Archive for January, 2013


Is This Loving?

In the February edition of the Ensign, there is an article by one of the LDS apostles, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, entitled “Balancing Truth and Tolerance”.   This is a very pertinent topic since tolerance has become the main marching order for much of society.

One thing that struck me as I read his article was the following statement.  He’s talking about how we are to react to the sins of those people we know.  In that context he writes: “In this sensitive matter we should first consider whether – or the extent to which – we should communicate to our associates what we know to be true about their behavior.  In most cases this decision can depend on how directly we are personally affected by it.”

Then a paragraph later he expands on this.  “Cohabitation we know to be a serious sin, in which Latter-day Saints must not engage.  When practiced by those around us, it can be private behavior or something we are asked to condone, sponsor, or facilitate.  In the balance between truth and tolerance, tolerance can be dominant where the behavior does not involve us personally.  But if the cohabitation does involve us personally, we should be governed by our duty to truth.  For example, it is one thing to ignore serious sins when they are private; it is quite another thing to be asked to sponsor or implicitly endorse them, such as by housing them in our own homes.”

Do you see why I did a double-take when I read this?  Did you notice how self-centered that advice is?  Where is the love and concern for the persons committing the sin?  As Elder Oaks said in the first paragraph I quoted:  “In most cases this decision can depend on how directly we are personally affected by it.”   The most important thing to him is not speaking the truth to the other person.  The most important thing is that I’m not affected by it.

That’s not, however, the tack the prophet Nathan took with King David when David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.  Nathan was not personally affected by that sin, but he still denounced it to David – an act that brought David to repentance.  1 Thessalonians 5:14 contains the general command to “warn them that are unruly”.  Ephesians 5:11 simply says, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”  Throughout the Bible we see people not tolerating sin, even if it didn’t personally affect them, but exposing sin.

I realize that this is often difficult to do, one on one, with a person we know.  But that is the loving thing to do!  If we don’t do that, then they will see no need for a Savior.  But if they see their sin, as King David saw his when Nathan exposed it to him, we can joyfully tell them about Jesus and how he has already paid for that sin.  We can have the great honor of announcing to them that, on the basis of Jesus’ death, God forgives them for that and all sin.  And then we will have the joy, if they believe us, to see them turning their lives around, not out of fear of being rejected by God, but out of joy of being counted already worthy by him – through the bestowed worthiness of Jesus Christ.  That, my friends, is the loving thing to do.


Forsaking Sin

Chapter two of the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow deals with baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost.  The following paragraph occurs towards the end of this chapter.

     “To obtain religion that will save us in the presence of God, we must obtain the Holy Ghost, and in order to obtain the Holy Ghost, we must believe on the Lord Jesus, then repent of our sins, that is, forsake them, then go forward and be immersed in water for the remission of sins, then receive the laying on of hands.” (emphasis mine)

In Mormonism, as is clearly stated in this paragraph, repentance involves the forsaking of sins.  In fact, as President Snow says above, it is the very essence of LDS repentance as he makes forsaking sin synonymous with repentance. Another word that is often used in Mormonism to express this idea is abandonment.  Repentance means abandoning sin.

Forsaking and abandon are two very strong words.  Most marriage vows include the idea of forsaking all others.  We talk about abandoning ships when they are sinking. Even more serious is the idea of people abandoning their children.  Whatever the context is that they are used in, forsake or abandon carry the idea of permanency.  Woe to the spouse who interprets “forsaking all others” as doing that just most of the time.

That is also how repentance was explained to me a number of years ago by a member of the local stake presidency.  He told me that if he repented of a sin, but then committed that sin a couple of years later – his repetition of the sin revealed that he wasn’t truly repentant the first time and thus was not forgiven for either sin.

Recently, however, some LDS members have weakened the meaning of abandon and forsake by saying that if they repeat the sin they just have to repent again.  Whenever they say something like that I ask them how that jives both with official LDS teaching and the meaning of the words abandon and forsake.

I totally understand why they are weakening the meaning of these words.  Abandoning sin is an impossible standard for anybody to keep.  (Although I have had some LDS members tell me that they believe some LDS people have already achieved that.)

That is why the message of the Bible is so comforting.  The Bible clearly acknowledges our inability to rid ourselves of sin.  St. Paul’s confession:  “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19) is one I so identify with.  An honest evaluation of each day reveals many instances of sin on my part.  No matter how much I try, I can’t keep myself clean.

That in itself is not comforting.  But what is extremely comforting is the biblical message, that because we can’t do it, Jesus did it all for us.  He obeyed each and every commandment perfectly and he did that for us.  He paid the terrible price of each and every one of our sins.  He has washed all our sins away and has clothed us in his perfect righteousness.  The message that screams off the pages of Scripture is that it is not all about us – it’s all about Jesus.  And thank God for that.  Because of Jesus, I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that I will live forever with Heavenly Father.

Because of Jesus, you can have that same confidence.  Turn away from trusting in your works and turn to trusting in Jesus’ works for you.  That, my friends, is what true repentance is all about.


