Saved by Works?

Not long ago a Latter-day Saint left this as part of a comment on Mormon Coffee:

“LDS people don’t believe that you are saved by grace, but by works.”

I’m sure there are some Mormons who would take issue with this Latter-day Saint’s statement of belief. In my experience, most of the Mormons I’ve corresponded with believe salvation (eternal life in the presence of God) is achieved by a combination of grace-plus-works.

Be that as it may, either idea (saved by works or saved by grace-plus-works) is recognized — within the bounds of historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity — as heresy.

For insight on the Christian commitment to salvation by grace through faith, watch this short excerpt of Pastor John Piper (3 minutes) explaining why God decided to save His people by faith alone.

This movie requires Flash Player 9

You may ask, “Where, then, do good works come in? For God said we would be judged according to our works” (See John 5:29; 1 Corinthians 5:10). For insight on the Bible’s teaching on this, I invite you to listen to another excerpt from John Piper (4 minutes, MP3).

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works;
otherwise grace would no longer be grace”
-Romans 11:6-

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Salvation. Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to Saved by Works?

  1. rick b says:

    My questions are these, How do you know which works are needed to be done to be saved and how many do you need to do to be saved.

    Then why is doing good works a good thing, in the sense that, people on their death bed cannot do good works so they cannot be saved, at least according to LDS beliefe.

    Then, in order to enter the temple, you need to do certain things to get in. Yet it is up to some LDS person to judge according to what we tell him, if we did enough to enter, how is works better than Grace Alone? Rick b

  2. John C. says:

    First, the snarky aside:
    Wait, you guys are Orthodox? Why aren’t there more icons here?

    Second, the sincere questions:
    How does one demonstrate faith? How do you know that I (a Mormon) don’t have faith? Is there some sort of statement or experience necessary in order to have faith? Why does Christ say that we have to baptized to enter into the Kingdom of God (assuming that baptism is what was meant by being born of water and of the Spirit) if no act is necessary? How does the idea that acts/works are unnecessary flow with the idea that acts/works follow faith?

    Finally, the snarky question:
    Why do you all get to post links without providing a summary of arguments, but I don’t?

  3. John C., faith without works is dead, and that means folks like Mormons are in big trouble, because the only works that God wants come from a heart freely and fully forgiven for all sins.

    Also, faith is not nebulous. It is attached to real promises made by Jesus. Jesus has offered free and immediate forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life to all who would simply trust him for it, who would receive it by faith apart from works or worthiness or merits or ordinances. Mormonism teaches its people to reject that promise and instead prove one’s worthiness and personal righteousness as a part of repentance and a prerequisite for forgiveness.

    Regarding John 3, I believe Jesus is referring to the second birth mentioned in Ezekiel 36. Jesus expects Nicodemus to already know this, because he is a teacher and it is already spoken of in the Old Testament. For a number of reasons which I will outline later in a post, this makes far more sense than tying it to John’s baptism.

    “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36

    The reason we require summaries with links to Mormon apologetic material is that it so often serves as a disorienting fog. In my experience Mormons will often point to the material without understanding it themselves.

  4. Joe says:

    The saved by works theology is a misunderstanding of the Epistle of James by Joseph Smith. He took literally the phrase of “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20) It’s fairly clear that James was observing that if one’s actions do not follow their alleged faith, their faith is dead. (This is supported by the common scriptural phrase “by their fruits ye shall know them” or something comparable.)

    Ironically, The Book of Mormon clearly teaches salvation by grace. While doing so, it utterly demolishes the Mormon insistence on both baptism by water and the requirement for temple endowments. The key point is that the words are not those of a prophet, but of Jesus Christ Himself when he spoke to the surviving people in the Americas after his crucification.

    3 Nephi 9:14

    “Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.”

    3 Nephi 9:20

    “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost….”

  5. Joe says:

    BTW, the Nicodemus incident of John 3 must be looked at in context. Jesus was speaking with a Jewish scholar. Jesus’ statement would make sense ONLY if Jews believed in baptism, which they didn’t and don’t.

    (This is a common mistake by Mormons. They assume that ancient [i.e. pre-Christ] Judaism is more like Mormon theology than it was. This confusion leads to misunderstanding other scriptures, such as those used to justify baptisms for the dead.)

