Chapter 18 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith, a chapter being studied this month throughout the LDS Church, is entitled, “Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line.” Its subtitle is: “The Lord has given us commandments so that we can resist evil and find happiness.” The major premise undergirding this whole chapter, a premise that is foundational to all of Mormonism, is the thought that people have the ability to keep the commandments. For example, one section is entitled, “Staying on the Lord’s side of the line requires strict obedience to the commandments.”
Can people strictly obey the commandments? The Bible answers that with an emphatic, “No!” Paul, for one, makes this point in a very striking way. He writes: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. 12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:7-12)
Note how Paul says that sin used the commandments, which are holy and good themselves, to work sin in us! We see that principle in action all the time. The young boy doesn’t even notice the cookie jar until we tell him not to take any cookies from it. Before you know it, we catch him with his hand in the cookie jar.
The problem is not with the commandments but with us. That is why Paul continues in Romans 7 to talk about his not being able to do the good he wants to do. That is why in the beginning of chapter 8 he says: “ For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). The very reason why Jesus had to come was because we couldn’t keep the commandments!
To be fair, Mormonism does mention Jesus’ atonement. But that is not what it emphasizes. Even when it talks about the atonement the emphasis is on keeping the commandments. For example, in the chapter on Atonement in Gospel Principles, Jesus, after paying our debt, turns around and tells us that we have to repay him! How? By keeping the commandments. “By because of Him, if we will keep His terms, which are to repent and keep His commandments, we may return to live with our Heavenly Father.” (p. 65)
This emphasis on keeping the commandments permeates chapter 18 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith. Not once is Jesus’ atonement mentioned. Not once is forgiveness mentioned. According to it, the only way to stay on the Lord’s side of the line is by keeping the commandments. Such an emphasis, which violates the biblical teaching that we don’t have the ability to keep the commandments, results in no good. It either blinds people to how pervasive sin truly is causing them to think that they are really keeping the commandments, or else it drives people to despair as they realize that they can’t keep the commandments.
To see the stark difference between Mormonism and biblical Christianity, think of what the emphasis would be if this chapter on staying on the Lord’s side of the line was written by a Bible believing Christian. It would revolve around how Jesus, through his shed blood, saved us and how the Holy Spirit, through creating faith in our hearts, put us on the Lord’s side of the line. It would then emphasize the importance of staying in the faith – the importance of always trusting that Jesus did everything for us – including keeping the commandments. Instead of putting the spotlight on us, it would put the spotlight on Jesus. That is what true churches of Jesus Christ do.