About a week after the April 2014 General Conference of the Mormon Church the (Provo, Utah) Daily Herald published an article by correspondent Steve Densley titled, “How Good is Good Enough?” Mr. Densley began,
“The semiannual conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to a close last week. I watched intently for 10 hours of great counsel and then went to work trying to figure out just how I apply these teachings in making life better for my family, others and me…”
Thinking about applying the latest conference teachings reminded Mr. Densley of an apostle who once suggested that Mormons should be happy that prophets and apostles don’t teach new commandments at every General Conference because church members have enough trouble trying (and failing) to live the commandments they have already been given. This memory led Mr. Densley to remember yet another time when keeping the commandments was at the forefront of a different discussion. This time Mr. Densley was serving as a branch President at the Missionary Training Center when a young missionary sought his counsel:
“The young man asked me the question, ‘How good is good enough?’ How often should we pray each day? How many times should we attend the temple each month? What does it mean if we fail to pay a full tithe or the right amount of fast offerings? What if we missed fasting on occasion or if we took the Lord’s name in vain at a heated ward basketball game, which apparently he had done on more than one occasion. What about the reading of the scriptures daily? How would the breaking of the Word of Wisdom impact his future estate in heaven even if it had only been rarely? How would his life be impacted because of turning down an assignment to home teach that his Bishop had given him? He had never gotten his Duty to God Award nor had he become an Eagle Scout and he was concerned about not having attended his Seminary classes faithfully. He wanted to but had not yet received his Patriarchal Blessing for personal guidance. What if he did not attend all of his priesthood and sacrament meetings? He had avoided any chastity issues and had done everything that he could to raise the bar in his own life and repent of deeds that would have hindered his chance to serve a mission, but he was still troubled.”
This young man, “deeply concerned about reaching heaven,” apparently didn’t get the message that seems so popular among Mormons today (though it is absent from the formal covenants Mormon make): That trying to be good is good enough for Heavenly Father.
Neither did he get the biblical message that though absolute perfection is required, those who trust in Christ alone will enter heaven on the merits of Christ’s perfection alone, not at all on the basis of our own flawed attempts at righteousness.
Neither did the young man get the encouraging words of Jesus who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6) and “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
No, the young man whose concerns (as presented by Mr. Densley above) included no fewer than 15 specific ways in which he was burdened with a fear that he was falling short of being deemed “good enough” for heaven, was counseled thus:
“My answer was that each person through personal revelation should seek out the answers to those questions as needed. Free agency comes into play as does common sense and balance in life. Every person needs to ask himself or herself the question of, ‘How good is good enough?’”
But consider this. The young Mormon missionary-in-training was “deeply concerned” about his behavior. Even after doing “everything that he could to raise the bar in his own life and repent,” he was “still troubled.” From a Mormon perspective, wouldn’t this indicate that the young man’s “personal revelation” told him that he was not good enough? Of course he asked himself the question before seeking his branch president’s counsel. It was asking himself the question that caused him to be “deeply concerned” and “troubled” in the first place.
Biblically speaking, this conviction of sin is a central purpose of the law – “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24 KJV)
As Matthew Henry explained in his commentary of Galatians:
“But the awakened sinner discovers his dreadful condition. Then he feels that the mercy and grace of God form his only hope. And the terrors of the law are often used by the convincing Spirit, to show the sinner his need of Christ.”
The young Mormon missionary was awakened to his dreadful condition; he knew he was not good enough for heaven. Sadly, his ecclesiastical leader turned him toward self when the Word of God would have turned him toward Christ.
Christian author Andy Stanley argues in his book How Good is Good Enough? that the nearly universal good-people-go-to-heaven view is untenable. At the end of Part 1 of the book he offers a summary of six reasons why:
- We don’t know exactly what good is. Even our religious leaders can’t agree on the subject.
- Our internal moral gauges aren’t much help. They don’t line up cross-culturally… And as time passes, our definitions of right and wrong tend to change.
- We have no clear indication from God how the scoring system for good deeds works.
- It is difficult to reconcile the notion of a good God with a system that is so unclear and seemingly unfair.
- …The Bible doesn’t claim to offer a way to heaven through good deeds…
- Jesus assured the most religious people of his day that they weren’t good enough to enter God’s kingdom, while promising criminals and prostitutes that God would gladly welcome them. (p. 61)
Mormons are told by their spiritual leaders:
“Trying is not sufficient” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 164)
“This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection” (ibid., 208)
“…Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.” (ibid., 209)
Because in Mormonism, as in popular thought across the globe, good people go to heaven.
But that is not the message of the Bible. The Bible says there are no good people (Romans 3:9-18). Only God is good (Luke 18:19).
And though millions of people come face-to-face with John 3:16 every day, sadly many miss the message of it:
“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:15-16 KJV)
The Bible says,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24 KJV)
The Bible says,
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 KJV)
The Bible says,
“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 5:13)
How good is good enough? Friends, we will never be good enough this side of heaven. But we have no reason to despair for the Bible tells us a profound truth expressed simply by Andy Stanley:
“The good news is that good people don’t go to heaven – forgiven people do.”