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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 1: Living What We Believe

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with my comments following.

Worship in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a devoted life, a desire to be worthy of him in whose image we have been created and who has given us all … that is worth while—the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What a fine thing it is to feel that we belong to a church that is or should be composed of saints. It is not sufficient that we have our names upon the records. It is important that we live the lives that entitle us to be called Saints, and if you will do that, you will be happy. …

The Savior informed them that if they were children of Abraham, they would do the works of Abraham. I would like to say to the Latter-day Saints, if we are worthy to be called Latter-day Saints, it will be because we are living the lives of saints, and it is the purpose of the Gospel to qualify us in that way. The world has gotten into such a condition and has been deceived by the adversary for such a long time and has declared that the mere belief in God is all that is necessary, that I am fearful for it. That is only a trick of the adversary.

“Mormonism,” so-called, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, consequently it is the power of God unto salvation to all those who believe and obey its teachings. It is not those who say, “Lord, Lord,” who enjoy the companionship of His spirit but those who do His will.

According to Mormon Church leaders, it’s not enough for a person to merely be a member. Rather, “obedience to the gospel”—which is what President Smith called “living the lives of saints”—is required for a person to qualify to be called a Latter-day Saint and have any hope at all for “salvation.” Historically, Christianity has taught that mankind is destined to only one of two destinations after he/she dies: heaven or hell. Mormonism, on the other hand, claims that what a person believes and does in this life will result in being placed in one of three kingdoms: the telestial, terrestrial, or celestial. The truly wicked will be condemned to what is termed “outer darkness.”

Naturally, a sincere Latter-day Saint is striving to gain what is known as a celestial exaltation. Achieving this prominent place in eternity will allow that person to receive numerous benefits not afforded those who were less fortunate to be placed in any of the lower kingdoms.

Each kingdom has a set of laws. Those who live a telestial law while in mortality will be assigned to a telestial glory; those who live a terrestrial law will be assigned a terrestrial glory. Likewise, a person who abides by what is known as celestial law will be assigned a place in the celestial kingdom. Doctrine and Covenants 88:22 states, “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.” If a Mormon hopes to reach the celestial kingdom, he must abide by the celestial law. What exactly is celestial law? Apostle Orson Whitney said, “It does not mean any one thing; it means all things. It is the fullness of obedience: it is living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Conference Report, October 1910, p.53). President Brigham Young said, “If we obey this law, preserve it inviolate, live according to it, we shall be prepared to enjoy the blessings of a celestial kingdom” (Discourses of Brigham Young, pg.404). President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “To enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept…Do you desire to enter the celestial Kingdom and receive eternal life? Then be willing to keep all of the commandments.” (The Way to Perfection, pg. 206). While such demands may appear to demonstrate a religious zeal, they are certainly impractical given the fact that we have yet to meet any Mormon who is meeting the above requirements. We know of no Mormon who is fully obeying all the commands of God, nor have we met any Mormon who is keeping the whole law.

If a Mormon is not meeting the celestial requirements, he will, as defined by LDS leadership, be condemned to a lower kingdom and forfeit the opportunity for Godhood and its accompanying benefits. Once the Mormon is assigned to a lower kingdom, achieving the celestial is out of the question. Twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball taught that there is “no progression between kingdoms. After a person has been assigned to his place in the kingdom, either in the telestial, the terrestrial, or the celestial, or to his exaltation, he will never advance from his assigned glory to another glory. That is eternal!” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.50.)

“I Can Do It Later”

Many Mormons feel that they will have an opportunity after death to get things in order. This idea, while comforting, does not square with LDS theology. Mormonism teaches that this lifetime is a probation period. Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie stated: “One of the great purposes of this mortal probation is to test and try men, to see if they will keep the commandments and walk in the light no matter what environmental enticements beckon them away from the straight and narrow path” (Mormon Doctrine, pg.229). The purpose of this lifetime is for the Mormon to prove himself worthy of exaltation. To fail in that capacity will result in never reaching that celestial goal.

President Joseph Fielding Smith said that if a person refuses to comply with the provided laws and ordinances during this lifetime, they will be “assigned, after the resurrection, to some inferior sphere.” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:69) This concurs with Alma 34:32-33, which states, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors… And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.” It seems clear that while some Mormons feel they can get things right after death, this is not supported by LDS teaching.

“What About Repentance?”

When confronted with this serious dilemma, many Latter-day Saints resort to the doctrine of repentance. While repenting of one’s sins sounds like the logical remedy, it is really self-defeating when one looks at the whole Mormon picture. Bear in mind LDS leaders have stressed that “obedience” to the whole law is the requirement for exaltation, not repentance. The fact that a Mormon has to repent really proves he is not living up to the strict guidelines laid down by the LDS leadership. In other words, he is not obeying celestial law. If he was, he would have no need to repent. Ironically, every time a Mormon repents of his shortcomings and sins, he is doing nothing more than admitting to his God that he is unworthy of a celestial exaltation.

