Forgiveness: A 28 (or more)-step program?

By Eric Johnson

Christianity has historically taught that God provides forgiveness to all who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. Over and over again, the Bible proclaims that it is through the blood of the Lamb that God’s children are able to receive this forgiveness, despite the fact that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

For example, Ephesians 1:7 clearly states, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” Romans 3:24 says that we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.” All of our sins were “canceled” since the punishment for sin was put away, “nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). What is the requirement? A trusting belief in the biblical Jesus (e.g. John 3:16; Acts 10:43, 16:31; Rom. 10:9,10). This is the core of the basic gospel message.

However, in Mormonism, the requirements to receive forgiveness are much different. In actuality, true forgiveness is gained through grace made efficacious through one’s own efforts. As the Book of Mormon puts it, “we know that it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).

In his October 2010 conference message titled “Two lines of Communication,” Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks described this conditional aspect of the atonement and when it actually benefits the LDS member. “Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23)” (Ensign, November 2010, p,84).

Mormon leaders have taught that this grace allows everyone to have a “general resurrection” based on the fact that all people were worthy enough in the “Preexistence” to receive bodies on earth; true exaltation in the top level of the Celestial Kingdom is only provided to those whose works make them worthy.

This idea was clearly taught in an article titled “The Sweet Peace of Forgiveness” that was written for the Ensign magazine, an official church publication (April 2006, pp. 7-9), by Daniel P. Alvarez, an Area Seventy for the South America South Area. Quoting from Mosiah chapter 3 in the Book of Mormon, Alvarez explains that it was 125 years before the time of Christ when King Benjamin “shared the message an angel had given him” regarding a prophecy about Christ. According to verse 18, King Benjamin testified that “salvation was, and is, and is to come in and through the atoning blood of Christ.”

If this is true, then it is the most precise prophecy ever given about the coming of Jesus. (It should be noted that “Christ” is a Greek word that the American Hebrews would not have understood. Christ literally is a Greek title that means “Messiah.”) At least in the world of Israel, the Jews would have not understood what this would have meant since they were looking for a kingly Messiah, not one who would have to suffer and die as Jesus did. This is why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that the preaching of the cross is a “stumbling block to Gentiles,” even though verse 24 adds that the cross is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Moving to Mosiah chapter 4, Alvarez says on page 8 that “remission of sins comes when we meet the conditions of repentance.” “How do we obtain these things?” he then asks. “We must do as King Benjamin’s people did. We must become aware of our ‘own carnal state.’ We must put our trust in the Lord, diligently keep the commandments, and continue in faith ‘even unto the end of [this] life.”

This idea of continually keeping the commandments is a necessity in Mormonism if a person hopes to know that he or she has true forgiveness. D&C 25:15 plainly states, “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.”

As Alvarez writes in the section titled “Obtaining Forgiveness”: “The Lord has established ordinances (baptism, the sacrament, and temple ordinances), and through these ordinances He allows us to make covenants with Him. If we do all we can to keep them, and if, through the Atonement of Christ, we obtain a remission of our sins, then ‘though [our] sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool’ (Isaiah 1:18).”

The kicker is provided in the second to last paragraph of this article. After explaining how keeping the above teachings will give the Mormon the fruits of the Spirit, he writes, “The result of this whole process will be that we will become converted.” In other words, a person must do the following things (and I provide just a partial list as he has given in his article) to receive this “conversion”:

  1. have joy in our lives;
  2. meet the conditions of repentance;
  3. have a peace of conscience;
  4. become aware of our carnal state;
  5. repent of our sins;
  6. put trust in Lord;
  7. diligently keep the commandments;
  8. continue in faith until death;
  9. humble ourselves before God;
  10. call on the Lord daily;
  11. be steadfast;
  12. grow stronger in humility;
  13. lose the disposition to do evil and desire to do good continually;
  14. live in harmony with other people;
  15. teach and train our families in a godly fashion;
  16. have personal revelation;
  17. allow the Spirit to show us what to repent of;
  18. obtain a spiritual confirmation;
  19. read and meditate upon the scriptures;
  20. pray;
  21. be baptized;
  22. partake of the sacrament;
  23. do temple ordinances on a regular basis;
  24. do all we can do to keep the commands of God;
  25. be filled with joy;
  26. have peace of conscience;
  27. be filled with love of God;
  28. bear fruit. As mentioned earlier, Alvarez promises that “the result of this whole process will be that we will become converted.”

Just like every other religion in the world besides Christianity, Mormonism requires its followers to ask, “What must I do in order to earn my salvation?” However, the Bible clearly says that justification comes by faith alone, not by works. In effect, the Christian asks, “What is it that God did on my behalf?” Indeed, justification before God cost Someone a great price, but the wonderful thing is that justification is provided as a free gift with no strings attached. There is no way that I could have ever earned such a prize on my own. As Romans 3:22 says, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Paul adds in the next chapter, “We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!” (vv. 9-10)

As far as good works are concerned, sanctification takes place after justification; it comes as a result of justification, as good works cannot earn one justification before God. Unfortunately, Mormonism misses the mark. As a result, LDS leaders have their people on the impossible and futile road of trying to earn forgiveness, a task that can never be accomplished.


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