Archive for the 'grace' Category



13
Apr
12

Natural Man

Lesson 15 in the Gospel Doctrine’s curriculum looks at Mosiah 1-3 in the Book of Mormon.  Mosiah 3:19 talks about the natural man and how it is an enemy of God.  The teacher’s guide has one quote from McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine explaining it.  Other than that, it’s difficult to find much written about it.  The LDS Bible Dictionary contains no entry on it.  I found no specific listing of it in either of Mormonism’s basic manuals: Gospel Principles or True to the Faith.  Neither has it often been raised in my discussions with LDS members.

The one thing that is obvious about Mormonism’s view of the natural man is that, in Mormonism, it doesn’t describe a thorough corruption.  For example, Mosiah 3:16 talks about how even if little children could sin, they couldn’t be saved without Christ’s atonement because “as in Adam, or by nature, they fall.”  So even though they fell, they don’t sin.  D&C 29:47 simply says: “Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they become accountable before me.”  According to D&C 68:27 they reach that at the age of eight.  Therefore Mormonism teaches that children don’t sin until the age of eight.  Just as an aside, spending one hour in any preschool will severely put that belief to the test!

But to the bigger point.  This teaching about children is just one illustration of Mormonism’s view that the natural man doesn’t describe a thorough corruption.  But thoroughly corrupt is how the Bible describes us by nature.  God said:  “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21).  What is so striking about that is that God said that after the Flood – when Noah and his family constituted the whole human race!  Even then God did not have an optimistic view of humanity.  Instead of talking about an innate right to choose between good and evil, he said that even a person’s inclination is evil.

Other scriptures support this. “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.  Every one of them is gone back; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”  (Psalm 53:2-3.)  That is all inclusive.  None were seeking God – all have become filthy – none does good.  Wouldn’t yielding to “the enticings of the Holy Spirit” which Mosiah 3 says is the way to put off the natural man be doing something good?

Mormonism and the Bible have differing views of humanity.  Because of their different starting points, they end up in different places.  Because of its more optimistic view of humanity, Mormonism talks about grace plus.  It says that “effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with Him” (True to the Faith, p. 77).  Because of its pessimistic view of man by nature, the Bible talks about grace alone based entirely on Jesus’ work for us.  “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”  (Ephesians 1:7).

I confess that by nature I was rotten through and through.  I confess that I was filthy in God’s sight.  I confess that I sinned against God a multitude of times before I was eight years old.  Therefore I am thankful that Jesus did everything for me.  I praise him for drowning my sins in the depths of the sea.  He completely covered me with his perfection.  I am saved by God’s grace alone.  Only because of what he did am I confident that I will spend eternity living with Heavenly Father.  To God be all the praise!

24
Mar
12

Before and After Pictures

There were two sets of before and after pictures.  They were pictures of two people’s mouths – before and after dental work.  The before picture in the first set showed some crooked teeth and a few others with cavities.  The after picture naturally showed the same mouth but now with perfectly straight teeth and not a cavity in sight.  This set touted the work of one dentist.

The second set, touting the work of another dentist, showed a much more drastic change.  That before picture revealed a mouth with major problems.  As you looked at the picture, you wondered how the person could even close his mouth or eat anything.  The after picture amazingly resembled the after picture of the first set – perfectly aligned teeth with not a problem in sight.  It was obvious that a highly skilled dentist worked on it.

Obviously, I don’t want to talk about dentists.  I want to talk about how wonderfully God has worked on me.  And one way that I can emphasize his incredible work is by showing people my before picture.  The Bible paints it vividly.  I was a lawless rebel.  (1 John 3:4).  I was totally corrupt and evil. (Genesis 8:21) I was spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) always doing sin’s biding. (John 8:34)  I did no good; I was worthless (Romans3:10-12).  A viler picture could not be drawn. That was my picture – really, not figuratively.

