In a recent article on Mormon Times, LDS author Orson Scott Card wrote a column about books. Books he’s seen, books he’s read, and “Mormon books [he’ll] do without.” Much of the article was written a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Mr. Card got serious when he wrote about the LDS mission he served in Brazil in the early 1970s.
“There have been church books that changed my life. On my mission, I read then-Apostle Spencer W. Kimball’s ‘The Miracle of Forgiveness,’ which was so warm and open and real that it touched my heart and gave me great hope, as I realized that this was a part of the gospel I was in Brazil to teach.”
I, too, read “The Miracle of Forgiveness” when I began my mission to bring the Gospel to Latter-day Saints. And like Mr. Card’s experience, it touched my heart, as well. But not in the same way.
When I read “The Miracle of Forgiveness” my heart broke for the LDS people. If Mr. Kimball’s teaching is believed, Latter-day Saints live under a sin burden from which they can never escape.
“The Miracle of Forgiveness” says that gaining forgiveness for sins requires the successful completion of a six-step repentance process, which includes a permanent abandonment of sin and keeping all the commandments of God. In other words, to be forgiven one must reach a state of perfection:
“Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. This process toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through the perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us… Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.” (page 208-209)
“Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. A reforming adulterer who drinks or curses is not repentant. The repenting burglar who has sex play is not ready for forgiveness. God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life.” (page 203)
“There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin. Desire is not sufficient. In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his ways and started on a new path… the saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life. Trying is not sufficient.” (page 163)
Christian friends, is this not heartbreaking? The “gospel” Orson Scott Card was sent to Brazil to preach was that “the repentance which merits forgiveness” is found in one’s own work and worthiness. One must perfectly and completely abandon all sin, and then (as Moroni 10:32 in the Book of Mormon states) Christ’s grace is applied. This is an impossible gospel.
Furthermore, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” maligns the genuine Good News, the biblical Gospel of grace:
“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.” (pages 206-207)
The Bible does not agree with Spencer W. Kimball. The Bible does not teach “that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). The Bible teaches that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). We do not earn or merit forgiveness by keeping the all the commandments of God; rather, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
The Good News is that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Indeed, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5).
Pastor John Piper wrote,
“Forgiveness costs us nothing. All our costly obedience is the fruit, not the root, of being forgiven. That’s why we call it grace. But it cost Jesus His life. That is why we call it just. Oh, how precious is the news that God does not hold our sins against us! And how beautiful is Christ, whose blood made it right for God to do this.” (Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, page 37)
Yes, in the Gospel given to us in God’s Word there is much to rejoice over. Jesus came to remove our yoke of slavery and our burden of sin. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
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