Mormonism: A Self-Centered Religion

It’s a beginning of another year.  That means that members of the LDS Church will be studying the teachings of another one of their presidents.  In 2013 the spotlight is on Lorenzo Snow, who served as president of the LDS Church for three years from 1898 to 1901.  They will devote time the second and third Sundays of each month to study a compilation of his teachings which has been assembled in a brand new manual.

This coming Sunday they will be looking at chapter one entitled “Learning by Faith”. Towards the beginning of that chapter, President Snow says:  “The whole idea of Mormonism is improvement—mentally, physically, morally and spiritually. No half-way education suffices for the Latter-day Saint.”  Does that sound like something Jesus would say? Does that sound like something you would read in the Bible?  No, both would say that the whole idea is about what Jesus has done for us, not about how we are to improve ourselves.

Immediately following that quote, is this one: “It is profitable to live long upon the earth and to gain the experience and knowledge incident thereto: for the Lord has told us that whatever intelligence we attain to in this life will rise with us in the resurrection, and the more knowledge and intelligence a person gains in this life the greater advantage he will have in the world to come [see D&C 130:18–19].””

Again note the emphasis on what the person does.  The more knowledge they gain now, the greater advantage they will have in the world to come.

Again the question begs to be asked.  Did Jesus ever talk that way?  Is such an idea found in the Bible?  On the contrary, Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12 said:   “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  The contrast is obvious:  now our knowledge is incomplete but in heaven it will be complete. And this statement applies to all believers.  In heaven, some will not have greater knowledge than others – because it doesn’t depend on our attainment but on God’s blessing.

These are just two examples of a major difference between Mormonism and the Bible.  Mormonism consistently centers people on themselves: on what they have to do, on what they have to attain, on what they have earned.  But the Bible puts God in the spotlight and centers on his works for us and his blessings to us – even in the face of our sinfulness and unworthiness.

As I begin a new year, I pray that I can concentrate even more on God and his incredible works for me – especially his absolute forgiveness of me because of Jesus’ complete sacrifice for me.  I pray that I think more and more of heaven and exude confidence that I will be there – not because of anything I have done but because Jesus has done everything for me.  And I pray that more and more LDS people see that and experience the great joy of being worthy before God clothed completely in Christ’s righteousness.


The Comfort of James 2

James chapter two is one of the more controversial chapters of the Bible especially when James writes in verse 24:  “Ye see then how by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone.”  That sure sounds like James is contradicting passages like Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul says we are saved by faith and not by works.

But, as always, the context in which James says this is vitally important.  Especially enlightening is verse 18:  “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”  These words spell out plainly that James is talking about, not how God recognizes who believes and who doesn’t, but how we recognize that it each other.  It’s talking about how we show, make apparent, our faith to other people.

In that context, works are important because, unlike God, we can’t see faith.  Faith resides in the heart and is invisible to humans.  All we can see are evidences of faith.  That’s the point of James’ illustration in verse 26:  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  Faith is like our spirits – it is invisible.  Just like we know the spirit is still in a body if the body shows signs of life, so also with faith.  Faith makes itself visible in works.

But what is so important to remember is that although faith always produces works and thus faith and works go together, they are two separate things.  It’s a matter of cause and effect. Spirit-worked faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for us is the cause of our salvation, while works are the result of our being saved.  Or to put it another way, faith is the root and works are the fruit. And it’s devastating to mix the two.  Paul brings this out in Romans 11:6:  “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”  Mixing works in with grace as a cause of salvation does nothing less than destroy salvation.

James is not contradicting that.  In fact, he is reinforcing that as seen in his citing Abraham as an example.  In verses 21-23 he mentions two incidents from Abraham’s life.  It is important to see that he does not mention them in chronological order.  He first talks about his sacrifice of Isaac – something that occurred decades after the event mentioned in verse 23.  In verse 23 he quotes Genesis 15:6 – the significant verse that tells us when God justified him (declared him righteous).  James is emphasizing that God had already declared Abraham righteous decades before his sacrifice of Isaac.  He didn’t wait until Abraham had done this work to declare him righteous.  No, he did that when Abraham believed.  Because God can see faith and because faith alone saves, God could do that.  But we can’t.  Therefore Abraham’s subsequent sacrifice of Isaac made his faith complete in the sense that now Abraham himself, his contemporaries, and even we today, have this wonderful evidence that he believed.  It’s like an apple making an apple tree complete, identifying the tree as an apple tree.  Now we too can justify Abraham because he showed us his faith by his works.

James agrees with the rest of the Bible.  God declares us righteous, he justifies us, on the basis of faith alone.  And that is so comforting.  My being worthy before God isn’t a team project with Jesus and me both contributing to it.  It’s not even Jesus doing most of the work and me doing a little bit.  It’s all about Jesus doing everything for me.  It’s about God giving me eternal life as a gift.  And that is so comforting.  Because now I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that I will spend eternity with Heavenly Father.  I know that because Jesus has already done everything for me.  All praise and glory be his!

January 2013

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