But then the Lord worked on me.  He washed me and cleansed me (1 John 1:7).  He made me spiritually alive (Eph. 2 5).  He created a new heart within me (2 Cor.5:17).  He changed me from being a slave of sin to a slave of righteousness (Rom.6:17-18).  He adopted me into his family (Gal. 4:5).  He sanctified me and made me holy (Heb.10:10-14).  He did this all for me through Jesus Christ.

The tremendous contrast between my before and after pictures emphasizes the greatness of what God has done.  But when that contrast is lessened, when the before picture is of a basically good person who needs a little work, then God is robbed of his glory.  And robbing God of his glory is no small thing.

24
Jan
12

JOYFULLY PAYING OFF THE DEBT

One of the greatest feelings in the world is making your final house payment!  That calls for celebration!

But imagine the following scenario.  A couple has a large balloon payment tacked onto their mortgage.  For years they have been salting away extra money for it.  Finally the day arrives to make that payment.  They eagerly go to the bank.  They are grinning ear to ear as they lay their money down on the banker’s desk.  But as he examines it, he begins to frown.  After further examination he informs them that all their money is counterfeit.  Not only are they still in debt, but the time to pay off that debt has now expired.  They are ruined!

That is what will happen to people on Judgment Day – to people who – in any way – rely on their own works to get to heaven.  Salvation rests entirely on Jesus’ payment for sin.  All those who mix in their works with Jesus’ work are adding nothing but counterfeit money – worthless money that causes them to default on their debt.

This is why Mormonism is so dangerous.  It does talk about salvation by grace, but it denies the teaching of salvation by grace alone.  We see that even in the LDS author who speaks the most about grace, Robert L. Millet.  He wrote a book entitled Grace Works.  His whole premise is, as the back cover of the book quotes him as saying, “We have an obligation to cooperate with God in the salvation of our souls. While the ultimate power of change is in Christ, we can do our part and choose to be changed.”

But the Bible says God’s grace and man’s works don’t mix when it comes to salvation.  “And if by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.  But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”  (Romans 11:6)  It’s like the scenario above.  It doesn’t matter what percentage of the mortgage is paid by counterfeit money.  As long as any of it is paid with counterfeit money, the couple is still in debt.  As long as a person is relying on what he does to be saved – no matter what percentage of his salvation he attributes to his efforts – he is still in debt and thus in deep trouble.  Talking about grace is not enough.  The issue is all about salvation by grace alone.

02
Jan
12

Attending the Heavenly Wedding

As I mentioned last week, the LDS Church has a set curriculum for its adult Sunday School or Gospel Doctrine classes.  It also sets much of the curriculum for what is studied during Relief Society (women) and priesthood quorums (men). This year, on the second and third Sundays of each month, they are continuing a series entitled Teachings of the Presidents of the Church.  This year they are studying the life and words of George Albert Smith who was president of the LDS Church from 1945 to 1951.  As with the Book of Mormon manual I mentioned last week, you can obtain a copy of this book for just a few dollars from LDS.org.

The first lesson, which will be studied this coming Sunday, is entitled, “Living What We Believe”.  Being worthy is the theme that runs throughout the lesson.  The following quote reflects the tenor of the lesson.

“I would like to say to the Latter-day Saints, if we are worthy to be called Latter-day Saints, it will be because we are living the lives of saint, and it is the purpose of the Gospel to qualify us in that way.  The world has gotten into such a condition and has been deceived by the adversary for such a long time and has declared that the mere belief in God is all that is necessary, that I am fearful for it.  That is only a trick of the adversary.” (p. 3)

But what I want to focus on is its treatment of the parable of the wedding feast recorded in Matthew 22.  It focuses on the man who was thrown out because he didn’t have a wedding garment on.  It then makes the point that we have to be prepared if we will be welcomed by God.  “The adversary has so deceived them as to make them believe that no preparation is necessary, anything will do, but in this message that the Savior gave in a parable to his associates we are informed that there must be some preparation and without that preparation no one will be permitted to partake of the more precious gifts of our Heavenly Father.” (p.6)  The way we prepare, according to this lesson, is to keep the commandments. “The Lord will be merciful, but he will be just, and if we want any blessing there is only one way we may obtain it, and that is to keep the commandments that will entitle us to the blessing.” (p.7)

