What did you do in the pre-existence?

The circumstances under which a person is born into this world directly correlates to the individual’s behavior in the pre-existence. Or so Mormon General Authorities have freely taught. Born Black? You are cursed because of your behavior in the pre-existence. Born in China with “dark skin”? You were less obedient than you could have been in your first estate. Born among the “starving hordes of India”? Your lack of pre-mortal worthiness is to blame. In 1954 LDS Apostle Mark E. Petersen explained,

“These are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with [God’s] established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds….” (delivered to the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, August 27, 1954. For the sources of the other statements made above, see Alvin R. Dryer, “For What Purpose?”; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:61. Sources gleaned from the Faith Promoting Rumor blog)

“Old news,” some may say. “Outdated personal speculation.” Yet the doctrine continues to find life in Mormonism.

Chinese New YearOn March 11, 2008 Terry B. Ball, professor and Dean of Religious Education at BYU, presented a devotional address titled, “To Confirm and Inform: A Blessing of Higher Education.” Dr. Ball said,

“Have you ever wondered why you were born where and when you were born? Why you were not born 500 years ago in some primitive, aboriginal culture in some isolated corner of the world? Is the timing and placing of your birth capricious? For Latter-day Saints the answer is no. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that before we came to this earth we lived in a pre-mortal existence with a loving heavenly father. We further understand that in that pre-mortal state we had agency. And that we grew and developed as we used that agency. Some, as Abraham learned, became noble and great ones.”

Unlike past LDS leaders, Dr. Ball did not suggest that a non-Caucasian earth birth is a curse or somehow reflects poor pre-mortal behavior. Instead, his comments are built around the idea that God chose the circumstances of each person’s birth based on growth needed to reach one’s full eternal potential. Nevertheless, the basic theme, from early Mormonism to today, is the belief that by a person’s behavior in the pre-existence, he merits the position and advantages he possesses during his mortal life. As past LDS Prophet David O. McKay is quoted in Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual,

“From this revelation [Abraham 3:23], we may infer two things: first, that there were among those spirits [in premortal life] different degrees of intelligence, varying grades of achievement, retarded and advanced spiritual attainment; second, that there were no national distinctions among those spirits such as Americans, Europeans, Asiatics, Australians, etc. Such ‘bounds of habitation’ would have to be ‘determined’ when the spirits entered their earthly existence or second estate. . . .

“Now if none of these spirits were permitted to enter mortality until they all were good and great and had become leaders, then the diversity of conditions among the children of men as we see them today would certainly seem to indicate discrimination and injustice. . . .

“. . . Our place in this world would then be determined by our own advancement or condition in the pre-mortal state, just as our place in our future existence will be determined by what we do here in mortality.

“When, therefore, the Creator said to Abraham, and to others of his attainment, ‘You I will make my rulers,’ there could exist no feeling of envy or jealousy among the million other spirits, for those who were ‘good and great’ were but receiving their just reward.” (page 14 [chapter 6])

Mormonism is a relentlessly merit-based religion. Even when and where we are born (according to Mormonism) is directly tied to our worthiness (or lack thereof) as demonstrated by our choices in the pre-existence.

As in mortal birth, so too for eternal life. LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie taught,

“Jesus…makes a pronouncement of wondrous import: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. This is the sum and substance of the whole matter. Salvation, eternal life, rewards in all degrees and varieties—all come by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Salvation must be won; it is not a free gift… But what of grace? Grace is the love, mercy and condescension of God in making salvation available to all men. ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ (2 Ne. 25:23) Eternal life is freely available; salvation is free in that all may drink of the waters of life; all may come and partake; but none gains so high a reward as eternal life until he is tried and tested and found worthy…” (The Mortal Messiah 3:302)

Salvation must be won; it is not a free gift. We are saved by grace after all we can do. Only those who prove themselves worthy gain eternal life. The Messiah never said such things. Instead, He said,

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works…” (Ephesians 2:4-9)

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

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.

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60 Responses to What did you do in the pre-existence?

