LDS author Alonzo L. Gaskill authored the 2008 book, Odds Are, You’re Going to be Exalted. On page 4 of that book Dr. Gaskill explains,
“…it is a fallacy to say that Jesus saves us, but then our works exalt us—an idea I have heard expressed not a few times by members of the Church. That too implies a self-sufficiency that is, at best, damning!”
I have also heard this idea expressed “not a few times” by Latter-day Saints. It is easy to see why some Mormons have understood this to be Church doctrine. Keeping in mind that in LDS thought there is a distinction between general salvation (resurrection or immortality) and individual salvation (eternal life or exaltation), consider how the LDS Church has presented these doctrines.
“Jesus Christ made the resurrection a reality, but each person determines what kind of reward he or she will receive” (Church News, week ending May 25, 1996, 14).
“…all will be resurrected because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God the Father. Depending on our individual obedience to the laws, ordinances, and commandments of God, each mortal can have the blessing of attaining eternal life; that is, returning to live in the presence of their Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, having eternal increase for all the eternities to come” (Apostle Robert D. Hales, “The Eternal Family,” Ensign, November 1996, 64).
“We declare without equivocation the fact of His great act of Atonement for all mankind. That act brought about assurance of universal resurrection and opened the way to exaltation in our Father’s kingdom” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Our Testimony to the World,” Ensign, May 1997, 83).
“Through His Atonement, the Savior made it possible for every person born into mortality to be resurrected. And to all who receive the ordinances and strive to keep the covenants of His gospel, the Lord promises exaltation in the celestial kingdom” (The Visiting Teacher, Ensign, January 1999, 70).
“Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection, we will all be resurrected. Jesus Christ is our Savior, for He saves us from physical death…This [spiritual] redemption is conditioned on our having faith in His Atonement, our repenting from our sins, our keeping the covenants we make with the Lord, our obeying all His commandments, and our enduring to the end. Obeying the sacred covenants and all the commandments qualifies us to receive the remission of our sins, allowing us to live clean and pure lives in the presence of God as resurrected and exalted beings” (Seventy Adhemar Damiani, “The Merciful Plan of the Great Creator,” Ensign, March 2004, 11-12. Emphasis mine).
“The Lord’s mission in mortality was to accomplish the Atonement, which is the gift of immortality to every individual who has ever lived. That is an incredible gift. Part of that mission was to make eternal life a possibility for anyone who would qualify for it. That is a gift conditioned upon obedience to the laws and temple ordinances and covenants” (Apostle Russell M. Nelson, “The Mission and Ministry of the Savior,” Ensign, June 2005, 19).
These LDS teachers may very well have meant that people need Jesus–in some capacity–in addition to their own individual works in order to gain exaltation. But Latter-day Saints who have thought otherwise should be excused; they have only followed the Church’s teachings to their logical conclusions.