Archive for the 'perfection' 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!

06
Sep
13

Obedience Brings Blessings

That is the title of a talk given by the LDS living prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, at last April’s General Conference.  He bases it on D&C 93:26-28 which he quotes.  “And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.  He that keepeth (God’s) commandments receiveth truth and light, and knoweth all things.”  Commenting on these verses he states, “A loving Heavenly Father has plotted our course and provided an unfailing guide – even obedience.  A knowledge of truth and the answers to our greatest questions come to us as we are obedient to the commandments of God” (Ensign, May, 2013, p. 89).

Later in the article he expands on this and applies obedience to salvation.  Just two more quotes.  “All prophets, ancient and modern, have known that obedience is essential to our salvation.” (p. 90) Finally, quoting President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The happiness of the Latter-day Saints, the progress of the Latter-day Saints, the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, and the eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of God.” (p. 90) According to Mormonism all good things, including living with Heavenly Father, hinges on a person’s obedience.

Surprisingly the Bible agrees – with one huge difference.  Obedience is essential for salvation – but not our obedience!  “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)  In order to save us, the one man, Jesus, had to be perfectly obedient.  He had to keep every commandment perfectly every moment of every day.  He had to do that because we need to be perfect to be acceptable to God and perfection is more than just the absence of sin.  It is also the presence of all righteousness.  In other words, in order to save us Jesus not only had to cleanse us from all sin but also cover us with all righteousness.

And that is what he did! He was perfectly obedient for us.  Throughout his entire life he was weaving the wonderful robe of righteousness which he now drapes over us through faith.  In a way, we can say that Jesus sacrificed his life twice for us.  Once by living his life for us (and think of how difficult it is to live for somebody else – especially when they don’t appreciate or acknowledge it) – and then by giving his life for us on the cross to wash away our sins.

In his talk President Monson does briefly talk about Jesus’ obedience.  But he doesn’t point to Jesus as Paul did, as our Substitute who was obedient for us.  Rather he refers to him as our example.  “He gave to us a divine example of obedience by refusing to deviate from what He knew was right.” (p. 92) In this way, even when he does talk about Jesus, the burden to be worthy and to receive blessings is placed squarely on the shoulders of each individual.

What a relief it is to know that God now sees me as perfectly obedient through Jesus.  This is especially comforting when I see how each and every sin is a terrible affront to God.  Seeing that could easily lead to despair because I know that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop worrying, or thinking angry thoughts, or doing selfish things, or not casting all my cares on Jesus, or you fill in the blank.  Each and every one of these sins that we often so lightly brush off merits nothing less than eternal damnation.

Thank God, therefore, that Jesus came and was perfectly obedient in my place, as my Substitute!  Thank God that he has graciously clothed me in his robe of righteousness so that right now I am totally acceptable to God.  Thank God that salvation and eternal life are his gifts to us and not something God tells us that we have to achieve ourselves.  Thank God that Jesus came to live and die for me.  To God be all glory and praise!

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)

14
Mar
13

Be or Become?

This coming Sunday LDS members will be studying chapter six of the Teachings of President Lorenzo Snow.  This chapter is entitled:  “Becoming Perfect before the Lord: ‘A Little Better Day by Day’”.  In the first part of the chapter two biblical verses are quoted.

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be thou perfect.” [Genesis 17:1.]

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” [Matthew 5:48.]

It then goes on to state:  “We learn that the Lord appeared to Abraham and made him very great promises, and that before he was prepared to receive them a certain requirement was made of him, that he [Abraham] should become perfect before the Lord. And the same requirement was made by the Savior of his Disciples, that they should become perfect, even as He and His Father in Heaven were perfect.” (p.95)

Did you notice the subtle change made from the verses to President Snow’s explanations?  Both verses use the word “be”.  But they are both explained with the phrase, “should become perfect”.  That is a subtle but huge change.  There’s a big difference between being and becoming.  Who would you go to if you were sick?  A person who is a doctor or who someday might become a doctor?  The idea of becoming inserts a degree of uncertainty – there’s no guarantee that the goal will be ever reached.  It also introduces the reality that the person isn’t yet there – and we don’t know when they will be there.  There’s a huge difference between being and becoming.

