Posts Tagged ‘works



24
Feb
11

What Qualifies People to Live with Heavenly Father for all eternity?

(I’m repeating this post from over a year ago because some LDS members remarked that it helped them understand our position on faith and works.)

A topic that frustrates both Christians and Mormons is the topic of faith and works.  It usually creates much more heat than light.  Therefore I would like to approach this somewhat differently in an attempt, at the very least, to clarify some of the issues involved.  I would like to address the question in the title.  What qualifies people to live with Heavenly Father for all eternity?

I worded it that way because I have found that the phrase “living with Heavenly Father” is the best way to get Mormons and Christians thinking about somewhat the same thing.  When Christians hear that phrase, most think of going to heaven.  When Mormons hear that phrase, most think of going to the celestial kingdom.

In this post, all I want to do is to try and express, as clearly, as I can, what I believe the Bible says qualifies people to live with Heavenly Father eternally.  The answer to that is quite simple.  The only thing that qualifies people is the vicarious work of Jesus –which the Bible breaks into two parts.   The first part is the perfect life he led, not just as our Example, but as our Substitute.  (1 Corinthians 1:30 and all the passages that talk about the righteousness we have in Christ.)  The second part is his sacrificial death which satisfied divine justice by paying the debt of sin.  In other words, Jesus not only supplied the payment for all sin with his death; he also supplied righteousness and perfection for us through his perfect law-keeping.  His complete payment and his perfect law-keeping are what qualify people to live with Heavenly Father.  Sinlessness and perfection is what Heavenly Father is looking for.  No more – no less.

Yes, faith is essential but not because it is an additional qualification.  Rather it is the way that Christ’s work is credited to individual persons.  Faith is one of those words that cause great confusion between Mormons and Christians. For my Mormon readers, I would like to clarify what Christians mean when they talk about faith.  Faith is not just head knowledge.  It is trust.  Conversion, in Christianity, is abandoning the trust that your works and efforts in any way qualify you to stand before God and replacing that with trust that Jesus’ works are the only thing that qualifies you to stand before God.  When it comes to living eternally with Heavenly Father, it is not even believing that God exists, or so much believing in his Word, but it is trusting in Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death for us.  To a Christian, faith, in the context of living eternally with Heavenly Father, is very specific.

Yes, faith is without works is dead.  But again the works that follow faith are not additional qualifications for living eternally with Heavenly Father.  When people are converted, they cross over from spiritual death to spiritual life.  They become new creations.  They are filled with life and thus naturally want to do good works.  That is why the Bible often calls them fruits of faith.  They come after faith and are the visible proofs and evidence that people have living faith.

Christians are very careful to keep works in their proper place.  They abhor any thought that their works in any way qualify them to live with Heavenly Father.  That idea, to many Christians, dishonors Christ tremendously.  Not only that.  Since the Bible says grace and works don’t mix as causes of being accepted by God (Romans 11:6), Christians say any mention of works in the discussion of how people qualify for living eternally with Heavenly Father actually disqualifies a person to live eternally with Heavenly Father.

Finally, yes, people have to endure in the faith.  It’s who people are trusting in that counts.  If people quit trusting in Jesus works, then they won’t be able to live eternally with Heavenly Father.  But again that is not an additional qualification.  If a fireman rescues me from a burning house and I stay on the sidewalk in safety rather than running back into the burning house, I wouldn’t say that I did something to be saved.  What an insult that would be to the fireman who risked his life to save me.

I pray that in some small way this helps Mormons better understand Christians and also helps them understand why many Christians become greatly agitated at any thought that we have to do something to qualify to live eternally with Heavenly Father.

 

 

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30
Dec
10

What is repentance?

      Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that repentance is important.  Therefore it is also important to define it carefully and accurately. This is not a place to be slipshod or careless.

     The Greek word translated repent literally means to change your mind.  That is also an accurate description of repentance.  In modern terms, it is a change of mindset, a changing of your paradigm.  Biblical repentance is the gigantic shift from trusting in your own works to be right with God to trusting in Jesus’ works to make you right with God.  It is rooted in the recognition of two important facts: 1) how utterly unable I am to do anything to make myself right with God; and 2) how fully and completely Jesus made me right with God.  Repentance is seeing the light – it is nothing less than a new birth.

