Posts Tagged ‘grace

04
Nov
13

The Lesson from the Rich Young Man

Chapter 14 of the Teachings of President Lorenzo Snow talks about Mormonism’s teaching that “God will add His strength to our efforts” and thus nothing is impossible. In that connection he spends a few paragraphs talking about the story of the rich young man recorded in Matthew 19.

“16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19 Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.  22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”  (Matthew 19)

I find this reference to this story interesting.  Again the whole point of the chapter is that “with God all things are possible”.  But that is not what Jesus told the young man!  He doesn’t even hint at God helping the young man.  There is no mention of grace whatsoever.  All he talks about is keeping the commandments.  If Mormons want to point to these words as a template for gaining eternal life (as many of them do) then they had better not mention grace at all – because Jesus doesn’t.  Here Jesus says it’s 100% – not 50%, not 25%, not 1% – but 100% about keeping the commandments.

That is God’s consistent answer to the question:  “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”  If the question is about what a person needs to do, then God’s answer is you have to do everything.  You have to perfectly keep all the commandments.  If that is the question, then grace is not part of the answer.

That, my friends, is a sobering answer.  It is one that can easily lead to despair.  And that is God’s exact intent!  He wants people to despair – of their own goodness and efforts.  That is what Jesus wanted to accomplish with the young man – he wanted the young man to throw up his hands at the impossibility of doing this.  He wanted that because only people who realize that they are in deep trouble look to him for rescue.

Suppose, for a moment, that there was a person who had to get across the ocean but didn’t realize how big it was.  He was a good swimmer so he thought he could swim across.  He was convinced that he could do it, even after many told him he couldn’t.  Finally they urge him to get into the water and start swimming.  They do that for the express purpose of proving to him that he will fail – so that he won’t try when nobody will be around to save him.

Jesus was doing a similar thing with this young man.  He wanted to impress upon him the impossibility of his keeping all the commandments.  Thus no mention of grace.  Contrary to what Mormonism teaches salvation is not a both/and proposition.  It is not both by grace and works.  It is an either/or proposition.  Either by grace or by works.  It’s one or the other.  Not both/and.  The story of the young man, contrary to what many Mormons state, does not support the both/and proposition, but the either/or one.  This is an important point to remember when this story is being discussed.

Even more important to see – and believe – is that our salvation depends 100% on what Jesus did and 0% on what we do.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  To God and God alone be all the glory!

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)

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.

28
Feb
13

A LITTLE WORK – A LOT OF PRESSURE

Five seconds are left in the basketball game.  It’s not any game either – it’s the championship.  Your team is down by one point.  Your coach calls time out, looks down the bench to where you are sitting and motions you to check into the game.  As you pass him, he pulls you aside and tells you to take the last shot.  “We are counting on you.  It’s all up to you.”

Talk about pressure.  Especially if you have sat on the bench the entire game to that point.  Few people would enjoy being in that situation.  Few people would succeed in that situation.

But that is the position a lot of Mormons feel that they are in.  It is inaccurate to say that Mormonism teaches that people are saved by their works alone.  No, it talks about God’s grace.  But it doesn’t teach that people are saved by grace alone.  “However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient.”  (LDS Bible Dictionary)

Pause for a moment and think of the tremendous pressure that exerts on many Mormons.  Imagine trying to live under that.  Even if we think that we have to contribute only 1% to our salvation – that opens the door to a whole lot of worry.  It’s like the sub coming off the bench being told that he has to make only one basket, the winning basket.  But with one big difference.  The pressure Mormonism places on many of its adherents doesn’t last just for a few moments – it’s there for an entire lifetime.

How much better is the biblical message of Titus 3:4-7:  “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,  5Not 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; 6Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;  7That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  There’s no work – and no pressure.  To God be all the glory.

14
Feb
13

A Sobering Scripture

In his third chapter, James writes:

          “Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.  Behold also the ships, which though [they be] so great, and [are] driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.  Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

         And the tongue [is] a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

7        For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:  But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

9       Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.  Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet [water] and bitter?  Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so [can] no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”

There are fewer passages that are more sobering than that.  It vividly shows that talk is not cheap – that the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is totally wrong.  We all can think of examples of how just a few words destroyed a person.  Words are powerful – and deadly.

What is even more sobering is that when, in the last paragraph James applies this to believers, he shows that, even after people have been brought to faith, they can’t completely control their tongues.  The best we can do is an unnatural inconsistency – as we talk out of both sides of our mouths.

That is something that I can’t argue with.  It’s not difficult to think of biting words I wished I would have swallowed; unloving criticism that I have gleefully offered, teasing that went too far.  This passage does a good job of fulfilling its purpose.  It vividly shows me my sin.

What a blessing it is that seeing my sinfulness doesn’t drive me to despair but rather drives me into the arms of my Savior.  As I think about this passage, I am filled with awe with the realization that Jesus never once spoke a wrong word.  Never once did his tongue cause him to sin.  Just try to imagine that.  As a boy playing with his brothers and sisters and the other kids in Nazareth, he never once said anything wrong.  As a  carpenter, never venting about a customer.  As a teacher, always giving just the right criticism to his disciples.  Even when he was abused, he didn’t strike back with wrong words.

And then! I realize that I get all the credit for that!  This is all part of the perfect robe of his righteousness – the robe that he has freely given me – the robe that makes me perfect in God’s sight.  But not only did he cover my sins with his righteousness, he washed them away with his blood!  All those unkind words – all that biting criticism – they have been separated from me as far as the east is from the west.  Because of Jesus, and only because of him, I am a perfect saint in God’s eyes.  Because of Jesus, and only because of him, I am totally confident that I will spend all eternity with him and the Father as part of their eternal family.  To him and to him alone be all praise and glory!

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.

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!




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