By Sharon Lindbloom
23 October 2017
LDS apostle Jeffrey Holland seems to be engaged in an ongoing effort to soften the harsh reality of Mormonism’s impossible gospel. A year and a half ago, at the April 2016 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mr. Holland assured Mormons, contrary to orthodox and historical LDS doctrine, that even if they fail at keeping the commandments and the covenants they have made with God, they will still get “credit for trying.”
This month (October 2017), Mr. Holland again comforted struggling Mormons in his talk titled, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect – Eventually.” In this General Conference address, after quoting the biblical passage of Matthew 5:48 (“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father … in heaven is perfect.”), he noted,
“Such celestial goals seem beyond our reach. Yet surely the Lord would never give us a commandment He knew we could not keep. Let’s see where this quandary takes us.”
The conclusion Mr. Holland offered is that, while perfection is necessary for eternal life (i.e., godhood in a “forever family”), it is not required in this life; those who try to obey Matthew 5:48 will reach perfection “eventually.”
Jeffrey Holland’s conference address might be comforting to less attentive Latter-day Saints who feel overwhelmed by the requirements for obedience and perfection that Mormonism heaps upon them. But in reality, those impossible demands remain in effect.
Take for example an LDS scripture passage from the Book of Mormon quoted (in part) by Mr. Holland to support his premise: Moroni 10:32. Mr. Holland quoted,
“’Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him… ,’ Moroni pleads. ‘Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then… by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.’ Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t ‘earn’ it.”
A very important part of Moroni 10:32 was omitted by Mr. Holland. The complete text is this:
“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; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”
In its full rendering, this verse contains an if/then statement. If we deny ourselves of all ungodliness (i.e., stop sinning) and love God with all our might mind and strength (is anyone able to do that?), then His grace will perfect us. We will not receive God’s grace to become perfect until we accomplish total abandonment of sin. In other words, according to Mormonism we will receive God’s grace (including the “gift” of perfection) in return for behavior that indicates we deserve it. Said another way, we receive it when we have earned it. And we earn it by achieving perfection. Impossible.
Twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball explained,
“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, 208-209)
“In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, ‘Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us.’” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 286)
President Kimball spoke very clearly about Mormonism’s requirement for and achievability of human perfection, even though it was difficult for Latter-day Saints to hear. Mormon doctrine has not changed since President Kimball taught these things, but the overwhelming discouragement of Latter-day Saints trying to live up to Mormonism’s impossible demands has pushed LDS leaders to moderate the message. Jeffrey Holland promises “credit for trying” and eventual personal perfection based on “a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts,” while mentioning but swiftly gliding past the traditional (and essential) LDS bottom-line:
“What I now say in no way denies or diminishes any commandment God has ever given us.”
“I hasten to say that focusing on the Father’s and the Son’s achievements rather than our failures does not give us one ounce of justification for undisciplined lives or dumbing down our standards.”
“You have looked over my kingdom, and my greatness and glory. Now you want to take possession of the whole of it. (Lucifer turns, and stares into the camera). I have a word to say concerning these people. If they do not walk up to every covenant they make at these altars in this temple this day, they will be in my power!” (Lucifer, Post-1990 LDS Endowment Ceremony, Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony 1842-1990, p. 24).
None of the following teachings from past LDS prophets have been censured by the Mormon Church:
“There is not one requirement of the Lord that is non-essential; every requirement that He has made of us is essential to our perfection and sanctification, to prepare us to enjoy celestial glory” (Brigham Young, November 6, 1863, Journal of Discourses, 10:284).
“We may think that we cannot live up to the perfect law, that the work of perfecting ourselves is too difficult. This may be true in part, but the fact still remains that it is a command of the Almighty to us and we cannot ignore it” (Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 2012, pp. 96-97).
“It is my duty, it is yours, to be better today than I was yesterday, and for you to be better today than you were yesterday, and better tomorrow than you were today. Why? Because we are on that road, if we are keeping the commandments of the Lord, we are on that road to perfection, and that can only come through obedience and the desire in our hearts to overcome the world” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:18-19. See also The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles manual, 1979, p. 292).
