Archive for the 'worthiness' Category

12
Aug
13

The Only Way to Eternal Happiness

When Christians hear the words “only way” connected with “eternal happiness” most will immediately think of Jesus’ words in John 14:6.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  Note how exclusively Jesus speaks.  He doesn’t say he is “a” way; rather he says he is “the” way.  And he doesn’t leave us wondering what that means when he continues by saying that the only way anybody can come to the Father is through him.

Further note that he doesn’t add anything to his being the way.  No, it’s all about him.  Whenever the Bible talks about coming into God’s presence it speaks exclusively of Jesus’ works – how his obedient life and sacrificial death is all that is needed for us to confidently come into God’s presence.  As Paul wrote to Titus:  “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 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; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3: 4-7)

Now compare that to this statement Elder L. Tom Perry, one of the LDS apostles, made at last April’s General Conference.  “A useful way to think about the commandments is they are loving counsel from a wise, all-knowing Heavenly Father.  His goal is our eternal happiness and His commandments are the road map He has given us to return to Him, which is the only way we will be eternally happy.” (Ensign, May, 2013, p. 88m my emphasis).  That’s quite a bit different from what Jesus said.  Jesus said he is the only way, Perry says the commandments are the only way.  Even more striking is that in this talk Elder Perry mentions eternal happiness a few times.   But not once in the talk is there any mention of what Jesus did for us!

Rather his entire talk is about our obedience and how that is what is important to our eternal happiness. That comes out already in the title of his address: “Obedience to the Law is Liberty”.  Furthermore, he quotes LDS Scripture to make the point that there is no such thing as undeserved blessings:  “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21)  Talk about something that is the furthest thing from being Christ – centered!

His talk is not only another in a long list of examples vividly demonstrating the vast differences between Mormonism and Christianity, but it also serves as a good reminder to Christians of why it is so important to emphasize with their LDS friends that eternal happiness does not depend on our obedience but rather on Christ’s obedience for us.  Yes, out of love and gratitude to our gracious God we strive to keep the commandments.  But our striving is not only terribly imperfect but it is also the result and not the cause of our eternal happiness.  Jesus’ obedience, and only his obedience, is what makes us worthy to enter God’s presence.  To him be all glory.

22
Jul
13

Who talks about Jesus more?

Mormons often point to the fact that Jesus Christ is part of their church’s name as proof that they are Christians.  But what struck me again last month as I was going door to door in Salt Lake City and talking with many LDS members is how much they didn’t want to talk about Jesus.  We came to the door with the message of the great things Jesus has done for us; namely, that we were assured that we were worthy in God’s sight because of what he has done and that we knew we were forgiven through him.  Almost invariably the person at the door would respond by saying that a person had a responsibility to obey the commandments and do good works.  We wanted to talk about what Jesus had done and they wanted to talk about what they had to do.

I have only attended a few sacrament meetings, but I have noticed the same thing there.  In all the meetings I attended there was much more talk about what they had to do than what Jesus did for them.  All my friends who at one time were LDS verify that.  To a person they say that in their individual wards the emphasis was always on what they had to do.

I see the same thing in the LDS manuals.  For example, Jesus’ atonement is frequently mentioned but hardly ever emphasized.  Most often it is used as a launching pad to lay out in great detail what works people need to add to the Atonement.

The bottom line is that it’s not just what is in a church’s name.  It’s what a church teaches.  It’s what a church emphasizes.  And every contact I have with Mormonism, whether it is talking with its members or reading its manuals or attending its services, demonstrates that it puts the spotlight not on the great things Jesus has done for us but on the things people have to do.

I am so thankful that the Lord has said that I can be assured that I am worthy and forgiven right now because of Jesus.  I am so thankful that the Lord has reassured me that I will be living with him for all eternity because Jesus has already done everything necessary for me to enter his presence.  This free gift of worthiness and forgiveness now impels me all the more to do all I can to glorify him in my life and with my lips.  To him be all praise and glory.

