Archive for April, 2012

25
Apr
12

What a difference a “not” makes!

One of my favorite Bible passages is Romans 4:5.  “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”  The whole context is brimming over with comforting statements reassuring us that God forgives us through faith.  For example, the very next verse says, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.”  It is obvious that righteousness without works is Paul’s theme in this section.

But that is not how Joseph Smith translated it.  His translation, also called the Inspired Version by theLDSChurch, translates verse 5 this way.  “But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”  Besides having no basis for such a translation, it violates Paul’s line of thought.  In the very next chapter, for example, Paul speaks in a similar way about justifying the ungodly when he writes: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”  (Romans 5:6)

This is not the only time Joseph Smith did that either.  Another beautiful example of how quick God is to forgive us is seen when the prophet Nathan comes to King David to confront him about his adultery.  After he laid in on the line and also told David that there would be earthly consequences for his sin, we read:  “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD.  And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”  (2 Samuel 12:13)  It’s striking how quickly Nathan reassures David of forgiveness.

But not according to Joseph Smith.  He translated it, “hath not put away thy sin that thou shalt not die.”  Once again the little word “not” changes the sense completely.  It drains it of comfort for us.  It robs God of great glory.

A lot of Mormons today shy away from statements like the following what Spencer W. Kimball wrote in his classic book, The Miracle of Forgiveness.  “It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when.  It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you.  That depends on your humility, your sincerity, your works, your attitudes.”  I don’t know why they shy away from such statements.  To me, such statements are accurately reflecting the way Joseph Smith translated the Bible.

The way Mormonism talks about forgiveness and the way the Bible speaks about it are totally opposite.  I rejoice along withSt. Paulthat God justifies the ungodly, that to the one who doesn’t work, his faith is credited as righteousness.

19
Apr
12

“No more deposition to do evil”

Lesson 16 of the Gospel Doctrine Class on the Book of Mormon covers Mosiah 4-6.  These chapters contain King Benjamin’s speech and the people’s reaction to it.  One thing they said was that the Spirit had worked a mighty change in their hearts with the result that “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually”. (Mosiah 5:2)

My dictionary defines disposition as “a prevailing tendency, mood, or inclination”.  Therefore this says they didn’t even have an inclination to do evil; rather they were inclined to do good continually.  I think we would all agree that sin is evil.  Jesus also talked about how sin begins in our heart and thoughts.  James talks about how our desires give birth to sin.  Therefore if someone claims to have no more disposition to do evil but only good continually, isn’t it reasonable to say that they are claiming that they are no longer sinning?

I, for one, can’t make the claim that I have no more disposition to do evil but only good continually.  I’m far from being inclined to only do good.  Before I even realize I’m doing it, I think something bad about the person who doesn’t go when the light turns green because they are chatting on their cell phone. When someone cuts in line, my jaw immediately clenches as I bit my tongue trying not to say what I’m thinking.  Honestly, there is no way that I could claim for even one hour that I had no disposition for evil.

Therefore I was interested in seeing how the teacher’s guide would handle this verse.  In this regard, it asks a couple of interesting questions.  First it asks:  “how might our lives and relationships be affected if we ‘had no more disposition to do evil’?  I could maybe see that being a hypothetical question.  But reading on it’s apparent that it’s not hypothetical.  Because then it asks, “Once we have experienced a ‘might change in our hearts (Mosiah 5:2), what challenges do we face in maintaining this change?  How can we meet these challenges?”  There it talks about actually experiencing that mighty change.  This is pictured as an attainable goal! I can only assume by that that there are members of the LDS Church who right now claim that they have no more disposition to do evil but to good continually.

Until the day I die I will sin.  Until the day I die I will have dispositions to do evil.  That doesn’t make me happy.  But that is a fact of life.  It’s a fact that no matter how hard I try not to, I will still sin.  But it’s also a fact that I am not worried in the slightest that, because of this, I won’t live forever with heavenly Father.  I’m not worried about that because Jesus’ blood cleanses me completely.  I’m not worried about that because I am saved fully, completely, entirely based on what Jesus has done for us.  Because of Jesus, even though I am still in a sinful state, before God I have the status of a saint.  And that is all that counts!