  6. I know Mormons will say, “well that’s exactly what we believe about faith and works” (that, as James 2 indicates, works are a necessary and inevitable evidence of faith). But the problem is that works play far more than just an evidentiary role in Mormonism. Part of the very reason mankind is here on earth in Mormonism is to prove one’s personal “worthiness” unto forgiveness, exaltation, and godhood. As the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet reads:

    “His desire, purpose, and glory is to have you return to Him pure and undefiled, having proven yourselves worthy of an eternity of joy in His presence… [H]e knows that only those who are worthy will be able to live with him.”

    As Spencer W. Kimball once said,

    “Man can transform himself and he must. Man has in himself the seeds of godhood, which can germinate and grow and develop. As the acorn becomes the oak, the mortal man becomes a god. It is within his power to lift himself by his very bootstraps from the plane on which he finds himself to the plane on which he should be.” (>>)

    Kimball wrote of the “repentance which merits forgiveness” (p. 354) in The Miracle of Forgiveness. I highly recommend that anyone read it to get a good idea of what teaching Mormons still find acceptable today.

  7. rick b says:

    If works save, how can people on their death bed be saved? I saw no LDS reply for that.

    Then if we are to keep the laws and Gods commandments to be saved, then this is what Jesus said, Mat 22:36 Master, which [is] the great commandment in the law?

    Mat 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

    Mat 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.

    Mat 22:39 And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    Mat 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    If ALL THE LAWS hang upon this, then I really have no need to do any other works, because simply Loving God and my neighbour fulls it all. Rick b

  8. Rick, I assume you would agree that we should still obey, “Do not commit adultery”. The whole point of keeping the “lesser” commandments is to fulfill the greatest commandments, of course.

  9. rick b says:

    Aaron,I agree we should keep the Lesser, But yet if we Love Godand Love our neighbour, then I wont want to Commit Adultry, or steal, or kill, or break the law as it were, that is why if I do these two Jesus said, then all will be fuffiled. Rick b

  10. Jeff says:

    My issue with the matter is that the LDS church seems to put too much FAITH in works instead of FAITH in Jesus. Quietly they put into your mind “You have to do good works so you can DESERVE salvation”..

    Can we all agree that no human being on earth DESERVES salvation and there is nothing we can do without Jesus to obtain it? Without Jesus we would have been doomed. I believe that if one actually realizes the sinner within and the sacrifice Jesus made for us, that we would naturally be loyal to him and try to follow his teachings (doing good things).

  11. Geoff J says:

    Not long ago a Latter-day Saint left this as part of a comment on Mormon Coffee:

    Do you have a link to that comment?

  12. Geoff, it’s here under “Mike on May 11th, 2007”.

  13. Geoff J says:

    Thanks Aaron.

    I’m afraid that “Mike” was mistaken in that comment. Mormonism does teach that only through the grace of God can we be saved.

    I commented earlier asking about this but it got gobbled up somehow. Did I read that you are a Calvinist? Is that true of most of the permabloggers here? (Also, what percentage of Evangelicals would you say are Calvinists?)

    The reason I ask is that with the predestination doctrine associated with Calvinism it is a no-brainer that a Calvinist would have a very low opinion of works in regards to salvation. However, a Christian who rejected predestination and believed in a more robust form of free will would disagree.

    Mormons of course do believe in a robust free will for humankind. As I understand the issue, that means that grace is best understood in the previent sense of the word — that is, God invites us to become one with him in a personal relationship despite our utter unworthiness for such a relationship. Our only real work is to repent and accept his invitation.

  14. rick b says:

    Geoff J,
    Just so you know, because you asked, I am not a Calvinist. But like I keep asking, how come works are required by your god, knowing full well even through works not all will be saved. How many works must you do? What about death bed repentance, they cannot be saved. How can works be helpful or ever better than Grace alone. Rick b

  15. Geoff J says:

    Rick: How many works must you do?

    We only must accept God’s gracious offer of a personal relationship with Him. (Whether you call that one work or many is a matter of taste I suppose.)

    What about death bed repentance, they cannot be saved.

    True. But Mormons believe that is what the spirit world is for. (BTW — I’ve never seen anyone actual speak of deathbed repentance as a “feature” and not a “bug”…)

    How can works be helpful or ever better than Grace alone.

    It’s probably a semantics thing and relates back to views on free will. You seem to be saying good works happen as an inevitable and irresistible result of grace; I think good works are a choice. But we agree that God’s grace precedes any good we do in the world.