19
Apr
13

What will be your defense on Judgment Day?

The sub-title for Chapter 8 of the Teachings of President Lorenzo Snow is “Righteous Latter-day Saints strive to ‘establish a character before God that could be relied upon in the hour of trial.”  This sums up well the chapter’s thrust of encouraging people to develop a good character to win God’s approval.  For example, a title of one of the sections is “If we have established a proper character, we can confidently invite God to search our hearts.”  That section then continues with this quote from President Snow.

“I am under the strongest impression, that the most valuable consideration, and that which will be of the most service when we return to the spirit world, will be that of having established a proper and well defined character as faithful and consistent Latter-day Saints in this state of probation.” (p. 119)

This emphasis on the importance of a person’s character is summed up in the last paragraph of the chapter.  “Our character, as Latter-day Saints, should be preserved inviolate, at whatever cost or sacrifice.  Character, approved of God is worth securing, even at the expense of a life-time of constant self-denial.  While thus living we may look forward. . .with full assurance that. . .we shall be crowned with the sons and daughters of God, and possess the wealth and glory of a Celestial kingdom.” (The quote contains the omissions indicated with the . . .)

Much of this chapter is based on David’s prayer in Psalm 139: 23-24:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I find this reference to David’s prayer interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, David is not held up as a model of virtue in the LDS Church.  The LDS Old Testament manual says of David:  “David is still paying for his sins.” (p. 291) And again, by having Uriah killed, “David thus moved from a serious but forgivable sin to an unpardonable one.”  It further states that David will spend eternity in the lowest kingdom of heaven taught in Mormonism, the telestial kingdom.  Therefore it is striking that President Snow holds David up as a model to follow.

But this use of David is also striking because the Bible points to him as a model – not of a man who trusted in his own righteousness – but one who trusted in God’s forgiveness!  “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Romans 4:6-8)

It’s in that light that we need to read his prayer in Psalm 139.  As one man commented on these verses: “David closes not with pride, but with humility.  He recognizes that without forgiveness he too would fall under the wrath of a holy God.  David circles back to the beginning of the psalm and asks that the Lord would use his knowledge of David to cleanse him from every evil way which would lead him away from God.”  David never thought he would be blessed because of his own righteousness.  He knew that he would be blessed only through the forgiveness won for him by the greatest Son of David, Jesus Christ.

So when you stand before God what will you point to in your defense?  Will you point to your righteous character or Christ’s righteousness?  When it comes to being worthy and acceptable to God, the only righteousness that stands is Christ’s righteousness.  “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.  But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 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.“ (Romans 3:20-24)

What will be your defense?  I pray that the only evidence you will present will be Jesus’ righteousness.  Everything else, especially pointing to your character, will ruin your defense and result not in praise but condemnation.  David placed all his hope in the coming Savior.  Because of that, in spite of all his sins, he now is living and will live for all eternity in Heavenly Father’s glorious presence.  Place all your hopes in Jesus and you too will spend eternity with God.

09
Jan
13

Mormonism: A Self-Centered Religion

It’s a beginning of another year.  That means that members of the LDS Church will be studying the teachings of another one of their presidents.  In 2013 the spotlight is on Lorenzo Snow, who served as president of the LDS Church for three years from 1898 to 1901.  They will devote time the second and third Sundays of each month to study a compilation of his teachings which has been assembled in a brand new manual.

This coming Sunday they will be looking at chapter one entitled “Learning by Faith”. Towards the beginning of that chapter, President Snow says:  “The whole idea of Mormonism is improvement—mentally, physically, morally and spiritually. No half-way education suffices for the Latter-day Saint.”  Does that sound like something Jesus would say? Does that sound like something you would read in the Bible?  No, both would say that the whole idea is about what Jesus has done for us, not about how we are to improve ourselves.