God commands perfection now – not sometime in the future.  A perfection that is equal to the perfection of our Father in heaven.  Who can meet such a requirement?

People who are trusting completely in Jesus’ works can!  That’s what the Bible says.  “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrew 10:14).  When a person despairs of his own efforts and places all their trust in Jesus’ efforts, they are covered with his righteousness (perfection).  “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:” (1 Cor. 1:31)

But they are the only ones who can.  Everybody else is not perfect and thus won’t be able to enter God’s presence – for God cannot abide any imperfection.  And that is why Mormonism is such a deadly religion.  As this chapter amply illustrates, it doesn’t point people to Jesus’ perfection for them, instead it incessantly urges people to become perfect themselves.  Even when it does talk about Jesus, it does so in a way that puts the burden back on the person.  “Our hearts should be set on things above; to strive after that perfection which was in Christ Jesus, who was perfectly obedient in all things unto the Father, and so obtained His great exaltation and became a pattern unto His brethren.” (p. 102, my emphasis) Urging people to become perfect is nothing less than a recipe for disaster.

It is not about becoming perfect.  It’s all about being perfect right now in Christ.  That is the only way anybody will ever come into God’s presence.  It is my prayer that more and more people see that – and believe that.

09
Jan
12

A Heart Free of Enmity?

 

This coming Sunday, chapter two of the Teachings of George Albert Smith will be studied throughout the LDS Church.  This chapter is entitled, “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”.  There are a number of things that struck me as I read that chapter but the two I would like to focus on are two quotes from President Smith.  On p. 11 he is quoted as saying, “I do not have an enemy that I know of, and there is no one in the world that I have any enmity towards.”    Then a few pages later we read this quote:  “I have only good will in my heart for mankind.  I haven’t any animosity in my heart toward any living human being.” (p. 16)

Even making these more striking is seeing when President Smith spoke them – especially the second quote.  He said that during General Conference in April, 1946.  World War II had ended only the year before.  Especially pertinent is the fact that from November 1945 to October 1946 numerous major Nazi figures were on trial in Nuremberg for war crimes.  Almost daily there was new evidence of their atrocities – evidence that filled the newspapers.  Placing President Smith’s statement that he didn’t have any animosity in his heart toward any living human being against that background makes it even more startling.

I don’t know about you, but I could never make that claim.  It’s not good will that fills my heart when someone cuts me off on the freeway.  When I hear about people abusing children, my heart is not filled with good will.  I have to admit that people don’t even have to give me a good reason for me to think ill of them.  I frequently do that unfairly.  They didn’t do anything to me but because I was in a bad mood or had a bad day, I lash out at them.  There is no way that I can identify with President Smith’s statements.

That’s why I am so thankful that Jesus has not only washed all my sins away but that he also kept the law perfectly for me.  Because I could never keep one commandment perfectly.  And nobody, not even the president of the LDS Church, can do that.  What’s more, nobody, not even the president of the LDS Church, can ever get to the point in this life of doing that.  Until the day we die we all will sin – in a great variety of ways.

But what is tragic is that this chapter doesn’t even mention God’s forgiveness of our sins in Christ.  Neither does it mention that Jesus is our righteousness.  All it does is hold up statements like the above as examples to follow.  Or talks about rewards to be earned.  “When our life is ended and we return home, we will find credited to us there every good act we have performed, every kindness we have done, every effort we have put forth to benefit our fellows.” (p. 18)

“He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

06
Jan
12

The Futility of Playing Spiritual Whack a Mole

 

This Sunday, throughout the LDS Church, 1 Nephi 1-7 from the Book of Mormon will be studied in the adult Sunday School, or Gospel Doctrines class.  Probably the most quoted passage from this section of the Book of Mormon is this part of 1 Nephi 3:7:  “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”  Mormons have quoted it in many different settings and situations to urge people that they could do what was commanded of them.  After all, according to this verse, the Lord would never give a commandment to you unless he gave you a way to follow it.   And usually, at least with the Mormons who have explained it to me, the way the Lord has given to follow it is by giving you inner strength or ability to keep the commandment.  Therefore, if you aren’t keeping the commandment, it’s because you are not using what God has already given you.