  16. rick b says:

    Geoff said You seem to be saying good works happen as an inevitable and irresistible result of grace

    I’m not saying that and never said that. I believe works are a choice also, But I dont believe works save us in any way shape or form. I believe it insults God to say works are required, that would mean Jesus lied, when He said, It is finished. How was it finished if we must add works? Rick b

  17. “Mormonism does teach that only through the grace of God can we be saved.”

    “Only” through the grace of God? C’mon Geoff, grace alone gets your feet off the ground according to LDS teaching, but it does not exalt anybody.

    “Through grace, made available by the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, all people will be resurrected and receive immortality (see 2 Nephi 9:6-13). But resurrection alone does not qualify us for eternal life in the presence of God. Our sins make us unclean and unfit to dwell in God’s presence, and we need His grace to purify and perfect us ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23)” (True to the Faith, p.77).

  18. Geoff J says:

    Bill: C’mon Geoff, grace alone gets your feet off the ground according to LDS teaching, but it does not exalt anybody.

    Thus I said only through grace can we be saved.

    God invites us to be one with him and to enter in to his loving embrace. This is grace. As we choose to move closer to him He continues to beckon and encourage us. This is grace.

    If God ever rescinded his grace and stopped inviting us to his embrace none of us would have any hope of entering his loving arms no matter what we did. Thus it is only through the grace of God that we can be saved.

  19. rick b says:

    I see no Grace in Mormonism.
    Murders cannot be forgivin, No forgivness for those on their death beds, No one can attain exaltation unless they enter the temple.

    All those poor Mormon missionarys, giving up two years of their life in service for their god and Church, only to die while out on the Mission filed, yet if they dont enter the temple it was all for nothing. I asked about that to some MM’s at my house, their reply was, were not worried about it at this time, but yes, your correct. How is any of this grace? Rick b

  20. I don’t at all see the connection between an invitation and an actual bestowal of grace that involves a forgiveness of sins.

    “This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts. Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Ne. 25:23)” (LDS Bible Dictionary, p.697).

    The above is not New Testament grace.

  21. “Mormonism does teach that only through the grace of God can we be saved.”

    Statements like these really don’t make for meaningful dialog. If this statement of yours were true in the sense that evangelical Protestants affirm it then Mormons wouldn’t have any unforgiven sin. The issue isn’t whether some sort of grace is essential. The issue is whether grace is sufficient as received by faith alone apart from works, merit, worthiness, and ordinances. As a reader of your blog, Geoff, I’m aware that you believe in multiple mortal probations and affirm the “merit programs” of God.

    It’s useless to speak of a “low” or “high” view of works without some context and qualification. Using this language one could be speaking on anything from the role of merit to the evidences of faith. No evangelical Christian thinks human merit plays any role in the sense of earning or meriting forgiveness or eternal life. And nearly all Arminians and absolutely all historic Calvinists (like myself) believe that works are a necessary and inevitable fruit of faith.

  22. Geoff, I once summarized Mormon theology like this:

    God has graciously given us the opportunity to merit our own Celestial exaltation by personal efforts with the gracious assistance of Christ.

    That’s like an employer saying, “I have graciously given you the opportunity to earn your paycheck.” But that’s not the kind of New Testament grace evangelicals are speaking of (cf. Romans 4:4-8).

  23. Geoff J says:

    Bill: I don’t at all see the connection between an invitation and an actual bestowal of grace that involves a forgiveness of sins.

    Good comment. I’ll try to explain as I understand it.

    The invitation is the the bestowal of grace. We are not worthy of God’s loving embrace as we are — we are not worthy of being one with him. Yet he graciously invites us to become one with him anyway. As we change our character our character becomes slowly more like his character. Our sins become a thing of the past and we fundamentally become more Christ-like persons. So our past sins become irrelevant and all that matters is who we become. Eventually we can become sufficiently like God to be one with him and Christ as Jesus described in the Great Intercessory Prayer in John 17.

  24. Geoff,
    How many Mormons have successfully changed their character to the point that it is similar to Jesus’ character?

