While reading the October 2014 General Conference addresses, I was interested to read that Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson said,
“So God does not save us ‘just as we are,’ first, because ‘just as we are’ we are unclean, and ‘no unclean thing can dwell…in his presence.’ [Moses 6:57]” (“Free Forever, to Act for Themselves,” Ensign 11/14, 17)
Mr. Christofferson made this comment in the context of our need to strive for personal righteousness – that it would be a mistake to think that “God loves and saves us ‘just as we are.’” He explained,
“God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, ‘that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.’ [D&C 101:78]”
So God does not save us just as we are – we are unclean; we are sinners. We must strive for personal righteousness before God “loves and saves us.”
This is, of course, classic Mormon doctrine. The Book of Mormon explains that “if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you” (Moroni 10:32; emphasis added). Alma 11:37 says, “Ye cannot be saved in your sins.” Second Nephi 25:23 says, “we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”
This works-righteousness of Mormonism has been rightly dubbed, “The Impossible Gospel.” And it is absent from the Bible.
In his conference address Mr. Christofferson did not cite his source for his quoted words “just as we are,” but it’s likely that he was referring to the beloved Christian hymn, “Just As I Am,” (lyrics written by Charlotte Elliott in 1835), biblically based on Jesus’ words in the book of John:
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:35, 37)
As the story goes,
“Miss Charlotte Elliott was visiting some friends in the West End of London, and there met the eminent minister, César Malan. While seated at supper, the minister said he hoped that she was a Christian. She took offense at this, and replied that she would rather not discuss that question. Dr. Malan said that he was sorry if had offended her, that he always liked to speak a word for his Master, and that he hoped that the young lady would someday become a worker for Christ.
“When they met again at the home of a mutual friend, three weeks later, Miss Elliott told the minister that ever since he had spoken to her she had been trying to find her Saviour, and that she now wished him to tell her how to come to Christ. ‘Just come to him as you are,’ Dr. Malan said. This she did, and went away rejoicing. Shortly afterward she wrote this hymn.” (My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns, Ira David Sankey, 186)
These are the lyrics Charlotte Elliott wrote:
Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me, And that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not, To rid my soul of one dark blot, To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about, With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; Sight, riches, healing of the mind, Yea, all I need in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; Because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come.
This hymn reflects a great truth of the Gospel: Jesus came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
Christian Pastor John MacArthur notes, “That’s the heart of the gospel, beloved. It’s for sinners. It’s for sinners.”
“[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9-14)
We can debate what Mr. Christofferson meant when he said God does not save us “just as we are,” but one thing is certain: God says we need His mercy, and He freely offers it to all who recognize their own spiritual need, to all who understand we are wretched sinners. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
Jesus calls us to come to Him just as we are. He won’t leave us there, but Jesus came to call and to save sinners. Near the end of Dr. MacArthur’s excellent sermon by that name, he said,
“Beloved, I tell you this morning God offers you grace. He offers you mercy. He offers you forgiveness. He offers you compassion. He’ll forgive all your sins if you’ll come to Him. But He can’t do anything for people who think they’re okay. Can’t do anything for people who think they’re righteous, who think they’re good. He came to call sinners to repentance. So the church is not made up of the righteous, it’s made up of penitent sinners. It’s not made up of those who think they’re good, it’s made up of people who know they’re not. It’s not made up of people who have brought their righteousness up to God as a satisfaction, it’s made up of people for whom God’s righteousness has come down as a covering…
“How low can the Lord go to save sinners? Who is He willing to forgive? Well He can only forgive people who are in this group, the lawless, the rebellious, the ungodly, sinners, profane, parent murderers, murderers of all kinds, immoral men, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and anything else you want to add to the list that’s contrary to sound teaching. Those are the people He saves who have been brought against His Law and realize they have fallen short and they are saved according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, the good news that God forgives the sins of those who repent and embrace His Son.”