During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
Chapter 5: Faith and Repentance
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 82–93
From the Life of Joseph Fielding Smith
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “The forgiveness of sins comes through faith and sincere repentance.” He said that “it is necessary, not merely that we believe, but that we repent,” and he also taught that when we perform good works in faith until the end, we will “receive the reward of the faithful and a place in the Celestial kingdom of God.” With a desire for all people to receive this reward, he testified of Jesus Christ and preached repentance throughout his ministry.
Repentance. The literal Greek word metanaow means to turn away from or to go in a different direction. In Mormonism, repentance is the catch-all word when the issue of sin is considered. While Latter-day Saints are instructed to hold to a higher standard if they hope to qualify for the celestial kingdom, most realize that they’re not doing everything they should to successfully “keep the commandments continually,” as D&C 25:15 instructs.
In the review of this chapter, let’s consider Mormonism’s version of repentance and see if this fits with the teachings of the Bible.
Those who worked closely with President Smith saw that behind his stern warnings was a man with tender concern for people who struggled in sin.
In my mind, those who struggle in sin are all of us, me included! Even Paul himself struggled with sin. Consider what he said in Romans 7:
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
(Note: We will quote from Romans a number of times in this review. For an article I wrote called The Roman’s Road Challenge, click here.)
Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith
The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, and through him in the Father. We believe in Christ, accept him as the Son of God, and have taken his name upon us in the waters of baptism.
In the Bible, it is more than the “first principle of the gospel” to have faith in Christ. It is the foundation upon which justification is based. Romans 10:9-11 says,
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
Notice, belief = salvation (specifically, justification). We are justified through our belief and faith. And check out verse 11: “Anyone [that’s you and me!] who believes in him will never be put to shame.” It is amazing that God can provide forgiveness to a sinner like me. As Newton wrote in his famous hymn Amazing Grace,
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That Saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
The Bible is replete with passages to support the idea that salvation is not of us but only from God. For example, Titus 3:4-7 say,
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior(F) appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
In Romans 5:6-11 Paul talks about what it takes to be reconciled as sinners to God:
6 You see, at just the right time,(M) when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood,(R) how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
When it comes to the past tense of the word “saved,” this refers to forgiveness, a crucial topic in the Bible and therefore Christianity. According to Christianity, Matthew 1:20–21 recounts how “the angel of the Lord” appeared to Joseph, Mary’s espoused husband, and announced that the Child she was carrying, Jesus, would “save his people from their sins.” First John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
The type of forgiveness where a person can know in this lifetime if it has been attained is not offered in the teachings of Mormonism. The Bible states that all people have sinned and come short of God’s glory, resulting in death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Left to ourselves, we are a hopeless people. But when Jesus came to this earth as the ultimate sacrifice for sin and rose from the dead on the third day, He provided a gift that could never be bought or repaid. As Christian theologian James White points out,
“One who has been justified stands before God uncondemned and uncondemnable—not because of what he is in himself, but because of what Christ is in him.” (The God Who Justifies, 98).
This issue is of utmost importance; as we have discovered over the years, it effectively gets to the heart of the matter of salvation. If people do not know for sure that their sins are forgiven, how can it be known with confidence that they are God’s “people”? Without this assurance, their claim to the title of “Christian” is merely presumptuous.
Let it be uppermost in your minds, now and at all times, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to lay down his life that we might live. That is the truth, and is fundamental. Upon that our faith is built. It can not be destroyed. We must adhere to this teaching in spite of the teachings of the world, and the notions of men; for this is paramount, this is essential to our salvation. The Lord redeemed us with his blood, he gave us salvation, provided—and there is this condition which we must not forget—that we will keep his commandments, and always remember him. If we will do that then we shall be saved, while the ideas and the foolishness of men, shall perish from the earth. By faith we come to God. If we did not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, if we had no faith in Him or in His atonement, we would not be inclined to pay any heed to His commandments. It is because we have that faith that we are brought into harmony with His truth and have a desire in our hearts to serve Him. …
We have talked about this issue in other reviews of “Teachings of Presidents of the Church,” but for the sake of clarity, let’s make sure we understand what the word “salvation” means in Mormon doctrine. “In Mormonism, salvation is defined in two unique ways. Smith explained,
“Salvation is twofold: General—that which comes to all men irrespective of a belief (in this life) in Christ—and, Individual—that which man merits through his own acts through life and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:134)
General salvation, or resurrection from the dead, is also called salvation by grace and is provided to all people. It is synonymous with immortality, since the resurrected person lives forever. This means that everyone is entitled to one of three levels of heaven, based primarily on the fact that all humans have bodies that they later received due to obedience in the preexistence. On the other hand, eternal life, or exaltation, is equal to godhood and, as Smith says above, is merited through personal obedience to the commandments. As Smith said,
“Very gladly would the Lord give to everyone eternal life, but since that blessing can come only on merit—through the faithful performance of duty—only those who are worthy shall receive it.” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:5)
If you are an Evangelical Christian trying to make sense of Smith’s previous paragraph, it is important to have these differences in mind or confusion will reign. The language used by the Latter-day Saints is very similar but with important differenes in meaning.
