Note: The following was originally printed in the May/June 2019 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
Blessings received by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are described in a number of ways. For example, eternal life in the celestial kingdom of God has been explained as a blessing. The unique priesthood in Mormonism has been portrayed as a blessing, as well as the blessing of wisdom and the LDS temple endowment ceremony. Marriage for time and eternity has been characterized in Mormon circles as a blessing, as well as children born to a man and a woman in a marriage relationship. Mormons are often told they should seek the blessings of God.
In his April 7, 2019 general conference message titled “Abound with Blessings,” Mormon Apostle Dale G. Renlund began by saying,
The question of how to access and obtain those blessings has been the subject of theological debate and discussion for centuries.” He went on to say, “Blessings from heaven are neither earned by frenetically accruing ‘good deed coupons’ nor by helplessly waiting to see if we win the blessing lottery. No, the truth is much more nuanced but more appropriate for the relationship between a loving Heavenly Father and His potential heirs—us. Restored truth reveals that blessings are never earned, but faith-inspired actions on our part, both initial and ongoing, are essential.
Renlund cited D&C 130:20-21, which says that “there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” “That being said,” Renlund said, “you do not earn a blessing—that notion is false—but you do have to qualify for it. Our salvation comes only through the merits and grace of Jesus Christ.”
First of all, I agree that some blessings are achieved after an individual has done something. But D&C 130:20-21 doesn’t say some, it says all, and if salvation is a blessing, as many LDS leaders have stated, then Renlund is doing nothing more than advocating a works-based theology.
Insisting that a person does not earn a blessing but instead qualifies for it is mere wordplay, especially in the context of Mormonism. Athletes who “qualify” to make it into the finals do so because they earned that position though much hard training and perseverance. Renlund’s questionable word choice makes about as much sense as Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie’s insistence that “salvation is free. . . but it must also be purchased” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 3:461).
McConkie’s father-in-law, 10th President Joseph Fielding Smith, said, “Very gladly would the Lord give to everyone eternal life, but since that blessing can come only on merit—through the faithful performance of duty—only those who are worthy shall receive it” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:5).
For Renlund (and other LDS leaders) to say our salvation comes only through the merits and grace of Christ is also misleading. Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “The Lord does not delight in the punishment of men. He is kind enough to grant to each his freedom to merit blessings or punishment according to his free will or pleasure” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:227. Emphasis mine). In a 1992 conference message, 16th President Thomas S. Monson taught that God wants to “bless all of us,” “All we need do is to so live that we merit the blessings ever predicated on our faithfulness to His commandments” (“An Example of the Believers,” Ensign, November 1992, 97. Emphasis mine).
On the surface, Renlund’s equivocation might sound to some as very evangelical, but in reality it is nothing more than the same old traditional Mormonism.