  25. It seems as though some Mormons feel like they can soften the blow of the “after all your can do” prerequisite by summarizing it as “entering into a loving embrace” or “receiving a personal relationship”. But behind the rhetorical flourish is a harsh reality:

    “What is meant by ‘after all we can do’? ‘After all we can do’ includes extending our best effort. ‘After all we can do’ includes living His commandments. ‘After all we can do’ includes loving our fellowmen and praying for those who regard us as their adversary. ‘After all we can do’ means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and giving ‘succor [to] those who stand in need of [our] succor’ (Mosiah 4:15)-remembering that what we do unto one of the least of God’s children, we do unto Him (see Matthew 25:34-40; D&C 42:38). ‘After all we can do’ means leading chaste, clean, pure lives, being scrupulously honest in all our dealings and treating others the way we would want to be treated.” – Ezra Taft Benson (“After All We Can Do,” Christmas Devotional, Salt Lake City, Utah, 9 December 1982. Quoted in The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 354.)

    And since “after all you can do” has been equated with “[t]rue and complete repentance” (Ronald E. Poelman, “Divine Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1993), it must be the case that the six steps of repentance (as defined by Mormonism) are included:

    1. Faith in Heavenly Father and in Jesus Christ
    2. Sorrow over sin
    3. Confession to God, to those personally affected by the sin, and to one’s bishop if necessary
    4. Successful forsaking and abandonment of sin; coming to a point where one will never repeat the sin again
    5. Restitution to the fullest extent possible
    6. Righteous living, “keeping all the commandments”

    PS: Rick, are you saying that if a missionary convert doesn’t ever enter the temple it was all for nothing?

  26. Geoff J says:

    Aaron,

    Good comments. And again — thanks for at least doing your homework.

    So first let me point out that any of my speculations about details of our pre-earth and post-earth progression (MMP) are not at all the fundamental theological differences we have.

    The fundamental differences can probably be traced back to two things: (1) Creation ex nihilo and (2) free will. First, Mormons reject creation ex nihilo in favor of the idea that all matter and all spirits/intelligences are beginningless. That is often the root of many theological disagreements we have with other Christians. The other is libertarian free will which I argue is fundamental to Mormonism. Calvinists and many other Christians reject this robust form of free will outright and in place of it adopt a predestination and fatalism that I personally find totally objectionable. This dispute over how much free will we actually have is the real underlying issue in the dispute over works and grace though. If one accepts the fatalistic view of a Calvinist then the saved were saved before the foundation of the world and the damned were damned before arriving here too. All the “works” we do in such a metaphysical view are necessarily meaningless because none of us are free to choose anything but our predestined fate anyway. But if we have free will in the libertarian sense then we are the authors of our own destinies. We either freely choose a relationship with God or we don’t — but we are going to be judged by those free choices.

    So the key issue boils down to that. As a Calvinist you cannot accept libertarian free will. Thus it makes perfect sense for you to “believe that works are a necessary and inevitable fruit of faith”. But as a believer in a much more robust form of free will than that, I don’t believe that any of my future choices are “necessary” or “inevitable”.

  27. Geoff J says:

    Bill: How many Mormons have successfully changed their character to the point that it is similar to Jesus’ character?

    I dunno. I’ll ask him when I meet him I guess (since it is and interesting question). It should be noted too that if free will persists after mortality (as I believe it does) then there is an eternity ahead for us to strengthen our personal relationship with God and become one with him.

  28. While those are very important issues, I think there are two more decisive and fundamental differences: the (1) fundamental nature of God himself and (2) his greatest purpose (and, consequently, humanity’s greatest purpose). God is the best of all beings, or the “Most High” in the sense that he has infinitely more knowledge and power and self-sufficiency than any other being in all of reality. He is the object of greatest joy for creatures and therefore in order for God to be loving toward his fallen creatures he must be self-centered in the sense that he liberates them unto a worship and enjoyment of God himself. God loves what is most lovable, delights in what is most delightful, and takes pleasure in what is most pleasurable: himself. His primary love of himself and his secondary love for his creatures are not at odds.

    God designed eternal life and justification to be received by faith (something that is undoubtedly exercised by the human will) apart from works, merit, worthiness, or ordinances. “Faith” could technically be called a work if “work” was defined as simply something we internally do, but Paul distinguishes it from “works” because it uniquely highlights the subject’s weakness, insufficiency, unrighteousness, and unworthiness. It is like falling down into the hands of someone behind you who promises to catch you, or like opening your mouth to receive water. It points to the sufficiency, righteousness, and worthiness of another (Jesus Christ). God designed it this way “so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9), so that God would get all of the credit and we would get none of it. Even our works subsequent to being “saved” are ascribed to God’s “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10). Far different than the merit systems of Mormonism.

