Archive for the 'grace' Category

14
Nov
13

Perfect or Becoming Perfect?

Over the years, one of the Bible passages I have repeatedly returned to is Matthew 5:48.  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  I have talked about it so much because Mormonism talks about it so much.  We see it again in one of the first talks given in the recent General Conference.  Elder Ulisses Soares cites it in his talk entitled, “Be Meek and Lowly of Heart.” After quoting it, he continues by saying, “If we ‘come unto Christ, . . .deny (ourselves) of all ungodliness; .  . .and love God,’ then through Christ’s grace the day will come when we may be perfect in Him.”

First of all, note the conditions he cites for becoming perfect especially the condition of “denying ourselves of all ungodliness”.  It’s not just denying some ungodliness but all ungodliness. This must happen before Christ’s grace becomes active – note the “then”.  This agrees with one of the steps of LDS repentance, namely, the forsaking of sin.  In either case, whether you talk about denying all ungodliness or forsaking sin, an awful lot has to be done by the person.  It is like the Book of Mormon says:  “We know it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.”

Besides noting those conditions, note the uncertainty of when this happens. “The day will come when we may be perfect in Him.”  Again that depends mainly on the person.  A little bit later in his talk, Elder Soares quotes President Snow.  “It is our duty to try to be perfect. . .to improve each day, and look upon our course last week and do things better this week; do things better today than we did them yesterday.” According to Mormonism, you can’t know when you will be perfect.

In striking contrast is the message of the Bible.  “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”  Instead of talking about the day that will come sometime in the future, it talks about the day that has already come.  And instead of talking about conditions people have to fulfill, it talks about what Jesus has already done for us with his one offering.  Through the offering of Christ on the cross on that one day close to 2,000 years ago, believers are perfected.  It is a done deal.  Or as Jesus himself said, “It is finished”.

What the Bible says and what Mormonism teaches is in striking contrast.  Mormonism talks a lot about what people must do in order to be perfect and acceptable to God.  The Bible talks a lot about the fact that perfection and acceptance depends not partially, but entirely, on what Jesus did for us.  Mormonism speaks of eternal life as a reward.  The Bible describes it as God’s gift to us.

It is my prayer that LDS members simply read the Bible as a child would and see the great things God has done for them.  “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5).  To God be all the glory!

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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)

11
Jul
13

LDS Forgiveness

Recently when I was in Salt Lake City, I stopped by the LDS Church’s Distribution Center.  It has a bookstore where you can purchase all the latest church manuals and materials.  I was somewhat surprised to see a tract, first printed in 1984, still on sale.  It is entitled “Repentance Brings Forgiveness”.

The setting for the tract is a visit by a young couple to their bishop to confess having pre-marital sex.  After confessing their sin, they ask:  “Can we ever be forgiven?”  The bishop replies:  “Yes, the Lord and his church can forgive, but not easily.” The rest of the tract expands on the difficult and painful path to forgiveness.  Following are some excerpts that emphasize that point:

“When we say that the sexual sins are forgivable, this does not mean it is easy to gain forgiveness. Even though it is hard to gain forgiveness, it is something that must be done.”

“The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one.  True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.”

“It is unthinkable that God forgives sins which are serious after just a few prayers.  He is likely to wait until there has been a long, sustained repentance as shown by a willingness to live all his commandments.”

“The Lord, in his preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, gave us the fifth and one of the most difficult requirements to forgiveness.  He says, ‘For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with least degree of allowance.  Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.’ (D&C 1:31-32).  The repenting person must start on the never-ending task of keeping the commandments of the Lord.  Obviously this can hardly be done in a day, a week, a month, or a year, but must go on all one’s life.”

“Now the phrase ‘with all his heart’ is vital.  There can be no holding back.  If the sinner neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant.  The Lord knows, as does the individual, the degree of sorrowful repentance, and his forgiveness will be as great or as little as the person deserves.”

“James indicated that each good deed, each testimony, each missionary effort, each help given to others is like a blanket over one’s own sins, or like a deposit against an overdraft in the bank.”

I don’t know about you, but all I can say is “Wow”.  As this tract not only states, but also emphasizes over and over, LDS forgiveness does not come easily.

The Bible talks about forgiveness so differently!  Yes it also often connects forgiveness with repentance but biblical repentance is not this long painful process.  Rather it is changing our mindset (the Greek word for repentance literally means a change of mind).  It is the switching from trusting in our own goodness and works to be accepted by God to trusting in Jesus’ goodness and works as the basis for being accepted by God.  And when that happens, forgiveness comes instantaneously as David experienced.  “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.  And Nathan said unto David, The Lord hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13).  Instead of pain, that brings great joy as David said in Psalm 32:  “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Ps. 32:1)

It’s all about God’s grace and what Jesus has done for us.  “”In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”  “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity? (Micah 7:18)  It’s all about God’s pardoning us, not our works becoming “a blanket over one’s own sins”.   Not our works, but Jesus’ blood – that is what blankets our sins.  To Jesus be all praise and glory!

