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Book Review: The Divine Gift of Forgiveness by Apostle Neil L. Andersen

The Divine Gift of Forgiveness and The Miracle of Forgiveness: Changing Mormon Theology? Or Just More of the Same?

A closer look at two books written by two LDS apostles five decades apart

Reviewed by Eric Johnson

Article Summary

Over the years some Latter-day Saints have expressed their disapproval with The Miracle of Forgiveness–one of the most popular books ever penned by any LDS general authority–that was first published in 1969 by Apostle (and later President) Spencer W. Kimball. Fifty years later (in late 2019), Apostle Neil Andersen wrote The Divine Gift of Forgiveness in a work that appears to be meant as a replacement for Kimball’s tome and has been well received by many Latter-day Saints. One reader even stated how this book can help Mormons move “closer to Christ.”

While Neil Andersen’s treatment on the doctrine of forgiveness is certainly a gentler and kinder version compared to Kimball’s book, it is apparent that the two apostles were cut from the same cloth. Indeed, the two are united in their teaching about what a person must do to receive God’s forgiveness for all sins.

Both men proclaim the importance of God’s grace and the atonement of Christ, but they also say that keeping God’s commandments is the believer’s part of the bargain for a possible chance to gain entrance to the celestial kingdom. Instead of bringing hope, as Andersen’s title suggests, the “impossible gospel” as presented by this current apostle does nothing but proclaim hopelessness to Latter-day Saints, just as Kimball’s book did many years before.

Outline

The 7-part organization of this article is as follows:

Introduction

  1. The Mormon Way to Enter God’s Presence: Moral Cleanliness
  2. The Need for God’s Grace and the Atonement in Mormonism
  3. The Role of Repentance in Mormonism
  4. The Abandonment of Sins in Mormonism
  5. The Christian View of Grace vs. Obedience
  6. The Possibility of Perfection in Mormonism
  7. The End of the Book…Do the Apostles Renege?

Introduction

Should forgiveness of sins by the God of Mormonism be considered a “divine gift”? In late 2019 LDS Apostle Neil Andersen wrote a book saying this very thing. Titled The Divine Gift of Forgiveness (DGF), the book engages many topics that were discussed in Apostle (later President) Spencer W. Kimball’s 1969 classic work The Miracle of Forgiveness (MOF). As someone who has regularly utilized MOF in evangelistic efforts since 2014,[i] I was most intrigued when I discovered that a current general authority—Andersen is ninth in line to become the Mormon “prophet”—was addressing this important issue.

The Miracle of Forgiveness

For some background on MOF, it should be understood that this was one of the most popular books ever written by an LDS general authority, selling more than 2 million copies. On Goodreads, MOF was voted as #5 in the “Best LDS non-fiction” category, with two of the books preceding it coming from the LDS Standard Works (the Book of Mormon (#1) and the King James Version of the Bible (#3)). The only books that have sold more copies than MOF appear to be the two classics written by Apostle James Talmage (Articles of Faith (1899) and Jesus the Christ (1915)—and those each had more than a half a century head start over Kimball’s work. (Somebody with access to publishers’ sales numbers will need to let me know if there is any other book written by a general authority that has sold more copies than these three.)

Two direct Kimball relatives pose with me outside Lavell Edwards Stadium before a BYU football game in 2019.

A total of 1.6 million copies of MOF had been published by 1998; I estimate that it sold more than 2.5 million copies, both hard copies and electronic, before 2015, although production numbers do not appear to be available. Bookcraft, the book’s publisher, decided to stop producing hard copies of MOF in 2015, although the book can still be purchased in electronic form (eBook) from Deseret Book, the official LDS Church retailer, for less than $10.

Many have speculated on the reason why the hard copy version of MOF was shelved in 2015. One theory is that church leaders were uncomfortable with Kimball’s restrictive view on homosexuality, as they have been working overtime in recent years to appear more politically correct and not rock the boat on this very sensitive topic.

To avoid having to deal with those who are angry with Kimball’s condemnation of homosexual orientation, including his calling homosexual practice “as grievous as adultery,” it may have been simpler to just shelve the book’s hard copy production. (If the book is embarrassing for the church, however, why is it still published electronically?) As far as the family is concerned, I have been told at two different times by Kimball’s relatives that their family continue to think highly of the book and have complimented me on giving copies away at public gatherings!

In addition, many Latter-day Saints disapprove of MOF because Kimball clearly epitomized what many consider old school Mormonism. Forcefully and pointedly, Kimball directs the reader’s attention to the lofty requirements required to qualify for the celestial kingdom. A person who reads his book with an open mind can easily become depressed and even despondent. Here are several reviews printed intact found on Amazon.com:

  • “makes you want to kill yourself.”
  • “I bought this book because I was raised in the mormon church and couldn’t believe the stories I’d heard (from non-believers and apostates) about what the prophet was supposed to have said in these pages. After a read, I was assured that leaving the church was the right decision. Any man who assert that a woman who survives a rape didn’t fight hard enough to retain her virtue isn’t fit to lead a family much less a religion.”
  • “There is a great power in the Book of Mormon. I believe it is true. However, this book, at age seventeen caused me to believe it was not possible for me to be or forgiven. Repentance seemed too complicated. I did not have the ability to follow these steps.”
  • “He says that your fasting and remorse has to surpass the sin. How is that calculable? How long am I supposed to cry and starve myself? The ideas in this book virtually ruined my life. I believed it. It was written by a prophet right? I have felt unforgiven and dirty for the last thirty five years and just opened this book to realize how much these ideas influenced my perception of myself, why I feel despair and hopeless.”

While these comments appear to have been written by those who are no longer in the church, they seem to be very similar to what some Mormons say when I ask them to be honest with their assessment of the book.  Yet the majority of Mormons who have read the book and take the time to engage with me on this issue claim that they love the book, even while admitting that they are not successfully doing the things that Kimball says must be done in order to attain celestial glory. It’s a mixed bag.

Whether they love or loathe MOF, though, there is no question that Kimball incorporates the Standard Works on practically every page of this book. A Mormon is free to disagree with Kimball’s analysis, but based on my study of the passages he cites (especially from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants), I believe he is accurate in his exegesis, even though he does butcher the meaning of several biblical passages. But that’s another story.

Along Comes an Apparent Replacement

When Andersen came out with DGF at the end of 2019, my immediate thought was that this was meant to be the replacement for MOF. Early indications are that most Latter-day Saints who have read it love Andersen’s work. In fact, at the time of this writing, no reviewer on Amazon.com has given the book fewer than 4 stars. Three of the 5-star intact comments include:

  • “Best book I have read this year. This book should be read by every member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Elder Andersen has written a masterpiece and explains that Christ’s arms are always open to those who truly want to come unto Him and change their lives. I love this book.”
  • “Best Book Ever—Please Read. Absolutely the best book on God’s forgiveness I have ever read! Brought tears to my eyes and has answered many questions I’ve had for years!”
  • “Such good incite (sic) on forgiveness and makes you think and brings you closer to Christ.”
  • “I really appreciated the doctrine and guidance in this book. Repentance and forgiveness is such a tricky subject to understand without feeling unnecessary shame. This would be a great resource for any individual to really understand the grace, love, and personal development that is available through repentance and forgiveness.”
  • “If you don’t really understand repentance this book is priceless. It’s deep and I’ll be reading it more than once. This should be in every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints book shelf or on their tablets. It’s well worth reading time and time again.”
  • “This book should be read by every member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Elder Anderson has written a masterpiece and explains that Christ’s arms are always open to those who truly want to come unto Him and change their lives. I love this book.”

Both Kimball and Andersen were apostles when they wrote their books. Kimball published his book in 1969 and became the church’s president four years later. Andersen’s book debuted five decades later in late 2019. It seems obvious that Andersen’s title was meant to mimic Kimball’s. “The Miracle of Forgiveness” and “The Divine Gift of Forgiveness” do sound like two peas in a pod, even though Mormonism’s version of forgiveness is neither a miracle nor a divine gift–as this review will discuss! If a current LDS apostle intended to provide a more contemporary look at the issue of forgiveness, then his book is worthy of our attention.

