Archive for the 'conversion' Category

07
Aug
13

Crushing Expectations

The following quote is from a LDS manual for young people interested in going on a mission.  It is from a chapter about conversion.   It quotes President Marion G. Romney in saying:  “In one who is really wholly converted, desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died. And substituted therefore is a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.” (Missionary Preparation Student Manual, p. 85, my emphasis)  Note how he not only says those who are wholly converted won’t have any more desire to sin but he also continues by talking about how this will be seen in their actions – by a determination to keep the commandments.

According to that statement, St. Paul wasn’t wholly converted. He famously confessed, “For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. . .For the good that I would I do not:  but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:15,19) Over the years, Paul’s confession has given many believers great comfort.  It reassures them that becoming a believer doesn’t mean that they will be able to keep the commandments – no matter how strong their desire is to please God.  They won’t be able to also do the good that they want to do!   “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”  (Galatians 5:17)

That fact, however, doesn’t drive believers to despair.  Rather it drives them to Jesus.  That is why Paul concluded with the simple statement:  “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 7: 24-25)  Our inability to refrain from sinning is a vivid reminder that the only way we will be able to stand worthily before Heavenly Father is when we solely on Jesus’ perfection for us.  If we continue with an “and” – if we try to add any of our own righteousness we spoil and ruin the whole thing.  How many of us would buy a new car that has a scratch on it?  How many brides would buy a wedding gown with a spot on it?  When it comes to being worthy to enter his presence, God demands perfection:  no spots or blemishes.  Nothing less will do.

But sole reliance on Jesus is not what Mormonism teaches.  2 Nephi 25:23 says that we are saved by grace “after all we can do”.  This is how one LDS manual explains that:  “The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fulness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with Him.” (True to the Faith, p. 77)  Later on it states:  “Note that you cannot be saved in your sins; you cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring your belief in Christ with the understanding that you will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of your life (see Alma 11:36-37).  Through the grace of God, you can be saved from your sins (see Helaman 5:10-11).  To receive this blessing, you must exercise your faith in Jesus Christ, strive to keep the commandments, forsake sin, and renew your repentance and cleansing through the ordinance of the sacrament.’ (p. 152)

The Bible clearly shows that we will inevitably sin.  Mormonism flatly contradicts that.  And in doing so, it puts people under the crushing pressure of becoming worthy to be in Heavenly Father’s presence.  But not only that.  By stressing what people have to do, they are ruining the masterpiece of salvation by grace alone.  This will result in the Lord, not welcoming them into his presence, but driving them out of his presence.

It is my prayer that many more LDS people will see that and rely totally and completely on Jesus’ work for them.  It is also my prayer that many more Christians will lovingly but firmly share their truth with their LDS friends and family.  There is no more liberating truth than  By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10-14)

31
May
12

Conversion

Lesson 22 of the Gospel Doctrines Class covers Alma chapters 5-7 in the Book of Mormon. It emphasizes the “mighty change” of heart that Mormonism labels conversion.  The LDS manual, True to the Faith, points to Mosiah 5:2 to describe what that mighty change involves. “The Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”

It also refers to 4 Nephi 1,2,15-1: “the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. … And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people…And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God…There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”  As this quote emphasizes, LDS conversion involves more than no more having a disposition to do evil, but also entails the actual refraining from evil.

There are two other aspects of conversion, as defined by Mormonism, that can be emphasized.  One is that it is “a process, not an event” (True to the Faith, p. 41) and secondly, “you have primary responsibility for your own conversion” (p.43).  “Your capacity to experience a mighty change of heart will increase as you strive to follow the Savior’s perfect example.  Study the scriptures, pray in faith, keep the commandments, and seek the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.” (p.43)

Compare that to the most famous conversion described in the Bible.  It’s Paul’s conversion recorded in Acts 9.  Does it fit the criteria above?  Was Paul striving to be converted?  Did Paul have the primary responsibility for his own conversion?  Was he striving to follow the Savior’s perfect example?  The answer is no to all the above.  He was persecuting Christians.  The last thing he had in mind was to convert to Christianity!  How about after his conversion?  Did he refrain from all evil?  No.  He had a sharp contention with his co-worker, Barnabas (Acts 15:39).  He lamented how he could not do the good he wanted to do, but instead did evil (Romans 7).  He, an apostle, had not achieved what Mormonism lays out for its members.  Furthermore, Paul says his conversion is a pattern for others (1 Timothy 1:16).

This then serves as another in a long line illustrating how Mormonism defines terms differently than the Bible does.  In the Bible, conversion is an act of God as so aptly illustrated in Paul’s conversion.  He is the one who makes us spiritually alive when we were spiritually dead.  He is the one who spiritually enlightens us when we were spiritually blind.  And in the Bible, conversion is a turning away from trust in one’s own worthiness and works to trust in Jesus’ worthiness and works for you.  Converted people still sin. But they also know that they are forgiven instantaneously in Christ.  Instead of undergoing a long painful process of repentance to obtain forgiveness, converted people praise God and rejoice in the forgiveness that is already theirs in Christ.  Unlike how it is portrayed in Mormonism, conversion in the Bible doesn’t focus people on themselves and their efforts, but on the amazing love and effort of God.  Also when it comes to conversion the following applies.  “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

 

25
May
10

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.

