.:SAVED OR UNSAVED? — THAT IS THE QUESTION – A detailed analysis of the Mormon “Gospel” Salvation Requirements
In his book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, former LDS (Latter-day Saint) Apostle and Prophet Spencer W. Kimball defined the “gospel” of Mormonism as a “code of laws and commandments” by which humans “might attain perfection and, eventually, godhood.” According to Kimball, “this set of laws and ordinances … is the only plan which will exalt mankind.”1. One authoritative LDS Church manual, Gospel Principles, describes the LDS gospel plan this way:
“Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve gave the following illustration to show how Christ’s atonement makes it possible to be saved from sin if we do our part. ‘Let me tell you a story … There once was a man who … incurred a great debt … the day came and the contract fell due. The debt had not been fully paid. His creditor appeared and demanded payment in full … ‘If you do not forgive the debt there will be no mercy,’ the debtor pleaded. ‘If I do, there will be no justice,’ was the reply … The debtor had a friend. He came to help … He stepped between them, faced the creditor, and made this offer. ‘I will pay the debt if you will free the debtor from his contract so that he may keep his possessions and not go to prison.’ … And so the creditor agreed. The mediator turned then to the debtor. ‘If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?’ ‘Oh yes, yes,’ cried the debtor. ‘You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.’ ‘Then,’ said the benefactor, ‘you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.’ … Because there was a mediator, justice had claimed its full share, and mercy was satisfied.” (Gospel Principles, 1978, 1992ed, pp. 75, 77)
As can be seen by the preceding illustration, the Jesus of Mormonism serves as a mediating “creditor” who essentially refinances our sin “debt” and sets the “terms” and conditions by which we can “pay” the “debt” to him through strict adherence to LDS gospel “laws.” Consequently, the Book of Mormon states: “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”2. “This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”3. To stress the importance of expending one’s own best efforts to make oneself worthy of eternal life, Kimball went on to state:
“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 which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). 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.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209)
“For I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7, Book of Mormon)
Lest one obtains the faulty impression that the “perfection” required for ultimate eternal life is a process that can be worked out through the eons of eternity, Kimball responds:
“One of the most serious human defects in all ages is procrastination, an unwillingness to accept personal responsibilities now. Men came to earth to obtain their schooling, their training and development, and to perfect themselves … Because men are prone to postpone action and ignore directions, the Lord has repeatedly given strict injunctions and issued solemn warnings … And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 7, 9-10)
Some may feel that it is unreasonable to believe that God would require total perfection in this mortal life. After all, one might think: “‘The Lord knows my heart is right and that I have good intentions.’ But will one receive eternal life on the basis of his good intentions?” Kimball asks.4. He goes on to say: “Samuel Johnson remarked that ‘hell is paved with good intentions.’ The Lord will not translate one’s good hopes and desires and intentions into works. Each of us must do that for himself. … Men and women who live in mortality and who have heard the gospel here have had their day, their seventy years to put their lives in harmony, to perform the ordinances, to repent and to perfect their lives.”5. To emphasize the importance of becoming perfect prior to leaving this earth, the Book of Mormon also testifies:
“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” (Alma 34:32, Book of Mormon)
“Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? … Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life. Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless. And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!” (Alma 5:27-31, Book of Mormon)
The Book of Mormon not only stresses the importance of reaching perfection in this life, but it speaks of the critical role repentance plays in the gospel plan of devoted Latter-day saints. According to Mormonism, one cannot receive forgiveness of sins until one has completely repented of his sins. Kimball defines this repentance as the absolute “abandonment of the sin.”