    There are a number of things that naturally follow repentance.  Once our eyes are open to the ugliness and seriousness of sin, we abhor it.  Even though we abhor it, we see that we are still very weak in the face of it.  Therefore, even though we try not to sin, we know we will sin.  Down through the centuries, millions of repentant people have joined Paul in saying, “For the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.”  (Romans 7:19) 

    But not only does repentance open our eyes to our sinfulness, it also opens them to the greatness of God’s forgiveness.  “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”  (Psalm 32:1)  A repentant person doesn’t think he has to quit sinning to remain in God’s good graces – he knows he can’t.  Rather he remains trusting 100% in what Jesus has already done for him.   Repentance, through and through, is turning completely away from trust in one’s goodness and works to trust in Jesus’ works.

     That, however, is not the message of Mormonism.  Its Inspired Version (JST) translates Psalm 32:1 this way:  “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and who have no sins to be covered.”  Consistently it describes repentance as a long process – a process that focuses not on a change in thinking but a change of action.

     One part of Mormonism’s process of repentance that startles many Christians is the “abandonment of sin”.  “Maintain an unyielding permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression.  When you keep this commandment, you will never experience the pain of that sin again.’  (True to the Faith, p. 135)  Over the years, I have had Mormons expand on this in two different ways.  I have had some echo what this says and say that repentant persons will never repeat the sin again.  If they do, that shows that they weren’t truly repentant.  More often, however, are the Mormons who say that all this means is to try – but they don’t have to actually abandon the sin.  I, however, have never found any official statement that watered it down in that way.

    The second part of Mormonism’s process of repentance that strikes many Christians is the requirement of full obedience.  “President Kimball said: ‘First, one repents.  Having gained that ground he then must live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point.  This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness.”  (Gospel Principles, p. 11-112)  Again many Mormons insert the word “try’ – in “try to live the commandments”.  But that is not what it says.  Consistently it says obey the commandments.  In fact, I have read official statements which say to try is a statement of weakness. 

      I, for one, would despair if I believed that I would have to not only abandon sin but keep all the commandments in order to secure God’s forgiveness.  That is way, way, way, beyond my capability.  That is why I am so glad that this is not what biblical repentance is.  I am so glad that true repentance is abandoning not sin but all thoughts that I can do something like that and instead placing all trust in what Jesus has done.  Because of Jesus, I am truly blessed as a repentant, forgiven man.

11
Sep
10

COMMANDMENTS: RUNGS ON THE LADDER TO HEAVEN?

     Mormonism teaches that keeping God’s commandments are vital to salvation.  Joseph Smith said, “To get salvation, we must not only do some things, but everything which God has commanded.”  (Teachings of Presidents of the Church – Joseph Smith, p. 161)  Members of the LDS church regularly point to all the commandments in the Bible as proof of this.  They scoff at the idea that salvation is through faith alone.  One of the men whom they look upon as a living prophet wrote:  “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.”  (Spencer W. Kimball)

      There is no denying that the Bible is full of commands.  The question is:  what is the purpose of those commands?  Did God give us commands so that by obeying them we could obtain salvation?  This is a possibility the Bible discusses.  “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.”  (Romans 10:5)  The key word is “doeth”.   The righteousness of the law is a righteousness obtained by doing, keeping, obeying.

     But here comes the rub.  According to the Bible, it’s all or nothing.  It’s not trying your best – it’s not progressing – it’s doing everything all the time.  “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.”  (James 2:10)  And this is something the Bible says no one can do.   So much so that all who are trying to do that are under God’s curse and not his blessing.  “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”  (Galatians 3:10)   Note that a person has to continue to do all things in the law if they don’t want to be under God’s curse.  Stumbling at just one point, breaking one commandment, makes people guilty.

     That was the point Jesus was making with the rich young man.  Notice what the young man asks Jesus.  “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”  (Matthew 19:16)  He asks what he must do.  That’s how Jesus answered him.  “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”  (v. 21)  In other words, Jesus says, if you want to base your eternal life on what you do, you need to do everything.

     This highlights one of the main reasons why God gave us so many commandments – to convince us that we can’t keep them perfectly.  “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)  God has given us the commandments so that we despair of trying to save ourselves through our own works.  Commandments are not rungs on the ladder of salvation.  It’s only when we realize the desperate straits we are in that we will quit trying to save ourselves and cling to our Savior, Jesus.