Is that really the message the Savior gave with this parable?  What is so instructive about that parable is that the custom at royal weddings was that the king would supply a wedding garment for the guests.  It would be his gift to them.  We don’t know, but the man who was cast out might have been well-dressed.  But he wasn’t dressed in the wedding garment that the king had supplied.  By not wearing that garment, he dishonored and angered the king.  He was thrown out into outer darkness.  The thought that these wedding garments were gifts of the king also fits into the context of the parable because the king’s servants went out into the highways and byways to get guests – guests who would not have had the time or even the means to get a wedding garment of their own.

It’s obvious the point Jesus was making is that in order to enter God’s presence you need to be wearing the clothes he has given us.  These are the clothes Isaiah talked about when he said:  “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful to my God; for he hath clothed me with garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” (61:10). Note that Isaiah said the Lord clothed him – the Lord covered him with the robe of righteousness.  Isaiah’s robe of righteousness was given him by the Lord.

That robe of righteousness is the robe Jesus wove for us when he kept the commandments perfectly for us.  It’s all about his works, not our work.  It’s all about his gift to us, not our obtaining his blessing by living worthily.  It’s all about me not making or obtaining my own wedding clothes, but rather being clothed by the Lord.

And notice how high the stakes are.  Anyone not wearing Christ’s robe of righteousness is cast into outer darkness (Matthew 22:13).  A couple of times this lesson mentions that the adversary (Satan) has deceived people.  I agree.  But the sobering truth is that Satan’s deception is the teaching that we, in any way, merit or obtain the blessing of living with heavenly Father for all eternity.  That is God’s gift to us.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

 

24
Dec
11

Have a blessed Christmas

 

The Bible is full of passages of God’s tremendous love.  One that has again recently awed me is Isaiah 43:22-25.

Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel.  You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices.  I have not burdened you with grain offerings nor wearied you with demands for incense.  You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me, or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.  But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.  I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.

This paragraph is so rich in meaning.  I would like to share just a few thoughts about it.  Note especially the three “wearied”.  They didn’t weary themselves for the Lord.  Neither did the Lord burden and weary them with offerings.  Instead they burdened and wearied him with their sins.  How does he react?  He blots them out and remembers them no more!  What a wonderful Gospel gem that is.

But what makes it all the more brilliant is the setting in which Isaiah placed it.  All around it, from chapters 40 – 48, God is declaring his glory.  He is the Creator.  He is the Lord of History.  He predicts the future.  He alone is God.  Over and over he repeats such thoughts – often by contrasting them with the utter worthlessness of idols.  Fewer places does God emphasize his glory more than he does in these chapters of Isaiah.  It would be an interesting study to see how many times God says, “I” in them.  I’m sure it is well over a hundred times.

That God is incomparable and all-glorious is the setting.  But only the setting. In this setting Isaiah has placed brilliant diamonds of pure grace like the one above.  This incomparable, all-glorious Lord who deserves nothing but praise and worship from his creatures, instead receives from them their stinking sins and repulsive offense.  So much so that they are a burden to him.  Especially note that they did nothing to mitigate this.  No words of apology.  No acts of contrition.  Talk about audacity and stupidity.  Talk about irritating the Lion.  We duck for cover as we expect an unleashing of his wrath.

But instead what do we hear?  “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgression, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  Talk about undeserved grace!  If God would have punished us only partially for our sins – that would have been extremely merciful.  If he would have put us on probation – that would have been unbelievable.  But to blot them out and forget them – we can only believe that because God himself says it.

God has blotted out our sins.  That is why Jesus came at Christmas.  That is what the angel announced:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  Honor him by being totally convinced that he has blotted out your sins and that he no longer remembers them.  Worship him by giving him every single bit of credit for your living with heavenly Father.  Praise him by telling others about his wonderful response to mankind’s sin – to their sin and your sin.  Have a joyous Christmas knowing God has done it all!