“There is no royal road to repentance … There is one way only. It is a long road spiked with thorns and briars and pitfalls and problems … There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin … The saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life … Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin … To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can … There must be resoluteness and determination. Discontinuance of the sin must be permanent … Do you wish to carry this terrible burden all your days or would you like to be forgiven for it? To be forgiven one must repent. Repentance means not only to convict yourselves of the horror of the sin, but to confess it, abandon it, and restore to all who have been damaged to the total extent possible; then spend the balance of your lives trying to live the commandments of the Lord so he can eventually pardon you … Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord … God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of life … This passage indicates an attitude which is basic to the sanctification we should all be seeking, and thus the repentance which merits forgiveness. It is that the former transgressor must have reached a ‘point of no return’ to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin — where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 149, 163-165, 176, 200, 203, 354-355)
Gospel Principles explains: “Those who receive forgiveness and then repeat the sin are held accountable for their former sins.”6. Therefore, it is only “as we repent, the atonement of Jesus Christ becomes fully effective in our lives, and the Lord forgives our sins.”7. Not only do authoritative LDS leaders claim that one must completely abandon his sin in order to validate his act of repentance, but LDS Scripture echoes this position.
“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins — behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 58:43)
“And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 82:7)
How many of us can honestly claim that we have never repeated a particular sin after going through the motions of confessing and repenting of that sin? What person can, at any time, be certain that he has confessed and repented of every sin he has ever committed? And how can that person be confident that he will never repeat any of these sins? Since Mormonism claims that the “former sins return” to the individual who fails to abandon his sin, what assurance can one have of receiving forgiveness for his sins? The Bible testifies that “in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”8.
We sin daily in our words, actions, and in the attitudes of our hearts. Jesus said, “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”9. Just being “angry” with one’s brother without a cause brings the judgment of God upon our souls,10. and even the mere failure to do something we know we ought to do is “sin.”11. Therefore the Bible declares:
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one … For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10, 23, King James Bible)
If repentance requires the abandonment of sin,12. and if repeating a sin after receiving forgiveness makes one “accountable” for his former sins,13. how can any of us claim that we have totally repented of all of our sins? It is evident that by these standards, one would have to “be perfect” in order to fully comply with this formula of repentance. Thus, we see that in Mormonism, a failure to repent by abandoning all of our sins brings us under the condemnation accorded to those who “procrastinate” the day of their repentance.
“I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.” (Alma 34:33-35, Book of Mormon)
According to the Book of Mormon, if there is one sin left not repented of at the time of your death, your repentance — being “procrastinated” — causes you to “become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his.” Since Mormonism claims that one must “merit”14. (earn) forgiveness through repentance which requires the “permanent” “discontinuance” of sin,15. what assurance can you have of God’s forgiveness being applied to your account? It is for this reason that the Book of Mormon proclaims:
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and 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, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.” (Moroni 10:32, Book of Mormon)
As the above quote from the Book of Mormon explains, you must “deny” yourself of “all ungodliness” before you can receive the “grace” of Christ. Is it any wonder Mormonism makes forgiveness conditional upon one’s ability to repent by abandoning sins? Is it any wonder Kimball concludes: “However powerful the saving grace of Christ, it brings exaltation to no man who does not comply with the works of the gospel”?16. It is at this point that we see the utter dilemma of the LDS gospel. Not only does Mormonism require you to “deny” yourself of “all ungodliness” before you can receive the grace of Christ,17. but the LDS Jesus cannot save you while you are in a condition of unworthiness — being “in your sins.”
“And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven. … Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.” (Alma 11:37, Book of Mormon)
Since the LDS Jesus is unable to save you while you are “in your sins,” the Prophet Joseph Smith concluded that we are all responsible for our own sins.
“After this instruction, you will be responsible for your own sins; it is a desirable honor that you should so walk before our heavenly Father as to save yourselves; we are all responsible to God for the manner we improve the light and wisdom given by our Lord to enable us to save ourselves.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, 1976, p. 227)
Can you see why repentance according to the LDS gospel demands “perfection” and the “permanent” “discontinuance of the sin”?18. Can you see why Mormonism claims that those who repeat a sin after confessing it are said to be “held accountable” for their former sins and ultimately lose their forgiveness?19. Can you see why, in Mormonism, the failure to eradicate sin in one’s life brings one under the condemnation of procrastinating the day of one’s repentance, and if you die in this state of procrastination, you will become “subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his … and this is the final state of the wicked”?20. Can you see why the LDS Jesus “cannot” save you while you are “in your sins”?21. In light of the evidence that it is impossible to receive the “grace” of salvation by expending one’s “own best efforts,”22. can you see why the Bible declares: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us”?23.