Even more damning for the Mormon is Spencer Kimball’s definition of true repentance. He taught that the “repentance which merits forgiveness” is the kind in which “the former transgressor must have reached a ‘point of no return’ to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin – where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp.354-355). We know of no Mormon who has accomplished such a feat. Who can say they have actually reached a point in their life where the desire or urge to sin is no longer a problem? Apparently even Paul did not accomplish this (Romans 7:13-24).

President Kimball also said that “living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation” (Miracle, pg. 208). This must present a terrible quandary for the Latter-day Saint, for if the desire or urge to sin is not cleared out of his life, and he is not living all of the commandments, how can he know he is truly forgiven? In his pamphlet titled “Repentance Brings Forgiveness,” President Kimball taught, “The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.” A great majority of Mormons with whom we have spoken candidly admit they often sin the same sin twice. Unfortunately, if this is the case, according to Kimball they cannot be assured of forgiveness.

“But I’m Trying!”

Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks taught: “The requirement for entry into the celestial kingdom is not that we have actually practiced the entire celestial law while upon this earth, but that we have shown God that we are willing and able to do so” (Pure in Heart, pp. 62-63). However, such comments, while they may appease those who are struggling to abide a celestial law, blatantly contradict those made by past LDS leaders. For instance, LDS Apostle Orson Whitney made it clear that a Mormon’s chances for reaching the celestial were good only if he was “keeping” the commandments, not merely willing to keep them. He said, “If today, you are keeping those commandments that are now in force, you are living a celestial law, and your chances are good for celestial glory” (Conference Report, Oct. 1910, pg. 53). Notice he stressed that this must be done “today,” not after death.

Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith said compliance with the law, not willingness, was necessary to obtain Godhood. “This mortal probation was to be a brief period, just a short span linking the eternity past with the eternity future. Yet it was to be a period of tremendous importance. It would either give to those who received it the blessing of eternal life, which is the greatest gift of God, and thus qualify them for godhood as sons and daughters of our Eternal Father, or, if they rebelled and refused to comply with the laws and ordinances which were provided for their salvation, it would deny them the great gift and they would be assigned, after the resurrection, to some inferior sphere according to their works. This life is the most vital period in our eternal existence” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:69).

The Book of Mormon teaches, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32).

Commenting on this passage, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “These people to whom Amulek was speaking had heard the truth and were not altogether ignorant of the plan of salvation, because they had gone out of the Church by apostasy. So he declared unto them that this is the day for them to repent and turn unto God or they would be lost” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:181). Are modern Latter-day Saints any more ignorant than the people addressed by Amulek? One would think they would be far more advanced than the Nephites and Lamanites described in the Book of Mormon and therefore just as accountable. While many Latter-day Saints are willing to do what is right, the ability to do so is not as easy. Still, LDS leaders have stressed the accomplishment of obeying celestial law, not merely a willingness to obey. According to Spencer Kimball, a mere willingness to try to overcome sinful tendencies is not enough. He asserted, “Trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin.” He went on to say, “To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp.164-165). Indeed, some Mormons have said, “I do my best and Jesus does the rest.” That might be a catchy saying, but the fact is, if a Mormon is actually obeying celestial law, there is nothing left for Jesus to do.

How many of us, learning the will of the Father, are doing it? How many of us day by day are laying a foundation and building a structure that shall conform to the dignity of the stature of our Master? ‘Yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple.’ [D&C 93:35.] He has given us intelligence and wisdom above our fellowmen. A knowledge of pre-existence has been given to the Latter-day Saints; a knowledge that we are here because we kept our first estate, and that we have been given the opportunity of gaining eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father, by keeping our second estate. We will not be judged as our brothers and sisters of the world are judged, but according to the greater opportunities placed in our keeping. We will be among those who have received the word of the Lord, who have heard His sayings, and if we do them it will be to us eternal life, but if we fail condemnation will result.

As President Smith asks, how many Latter-day Saints are “are doing” what they are supposed to according to God’s commands? When people are baptized as members in the LDS Church, they promise to keep all of the laws and commandments of God. Naturally they fail, so each week at sacrament service, Latter-days Saints must again commit to keeping the commandments. Each week they fail. Such commitments are again uttered when a Mormon enters one of his hallowed temples. During the endowment ceremony the character playing the part of Lucifer looks at the audience and warns, “If they do not walk up to every covenant they make at these altars in this temple this day, they will be in my power!” If the Mormon really believes this ceremony is of God, and he knows in his heart he is not living up to every covenant he made, wouldn’t consistency demand that he is under Lucifer’s power?