… The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and of course we are not going to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ without having faith in His Father. Then if we have faith in God the Father and the Son and are guided, as we ought to be, by the Holy Ghost, we will have faith in the servants of the Lord through whom He has spoken.
Notice the logic in this paragraph. If a person has faith in Jesus, then that person will also have faith in God the Father. With this I agree. But notice the next step. If a person has faith in God and Jesus, then (guided by the Holy Ghost) God’s “servants” (read: General Authorities) should also be believed and accepted. Of course, the reference here certainly refers to the LDS leadership. But Smith misses a step, for if the so-called “servants” are teaching another gospel (Gal. 1:8-9) and another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4), then that “gospel” ought to be rejected! Only if these “servants” are teaching in the biblical version of Jesus should they be accepted and believed. Too many Mormons will skip right over this as they are willing to blindly accept the idea that the teachings and commandments coming from Salt Lake City should be accepted in order to have a relationship with God. This is a tragic error! As Jesus said in Matthew 7, false prophets dress up like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Faith means action.
“Faith is the moving cause of all action.” [Lectures on Faith, lecture 1.] If you stop to consider that for a moment, I think you will agree that it is absolutely true in temporal things as well as in spiritual things. It is true with us in our own acts, as well as with the acts of God. … “Faith without works is dead” [James 2:26]—in other words, it does not exist. I think James’ meaning clearly is, “You show me your faith without your works, and nothing will result; but I will show you my faith with my works, and something will be accomplished.” [See James 2:18.] Faith means action. … Faith, therefore, is stronger than belief. …
OK, let’s stop here. Too many Mormons have a false impression in their minds when it comes to James 2:20 and 26 in relationship to biblical Christianity. After all, it is argued, if people are saved by grace through faith—as Christian churches teach—then what motivation do they have for doing good? Seventy LeGrand Richards provides a typical viewpoint when he said,
“One erroneous teaching of many Christian churches is: By faith alone we are saved. This false doctrine would relieve man from the responsibility of his acts other than to confess a belief in God, and would teach man that no matter how great the sin, a confession would bring him complete forgiveness and salvation. What the world needs is more preaching of the necessity of abstaining from sin and of living useful and righteous lives, and less preaching of forgiveness of sin. This would then be a different world. The truth is that men must repent of their sins and forsake them before they can expect forgiveness. Even when our sins are forgiven, God cannot reward us for the good we have not done” (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, pp. 25-26. Italics in original).
At this point, let’s provide a rationale for the mindset of those who believe differently than Smith and other LDS leaders. The immediate context of James chapter 2 names Abraham and Rahab as examples of how good works follow true faith in a believer’s life. James is criticizing those who profess to have faith but whose actions do not support this claim. A living faith is not devoid of good works; instead, a living faith will produce good works. Pointing out the play on words in verse 20 (it literally means, “Faith without works does no work”), Christian theologian James White writes,
“Deedless faith, being an anomaly by nature, is unproductive. It cannot, and will not, produce the fruit of true faith, that being salvation. . . . Faith that exists only in the realm of words (deedless faith) is useless.” (The God Who Justifies, 344-45)
Protestant theologians have long recognized the difference between what justifies sinful man before God and what sanctifies, or sets him apart for service unto God. The distinction between justification and sanctification is extremely important. According to Christian theologian J. I. Packer, justification
“is thus a forensic term, denoting a judicial act of administering the law—in this case, by declaring a verdict of acquittal, and so excluding all possibility of condemnation. Justification thus settles the legal status of the person justified.” (“Justification in Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 593)
Romans 6:23 says all people deserve death because the very best of sin-tainted works, in themselves, are, as Isaiah 64:6 says, like “filthy rags” in God’s sight. Thus, the gift God bestows on His people is given by grace and received by faith. In Acts 13:39 Paul says, “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
And in Romans 3:28 and 5:1, Paul adds,
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. . . . Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Legally, Christians are exonerated by God because Christ’s atoning work has made them righteous in His sight. Sanctification, on the other hand, is synonymous with holiness. Good works are the result of faith and a life lived out of love for God. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). First John 3:23 explains these commandments:
“That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another.”