 

18
Apr
12

GUILTY

That has to be one of the most earth-shattering words that could ever be directed at a person – especially when it is spoken by a judge.  We can almost see the defendant slump down as his or her family break out in tears.  This is magnified all the more when the guilty verdict results in the death penalty.

“Guilty” is the verdict that rang down on all of mankind from no less a judge than God himself.  “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  (James 2:10)  As the footnote in the LDS edition of the Bible correctly states, “offend” means to stumble or err.  The breaking of the law in consideration is not an intentional, but an unintentional one.  It is a stumble, a mistake.  But that makes no difference.  The verdict is just as devastating.  Guilty!  “Guilty of all”.  You stumble at just one point – you break it all.  God’s commandments are a unified whole.  It only takes one pinprick to burst a balloon.  It only takes one sin to break the whole law.

And it doesn’t make any difference how much good a person did before or after – the verdict “guilty” remains.  He could have been the model citizen before and the model prisoner afterwards but he remains guilty.

But what makes matters even more sobering is the realization that James is talking hypothetically.  There has been no person who just erred once.  Reality is that we stumble and err regularly.  There are so many good things we fail to do – so many sinful thoughts, words, and actions that we end up doing.  No matter how hard we try, all we can do is dig ourselves into a deeper hole. This contrast: “offend in one point – guilty of all” makes for an airtight case.  If a person’s obedience isn’t perfect – if there is just one slip – he is guilty – guilty of all.

That’s why I am so thankful that Jesus took all my guilt and became guilty in my place – and served my sentence.  That is why I am so thankful that Jesus was perfectly obedient and God credited that perfect obedience to me.  That is why, when I think of living eternally with heavenly Father the only work that I base that on is his work for me.  “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

13
Apr
12

Natural Man

Lesson 15 in the Gospel Doctrine’s curriculum looks at Mosiah 1-3 in the Book of Mormon.  Mosiah 3:19 talks about the natural man and how it is an enemy of God.  The teacher’s guide has one quote from McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine explaining it.  Other than that, it’s difficult to find much written about it.  The LDS Bible Dictionary contains no entry on it.  I found no specific listing of it in either of Mormonism’s basic manuals: Gospel Principles or True to the Faith.  Neither has it often been raised in my discussions with LDS members.

The one thing that is obvious about Mormonism’s view of the natural man is that, in Mormonism, it doesn’t describe a thorough corruption.  For example, Mosiah 3:16 talks about how even if little children could sin, they couldn’t be saved without Christ’s atonement because “as in Adam, or by nature, they fall.”  So even though they fell, they don’t sin.  D&C 29:47 simply says: “Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they become accountable before me.”  According to D&C 68:27 they reach that at the age of eight.  Therefore Mormonism teaches that children don’t sin until the age of eight.  Just as an aside, spending one hour in any preschool will severely put that belief to the test!

But to the bigger point.  This teaching about children is just one illustration of Mormonism’s view that the natural man doesn’t describe a thorough corruption.  But thoroughly corrupt is how the Bible describes us by nature.  God said:  “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21).  What is so striking about that is that God said that after the Flood – when Noah and his family constituted the whole human race!  Even then God did not have an optimistic view of humanity.  Instead of talking about an innate right to choose between good and evil, he said that even a person’s inclination is evil.

Other scriptures support this. “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.  Every one of them is gone back; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”  (Psalm 53:2-3.)  That is all inclusive.  None were seeking God – all have become filthy – none does good.  Wouldn’t yielding to “the enticings of the Holy Spirit” which Mosiah 3 says is the way to put off the natural man be doing something good?

Mormonism and the Bible have differing views of humanity.  Because of their different starting points, they end up in different places.  Because of its more optimistic view of humanity, Mormonism talks about grace plus.  It says that “effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with Him” (True to the Faith, p. 77).  Because of its pessimistic view of man by nature, the Bible talks about grace alone based entirely on Jesus’ work for us.  “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”  (Ephesians 1:7).

I confess that by nature I was rotten through and through.  I confess that I was filthy in God’s sight.  I confess that I sinned against God a multitude of times before I was eight years old.  Therefore I am thankful that Jesus did everything for me.  I praise him for drowning my sins in the depths of the sea.  He completely covered me with his perfection.  I am saved by God’s grace alone.  Only because of what he did am I confident that I will spend eternity living with Heavenly Father.  To God be all the praise!