  1. amanda says:

    Lautensack,

    You could not be more wrong when you stated the following:

    “The problem of course is Mormons don’t understand how utterly sinful mankind is, themselves included”

    Why is it that because we believe our Father in Heaven loves us, and sent his only Begotten Son to atone for our sins so we can live with Him again…that we don’t think mankind is sinful????

    Read in the book of mormon:

    Mosiah 2: 25-26
    25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.
    26 And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth.

    Hel. 12: 7-8
    7 O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are bless than the dust of the earth.
    8 For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.

    Jacob,

    “Perhaps you don’t need to be a prophet to see the reality of things…”

    Well then, I guess you can throw your bible away, because it’s made up of a lot of prophets teaching us…or are you incapable of seeing your own hypocrisy?

    Prophets are servants unto the Lord, they have their purpose, however, when it comes to my testimony I do not rely on theirs- in fact, they counsel us not to…I pray to my heavenly Father.

    I think you just miss the point of why God calls prophets…you should read more about Moses- Abraham, jeez…aren’t there quite a few of those in the bible Jacob??

  2. Lautensack says:

    Amanda,
    I never said that LDS do not believe in sin. I know they do, I don’t think they realize how utterly sinful they truly are. It is my understanding correct me if I am wrong that to the LDS sin is a sickness and the LDS Gospel is the antidote, and with enough work and enough gospel we can become “healthy.” So to speak.

    Scripture states that we are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins, not sick in them. (Eph 2:1) What does this mean?

    “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8

    Would those who are spiritually dead have a mind set on the flesh? If that is true how can they please God? Wouldn’t choosing to live for God be an act that is pleasing to Him?

    I await your responses.

    Also, Amanda I think you need to re-read Jacob’s statements. He was being sarcastic and supporting your point of view. Even if he wasn’t there is no need to berate him but rather correct him with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

    Jacob5,
    I enjoyed your rendition of the allegory of the cave however the analogy falls short and fails when you understand that not just one but many men left the cave and came back. Now about forty of them all testified that a cardinal was a red bird, one came back and said a cardinal was green snake. They are were all speaking of the same form. Also this one was also a known liar prior to his freedom. Who’s testimony do I believe? Of course conspiracy theory destroys this rendering, however in order for Joseph Smith Jr. to be true we must throw out the Bible.

    Lautensack

  3. amanda says:

    Lautensack,

    “It is my understanding correct me if I am wrong that to the LDS sin is a sickness and the LDS Gospel is the antidote, and with enough work and enough gospel we can become “healthy.” So to speak.”

    YES-with some clarification. First and foremost, the lds gospel (as you name it) IS the Savior’s gospel- built on His atonement. Sin is a sickness that can be wiped clean through His atonement. And yes, we can become “healthy”. How is this possible? Repentance and forgiveness. We humble ourselves to the “dust”- repent and call on our Savior for forgiveness- He forgives, and we are able to move forward because he carries the burden of our sins on Himself. Evangelicals think that LDS attribute their progress to themselves, and THAT is the doctrinal mistake. We believe that it is through Christ that any progress can be made.

    Regarding “works”. The difference between Salvation and Exaltation is where the disconnect lies between LDS and evangelicals. Grace is given to all mankind, (as LDS believe) they will eventually all receive SALVATION through Him. The Lord has set aside “works” as you call them for men to perform here on earth (such as baptism, endowments, sealings) in order for Him to EXALT us (exaltation) through His atonement.

    So do our works save us? It is Christ who choses the parameters, is it not? So if Christ says, “DO THIS, and I will covenant with you to do THIS” then you have an agreement. The accurate discrepancy to point out, between our faiths, is WHAT Christ has actually asked of us. Evangelicals, to my understand believe He has asked very little of us, and LDS believe to much is given much is required…We do believe our works matter to the LORD- but they don’t save us. And if we are going to “live for God” (as you pointed out)…we should know exactly what He would have us do.
    (to be continued…)

  4. amanda says:

    AND THAT is the token of true humility (or as you pointed out, to know how sinful we truly are, and how much we really need His guidance).