    Whereas this Biblical salvation is ultimately designed for the eternal, ever-increasing enjoyment and worship of God himself, it doesn’t fit the larger Mormon worldview because one of the very purposes of life is to prove one’s own personal merit and worthiness unto exaltation and godhood.

    Arminians and Calvinists, in an incredibly significant way, share these convictions and are therefore able to stand together against mutually exclusive views like those of Mormonism.

    A last note: I think for Arminian evangelicals the idea of libertarian free will carries a different substance, flavor, and tone because of the larger evangelical worldview it resides in (which is one reason why evangelical Arminians and evangelical Calvinists are able to share so much in common in Christ). “Free agency” is central in Mormonism in a very different way than in Arminianism, especially because of how the larger Mormon worldview views God and man of the same species, the nature of the fall, and the purpose of life (partly to become a self-sufficient deity).

  29. Geoff J says:

    Aaron: God loves what is most lovable, delights in what is most delightful, and takes pleasure in what is most pleasurable: himself. His primary love of himself and his secondary love for his creatures are not at odds

    Hehe. Thanks for that one. I gotta quote that at my blog…

    Anyway, I think a lot of those differences are still deeply intertwined with the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. The nature of God and of humankind would be totally different than I see them is creatio ex nihilo were true.

    Also, the grace I have been describing is remarkably similar to the “resistable grace” and “previent grace” of the Arminians. It is true that I might be accused of taking the free will thing into semi-Pelagian territory but that is another issue I suppose.

  30. Well at least quote the preceding sentence with it. :-]

    Of course these differences have a lot to do with ex nihilo, but I think it’d be a mistake to see that as more fundamental than the nature of God himself. The doctrine of ex nihilo flows out of the theology of God. Creation ex nihilo, among other things, feeds the evangelical theme of our dependency on God and God’s unique self-sufficiency in a way that is incompatible with Mormonism’s focus on personal worthiness and merit.

    “The truth is that we are saved by grace only after all we ourselves can do. (See 2 Ne. 25:23.) There will be no government dole which can get us through the pearly gates. Nor will anybody go into the celestial kingdom who wants to go there on the works of someone else. Every man must go through on his own merits. We might just as well learn this here and now.” – Marion G. Romney, “In Mine Own Way,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 123

    At the recent SMPT conference Dennis Potter argued that, because of the key role of merit, Mormonism ought to be forthright about its Pelagianism.

  31. Geoff, you stated, “As we change our character our character becomes slowly more like his character. Our sins become a thing of the past and we fundamentally become more Christ-like persons. So our past sins become irrelevant and all that matters is who we become.”

    Yet you don’t know of any Mormons who have a similar character as that of Jesus. I have to assume then, that if such Mormons do not exist, then all of their sins are still quite relevant. If that is the formula I don’t see Mormonism as a viable option given the warnings in Alma 11:37 and D&C 1:31.

  32. Geoff J says:

    I actually largely agree with Dennis about that. See my post on that subject here. But the issue is up for debate even among Mormons (as the discussion reveals). My attitude is: who cares if Augustine thought Pelagius was a heretic — Augustine was totally out to lunch on all sorts of things anyway.

    You are right that creatio ex nihilo is an outgrowth of a differing view on God. I like to focus on it because it exemplifies that difference very well. And you are right that there is a major difference in the question of who and what is irreducible and self-sufficient. In Mormonism all matter is irreducible so there is a difference of opinion at the very root of the theology. All this stuff at the periphery (like grace/works debates) naturally grows from the differences at the theological roots.

  33. Rob H. says:

    Though it’s been said and dismissed before, James 2:17 & 19 states: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone… Thou believest there is one God; though doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” No Mormon who has read and studied the scriptures could ever deny that it is only in and through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we are saved. However, the very existense of hell indicates that there are those who will not recieve the grace of God. They are those who do not repent and follow the teachings of God and Christ, as far as they know the teachings. It is Mormon doctrine that those who did not know the truth in this life can be saved, but that is another discussion. If our obedience to God’s word is not the difference between our rewards, then what is? God is impartial and does not give salvation or hell to anyone on whims. He will reward us on our repentance, our desire to follow him, and our deeds. John 3 was dismissed before by a so-called Christian, but we’ll give it another try. John 3:19 states, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” The hate of God by evil men is manifested by their deeds. Could it ever be rationally argued that the love of God and men (the two great commandments argued above) by good men can ever be manifested except through their good deeds? Our deeds will not save us, Christ will. But he won’t if we don’t do his will. “Not everyone that sayeth unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21)

    Rob, Mormonism ascribes much more than an evidentiary role to works. Please see an above related comment which describes Mormonism’s merit system.