10
Apr
12

Temple Work for the Dead

Chapter 8 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith deals with Mormonism’s emphasis on doing temple work for the dead.  As this chapter points out, this isn’t restricted to baptisms for the dead, but includes all the ordinances that the living participate in.  There is so much that could be commented on but I will restrict my thoughts to three things.

First is the utter lack of biblical support for this.  In the entire chapter President Smith only cites one Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 15:19.  And that one is taken completely out of context!  Even a cursory reading of the context shows that it is talking about the resurrection and how we would have no hope in eternity if Christ had not been raised.  It is stressing the fact that Christ’s resurrection is the basis for our entire faith.  It is, as Paul says in Romans 4:25, the proof that Jesus had done everything for our being justified, acquitted, forgiven by God.

But President Smith applies it to eternal marriage!  He said:  “Grateful should we be for a knowledge of the eternity of the marriage covenant. If in this life only had we hope, we would indeed be of all men most miserable [see 1 Corinthians 15:19]. The assurance that our relationship here as parents and children, as husbands and wives will continue in heaven, and that this is but the beginning of a great and glorious kingdom that our Father has destined we shall inherit on the other side, fills us with hope and joy.”

The bottom line is that there is no biblical support for this practice.

The second point is his portrayal of how others view eternity.  He writes:  “If I were to think, as so many think, that now that my beloved wife and my beloved parents are gone, that they have passed out of my life forever and that I shall never see them again, it would deprive me of one of the greatest joys that I have in life: the contemplation of meeting them again, and receiving their welcome and their affection, and of thanking them from the depths of a grateful heart for all they have done for me.”

He doesn’t specifically say this is how Christians believe, but I have had numerous Mormons tell me that is what they think I believe.  Just to set the record straight.  The Bible teaches that we will be together forever with all our believing loved ones.  I expect not only to see them again but to live with them for all eternity.  The Bible does talk about an eternal family –God’s eternal family made up of all believers.  I will be spending eternity in this wonderful family – because Jesus did the necessary work for me.  Through Jesus’ perfect law-keeping for me; through his atoning death for all my sins, I and all my believing loved ones have been adopted into the greatest eternal family, heavenly Father’s family.  That is the family unit that will exist for all eternity.

Finally, I found the way he motivates members to do this work quite interesting.  More than once he talks about the blessings people forfeit by not doing this work.  For example he writes, “Our Heavenly Father told the people through Joseph Smith that, unless we performed the work for our dead, we would lose our own blessings, and we would be cut off.”   He then goes on to tell the story of two brothers: one who did temple work for the dead and the other one who didn’t.  The one who didn’t wasn’t received well in heaven.  He then asks: “What will be your reception when you go on the other side? Will you be the one they will reach out to and bless throughout the ages of eternity, or will you be like the brother who was selfishly working out his problems here and letting those who could not help themselves go on without his help?”

Does this mean that for some, being part of their eternal family won’t be pleasant?  Will it be like attending a family reunion where everybody shuns you?  That surely is the impression given.  That doesn’t sound like heaven to me.

But even more enlightening is again how, even here, the way that Mormonism motivates people to do work is by focusing on what they get out of it.  I went through the chapter again searching for any mention of doing this out of love for people.  But I couldn’t find that motivation mentioned.

How starkly different that is from how the Bible motivates believers.  There it is all about love.  Just this point alone illustrates again the great gap that exists between Mormonism and the Bible.  This again shows how they operate on two completely different wave lengths.

06
Apr
12

Being Forgiven

Lesson 14 of the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrines course covers four short books in the Book of Mormon, namely Enos, Jarom, Omni, and Words of Mormon.  I cannot ever remember hearing or seeing anything quoted from these books.  The teacher’s guide is devoted mainly to helping LDS members understand the supposed historical settings of these books.  It also states that these books “emphasize that the scriptures have been prepared and preserved for us.”

The one thing that did catch my eye in the teacher’s manual was the question, “How can we know our sins have been forgiven?”  This was asked in reference to Enos 1:5-6.  The answer is in the form of the following quote from President Harold B. Lee.