    He Loves me, and wants to teach me, He uses covenants to achieve His purpose for me. What is his purpose? To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Exaltation. The greatest degree of happiness and glory and “health” for His children.

    So, it is clear we are very different in what we believe His plan is for us. And they should be highlighted…But it is inaccurate to say that His gospel (LDS gospel as you more comfortably refer to it) teaches that we are anything without Him. But I suspect it won’t be the last time we’ll hear it.

    Jacob5,

    I must admit, Lautensack was right to bring my attention to it— I only read the last line of your post— and since posts on here are typically hostile toward LDS, I took it literally. Sorry.

  5. lillym says:

    Amanda said: “Sin is a sickness that can be wiped clean through His atonement. And yes, we can become “healthy”. How is this possible? Repentance and forgiveness.”

    I’m seeing this in greater relief. The entire Bible reinforces at every turn that we are dead in our transgressions – and that salvation through the blood of Christ pays the debt. Not that it makes us “less sinful”. We remain, until His second coming, hopelessly sinful. It’s a condition we are born with – not something that can be wiped out with hard work. It doesn’t matter how much we repent of our sins – our sin nature will still be with us tomorrow. That’s the whole point of the atonement – we can do nothing to change our nature – we are only saved through His blood atonement.

    This is separate from whether or not we are to exemplify our salvation in our behavior (which, as Christians, we are told to do)

    I’m just working through this in my own mind since this is a topic regularly discussed on this board (LDS orthopraxy vs Christian orthodoxy)… if I’m not stating this correctly somebody correct me.

  6. Lautensack says:

    Amanda,
    As previously stated the difference between Christian and Mormon Salvation and Exaltation is that in the Christian brand the entire work is done by God for the glory of God. In the Mormon version God enables men to do this work for themselves. Please note I am not saying Mormon’s believe that they can save themselves, I am saying that they believe death of Christ gave them the ability to be saved if they do certain works. Also Mormon salvation is of the universalism brand where as Christian serve a God who punishes sinners for their wickedness. The final difference is the freedom of God in this entire process. From my understanding the Mormon position is that God is bound not to affect the hearts of sinners efficaciously. In layman’s terminology the freedom of God cannot impede upon the freedom of men. Christians on the other hand believe that it is only by God impeding upon the freedom of men that any are saved. *How this works and the resistance there of are often discussed.*
    Furthermore you did not deal with the passages presented. Thus I inquire again. What does it mean for a man to be dead in their sin? (Eph 2:1) In light of Romans 8:7-8 can a man who’s mind is set upon the flesh, as all are prior to conversion, turn and choose God? Finally allow me to ask one more question, does salvation or glorification depend upon human will or exertion, or God’s mercy in light of Romans 8:30 and 9:16-18?

    Lautensack

  7. clarity67 says:

    Lautensack,

    Forgive me Amanda for jumping in here but this is conversation that we have entertained previously. I think I am understanding a little better from this dialogue and I will stand corrected by observers if need be.

    Traditional Christians believe that obedience (or works of righteousness) are a by product or an after affect, or “fruits” of the new heart that the Lord gives them once they are “saved”. Salvation is a free, unmerited gift that is given to those who will accept Jesus as their personal Savior and believe that he alone possesses the power and the will to save.

    LDS members believe that obedience comes first and when it falls short which it inevitably will (Rom 3:23), that only then is the grace of Christ sufficient to save (Moroni 10:32). We both believe that man is sinful, carnal, sensual and devilish by nature, but Christians believe (at least llilym) this cannot be escaped or overcome. LDS Members believe that although the natural man is an enemy to God, and it is part of who we are, but it can be overcome only through yielding to the enticings of the Holy Ghost and becoming sanctified through the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. (Mosiah (3:19)

    Both, if I understand correctly, acknowledge the following: Jesus Christ is the very Son of the Living God, was sent to atone for the sins of all mankind, is the only name under heaven by which man can be saved, has redeemed all from the grasp of mortality through the resurrection, and will return again to rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

    Lautensack, you said that, “The final difference is the freedom of God in this entire process. From my understanding the Mormon position is that God is bound not to affect the hearts of sinners efficaciously. In layman’s terminology the freedom of God cannot impede upon the freedom of men. Christians on the other hand believe that it is only by God impeding upon the freedom of men that any are saved.

    contd.

