Salvation is another of those context-specific words that requires defining every time you use it. For example, in the Old Testament ‘salvation’ is often used to mean deliverance from the Canaanites or Pharaoh’s army, or the Philistines.
The intent of the word is ‘rescue from some kind of harm or destruction,’ and when Mormons use it, salvation means both deliverance from the effects of Adam’s fall (mortality and death), and from the effects of our own sins (spiritual separation from God–including the influence of the Holy Ghost).
In our most recent general conference, an Apostle, Elder Russell M. Nelson said this:
To be saved—or to gain salvation—means to be saved from physical and spiritual death. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected and saved from physical death. People may also be saved from individual spiritual death through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, by their faith in Him, by living in obedience to the laws and ordinances of His gospel, and by serving Him.
Salvation and Exaltation, Russell M. Nelson
Note in his last sentence he emphasizes our role goes beyond faith in Christ. I see little difference between ‘having faith in Christ’ and ‘living in obedience to the laws and ordinances of His gospel, and serving Him,’ because my definition of faith (see Faith, below) includes such loyalty and devotion. (I believe Paul’s did, too).
I think Elder Nelson included these added elements for those who associate ‘faith’ with ‘belief,’ to be clear in his meaning. The ancient Apostle James did, too, when he said, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:17-18) Merely believing that Jesus Christ is the son of God is insufficient for salvation. The devils also believe, and tremble (see James 2:19).
Mormons also use another word, closely related to salvation: exaltation. This represents the highest potential we can reach (with God’s grace). It’s relationship to salvation is illustrated best through analogy:
We grow in two ways—removing negative weeds and cultivating positive flowers. The Savior’s grace blesses both parts—if we do our part. First and repeatedly we must uproot the weeds of sin and bad choices. It isn’t enough just to mow the weeds. Yank them out by the roots, repenting fully to satisfy the conditions of mercy. But being forgiven is only part of our growth. We are not just paying a debt. Our purpose is to become celestial beings. So once we’ve cleared our heartland, we must continually plant, weed, and nourish the seeds of divine qualities. And then as our sweat and discipline stretch us to meet His gifts, “the flow’rs of grace appear,” like hope and meekness. Even a tree of life can take root in this heart-garden, bearing fruit so sweet that it lightens all our burdens “through the joy of his Son.” And when the flower of charity blooms here, we will love others with the power of Christ’s own love.
Christ’s Atonement is at the very core of this plan. Without His dear, dear sacrifice, there would be no way home, no way to be together, no way to be like Him. He gave us all He had. Therefore, “how great is his joy,” when even one of us “gets it”—when we look up from the weed patch and turn our face to the Son.
The Atonement: All for All, Bruce C. Hafen