  34. Geoff J says:

    Bill: If that is the formula I don’t see Mormonism as a viable option

    I don’t think your conclusion follows from your premise.

    First, one would have to assume that the character a person has at their exit from this life if the final character in all of eternity for your conclusion to be true. Mormonism explicitly rejects this assumption. Rather, Mormonism teaches that spiritual progress can continue in the eternities to come. Second, I do happen to know lots of Mormons who seem to be very Christlike to me and they seem to become more godly over the years too so their spiritual trajectory seems to be on track from my limited perspective. Third, all of this aligns very nicely with the Parable of the Talents in that those who are judged as being faithful over a few things here will be given more and greater opportunities to become closer to the Lord going forward.

  35. Geoff, It is not as explicit as you let on. The “progress” is limited to the kingdom to which you are assigned. If you aren’t keeping celestial law in the here and now you won’t see the celestial kingdom in the bye and bye.

    “No progression between kingdoms. After a person has been assigned to his place in the kingdom, either in the telestial, the terrestrial, or the celestial, or to his exaltation, he will never advance from his assigned glory to another glory. That is eternal! That is why we must make our decisions early in life and why it is imperative that such decisions be right” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.50; also cited in The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 243-244 and Search These Commandments, 1984 ed., pp.81-82).

    Can you support your assumption from the Book of Mormon? After all, a teaching as crucial as this certainly must has have been held by the Nephites, right?

  36. Geoff J says:

    Bill,

    Well the question of whether there is progression between kingdoms is the subject of much theological debate within Mormonism. Some church leaders have expressed the opinion that there is no progression between kingdoms (as that SWK quote shows), others have expressed the opposite opinion. Until there is definitive revelation from God on the subject the debate will surely continue.

    But even if there is no progression between kingdoms Mormonism holds that everyone will have the opportunity to accept the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ prior to judgment; whether in mortality or in the spirit world after mortality but prior to judgment day and resurrection. There is no internal debate about whether those who are exalted at that day will be able to continue on to as God and Christ are (by developing characters like theirs and becoming one with them) in the eternities to come.

  37. Todd Wood says:

    Geoff, there is probably another issue that divides us as we think of people accepting the “fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ” . . .

    what we believe about man’s depravity – this could be undergirding to how much we look at the power of man’s free will.

  38. Wow Geoff, you’re risking your eternal destiny on a subject still debated in Mormon circles?

    “…Thus the false and heretical doctrine that people who fail to live the law in this life (having had an opportunity so to do) will have a further chance of salvation in the life to come is a soul-destroying doctrine, a doctrine that lulls its adherents into carnal security and thereby denies them a hope of eternal salvation. (Mormon Doctrine, p.687).

    Was McConkie speaking irresponsibly? If I was LDS, what would be the wisest choice, trusting the words of Kimball/McConkie, or the words of Geoff?

  39. Geoff J says:

    Right Todd. All of those differences arise from that fundamental metaphysical difference we have related to creation ex nihilo.

    Bill: Wow Geoff, you’re risking your eternal destiny on a subject still debated in Mormon circles?

    Hehe. I don’t really see any risks that I’m taking. I have already been “saved” by most creedal Christian standards in that I have experienced powerful personal experiences with Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit and long ago accepted Jesus as my personal savior. So if I put in a lot of effort to do good on top of that I see no risk whatsoever. Sort of the Pascal’s Wager reasoning.

    And regarding that theological question you brought up; it is not Geoff vs. Kimball/McConkie. Several notable church leaders have expressed their opinion that progression between kingdoms is possible. That list includes Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, James E. Talmage, and J. Reuben Clark. So it is an unsettled theological question still. Regardless of the answer, there is no question that now is the time for us all to come unto Christ so inviting all people to do so is what the church focuses on.

  40. Geoff, can you furnish us with some related Young/Smith/Talmage/Clark quotes? I’d be interested to see them.

  41. Geoff J says:

    Aaron,

    See #81 in this thread. (I think I found those quotes through a Google search or something because I didn’t compile them myself.)

  42. Daniel says:

    “So if I put in a lot of effort to do good on top of that I see no risk whatsoever. Sort of the Pascal’s Wager reasoning.”

