Mormon Times recently ran an article that asked — and answered — that question. According to LDS guest writer William Monahan, when people ask if Latter-day Saints are saved or born again, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Even so, citing the Mormon Church’s 3rd Article of Faith, Mr. Monahan confirms that LDS salvation is conditional, based upon “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” He adds,
“The word ‘salvation’ can be confusing to some. Depending upon its context, salvation has several meanings ranging from the unconditional gift of resurrection to the conditional gift of eternal life or exaltation.
“Two such meanings follow:
“First, Jesus saved all mankind from the permanence of physical death through the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22). In that sense, salvation is an unconditional gift. Second, we are saved from the effects of spiritual death (separation from God) by meeting the conditions that the Lord established. Salvation from spiritual death is exaltation and is conditional.”
Mr. Monahan continues on to quote from the Bible and LDS scripture to describe what he believes are the necessary “conditions” for salvation, which ultimately include keeping the commandments and enduring to the end.
Thirteen years ago LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks delivered an address at General Conference in which he asked – and answered – a similar question: “Have You Been Saved?” Mr. Oaks taught that Latter-day Saints attach “at least” six different meanings to the words “saved” and “salvation.” In agreement with Mr. Monahan, one meaning refers to the unconditional eventual resurrection of every human being. Are Mormons saved in this sense? Yes, of course, and so is everyone else. But is this what people are actually asking when they ask a Mormon, “Are you saved?”
Dallin Oaks said, “As to salvation from sin and the consequences of sin, our answer to the question of whether or not we have been saved is ‘yes, but with conditions.’” Like Mr. Monahan, Mr. Oaks quoted the 3rd Article of Faith, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” He explained,
“…being cleansed from sin through Christ’s Atonement is conditioned upon the individual sinner’s faith, which must be manifested by obedience to the Lord’s command to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost…Believers who have had this rebirth [baptism] at the hands of those having authority have already been saved from sin conditionally, but they will not be saved finally until they have completed their mortal probation with the required continuing repentance, faithfulness, service, and enduring to the end.” (Ensign, May 1998, 55)
Being saved “from sin and the consequences of sin” is probably a little closer to what people are actually asking when they want to know if Mormons are saved, but I don’t think this quite captures the full essence of the non-Mormon understanding of what it means to be saved. For Mormons, being saved from sin and the consequences of sin means being able to spend eternity in a kingdom of glory, of which Mormonism has three. Two of these kingdoms of glory do not even include the presence of (or access to) God the Father. For non-Mormons, spending eternity separated from the presence God is not salvation; it is damnation.
Mr. Oaks described yet another meaning Mormons attach to the word salvation: exaltation or eternal life, sometimes called the “fullness of salvation.” He said,
“This salvation requires more than repentance and baptism by appropriate priesthood authority. It also requires the making of sacred covenants, including eternal marriage, in temples of God, and faithfulness to those covenants by enduring to the end. If we use the word salvation to mean ‘exaltation,’ it is premature for any of us to say that we have been ‘saved’ in mortality. That glorious status can only follow the final judgment of Him who is the Great Judge of the living and the dead.” (57)
I believe that people asking Mormons if they are saved mean nothing less than the fullness of salvation, though they may not understand the specific Mormon definition of that term. They are not asking about some partial salvation, but about the full deal – being forgiven and cleansed of sin, reconciled to Holy God, and promised a place with Him for all eternity. In this sense, according to Mormon doctrine, Mormons are not saved. They must wait until the final judgment to know whether they will pass muster in making covenants, keeping the commandments and enduring to the end.
The Bible tells us that we can know right now if we are acceptable to the Lord:
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13)
The next time you ask a Mormon friend if he or she is saved, make sure you define what you mean by the word. And when you hear the honest Mormon response, “I hope so,” tell your friend the amazingly Good News:
“Your salvation does not depend upon what you do, but upon what Christ did when he offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin. All your salvation takes root in the death throes of Calvary; the great Substitute bore your sin and suffered its penalty. Your sin shall never destroy you if upon that bloody tree the Lord’s chosen High Priest made a full expiation for your sins; they shall not be laid against you any more forever. What you have to do is simply accept what Jesus has finished. I know your idea is that you are to bring something to him; but that vainglorious idea has ruined many, and will ruin many more. When you are brought empty-handed, made willing to accept a free and full salvation from the hand of the Crucified, then, and then only, will you will be saved.” (Charles Spurgeon, “One Door to Salvation”)