Archive for November, 2012


Eternal Life: Reward or Gift?

One of the things LDS members are studying and will continue to study for the next few months are the talks delivered at last October’s General Conference.  One of those talks, entitled “What Shall a Man Give in Exchange for His Soul?”, was given by Elder Robert C. Gay.  In it he made the following statement:

     “This is the exchange the Savior is asking of us: we are to give up all our sins, big or small, for the Father’s reward of eternal life. We are to forget self-justifying stories, excuses, rationalizations, defense mechanisms, procrastinations, appearances, personal pride, judgmental thoughts, and doing things our way. We are to separate ourselves from all worldliness and take upon us the image of God in our countenances.

     Brothers and sisters, remember that this charge is more than just not doing bad things. With an engaged enemy we must also act and not sit in “thoughtless stupor.” Taking upon the countenance of God means serving each other. There are sins of commission and sins of omission, and we are to rise above both.”

Note how he explicitly says that eternal life is a reward – a reward for a person overcoming both sins of commission and sins of omission.  In that he is accurately reflecting the teachings of Mormonism and its heavy emphasis on what people have to do.  In fact, his words easily could convince many that, in order to have eternal life, they would have to become sinless.

How different this is from what the Bible says!  It explicitly says that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  Whereas Mormonism continually and repeatedly focuses people on their work, the Bible continually and repeatedly focuses on Jesus’ work for us.  Eternal life is based entirely on what he did for us – his keeping the commandments perfectly as our Substitute and his bloody payment for each and every one of our sins.  Because eternal life is based entirely on what Jesus has already accomplished for us, God can now give it as his gift to us.

There’s a huge difference between a reward and a gift.   A reward puts the focus on the recipient and his or her accomplishments.  A gift puts the focus on the giver and his generosity and love.  A reward creates a lot stress for the recipient who has to struggle to earn it; who can easily worry wondering if they will do enough to earn it.  A gift creates gratitude in the heart of the recipient and the joy and confidence of knowing that they possess it – because it doesn’t depend on them but on the giver.  In short, a reward glorifies the recipient; a gift glorifies the giver.

I thank God daily that he doesn’t talk about eternal life as a reward but as his gift to me.  Thank you, Jesus, for earning it for me.  And may many more see this wonderful truth.



There are so many things to thank the Lord for!  His blessings truly deserve the description of “innumerable’. They cover every aspect of life – and every moment of life.  They are so plentiful that we often take them for granted.  But every breathe we take is a blessing from God.  Every morsel of food we eat (and we eat more than just morsels!) is a gift from God.  The good weather we experience, the periods of relaxation that we enjoy, the friends and families that mean so much to us – all are blessings from God.  Literally everything we have ultimately comes from our gracious Lord.

And there are so many blessings that we don’t even see: the accident that was averted; the illness that did not touch us; the danger that passed over us.  We are often like little children – going our way blissfully unaware of how the Lord, as our loving Father, is faithfully watching over us and keeping us safe.

But towering over all these blessings is his ultimate blessing, namely, being completely forgiven and totally accepted through Jesus.  This is how the book of Hebrews puts it:  “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.  Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews 10:14-20)

Just think of it!  The Lord not only forgives all our sins because of Jesus’ one sacrifice, he also forgets them.  He doesn’t ask us to pay him back.  He doesn’t remind us of them whenever we fail.  No, as the prophet Micah said, he drowns them in the depths of the sea.  They are gone!

On this Thanksgiving weekend, show God your thankfulness especially for this.  Show that thankfulness by never doubting your status with him.  See and say that you are worthy before him, not because of what you do, but because of what Jesus has done for you.  Show that thankfulness by giving Jesus every bit of credit for God accepting you.  Be thankful by being confident that you are going to live forever with Heavenly Father because of Jesus’ sacrifice and not because of any ordinances that you have done.

  Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.

He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103: 1-12)


Revelation through Feelings

The November issue of Ensign, the monthly magazine of the LDS Church, contains all the talks given at the recent General Conference.  Therefore it is an important issue and one that many members will study for the next six months.

One talk that caught my eye was by Elder Craig C. Christensen, of the Presidency of the Seventy.  It was about the Holy Ghost and how he “communicates to our spirits through feelings and impressions” (p. 13).  He talks about how his six-year old son received a strong feeling as they toured an LDS temple before it was dedicated and how he was experiencing the influence of the Holy Ghost.  The following quote from that article summarizes well his message.