  8. clarity67 says:

    Are we to understand that Christians believe that God impedes our freedom or FORCES us to comply because our sinful natures would never compel us to do so of our own volition?? If so, you are correct in your post. LDS believe we must align our wills with that of the Savior, but without compulsion. We believe that God would not want to welcome anyone to return to Him against their will.

    If I may with the questions (eph 2:1) Sin is acting against the will of God. Failure to repent and, thus, remain in your sins will cause spiritual death. (Rom 8:7-8) Can he remain “in the flesh” or carnally minded and turn and choose God?. Remain in the flesh and please God? No. Turn and choose God? Yes, but only if he yields to the Spirit and puts off the flesh (v9) and allows the Spirit to dwell in him. (Rom 8:30, 9:16-18) Finally, He will show mercy to whom He will – it is purely up to Him. However, to the extent that we exert our own will in choosing Him and to be obedient to Him, YES, salvation or glorification will depend whether we have repented and effectuated the gift of the atonement through obedience. This does not mean we save ourselves through obedience, it means that we are obedient to His command to come follow Him and he alone is the author and finisher of our salvation (Heb 5:9, 12:2)

    I am confident Amanda will have something profound to add if my answers are lacking.

  9. Lautensack says:

    Clarity,
    I’m going to jump around your post a bit so bear with me. You said, “Jesus Christ is the very Son of the Living God,” I don’t think we agree here because we have a different understanding of what it means to be the very Son of God.
    [Jesus] was sent to atone for the sins of all mankind,” I must inquire what sins were atoned for, some of them or all of them?
    [He] is the only name under heaven by which man can be saved,” I agree. However it is the one attached to the name that is important my savior is not some Mexican Soccer Player.
    [He] has redeemed all from the grasp of mortality through the resurrection,” Are all men raised, yes however we must not deny the second death.
    [He] will return again to rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” I agree and on that day he will return with a sword coming from His mouth to Judge the world, and only those found in Him will be saved.

    As for sin, yes sinning is something we do, however sin is a state of being. “Failure to repent and, thus, remain in your sins will cause spiritual death.” Unfortunately Ephesians 2 says we are already dead and must be brought to life.
    As for Romans 8:7-8 I did not ask if the man could remain in the flesh, I asked if a man in the flesh who cannot please God, do something pleasing to God, turning from a mind in the flesh to God. Also where does it speak of yielding to the Spirit?
    In your answer to the final question I must ask if you are arguing that God is a respecter of persons being bribed with your good deeds? If so then you do not believe in a Gospel of Grace but a Gospel of Karma which places you outside of anything remotely Christian in nature.
    Now as to your question about God “forcing” Christians to believe, I must ask where I stated that God forces us to believe.

    I said God must impede our free will, and even you must agree that He does in some places or did Jonah go willingly to Nineveh?

    cont.

  10. Lautensack says:

    Did God not impede Jonah’s free will? Of course He did. Now while God did Impede Jonah’s free will He never “forced” Him to preach to Nineveh. “Are we to understand that Christians believe that God impedes our freedom or FORCES us to comply because our sinful natures would never compel us to do so of our own volition??” Are we to understand that you believe prior to conversion we are not slaves to sin, contrary to scripture, and that we can come to God without being purchased with His blood, contrary to scripture? Now if you are asking if the Christian belief states that we must be drawn by the Father to the Son, as scripture states, then yes we do believe that. Does this mean that we do not exercise our will and choose God? Not at all. However what is the reason we do, is it something intrinsic within us, or did someone outside of us influence us in such a way that we could not help but make that choice? I argue that it is the latter. I will leave you with this statement:

    When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me…One week night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, “How did you come to be a Christian?” I sought the Lord. “But how did you come to seek the Lord?” The truth flashed across my mind in a moment I should not have sought Him unless there had come some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How come I came to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me… ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.’ -Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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