Immediately following that quote, is this one: “It is profitable to live long upon the earth and to gain the experience and knowledge incident thereto: for the Lord has told us that whatever intelligence we attain to in this life will rise with us in the resurrection, and the more knowledge and intelligence a person gains in this life the greater advantage he will have in the world to come [see D&C 130:18–19].””

Again note the emphasis on what the person does.  The more knowledge they gain now, the greater advantage they will have in the world to come.

Again the question begs to be asked.  Did Jesus ever talk that way?  Is such an idea found in the Bible?  On the contrary, Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12 said:   “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  The contrast is obvious:  now our knowledge is incomplete but in heaven it will be complete. And this statement applies to all believers.  In heaven, some will not have greater knowledge than others – because it doesn’t depend on our attainment but on God’s blessing.

These are just two examples of a major difference between Mormonism and the Bible.  Mormonism consistently centers people on themselves: on what they have to do, on what they have to attain, on what they have earned.  But the Bible puts God in the spotlight and centers on his works for us and his blessings to us – even in the face of our sinfulness and unworthiness.

As I begin a new year, I pray that I can concentrate even more on God and his incredible works for me – especially his absolute forgiveness of me because of Jesus’ complete sacrifice for me.  I pray that I think more and more of heaven and exude confidence that I will be there – not because of anything I have done but because Jesus has done everything for me.  And I pray that more and more LDS people see that and experience the great joy of being worthy before God clothed completely in Christ’s righteousness.

21
Nov
12

Thanksgiving

There are so many things to thank the Lord for!  His blessings truly deserve the description of “innumerable’. They cover every aspect of life – and every moment of life.  They are so plentiful that we often take them for granted.  But every breathe we take is a blessing from God.  Every morsel of food we eat (and we eat more than just morsels!) is a gift from God.  The good weather we experience, the periods of relaxation that we enjoy, the friends and families that mean so much to us – all are blessings from God.  Literally everything we have ultimately comes from our gracious Lord.

And there are so many blessings that we don’t even see: the accident that was averted; the illness that did not touch us; the danger that passed over us.  We are often like little children – going our way blissfully unaware of how the Lord, as our loving Father, is faithfully watching over us and keeping us safe.

But towering over all these blessings is his ultimate blessing, namely, being completely forgiven and totally accepted through Jesus.  This is how the book of Hebrews puts it:  “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.  Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews 10:14-20)

Just think of it!  The Lord not only forgives all our sins because of Jesus’ one sacrifice, he also forgets them.  He doesn’t ask us to pay him back.  He doesn’t remind us of them whenever we fail.  No, as the prophet Micah said, he drowns them in the depths of the sea.  They are gone!

On this Thanksgiving weekend, show God your thankfulness especially for this.  Show that thankfulness by never doubting your status with him.  See and say that you are worthy before him, not because of what you do, but because of what Jesus has done for you.  Show that thankfulness by giving Jesus every bit of credit for God accepting you.  Be thankful by being confident that you are going to live forever with Heavenly Father because of Jesus’ sacrifice and not because of any ordinances that you have done.

  Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:

Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.

He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.

10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103: 1-12)

08
Nov
12

God’s Unconditional Love

For my personal devotional time I have been taking a close look at Abraham’s life as it is recorded in Genesis.  Although the Bible calls him the father of believers and holds him up as an example of faith, the truly remarkable element running through his story is how God loved him so unconditionally.  This is seen right in the beginning of his story (Genesis 12:1-3) as God promises him tremendous blessing without once ever mentioning anything that Abraham had to do to merit those blessings.  God was going to bless him.  Period.

As I said, this runs throughout Abraham’s story.  This morning I spent time in Genesis 20.  This is a remarkable chapter for a number of different reasons but one reason is not because it is a shining example of Abraham’s faith!  On the contrary, here we see a glaring example of how sometimes Abraham was very weak in his faith.  There we see Abraham telling Sarah, his wife, to pass herself off as his sister because he was afraid that the Philistine king, Abimelech, would kill him if he knew that she was his wife.  If that wasn’t bad enough, this is not the first time Abraham had tried that.  He did the same thing years ago with Pharaoh. See Genesis 12.  But even though the Lord had stepped in and proven to Abraham that he would protect them, Abraham now does the same thing again!  Obviously, he didn’t learn from his previous sin.