Performing good works outside of a relationship with the true God of the Bible does not result in salvation. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:21,
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
The will of the Father, Jesus said in John 6:40, is to believe in Him. All who do, He declared, will “have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” The claim that Christians believe they have the freedom to sin with passion after initially coming to faith in Christ is a straw man. Contrasting the “works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians 5:19–23, Paul explained that good fruit should be evident in every believer’s life. After all, believers are those who have “crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (v. 24). To believe that one could freely sin makes no sense. As Paul wrote in Romans 6:15,
“What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”
Yet living a consistent Christian life will be a struggle because, as Romans 7:15 (quoted at the beginning of this review) puts it, “what I hate, that do I.” In verse 18 Paul wrote,
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
Ephesians 2:8–9 very succinctly packages the relationship between faith and salvation. It says,
“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.”
When this passage is considered in light of the “twofold” definition of salvation offered by Mormon leaders, it is clear there is no logical way the Mormon understanding can fit the passage. For instance, suppose Paul was talking about “general” salvation (resurrection of the dead). Substituting the word resurrected for the word saved would result in this rendering: “For by grace are ye resurrected through faith.”
But Mormonism says faith is not a requirement for general salvation, or resurrection. It is provided to all who have ever lived, regardless of their faith or actions. This, then, could not fit an LDS interpretation. Was Paul, then, referring to “individual” salvation, or exaltation? When the word saved is replaced with exalted, it says, “For by grace are ye exalted through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast.” As Smith and other leaders throughout the years demonstrate, however, Mormonism teaches that many works are required for exaltation, which is inconsistent with Ephesians 2:8–9.
The following verse, Ephesians 2:10, needs to be considered as well. It says,
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
It would be illogical to say that Paul was contradicting himself right after he said salvation is “not of works.” He is certainly not advocating a sin-however-you-want mentality. Instead, he explains that Christians were created to do good works. Paul taught in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that a converted believer becomes “a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” In essence, the Christian possesses a different spiritual DNA.
Also crucial to properly understanding what James was talking about is grasping the context in which he was writing. Talking about passages that seem contradictory, New Testament scholar Mark Strauss explains,
Paul says that a person is saved by faith alone, apart from works (Rom. 3:28). James insists that “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26), so that faith plus works saves you. These differences can be resolved when we recognize that Paul and James are addressing two different situations. Paul writes against legalists who are claiming that a person can earn salvation by doing good works, or who perhaps are claiming that salvation has come through the “works of the law”—the hallmarks of Judaism such as circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath observance. James, on the other hand, is writing against those who are abusing the doctrine of free grace by claiming that once you are saved by faith, you can live any way you want. James rejects such libertarianism and insists that authentic faith will always result in actions, so that the two work hand in hand. (How to Read the Bible in Changing Times, 35-36)
A Christian who catches a glimpse of what Jesus Christ did on his or her behalf will quite naturally have a desire to serve God. Consider what your attitude would be if a kind couple gave you a gift of $10 million, an outrageous amount that most people will never earn in a lifetime. Would you naturally respond by wanting to spray-paint graffiti on your benefactors’ house, throw lye in their grass, and kick their beloved family dog? Or, since you were given a gift that could never be repaid, would you be ever grateful? If you found out they needed someone to mow their grass and feed the dog while they were away on vacation, wouldn’t you be the first to volunteer? The answers are obvious.