“Any member of the Church who is learning to live perfectly each of the laws that are in the kingdom is learning the way to become perfect. There is no member of this Church who cannot live the law, every law of the gospel perfectly” (Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 2000, p. 33).
In 2001, then-Seventy (now apostle) D. Todd Christofferson taught,
“To be classed among the truly penitent, random acts of obedience will not be adequate. We must properly enter into the covenants and persist in keeping them…It is not simply the promise of obedience in our contracts with Deity that brings grace, but the performance of our promises.” (“Justification and Sanctification,” Ensign, June 2001, 24)
And current LDS President Thomas Monson taught,
“Accountability is not for the intention, but for the deed.” (Church News, 1/20/2001, 3)
Just last week LDS apostle Quentin L. Cook remarked,
“The gospel is about exaltation. This requires making and keeping sacred covenants with God.” (“The temple is the ‘crown jewel’ of all the work in the Church,” Deseret News, 10/19/2017. Emphasis added.)
It is important to strive for holiness, to live righteous lives that reflect the glorious goodness of God. This, after all, is what God has called His people to be and to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). But this goodness that God expects and desires from His people is not a means to self-perfection in order to merit eternal life as Mormonism claims (see Ephesians 2:8-9, immediately preceding God’s call to good works).
For Mormons who labor under the impossible gospel of Mormonism, it’s a comforting thought that they might get “credit for trying” or eventually reach the required perfection solely because of their “desire for increased righteousness.” But this is not what Mormonism offers, no matter how much LDS leaders try to assuage the religion’s actual demands. Beleaguered Mormons don’t need sympathetic, false promises. They (and we all) need a Savior.
The truth is that Jesus meets God’s requirement of perfection, and He freely imputes* His perfection to all who trust in Him (Romans 10:1-4; Philippians 3:9)). He doesn’t give credit for trying (Galatians 3:10-14), and He doesn’t withhold His grace from the undeserving sinner (i.e., you and me – Romans 5:6-11).
The truth of Jesus’ call to “Be ye perfect” is explained by MRM’s Eric Johnson:
“Since the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not of works, what did Jesus mean when He said, ‘Be ye perfect’? Contrary to Spencer W. Kimball, ‘total forgiveness of sins’ does not come by ‘living all the commandments.’ Perfection in keeping commandments is impossible even with a lifetime of tomorrows. Jesus was not claiming that His followers had to ‘be perfect’ in order to receive forgiveness; rather, He was calling His people to honor God by reflecting His holiness even while approaching Him in daily repentance. While God’s standards remain high and should be the goal, the ultimate work for salvation was performed by Someone other than ourselves. It’s called ‘amazing grace’ for a reason.” (“Matthew 5:48: Is Perfection an Achievable Goal?”)
Like a false prophet, Jeffrey Holland is giving Mormons false hope. In his General Conference address he beseeched his listeners,
“May we refuse to let our own mortal follies, and the inevitable shortcomings of even the best men and women around us, make us cynical about the truths of the [restored] gospel, the truthfulness of the Church, our hope for our future, or the possibility of godliness.”
My friends, “our own mortal follies,” that is, our inability to perfectly obey the perfect law of God, is the very thing that God uses to reveal our sin and alert us to our precarious spiritual position. God chooses to use this, an acute awareness of our failures, “to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). In Christ is where true hope lives. May we be found in Him, perfected in Him, not eventually, but this very day (Ephesians 2).
* “When we receive the mercy God offers us in Christ by faith (see Acts 16:31; 1 Tim. 1:15-16; 1 Pet. 1:8-9), his perfection is imputed—or credited or reckoned—to us and our sinful failure is imputed—or credited or reckoned—to him. And thus Jesus’ undeserved death pays for our sin (see Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Rev. 5:9); and God’s demand for us to be perfectly righteous is satisfied by the imputation or crediting of Christ’s perfect righteousness to us.” To learn more about Christ’s imputation, see “What God Requires, Christ Provides” by John Piper and Justin Taylor