ said there would be certain individuals who couldn’t be saved while satan in reality put forth a plan to decieve and blind man down into captivity- to strip them of their gift of agency- to rule over them in hell for all eternity.

  2. Douglas Hunter says:

    Concerning the introduction to the lesson, I like to be open to the possibility that its not really about about translation at all, its not about the integrity of the text as a text or appealing to any sense of an origin, despite the fact that Smith based his statement on an idea of an original text. The passage you quote including his comments about Hebrews 6:1 are telling.

    The full passage of The KJV of Hebrews 6:1 reads:
    “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.”

    It’s important to look at the entire verse since what follows after the semicolon helps understand what was written before it. The passage is not suggesting a theological shift away from the principles of the doctrine of Christ, it is signaling a chance in topic of the text. Leaving one topic to address another. Verses two and three make this more explicit. As does reading chapter 5. So Joseph was quoting a transitional phrase, not a theological statement.

    For us today we can also compare different translations to get a better sense of the passage. For example The New Revised Standard Version of Hebrews 6:1 clears up what ambiguity may be present in the KJV:

    “Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teachings about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith towards God.”

    Both passages contain the key phrase “not laying again the foundation” in other words not repeating the basics, but the NRSV goes even farther with the phrase “the basic teachings about Christ.” Which enhances the idea that the basics are well known and we are moving to a new topic.

    Note that Joseph Smith stopped reading Hebrews 6:1 at the semicolon, he does not read the entire verse, or read it in context. For Smith the line stands on it’s own. Further, the key moment is the way in which Smith addresses the text, he does so in terms of his own belief (“I don’t believe it”)and the lack of theological consistency present if one reads it as an antonymous statement suggesting that perfection can be attained without Christ. Of course, it is not an autonomous statement, but Smith seems to have understood it as such.

    One way of processing this is to suggest that his concern was not really with the integrity of the text itself, nor was it a matter of translation. Smith’s central concern was with theological consistency. For Smith (and for Mormon theology generally) the important thing to remember is that the Bible is not an ultimate source of theological meaning or doctrinal authority, it is a text that needs to be brought into conformity with theology / doctrine that comes from other, better sources: God’s revelation, the book of Mormon, or the words of a prophet.

    And so it is with the plan of salvation. After Smith gained revelation about the plan he included the plan of salvation in his Biblical editing and encouraged us to read the Bible in a way that foregrounds the plan. Hence the unique Mormon understanding of the story of Adam and Eve.

  3. Michele says:

    I teach relief society in my ward. I am glad that I found your website. I am wondering if anyone has thought of an idea for an object lesson to go along with lesson 17?

  4. gladtobeamom says:

    DH I appreciate your comments. I never thought of it that way. It gave me some great things to think about.

  5. Micah says:

    I like your explanation of the lesson, as well as DH’s comments.

    One quibble: I think you need to reconsider using words like “eternity” or “eternal” in an ecumunical context. For us, these words don’t (or don’t necessarily) equate to “forever.” Rather, they relate to Godliness; Eternal Life = God’s Life.

  6. Debora says:

    Hi Michele, I found an object lesson, a short movie, and a handout. Is there a way I can send them to you?

  7. Tracie says:

    Debora – I would love to here what you have for an object lesson! If you don’t mind sharing!

  8. Debora says:

    Hi Tracie, I’d love to share but I can’t post the airplane models and all the pictures here. All I can do here is post this link to the analogy –
    If anyone is interested in getting the rest by email…drop me a line to

    • Carolyn says:

      I like the example of the pit in the ground, and that the fall created a way for Adam & Eve to come here and become mortal, and than I add to that the Savior is the only one who has the ladder to get us out. He climbed down here and gave us the ladder, then after his sacrifice, all we have to do to access the ladder, is to follow him and reach for his light.its the only way out

  9. Nancy hill says:

    thank you for confirming that this lesson skips around, finding the organizational structure that I can hang a lesson on is the most difficult part. Any further information or insight about to how to present this lesson are most welcome.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    Rob and Douglas, thank you so much for your excellent additions to the lesson. Such good points made by both of you!