In John 15:14 Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” He is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother and offers a life that benefits His people both temporally and spiritually. We value His friendship and willfully follow His directives, knowing they are for our good and not meant for harm. When it is understood that God justified His people freely through no act of their own and gave them a gift that can never be repaid, then the role of good works in the Christian’s life becomes clear.
Faith is a gift of God. Every good thing is a gift of God. That is a teaching of the scriptures as found in the 11th chapter of Hebrews—which chapter is a very fine dissertation on faith—[and] in the revelations the Lord has given us in the Doctrine and Covenants, and in other scriptures. Faith cannot be obtained by inaction or through indifference or passive belief. The mere desire to obtain faith will not bring faith any more than the desire to be skilled in music or painting will bring proficiency in these things without intelligent action. There is where our trouble comes. We get a testimony of the Gospel, we believe in Joseph Smith, we believe in Jesus Christ, we believe in the principles of the Gospel, but how hard are we working at them?
Hebrews 11 is a great passage, though it’s being abused here. The writer of Hebrews is saying that faith is made manifest through good works. Of course good works (the proof in the pudding) matters! Jesus said we ought to be fruit inspectors. But it’s not the fruit that makes the tree, but rather it’s the tree that makes the fruit. And so it is in a healthy, vibrant Christian life.
… If we want to have a living, abiding faith, we must be active in the performance of every duty as members of this Church. …
Notice the words:
- “Faith”—If you have true faith, then…
- “Be active in the performance”—In Mormonism, it’s all about “performance.” What Jesus did on the cross is nothing more than a precursor to what the individual must do for him/herself, no matter how impossible the demands might be. According to Mormonism, the Latter-day Saint is on the stage. This life is the one chance to perform. Just don’t mess up your lines!
- “Every duty”—Did you catch that? You are not required to keep some of the commandments or even most of them. Rather, you are commanded to keep every one of them.
- “Members of this church”—Christian, take notice. According to Mormonism, a person cannot keep the commandments outside the LDS church. Period. End of story.
We are not walking now by sight, as we did before we came into this world, but the Lord expects that we shall walk by faith [see 2 Corinthians 5:7]; and walking by faith we shall receive the reward of the righteous, if we adhere unto those commandments which are given for our salvation.
Whenever discussion is made about “walking by faith” or “salvation by grace,” always look for an “if.” Here, it comes in the last phrase. Walk by faith and adhere to the commandments. Sola fides is completely rejected in Mormonism.
Unless a man will adhere to the doctrine and walk in faith, accepting the truth and observing the commandments as they have been given, it will be impossible for him to receive eternal life, no matter how much he may confess with his lips that Jesus is the Christ, or believe that his Father sent him into the world for the redemption of man. So James is right when he says that the devils “believe and tremble,” but they do not repent [see James 2:19].
So here is a stab-and-twist statement in an attempt to refute the interpretation made in Evangelical Christianity in reference to Romans 10:9-10. According to Mormonism, a person does not come to God to be forgiven by faith alone—even though the Bible is replete with references saying this is true. Rather, works—many works—are required for the Latter-day Saint to ever hope to attain celestial glory.
There are six verses from LDS scripture that can be used to show how futile the Mormon’s plan of salvation really is. May I recommend this article on this topic for futher reference?
Repentance is the second principle of the gospel and is essential to our salvation and exaltation. Repentance is the second fundamental principle of the gospel and the outgrowth of faith. What we need in the Church, as well as out of it, is repentance. We need more faith and more determination to serve the Lord.
The list of requirements in Mormonism are many. When it comes to tithing, for example, the Mormon Church has emphasized its necessity in relation to repentance and forgiveness. President Kimball gave a First Presidency message in October 1982 where he said,
“If one neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant. The Lord knows, as do we, the degree of full and sufficient compliance we make with these fundamental aspects of the law of repentance, which is really God’s law of progress and fulfillment.”(“The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, October 1982, 5)
Referring to Kimball’s final point in his “five essential elements of repentence” given in The Miracle of Forgiveness, Apostle Richard G. Scott told a general conference audience,
“Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into your life with strength to focus on the abandonment of specific sins. It includes things you might not initially consider part of repentance, such as attending meetings, paying tithing, giving service, and forgiving others. The Lord said: ‘He that repents and does the commands of the Lord shall be forgiven.’” (“Finding Forgiveness,” Ensign, May 1995, 75. Scott was quoting D&C 1:32, which says, “Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.”)
