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The Really, Really Good News for Mormons

September 6, 2008

As I’ve been trying to study and understand the Mormon faith over the past several months, a theme has started to emerge in my life. I have been well aware over the years of a difference existing between Mormons and Christians related to grace and works, but unless you are actively engaging in discussions with Mormons, it can be easy to take for granted the glorious rest that we have in Christ. In contrast with the Mormon gospel that “we are saved by grace, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23), the Bible clearly teaches that justification is through faith alone.

“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:2-5).

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law, for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

“For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I can testify that my faith in the Jesus of the Bible has resulted in a change in my desires. Because of the transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit, I am motivated to live a life that pleases Him. My outward manifestations of “good works” are a result of true faith in the Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture who is co-eternal and co-equal with God the Father, and in the finished work that He has done for me. I am not striving to earn a “free gift” that cannot be earned. Heaven is not a reward I am working toward. It is a free gift God gives to those who cease from their own self-improvement efforts and place their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their justification and sanctification.

One of the great preachers and writers of the 1800’s, Andrew Murray, said this regarding the life of faith:

“the one daily and unceasing duty of the disciple is to believe, because believing is the one channel through which divine grace and strength flow out into the heart of man”

Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

I was blogging with an LDS blogger this week who came to an understanding of the Biblical doctrine of grace because of dialogues her husband was having online with evangelical Christians.

She said, “It still disturbs me that I had to learn this from sources outside the Church. In fact, when I compared my newfound understanding with everything I’d learned about salvation from my Mormon upbringing, I almost left the Church entirely. The works-centric vocabulary…the constant injunctions to “be worthy”…and that incomprehensible scripture in 2 Nephi that still gives me heartburn: “After all we can do…”

I told my new friend that it surprises me that she hasn’t left the church yet after finding the true gospel outside the church. It seems clear to me that if the Mormon church is not teaching the Biblical gospel then it’s “another gospel” that Paul warned about (Galatians 1:6-9).

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2008 2:12 pm

    In regards to 2Ne 25:23 “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”–

    I believe this scripture should be understood in the context of other scriptures in the Book of Mormon,

    Alma 24:10-11 uses the same phrase “all we could do” but it indicates a much different interpretation than Mormons-are-relying-on works–

    “and now behold, my brethren, since it has all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain”

    The verses immediately after the 2Ne 25:23 phrase also clarify the meaning–

    verse 25 “we are made alive in Christ because of our faith yet we keep the law because of the commandments”

    and then perhaps the most quoted verse in this passage, verse 26 “and we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”

    As a Mormon reading this post I agree with all the verses from the Bible illustrating the primacy of faith in our salvation, I would use the same verses to teach faith in my congregation, perhaps the only difference is that I would continue to quote the passages a little longer,

    Romans 5:1 Mormons would also include Romans 6:1 and beyond “what shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid…Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body…but yield yourselves unto God.”

    Ephesians 2, we would also extend into chapter 4 where Paul answer’s the “so what” question, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love..”

    In Galatians 2, Paul likewise goes on to answer the “so what” question which is a long list of calls to action (chapters 5&6), to obey the commandments, to love one another, to “not be weary in well doing”.

    So you are right that the Bible clearly teaches the relationship between faith and works, that we are saved by the grace of Christ, his free gift, and because we recognize and accept that gift we have a natural desire and covenant obligation to live according to his commandments and live according to righteousness. But it can just as easily be said that the Book of Mormon teaches the same relationship, the only difference was the length of the passage you chose to quote.

    I likewise think it is a shame if Mormons can grow up in the LDS Church and somehow come away with the belief that they must “earn” their salvation independent of Christ, that is not the teaching of the Church, it is not the doctrine taught in LDS scriptures, and it is fundamentally a false understanding.

  2. September 7, 2008 8:01 pm

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your comment. I was just throwing out one of the more common Book of Mormon verses used to illustrate why evangelicals see Mormonism as a works-centered gospel.

    Probably a better verse to illustrate the point would be Moroni 10:32:

    “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and IF ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”

    According to this verse, when is Christ’s grace sufficient for you? After you have denied yourself of all ungodliness, and after you love God with all our might and mind and strength. So, if you are not denying yourself of ALL ungodliness, is His grace sufficient for you?

    What about Alma 11:37?

    “And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.”

    According to this verse we cannot be saved in our sins. What is the Mormon remedy for sin? “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation” (D & C 11:9).

    What is the definition of repentance in Mormonism? – total abandonment of sin (D & C 58:42-43). This is one of the LDS scripture mastery verses:

    “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins — behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”

    So, according to this passage, a person has truly repented only when they have completely forsaken their sin. If they have not forsaken their sin, they have not truly repented and they cannot be saved in their sins (Alma 11:37) and Christ’s grace is not sufficient for them (Moroni 10:32).

    But, here is the good news according to the Mormon gospel:

    I Nephi 3:7 promises that

    “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

    So, according to this verse, it is entirely possible for a person to completely abandon their sin so that Christ’s grace can be applied to their account.

    Whew –

    That’s a relief.

    So, since you are a Mormon, are you perfect? Have you completely abandoned your sin? If you haven’t, the Book of Mormon says you cannot be saved in your sins and Christ’s grace is only sufficient for you after you have completely abandoned your sin.

    You said that you believe as I do that “we are saved by the grace of Christ, his free gift” and that you believe it is a shame if Mormons can grow up in the LDS church and “somehow come away with the belief that they must ‘earn’ their salvation independent of Christ, that is not the teaching of the Church, it is not the doctrine taught in LDS scriptures, and it is fundamentally a false understanding.”

    If it is true what you say that this is not the gospel taught by the LDS church, and they are teaching the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, then why are born-again, ex-mormons citing the church for teaching a false gospel and stating this as one of their main reasons for leaving the LDS church?

    Finally, your gospel appears to be at odds with LDS apostle Spencer Kimball who said “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pages 206-207)

    Or did I mis-understand your comment? Please clarify – what are you saying is required for salvation according to the Mormon gospel?

  3. September 8, 2008 6:35 pm

    David,
    As a member of the LDS church, what do you have to do to be exalted?

    1. Be baptized into the Mormon church
    2. Be confirmed a member and received the “gift of the Holy Ghost”
    3. If you are a male, receive the priesthood and use it righteously
    4. Go through the temple and receive your endowments
    5. Enter into a marriage covenant in the temple
    6. Endure to the end keeping all of the covenants you have made including giving all of your time and resources to the church.

    Perhaps I missed a few there but I think that is a pretty accurate list. Without doing any 1 of those things, you cannot enter into the highest part of the Celestial Kingdom which is equated to Heaven. Your “salvation” or the ability to be with God after this life is not just predicated on your faith in Christ. It is dependent on each and every one of the thing listed above. I was a Mormon for 29 years so I know what it is like to live that life and the promises you make in the temple and the blessings that are reliant on honoring those. If you do not keep them, which is a tall order, then you do not get in. How is that not “salvation through works”?

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