    Michele, I’m afraid I’m lousy at object lessons. Do you (and others) find them helpful for RS? I usually only use them for YW’s and Primary.

    gladtobeamom, thanks!

    Micah, great point! I didn’t catch that, but it is an important distinction.

    Debora, yay! Someone who knows object lessons! Thanks for putting up the link.

    Nancy, glad you found it helpful…often, we’ll get a few more comments coming in once the weekend starts.

  11. Kasey says:

    I am teaching this lesson this week also, and I was just told by our RS Pres that the entire Stake RS Pres will be in attendance. I am not a normal RS teacher, just a sub… I am nervous.

    Any pointers on calming the nerves and not causing contention. In my ward RS tends to be contentious, when people do not understand the topic. I am finding this topic rather hard to understand myself.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I am just subbing as well and am finding this a very hard lesson to start out with.. . so, thank you to everyone who has posted comments and info! Please keep them coming!

    And I second the plea for advice on calming the nerves of us first timers!

  13. sara says:

    I am a regular teacher and nerves are always an issue. I have found, for myself, the more I get audience participation the better. Especially in the begining (that’s where object lessons come in). Object lessons, even if they seem juvenile always break the ice and loosen everyone up to begin talking. Then I have found reading and asking some good questions is all it takes to fill the time. I always learn more from other’s comments anyway. I feel like a teacher’s job is to simply start discussion and be a facilitator for the class. I think people get more out of a lesson when they are thinking and sharing in the discussion. Take advantage of the wisdom of others, and it won’t put so much pressure on you. Another thing on object lessons, I always try to do at least one in a lesson and suggest the sisters use it in their FHE. And of course..PRAYER… has never failed me to calm my nerves and collect my thoughts.

  14. Jesica says:

    I am a regular teacher also, and what Sara said is so true. Generate discussion and know your lesson and you’ll do great! As for making the lesson flow smoothly, I am going to put up a chart with the plan of salvation depicted on it and we will go through each stage, beginning with the pre existance; we accepted the plan of salvation and we are eternal beings-which I thought was a very cool section, then go on to earth life; we came to get a body, gain knowledge and overcome, and we have our agency to choose. If you have looked ahead, next week’s lesson focuses on life in the eternities and the three degrees of glory, so you don’t have to cover those areas. As for object lessons, I like the one with the airplanes, but I also found one on in the sunday school lesson book for D&C lesson #19 attention activity. I like it too. Good luck with everything!

  15. Tanya says:

    I have decided to rearrange the topic outline. I am starting with our eternal nature, then the role of agency. Then that opens up the reason for a Savior for our Salvation and the importance of the need of a body. That order seems to flow better for me than the way it is in the book.

    As for Eliza R. Snows comment, I was watching an education week rebroadcast several weeks ago, the presenter made a comment something like this;
    When we die, if we are on the right path, no matter what we will be granted salvation. This is because if we are striving to live a good life, repent, and trust in Christ, that is what is expected. After death, Satan will have no more power over us, and Salvation will be granted. I hope that makes sense.

  16. Omamel says:

    Wait. I am really confused and I have to teach this lesson in two hours!!! Isn’t salvation available to all people because of Christ’s atonement? Would this be more properly titled “The Great Plan of Exaltation?” I know most people have already taught this lesson, but HELP!

  17. Cindy says:

    The sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God to rescue fallen mankind was a key part of God’s perfect plan from the beginning. Thus, it is appropriate to be called the Plan of Salvation, for none can be saved, let alone exhalted without the atonement of Jesus Christ.

  18. Louise Doria says:

    If anyone has ideas for teaching the relief
    society lesson on trials that is in three weeks
    I would love some help Thanks

  19. Christina Van Rye says:

    As I said a t the retreat, I wish I were in your ward. It sounds as if you are in for a
    humdinger of a discussion. I will try gently to bring as much light as possible to
    the discussion in my current ward if the instructor will call on me. I pray for a more fertile field in my new ward.

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