With this as the introduction, let’s take a closer look at The Divine Gift of Forgiveness and see how it compares with The Miracle of Forgiveness.

1. The Mormon Way to Enter God’s Presence: Moral Cleanliness

Both apostles strongly agreed that it is necessary for a person to be morally clean in order to qualify for entrance into God’s presence. In Mormonism, celestial glory is the place where God resides. Kimball was very specific in his list of more than 80 sins that he felt must be mastered by anyone anticipating celestial glory. Andersen is not as specific and does not provide any similar list. Yet they both cite 1 Nephi 10:21 in the Book of Mormon (“no unclean thing can dwell with God”) and Moses 6:57 in the Pearl of Great Price (“no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence”), which show how they wholeheartedly agree. This can be shown in the following citations:

Spencer W. Kimball Neil Andersen
“AS WE DISCUSSED IN CHAPTER 1, THE ROAD OF LIFE is plainly marked according to the divine purpose, the map of the gospel of Jesus Christ is made available to the travelers, the destination of eternal life is clearly established. At that destination our Father waits hopefully, anxious to greet his returning children. Unfortunately, many will not arrive. The reason is forthrightly stated by Nephi—‘. . . There cannot any unclean thing enter the kingdom of God. . .’ (1 Ne. 15:34.). And again, ‘. . . no unclean thing can dwell with God. . .’ (1 Ne. 10:21.) To the prophets the term unclean in this context means what it means to God. To man the word may be relative in meaning—one minute speck of dirt does not make a white shirt or dress unclean, for example. But to God who is perfection, cleanliness means moral and personal cleanliness. Less than that is, in one degree or another, uncleanliness and hence cannot dwell with God” (p. 19. ellipses mine). “The resurrected Savior declared, ‘No unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end’ (3 Nephi 27:19). Let us rejoice in this journey! You can start from wherever you are and become something more than you ever imagined” (p. 5).
“As we read the scriptures quoted or referred to above, we observe that they list virtually all the modern transgressions, though sometimes under ancient names. Let us review the lengthy list: Murder, adultery, theft, cursing, unholiness in masters, disobedience in servants, unfaithfulness, improvidence, hatred of God, disobedience to husbands, lack of natural affection, high-mindedness, flattery, lustfulness, infidelity, indiscretion, backbiting, whispering, lack of truth, striking, brawling, quarrelsomeness, unthankfulness, inhospitality, deceitfulness, irreverence, boasting, arrogance, pride, double-tongued talk, profanity, slander, corruptness, thievery, embezzlement, despoiling, covenantbreaking, incontinence, filthiness, ignobleness, filthy communications, impurity, foolishness, slothfulness, impatience, lack of understanding, unmercifulness, idolatry, blasphemy, denial of the Holy Ghost, Sabbath breaking, envy, jealousy, malice, maligning, vengefulness, implacability, bitterness, clamor, spite, defiling, reviling, evil speaking, provoking, greediness for filthy lucre, disobedience to parents, anger, hate, covetousness, bearing false witness, inventing evil things, fleshliness, heresy, presumptuousness, abomination, insatiable appetite, instability, ignorance, self-will, speaking evil of dignitaries, becoming a stumbling block; and in our modern language, masturbation, petting, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and every sex perversion, every hidden and secret sin and all unholy and impure practices. These are transgressions the Lord has condemned through his servants. Let no one rationalize his sins on the excuse that a particular sin of his is not mentioned nor forbidden in scripture” (p. 25). “Sin will forever be part of this mortal world. Sin draws us away from God. It diminishes our peace and joy. It inhibits us from receiving heavenly comfort and direction from the Holy Spirit. Sin confines our progression. Eventually, if we grow accustomed to sin and do not seek relief through our Savior and Redeemer, we will find ourselves beyond the veil excluded from living with God and His Beloved Son, for ‘no unclean thing can dwell with God’” (p. 73).
“In our journey toward eternal life, purity must be our constant aim. To walk and talk with God, to serve with God, to follow his example and become as a god, we must attain perfection. In his presence there can be no guile, no wickedness, no transgression. In numerous scriptures he has made it clear that all worldliness, evil and weakness must be dropped before we can ascent unto ‘the hill of the Lord’. . . From the beginning God has left no doubt in the minds of his people that only the clean and pure will inherit his kingdom. To Adam he gave the commandment: ‘Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence . . . (Moses 6:57)” (p. 26, ellipsis in original). “Finally, the Lord instructed Adam that he should teach his children that there is a way, through the mercy of His beloved Son, to return to the presence of God. He said: ‘Teach it unto your children that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in no wise inherent (sic) the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, …Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ (Moses 6:57)” (pp. 73-74, ellipsis in original).

This first point is straightforward and needs no further analysis.

2. The Need for God’s Grace and the Atonement in Mormonism

Both Spencer W. Kimball and Neil Andersen talk about the importance of God’s grace as necessary to gain the forgiveness of sins. A favorite verse on this topic for many Mormons is 2 Nephi 25:23, which is found in the Book of Mormon, which is used by both authors using a similar interpretation:

Spencer W. Kimball Neil Andersen
“One passage in the Book of Mormon, written perhaps with the same intent as Paul’s statement above—to stress and induce appreciation for the gracious gift of salvation offered on condition of obedience—is particularly enlightening: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Ne. 23:23. Italics added.)” (p. 207). “ . . . it is not our repentance that redeems us and qualifies us for the gift of divine forgiveness; it is our Savior Jesus Christ. The prophet Nephi explained it beautifully when he said, ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ It is not because of the things that we do. We must clearly take the steps that change behavior. But it is not the change that saves us nor brings us forgiveness. Through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we obtain the power to change. He is the Giver of our forgiveness” (p. 139, italics mine).

According to Kimball, 2 Nephi 25:23 offers the “gracious gift of salvation” “on condition of obedience”; Andersen says forgiveness does not come “because of the things we do,” but notice how he quickly adds that “we must clearly take the steps that change behavior.” By doing so, he says, Jesus can provide “the power to change.” Both writers, then, interpret 2 Nephi 25:23 to say that a person is saved by grace while personal effort (“after all we can do”) is also required. While Kimball does discuss God’s grace, he does not have the passion shown by Andersen. For example, Andersen writes:

“While overcoming sin may appear to be an overwhelming mountain to climb, it was never meant to be scaled alone. Good behavior, no matter how sincere and determined, can never erase the sins of the past. No human is able to eliminate the cost, pay the price or satisfy the demands of justice. I promise you, as one of the Lord’s Apostles, that your hope in Jesus Christ, accompanied by your decision to repent of your sins will not be in vain. We are rescued through His merits, not our own. The climb is not only possible but exhilarating as we put our trust in Him. He carries us; we are redeemed by His righteousness. He brings to each of us the divine gift of forgiveness” (pp. 80-81).

He also said,

“Jesus Christ paid for all the sins of the world. Our repentance does not pay for one ounce of the sins we have committed. The Atonement of Jesus Christ fulfilled all the demands of justice perfectly, exactly. Our attention must be on Him and appreciation for His suffering. If we worry whether we have paid back or suffered enough for our sins, it will impede our ability to repent and feel forgiven, bringing painful discouragement with it” (p. 134).

Andersen says that Jesus “brings to each of us the divine gift of forgiveness” and “our repentance does not pay for one ounce of the sins we have committed.”  While I am sure LDS readers will highlight these quotes in their books, when understood within their fuller context, they are not so comforting. I will address this in the next section.

Here are some other Andersen citations discussing grace:

“Even if you feel like you are at the very bottom of life’s ladder, there is something you can do. You can look up. If all you can manage is to simply lift your eyes to Him, you have done something in an effort to return to Him. You will come to know that He ‘reaches [your] reaching.’ You may have a long climb, a steep climb, even a daunting climb, but looking up is an important step as you begin your journey” (p. 3)
“We know that if Jesus had not lived a sinless life and completed His infinite Atonement, there would have been no Resurrection and our spirits would have been subject to the devil. Because of our sins, we are subjected to the full demands of the law of justice. Because He was without sin, justice had no claim on Him, giving Him the ability to make payment for our sins. We can be redeemed only because of His righteousness. His payment and punishment satisfy the demands of justice for our own sins. However good we are, we will always be ‘unprofitable servants,’ as we can never repay God for what he has given us” (pp. 88-89).
“As one commissioned by Jesus Christ, I assure you of the power of the Savior to lift you from the influences of the adversary. You are a son or daughter of God. He loves you completely. You are meant to embrace the gift of repentance and receive the sacred blessing of forgiveness. Do not despair; be vigilant in your faith in Christ and your determination to repent, and you will, by the grace of Christ, become the person you want to become” (p. 120).
“While you may wish your current condition were different, do not lose hope. It is never too late to reach out to the Savior. I testify that His love, His welcoming arms, and His eternal concern for your soul are absolute and certain” (p. 131).

I think it would be very possible for optimistic Latter-day Saints to clutch onto these quotes and be excited about what they feel is Mormonism’s sufficiency through God’s grace. However, both Kimball and Andersen agree that there are certain requirements that must be met for a person to have an inheritance in the celestial kingdom. Andersen’s entire book should be taken in context rather than be used to prove a more compassionate Mormonism because, as we will find out, his view of salvation ends up being just as demanding as what Kimball offers.

3. The Role of Repentance in Mormonism

Both apostles agree on the importance of a person’s sincere repentance. For example,

Spencer W. Kimball Neil Andersen
(Quoting President Joseph F. Smith): “’True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light’ (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 100-101)” (p. 149). “Repentance is not an event but a way of life, something we embrace for all of mortality. In our desire to become more like the Savior, we never stop repenting. Repentance requires a constant broken heart and a contrite spirit, along with daily effort to obey the commandments, keep our covenants, and always remember Him. As we do, we will feel His approval even in our imperfections. We will know that we are in the process of becoming clean, that our sins are being forgiven, and that we are being prepared to live with Him” (pp. 144-145).

They also agree that “abhorrence for sin” is necessary for a person to truly repent:

Spencer W. Kimball Neil Andersen
God Abhors Sin. ‘These six things doth the Lord hate.’ Yes, because they are sins he hates them. For the same reason he hates all the transgressions discussed in this chapter, and all others too. Although he loves the sinner, he ‘cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.’ (D&C 1:31.) As sinners we will better appreciate his love and kindness if similar abhorrence for sin impels us to transform our lives through repentance” (p. 59, italics in original, boldface is mine). “We must learn through repentance and forgiveness to continually look upon sin with complete abhorrence, never allowing the father of all lies to blind our eyes nor harden our hearts; never putting ourselves in a position of ignoring or minimizing our sin” (p. 80, boldface is mine).

Andersen even cites Kimball to say that a person must keep the commandments as interpreted by the LDS Church leaders. (He says the citation comes from the church manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball—which is true—but the original quote comes from MOF.) Citing Kimball shows Andersen’s agreement with his predecessor:

Spencer W. Kimball Neil Andersen
“Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. A reforming adulterer who drinks or curses is not repentant. The repenting burglar who has sex play is not ready for forgiveness. God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life” (p. 203). “One of the greatest stumbling blocks to receiving the divine gift of forgiveness is attempting to repent of a sin and not to repent of sinning. Repentance at its core is not turning away from one transgression, but turning our whole heart back to God. . . . . President Spencer W. Kimball added this wisdom: ‘Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. . . . God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life’ (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 43-44)” (pp. 79-80, italics his, first ellipsis mine, second ellipsis his).

Let’s return to the quotation given by Andersen listed in the previous section when he said,

“While overcoming sin may appear to be an overwhelming mountain to climb, it was never meant to be scaled alone. Good behavior, no matter how sincere and determined, can never erase the sins of the past. No human is able to eliminate the cost, pay the price or satisfy the demands of justice. I promise you, as one of the Lord’s Apostles, that your hope in Jesus Christ, accompanied by your decision to repent of your sins will not be in vain. We are rescued through His merits, not our own. The climb is not only possible but exhilarating as we put our trust in Him. He carries us; we are redeemed by His righteousness. He brings to each of us the divine gift of forgiveness” (pp. 80-81).

Andersen said this after quoting Kimball’s kick-in-the-tail “all-out/total surrender” statement on page 79. Andersen then wrote why good works are important on page 80:

“How can an individual ever feel forgiven from a serious sin of commission when he omits saying his prayers, attending church, keeping the Sabbath day holy, paying his tithes and offerings, reading his scriptures, and serving and ministering to others?”

In Mormonism, one’s personal efforts are required for repentance to take effect. In the next paragraph Andersen talked about viewing sin with “complete abhorrence” (cited above). While Andersen can write that “we are rescued through His merits, not our own” and “we are redeemed by His righteousness” (pp. 80-81), he makes it clear that authentic repentance on the part of an individual is required for this to take place.

Remember the other Andersen quote I listed in the previous section?

“Jesus Christ paid for all the sins of the world. Our repentance does not pay for one ounce of the sins we have committed. The Atonement of Jesus Christ fulfilled all the demands of justice perfectly, exactly. Our attention must be on Him and appreciation for His suffering. If we worry whether we have paid back or suffered enough for our sins, it will impede our ability to repent and feel forgiven, bringing painful discouragement with it” (p. 134).

Right after that quote, Andersen states:

“Repentance opens the window of light and power, allowing the Savior to pay the price for our sin. Repentance is the way we come to the Savior, allowing Him to pay the price for our sin and to take the punishment in our stead” (p. 134).

Andersen says that repentance must take place before the “Savior (can) pay the price for our sin.” This is no different from what Kimball had originally said. The two apostles agreed that there is a responsibility for a person who is rejecting/rebelling against God’s commands, as there is a world of hurt in the next life for those who have not successfully repented.

Spencer W. Kimball Neil Andersen
“The prophetic message has always carried the same penalty, for no one can reject with impunity the call from the God of law and justice” (p. 134). “If the rebellion against God and His commandments continues without repentance, the pain and guilt are magnified in the next life, as the unrighteous come to realize the magnificent blessings the Father and the Savior have given. ‘For behold, when ye shall be brought to see your nakedness before God, and also the glory of God, and the holiness of Jesus Christ, it will kindle a flame of unquenchable fire upon you’ (Mormon 9:5). ‘And [you will be] consigned to an awful view of [your] own guilt and abominations, which doth cause [you] to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment (Mosiah 3:25)” (p. 77)

Kimball railed against the idea that faith alone was all that was needed for a person to be a saved individual. He wrote:

“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. . . . This makes clear the two facets, neither of which alone would bring the individual salvation—the grace of Christ, particularly as represented by his atoning sacrifice, and individual effort. However good a person’s works, he could not be saved had Jesus not died for his and everyone else’s sins. And however powerful the saving grace of Christ, it brings exaltation to no man who does not comply with the works of the gospel” (pp. 206-207, ellipsis mine).

In essence, Kimball said that salvation is not by grace alone, and it’s not by works alone. Both grace and works are needed for a person to gain exaltation. Andersen says the same thing. Consider these Andersen citations on the issue of repentance and the action that is required by the individual hoping to gain the grace:

“Repentance is the perfect spiritual remedy for sin. Each sin we leave behind through our faith in the living Christ—both those of commission and those of omission—opens spiritual doors. . . We must become converted to daily repentance” (p. 13, ellipsis mine).
“We may not always succeed as quickly as we would want, but as we make repentance a constant part of our lives, miracles occur” (pp. 13-14).
“Remorse of conscience is a wonderful teacher, even in the simple digressions of our youth, if we will learn from our mistakes. Elder Ronald A. Rasband explains that ‘our Heavenly Father knew we would need help, and that’s why He gave us the principle of repentance. Repentance is the cleansing principle of the gospel. It’s the greatest friend we have’” (p. 75).
“Sometimes, as we begin our road through repentance on our way to forgiveness, we become distracted by detours. They do not totally block our path toward forgiveness, but they can slow it considerably. If we are not careful, the obstacles will deter us, discourage us, and take us away from the direction we intended” (p. 133).
“Repentance opens the window of light and power for our sin. Repentance is the way we come to the Savior, allowing Him to pay the price for our sin and to take the punishment in our stead” (p. 134).
“Forgiveness requires repenting of our sins and at the same time growing and strengthening our faith in Jesus Christ. As we repent and come unto Him, we are on the road to forgiveness” (p. 146).

Notice how Andersen stresses that forgiveness is a path that cannot be attained while repentance is in progress. He writes “…if we will learn from our mistakes,” “…on our way to forgiveness” and “”slow it considerably,” and “as we repent and come unto Him…” According to Andersen, the “cleansing part of the Gospel” is having Jesus provide “help” to the person in accomplishing what is required in repentance—leaving sin “behind.” Thus, the effectiveness of repentance is based on the efforts of the individual believer who is being rooted on by Jesus; however, unless the individual achieves the goal, he or she is merely “on the road to forgiveness.” This is a much different message than what the Bible seems to offer!

While Andersen does not provide clear guidance about the necessity for repentance being accomplished in this life, Kimball minced no words. Using a powerful reference from the Book of Mormon, Kimball opened his book with the first chapter titled “This Life is the Time.” He wrote:

“Again and again in different phraseology and throughout the centuries the Lord has reminded man so that he could never have excuse. And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments. . . . (Quoting Alma 34:32) 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” (p. 10, italics in original. Ellipsis mine).

Kimball stressed time and time again the importance of not waiting until after death to successfully repent. Consider these other MOF quotes:

“Abinadi expressed the danger of delaying repentance:  ‘But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore, he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God.’ (Mos. 16:5.) This only underlines the vital importance of repenting in this life, of not dying in one’s sins” (p. 145, italics his).
Repentance Takes Time. Repentance is inseparable from time. No one can repent on the cross, nor in prison, nor in custody. One must have the opportunity of committing wrong in order to be really repentant. . . . That is why we should not wait for the life beyond but should abandon evil habits and weaknesses while in the flesh on the earth” (p. 168, italics his).
“And the Prophet Joseph Smith said: ‘Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase  when they die. . . . But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory.’ While in this probation and in this life certainly means the period of our mortal lives” (p. 248, italics his).
Too late! The terrestrial for them! It could have been the celestial, and it could have been exaltation! But they procrastinated the day of their preparation. The same lamentable cry of ‘Too late!’ will apply to many of today’s Church members who did not heed the warning but who proceeded—sometimes carelessly, sometimes defiantly—to bind themselves through mortality to those who could not or would not prepare for the blessings which were in reserve for them. The Lord’s program is unchangeable. His laws are immutable. They will not be modified. Your opinion or mine does not alter the laws. Many in the world, and even some in the Church seem to think that eventually the Lord will be merciful and give them the unearned blessing. But the Lord cannot be merciful at the expense of justice” (p. 249, italics his).
Repent in Mortality. I have referred previously to the significance of this life in the application of repentance but will emphasize it here in relation to the eventual judgment. One cannot delay repentance until the next life, the spirit world, and there prepare properly for the day of judgment while the ordinance work is done for him vicariously on earth. It must be remembered that vicarious work for the dead is for those who could not do the work for themselves. Men and women who live in mortality and who have heard the gospel here have had their day, their seventy years to put their lives in harmony, to perform the ordinances, to repent and to perfect their lives” (pp. 313-314, italics his).

While Andersen doesn’t talk about this issue as often as Kimball, he does show his agreement with this concept on page 117:

“Appeal to Delay Repentance. An additional distortion of the adversary directed toward the person desiring to repent is his deceitful appeal to postpone or delay repentance. President Henry B. Eyring said, ‘That temptation to delay comes from our enemy, Lucifer. He knows that we can never be truly happy unless we have hope in this life and then realization, in the next, of eternal life. It is the greatest gift of all gifts of God. . . .  And so Satan tempts with procrastination throughout our days of probation. Any choice to delay repentance gives him the chance to steal happiness from one of the spirit children of our Heavenly Father’ (“Do Not Delay,” Ensign, November 1999. Ellipsis in original).”

Andersen then cited C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters to prove his point that Satan and his demons will do anything to get people to procrastinate their repentance, as Alma 34 warns against in the Book of Mormon.

4. The Abandonment of Sins in Mormonism

The toughest chapter in Kimball’s book for any Latter-day Saint to accept is Chapter 12, which is titled “Abandonment of Sin.” At the top of the chapter’s first page, Kimball cited D&C 58:43, which says in part, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (p. 163). Under the section “Desire Is Not Sufficient” on page 163, Kimball wrote,

“In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his way and started on a new path. Someone has said that there is only one way to quit a bad habit and that is to stop. The saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life. True repentance prods one to action.”

Andersen is in complete agreement with Kimball’s take on D&C 58:43. For instance, he says,

“To be worthy, all of us need to bolster our inner spiritual qualities while continuing on the path of keeping the commandments. For some, resolute and deliberate efforts will need to be made to repent for more serious sins, to become worthy, and to obtain the pathway to forgiveness. ‘Sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean’ (D&C 88:74). Remember the Lord’s promise to those who seek forgiveness: ‘Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more’ (D&C 58:42)” (pp. 163-164).
(After citing D&C 58:43). “The Lord is not saying that this is all that is required in repenting, but that these vital steps are an outward demonstration that repentance has begun. Humbly confessing to God is required for all sin. Serious sin needs to be confessed to the proper priesthood authority. Confessing our sins to those we have hurt is also essential if it is possible” (p. 202).
“In the powerful scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 58, the Lord emphasizes that along with confessing sins, those desiring to repent will also forsake their sins. Forsaking a sin means we will never repeat it—never return to it—not in action or in word or even in our mind. Forsaking means that the sin is totally in our past. To forsake a sin will mean more than just feeling the remorse and sadness that it has brought to us and to others we have hurt; it will mean being certain that we don’t put ourselves into the same position that brought the sin before” (p. 207, italics mine).

At this point, Latter-day Saints may bristle. “Of course, action is important because faith without works is dead,” they will admit. But when asked if they are doing what true repentance requires (“forsaking” the sin), the same excuses are too often repeated by multitudes of “good” Mormons, including “I’m trying,” “I’m doing the best I can,” and “I’m only human.” Kimball predicted that these would be the responses of most Latter-day Saint because, on the next page under the section “Trying Is Not Sufficient,” he wrote on page 164:

“Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. To try with a weakness of attitude and effort is to assure failure in the face of Satan’s counteracting efforts. What is needed is resolute action. A story will perhaps illustrate this” (p. 164, italics in original).

Kimball proceeded to tell the story of an army officer who tells a soldier to deliver an important message. Three times the soldier said he would, saying “I’ll try,” “I’ll do the best that I can,” and “I’ll do it or die.” The officer became more irate with each response and told the soldier that “the request is a reasonable one; the message is important; the distance is not far; you are able-bodied; you can do what I have ordered. Now get out of here and accomplish your mission.” Kimball editorialized,

“It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults who have gone through these learning periods, must determine what they will do, then proceed to do it. To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life” (pp. 164-165).

A paragraph later, Kimball referenced the woman who had been caught in adultery as described in John 7:53-8:11 and stated, “But did the Lord forgive the woman? Could he forgive her? There seems to be no evidence of forgiveness” (p. 165). While this particular passage in the Gospel of John cannot be found in the earliest New Testament Greek manuscripts, the passage—taken at face value—still seems to show that Jesus “forgave” her. John 8:10-11 says,

When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Notice how Jesus said that He did not condemn the woman. As God in the flesh, He certainly had the authority to forgive sins in the same way that He forgave the paralytic in Mark 2:5. It says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Then, based on his not condemning her (i.e., forgiving her), Jesus told her to go and sin no more. Andersen quotes the same passage in John on the adulteress woman and places emphasis on the first part (“I (Jesus) (do not) condemn you”). He writes on page 146, “The Savior knew that the woman would return to God by changing her life as well, coming humbly to the throne of God.” To support his point, Andersen conveniently introduces the Joseph Smith Translation of the verse, which adds that “the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.”

It needs to be noted that the extension of John 8:11 that he cites is culled from the Joseph Smith Translation, which is not a true “translation.” (For more on this “translation,” click here.)  In fact, Smith’s additional phrase that he includes in his version cannot be found in any Greek manuscript of John…anywhere! How Smith was able to insert words that has no manuscript evidence is archaic, for no Bible translator operates on such the notion that additional words can be inserted into a text when the original language is missing.

Even if this additional information is really what Jesus said (and I’m not conceding that it was), this would not supersede the fact that Jesus provided forgiveness for the woman before she “glorified God . . . and believed on his name.”  This point is missed by both Kimball and Andersen, as forgiveness was available for both the paralytic and the adulteress even though there were no good works accomplished by either one.

Obedience is the Saving Grace

Kimball and Andersen are reading from the same text when it comes to the need for obedience for the forgiveness of sins. For instance, they both interpret D&C 1:31-32 the same way:

Spencer W. Kimball Neil Andersen
“The Lord says: . . . I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven. (D&C 1:31-32. Italics added.) This scripture is most precise. First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness” (pp. 201-202, italics in original). “The Lord desires that we constantly strengthen ourselves and become better, trying not to repeat even the small sins of the past. He ‘cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.’ He has, however, promised, ‘Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven’ (D&C 1:31-32). The Lord loves to bestow His mercy and forgiveness upon us as we truly repent” (pp. 208-209).

When Andersen says “as we truly repent,” he implies keeping the commandments, something that Kimball spells out much more clearly in his writing. In addition, the apostles also agree on this troublesome verse found in D&C 82:7:

Spencer W. Kimball Neil Andersen
Forgiveness Cancelled on Reversion to Sin. Old sins return, says the Lord in his modern revelations. Many people either do not know this or they conveniently forget it. “Go your ways and sin no more,’ the Lord warned. And again, ‘. . . Unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.’ (D&C 82:7). . . . Thus when a man has made up his mind to change his life, there must be no turning back. Any reversal, even in a small degree, is greatly to his detriment” (pp. 169-170, italics in original). “We never want to return to the sins of our past. The Lord boldly declared, ‘Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who [returneth to his sins] shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God’ (D&C 82:7)” (pp. 207-208).

Andersen added that “we progress step by step, line upon line, as we shape our character day by day. But for serious sins and for those sins that will keep us from our eternal goals, we must turn away and never go back” (p. 208).”

Kimball is also adamant about never returning to previous sin. Among other things, he said:

“Little children and mental incompetents are not held responsible, but all others will receive either blessings, advancements, and rewards, or penalties and deprivation, according to their reaction to God’s plan when it is presented to them and to their faithfulness to that plan” (p. 14).
Covenantbreakers. Akin to many of the other sins is that of the covenantbreaker. The person baptized promises to keep all the laws and commandments of God. He has partaken of the sacrament and covenanting that he will keep all God’s laws. Numerous folks have gone to the temples and have recovenanted that they would live all the commandments of God, keep their lives clean, devoted, worthy, and serviceable. Yet many there are who forget their covenants and break the commandments, sometimes deliberately tempting the faithful away with them” (p. 57, italics in original).
“Exaltation is available only to righteous members of the Church of Jesus Christ; only to those who accept the gospel; only to those who have their endowments in holy temples of God and have been sealed for eternity and who then continue to live righteously throughout their lives. Numerous members of the Church will be disappointed. All will fail of these blessings who fail to live worthy lives, even though the temple ordinances have been done for them” (p. 246).
“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 be weeks, it could be 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” (pp. 324-325).

Notice how Kimball uses phrases such as:

  • “According to . . . faithfulness to that plan
  • “Numerous (Mormons who have gone to the temple) forget their covenants and break the commandments”
  • “Exaltation is available to righteous members (who) continue to live righteously throughout their lives”
  • “Forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking

Andersen is in complete agreement with Kimball, even citing MOF regarding “abandoning”/”forsak(ing)” sins:

“President Spencer W. Kimball said: ‘In abandoning sin one cannot wish for better conditions. . . . He must be certain not only that he has abandoned the sin but that he has changed the situations surrounding the sin. He should avoid the places and conditions and circumstances where the sin occurred, for these could most readily breed it again. He must abandon the people with whom the sin was committed. He may not hate the persons involved, but he must avoid them and everything associated with the sin.’ (MOF, pp. 171-172). Whatever our weapons of rebellion, let us bury them and never again return to them. Let us forsake our sins. How will we have the strength to do it, to see our way through to the end? It will come through the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we become completely and totally converted to Him. As one knows, I affirm to you that joy, peace, and heavenly approval will follow your sincere efforts to forsake your sins” (p. 53, italics mine, Ellipsis in original).

Andersen uses a softer style (even adding “through the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ” in the quote above), but the meaning of “forsaking sin” remains at the forefront. Other examples where Andersen uses kinder words to explain his point while stressing the importance of obedience are as follows:

“The divine gift of forgiveness can never be earned; it can only be received. Yes, commandments must be obeyed and ordinances observed to receive forgiveness, but personal effort, no matter how great, pales in comparison to the cost of redemption” (p. 3, italics mine)
“The Lord needs you—a humble you—a repentant you—a clean you—a pure you—a covenant-keeping, commandment-honoring you—to use your talents and greatest abilities, increased exponentially by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, to prepare yourself and others for the Second Coming of the Son of God” (p. 44, italics mine).
“We have all felt pain and disappointment in ourselves because of sin. We have all suffered guilt and regret. This is called remorse of conscience. It comes from not keeping the commandments of God and is the opposite of joy” (p. 75, italics mine).
“If you find yourself making the same mistakes, struggling to be firm in your desire to change, express to your Heavenly Father your love for Him and strengthen your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Learn of Him, study about His sacred Atonement, and think deeply about what He suffered for you. Keep His commandments with more exactness. As you do your part to build your faith in the Savior, I promise you that heaven will compound this gift of faith, and you will have the spiritual strength to repent of your sins and not return to them” (p. 104, italics mine).
“As you do your part day after day and forsake your sins, I promise you that the guilt and pain that have been so much a part of your spirit because of the wrong actions you have taken will be lifted and you will feel clean and pure before Him” (p. 105, italics mine).

While Andersen may be more nuanced than Kimball in style, there is no doubt that both men taught the necessity of abandonment of sin in order for an individual to attain complete forgiveness.

5. The Christian View of Grace vs. Obedience

At this point, I think it would be worthwhile to explain the problem that an Evangelical Christian has with these apostles’ insistence on good works in conjunction with grace and the atonement of Christ as qualifying for salvation. Bill McKeever and I wrote about this issue in chapter 11 of Mormonism 101 (Baker Books, 2015), which I might recommend for those who would like to get a better understanding of the important differences between Christianity and Mormonism.

Unfortunately, some Latter-day Saints have concluded that good works must not be important to the worldview held by Evangelical Christians. This is far from true. It is vital to understand just what is meant by the word salvation. There are nuances to this word, which can be separated by the terms justification, sanctification, and glorification. For the purpose of this review, I would like to focus on the first two terms and distinguish between them.

Justification

Bill and I described the meaning of justification:

When people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, a miraculous event occurs. They become justified before the living God and are thereby declared guiltless, allowing them to be identified with Christ from the point of conversion to eternity future. It comes not by a person’s own works but by God’s working in that person. Acts 13:39 says, “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” In Philippians 3:9, Paul stated that it was possible to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Romans 5:1 adds, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Christian theologian Leon Morris wrote:

Justification then means the according of the status of being in the right. Sin has put us in the wrong with God and justification is the process whereby we are reckoned as right. In one way or another all religions must face the ultimate question: “How can man, who is a sinner, ever be right with a God who is just?” Most religions answer, in some form, “By human effort.” Man committed the sin, so man must do what is required to put things right and undo the effects of his sin. It is the great teaching of the New Testament that we are justified, not by what we do, but by what Christ has done. Paul puts it simply when he says that we are “justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:9). He links our justification directly with the death of Jesus. (The Atonement, p. 196).

Since we are unable to comply with all of God’s standards (Rom. 3:23; Gen. 8:21; Ps 51:5, 58:3; Eccles. 9:3; Jer. 17:9), we deserve death because all good works by themselves are like “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Rom. 6:23; Isa. 64:6). But God Himself has provided the way through faith to allow believers to experience the fellowship of God and become righteous in His sight (Mormonism 101, pp. 181-182).

According to the Bible, it is only through faith that a person becomes a believer. As we wrote:

One of the toughest concepts for anyone, especially Mormons, to understand is that faith, not works, justifies a person before God. A good example of justification by faith is the story of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were incarcerated in Philippi when a miraculous earthquake opened their jail cell door. When the jailer saw that all of the prison cells were open as well, he prepared to commit suicide only to be stopped by Paul, who told him not to fear because no one had escaped.

Seeing this to be true, the frightened jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). If Paul had been a good Mormon living in modern times, his response might have been, “Believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God. Join the true church, don’t drink coffee or tea, pay a full tithe, receive the Melchizedek priesthood, be baptized for your dead relatives, perform your endowments, and make sure you are married for time and eternity. Do these, along with following the whole law, and thou shalt be saved.”

Instead, Paul and Silas merely answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (v. 31). It is important to note that Paul made no reference to following any set of rules or rigid standards. Rather, his message was simply, “Believe . . . and thou shalt be saved.” As a result of their saving faith, the new believers were immediately baptized. . . .

The New Testament contains many examples of how belief alone, not one’s works, justifies a person before God. For instance, Jesus said in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life.” He also said in John 6:47, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (Mormonism 101, pp. 182-183).

Imputation is God’s righteousness that is credited to a person’s account based on belief in Jesus, with no individual works of the sinner included. In effect, Jesus credits His righteousness to the believer, which provides all that is necessary to inherit eternal life! Romans 4:1-3 states:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

About Romans 4 Reformer Martin Luther wrote the following almost five centuries ago:

“If therefore, Abraham be righteous by no works whatever, and if both he himself and all his works be left under sin, unless he be clothed with another righteousness, even with the righteousness of faith, it is quite manifest, that no man can do any thing by works towards his becoming righteous: and moreover, that no works, no devoted efforts, no endeavors of “Free-will,” avail any thing in the sight of God, but are all judged to be ungodly, unrighteous, a devil. For if the man himself be not righteous, neither will his works or endeavours be righteous: and if they be not righteous, they are damnable, and merit wrath.

“The other righteousness is that of faith; which consists, not in any works, but in the favour and imputation of God through grace. And mark how Paul dwells upon the word ‘imputed;’ how he urges it, repeats it, and inculcates it—‘Now (saith he) to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,’ (Rom. iv. 4-5), according to the purpose of the grace of God. Then he adduces David, saying the same thing concerning the imputation through grace. ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin,’ &c. (Rom. iv. 6-8).

“In this chapter, he repeats the word ‘impute’ above ten times. In a word, he distinctively sets forth ‘him that worketh,’ and ‘him the worketh not,’ leaving no medium between them. He declares, that righteousness is not imputed ‘to him that worketh,’ but asserts that righteousness is imputed ‘to him that worketh not,’ if he believe!” (The Bondage of the Will, Sect. 151).

The Bible is replete with verses to describe the assurance of salvation that every Christian believer can have when it comes to being justified. Acts 10:43 says, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Paul talked about forgiveness of sins in the past tense in Ephesians 4:31-32 when he said, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The same can be said for Colossians 1:13-14, which says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Ephesians 1:7 reports, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” And when we do sin, 1 John 2:1 says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Finally, in 1 John 5:7, the apostle wrote, “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.” Notice, the word is “have” eternal life, not hope for or attempt to gain eternal life.

According to both Kimball and Andersen, however, a person’s good works are necessary to be added to God’s grace for a person to have any assurance of salvation. Remember the citation provided by Kimball in the previous section to show how he despised this teaching that Christians hold near and dear to their hearts:

“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.”

This is a major difference between Christianity and Mormonism’s view of justification. There can be no reconciliation on such a fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church.

Sanctification

What about good works in the Christian’s life? Are they not important? Paul stated in Romans 6:1-2a, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” Doing good works after one has been justified is called sanctification. In Mormonism 101 we explained the nuances of this term:

While justification—which took place in an instantaneous moment and is good forevermore—is a past event in the Christian’s life, sanctification has its roots in conversion and will continue to blossom throughout the rest of the believer’s life. Sanctification is synonymous with holiness and means to be set apart for God.

First Corinthians 6:11 says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Hebrews 10:10 says, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Verse 14 adds, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

On profession of faith, believers are immediately qualified to dwell with the Father. This does not say that believers will always do what is right. They are still human beings fraught with human frailties and defects. However, because God has begun a new work in them, their desires and outlook will be different.  . . . The Christian needs to realize that the sanctification process is what Paul was describing in Philippians 2:12 when he implored the believers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Although Paul declared in Ephesians 2:10 that the believer was created unto good works, he was very clear to also point out in the previous two verses (8-9) that it is faith and faith alone, not works, that justifies the believer. According to Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Mormonism 101, pp. 186-187).

Luther cited Romans 11:4 (“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation”) and 11:6 (“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace”) to conclude, “For if we are justified ‘without works,’ all works are condemned, whether they be very little, or very great. He excepts none, but thunders alike against all” (The Bondage of the Will, Sect. 149).

Of course, many Latter-day Saints are quick to bring up James 2:14-26 in their argument that works are required to attain the very best offered in the next life. We wrote in Mormonism 101:

If it’s just faith that’s needed for “salvation,” the argument goes, then it would seem reasonable that Christians could do whatever they wished (i.e., murder, commit adultery, steal) and still call themselves Christians. . . .

Never has the Christian church taught that the believer has the license to break God’s commands. Paul instructed in Romans 6:15, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” As far as James 2:14–26 is concerned, it is important to understand the context of this passage. Written by the half-brother of Jesus to explain how good works are important, James never taught that Christians receive salvation through their works. Rather, his point was to show how good works should accompany a valid profession of faith. Like a butterfly that has shed its chrysalis, so, too, do believers begin to be “transformed by the renewing of (their) mind” and display good fruit because of the dramatic life change (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 5:17).

Although it is true that a doctrine can be misapplied, it is a dreadful mistake to suppose that it is false merely because it can be abused. Should good works be minimized merely because groups like the Pharisees took them to a legalistic extreme? Obviously not! Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who felt their good works made them righteous in God’s sight, calling the legalistic Pharisees vipers, whitewashed tombs, and hypocrites (Matt. 23:27, 33). These rebukes, however, were not meant to take away the importance of righteous actions (Mormonism 101, pp. 186-188, ellipses mine).

Again, the Bible teaches that good works are vital in the lives of Bible-believing Christians as part of their sanctification, but only in the sanctification process; works have nothing to do with justification. Christians know that there is no righteous act or behavior that will put them in right standing before God, and yet their desire is to obey God and live a righteous life while displaying the fruit of the Spirit.

6. The Possibility of Perfection in Mormonism

One point where the two apostles seem to disagree is whether or not perfection is possible in this “mortal probation.” Earlier I mentioned how Kimball is specific in emphasizing the importance of forsaking sins in this lifetime, which is in accordance with unique LDS scripture (including Alma 34:32ff and D&C 58:43). When it comes to the possibility of becoming perfect in this sphere, Kimball minced no words. Among other things, he wrote:

Repentant Life Seeks Perfection. . . .  The gospel is a program of action—of doing things. . . . Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. 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” (pp. 208-209. Italics his, ellipses mine).
“Only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality” (p. 210).
“Advancement to perfection can nevertheless be rapid if one resolutely strides toward the goal” (p. 210).
“In the context of the spirit of perfection, 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. Says the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us’” (p. 286).