“As inspired thoughts come into our minds, we know them to be true by the spiritual feelings that enter into our hearts. President Boyd K. Packer has taught: “The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. . . . While we speak of ‘listening’ to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, ‘I had a feeling . . .’” It is through these sacred feelings from the Holy Ghost that we come to know what God would have us do, for this, as stated in scripture, “is the spirit of revelation.” (p.14)

Revelation through feelings, as this talk illustrates, is an important component of Mormonism.  And it’s another thing in a long list that reveals the great difference between Mormonism and the Bible.  According to the Bible, it is the place of the Holy Ghost’s revelation.  It is the Spirit-filled word – it is the lamp which shows us our way – it is where Christ is revealed to us.  Mormons would agree with that (adding the caveat “as far as it is translated correctly).  The difference, however, is that the Bible claims to be the only source of revelation.  Isaiah 8:19-20 is just one example of that.  And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

On top of that, feelings can be so fickle – and wrong!  During my ministry, I can’t count how many times I talked with individuals who weren’t concerned that they were violating a direct command of God contained in the Bible because, “it felt right”.  Or “I prayed about it and God said it was OK.”  Just a couple of talks later in the Ensign, Elder Bowen talks about the guilty feelings that he still sometimes has 22 years later over the accidental death of his son.  He shares that, not because he wants to legitimize those feelings, but to say how they weren’t warranted. My point is: how come those feelings weren’t from the Holy Ghost revealing to him that he actually was guilty of doing something wrong?

Some of my LDS friends have sincerely said they feel sorry for me because I only have the Bible to rely on.  I understand where they are coming from.  But I don’t think they understand when I reply how thankful I am that I only have the Bible to rely on.  There God has told me everything I need to know for salvation and for living a life to his glory. There the Holy Spirit has revealed to me wonderful truths about God and his love for me.  There the Holy Spirit reassures me that I will live with Heavenly Father for all eternity solely because of what Jesus has done for me – even when I don’t feel like I’m going to.  Thank God that he has given us the sure rock of his holy Word on which to base our faith!


God is good – life can be hard

Yesterday I shared some of my thoughts on Genesis 20 and how good God is.  Today I would like to share a few thoughts on Genesis 21.  This chapter records the miraculous birth of Isaac – an event that Paul expands on in both Galatians and Romans.  But the thing that struck me as I read it this morning is how there is no escaping the fact that sin often makes life difficult.

Genesis 21 tells us how Sarah laughed in joy and faith at the birth of Isaac.  (Isaac means “he laughs” a name that God gave him because both Abraham and Sarah laughed when God first told them that they would have a son.)  But then in the very next paragraph we hear how Ismael didn’t laugh, he mocked Isaac.  In fact, Paul in Galatians 4 says Ishmael was persecuting Isaac.  This reminds me of the comment made by Luther that the devil is God’s ape.  He apes the ways of God but always with a vicious twist.  Here he causes Ishmael to viciously mimic Sarah’s laughter with mockery.  Sin turns the happy picture sour.

So much so that Sarah demands that Ishmael and his mother be banished. The Bible says this distressed Abraham.  It’s not hard to see why.  After all, Ismael was his only son until Isaac was born about 15 years later.  There is no doubt he loved him.  But he probably also thought if only he wouldn’t have gone down that sinful path and tried to have a son by Hagar none of this would be happening.  He realized that his own actions had brought a lot of this grief upon himself.

This illustrates a truth that is often bitter for us to accept.  And that is that even though God forgives us our sins, he still often makes us suffer some of the earthly consequences of it.  The person who stole turns to God and is forgiven.  But he still might have to serve jail time.  The believer stumbles and gossips about his friend.  He is forgiven but he might suffer a strained or even broken relationship.  God often makes us suffer the consequences of our sins – because he loves us.  He knows that, without suffering those consequences, we might continue in that sinful action.  As Hebrews 12 makes clear, discipline is a sign of God’s love for us.  But that doesn’t make it always easy to bear.  Because of sin, life can be hard.

It was hard for Abraham.  It was hard on Hagar and Ishmael – forcing them to flee. Later in the chapter we see Abimelech coming to make a treaty with Abraham.  After he was deceived by Abraham in chapter 20, he doesn’t trust him.  That had to feel like a knife in Abraham’s chest.  Sin has consequences.  Sin makes life hard.

But throughout, God remains faithful.  He reassures Abraham when he is distressed about sending away his son Ishmael.  He provides for Hagar and Ishmael when they flee and later on as Ishmael grows up.  He is our good shepherd watching over us sheep – sheep who often act dumb and sinfully.

I needed to be reminded of the reality that, because of sin, life can be hard at times.  I needed that reminder so I’m not surprised when that happens.  I needed that reminder so that I don’t entertain any notion that I can keep my life free of problems.  We live in a sinful world.  That means we will have problems.  The worst thing is to have the illusion that God will make all our problems go away. Talk about setting ourselves up for disappointment.