“If the time comes when you have done all that you can to repent of your sins … and have made amends and restitution to the best of your ability … , then you will want that confirming answer as to whether or not the Lord has accepted of you. In your soul-searching, if you seek for and you find that peace of conscience, by that token you may know that the Lord has accepted of your repentance” (Stand Ye in Holy Places [1974], 185).”

It’s interesting that he points them to their consciences as the place where they can know that they are forgiven.  As the Bible makes clear, even the consciences of believers are not always trustworthy.  For example in 1 Corinthians Paul talks about believers who consciences are weak.  They felt guilty when they had no need to.

A much better source of reassurance that we are forgiven is the Bible.  Especially pertinent this Easter Sunday is Romans 4:25.  There Paul talking about Jesus says, “Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.”  Many people don’t understand the significance of that last phrase.  The two “for”s in this verse could also be translated because.  He was delivered for, or because of our offenses; he was raised for or because of our justification. Justification is a legal term which describes an acquittal.  In other words, Jesus was raised on Easter because God had justified us, or acquitted us.  Just like a prisoner leaves a prison after serving his sentence, so also, Christ, after serving our sentence for sin, left the prison of the grave.  His resurrection then is dramatic proof that God had accepted his payment for our sin – that our debt to God had been forgiven!

That’s much more solid proof than any proof we can receive from our consciences.  It is my prayer that on this Easter weekend you see the full significance of Christ’s resurrection.  May you see that your debt has been paid for – that you are forgiven on the basis of what Jesus has done.  May you listen to the sure word of Scripture.  “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”  (Hebrews 10:17-18)

 

03
Apr
12

The Various Stages of Immortality

Chapter 7 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith is entitled “The Immortality of the Soul”.  Instead of focusing on one topic, I’m going to comment on three different things mentioned in that chapter.

First of all, it was somewhat surprising to see Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet (As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become) quoted in an official manual copyrighted in 2011.  There has been a trend over the last years for official Mormonism, and many Mormons, to distance themselves from that couplet – especially the part that says that God was once a man.  Fewer things more clearly demonstrate the wide divide between Mormonism and Christianity than their respective views of the origins of God.  Christianity sees him as always existing as God.  It never sees him being anything less than God.  On this most important point of who God is, there is nothing comparable between Mormonism and Christianity.

This chapter also talks about Mormonism’s belief in the pre-existence and the belief that their worthiness there “earned them the privilege of coming to this earth”.  “We believe that our very existence is a reward for our faithfulness before we came here.” (p.70)  What is implied is that many didn’t get that reward, namely Lucifer and 1/3 of the spirit children that followed him.  I bring that up because many times Mormonism talks about how wrong it is to teach that God will send many people to hell. For example, in the Feb. 2012 edition of the Ensign, one of Mormonism’s 12 Apostles, states in regard to what Christianity teaches about people going to hell: “One of the great distortions of the Apostasy was that it cast God the Father’s plan of salvation as overwhelming harsh.” (p.36)

But, as one of my colleagues pointed out to me, according to Mormonism, Heavenly Father banished no less than 1/3 of all his spirit children to outer darkness – after just one act of disobedience on their part!   Doesn’t that fit Mormonism’s own description of being “overwhelming harsh”?  Where was the mercy offered them?  How can Mormonism claim that Heavenly Father will only send a few to outer darkness?  After all, Mormonism says those 1/3 were his very own spirit children.

Another thing this chapter talks about is the purpose for being here on earth.  “We are here to prepare ourselves and develop ourselves and qualify ourselves to be worthy to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father.”  This, to me, is the deadliest statement of all.  For it directs people to themselves (note the three “ourselves’).  They are to prepare themselves.  They are to develop themselves.  They are to qualify themselves.  It’s all about them.

But it really is all about Jesus.  It’s all about him paying for all our sins.  It’s all about him keeping all the commandments perfectly for us.  It’s all about him doing everything for us.  It’s all about how he qualified me to be worthy to dwell in Heavenly Father’s presence.  That’s my reason for being on earth.  To trust and glorify him as my Savior – my Savior who did it all for me.  It’s not about us.  It’s all about Jesus.




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