Posts Tagged ‘conversion

25
May
10

Human Potential

    Here and elsewhere there is a lot of debate about the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity.  One thing causing these differences is that they often start in different places – they begin with different presuppositions.  When that happens, most of the time, you are going to end up in drastically different places. 

     One example of that is how each views the human race.  That in itself is a broad topic so I would like to narrow it down to human potential after Adam and Eve’s Fall into sin.  The Bible does not paint a very pretty picture.  Immediately after their Fall, the Bible describes Abel’s murder at the hands of his brother Cain.  Already in the sixth chapter of the Bible we hear this damming indictment of the human race:  “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  (Gen. 6:5) The phrases “every imagination” and “only evil continually” don’t leave any wiggle room.  That clearly states that man was totally depraved.

     Therefore God sent the Flood.  It would seem that we could breathe a sigh of relief because now mankind can start all over.  But not so fast.  Immediately after the Flood,  before Noah and his family did anything but sacrifice to God, we read:  “And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  (Gen. 6:21) Although the Flood changed the physical world it didn’t do anything to man’s heart.  Both before and after the Flood it is described as “evil”. 

     This theme carries throughout the rest of the Bible.  One of the more common descriptions of man’s spiritual condition is that of being spiritually dead.  Other descriptions include being spiritually blind and hostile to God.  Taking these passages at face value, the only potential that the Bible ascribes to man after the Flood is the potential to act on the evil that resides in his heart.  That is the force of “every imagination” and “only evil continually”.

     Mormonism, however, begins at a different point.  It teaches that man has a lot of good in them.  It stresses its doctrine of agency – everybody’s ability to choose the right.  (How is that reconciled with being spiritually dead and blind?)  In short, Mormonism has a much more positive view of mankind.  This fits well with American optimism but it doesn’t fit well with biblical teaching.

     As I said before, when you start at different places, you usually end up in different places.  So also here.  Because of its dim outlook on man’s potential, the Bible turns people away from thinking they contribute anything to their living with God for all eternity.  Salvation, according to the Bible, relies entirely on Jesus’ saving work.  “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans3:24-25)  According to the Bible, salvation, including living for all eternity in the Father’s mansion, is entirely God’s gift.

     This even includes conversion.  According to the Bible, man doesn’t need to be spiritually rehabilitated he needs to be spiritually resurrected.  That is why it speaks of conversion in terms of rebirth and creation.  That is why it talks about God enlightening the spiritually blind, reconciling to himself the spiritually hostile.  From first to last, in the context of salvation, the Bible has God doing the work.

     Because Mormonism teaches that man has much more potential, it naturally demands that people contribute to their living with heavenly Father.  Salvation, according to Mormonism, is a combination of God’s grace and man’s works.  Where people spend eternity is conditioned on their keeping the commandments.  All of this is a logical outgrowth of where it starts – of its presupposition that there remains a lot of good in people.

     You start in different places you are going to end up in different places.  Many of the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity exist because they start in different places when it comes to their view of man after the Fall.

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30
Mar
10

REPENTANCE AND SUFFERING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10
Mar
10

Paradise

     This week I am preaching on the story of the thief on the cross.  Unfortunately the word thief doesn’t convey to us how bad a person he was.  He was a very bad man.  He himself admitted that when he told the other criminal:  “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.”  (Luke 23:41)    That’s quite a statement seeing that crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals.  It was not used for common criminals. This was an evil man.

     That makes all the more striking the brief dialogue between him and Jesus.  “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.  And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23: 42-43)

     First, what an amazing confession of sin when the man admits that he deserves crucifixion!  Then what an amazing confession of faith and trust in Jesus when he not only addresses him as Lord, but then boldly asks that he remember him when he comes to his kingdom!  Both his addressing Jesus as Lord and the mention of his kingdom show that this man had come to know who Jesus was.  Even more startling is his request that Jesus remember him.  He would only make that request if he knew Jesus was merciful and forgiving.  Otherwise being noticed by King Jesus would be the last thing he would want!

     Down through the centuries, Christians have treasured this story as a wonderful example that being with Jesus hinges on trusting in his mercy rather than on being and doing good. This man was evil.  He would die in a matter of hours.  He would have no chance to work a process of repentance.  But still Jesus reassured him that that very day he would be with him.  I repeat: what a wonderful example of the fact that our being with Jesus depends entirely on his mercy and not on our works.

     The LDS Church, however, sees it differently.  The LDS Bible Dictionary says:  “For example, when Jesus purportedly said to the thief on the cross, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’, the Bible rendering is incorrect.  The statement would more accurately read, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in the word of spirits’ since the thief was not ready for paradise.”

