Archive for the 'agency' Category


Human Potential

    Here and elsewhere there is a lot of debate about the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity.  One thing causing these differences is that they often start in different places – they begin with different presuppositions.  When that happens, most of the time, you are going to end up in drastically different places. 

     One example of that is how each views the human race.  That in itself is a broad topic so I would like to narrow it down to human potential after Adam and Eve’s Fall into sin.  The Bible does not paint a very pretty picture.  Immediately after their Fall, the Bible describes Abel’s murder at the hands of his brother Cain.  Already in the sixth chapter of the Bible we hear this damming indictment of the human race:  “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  (Gen. 6:5) The phrases “every imagination” and “only evil continually” don’t leave any wiggle room.  That clearly states that man was totally depraved.

     Therefore God sent the Flood.  It would seem that we could breathe a sigh of relief because now mankind can start all over.  But not so fast.  Immediately after the Flood,  before Noah and his family did anything but sacrifice to God, we read:  “And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  (Gen. 6:21) Although the Flood changed the physical world it didn’t do anything to man’s heart.  Both before and after the Flood it is described as “evil”. 

     This theme carries throughout the rest of the Bible.  One of the more common descriptions of man’s spiritual condition is that of being spiritually dead.  Other descriptions include being spiritually blind and hostile to God.  Taking these passages at face value, the only potential that the Bible ascribes to man after the Flood is the potential to act on the evil that resides in his heart.  That is the force of “every imagination” and “only evil continually”.

     Mormonism, however, begins at a different point.  It teaches that man has a lot of good in them.  It stresses its doctrine of agency – everybody’s ability to choose the right.  (How is that reconciled with being spiritually dead and blind?)  In short, Mormonism has a much more positive view of mankind.  This fits well with American optimism but it doesn’t fit well with biblical teaching.

     As I said before, when you start at different places, you usually end up in different places.  So also here.  Because of its dim outlook on man’s potential, the Bible turns people away from thinking they contribute anything to their living with God for all eternity.  Salvation, according to the Bible, relies entirely on Jesus’ saving work.  “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans3:24-25)  According to the Bible, salvation, including living for all eternity in the Father’s mansion, is entirely God’s gift.

     This even includes conversion.  According to the Bible, man doesn’t need to be spiritually rehabilitated he needs to be spiritually resurrected.  That is why it speaks of conversion in terms of rebirth and creation.  That is why it talks about God enlightening the spiritually blind, reconciling to himself the spiritually hostile.  From first to last, in the context of salvation, the Bible has God doing the work.

     Because Mormonism teaches that man has much more potential, it naturally demands that people contribute to their living with heavenly Father.  Salvation, according to Mormonism, is a combination of God’s grace and man’s works.  Where people spend eternity is conditioned on their keeping the commandments.  All of this is a logical outgrowth of where it starts – of its presupposition that there remains a lot of good in people.

     You start in different places you are going to end up in different places.  Many of the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity exist because they start in different places when it comes to their view of man after the Fall.


Choose the Right


     A familiar Mormon expression is, “Choose the Right”.  Where I live, it is common to see the initials CTR (Choose the Right) on rings and other forms of jewelry.  This is a popular way of expressing Mormonism’s teaching of agency, that God has given the people the right and ability to make right choices.  The teaching of agency is one of the foundational teachings of Mormonism.  On it Mormonism builds its whole idea that man has the ability and thus the responsibility to participate in their salvation.  “Agency is essential to the plan of salvation.  Without it, you would not be able to learn or progress or follow the Savior.”  (True to the Faith, p.12)

     This teaching, like many of the teachings of Mormonism, not only has no biblical support, but goes contrary to biblical teaching.  In various ways the Bible describes the utter inability of natural man to do anything right – including making wise choices.   “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”  (Romans 3:11-12)  That’s pretty clear.  That doesn’t leave room for exceptions.  No one understands.  No one seeks God.  No one does good.  The premise that we have the ability to choose the right would imply that we understood what was right – that we would be seeking God.  By choosing the right we would have done good.  Talk about being on the opposite side of the issue!  Mormonism teaches the direct opposite of what the Bible teaches.

     Salvation is totally the work of God.  Jesus paid for all our sins.  Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the law for us.  The Holy Spirit creates faith in people’s heart to believe that good news.   There’s no agency – a word or concept that is not found in the Bible. 
Rather it is all about grace – a word and concept that fills the pages of the Bible.


The Miracle of Conversion


     In the discussion of agency, the argument is often made that the commands, “Believe” and the like automatically imply the ability to do what is commanded.  If a person doesn’t naturally have the ability to do what is commanded, why give the command?  The logic is that a command presupposes the ability of the person to obey it.

     But that logic doesn’t always apply when God is added to the equation.  Take Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead.  In John 11:44 we hear Jesus crying out, “Lazarus, come forth.”  It would be ridiculous to say that this command implies that Lazarus had the ability to obey it – that Lazarus was lying in the tomb and had a choice:  do I come forth or don’t I come forth?  No, Jesus’ command was a creative command – through that very command Jesus created life in Lazarus’ dead body.

     This is common in miracles.  When Jesus told the lame to walk or the blind to see, his command created within them the power to do what he commanded.  Again it would be ridiculous to say that the lame or the blind had a choice to make:  should I walk or shouldn’t I?  Should I see or shouldn’t I see?

      The Bible describes coming to faith also as a miracle worked by God.  It is a spiritual resurrection:  “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”  Ephesians 2:5.  It is also equated to God’s creation of light.  “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 4:6)  Just like in the examples cited above, God’s commands of “Believe”, “Follow me” etc. are creative commands.  That is why Paul wrote:  “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:  for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’” (Romans 1:16)  Even when it comes to coming to faith, the Bible gives God all the credit.


Does Everybody Have Agency?


     One of the many differences between what Mormonism teaches and what the Bible teaches is in the area of mankind’s natural condition.  A key LDS teaching is that of agency.  The “True to the Faith” manual states:  “Your Heavenly Father has given you agency, the ability to choose and to act for yourself.  Agency is essential in the plan of salvation.”  Boyd K Packer, an LDS apostle, wrote:  “It is critically important that you understand that you already know right from wrong, that you’re innately, inherently, and intuitively good.”

      The Bible, however, says that we were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1).  After the Flood, we hear God saying:  “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  (Genesis 8:21).  What is so striking about that is that God said that after he had destroyed all the wicked in the Flood.  But, as this verse shows, that didn’t change man’s basic nature.  It remained evil – a very strong word.  And note that he didn’t say some men would be that way – or sometimes men would be that way.  No, the imagination – their inclinations – are evil.  Period.

      Paul, quoting the Psalms, wrote:  “There is none righteous, no, not one:  There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they have together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”  (Romans 3:10-12)  Again note how absolutely Paul talks.  None, not one, none, none, all, none, not one.  That is all-encompassing.  And note what “the none” do or don’t do.  None are righteous – none are seeking after God – all have gone out of the way.

     In these and similar such verses, the Bible does not just not teach that all people have agency, it rules it out.

      Rather these verses give the reason why Jesus had to do everything so that we could live eternally with Heavenly Father.  He had to do everything because we, by nature, were spiritually dead.  We were so corrupted that even our imaginations were evil.  We were so blind that we weren’t even seeking God.  “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are ye saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

June 2023

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