Since tithing appears to be one of the essential ingredients for forgiveness, one must wonder what the Mormon should do with the following words from Mormon 8:32:
“Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.”
Another Book of Mormon passage, 1 Nephi 3:7, affirms that God gives no commandments to the “children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” If this is true, then we must assume that those Mormons who fail to repent of all of their sins are guilty of squandering their mortal opportunity and indeed have procrastinated their repentance. This is a perilous situation since, as Kimball stated,
“Incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 212)
In an article written to Mormon youth, Jay E. Jensen, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, said,
“Another prerequisite or condition to repentance is to know that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see 1 Ne. 10:21;1 Ne. 15:34; Alma 7:21; Alma 40:26; and Hel. 8:25). You can hide sins from your bishop, you can hide them from your parents and friends, but if you continue and die with unresolved sins, you are unclean and no unclean thing can dwell with God. There are no exceptions.” (“The Message: Do You Know How to Repent?” New Era, November 1999, 7)
Spencer Kimball added, “And incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 212).
Latter-day Saint, do you have any hidden sins? Maybe they’re sins you are too embarrassed to speak out loud. Perhaps you haven’t asked forgiveness of someone who deserves your repentance. Or, possibly, could you have hidden sins in your life that you don’t even realize are there? If “no unclean thing can dwell with God,” how can you be sure that you are really clean?
Is it true that some among us have an idea that it matters not that we sin so long as it is not a grievous sin, a deadly sin, that we will yet be saved in the kingdom of God? Nephi saw our day. He said that people would be saying that [see 2 Nephi 28:7–9]. But I say unto you, we cannot turn away from the path of truth and righteousness and retain the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord.
There is no place in Zion for the wilful sinner. There is a place for the repentant sinner, for the man who turns away from iniquity and seeks for life eternal and the light of the Gospel. We should not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, any more than the Lord can do so, but walk uprightly and perfectly before the Lord.
Men can only be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God in righteousness; therefore, we must repent of our sins and walk in the light as Christ is in the light [see 1 John 1:7], that his blood may cleanse us from all sins and that we may have fellowship with the Lord and receive of his glory and exaltation.
We need repentance, and we need to be told to repent.
So the Latter-day Saint is being told to repent. That’s good. But as Smith (and certainly so many other leaders) have stated, it’s keeping the commandments that must be done. D&C 58:43 says, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”
At this point, let me introduce several important quotes given by Spencer Kimball. First of all, he explained,
“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 and cleanse you” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 200).
He also said,
“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.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209. See also church manual The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 1979, 386).
“Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit.’ It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could he weeks, it could he years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 324-325).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have “years” or “centuries” to wait. I need forgiveness now! Kimball also taught,
“If one wishes to be forgiven of his sins and reach the celestial kingdom and have associations with the Father and his Son, [he must] repent and serve and do the proper works….” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 69. Brackets and ellipses in original).
Another verse that ought to bring consternation to the sincere Latter-day Saint is D&C 82:7. Referring to this verse, Kimball said,
“We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect repeated forgiveness. The Lord anticipated the weakness of man which would return him to his transgression, and he gave this revelation in warning: 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. (D&C 82:7.)” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 360).
A church manual provides guidance for the instructor:
Doctrine and Covenants 82:7. We are commanded to forsake sin. If we sin again after repenting, our former sins return. (5–10 minutes) Bring several rocks to class that are all labeled with the same sin (for example, breaking the Word of Wisdom). Tell students a story about an imaginary person who commits this sin. Invent details to embellish your story. Each time the imaginary person commits the sin, pick up a rock, until you are holding several of them. Set all the rocks you are holding aside and ask: • What might setting the rocks aside represent? (Repentance.) • What happens to our sins when we repent? (The Lord forgives them.) Read Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 and look for what happens when we sin again. Ask: • How many rocks would a person need to pick up if he sins after repenting? (All that you were previously holding plus a new one.) • Why do you think our former sins return? • What does that teach you about the importance of forsaking sin? • How can knowing this doctrine help you avoid sin?” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, 134. Bold in original.