10
Nov
11

After all we can do

A passage that many Christians and Mormons have gone round and round on is from the Book of Mormon:  “For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23) I can’t count how many different ways Mormons have interpreted it.  Recently one interpretation I read said “all we can do” means we can’t do anything!  It doesn’t take a whole lot of research to discover that there is a wide variety of interpretations of this passage among Mormons.

But that is not the case with the official representatives of Mormonism.  In the latest General Conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an LDS apostle, stated:  “It would mock the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross for us to expect that He should transform us into angelic beings with no real effort on our part.  Rather, we seek His grace to complement and reward our most diligent efforts (see 2 Nephi 25:23).” (my emphasis) (Ensign, Nov. 2011, p.39)

This is consistent with what the LDS manual True to the Faith says:  “The phrase ‘after all we can’ 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.” (p. 77) This is consistent with the LDS Bible Dictionary.  “However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient.  Hence the explanation, ‘It is by grace that we are saved after all we can do.’ (2 Ne 25:23).” (p.697)  Those are just two of many examples.  Official Mormonism is consistent in its explanation of 2 Nephi 25:23.

Why then isn’t there consistency among Mormons?  And if you were in my position, as someone who is sincerely trying to represent Mormonism, who should I listen to as telling me what Mormonism teaches?  A regular LDS member or LDS apostles and church manuals?

Mormonism teaches that it takes effort – “total effort on the part of the recipient” to be saved.  If that is so, what should we conclude about anybody who doesn’t give “total effort”?

23
Sep
11

Winning the person or winning the battle?

That is a question I often have to ask myself when talking with a Mormon.  That is a question I often ask other Christians who are dialoguing with Mormons.

It’s an important question because it deals with attitudes.  And the answer will often be seen in how I talk, won’t it?  Not so much in what I say, but especially in how I say it.  Won’t my tone be dramatically different when I’m focusing on winning the person?

That was the case with the prophet Isaiah.  The 15th and 16th chapters of his book record the Lord’s judgment on the country of Moab, one of Israel’s long-standing enemies.  Therefore you would expect to hear Isaiah speaking with a little glee.  After so long, Moab is finally going to be punished!  But that is not what you see.  Instead of glee, we see sadness. Just a couple of examples:  “My heart shall cry out for Moab” (15:5).   “Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer.” (16:9). Isaiah announced the Lord’s judgment with a tear in his eye and with agony in his voice.  It is obvious that he was concerned for them – even though they were enemies.

Whenever I talk with a Mormon I pray that the Lord allows me to do two things.  The first is to speak his truth to them.  Never do I want to compromise that truth or even soft pedal it.  It’s way too important.  Especially do I want to unceasingly proclaim the amazing truth that it was entirely Jesus’ work, and not one ounce of my work, that has brought me into a wonderful relationship with Heavenly Father now and gives me the unshakeable confidence that I will live with him for all eternity.  Jesus didn’t just open the door for me and now it’s up to me to enter and proceed to the Father, as one Mormon told me last week.  No, he did it all.  It’s especially that truth that I want to always proclaim.

But I also pray that I do that in love.  That my goal is not to win the battle, but to win the person.  That I do that, not with a sense of satisfaction that I’m right and they are wrong; but rather with sadness when the person doesn’t accept that and great joy when they do.  Especially do I pray that I reflect that in how I talk – in my tone, even when that tone is misunderstood.

I decided to share this today for two reasons.  One is because I think it’s an important reminder for us all.  But the other reason is because I just received an email from a concerned reader of this blog.  He was concerned about the tone of many of the comments.  He was wondering how all this could be God-pleasing.

Therefore it is my plea that all who comment do so respectfully.  There is nothing wrong with taking strong stands on an issue.  But let’s try to do this respectfully – always working on really understanding what the other person meant before commenting ourselves – always addressing the issue rather than the person.  I thank you in advance for doing that.

 




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