I’m going to be traveling so I’m not planning on posting for about a week.
Archive for January, 2009
“Perfection is an ultimate goal that can be achieved, as we draw upon the power of Christ.” That is how chapter 8 of “The Life and Teachings of Jesus & his Apostles’ begins. A little later it quotes Joseph Smith who compared the climb to perfection like climbing a ladder. After talking about our climb to perfection in this life, he continues by saying, “But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”
That raises the question: How long is that great while that Joseph Smith said it would take? I have had one Mormon leader tell me that it would take him ten thousand eternities. Others I’m sure would give different answers. I would invite LDS members to give their answers.
Here’s my answer. Through Christ, I am already perfect in God’s sight. All my sins have been separated for me as far as the East is from the West. (Psalm 103;12) But not only that. All of Christ’s perfection has already been credited to my account. (Isaiah 61:10) Therefore, right now, God sees me as perfect. And then, the moment I die, I will be taken into his presence where I will no longer be confirmed in righteousness and no longer even be able to sin. I will live perfectly in a perfect heaven. There’s no “great while” for me. There’s “no great work” for me. All because of Jesus. That is what is really great!
Since some have been wondering what I believe about conversion, I am going to basically repeat a post I did in August. Hopefully this will explain what I believe the Bible teaches about conversion.
The argument is often made that the commands, “Believe” and the like automatically imply the ability to do what is commanded. If a person doesn’t naturally have the ability to do what is commanded, why give the command? The logic is that a command presupposes the ability of the person to obey it.
But that logic doesn’t always apply when God is added to the equation. Take Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead. In John 11:44 we hear Jesus crying out, “Lazarus, come forth.” It would be ridiculous to say that this command implies that Lazarus had the ability to obey it – that Lazarus was lying in the tomb and had a choice: do I come forth or don’t I come forth? No, Jesus’ command was a creative command – through that very command Jesus created life in Lazarus’ dead body.
This is common in miracles. When Jesus told the lame to walk or the blind to see, his command created within them the power to do what he commanded. Again it would be ridiculous to say that the lame or the blind had a choice to make: should I walk or shouldn’t I? Should I see or shouldn’t I see?
The Bible describes coming to faith also as a miracle worked by God. It is a spiritual resurrection: “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” Ephesians 2:5. It is also equated to God’s creation of light. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) Just like in the examples cited above, God’s commands of “Believe”, “Follow me” etc. are creative commands. That is why Paul wrote: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’” (Romans 1:16) Even when it comes to coming to faith, the Bible gives God all the credit.
Questions about being judged have been raised on occasion to some of my posts. How can we know if we are saved if we haven’t been judged yet?
The Bible talks about God’s judgment in two different ways. The majority of times it describes it, not with a future tense, but with a present tense. For example, Jesus said: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) Being condemned or not being condemned obviously is a result of a judgment. Especially note that these are presents, not futures. The judgment has already taken place – Jesus doesn’t say they will be condemned or not condemned.
That is also the case with the whole concept of justification. Justify was a legal term taken from the courtroom. It is equivalent to an announcement of an acquittal. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28) Is justified – not will be justified. Because they have already been formally acquitted in an act of judgment based entirely on what Jesus has done for them, believers can confidently know that they are going to live eternally with Heavenly Father.
But what about Judgment Day? The Bible does talk about a future day of judgment. How then does that mesh with those passages that talk about a present judgment? On Judgment Day God will make public his verdicts. It might not be the best analogy, but we have just witnessed the inauguration of our new President. But nobody was holding their breath on Inauguration Day wondering who our new President would be. No, that was decided weeks ago in November. Maybe a better analogy would be a person graduating. Graduates don’t first learn whether or not they are going to graduate on Graduation Day. No, that judgment had been made and told them earlier. It is just made public on Graduation Day. Likewise on Judgment Day God will make public his verdicts to all people.
As a believer I can’t wait for Judgment Day. Because of Jesus, not only do I have an airtight case but God has already announced his verdict. In Christ I am not condemned! Therefore I can’t wait to have “my day in court” on Judgment Day so that all will hear that verdict.