30
Mar
10

REPENTANCE AND SUFFERING

   The April 2010 Ensign contains an article by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, one of the 12 apostles of the LDS Church.  It is entitled “The Atonement and Faith”. One emphasis he makes is that suffering is an important part of repentance.  Following is an excerpt from his article.

    “Does it also mean that a person who repents does not need to suffer at all because the entire punishment is borne by the Savior?  That cannot be the meaning because it would be inconsistent with the Savior’s other teachings.

    “What is meant by Alma 34:16 is that the person who repents does not need to suffer even as the Savior suffered for that sin.  Sinners who are repenting will experience some suffering, but because of their repentance and the Atonement they will not experience the full, exquisite extent of eternal torment the Savior suffered for those sins.

    “President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985), who gave such comprehensive teachings on repentance and forgiveness, said that personal sufferings is a very important part of repentance. ‘One has not begun to repent until he has suffered intensely for his sins. . .If a person hasn’t suffered,’ he said, ‘he hasn’t repented.’”

     I will be the first to admit that there is often sorrow connected to repentance.  Once our eyes are open to how repulsive sin is to God – especially the sin of thinking that we can contribute anything to our salvation – we naturally are sorrowful.  Once we see all the things that God considers sinful – sins of both omission and commission – sins residing in our thoughts and not just expressed in actions – we are sorrowful. 

     But then when we hear the wonderful news of the Atonement – that Jesus did suffer the full price for our sins – the overwhelming emotion is not sorrow but joy – the overwhelming experience is not one of suffering but of relief, of a huge burden lifted.  It is the joyous reaction of Zacchaeus recorded in Luke 19:1-10.  He repents and throws a huge party.  He repents and becomes a joyful philanthropist.   But, according to Spencer W. Kimball and the LDS Church, he wasn’t repentant.  I can just hear them sternly telling Zacchaeus: “One has not begun to repent until he has suffered intensely for his sins.”

     Thank the Lord that is not what Jesus told him.  “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

     This coming Friday the Christian church will again observe Christ’s death.  Yes, there will be a tone of somber sorrow as we again see the price Jesus had to pay for our sins.  But even more importantly there will be quiet joy as we again hear Jesus, “It is finished.”  With those words Jesus is reassuring me that he suffered for all my sins – that he alone suffered for them and therefore I don’t have to suffer for them.  That is why down through the centuries Christians have called this Friday, Good Friday.

15
Dec
09

Be Sure of Your Justification

 

    One of my favorite parables is the one Jesus told of the Pharisee and publican.  It is recorded in Luke 18:9-14. 

     “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

      Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

     And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

     I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

     Whenever I read or hear this parable, I become so reassured.  It cuts right to the chase.  Being justified – being declared not guilty by God – depends on nothing but God’s mercy.  The publican performed no works of penance or followed ant prescribed plan of repentance.  But he was immediately justified.

     I find that so reassuring because, no matter how hard I try, I can’t consistently do good.  Many are the days when I don’t carry through on my good intentions.  Then there are the days when my intentions aren’t even that good – when I really don’t even want to help others – when I think I need time for myself.  On and on it goes.  Everywhere I look I see mixed motives, uncompleted tasks, and half-hearted efforts.  It’s not a pretty picture.

     But then the brightness of God’s love shines through.  With these and so many other passages he reassures me that being right with him does not depend on what I do, but on his mercy.  On the mercy he put into action at Christmas by sending Jesus to be our Substitute – to life a perfect life in our stead – to die as payment for all our sins.

     Because of that I can rejoice even as I confess my sins.  Because of that I can be confident I will be living with Heavenly Father for all eternity in spite of all my failures.  Because of that life is so good!

23
Jan
09

The Miracle of Conversion

 

     Since some have been wondering what I believe about conversion, I am going to basically repeat a post I did in August.  Hopefully this will explain what I believe the Bible teaches about conversion.

     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.

17
Oct
08

Is Faith a Work?

 

     A couple of months ago (August 8th), I talked about the relationship of faith and works.  There I made the point that the Bible says good works are fruits of faith – that they result from faith.   Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone.  Some Mormons feel that this is a distinction without any meaning – that it doesn’t really matter if we see works as part of faith itself or as a result of faith.  To Christians, however, there is a huge difference between the two – the difference between works being part of the cause of salvation compared to them being the effect of salvation.  It’s important to keep clear the difference between causes and effects.

     Now, however, I want to address the question posed in the title of this post, namely, is faith itself a work?  More than once it has been stated by Mormons that just by our saying that we have to believe, we are saying that we have to do something to be saved.

     But that’s not what the Bible says.  It describes faith, not as something that we ourselves produce but rather something God creates within us.  For example, 1 Corinthians 12:3 says:  “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”  A little bit earlier in that same letter, Paul says, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  (1 Cor. 2: 14)  From the context, it is evident that the spiritual things Paul is talking about is nothing less than the fact that Jesus died for our sins.  Without the Holy Ghost we cannot know that – or believe that.

     Another way that the Bible shows that faith itself is not a work is by making works and faith mutually exclusive.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)  The rule of grammar is that the “it” refers back to the complete concept of “grace are ye saved through faith”.  Included in the gift of God is faith.  Salvation and faith is not of ourselves. 

     Or look at how Romans 11:6 makes grace and works exclusive of each other.  “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.”  If faith was a work then we are not saved by grace because works and grace don’t mix.

     Faith in Jesus’ saving work is not a work we must do in order to be saved.  Faith that Jesus saved us is something God creates in us.




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