Mormonism teaches that keeping God’s commandments are vital to salvation. Joseph Smith said, “To get salvation, we must not only do some things, but everything which God has commanded.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church – Joseph Smith, p. 161) Members of the LDS church regularly point to all the commandments in the Bible as proof of this. They scoff at the idea that salvation is through faith alone. One of the men whom they look upon as a living prophet wrote: “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.” (Spencer W. Kimball)
There is no denying that the Bible is full of commands. The question is: what is the purpose of those commands? Did God give us commands so that by obeying them we could obtain salvation? This is a possibility the Bible discusses. “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” (Romans 10:5) The key word is “doeth”. The righteousness of the law is a righteousness obtained by doing, keeping, obeying.
But here comes the rub. According to the Bible, it’s all or nothing. It’s not trying your best – it’s not progressing – it’s doing everything all the time. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.” (James 2:10) And this is something the Bible says no one can do. So much so that all who are trying to do that are under God’s curse and not his blessing. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” (Galatians 3:10) Note that a person has to continue to do all things in the law if they don’t want to be under God’s curse. Stumbling at just one point, breaking one commandment, makes people guilty.
That was the point Jesus was making with the rich young man. Notice what the young man asks Jesus. “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16) He asks what he must do. That’s how Jesus answered him. “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (v. 21) In other words, Jesus says, if you want to base your eternal life on what you do, you need to do everything.
This highlights one of the main reasons why God gave us so many commandments – to convince us that we can’t keep them perfectly. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) God has given us the commandments so that we despair of trying to save ourselves through our own works. Commandments are not rungs on the ladder of salvation. It’s only when we realize the desperate straits we are in that we will quit trying to save ourselves and cling to our Savior, Jesus.
Yes, the Bible is full of commands. But the critical question is how the Bible uses them. Does it put them into the discussion of salvation? It does that only by saying that if you want to be saved by keeping the commandments, you have to keep them perfectly – you have to continue to do all of them. As soon as you break one, you are under God’s curse- a situation that was remedied only by Jesus. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)
Jesus has done it all. It is my prayer that more and more members of the LDS church see that and rely totally on what Jesus has done for them.