This Sunday, in their Gospel Doctrines classes, Mormons around the world will be looking at 1 Nephi 8-11. This section from the Book of Mormon describes the vision of the tree of life. The Book of Mormon supplies identification for the various elements in the vision. I am going to concentrate on the fruit of the tree which, according to it, symbolizes eternal life.
The first point that needs to be made is that Mormonism defines eternal life differently than Christianity does. It equates it with exaltation. “Eternal life, or exaltation, is to inherit a place in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, where we will live in God’s presence and continue as families (see D&C 131:1-4). Like immortality, this gift is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, it requires our ‘obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel’ (Articles of Faith 1:3).” (True to the Faith, p. 52)
D&C 131:1-4 referenced in that quote says that celestial marriage (temple marriage for time and eternity) is essential for exaltation. The next section of D&C (132) is also pertinent because it describes exaltation as nothing less than becoming gods! In verse 19 it states: “they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things.” Then in verse 20 it says, “then shall they be gods” not once but twice.
In short, Mormonism defines eternal life as becoming a god. To obtain it requires “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel”. One such ordinance is celestial marriage that can only be performed in Mormon temples. Thus, according to Mormonism, many LDS members, not to mention non-members, will not have eternal life.
What does the Bible say? John wrote: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13) Note that he says “ye may know that ye have eternal life”. The tense is very important. It is a present tense, not a future (will have). They already had it!
They had it through believing. John is echoing the words of Jesus that he himself recorded. “That whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:15) Eternal life then is the present possession of believers. It’s the new spiritual life we now have with God through faith. And most importantly, it is not something that we obtain through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. It is God’s gift to us. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“Through Jesus Christ our Lord” – the key is not my obedience and my work, but Jesus’ obedience and his work. As my Substitute, he obeyed God perfectly. As my Substitute, he performed many wonderful works. He died – as my Substitute. He did it all – 100% – for me. Faith is nothing more, or less, than humbly acknowledging that and totally relying on that. And through faith we have the tremendous joy of having true eternal life – right now!