The gospel of Mormonism asserts that: “Keeping the commandments of God will cleanse away the stain of sin.”24. But the Bible declares that: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”25. How can one’s good works of “keeping the commandments” cleanse sin away when all the good works one does amounts only to “filthy rags”?
In the same way that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the Bible declares: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”26. As you can see, it only takes one sin to bring the judgment of God upon you. One sin causes you to become guilty of the whole law. As a result of this, the Bible proclaims: “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”27.
Mormonism makes Jesus a “creditor” who merely refinanced the sin “debt” we owed to the Heavenly Father and who requires us to pay Him back through obedience to gospel “laws” and “ordinances.”28. But if we could not pay the sin debt we owed to our Heavenly Father in the first place, what assurance can we have that we can pay the debt to His Son Jesus Christ? Certainly, the Heavenly Father loves us and knows our hearts. Don’t you think that, if it is possible for us to repay our sin debt through obedience to gospel “laws,” our Heavenly Father could have set “terms” and conditions for us to repay Him without requiring His Son to die and become our mediator?
Far from being able to make us worthy, the Bible proclaims that it is impossible to become righteous through obedience to the law, “for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”29.
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. … For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:19-20, 23, King James Bible)
The “law” of God reveals the depravity of our hearts and the wickedness of our “sin.” As our lives are measured against the perfect standard of our just and holy God, our “mouths” are “stopped” in shame, our “filthy rags” of self-effort are cast aside, and we “become guilty before God.” Therefore the Bible proclaims:
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested … even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe. … Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past. … To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. … Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:21-22, 24-26, 28, King James Bible)
We could not keep the law. No matter how hard we try to measure up, our righteousness amounts only to “filthy rags.” Hence, as the above verses proclaim, once an individual has placed his complete trust in “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” it is the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to one’s account. Resting in “his [Christ’s] righteousness” which is “without the law,” we receive the “remission of sins,” and Jesus becomes to us not only the one who is “just” (righteous) but the one who “justifies” (declares righteous) those of us who “believeth in Jesus.” “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified [declared righteous] by faith without the deeds of the law.”30.
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4, King James Bible)
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6, King James Bible)
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5, King James Bible)
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Philippians 3:9, King James Bible)
Unlike the LDS Jesus who paid our sin “debt” and requires repayment of the “debt” through obedience to “laws” and “ordinances,” the Jesus of the Bible paid our sin debt in full and “freely” offers us “his righteousness” in exchange for our sin.
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24, King James Bible)
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, King James Bible)
“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” (Colossians 2:14, King James Bible)
At the cross Jesus proclaimed: “It is finished!”31. He declared that our sin debt had been paid in full. As He died, He “blotted out” the laws and “ordinances” that were “against us” because we could not fulfill them, and He took these “ordinances … out of the way,” no longer counting our trespasses against us. Therefore, the Bible declares that once we have placed our complete trust in Jesus Christ alone, God no longer looks at us in the context of our sin and guilt. Instead, He views us in the context of Christ’s all-sufficient righteousness. As a result, the Bible declares of the believer that “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”32.
“By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14, King James Bible)
Jesus meets us right were we are. The Bible proclaims “That, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”33. It is Jesus who makes us “perfect” — not through obedience to a “code of laws” and “ordinances” — but by virtue of His sinless life being applied to our account. To “sanctify” means to “set apart as holy.”34. The Bible proclaims that not only is Jesus the one who declares us righteous, but He is the one who begins the process of sanctification within our hearts.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” (Hebrews 10:16, King James Bible)
“Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ … written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:3, King James Bible)
From the very moment we individually yield control of our lives to the Lordship of Christ, Jesus sets us free from the bondage of sin and death and creates within us a new heart and a new spirit. No longer are we striving to make our lives acceptable by outward conformity to a set of “laws” and “ordinances.” It is God’s Spirit who motivates our hearts from within and transforms our lives from the inside out.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, King James Bible)
Contrary to the Jesus of Mormonism who “cannot” save you “in your sins” and who requires you to “merit” forgiveness through the “abandonment” of “all uncleanness,” the Jesus of the Bible proclaims: “‘They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. … I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”35. Regardless of one’s ability to subdue sin, Jesus unconditionally offers His forgiveness to all who come to Him on the basis of faith.