    Geoff, the thing is, nothing we could ever do is “good” in God’s sight. What are, after all, “good works” but our attempts to keep the law? And we know that in Romans 3:20 the Bible says that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” Ultimately, your efforts to do good are useless. That is what makes grace, grace. If grace were somehow merited based on our works, it would not be a free gift (See Romans 11:6). Ultimately it comes down to, we are saved by grace, and because of that, God changes our hearts and lives which results in “good works.” But without the change of our lives by God, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

  43. Daniel says:

    Sorry, I just thought of something I wanted to add…

    You can’t say in the same breath, “I trust in God to save me from Hell,” and, “Just in case that’s not enough, I’m also going to try to do good works.” How much is that really trusting in Christ’s atoning sacrifice to completely save all who believe in him?

  44. kelly says:

    I have enjoyed reading the comments on this thread so far – thanks! I have a related question that I would like to see Bill, Geoff, and Aaron respond to.

    This morning on the Joyce Meyer show (she’s a popular Christian author and TV personality), she made a comment about offering prayer requests to God and how we should take an active part in helping that prayer to be answered. She said, “I’m tired of praying for people who don’t do their part.” About her own prayer requests she added, “I feel like I need to do what I *can* do, and God will do what I *can’t* do.”

    Could she have just as easily been talking about doing her part in her own salvation – that she should do what she can do, and Christ will do what she cannot? I believe the LDS would see it this way (think Robinson’s Parable of the Bicycle). What would other Christians say about Joyce’s analogy? Would Bill agree that this analogy applies to prayer, but not to salvation? If that is the case, why not?

    [I have recently left the LDS church after 15 years of very active membership, and have returned to my mainstream Christian roots.]

  45. Kelly,
    Not hearing the statement in its proper context, I can only hope Meyer was making an analogy similar to the ole “Pray to God, row to shore” saying. It is like a farmer praying for good crops but then doesn’t bother to seed his land. Or a parent who prays for their children to turn out to be good citizens, but does nothing to guide them along the way. Salvation is an entirely different matter. New Testament Christians believe the penalty for sin was paid in full by Christ on Calvary. It is clear that we are justified by faith. In turn, God bestows His mercy, a mercy which we certainly do not deserve. As Spurgeon so eloquently stated, “It is undeserved mercy, as indeed all true mercy must be, for deserved mercy is only a misnomer for justice.”

  46. John C. says:

    The comments have gone well beyond me and I am only allowed 4 comments a day, so I might be responding for a while. Please keep that in mind.

    Aaron,
    “the only works that God wants come from a heart freely and fully forgiven for all sins.”

    Why exactly do you feel that Mormons are incapable of giving such works?

    “faith is not nebulous. It is attached to real promises made by Jesus. Jesus has offered free and immediate forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life to all who would simply trust him for it, who would receive it by faith apart from works or worthiness or merits or ordinances.”

    Fine, but this definition neither describes what faith is nor does it explicitly explain how it is attained. Are you saying that in order to receive salvation by faith, you must believe in Christ?

    Regarding Ezekiel, he is making metaphorical use of actual ordinances. Actually water was sprinkled on actual sacrifices in order to cleanse them. Actual blood was sprinkled on priests for the same reason. I don’t think that one can successfully argue that Christ isn’t saying that some form of baptism is necessary and that it involves some physical action, but I am willing to see you give it a go. In any case, surely this is a matter of interpretation, no?

    Finally, if it is any consolation, I have often encounter Protestants who make assertions about grace without really seeking to understand it.

    Joe,
    “The Book of Mormon clearly teaches salvation by grace. While doing so, it utterly demolishes the Mormon insistence on both baptism by water and the requirement for temple endowments.”

    As you no doubt well know, the Book of Mormon teaches the importance of baptism as a saving ordinance and as an expression of faith and devotion. The two are not mutually exclusive in LDS thought.

    Also, regarding John’s baptism, I don’t see your point. The Pharisees sought out baptism from John, according to the Synoptic Gospels, so it must not have been foreign or incomprehensible to them.

  47. john f. says:

    Regarding salvation by faith alone: accepting Jesus in your heart is also a work. That is, having faith in the first place work. Saying in your heart that you accept Jesus as your Savior is a work. Therefore, every creedal Christian believes the exact same formula of grace works that they decry as heresy when it surfaces in the LDS notion that baptism is necessary. By insisting on baptism, however, Latter-day Saints reveal themselves to be more closely in agreement with the New Testament than creedal Christians.