     Yes, the Bible is full of commands.  But the critical question is how the Bible uses them.  Does it put them into the discussion of salvation?  It does that only by saying that if you want to be saved by keeping the commandments, you have to keep them perfectly – you have to continue to do all of them.  As soon as you break one, you are under God’s curse- a situation that was remedied only by Jesus.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us:  for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”  (Galatians 3:13) 

    Jesus has done it all.  It is my prayer that more and more members of the LDS church see that and rely totally on what Jesus has done for them.

29
May
10

Receiving or Doing?

 

     There has been some discussion about the story of the rich young man in the comments after my last post.  In this post I would like to make a point that hasn’t been made in that thread yet.  And that is the placement of this story in Mark’s Gospel. 

     One aspect of Bible study that is often neglected is seeing the structure and flow of the individual books of the Bible and how each part relates to other parts.  This is something people often don’t see especially when it comes to the four Gospels.  Without giving it much thought, many people think that the four Gospels are just individual stories and parables of Jesus strung together without much structure.  But nothing is further from the truth than that.  Each Gospel writer wrote with a specific purpose in mind.  Each carefully structured his Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Each placed the individual stories in their Gospels as carefully as a jeweler places each gem in its setting.

     We see Mark doing that in the placement of the story of the rich young ruler.  He significantly placed it right after the story of Jesus’ blessing of the little children.  As such it stands in bold contrast to it especially Jesus’ saying in Mark 10:15.  “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”  As one commentator pointed out, children are not like adults who don’t want anything given to them.  Rather they eagerly and ashamedly receive things as gifts. This is all the more striking when we say that Luke reports that the little children being brought to Jesus were infants.  (Luke 18:15)  The point is little children, especially infants, don’t do anything.  They receive things. As Jesus says, “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

     What a striking contrast then is offered by the rich young man!  The topic is the same:  entering the kingdom of heaven.  (Compare Mark 10:15 with verses 23-24.)  But the approach is so much different.  The young man wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life.  As has been stated in the comments on the previous post, if “doing” is the question, then there is no room for talk of the Atonement – then there is no room for “trying”.  It’s all about doing.  That is the level Jesus answers him.  In effect Jesus says, if you don’t want to receive it as a small child but want to earn it, then you had better do everything.  That’s why Jesus tells him to sell his possessions. 

     This, however, is something no one can do.  “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’” (Galatians 3:10)  Jesus makes that same point to the disciples when, after the young man left, he said: “With men it is impossible.” (v. 27)  Man can’t do what needs to be done to inherit eternal life.

     But what man can’t do, God did.  “with God all things are possible”.  Jesus did do everything that was commanded and he did it for us.  Jesus paid the full price for every one of our sins.  Jesus did it all so that God can give us eternal life in his kingdom, living in his mansions, freely as a gift

       That’s why little children, and not hard-working adults, are to be our role models.  That’s the clear lesson Mark is teaching us by contrasting these two stories.

19
May
10

X-Ray Vision

     How often hasn’t an X-Ray or a CAT scan found something seriously wrong in a person who outwardly looked good and even felt good?  We all probably know at least one person like that – who was shocked to learn, after undergoing a routine procedure, that they had a serious problem.  After the shock, comes thankfulness, especially in those situations where the problem was caught in its early stages and can be addressed. 

     Just as X-rays see things we can’t see, so also the Lord.  “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  That is sobering especially when we see that Jesus pointed to the heart as the source of all defilement. 

     The Pharisees had criticized Jesus’ disciples for eating with ceremonially unclean hands.  Jesus not only rebuked them for laying aside God’s commands for human traditions, he went on to explain how foolish it is to think that defilement comes from outside of us.  “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.” (Mark 7:15)  A few verses later he expanded on this to his disciples:  “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:  All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”  (Mark 7: 21-23).  As Jesus here emphasizes, the important thing to God is what lies within us – for he doesn’t look at the outward appearance but instead he looks at our hearts.