03
Jun
13

What did the Atonement do?

At the recent General Conference of the LDS Church, Elder Craig A. Cardon gave a talk entitled, “The Savior Wants to Forgive.” In it, more than once, he talked about “the enabling power of the Atonement”.  Especially enlightening was this comment:  “Rather, after all we can do, His compassion and grace are the means whereby ‘in process of time’ we overcome the world through the enabling power of the Atonement.  As we humbly seek this precious gift, ‘weak things become strong unto (us),’ and by His strength, we are made able to do that which we could never do alone” (Ensign, May 2013, p. 16).

As this comment illustrates, Mormonism teaches that one of the greatest benefits of the Atonement is the power it can instill in people.  This agrees with how it defines grace.  “The word grace, as used in the scriptures refers primarily to the divine help and strength we receive through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (True to the Faith, p. 77)  Therefore, as the above comment with its reference to 2 Nephi 25:23 (we are saved by grace after all we can do) makes clear, Mormonism teaches that, to be saved, a person must do all they can do, and then the Lord will give them more power (grace) “to do that which we could never do alone”.  The result is that even when Mormonism talks about grace, the focus is on what a person does.

The biblical message is so different. The most striking biblical picture of atonement is found in the Day of Atonement as it is recorded in Leviticus 16.  The emphasis there is not on people rendering obedience – it is on blood – the blood of animals sacrificed in place of the sinning people.  It’s that blood – not any obedience on the part of people – that atones for their sins.  St. Paul picks up on that picture in the New Testament’s only use of the word “atonement” in Romans 5.  In verse 9 he talks about how we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ.  How Jesus’ death reconciled us to God (v.10).  And then in v. 11 he continues by saying:  “And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”   We have joy because Jesus made complete atonement for all our sins.  We are now worthy and acceptable to God, not if we now do a lot of things, but because Jesus has already done everything for us.

We are saved not after all we can do, but because Jesus has done all things for us.  That, my friends, is the source of all true joy.

28
Feb
13

A LITTLE WORK – A LOT OF PRESSURE

Five seconds are left in the basketball game.  It’s not any game either – it’s the championship.  Your team is down by one point.  Your coach calls time out, looks down the bench to where you are sitting and motions you to check into the game.  As you pass him, he pulls you aside and tells you to take the last shot.  “We are counting on you.  It’s all up to you.”

Talk about pressure.  Especially if you have sat on the bench the entire game to that point.  Few people would enjoy being in that situation.  Few people would succeed in that situation.

But that is the position a lot of Mormons feel that they are in.  It is inaccurate to say that Mormonism teaches that people are saved by their works alone.  No, it talks about God’s grace.  But it doesn’t teach that people are saved by grace alone.  “However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient.”  (LDS Bible Dictionary)

Pause for a moment and think of the tremendous pressure that exerts on many Mormons.  Imagine trying to live under that.  Even if we think that we have to contribute only 1% to our salvation – that opens the door to a whole lot of worry.  It’s like the sub coming off the bench being told that he has to make only one basket, the winning basket.  But with one big difference.  The pressure Mormonism places on many of its adherents doesn’t last just for a few moments – it’s there for an entire lifetime.

How much better is the biblical message of Titus 3:4-7:  “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,  5Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;  7That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  There’s no work – and no pressure.  To God be all the glory.

05
Dec
12

What is a Christian?

One thing that is endlessly debated between Mormons and others is whether or not Mormons are Christians.  One of the points that non-Mormons need to understand is that Mormons sincerely believe that they are Christians and are sincerely astonished when people say they aren’t.  One of the things that Mormons need to understand is that it is totally illogical to non-Mormons for Mormons to claim, on the one hand, that they are Christians just like us, while, on the other hand, saying that the LDS Church is the only true church and that the creeds that most Christians subscribe to are abominations.  I, along with many non-Mormons say that you can’t have it both ways.

But because this is such a hot-button topic, I usually don’t like to get into a discussion of it – because rarely does such a discussion reap any positive benefits.  I prefer focusing not on what people call themselves but on what they believe – especially on what they believe a person needs to do to live with Heavenly Father for all eternity.  If that is the case, however, you might be wondering, if I don’t like to talk about that, why I am bringing it up now.

The reason is because of a talk given at the last General Conference by Elder Robert D. Hales, one of the 12 LDS apostles, entitled “Being a More Christian Christian.”  He begins this talk by citing the reasons why the LDS Church is Christian.  I usually don’t like posting longer quotes but this time I’m going to make an exception.  This is how his talk begins.

     “What does it mean to be a Christian?

     A Christian has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is the literal Son of God, sent by His Father to suffer for our sins in the supreme act of love we know as the Atonement.

     A Christian believes that through the grace of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, we can repent, forgive others, keep the commandments, and inherit eternal life.

     The word Christian denotes taking upon us the name of Christ. We do this by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by those holding His priesthood authority.

     A Christian knows that throughout the ages, God’s prophets have always testified of Jesus Christ. This same Jesus, accompanied by Heavenly Father, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the year 1820 and restored the gospel and the organization of His original Church.