I have sometimes wondered what the Old Testament high priest was thinking when he woke up the morning of the Day of Atonement. He had to be excited seeing what a special day it was. It was the only day of the year that he could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple. And he was the only person who could enter it! One man – one day a year. It had to be one of the most highly restricted areas in the history of the world.
There was only one object in the Holy of Holies – the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark symbolized the presence of God. By so severely restricting access to the Holy of Holies God was teaching a valuable lesson – that sin had separated man from God. This was emphasized by the fact that anybody, including the high priest, who entered the Holy of Holies on any other day would die. Even on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest could enter, he had to do so by sprinkling blood before him. The blood “gained” him access.
Imagine being that high priest that morning. Excited, but probably also a little apprehensive. Especially when, according to tradition, a rope was tied around one of his legs to drag him out in the event he would die. I have to imagine he didn’t go very boldly through the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place.
The writer to the Hebrews had that background in mind when he penned this most amazing section. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus. By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; (10:19-20). Now we have access to God! Now we can approach God confidently and boldly. All because of Jesus. His blood gained access for us. That is the significance of the veil of the temple tearing in two at the moment of his death. The Holy of Holies of God’s presence is no longer highly restricted.
Over the years, numerous Mormons have been puzzled and even taken aback by how confident I am that I am going to live with Heavenly Father forever. Some have questioned me about it – some have flat out told me I was dead wrong. Not that many identified with me. I would say that most felt that my confidence bordered on being naïve.
In contrast, many Christians identify with that confidence and exhibit that same confidence in Christ.
The contrast between the two is, for me, a striking evidence of the differences between Mormonism and Christianity.
One argument often used by Mormons against the biblical teaching of salvation by grace alone is the statement that faith itself is a work and thus, just that alone, proves that we are not saved by grace alone.
But the Bible clearly does not see it that way. It makes works and faith mutually exclusive. “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) That passage makes no sense if faith is a work. Although some try to qualify the works in this passage to say that “works” refers to a certain type of works like the works of the Old Testament, Paul doesn’t qualify it.
If that isn’t clear enough, there is Romans 11:6. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace, otherwise work is no more work.” If faith was a work then we are not saved by grace because works and grace don’t mix.
From the biblical perspective, faith is not a work. The work that saves us has all been done by Jesus. He paid the full price of our sins. He kept the law perfectly for us. Salvation is God’s gift to us. “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)
A premise underlying Mormonism is that all covenants are bi-lateral, namely, that both parties have to meet the conditions of the covenant. But that’s not true. The greatest covenant of all, the new covenant God has established, is unilateral. This is something that the book of Hebrews brings out wonderfully in chapters 8-10.
The writer of Hebrews begins by talking about the old covenant. What is striking is how he describes its defect. “For if the first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them. . .” (Hebrews 10:7-8) Notice the “them”. God didn’t find fault with the covenant, but with the people. The problem was that they didn’t keep the covenant.
He then proceeds to describe the new covenant by quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34. What is so striking is that the entire description of the new covenant deals with what God will do. There are no conditions, no ifs. It’s all about God’s activity. It is a unilateral covenant.
This was something that God had already emphasized to Abraham hundreds of years before. Genesis 15 records what, to us, is quite a strange scene. But it wasn’t strange to Abraham. The Hebrew idiom for “making a covenant” is literally to cut a covenant. That phrase reflected the custom of the day. When a covenant was agreed upon, an animal was killed, cut in two and the two parties passed through it. That was equivalent to our going to a notary public. But in Genesis 15, only God, symbolized by the burning lamp, passed through. In this striking way, God emphasized to Abraham the unilateral nature of the covenant.
The writer to the Hebrews also emphasizes this unilateral nature. He does that especially in 9: 15-17 where he compares the new covenant to a person’s last will and testament. (In the Greek, the same word is translated first as covenant and then as testament.) A last will and testament is primarily a unilateral covenant. Sometimes people don’t even learn that they are in a person’s will until it is put into effect.
God’s covenant of the gospel is wonderfully one-sided. The writer to the Hebrews ends his discussion about it by returning to the quote from Jeremiah. “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord. I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now were remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:16-18) No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Nothing but pure grace.