    That’s very sobering – because it doesn’t take much reflection on my part to realize that my heart’s X-ray doesn’t look good.  Even though I often can refrain from acting on them, evil thoughts still arise within me.  Before I even know it, I get angry thoughts about the driver ahead of me.  Or an unclean thought about the woman who walked by.  Or some unsavory pride as someone compliments me.  Or an unhealthy fixation on money as I view my bank statement.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of self-evaluation to realize how embarrassing it would be if somehow a video of my last day’s thoughts could be broadcast for all to see.  That would not be a pretty picture.

     What is even more distressing is that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t completely quash those evil thoughts.  In fact, some days I wonder if I can even make a dent in them.  And if I do succeed one day suppressing one type of them, they seem to come back with a vengeance the next day.  For example, I wake up determined to work hard on having loving thoughts about everyone including any driver ahead of me.  I might even do a pretty good job for a day. But then something happens the next day, and it all flies out the window.  When I examine my heart I identify with St. Paul who said, “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. . .O wretched man that I am!”  (Romans 7:19, 24)

     As I said this is sobering especially in light of the biblical teaching that sin, no matter what it is, carries the death penalty.  “The wages of sin is death.”   When the police pull me over for speeding, I can’t argue that I don’t deserve a ticket because I followed the law by stopping at the stop sign.  No, it doesn’t matter if I had followed every other traffic law.  If I was speeding, I broke the law.  Likewise it doesn’t matter if my heart contains one evil thought or a million.  “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  (James 2:10)

     Because my heart is so riddled with evil thoughts, because no matter how hard I try I can’t rid myself of those evil thoughts, I shudder to direct the Lord’s attention to anything I do as a reason for him to accept me.  Because, as he traces everything I do or say back to the source, my heart, there’s a whole lot there that he isn’t going to be pleased with.  That’s why I want him to only look at what Jesus did for me.  When he looks there, he will be well-pleased – for there he will see perfection.  The last thing I want to do is contaminate his perfection by mixing in my imperfections. 

     Why is Heavenly Father going to welcome me with open arms into his presence for all eternity?  Only, solely, totally, completely because of what Jesus has done for me.  He gets all the credit – all the praise – all the glory.

17
Nov
09

What Qualifies People to Live with Heavenly Father for all eternity?

     A topic that frustrates both Christians and Mormons is the topic of faith and works.  It usually creates much more heat than light.  Therefore I would like to approach this somewhat differently in an attempt, at the very least, to clarify some of the issues involved.  I would like to address the question in the title.  What qualifies people to live with Heavenly Father for all eternity?

    I worded it that way because I have found that the phrase “living with Heavenly Father” is the best way to get Mormons and Christians thinking about somewhat the same thing.  When Christians hear that phrase, most think of going to heaven.  When Mormons hear that phrase, most think of going to the celestial kingdom.

    In this post, all I want to do is to try and express, as clearly, as I can, what I believe the Bible says qualifies people to live with Heavenly Father eternally.  The answer to that is quite simple.  The only thing that qualifies people is the vicarious work of Jesus –which the Bible breaks into two parts.   The first part is the perfect life he led, not just as our Example, but as our Substitute.  (1 Corinthians 1:30 and all the passages that talk about the righteousness we have in Christ.)  The second part is his sacrificial death which satisfied divine justice by paying the debt of sin.  In other words, Jesus not only supplied the payment for all sin with his death; he also supplied righteousness and perfection for us through his perfect law-keeping.  His complete payment and his perfect law-keeping are what qualify people to live with Heavenly Father.  Sinlessness and perfection is what Heavenly Father is looking for.  No more – no less.

     Yes, faith is essential but not because it is an additional qualification.  Rather it is the way that Christ’s work is credited to individual persons.  Faith is one of those words that cause great confusion between Mormons and Christians. For my Mormon readers, I would like to clarify what Christians mean when they talk about faith.  Faith is not just head knowledge.  It is trust.  Conversion, in Christianity, is abandoning the trust that your works and efforts in any way qualify you to stand before God and replacing that with trust that Jesus’ works are the only thing that qualifies you to stand before God.  When it comes to living eternally with Heavenly Father, it is not even believing that God exists, or so much believing in his Word, but it is trusting in Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death for us.  To a Christian, faith, in the context of living eternally with Heavenly Father, is very specific.