      Here is what its manual on the New Testament says: “To the thief on the cross who asked to be remembered after death, the Savior responded to give him what hope he could:  ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise, ‘That is to say, today you shall be with me in the world of spirits, where you will be taught the gospel and your inquires will be answered. (See Smith, Teachings, p.309)  Jesus did not lend any credence to a death-bed repentance or (sic) the malefactor.  What Jesus did do was give recognition to the seeds of faith and repentance which were evidenced by a penitent man.  As always, the Lord’s efforts were directed toward offering as much hope as possible to one who would turn from darkness unto that everlasting light.”  (Life and Teachings. . .p. 186, emphasis added)

     What comfort is that?  What hope is that?  According to LDS teaching, couldn’t Jesus have said that same thing to the other criminal hanging there who was reviling him?  Doesn’t everybody, according to LDS teaching, go the world of spirits, when they die?  According to LDS teaching, didn’t the other criminal have the opportunity to have the gospel preached to him in the spirit world?    Mormonism’s explanation doesn’t even make sense in the context of its own teachings.

     I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take Jesus’ words at face value.  Once again this week I will praise the Lord who tells me that I will be with him for all eternity solely because of what he has done for me. 

            Amazing grace how sweet the sound-

            That saved a wretch like me!

            I once was lost but now am found,

            Was blind but now I see.

14
Mar
09

Saul’s Conversion

 

     If anybody was in rebellion against Jesus, it was Saul.  Acts 9:1 describes him as “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord”.  As he was traveling to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”  If anybody was NOT worthy to receive a manifestation of Jesus it was Saul.  If anybody was NOT worthy to be converted it was Saul.  He admitted that when he wrote:  “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” (1 Timothy 1:15)

     His conversion stands in striking contrast to the teachings of Mormonism.  “You become converted as a result of your righteous efforts to follow the Savior.” (True to the Faith, p. 41)  Saul was doing the direct opposite of trying to follow the Savior.

     I have had some Mormons try to explain away Saul’s conversion as an exception to the rule because he became an apostle.  But that wasn’t Saul’s testimony.  After describing his conversion, he calls it not an exception, but a pattern.  “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

     I, for one, treasure the story of Saul’s conversion.  I treasure it because it gives ALL the credit to Jesus and his mercy.  I treasure it because it highlights the wonderful biblical teaching that when I was dead in sins God made me spiritually alive in Christ.  I treasure it because it is another example of how my living eternally with Heavenly Father is all about what he does for me, not what I do.  To God be the glory.

23
Jan
09

The Miracle of Conversion

 

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

     The argument is often made that the commands, “Believe” and the like automatically imply the ability to do what is commanded.  If a person doesn’t naturally have the ability to do what is commanded, why give the command?  The logic is that a command presupposes the ability of the person to obey it.

     But that logic doesn’t always apply when God is added to the equation.  Take Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead.  In John 11:44 we hear Jesus crying out, “Lazarus, come forth.”  It would be ridiculous to say that this command implies that Lazarus had the ability to obey it – that Lazarus was lying in the tomb and had a choice:  do I come forth or don’t I come forth?  No, Jesus’ command was a creative command – through that very command Jesus created life in Lazarus’ dead body.

     This is common in miracles.  When Jesus told the lame to walk or the blind to see, his command created within them the power to do what he commanded.  Again it would be ridiculous to say that the lame or the blind had a choice to make:  should I walk or shouldn’t I?  Should I see or shouldn’t I see?

      The Bible describes coming to faith also as a miracle worked by God.  It is a spiritual resurrection:  “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”  Ephesians 2:5.  It is also equated to God’s creation of light.  “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 4:6)  Just like in the examples cited above, God’s commands of “Believe”, “Follow me” etc. are creative commands.  That is why Paul wrote:  “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:  for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’” (Romans 1:16)  Even when it comes to coming to faith, the Bible gives God all the credit.

27
Aug
08

The Miracle of Conversion

 

     In the discussion of agency, the argument is often made that the commands, “Believe” and the like automatically imply the ability to do what is commanded.  If a person doesn’t naturally have the ability to do what is commanded, why give the command?  The logic is that a command presupposes the ability of the person to obey it.

     But that logic doesn’t always apply when God is added to the equation.  Take Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead.  In John 11:44 we hear Jesus crying out, “Lazarus, come forth.”  It would be ridiculous to say that this command implies that Lazarus had the ability to obey it – that Lazarus was lying in the tomb and had a choice:  do I come forth or don’t I come forth?  No, Jesus’ command was a creative command – through that very command Jesus created life in Lazarus’ dead body.

     This is common in miracles.  When Jesus told the lame to walk or the blind to see, his command created within them the power to do what he commanded.  Again it would be ridiculous to say that the lame or the blind had a choice to make:  should I walk or shouldn’t I?  Should I see or shouldn’t I see?

      The Bible describes coming to faith also as a miracle worked by God.  It is a spiritual resurrection:  “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”  Ephesians 2:5.  It is also equated to God’s creation of light.  “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 4:6)  Just like in the examples cited above, God’s commands of “Believe”, “Follow me” etc. are creative commands.  That is why Paul wrote:  “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:  for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’” (Romans 1:16)  Even when it comes to coming to faith, the Bible gives God all the credit.




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