But to make matters even worse, the incident recorded in chapter 20 happens shortly after the Lord had told both Abraham and Sarah that she would give birth to a son in the coming year – the son who would be the ancestor of the Savior.  Therefore, by allowing Abimelech to take Sarah as his wife, Abraham was actively putting this promise at great risk.  If there was any time Abraham should have been careful with Sarah, it should have been then!  It’s an understatement to say that Abraham doesn’t come off very well in this chapter.

But the Lord surely does.  Not only does he again get actively involved and protect both Abraham and Sarah, but he also continues to honor Abraham as a prophet!  He tells Abimelech that Abraham will pray for him and because of that, he will not die.  In this whole incident, the pagan Abimelech comes off better than Abraham, the father of believers.  But Abraham is the one who is still blessed by God.  This story becomes a wonderful illustration of how God often blesses his believing children in spite of themselves – how his blessings are often totally unconditioned on what we do.

What a comfort that is.  I hate to admit it, but I often find that I can identify more easily with Abraham when he shows weakness of faith than when he is strong in his faith.  It doesn’t take me too long to see instances in my own life where I repeated a sin –even after I learned how foolish it was to do that the first time. If always receiving a blessing from God depended on my worthiness, I would be far less blessed.  Thank God, therefore, that he loves us, not because we are always loveable, but just because he is love.  Thank God that he didn’t wait to save us until we were worthy of being saved.  Thank God that, “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)  Thank God that he doesn’t treat us as we deserve, but rather loves us even though we don’t deserve it.  Thank God that he loves unconditionally!

24
Oct
12

Word of Wisdom

Chapter 19 of the Teachings of President George Albert Smith, a manual being studied this year in the LDS Church, deals with the Word of Wisdom.  This is the famous Mormon restriction against the use of coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco.  It is found in section 89 of Doctrine and Covenants, one of their scriptures.  Although that section talks about “hot drinks” later prophets interpreted that as coffee and tea.

The Word of Wisdom holds a prominent place in Mormonism.  Not only does it affect every Mormon’s daily life, but keeping it is also one of the criteria for becoming worthy to enter the temple.

There are three things that I have observed about their keeping it.  One is that many struggle to keep it.  It is not uncommon to hear someone having a “Word of Wisdom problem”.  The second thing is that many ignore the rest of what is said in section 89 especially the command to eat meat sparingly.  Here are the pertinent verses from section 89.

“Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or of famine.” (12,13)

The third thing is how many Mormons are now calling the Word of Wisdom good advice but something that is not binding on them.  They make that claim even though church manuals, like the one mentioned above, consistently describe it as a law and talk about how obeying it will bring not just earthly blessings but spiritual ones as well.  In spite of all this, however, the Word of Wisdom continues to be important in Mormonism.

That is in keeping with Mormonism’s emphasis.  It emphasizes commands rather than promises.  It focuses people on what they are to do, rather than on what God has done for them.  In the Old Testament, God did give the Israelites many dietary laws.  But, as Paul makes clear in Galatians, that was because God was treating them as small children.  Since Christ’s coming, God now treats us as mature children.  One thing that means is that all those dietary laws are no longer in effect.  Paul made that clear in Colossians 2:16-17.  “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days; Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

The true word of wisdom is the stupendous news of what God has done for us.  It focuses on Christ’s perfect obedience – obedience that he offered God in our behalf – obedience that is credited to our account through faith.  It focuses on Christ’s sacrifice for us – the sacrifice that made us worthy to enter his presence.  Being worthy has nothing to do with what we take into our mouths.  Being worthy has everything to do with what is in our hearts.  Being worthy is all about despairing of our own works and trusting completely in Jesus’ works for us.  That, my friends, is the true word of wisdom.




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