Latter-day Saint, as you understand it, doesn’t forgiveness follow repentance? How many sins must you forsake? Have you forsaken all of your sins? If not, doesn’t that mean you have not truly repented? There is no doubt that, in Mormonism, the faithful and successful keeping of all commandments is not just a suggestion but a concrete requirement.
In the principle of repentance, the mercy of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is made manifest.
I’m not sure how the “mercy” of God comes into play since the Latter-day Saint is the one doing the performing. If past repented sins can return upon reversion to that sin—as discussed above in our analysis of D&C 82:7—then can there be any hope for the Latter-day Saint?
Repentance is one of the most comforting and glorious principles taught in the gospel. In this principle the mercy of our Heavenly Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is made manifest perhaps more strongly than in any other principle. What a dreadful thing it would be if there were no forgiveness of sin and no means for the remission of sin for those who are humbly repentant! We can only imagine in part the horror that would overtake us, if we had to endure the punishment of our transgressions forever and ever without the hope of any relief. How is that relief obtained? By whom may it be obtained?
I’m not sure what version of Mormonism that Smith is reading, but as this review shows, I maintain that there is no “comforting and glorious principle” in Mormonism. Just to clarify how hopeless the situation is for anyone who is honest enough to admit that they are sinners, let me introduce some other quotes from the LDS leadership to show how scared a Latter-day Saint ought to be:
“Complete forgiveness is reserved for those only who turn their whole hearts to the Lord and begin to keep all of his commandments not just those commandments disobeyed in the past, but those in all fields. ‘He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven’” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 295).
“All men should seek forgiveness with all their hearts, but only those who keep the commandments can obtain that self assurance which enables them to approach the throne of grace with boldness” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 3:154).
“20. In order to remain forgiven we must never commit the sin again” (Mormon Missionary Discussion F, Uniform System for Teaching Families. 1981, p. 36).
If I were a Latter-day Saint, I would be troubled because I know how strong my propensity to sin really is. Oh, I don’t go out and murder folks, nor do I look for ways to cheat on my wife of 25+ years. But, oh, I am a sinner, down deep, just as much as Paul who lamented his propensity to sin in Romans 7, as quoted above. Remember how Jesus said hating someone or lusting after a woman in our heart is also sin. Looking good on the outside while being filled with “dead men’s bones” (a white-washed sepulcher) is not what God requires. Indeed, I am in need of forgiveness of my sins, and this cannot be attained by my performance but only by God’s performance. As Romans 5:8 puts it, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Our Lord has said: “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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” [John 3:16–17; see also verses 18–21.] If the Father had not sent Jesus Christ into the world, then there could have been no remission of sins and there could have been no relief from sin through repentance.
Here the language changes, ever so subtly. There could be no remission of sins, Smith says, without Jesus. There is no doubt that, according to Mormonism, Jesus is an important player who takes a person to the ball. But this is only entrance into the main event. How a person does on the dance floor is what is required. There is “no relief” unless there is repentance and the stopping of sin, which can only be effected by the individual.
“Repentance is one of the most comforting and glorious principles taught in the gospel.”
If we really understood and could feel even to a small degree, the love and gracious willingness on the part of Jesus Christ to suffer for our sins we would be willing to repent of all our transgressions and serve him. Repentance includes sincere sorrow for sin and complete turning from sin.
The scriptures say: “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” [D&C 59:8.]
That means repentance.
… Repentance, according to the definition given in the dictionary, is sincere sorrow for sin with self-condemnation, and complete turning from the sin. … There can be no true repentance without sorrow and the desire to be freed from sin.
Contrition is manifestation of a broken, or humbled, spirit because of sin and a sincere sense of the baseness of sin and realization of the mercy and grace of God granted to the repentant sinner. … For that reason the Lord says, as I have already quoted, we are to offer a sacrifice “in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” …
Repentance is a gift of God. … It is not so easy for some people to repent, but the gift of repentance and faith will be given to every man who will seek for it.
I’ve learned from my own experience that when you want to change, really want to change, you can do it. Our conscience and the scriptures tell us what to live by—and they tell us what habits we should change for our eternal welfare and progress.
More of the same, but one phrase really sticks out: If a person “really wants to change,” then this says that a person “can do it.” Do you want to change, Latter-day Saint? According to your leaders, you have no excuses.
The time to repent is now.
