For Mormons, “the mortal existence is seen in the context of a great sweep of history” (“Plan of Salvation”, LDS Newsroom). Salvation in Mormonism should be considered as it relates to the larger worldview, which includes things like the nature of God, the nature of man, the purpose of our mortal experience, and the afterlife. A popular phrase describing traditional Mormon theology is the Lorenzo Snow couplet, which says, “As man is God once was, and as God is man may be.” Mormonism teaches that God and man are of the very same nature and species, and that God’s purpose is to help humans progress to the level of development he has achieved and enjoy family and godhood. God “knows that only those who are worthy will be able to live with him” (“For the Strength of Youth”, official LDS pamphlet). Mormon leaders speak ambivalently of the prerequisite “repentance” which brings forgiveness, sometimes giving the impression that it is a simple broken heart and contrite spirit, and other times speaking of it as a process which includes the successful and permanent abandonment of sin and keeping all the commandments.
Mormon language on salvation can be confusing and difficult to parse. Leaders speak of “salvation by grace” and relying upon the “merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8), but these phrases mean something in Mormonism that still tragically make it a false gospel. Mormonism teaches of a general salvation and an individual salvation. General salvation refers to the unconditional, universal gift of resurrection to all. Individual salvation refers to the process one must go through to receive exaltation in the highest heavenly kingdom of the afterlife, the Celestial Kingdom, where one may eternally enjoy family and become a God over his own spirit children. While Mormonism teaches that this process is made possible by the necessary merits of Christ and blessings of his atonement, and that gracious guidance, encouragement, and strengthening is granted throughout the journey, it nevertheless teaches that the decisive factor which determines one’s final destination is one’s personal, meritorious righteousness and worthiness. According to Mormon apostle Robert D. Hales, “Each of us has been sent to earth by our Heavenly Father to merit eternal life” (“Personal Revelation: The Teachings and Examples of the Prophets”, General Conference, October 2007).
For the Christian, the ultimate purpose of life is a relationship with the only true God of all worlds, universes, dominions and reality. Eternal life is to know God. Salvation was designed so that God gets all the glory and man would enjoy giving him all the credit. In Ephesians, Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9) In probably the starkest passage on grace in the Bible, Paul wrote in Romans, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (4:4-5). The Gospel of John puts it simply, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (3:16) Jesus said that, “he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). For those who want to most enjoy and love God and neighbors, receive immediate forgiveness of sins, and have assurance of present and permanent eternal life, salvation may be received through Christ alone, by grace alone, and by faith alone. Personal works serve as evidence of the genuineness of one’s faith and relationship with Christ, but do not in an way (even partially) merit, earn, or prove one’s worthiness of eternal life. Christians work hard and strive for holiness because they have a relationship with Christ built on the foundation of already having been justified, forgiven, and assured of eternal life. We can say, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10). “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
For a 5-part Viewpoint on Mormonism series on this topic, please visit: