Historically, Christianity has always taught that mankind is destined to only one of two destinations after he/she dies: heaven or hell. Mormonism, on the other hand, claims that what a person believes and does in this life will result in being placed in either the telestial, terrestrial, or celestial kingdoms. The truly wicked will be condemned to what is termed “outer darkness.”
Naturally, a sincere Latter-day Saint is striving to gain what is known as a celestial exaltation. Achieving this prominent place in eternity will allow that person to receive numerous benefits not afforded those who were less fortunate to be placed in any of the lower kingdoms.
Each kingdom has a set of laws. Those who live a telestial law while in mortality will be assigned to a telestial glory; those who live a terrestrial law will be assigned a terrestrial glory. Likewise, a person who abides by what is known as celestial law will be assigned a place in the celestial kingdom. Doctrine and Covenants 88:22 states, “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.” If a Mormon hopes to reach the celestial kingdom, he must abide by the celestial law.
What exactly is celestial law? Apostle Orson Whitney said, “It does not mean any one thing; it means all things. It is the fullness of obedience: it is living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Conference Reports, October 1910, p.53).
President Brigham Young said, “If we obey this law, preserve it inviolate, live according to it, we shall be prepared to enjoy the blessings of a celestial kingdom” (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg.404).
President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “To enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept…Do you desire to enter the celestial Kingdom and receive eternal life? Then be willing to keep all of the commandments.” (The Way to Perfection, pg. 206).
While such demands may appear to demonstrate a religious zeal, they are certainly impractical given the fact that we have yet to meet any Mormon who is meeting the above requirements. We know of no Mormon who is fully obeying all the commands of God, nor have we met any Mormon who is keeping the whole law.
If a Mormon is not meeting the celestial requirements, he will, as defined by LDS leadership, be condemned to a lower kingdom and forfeit the opportunity for Godhood and its accompanying benefits. Once the Mormon is assigned to a lower kingdom, achieving the celestial appears to be out of the question. 12th LDS President Spencer W. Kimball taught that there is “no progression between kingdoms. After a person has been assigned to his place in the kingdom, either in the telestial, the terrestrial, or the celestial, or to his exaltation, he will never advance from his assigned glory to another glory. That is eternal!” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.50.)
“I Can Do It Later”
Many Mormons feel that they will have an opportunity after death to get things in order. This idea, while comforting, does not square with LDS theology. Mormonism teaches that this lifetime is a probation period. Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie stated: “One of the great purposes of this mortal probation is to test and try men, to see if they will keep the commandments and walk in the light no matter what environmental enticements beckon them away from the straight and narrow path” (Mormon Doctrine, pg.229). The purpose of this lifetime is for the Mormon to prove himself worthy of exaltation. To fail in that capacity will result in never reaching that celestial goal.
President Joseph Fielding Smith said that if a person refuses to comply with the provided laws and ordinances during this lifetime, they will be “assigned, after the resurrection, to some inferior sphere.” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:69) This concurs with Alma 34:32-33, which states, “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.” It seems clear that while some Mormons feel they can get things right after death, this is not supported by LDS teaching.
“What About Repentance?”
When confronted with this serious dilemma, many Latter-day Saints resort to the doctrine of repentance. While repenting of one’s sins sounds like the logical remedy, it is really self-defeating when one looks at the whole Mormon picture. Bear in mind LDS leaders have stressed that “obedience” to the whole law is the requirement for exaltation, not repentance. The fact that a Mormon has to repent really proves he is not living up to the strict guidelines laid down by the LDS leadership. In other words, he is not obeying celestial law. If he was, he would have no need to repent. Ironically, every time a Mormon repents of his shortcomings and sins, he is doing nothing more than admitting to his God that he is unworthy of a celestial exaltation.
Even more damning for the Mormon is Spencer Kimball’s definition of true repentance. He taught that the “repentance which merits forgiveness” is the kind in which “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.354-355). We know of no Mormon who has accomplished such a feat. Who can say they have actually reached a point in their life where the desire or urge to sin is no longer a problem? Apparently even the Apostle Paul did not accomplish this (Romans 7:13-24).
President Kimball also said that “living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation” (Miracle, pg. 208). This must present a terrible quandary for the Latter-day Saint, for if the desire or urge to sin is not cleared out of his life, and he is not living all of the commandments, how can he know he is truly forgiven? In the church pamphlet titled Repentance Brings Forgiveness, President Kimball taught, “The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.” A great majority of Mormons with whom we have spoken candidly admit they often sin the same sin twice. Unfortunately, if this is the case, according to Kimball they cannot be assured of forgiveness.
The Book of Mormon offers no excuses to the Mormon who fails in this endeavor. First Nephi 3:7 states, “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.” If keeping all the commandments is really possible, why is it that no Mormon is doing it?
“But I’m Trying!”
Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks taught: “The requirement for entry into the celestial kingdom is not that we have actually practiced the entire celestial law while upon this earth, but that we have shown God that we are willing and able to do so” (Pure in Heart, pp. 62-63). However, such a comment, while it may appease those who are struggling to abide a celestial law, blatantly contradicts other statements made by past LDS leaders. For instance, LDS Apostle Orson Whitney made it clear that a Mormon’s chances for reaching the celestial were good only if he was “keeping” the commandments, not merely willing to keep them. He said, “If today, you are keeping those commandments that are now in force, you are living a celestial law, and your chances are good for celestial glory” (Conference Reports, Oct. 1910, pg. 53). Notice he stressed that this must be done “today,” not after one dies.
Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith said compliance with the law, not willingness, was necessary to obtain Godhood. “This mortal probation was to be a brief period, just a short span linking the eternity past with the eternity future. Yet it was to be a period of tremendous importance. It would either give to those who received it the blessing of eternal life, which is the greatest gift of God, and thus qualify them for godhood as sons and daughters of our Eternal Father, or, if they rebelled and refused to comply with the laws and ordinances which were provided for their salvation, it would deny them the great gift and they would be assigned, after the resurrection, to some inferior sphere according to their works. This life is the most vital period in our eternal existence (Doctrines of Salvation 1:69).
The Book of Mormon teaches, “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).
Commenting on this passage, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “These people to whom Amulek was speaking had heard the truth and were not altogether ignorant of the plan of salvation, because they had gone out of the Church by apostasy. So he declared unto them that this is the day for them to repent and turn unto God or they would be lost” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:181). Are modern Latter-day Saints any more ignorant than the people addressed by Amulek? One would think they would be far more advanced than the Nephites and Lamanites described in the Book of Mormon and therefore just as accountable.
While many Latter-day Saints know they should consistently do what is right, the ability to do so is not as easy. Still, LDS leaders have stressed the accomplishment of obeying celestial law, not merely a willingness to obey. According to Spencer Kimball, a mere willingness to try to overcome sinful tendencies is not enough. He asserted, “Trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin.” He went on to say, “To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can” (Miracle, pp.164-165). Indeed, some Mormons have said, “I do my best and Jesus does the rest.” That might be a catchy saying, but the fact is, if a Mormon is actually obeying celestial law, there is nothing left for Jesus to do.
When people are baptized as members in the LDS Church, they are made to promise to keep all of the laws and commandments of God. Naturally they fail, so each week at sacrament service, Latter-days Saints must again commit to keeping the commandments. Each week they fail. Such commitments are again uttered when a Mormon enters one of his hallowed temples. During the endowment ceremony the character playing the part of Lucifer looks at the audience and warns, “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!” If the Mormon really believes this ceremony is of God, and he knows in his heart he is not living up to every covenant he made, wouldn’t consistency demand that he is under Lucifer’s power?
The fact that the LDS Church compels its members to make such promises is unreasonable to say the least. No human can live up to such expectations, but day in and day out, the LDS Church makes its people go through what is no doubt an unrealistic vow. Each week members make the promise, yet each week they fail to keep the promise. Despite their personal efforts, when they do not live up to such incredible standards, their leadership accuses them of covenant breaking. “Of those who break covenants and promises made in sacred places and in solemn manner, we can apply the Lord’s words as follows: ‘… a wicked man, who has set at naught the counsels of God, and has broken the most sacred promises which were made before God, and has depended upon his own judgment and boasted in his own wisdom’ (D&C 3:12-13).” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.57.)
If the men quoted above are really prophets and apostles of God and are to believed as authoritative, then Mormons have plenty to fear for no one can live up to the requirements these men have set forth. It is impossible! That is why Romans 3:19 says that those who try to appease God by following the law are guilty before God. They cannot do it. Could it be that what these men have taught is not true? Could it be that the Bible offers a better way? It seems so.
The Bible declares that we are all sinners and incapable of saving ourselves. Jesus did not die just to make our resurrection possible; rather, He came to take away all (not merely “some”) of the believer’s sins (Col. 2:13). It is our sin which separates us from God. Once that barrier has been removed, a person is declared righteous before God, thus making him eligible for all the blessings God has in store for those whom He has called. It is Christ’s total obedience, not our partial obedience, that saves true Christians in God’s sight (Romans. 5:19). When we come to Him by faith, His righteousness is “imputed” (or “added”) to us to our account (Romans. 4:1-8). Only His righteousness will satisfy the demands of an all-Holy God. Nothing less will do. It is only when we rely on this biblical fact that we can have the assurance of God’s forgiveness. As long as a person insists that this salvation is dependent on his good works and individual righteousness, he will continue to be frustrated and bear the heavy burden of guilt. Don’t be misled! Many Latter-day Saints live under this tremendous load of guilt! It is only when they place their total trust in Christ’s righteousness that they will experience the joy and assurance true salvation affords.
For a two-part podcast series on the “Perils of Perfectionism,” go to Part 1 and Part 2