Gospel Doctrine Lesson 23 covers chapters 8-12 in Alma in the Book of Mormon. In that section the statement is made that the Son of God cannot save people in their sins. (Alma 11:34 -37) The teacher’s guide explores this with the following question and answer.
“What is the difference between the false idea of being saved in our sins and the truth that we can be saved from our sins? (If we are unrepentant and remain in a state of sin, we cannot be saved. If we repent, Jesus Christ can save us from our sins.)”
At first glance, that answer looks pretty good. The manual, True to the Faith, gives a little more thorough explanation. “Note that you cannot be saved in your sins; you cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring your belief in Christ with the understanding that you will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of your life (see Alma 11:36-37).” (p 151f) Whoa. So if it is wrong for me to have the understanding that I will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of my life, doesn’t that mean that I should have the understanding that, at some point in my life, I will no longer sin?
That is strengthened by how True to the Faith continues. “Through the grace of God, you can be saved from your sins (see Helaman 5:10-11). To receive this blessing, you must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, strive to keep the commandments, forsake sin, and renew your repentance and cleansing through the ordinance of the sacrament.” Note that one of the qualifications listed is that of forsaking sin. Forsaking sin is also one of the elements consistently listed as part of repentance. That brings us full circle back to the answer in the teacher’s guide. Part of repenting, according to Mormonism, is forsaking sin.
Many LDS members have told me that forsaking sin doesn’t mean that won’t commit sin again. But that explanation doesn’t do justice to the work, “forsake”. My dictionary defines forsake in this way: “to give up, renounce. To quit or leave entirely SYN – abandon.” Or think of the marriage vow of forsaking all others. What are we telling our spouse if we water down the meaning of forsake? I come back to what is written in True to the Faith. Mormonism teaches that to be saved people need to forsake sin – that people, to be saved, cannot have the expectation that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives.
I thank God that this is not how the Bible describes salvation. Salvation, in the Bible, is all about what Jesus has done for me – not about what I have to do. Yes, it does tell me to bring forth fruits of repentance. But fruits are the result, not the essence of repentance. Repentance itself is a change of mind. It’s the abandoning not of sin, but of trust in anything I do and replacing that with trust in what Jesus has done for me. That change of mind motivates me, out of gratitude, to try and lead a life pleasing to God. But even then it doesn’t say or even give the impression that I will be able to do this perfectly. Rather, as it shows me how deeply sin has infected me, it gives me the understanding that yes, I will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of my life. But that doesn’t disqualify me from salvation – because my salvation doesn’t depend on what I do. Contrary to the message of the Book of Mormon, I thank God that he has saved me in my sins!