But I also needed the reminder that the Lord is always there for me – even when I don’t see that.  He continues to bless me in spite of my sins.  He continues to provide for me in spite of my ingratitude.  He continues to protect me in spite of my foolishness.  And most importantly of all, he continues to promise me that I will be spending eternity in his presence, as a member of his eternal family, because Jesus has covered every inch of me with his righteousness.  What a wonderful faithful Lord we have. To God be all glory!


God’s Unconditional Love

For my personal devotional time I have been taking a close look at Abraham’s life as it is recorded in Genesis.  Although the Bible calls him the father of believers and holds him up as an example of faith, the truly remarkable element running through his story is how God loved him so unconditionally.  This is seen right in the beginning of his story (Genesis 12:1-3) as God promises him tremendous blessing without once ever mentioning anything that Abraham had to do to merit those blessings.  God was going to bless him.  Period.

As I said, this runs throughout Abraham’s story.  This morning I spent time in Genesis 20.  This is a remarkable chapter for a number of different reasons but one reason is not because it is a shining example of Abraham’s faith!  On the contrary, here we see a glaring example of how sometimes Abraham was very weak in his faith.  There we see Abraham telling Sarah, his wife, to pass herself off as his sister because he was afraid that the Philistine king, Abimelech, would kill him if he knew that she was his wife.  If that wasn’t bad enough, this is not the first time Abraham had tried that.  He did the same thing years ago with Pharaoh. See Genesis 12.  But even though the Lord had stepped in and proven to Abraham that he would protect them, Abraham now does the same thing again!  Obviously, he didn’t learn from his previous sin.

But to make matters even worse, the incident recorded in chapter 20 happens shortly after the Lord had told both Abraham and Sarah that she would give birth to a son in the coming year – the son who would be the ancestor of the Savior.  Therefore, by allowing Abimelech to take Sarah as his wife, Abraham was actively putting this promise at great risk.  If there was any time Abraham should have been careful with Sarah, it should have been then!  It’s an understatement to say that Abraham doesn’t come off very well in this chapter.

But the Lord surely does.  Not only does he again get actively involved and protect both Abraham and Sarah, but he also continues to honor Abraham as a prophet!  He tells Abimelech that Abraham will pray for him and because of that, he will not die.  In this whole incident, the pagan Abimelech comes off better than Abraham, the father of believers.  But Abraham is the one who is still blessed by God.  This story becomes a wonderful illustration of how God often blesses his believing children in spite of themselves – how his blessings are often totally unconditioned on what we do.

What a comfort that is.  I hate to admit it, but I often find that I can identify more easily with Abraham when he shows weakness of faith than when he is strong in his faith.  It doesn’t take me too long to see instances in my own life where I repeated a sin –even after I learned how foolish it was to do that the first time. If always receiving a blessing from God depended on my worthiness, I would be far less blessed.  Thank God, therefore, that he loves us, not because we are always loveable, but just because he is love.  Thank God that he didn’t wait to save us until we were worthy of being saved.  Thank God that, “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)  Thank God that he doesn’t treat us as we deserve, but rather loves us even though we don’t deserve it.  Thank God that he loves unconditionally!


Little Children and Sin

In the October issue of the Ensign, the official magazine of the LDS Church, this statement is made:  “The Book of Mormon teaches us that ‘all little children are alive in Christ’ and are innocent.  They are not capable of committing sin and are not accountable, therefore they ‘need no repentance, neither baptism’ and come under no condemnation. (See Moroni 8:5-26.)” This is how the manual, True to the Faith, puts it:  “The Lord said, ‘They cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me’ (see D&C 29:46-47).  They are not to be baptized until they reach the age of accountability, which the Lord has revealed to be eight years of age (see D&C68:27, Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 17:11).” (p. 22)

That children up to the age of eight are not capable of sinning severely challenges what any parent of small children experiences on a daily basis.  Their selfish non-sharing of their toys isn’t sinful?  How about their temper tantrums?  How about their disobedience of their parents and teachers?  These are not sins?  Really?  Satan doesn’t tempt them to hit their sister or talk back to their mother?  Really?

But not only does this severely challenge what we see, this flatly contradicts what the Bible states.  Job, talking about birth, laments:  “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?  not one.” (Job 14:4) Paul writes that we “were by nature the children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).  Jesus said “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6).  In the Bible the word “flesh” often refers to our sinful nature.  From beginning to end the Bible talks about the sinfulness of all humanity – regardless of age.  “For all have sinned, and have come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Little children sin.  In this regard, they are no different from adults.  But thankfully Jesus also died for their sins.  And thankfully the Holy Spirit can create saving faith in their tiny hearts through the water and the Word just as he creates faith in the hearts of adults.  That’s important.  Because nowhere does the Bible talk about anybody being saved apart from faith in Jesus.  Also in this regard, they are no different from adults.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

For more on this see the article, Divine Potential?, on


November 2012

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