“Salvation does not come all at once; we are commanded to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect. It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will overcome all things, and receive all things, even the fullness of the Father’s glory.
I believe the Lord meant just what he said: that we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. That will not come all at once, but line upon line, and precept upon precept, example upon example, and even then not as long as we live in this mortal life, for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-56, 2:18-19)
We need to come to terms with our desire to reach perfection and our frustration when our accomplishments or behaviors are less than perfect. I feel that one of the great myths we would do well to dispel is that we’ve come to earth to perfect ourselves, and nothing short of that will do. If I understand the teachings of the prophets of this dispensation correctly, we will not become perfect in this life, though we can make significant strides toward that goal… I am also convinced of the fact that the speed with which we head along the straight and narrow path isn’t as important as the direction in which we are traveling. That direction, if it is leading toward eternal goals, is the all-important factor (Elder Marvin J. Ashton, Ensign, May 1989, p. 20-21)
We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. You don’t. There’s only been one perfect person, and that’s the Lord Jesus, but in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality, what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path—thus charting a course leading to eternal life—and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship. I’m not saying that you don’t have to keep the commandments. I’m saying you don’t have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved. The way it operates is this: you get on the path that’s named the “straight and narrow.” The straight and narrow path leads a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. If you’re on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come. If you’re working zealously in this life—though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do—you’re still going to be saved. You don’t have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing. What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church—keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” Jan 10, 1982, University of Utah Institute).
“I certainly make no pretense of being perfect, nor do any of my brethren. There was only one perfect man who ever walked the earth. The Lord has used imperfect people in the process of building His perfect society. If some of them occasionally stumble, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Optimism in the face of opposition,” Los Angeles Institute student fireside, Feb. 10, 1990).
“Our perfect Father does not expect us to be perfect children yet. He had only one such Child. Meanwhile, therefore, sometimes with smudges on our cheeks, dirt on our hands, and shoes untied, stammeringly but smilingly we present God with a dandelion–as if it were an orchid or a rose! If for now the dandelion is the best we have to offer, He receives it, knowing what we may later place on the altar. It is good to remember how young we are spiritually.” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye May Believe, p. 100).
“We all occupy diversified stations in the world, and in the kingdom of God. Those who do right, and seek the glory of the Father in heaven, whether their knowledge be little or much, or whether they can do little or much, if they do the very best they know how, they are perfect… To be as perfect as we possibly can, according to our knowledge, is to be just as perfect as our Father in heaven is. He cannot be any more perfect than He knows how, any more than we. When we are doing as well as we know how in the sphere and station which we occupy here, we are justified in the justice, righteousness, mercy, and judgment that go before the Lord of heaven and earth. We are as justified as the angels who are before the throne of God.” (President Brigham Young, Deseret News Weekly, 31 Aug. 1854, p. 37).
“You know, I believe that the Lord will help us. I believe if we go to him, he will give us wisdom, if we are living righteously. I believe he will answer our prayers. I believe that our Heavenly Father wants to save every one of his children. I do not think he intends to shut any of us off because of some slight transgression, some slight failure to observe some rule or regulation. There are the great elementals that we must observe, but he is not going to be captious about the lesser things.
I believe that his juridical concept of his dealings with his children could be expressed in this way: I believe that in his justice and mercy, he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose” (President J. Reuben Clark, Conference Report, 3 Oct. 1953, p. 83-84).
“My brothers and sisters, our time here is so precious and so short. How well I understand the prophet Jacob when he said, “Our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream.” All too soon, our time is finished. While we can- while we have the time to complete our work- let us walk in the right direction, taking one step after another. That is easy enough. We don’t have to be perfect today. We don’t have to be better than someone else. All we have to do is to be the very best we can” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Ensign, Nov. 2001).