These are pretty straightforward citations, with the emphasis on accomplishing this state in “mortality.” The idea suggested by Kimball is that God commanded people to be “supermen,” something that seems impossible for any human. As far as the Bible is concerned, the only person qualified to be “Superman” was Jesus Himself, and He just so happens to be God in the flesh! Only Jesus could accomplish this task and, as discussed in the previous section, Christ imputed His righteousness onto those who believe.

As many current leaders do, Andersen appears to minimize the requirement of perfection. For example, citing current LDS President Russell M. Nelson, Andersen writes,

“The Savior has given us a striking vision for our eternal progression. He said, ‘Ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect’ (3 Nephi 12:48). President Russell M. Nelson has taught us that the root word for perfect in Greek means to be completed or finished. This finishing of our souls will certainly not be concluded in this world, but we are to be, through the power of repentance and the Atonement of the Savior, constantly becoming more like the Father and His Son” (p. 78).

Andersen also said perfection is a process on page 208,

“Repentance, of course, is never a wasted effort. A person who has repented for being angry may unfortunately become angry again, or a person who has repented of speaking ill of someone may unfortunately speak ill of someone else. President Lorenzo Snow said, ‘Do not expect to become perfect at once. If you do, you will be disappointed. Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today. The temptations that perhaps partially overcome us today, let them not overcome us so far tomorrow. Thus, continue to be a little better day by day.’ (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, p. 42).”

While Andersen appears to disagree with Kimball on this point of perfection being possible in this lifetime, I must ask the current apostle several questions:

  • Is it true that “no unclean thing” can enter God’s presence as Andersen described in the first point listed above? If so, and if a person is not clean by the end of this life, how and when will this cleansing take place? (Latter-day Saint, please provide any scriptural support to show that good works can be accomplished after death.)
  • First Nephi 3:7 says “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 God has made it possible to keep all the commandments because all of them are do-able, then what excuse could a person ever have for not keeping these commandments?
  • If Alma 34:32-35 says that
    1. “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”;
    2. those who have “procrastinated the day” of their repentance even until death “has become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his”;
    3. “the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from” such a person and “the devil hath all power over you”;
    4. “this is the final state of the wicked”

Then, assuming this scripture is true—as Kimball believed it was—how is it possible for a person to repent after death?

Unfortunately, Andersen does not bring Alma 34 into the discussion. For those who laud Andersen’s book, there is, as Ricky Ricardo used to tell his wife on the “I Love Lucy” TV show, some “splanin’” to do.

7. The End of the Book: Do the Apostles Renege?

Kimball in MOF

I have had many, many discussions with Latter-day Saints concerning MOF. I cannot count how many times I have heard, “Yes, much of Kimball’s book may seem impossible. But have you read the rest of the book?” It is as if what Kimball wrote in the first 21 chapters is somehow negated by the final two chapters. Instead of softening his stance at the end of his book, I believe Kimball became even tougher with his imperatives!

I will say the same thing about Andersen, as he is adamant about the necessity of moral cleanliness as well as the need for successful repentance and abandonment of sins. He too doubles down in the end. Allow me to give some examples.

Andersen cites Kimball (from the second-to-last chapter in MOF) to make his point:

“Sometimes . . . . when a repentant one looks back and sees the ugliness, the loathsomeness of the transgression, he is almost overwhelmed and wonders, ‘Can the Lord ever forgive me? Can I ever forgive myself?’ But when one reaches the depths of despondency and feels the hopelessness of his position, and when he cries out to God for mercy in helplessness but in faith, there comes a still, small, but penetrating voice whispering to his soul, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’” (p. 245, ellipsis his, citing MOF, p. 344).

What did Kimball mean on page 344 when he referred to this voice whispering, “Thy sins are forgiven thee”? A few pages after the place where this quote was pulled, Kimball had referenced Alma 13:11-12 in the Book of Mormon to show what he meant:

“This passage indicates an attitude which is basic to the sanctification we should all be seeking, and thus to the repentance which merits forgiveness. It is that 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” (p. 355).

Did you catch what Kimball said? According to the twelfth president of the church, a person must not only stop sinning but also end the desire to sin! This is an impossible command. Such a mindset is much different from Paul when he wrote in Romans 7:

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.

On page 360, Kimball wrote:

“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.”

Based on passages such as D&C 58:43 and 82:7, Kimball made it clear that forgiveness is available only if the sin has ceased. If Kimball intended for his reader to disregard the previous chapters, then he would have said so. On the book’s final page, Kimball definitely declared:

The Miracle of Forgiveness. The mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to call people everywhere to repentance. Those who heed the call, whether members or nonmembers of the Church, can be partakers of the miracle of forgiveness. God will wipe away from their eyes the tears of anguish, and remorse, and consternation, and fear, and guilt. Dry eyes will replace the wet ones, and smiles of satisfaction will replace the worried, anxious look. What relief! What comfort! What joy! Those laden with transgressions and sorrows and sin may be forgiven and cleansed and purified if they will return to their Lord, learn of him, and keep his commandments” (p. 368, italics his).

Notice that very important if in the last sentence. Forgiveness of sins is available, Kimball taught, but only if a person “will return to their Lord, learn of him, and keep his commandments.” This concept is prevalent throughout the entirety of MOF, even on the final page of the final chapter. In other words, Kimball did not back off what he had said throughout but stressed what he meant all along.

Andersen in DGF

Let’s consider what Andersen says at the end of his book. With about a tenth of the book left to be read, he talks about the forgiveness offered by God to those who had sinned in the past:

“Through the years, I have had the privilege of meeting with many men and women who have humbly and willingly sought to reconcile their lives with the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who eventually were rebaptized, and who were presented to the First Presidency to have their priesthood and temple blessings restored. Their sins were serious, and often there were innocent family members or others who had been wounded by their selfishness and unrighteousness. And yet, with the assignment from the First Presidency, as I placed my hands upon their heads to restore their blessings, I unequivocally felt the love and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ for these men and women” (pp. 245-246).

A page later, he said,

“I humbly witness, as one who knows, that it is only through the all-powerful gift of the Savior’s Atonement, only through the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ, and only by His incomparable gift of redeeming love and forgiveness. This is the miracle of forgiveness” (p. 247).

In that last quote, “the miracle of forgiveness” appears to be a subtle nod to Kimball’s book! And notice, it is “only through the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ” that forgiveness comes. These quotes seem very uplifting, I agree, and sound more in line with what Evangelical Christians proclaim than what traditional Mormonism teaches. But remember, Andersen has a way of seeming to be “kinder and gentler” in his writing style as compared to Kimball. Is Andersen backing down from his earlier teaching about how obedience is necessary to qualify for God’s forgiveness? The answer is no. For example, ten pages later in a discussion about the Holy Ghost, Andersen writes,

“How do you recognize this precious voice when it is telling you that you are being forgiven? First of all, believe that the voice is real and believe that as you forsake your sins, come unto Christ, keep His commandments, and desire to do good, that voice will grow within you” (p. 257, italics mine).

Notice how he says “as you forsake your sins” and as you “keep His commandments.” Andersen explains more on the next page:

“As you pray, gratefully thanking your Heavenly Father for the blessings that He has given to you; as you forsake your sins and desire to follow His Son, you will feel the Holy Ghost moving you toward those things that are good and right. As you truly forsake your sins, not looking back upon them, but going forward in righteousness, you will feel His approval and the forgiveness of your sins” (p. 258, italics mine).

Again,

  • “As you forsake your sins”
  • “As you truly forsake your sins” (repeating the previous phrase but adding truly certainly infers success in the forsaking of sins)
  • “Not looking back upon them”
  • “Going forward in righteousness”

Hopeful Latter-day Saints who want to read “good news” into Andersen’s book do so by making assumptions that just are not there. Andersen is, like Kimball, a very traditional Mormon who interprets the unique Standard Works like all the other leaders, no matter how much emphasis he might appear to make on “grace” and the “atonement.” Later on that same page, Andersen talks about how a person can have assurance of forgiveness thorough “continuing” in goodness. He writes,

“As a mission president in France, I found missionaries frequently asked, ‘How can I know when I am forgiven?’ Perhaps two or three years before their mission, they had made a serious mistake. Now they were preaching the gospel. They were testifying of Christ, yet their sins still troubled them, and they were not sure they were forgiven. One of the greatest things I could teach them was to have patience and continue in their goodness, and their forgiveness would be certain” (p. 258, italics mine).

