I was surprised to watch a show the other night where the mayor of the town announced that he was going to perform a vicarious wedding ceremony. One of his duties was to perform marriages for military personnel who were in areas with no chaplain. The ceremony was carried out with two people standing in for the real couple who couldn’t be there. Each person held up a photo of the face of the person they represented and the whole wedding was broadcast over the Internet where the two real people could watch from their different locations. This was a legal marriage. Vicarious salvation is based on the same principle.
We perform ordinances in our temples, like baptism, for those who are now dead. Someone living performs the ordinance for and in behalf of someone who is deceased. It is done the same way the ordinance, like baptism, for example, is done for a living person. The proxy, the person standing in for the deceased person, goes down into the water, and is baptized for and in behalf of the person who is dead. This gives the person who died without the opportunity to be baptized the ability to accept baptism without ever having had the chance in mortality.
I used to be a little uncomfortable with the idea that we could stand in and perform a baptism for someone else and have the Lord accept that as valid. That was before I realized that vicarious work is what salvation is all about.
The Atonement is vicarious
Every Christian knows that Christ is the key to being saved. Why? Because he performed a work, an atonement, a payment for us that we could not do or pay for ourselves. He stood in our place and paid for our sins. Our salvation comes only because we, as Christians, believe in vicarious works for and in behalf of others. Without the payment Christ made on my behalf I could not be saved or redeemed from my fallen state. If I don’t accept the principle of vicarious works in behalf of others, then I have to reject my only path back to God, which is Christ.
The vicarious work we perform in our temples for those who have lived without the opportunity to know or accept Christ’s gospel is the only way they will ever be able to receive those saving ordinances. Christ said that we could not go back to God without baptism. So are all those people who died without baptism to be tossed aside as collateral damage in the war against Satan? If that were the case then it looks like Satan has already claimed most of the human race. No, God loves all his children equally and has provided a way for them to receive the ordinances of salvation through those who are currently living. We go into His temples and perform those ordinances in behalf of those who have already died.
Organizing the work
During the time between Christ’s death and resurrection he was in the world of the spirits organizing his missionary forces. After his resurrection those missionary forces went into the spirit prison and began to preach the gospel of Christ to those who had died from the days of Adam down to the time of Christ. As the saints in Christ’s church performed baptisms for the dead, those who had been taught the gospel in the spirit world were able to accept or reject the work done for them. In 1 Corinthians 15:29 Paul asked why the members of the Church were performing baptisms for the dead if the dead were never going to be resurrected. He said, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”
Those who accepted the work done for them were able to move from the spirit prison they had been in into paradise where they could prepare for their resurrection. Missionary work among the dead has been going on ever since that time. There are billions who are just waiting for their work to be done for them so they can move on to paradise and prepare for their resurrection. Even when the Lord’s Church was not on the earth, the preaching of the gospel of Christ continued in the spirit world. Now that Christ’s Church as been restored, there is a huge backlog of people waiting to have their ordinances done for them so they can move on.
We don’t normally talk about the fact that our own salvation is a vicarious act, but it is. The act of redemption on the Savior’s part could have only been done by him. We do not have the ability to do it. If we did have the ability to save ourselves there would be no need for Christ. But Christ is our Savior, our Redeemer, our advocate with the Father. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves, and he had to do it vicariously. He stood in our place and took our punishment and willingly paid for our sins so he could offer us forgiveness for those same sins if we would obey his commandments.
By us going into the temples of our God and doing vicarious work for our ancestors, we become “saviors on Mount Zion,” performing saving ordinances for those who can no longer do it for themselves. This is a tremendous blessing to us who can help save our ancestors who have done so much for us, but are now at such a distinct disadvantage in spiritual things. We can now turn our hearts to our fathers and bring salvation to our families for generation and generations. The Lord blesses us, and He blesses them for participating with His Son in this great work of saving the whole human family.
Salvation could only ever be offered vicariously. Now we, in turn, are being commanded by God to offer what we have been given so freely by Christ to our families. What a blessing it is to have the ability to do work vicariously in the temple for our loved ones.