A friend once said,
“I think LDS see us this way though – more concerned about right belief than right living.”
First, let me make clear that in the common Mormon mind, the alternative to this is being more concerned about right living than right belief. This thinking has essentially produced a kind of postmodernism or pluralism that views their beliefs—true or false—as largely just “practical” for helping them be “good people.” This is the worldview from which many Mormons view religious criticism itself as unethical and “bashing” and mean-spirited. For many Mormons, just about any basic religion is inherently practical for right living and sincerity toward God, so none should be actively opposed. Missionary work is described as “adding” and improving upon the beliefs of others, not challenging or replacing them.
Second, in a way Mormons are right about us being “more concerned about right belief than right living,” because Christianity is more about knowing and loving God than it is about treating people right. This may be a shocker, but think about the order of the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave. Christians inevitably do both. One of life’s greatest ironies–an irony that I believe some unbelievers will dwell on forever in hell–is that we can only love people like Jesus wants us to once we have had our sins freely forgiven, and once our obedience becomes an outgrowth of our love for God. And how are we freely forgiven? By faith alone in the promises of God as they really are. And how do our hearts love God? By the focus of faith on the truth and beauty of who God really is. Faith, my friends, is theological, and, ironically, the best and only way to go about “right living” is to prioritize “right belief”–not just the right objective content of belief, but the right subjective heart-desiring, hungering, and thirsting faith that focuses on that right objective content (which is ultimately Christ Himself, as He really is).
Third, Mormons are only wrong about Christians being “more concerned about right belief than right living” if by that they mean we only care about right views of God, but care not at all about the works and obedience that accompany saving faith. The tricky thing is that the phrase “more concerned about right belief than right living” usually conflates two things, one good, and one bad. When challenged with the Christian passion and insistence on the right knowledge of God (replete with religious criticism of false views), Mormons often want to condemn both orthodoxy without obedience and orthodoxy-based-obedience altogether. The condemnation comes in the form of conflating both, and I think it ultimately stems from an unbelief in the power of the gospel (justification of the ungodly by faith alone in the promises of Christ) to change one’s life. Paul anticipated their unbelief almost two thousand years ago in Romans 6:1 and 10:1-4.
But the Christian won’t settle for this sweeping rejection of the primary and foundational role of “right belief.” We will neither accept “right beliefs” without “right living,” nor “right living” without “right belief.” We believe in the power of God, through our “faith alone,” to radically change our lives so that we become as the woman in Luke 7. She “wet [Jesus’] feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the [alabaster flask of] ointment,” not to be worthy, but because she knew the goodness of a savior who freely forgives. “[H]e who is forgiven little, loves little.” She loved much.
Christianity stubbornly refuses to accept any kind of love or obedience that isn’t rooted in the right knowledge and faith and heart-desire toward who God really is, and what He has really promised.
Grace and peace in Christ, who justifies the ungodly like me by faith apart from works (Romans 4:1-8),
- Faith: The Link Between God’s Love For Us and Ours For Others (MP3)
- Above All Earthly Powers: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (Desiring God Conference)
- I highly recommend this video.
- Orthodoxy/Orthopraxy Again, by Phil Johnson