God is not going to save every man and woman in the celestial kingdom. If you want to get there, and you have failings, if you are committing sins, if you are breaking the commandments of the Lord and you know it, it is a good time right now to repent and reform, and not get the idea that it is such a little thing that the Lord will forgive you, just a few stripes, just a little punishment and we will be forgiven; for you may find yourselves cast out, if you insist and persist in such a course.
Procrastination, as it may be applied to gospel principles, is the thief of eternal life, which is life in the presence of the Father and the Son. There are many among us, even members of the Church, who feel that there is no need for haste in the observance of gospel principles and the keeping of the commandments. …
Do not let us forget the words of [Amulek]: “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.
“And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, 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 the eternal world.” [Alma 34:32–34.]
If Alma 34 can be trusted, then indeed the time to repent is now, not after this life when it is no longer possible to repent.
I know of nothing that is more important or necessary at this time than to cry repentance, even among the Latter-day Saints, and I call upon them as well as upon those who are not members of the Church, to heed these words of our Redeemer. Now he has stated definitely that no unclean thing can enter his presence. Only those who prove themselves faithful and have washed their garments in his blood through their faith and their repentance—none others shall find the kingdom of God.
Latter-day Saint, would you consider yourself “clean”? Are you “faithful”? Or are you like me, a human who struggles with sin, all the while knowing that there is nothing I can do to satisfy God’s demands? If we are honest, we will realize that it is true that “no unclean thing can enter his presence” and yet we are not “clean.”
I plead with the world to repent and believe the truth, to let the light of Christ shine in their lives, to keep every good and true principle they have, and to add to these the further light and knowledge that has come by revelation in this day. I plead with them to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and reap the blessings of the gospel. I plead with the members of the Church to do the works of righteousness, to keep the commandments, to seek the Spirit, to love the Lord, to put first in their lives the things of God’s kingdom, and thereby work out their salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord [see Philippians 2:12].
Why such a plea for people to join the Mormon Church? After all, anyone who becomes LDS becomes subject to keeping the whole LDS law. No coffee, no watching a game on Sundays, and no ability to know if you’ve ever done enough. There is no “reaping” of “blessings of the gospel.” Those who enter into this system become prisoners of the hell-hole of attempting to do what is truly impossible.
Some Mormons may think, “I just need more time. Someday I’ll attain what the church tells me I’m supposed to do.” In some ways there is a parallel between those who think they only need more time to make things right and the servant in Jesus’ story in Matthew 18:23–27. In this passage Jesus tells of a servant who owed the king an insurmountable debt of ten thousand talents. The servant pleaded with the king to have patience with him. Somehow, he thought having more time would solve his problem. Thankfully for him, the king had compassion and canceled the debt.
In Luke 7:36–50, Jesus forgave a woman of her sins for no other reason than that she was worshipping Him. She was not required to go through a repentance process. Understandably, some Mormons feel a great amount of anxiety in not knowing whether they have done enough to secure their forgiveness. This could be because they have blurred the lines between what justifies a person (or makes them right) with God and what sanctifies (or sets them apart) unto God. This dilemma was explained in a sermon by Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle (1816–1900):
“I am persuaded that one great cause of the darkness and uncomfortable feelings of many well-meaning people in the matter of religion is their habit of confounding, and not distinguishing, justification and sanctification. It can never be too strongly impressed on our minds that they are two separate things. No doubt they cannot be divided, and everyone that is a partaker of either is a partaker of both. But never, never ought they to be confounded, and never ought the distinction between them to be forgotten.”
Christians are justified, or made right with God, because of what Jesus did on the cross (cf. Rom. 9:16; Eph. 2:8–10; Titus 3:4–7). Princeton theologian Benjamin B. Warfield (1851–1921) succinctly summed up this incredible act when he said,
“Justification by Faith, we see, is not to be set in contradiction to justification by Works. It is set in contradiction only to justification by our Own Works. It is justification by Christ’s Works.” (“Justification by Faith, Out of Date?” The Christian Irishman, Dublin, May 1911, 71)
True Christians can be confident of their forgiveness because it has nothing to do with their personal merit or performance. Latter-day Saint, this is the gospel of peace that passes understanding.
For more reviews on this manual featuring Joseph Fielding Smith quotes, go here.
For a podcast on repentance, click here.