I meet many Latter-day Saints who are bothered by the fact that they can have no assurance of the celestial kingdom. They seem to desperately want what the Evangelical Christian claims to have, which is forgiveness of sins in the past, present, and future tenses. Yet the unique LDS scripture and the teachings of their leaders condemn them. All Andersen can advise Latter-day Saints is to “continue in their goodness.”

Sometimes I ask Mormons if they believe they would enter the celestial kingdom if they were to die at that every moment. I hear plenty of “I hope,” “I think,” and “If I continue” types of arguments, but rarely will a Latter-day Saint step out on the limb and say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that forgiveness is theirs, now. I don’t mean to minimize this issue, but forgiveness in Mormonism is a shell game. The faithful Mormon is supposed to keep her eye on the shell with the pea under it, but the carnival hawker doing the moving of the pieces moves too quickly, making the scene a blur. The result is a 1-in-3 chance to pick the correct shell. Guesswork like this means there is no assurance at all.

When it comes to making the right choice, Christianity says there is only one shell and one pea. The hawker can move it as fast as he can, but when the dust is settled, the pick is easy. Life eternal with God is assured!

Let’s continue with Andersen’s analysis.

“’Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts’ (D&C 1:32-33). With time, through repentance, obedience, and keeping the commandments, we grow up in the Spirit of revelation, we become new creatures in Christ, and, as Alma said, we are spiritually born again” (p. 262, italics mine).

It is assumed that “through repentance, obedience, and keeping the commandments” is referencing successful completion of these things. Only then, according to Mormonism, can a person become a “new creation in Christ.” In this lifetime, however, Mormons can never know if they have arrived. Sin is always just around the corner. As Paul described in Romans 6:14-23:

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.

Despite the circumstances that appear to be impossible, Paul concludes with hope in verses 24-25a:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

That deliverance comes despite our efforts and the Fall that marks us as sinners! For that, we can only praise God.

Andersen continues:

“While we are not perfect, and mortality will continue with its temptations and distractions, as we are sensitive to our thoughts and desires, and as we keep the commandments of God, the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion and will testify of God’s forgiveness” (p. 262, italics mine).

Andersen teaches that the way to strive for the impossible is to continue to “keep the commandments” and somehow trust that “the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion.” How can he “testify of God’s forgiveness” if D&C 82:7—a verse cited by Andersen in his book—if returning to the same sin negates previous “forgiveness”?

He then explains a couple of pages later:

“The power of heaven, including the rich blessing of being forgiven and retaining a remission of our sins, comes as we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Obediently living the teachings of Jesus Christ and His gospel will bring the promised constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to abide with us through our mortal journey” (p. 264, italics mine).

Once again, successfully “living the teachings of Jesus Christ” is the requirement needed to receive the Holy Ghost. Yet which Mormon is doing this? I’ve asked thousands of them and, except for those who appear to be joking, nobody suggests that they are successfully living Jesus’s teachings.

Andersen writes,

“Because He lived a perfect life and willingly took our sins upon Himself, He can offer us the mercy of His forgiveness. He paid the price for us, and with His blood our guilt and pain are replaced with hope and healing as we continually lay aside our sins” (p. 271, italics mine).

While he brings atonement and God’s mercy back into the picture, there is a caveat once more: “. . . as we continually lay aside our sins.” Continually infers that the person is finding success in this process. Once again, Mormons know what they are supposed to do—the message is drilled into them every week in church services, conference messages, and other teaching materials—but they find it impossible to live up to the man-made standards of this religion.

Finally, we come to Andersen’s last chapter and the second-to-last page in the book. Citing D&C 76:51-53, he writes this on pages 275-276:

“Our residency in the ‘City Eternal’ cannot be earned by our own efforts, for the gift is both free and priceless. We can, however, prepare ourselves and sanctify our lives so that we can continually receive the divine gift of forgiveness. Overcoming the world through true and constant repentance throughout our mortal life allows us to experience the joy of receiving this heavenly gift. The Lord spoke of those who overcome the world and find themselves in the ‘City Eternal.’ ‘They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, . . . That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit” (Ellipsis his, italics mine).

As he does in many other places of the book, Andersen writes in a manner that can be confusing. The “City Eternal” is an obvious reference to the Celestial Kingdom, the Disneyland of heavenly glories where  families can live together forever. He says that residency here “cannot be earned by our own efforts” and claims the “gift” is free. Is this true at face value? The answer, as always in Mormonism, is NO. And this is clear when he writes that “by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit.”

Without the context, the last few sentences of his book would be otherwise confusing. Andersen concludes:

“As you put your trust in Him, I promise you that He will walk with you and bless you. He will give you strength and bless you with His heavenly gifts of mercy and grace. You will feel His love, a love that transcends all other love, as our Savior and Redeemer bestows upon you the divine gift of forgiveness” (p. 277).

He uses such positive phrases as “He will walk with you and bless you,” “He will give you strength and bless you,” “you will feel His love,” and “our Savior and Redeemer bestows upon you the divine gift of forgiveness.” However, as Andersen emphasized throughout the book (including the last chapters), the only way to receive these benefits is through “forsaking sin” and “keeping the commandments.” Plain and simple. There is no other way around it.

Latter-day Saints who clutch onto The Divine Gift of Forgiveness as a life preserver, a pacifier in time of need, should realize that they are buying into nothing more than a desert mirage. While much of what Andersen writes may resonate with those who are looking to clutch onto any life preserver, what he means is not much different than what Spencer W. Kimball presented five decades earlier.

Conclusion

Some Latter-day Saints are celebrating Neil Andersen’s book. Before they give away their copy of Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, however, I challenge them to reread the 1969 classic and, as is done in this article, compare it with the new book on the block. Yes, Andersen may be gentler and kinder than Kimball in his presentation, but it must be admitted that, for the most part, the two apostles are on the same page.

Among other things, they each advocate the forsaking of sin and keeping the commandments continually in order to gain the celestial kingdom. Read Andersen’s book carefully, for he offers nothing more than the same old historical Mormon doctrine, which is smoke and mirrors compared to what the Bible has to offer.

The Bible handles the issue of forgiveness of sins much differently. According to God’s Word, forgiveness is provided through faith for all sins: past, present, and future. All sins referenced to the believer are considered forgiven in the past tense. Consider the promises made in the New Testament:

  • Acts 10:43: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
  • Acts 13:38-39: “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”
  • Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
  • Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”
  • Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”
  • Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
  • Colossians 1:13-14: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
  • Colossians 3:13: “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
  • Hebrews 8:12: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
  • Hebrews 10:17: “Then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’”
  • 1 John 2:12: “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.”

Such promises are missed by Latter-day Saints, for few (if any) feel that their sins are forgiven now, but only if they can keep the impossible commandments. Until Mormons can say they are “keep(ing) the commandments continually” (D&C 25:15), they need to admit that their situation is troublesome. They will forever be just short in accomplishing all that is required through their own efforts, regardless of how often they want to emphasize grace and the atonement of God. Grace that requires obedience on the part of the individual is not grace but a wage. Christians, meanwhile, can rejoice that salvation is “a gift of God” that does not come “by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). A person who really wants to claim forgiveness of sins needs to look closer at what the Bible says and not listen to leaders who have nothing more to offer than an “impossible gospel,” with standards that only Jesus could meet.


[i] Between mid-2014 through the fall of 2019, I purchased and handed out more than 1,000 used copies of MOF to Latter-day Saints at Temple Square, the Mormon Miracle Pageant, temple open house events, BYU football games, and general conferences! For more information about MOF and how it can be used in evangelistic efforts, see here as well as a briefer piece I wrote for the Christian Research Journal.  I also contributed a chapter about this tactic in a book I co-edited titled Sharing the Good News with Mormons (Harvest House, 2018).

 

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