Apply that now to one of the most famous commands in the Bible, Matthew 5:48.  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  This is commanding nothing less than perfection – right now!  Although many Mormons over the years have tried to explain this as a command to become perfect, that is not what Jesus said.  He said “be” – not “become”.  Neither does the Joseph Smith translation say “become”.  It reads:  “Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect.”  Therefore, according to 1 Nephi 3:7, God has given people a way to be perfect, not sometime in the distant future, but right now.  And if a person isn’t perfect right now, it’s because they are not using the way God has already given them.

And that’s serious because as James 2:10 says:  “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  “He is guilty of all”.  Think of how a defendant in a courtroom feels when the judge says, “guilty on all counts”.  Talk about being devastated.

As strange as it may first seem, that is one of the main reasons God has given us commandments.  He has given them to devastate us.  He has given them to show us just how sinful we are.  “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)  The commandments are like X-rays that penetrate our spiritual being.  We might think we are spiritual healthy but those X-rays tell a different story as they reveal tumors of greed, and lust, and envy, and bitterness, and worry, and the list goes on and on.

And one of the things the commandments convince us of is that we don’t have the ability to keep them.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t stop sinning.  It’s almost like the arcade game, whack a mole.  We put all our effort into whacking down one sin, only to have a different sin pop in a different place.  I use all my efforts to stop worrying only to have pride pop up over there.  I focus on always treating my spouse in a loving way only to find myself trampling over my co-worker.  As the Bible says, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:12)

As I said, this is what God wants us to see as we consider his commandments.  He wants us to see our utter inability of keeping them.  He wants us to literally despair of thinking we can keep them.  He wants us to despair of ourselves so that we are eager, no, desperate for help.  The help he has given us in the person of Jesus.  What we couldn’t do, Jesus did for us.  He did it all.  He did it completely.  Yes, there is a way that we can be perfect right now.  And that is by being covered with Christ’s perfection.  “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)

If you haven’t yet done so, take a serious look at yourself in light of God’s commandments.  Take them at face value.  Don’t water them down.  Don’t change “be perfect” to “become perfect”.  Don’t call sinful words just mistakes or slips of the tongue.  See how serious Jesus considers lustful, greedy, angry thoughts.  See your tumors of sin.  See that.  And despair.  Despair of yourself.  Trust totally and completely in what Jesus has already done for you.  That’s the only way that you will ever be able to stand in God’s presence.

15
Dec
11

Worry

 

In the present economy there are a lot of worried people.  That is why Jesus’ words in Matthew 6: 25-34 are so comforting as he tells his disciples not to worry.  But these words also do something else.  They show us that worry is a sin.

More than once in these verses Jesus gives the command: “Take no thought”.  Take no thought about food or clothing or tomorrow.   Therefore every time we have “anxious concern” (LDS Bible footnote) about such things, we are going against his command.  We are breaking it.  We are sinning.

What is even more sobering is that we don’t even have to express those worries.  God knows everything.  He sees into every nook and cranny of our heart.  Therefore all we have to do is be worried – and we have sinned.  We are imperfect.

And that sin is serious.  Someone once described worry as a little form of atheism.  When we worry we are sending a message that we don’t trust that God will provide for us – that we don’t believe what Jesus says in Matthew 6.

Whenever I catch myself worrying, I find myself thanking Jesus for washing that sin away with his blood.  I find myself rejoicing knowing that I am completely forgiven in Him.   Because Jesus has given me his righteousness, I remain confident that God continues to see me as perfect.

Compare that to the message of Mormonism:  “Perfection is a word that causes different reactions from many people.  Some people say, ‘Perfection?  Why, that is impossible!’  Others say, ‘Perfection?  I get discouraged just thinking about it!’  Yet would the Lord give a commandment that was impossible for us to keep?  And when he gives a commandment, doesn’t he, as Nephi said, prepare a way for us to accomplish what he commands?  The Sermon on the Mount is the Lord’s blueprint for perfection.”  (The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, p. 57)  (Please note:  the command to “take no thought” is part of the Sermon on the Mount.)

I prefer Psalm 103:12.  “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”  Thank you, Jesus.




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