(I’m repeating this post from over a year ago because some LDS members remarked that it helped them understand our position on faith and works.)
A topic that frustrates both Christians and Mormons is the topic of faith and works. It usually creates much more heat than light. Therefore I would like to approach this somewhat differently in an attempt, at the very least, to clarify some of the issues involved. I would like to address the question in the title. What qualifies people to live with Heavenly Father for all eternity?
I worded it that way because I have found that the phrase “living with Heavenly Father” is the best way to get Mormons and Christians thinking about somewhat the same thing. When Christians hear that phrase, most think of going to heaven. When Mormons hear that phrase, most think of going to the celestial kingdom.
In this post, all I want to do is to try and express, as clearly, as I can, what I believe the Bible says qualifies people to live with Heavenly Father eternally. The answer to that is quite simple. The only thing that qualifies people is the vicarious work of Jesus –which the Bible breaks into two parts. The first part is the perfect life he led, not just as our Example, but as our Substitute. (1 Corinthians 1:30 and all the passages that talk about the righteousness we have in Christ.) The second part is his sacrificial death which satisfied divine justice by paying the debt of sin. In other words, Jesus not only supplied the payment for all sin with his death; he also supplied righteousness and perfection for us through his perfect law-keeping. His complete payment and his perfect law-keeping are what qualify people to live with Heavenly Father. Sinlessness and perfection is what Heavenly Father is looking for. No more – no less.
Yes, faith is essential but not because it is an additional qualification. Rather it is the way that Christ’s work is credited to individual persons. Faith is one of those words that cause great confusion between Mormons and Christians. For my Mormon readers, I would like to clarify what Christians mean when they talk about faith. Faith is not just head knowledge. It is trust. Conversion, in Christianity, is abandoning the trust that your works and efforts in any way qualify you to stand before God and replacing that with trust that Jesus’ works are the only thing that qualifies you to stand before God. When it comes to living eternally with Heavenly Father, it is not even believing that God exists, or so much believing in his Word, but it is trusting in Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death for us. To a Christian, faith, in the context of living eternally with Heavenly Father, is very specific.
Yes, faith is without works is dead. But again the works that follow faith are not additional qualifications for living eternally with Heavenly Father. When people are converted, they cross over from spiritual death to spiritual life. They become new creations. They are filled with life and thus naturally want to do good works. That is why the Bible often calls them fruits of faith. They come after faith and are the visible proofs and evidence that people have living faith.
Christians are very careful to keep works in their proper place. They abhor any thought that their works in any way qualify them to live with Heavenly Father. That idea, to many Christians, dishonors Christ tremendously. Not only that. Since the Bible says grace and works don’t mix as causes of being accepted by God (Romans 11:6), Christians say any mention of works in the discussion of how people qualify for living eternally with Heavenly Father actually disqualifies a person to live eternally with Heavenly Father.
Finally, yes, people have to endure in the faith. It’s who people are trusting in that counts. If people quit trusting in Jesus works, then they won’t be able to live eternally with Heavenly Father. But again that is not an additional qualification. If a fireman rescues me from a burning house and I stay on the sidewalk in safety rather than running back into the burning house, I wouldn’t say that I did something to be saved. What an insult that would be to the fireman who risked his life to save me.
I pray that in some small way this helps Mormons better understand Christians and also helps them understand why many Christians become greatly agitated at any thought that we have to do something to qualify to live eternally with Heavenly Father.