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37, King James Bible)
“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, King James Bible)
The Jesus of the Bible promises that once an individual has personally “come” to Him in humble request for forgiveness, He will never cast that person away. Unlike the Jesus of Mormonism who only saves us “if we do our part,” the Jesus of the Bible saves us to the “uttermost” because He is the one who presents us “holy and unblameable and unreproveable” in God’s sight.36. Resting in the all-sufficient merits of our Lord and Savior, we have the absolute assurance of our salvation.
“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and He that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:11-13, King James Bible)
By implication of the completeness of our redemption, the believer can boldly proclaim: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. … For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels … nor things present, nor things to come … shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”37.
Unlike “repentance” in Mormonism which requires the “permanent” “discontinuance of the sin” and warns that “unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return,” the Bible proclaims: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”38. As can be seen in this passage, the cleansing of our sins in response to our confession is contingent entirely upon the righteous merits of the Lord Jesus Christ and the faithfulness of our loving God. Apart from the admonition to repent by placing one’s total faith and trust in Christ, one will search the Bible in vain to find a single passage that remotely implies a conditional forgiveness based upon personal worthiness. For the Bible declares:
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? … he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19, King James Bible)
“He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. … As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:10,12, King James Bible)
Even the well-known passage in the book of James that states that “faith without works is dead”39. takes on new significance when one recognizes that this passage is speaking about a dead faith which cannot save a person any more than a physical body can live without the spirit.40. Just as fruit on a fruit tree proves that the tree is alive and well, so works follow true Christian faith and prove that the faith that spiritually saves the Christian is alive. While it is true that works prove that a Christian has the living faith that saves, works do not make a person worthy of everlasting life. For the Bible proclaims:
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” (Romans 11:6, King James Bible)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, King James Bible)
Indeed, the only true saving “work” is the work of faith as testified by Jesus in John 6:28-29: “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”41.
For more information see:
1. The Miracle of Forgiveness, 1969, p. 6
2. 2 Nephi 25:23, Book of Mormon
3. LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 697
4. The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 8
5. The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 8, 314
6. Gospel Principles, 1978, 1992 ed., p. 253
7. Gospel Principles, p. 126
8. James 3:2, King James Bible
9. Matthew 5:28, King James Bible
10. Matthew 5:22, King James Bible
11. James 4:17, King James Bible
12. The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 163
13. Gospel Principles, 1978, 1992ed., p. 253
14. The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 354
15. The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 176
16. The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 207
17. Moroni 10:32, Book of Mormon
18. The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 209, 176
19. Gospel Principles, p. 126
20. Alma 34:35, Book of Mormon
21. Alma 11:37, Book of Mormon
22. LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 697; Moroni 10:32, Book of Mormon
23. Titus 3:5, King James Bible
24. Brigham Young, 1853, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 4
25. Isaiah 64:6, King James Bible
26. James 2:10, King James Bible
27. Romans 3:23, King James Bible
28. Gospel Principles, p. 77
29. Galatians 3:21, King James Bible
30. Romans 3:28, King James Bible
31. John 19:30, King James Bible
32. Colossians 3:3, King James Bible
33. Romans 5:8, King James Bible
34. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, 1964, p. 1290
35. Matthew 9:12-13, King James Bible
36. Colossians 1:22, King James Bible
37. Romans 8:1, 38-39, King James Bible
38. 1 John 1:9, King James Bible
39. See James 2:14-17, 26, King James Bible
40. James 2:26, King James Bible
41. King James Bible