     Through the scriptures and the witness of Joseph Smith, we know that God, our Heavenly Father, has a glorified and perfected body of flesh and bone. Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit whose work is to testify of the Father and the Son. The Godhead is three separate and distinct beings, unified in purpose.

     With these doctrines as the foundation of our faith, can there be any doubt or disputation that we, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are Christian?”

There are a lot of things worthy of being addressed in those paragraphs. One wonders again, using these words of an LDS apostle as a guideline, how Mormons can claim that they are Christians just like us.  I say that because there are many things he cites that Christians don’t believe.  For example, how can they consider me a Christian if I have not been baptized by somebody holding priesthood authority?  The same question applies to my not believing that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the church was restored, or that the Father has a body of flesh and bone, or that Jesus is the only begotten in the flesh, or that the Godhead is unified only in purpose and not in being.

But not only that. There is a whole lot here that also enables us to make the judgment that Mormons are not Christians.  The foundational doctrines that he lists are not the foundational doctrines of Christianity.  His words are clear proof that the LDS Church is not Christian.

In this regard, I want to focus specifically on the third paragraph where he talks about grace.  Instead of defining grace as a characteristic of God, namely, his unconditional, amazing love for us that moved him to save us by sacrificing his Son in our place, Mormonism sees it as power given to us – power that enables us to do the things Elder Hales mentions:  repent, forgive others, keep the commandments, inherit eternal life.  As True to the Faith says, “The word grace, as used in the scriptures, refers primarily to the divine help and strength we receive through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The difference between “given to you” and “done for you” is huge.  When you see grace as a power given to you, then the burden is on you to use that power to do the things that need to be done to become acceptable by God.  But when you see grace as God’s love for you moving him to work for you, causing him to sacrifice his Son for you, then the pressure is off.  Because then you know it has already been accomplished for you.

That is why Christmas is such a wonderful Season.  At Christmas Jesus came for us – to do it all for us. “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4: 4-5).  This Christmas honor God by boldly declaring and joyfully celebrating the wonderful truth that Jesus has done it all for you.  That is the Christian response to Christmas.

11
Jun
12

The True Gospel

Chapter 12 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith is the first of three chapters encouraging LDS members in their missionary activities.  As is stated, this chapter “focuses on the reasons we share the gospel”.

Although these words are not directly used in this chapter, the reason for sharing the gospel is the belief that the LDS Church is the only true church.  For example, Jose L. Alonso, one of its General Authority, stated at last October’s General Conference, “I bear witness that President Thomas S. Monson is Their prophet and that this is the only true Church upon the face of the earth.”  Chapter 12 reflects that by saying that the only persons who possess divine authority are in the LDS Church.

The other reason why Mormonism teaches it is important to do mission work is because it feels it is the only one that has the true gospel.  For example, President Smith states, in reference to pastors: “These good men, not understanding the gospel and the necessity for the ordinances of the same, confine their teachings very largely to moral lessons and to reading the psalms to their congregations. Isolated passages of scripture are chosen as texts for addresses on virtue, honesty, etc., all of which are helpful and uplifting, but few sermons are preached explaining the requirements made of every soul before we can enter the kingdom of heaven. It is this information of which the world is most in need. Few ministers have a message for their congregations that inspires in them the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and the necessity of partaking of the ordinances of the gospel prescribed by him.”  I find it interesting that he sees most sermons largely as moral lessons and not as pointing to the wonderful things Jesus has done for us.

But what is most important to see is how Mormons define gospel differently than the Bible does.  The gospel, according to the Bible, is simply the good news that Jesus, as our substitute, lived a perfect life for us, died a sacrificial death for us, and solely on the basis of that, God sees us as worthy and perfect in his sight.  But when the LDS Church talks about the fulness of the Gospel it means much more.  “In its fulness, the gospel includes all the doctrines, principles, laws, ordinances, and covenants necessary for us to be exalted in the celestial kingdom.” (True to the Faith, p. 76)  As that quote shows, included in the LDS gospel are many things that humans are to do.  That is emphasized in chapter 12 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith when he states:  “My understanding is that the most important mission that I have in this life is: first, to keep the commandments of God, as they have been taught to me; and next, to teach them to my Father’s children who do not understand them.”  Note how when he talks about his most important mission he mentions nothing about teaching what Jesus did for him.

Sometimes Mormons wonder why Christians react so adversely to the teachings of Mormonism. This is one example.  What Mormonism calls the fulness of the gospel I see as a terrible corruption and complete destruction of the true gospel.  The true gospel is from first to last about what Jesus has done for us.  Any mention of what I have to do in order to be accepted by God is not gospel, good news.  Instead of relieving me, such things burden me.  Instead of inspiring confidence, they introduce doubt as I wonder if I have done everything I need to do to be worthy.  But most importantly of all, they rob Jesus of the glory of doing everything for me.  “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6)  Being accepted by God through grace – that is the true gospel.  And praising God for it is the most important mission of all!




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