     Yes, faith without works is dead.  But again the works that follow faith are not additional qualifications for living eternally with Heavenly Father.  When people are converted, they cross over from spiritual death to spiritual life.  They become new creations.  They are filled with life and thus naturally want to do good works.  That is why the Bible often calls them fruits of faith.  They come after faith and are the visible proofs and evidence that people have living faith. 

     Christians are very careful to keep works in their proper place.  They abhor any thought that their works in any way qualify them to live with Heavenly Father.  That idea, to many Christians, dishonors Christ tremendously.  Not only that.  Since the Bible says grace and works don’t mix as causes of being accepted by God (Romans 11:6), Christians say any mention of works in the discussion of how people qualify for living eternally with Heavenly Father actually disqualifies a person to live eternally with Heavenly Father.

     Finally, yes, people have to endure in the faith.  It’s who people are trusting in that counts.  If people quit trusting in Jesus works, then they won’t be able to live eternally with Heavenly Father.  But again that is not an additional qualification.  If a fireman rescues me from a burning house and I stay on the sidewalk in safety rather than running back into the burning house, I wouldn’t say that I did something to be saved.  What an insult that would be to the fireman who risked his life to save me.

     I pray that in some small way this helps Mormons better understand Christians and also helps them understand why many Christians become greatly agitated at any thought that we have to do something to qualify to live eternally with Heavenly Father.

11
Nov
09

Misrepresentation

     Whenever there is interaction between people, there exists the real possibility of misunderstanding and misrepresentation.  Communication is difficult.  It’s difficult, at times, to express ourselves clearly.  It’s even more difficult to listen carefully.  Good listeners are few and far between.

     The importance of good communication is paramount when people of different faiths interact.  Such interactions demand clear speaking and careful listening.   Naturally, because of the nature of this blog, I am here mainly thinking of communication between Mormons and non-Mormons.  I would like to outline some of the issues that have made this difficult for me.

      1.  Who do I listen to when I want to get a true picture of Mormonism?  Do I restrict myself to its scriptures – do I include the words of the living prophet seeing that often they are also labeled as scripture – do I also look at the official church manuals as more than one LDS leader has encouraged me to do?  Or do I listen to what individual Mormons tell me?  And what do I do when they either contradict each other or some official sources? 

     Permit me one small recent example.  It is my experience that LDS sources are quite consistent in defining eternal life as equal to exaltation, life in the celestial kingdom.  More than one source goes out of its way to make it distinct from immortality.  As I said, this seems to be quite consistent.  Therefore I think it is only right for me to observe that distinction when talking to Mormons.  But recently that distinction was ignored by a Mormon and I was told I was misrepresenting Mormonism.  When that happens, that brings to mind a couple of questions:  Who should I be listening to understand what Mormonism teaches about eternal life?  And how can I get the conversation on track again when discrepancies like this arise?  In other words, suddenly the discussion revolves around the definition of a phrase, rather than the original topic.

     I hasten to add, that Mormons face the same problem when talking to Christians.  They too probably end up scratching their heads on who to listen to.  This is my two-cents worth of advice to Mormons.  If you want to know what a certain denomination of Baptists, or Lutherans, or others believe, look at what they have stated officially.  I will be the first to admit that many Christians don’t accurately represent all the beliefs of their churches.  Yes, if I want to know what an individual person believes, whether Mormon or Christian, I need to listen to him or her.  But I think it is also proper to point out to people where their beliefs differ from those held by their church. 

     2.  My second problem is when people don’t listen and, at the very least, seem to be intentionally misrepresenting the position of others.  Again, I will be the first to admit that this is something I have seen Christians doing with Mormonism.  But I have also seen it go the other way.  The one that I find irritating is when Mormons say that Christians think that because salvation is free, they can run amuck and sin all they want.  I know of no Christian church that teaches that.  I don’t know how many times I have tried to explain that, when it comes to being saved- being justified – works have no place.  In that context, the Bible and Christianity teach that works are deadly.  The only works that apply there are the works of Christ for us.  But the Bible and Christianity also teaches that, as a result of being saved, as a fruit of faith, Christians will do good works. 

         I have made that point repeatedly in this blog.  But I still have Mormons misrepresenting what I and others Christians believe.  At the very least, that doesn’t aid in communication.

     I will try my best to avoid misrepresenting the teachings of any church.  All I ask is that you do the same.




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