15
Oct
12

Do We Have the Ability to Keep the Commandments?

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. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 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.

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10 Responses to “Do We Have the Ability to Keep the Commandments?”


  1. 1 Kent
    October 16, 2012 at 4:17 am

    “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.”

    But if we could somehow keep the commandments our whole lives, according to Mormons, we could never return to live with Heavenly Father if we drink coffee or have a glass of wine or a beer with our dinner.

    Remember, the Word of Wisdom are not God’s commandments that Paul is speaking about. Did Paul even know what the Word of Wisdom was? Doubtful that he did.

    Ironic that Joseph Smith and even Jesus Christ Himself did not keep the Word of Wisdom as it stands today.

  2. 2 RLO
    October 16, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    “ . . . 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 . . . ”

    In a sense, I understand what you are saying. That which blinds, is bad. But I also wonder. Do you really think it’s a bad thing if a works righteousness doctrine leads its members to despair?

    Even if a doctrine of works righteousness drives one of its adherents (Christian, or otherwise) to the point of despair in realizing they cannot keep the commandments, I can only rejoice in the fact that it has done so. For then, having taken their eyes off from themselves, are not these very souls more open to recognizing just who the real Gift-bearer is?

    We don’t proudly skip and jump up to the cross of Christ, our arms heaped with all the wonderfully wrapped presents of our good works. We meekly crawl up into its shadow, naked, and empty handed.

    Through whatever means, the sooner anyone is brought to this realization, the better.

    We are beggars . . . This is true.

  3. 3 markcares
    October 16, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    RLO:
    Good comment. But, unfortunately, many who are driven to despair, don’t turn to Jesus. I was thinking of the many who have and right now have given up. Some of the saddest conversations I have had were with people who were convinced that they were going to hell – and couldn’t believe that God could forgive them.

  4. 4 Echo
    October 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    RLO said: “Do you really think it’s a bad thing if a works righteousness doctrine leads its members to despair?”

    It’s a bad thing because in the LDS Church the law is held up as the way to gain eternal life. Mormons, after years and years of hearing that they have to earn forgiveness by their obedience, have difficulty now believing they have already been forgiven freely apart from their obedience. It’s just been so ingrained into them.

    The law should be held up, not to show us the way to gain eternal life, but to show us that we can’t gain eternal life through our obedience to the law (simply because we fail to keep the law every day). This empties us of trusting in ourselves, leading us to stop trusting in what we must do, and now opens us up to now trust in what Jesus has done for us. The law as the way to gain eternal life should be held up for only the self-righteous who think they are doing a pretty good job of keeping the law.

    Granted, a Mormon in despair now has a heart prepared to receive free and full forgiveness and the imputed righteousness of Christ (not the self-righteous Mormon), but the obstacle for those in despair is still the years and years of ingraining that forgiveness must be earned by obedience. Which we know isn’t the truth found in the Bible.

  5. 5 RLO
    October 19, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    Hi Echo;

    I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said as well. My only point is this:

    The obstacles someone in despair needs to overcome may be considerable. However they are nothing compared to the obstacles someone needs to overcome if they are comfortable in their own false doctrine.

    But if someone’s own false doctrine is the very instrument leading them to despair of their own works, well then I’m just saying, in an ironic sort of way, that’s a step in the right direction.

    So, “It’s a bad thing that in the LDS Church the law is held up as the way to gain eternal life.”

    Nevertheless, “It’s a good thing if and when that false doctrine leads someone to despair of their own works.”

    Because only then are they even capable of contemplating “grace” to be anything more than mere foolishness.

    RLO

  6. 6 Echo
    October 20, 2012 at 5:01 am

    RLO,

    “Nevertheless, “It’s a good thing if and when that false doctrine leads someone to despair of their own works.”

    It’s only a good thing when the despairing trust that in Jesus, all their sins have been forgiven and they no longer believe that forgiveness must be earned by their obedience.

  7. 7 RLO
    October 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Hi Echo;

    I believe we are in agreement. Being turned away from false doctrine is only one part of the equation. Being turned towards the true doctine is the other crucial part of the equation.

    Those who comfortably rely on the false doctrine of works-righteousness are incapable of truly and fully trusting in Jesus until they have experienced the despair of relying on their own works-righteousness.

    Despair is the valley that must be traversed between the foothill of works-righteousness and the mountain of grace.

  8. 8 Kent
    October 21, 2012 at 11:36 am

    But what about the Mormons who think that if they just try their best, that Jesus does the rest by giving them grace because they gave their best effort, who don’t worry that they can’t keep the commandments completely?

    It seems that is the emphasis with a lot of Mormons today so how can they be reached?

    My thinking on this is that we should remind them that if they are guilty of any violation of the law that they are guilty of the whole law. The passage below from James 2 shows that merely trying our best Is not good enough because everyone offends at one point actually throughout our lives.

    James 2:10

    10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

    Whoever says they don’t have sin is a liar, a sin in itself, and the truth is not in them.

    1 John 1:8

    8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

    IN closing:

    SAVED=ETERNAL LIFE!

    BY NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD OF JESUS!

  9. 9 Echo
    October 22, 2012 at 2:31 am

    “But what about the Mormons who think that if they just try their best, that Jesus does the rest by giving them grace because they gave their best effort, who don’t worry that they can’t keep the commandments completely?
    It seems that is the emphasis with a lot of Mormons today so how can they be reached?”

    http://www.lds.org says this: “In its fullness, the gospel includes all the doctrines, principles, laws, ordinances, and covenants necessary for us to be exalted in the celestial kingdom” http://www.lds.org/topics/gospel?lang=eng

    Since the BOM contains the “fullness” and “ALL the doctrines” of the Gospel that are necessary for exaltation, take them to the BOM….

    Alma 11:37 “ And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.”

    Doctrine and Covenants (point out to them the word “Doctrine”) confirms that perfection is required…

    DOCTRINE AND COVENANTS 25:15: “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.”

  10. 10 Kent
    October 22, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Echo, good point about pointing out the Doctrine part of their Doctrine and Covenants as even when we quote their Doctrine and Covenants they say what we are quoting isn’t their doctrine.

    SAVED=ETERNAL LIFE!

    BY NOTHING BUT THE BLOOD OF JESUS!


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