    Even after accepting Christ and having faith in him, following Christ’s command to be baptized, and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, Latter-day Saints believe that it is still only the Atonement of Jesus Christ that cleanses them from their sins. Through baptism Latter-day Saints are cleansed by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, i.e. by grace. That creedal Christians accuse Latter-day Saints of believing that they must somehow “save themselves” reveals disingenuous argumentation. The source of this disingenuous approach is really Latter-day Saints’ rejection of the Nicene Creed and its progeny of creeds. Thus, although Geoff is correct in his assessment of the two main sticking points of theology between creedal Christians and Latter-day Saints, the real impetus is LDS refusal to accept the creedal notion of the Trinity, even if Latter-day Saints do believe in the Trinity defined slightly differently. Departing from the decisions about the nature of God of the fourth-century council — a council that would very likely also reject all sorts of Protestant sects as heretical — is the absolutely unpardonable act of Latter-day Saints for creedal Christians.

  48. jonathan says:

    I stopped reading the comments when I came to the following phrase. A very clever word play for Mormons to use.

    Only through grace can anyone be saved. The clever word play upsets my stomach. Through grace implying that it is only a doorway and not the entire path. Once again, a few clever Mormons have found a way to minimizes the saving work that Jesus did on the cross with His death.

    It is BY the grace of our Lord Jesus that anyone is saved. Jesus is not only the doorway (Jesus stands at the door and knocks), But He is also the path, (Jesus says, “I am the way).

    It is faith in the Messiah alone that is anyone’s hope for salvation, works are intertwined with this faith, but are only its shadow. Works follow and are a poor expression of the vast depth of a true believers faith, reliance, and trust in Jesus.

    Even if you believe in Free-will; It is not free, the price was the blood of Jesus. I am unsure myself as to the balance between freedom of man and the sovereignty of God.

  49. Why exactly do you feel that Mormons are incapable of giving such works?

    Because no Mormon I know will admit that he has been “freely and fully forgiven for all sins”, nor does Mormon theology allow for such a person without moral perfection as a prerequisite.

    Regarding the definition of faith: Faith is trusting in the person, work, and promises of Christ. It comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2,5). Elsewhere in this discussion we have talked about specific promises that Mormonism rejects.

    Ordinances serve as symbols or metaphors of the more important spiritual realities behind them. Baptism doesn’t forgive sins, but what baptism represents does. Baptism isn’t what ultimately and decisively gives us new identity in Christ. But it points to what the Christian identity, received by faith, is (the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ). Partaking of the Lord’s supper doesn’t forgive sins, but it reminds us of what does: the spilled blood and the broken body of Christ, received by faith.

    My point about John 3 is that there are good reasons not to believe it is a text about baptism. Chalking something up to a “matter of interpretation” is useless, because all text must be interpreted at some level. The issue is whether an interpretation is warranted and compelling from the text itself.

    I’ll have to explain the issue of John’s baptism with regards to the beginning of John 3 later in a post. Jesus at one point distanced himself from John’s baptism, and in Acts it later becomes clear that, although there is continuity, it was distinct from Christian baptism which points to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

    John F.,

    Regarding whether faith is a “work”, I think you’ll have to scroll up and see where I already addressed that. You simply have to deal with the plain fact that Paul meaningfully distinguished faith from works and recognized an eternal weight of significance in the distinction.

    Even after accepting Christ and having faith in him, following Christ’s command to be baptized, and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, Latter-day Saints believe that it is still only the Atonement of Jesus Christ that cleanses them from their sins.

    I don’t think this kind of language is very helpful to meaningful dialog, because the word “only” here has so much to it that needs qualification and so much to it that could be misunderstood by outsiders. There is so much clearer language that is at your disposal. Perhaps you could say: “Even though obeying God’s commandments is a necessary prequisite for receiving the forgiveness of sins, the atonement is still necessary.” This of course sounds kind of silly, and it is, because it doesn’t hit at the key watershed issues.

    No offense, neighbor, but if you really think that the historic Christian view of the Trinity is only “slightly different” than the creedal Mormon (as Mormons have their own creeds and standards of doctrine too) view of the Godhead, then you probably don’t understand the basics of historic Christian theism. The very definition of “God” and “deity” and reality as we know it are among the differences.

    Grace and peace in Christ,

    Aaron

Comments are closed.