Posts Tagged ‘General Conference

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!

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.

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.

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.

28
Nov
12

Eternal Life: Reward or Gift?

One of the things LDS members are studying and will continue to study for the next few months are the talks delivered at last October’s General Conference.  One of those talks, entitled “What Shall a Man Give in Exchange for His Soul?”, was given by Elder Robert C. Gay.  In it he made the following statement:

     “This is the exchange the Savior is asking of us: we are to give up all our sins, big or small, for the Father’s reward of eternal life. We are to forget self-justifying stories, excuses, rationalizations, defense mechanisms, procrastinations, appearances, personal pride, judgmental thoughts, and doing things our way. We are to separate ourselves from all worldliness and take upon us the image of God in our countenances.

     Brothers and sisters, remember that this charge is more than just not doing bad things. With an engaged enemy we must also act and not sit in “thoughtless stupor.” Taking upon the countenance of God means serving each other. There are sins of commission and sins of omission, and we are to rise above both.”

Note how he explicitly says that eternal life is a reward – a reward for a person overcoming both sins of commission and sins of omission.  In that he is accurately reflecting the teachings of Mormonism and its heavy emphasis on what people have to do.  In fact, his words easily could convince many that, in order to have eternal life, they would have to become sinless.

How different this is from what the Bible says!  It explicitly says that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  Whereas Mormonism continually and repeatedly focuses people on their work, the Bible continually and repeatedly focuses on Jesus’ work for us.  Eternal life is based entirely on what he did for us – his keeping the commandments perfectly as our Substitute and his bloody payment for each and every one of our sins.  Because eternal life is based entirely on what Jesus has already accomplished for us, God can now give it as his gift to us.

There’s a huge difference between a reward and a gift.   A reward puts the focus on the recipient and his or her accomplishments.  A gift puts the focus on the giver and his generosity and love.  A reward creates a lot stress for the recipient who has to struggle to earn it; who can easily worry wondering if they will do enough to earn it.  A gift creates gratitude in the heart of the recipient and the joy and confidence of knowing that they possess it – because it doesn’t depend on them but on the giver.  In short, a reward glorifies the recipient; a gift glorifies the giver.

I thank God daily that he doesn’t talk about eternal life as a reward but as his gift to me.  Thank you, Jesus, for earning it for me.  And may many more see this wonderful truth.

15
Nov
12

Revelation through Feelings

The November issue of Ensign, the monthly magazine of the LDS Church, contains all the talks given at the recent General Conference.  Therefore it is an important issue and one that many members will study for the next six months.

One talk that caught my eye was by Elder Craig C. Christensen, of the Presidency of the Seventy.  It was about the Holy Ghost and how he “communicates to our spirits through feelings and impressions” (p. 13).  He talks about how his six-year old son received a strong feeling as they toured an LDS temple before it was dedicated and how he was experiencing the influence of the Holy Ghost.  The following quote from that article summarizes well his message.

“As inspired thoughts come into our minds, we know them to be true by the spiritual feelings that enter into our hearts. President Boyd K. Packer has taught: “The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. . . . While we speak of ‘listening’ to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, ‘I had a feeling . . .’” It is through these sacred feelings from the Holy Ghost that we come to know what God would have us do, for this, as stated in scripture, “is the spirit of revelation.” (p.14)

Revelation through feelings, as this talk illustrates, is an important component of Mormonism.  And it’s another thing in a long list that reveals the great difference between Mormonism and the Bible.  According to the Bible, it is the place of the Holy Ghost’s revelation.  It is the Spirit-filled word – it is the lamp which shows us our way – it is where Christ is revealed to us.  Mormons would agree with that (adding the caveat “as far as it is translated correctly).  The difference, however, is that the Bible claims to be the only source of revelation.  Isaiah 8:19-20 is just one example of that.  And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

On top of that, feelings can be so fickle – and wrong!  During my ministry, I can’t count how many times I talked with individuals who weren’t concerned that they were violating a direct command of God contained in the Bible because, “it felt right”.  Or “I prayed about it and God said it was OK.”  Just a couple of talks later in the Ensign, Elder Bowen talks about the guilty feelings that he still sometimes has 22 years later over the accidental death of his son.  He shares that, not because he wants to legitimize those feelings, but to say how they weren’t warranted. My point is: how come those feelings weren’t from the Holy Ghost revealing to him that he actually was guilty of doing something wrong?

Some of my LDS friends have sincerely said they feel sorry for me because I only have the Bible to rely on.  I understand where they are coming from.  But I don’t think they understand when I reply how thankful I am that I only have the Bible to rely on.  There God has told me everything I need to know for salvation and for living a life to his glory. There the Holy Spirit has revealed to me wonderful truths about God and his love for me.  There the Holy Spirit reassures me that I will live with Heavenly Father for all eternity solely because of what Jesus has done for me – even when I don’t feel like I’m going to.  Thank God that he has given us the sure rock of his holy Word on which to base our faith!




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