The fact that the LDS Church compels its members to make such promises is unreasonable, to say the least. No human can live up to such expectations, but day in and day out, the LDS Church makes its people go through what is no doubt a meaningless vow. Each week members make the promise, yet each week they fail to keep the promise. Despite their personal efforts, when they do not live up to such incredible standards, their leadership accuses them of covenant breaking. “Of those who break covenants and promises made in sacred places and in solemn manner, we can apply the Lord’s words as follows: ‘… a wicked man, who has set at naught the counsels of God, and has broken the most sacred promises which were made before God, and has depended upon his own judgment and boasted in his own wisdom’ (D&C 3:12-13).” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.57.)

If you are a Latter-day Saint, you will be judged “according to the greater opportunities in our keeping.” If you don’t do it, “condemnation will result.” The problem is that salvation—true salvation, the type of salvation that allows you to enter the presence of God Himself—is provided to those who believe and is not based on works, whether past, present, or future. This theme is very clear throughout the Bible. Consider these passages from the English Standard Version (ESV):

Acts 16:30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

Romans 10:9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

Galatians 2:15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

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, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, (that we should walk in them.

More could be cited. But let’s stop here and consider this last passage. According to the Bible, true salvation does not come as a result of works. Otherwise, a person could say that salvation is merely the result of one’s good work; just like wages, the “gift of God” becomes payment for work rendered. Consider the following illustration: Suppose that you decided to put your IPhone to good use after the Christmas presents had been exchanged with family at your home. Using a new application on your phone, you decide to take your received presents to your room and scan their barcodes, determining their cost on the Internet. Then you write checks for each “gift” before going back upstairs and distributing these payments. You reimburse in full everyone who gave you something, meaning you don’t owe them anything more. In addition, you distribute copies of receipts for the “gifts” you purchased for them. Since you’re generous, you don’t charge interest for 90 days when you request your payment, as long as it is paid in full. For the children who have no money, you thoughtfully provide a work schedule; if they apply themselves, perhaps they will complete their debt before the summer is over.

Of course, such a situation is outrageous. Nobody considers gifts something earned. Yet the above scenario is very reminiscent of Mormonism, which says that exaltation—becoming gods—is the result of living a life of obedience. While Christianity teaches that doing good works AFTER being justified before God is important, the Bible is very clear good works do not earn God’s favor.

Let us do better than we have ever done before. Let us renew our determination to be real Latter-day Saints, and not just make-believe. … I do not know anybody who can not do a little better than he has been doing, if he makes up his mind.

This quote is reminiscent of 2 Nephi 25:23, which says that a person is saved by grace AFTER all he can do. The question is, how much “little better” can a person ever do? Just when you think you’ve done all you can do, isn’t it possible that you could have done just a little bit more. Sure, you prayed for 15 minutes, good for you. But couldn’t you have done this for 20 minutes? Yes, you helped your neighbor rake their leaves in the yard. Couldn’t you also have helped them weed the garden? The list goes on and on. A life of attempted perfection will always fall short and leave a person feeling frustrated. That’s the difference between the two religions. In Mormonism, the work is never complete. In Christianity, it has been completed in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our Heavenly Father expects us to prepare for and live worthy of His promised blessings.

The world seems to think that they can come whenever they are ready. Our Father’s children do not understand that there is some preparation to be made. The adversary has so deceived them as to make them believe that no preparation is necessary, anything will do, but in this message that the Savior gave in a parable to his associates we are informed that there must be some preparation, and without that preparation no one will be permitted to partake of the more precious gifts of our Heavenly Father. That applies to the membership of this Church who have an idea that because they have been invited, and because their names appear upon the record among those who have been called, there is nothing more for them to do. … They have forgotten the Lord and are not preparing for the feast to which he has invited them.

Our Heavenly Father intends that we shall prepare for the wedding feast or we will be excluded. He expects us to continue to store our minds with the truth, and to disseminate that truth as opportunity offers among all his children. The fact that our names appear upon the Church records is no guarantee that we will find our place in the celestial kingdom. Only those who live worthy to be members of that kingdom shall find place there.

President Smith suggests that Mormons—unlike the world—understand how “preparation is necessary.” But what is not understood is how this preparation took place when Jesus died on the cross, providing for forgiveness of sins. Listen to what the Bible says in Romans 5:

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

There is a feast that God has promised His children, but it’s not earned through their personal efforts. Rather, it’s what God has done for them through the blood of Jesus Christ.

In the midst of the unsettled condition, the uncertainty that is in the world, if there ever was a time when we should examine ourselves, to find out if we are doing what the Lord would have us do, it is today; if there ever was a time when we should be sure that we are in the pathway of eternal life, it is now. We can’t slight these opportunities. God will not be mocked. When he has offered to us a gift, when he has placed within our reach a blessing, when he has invited us to partake of a feast and we ignore it, we may be sure that we shall suffer the distress that will come to those who refuse the blessings of the Lord when they are offered.

We cannot live like the world and expect to obtain our rightful place in the Kingdom. The Lord tells us in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, referring to evil: that he cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance [see D&C 1:31]. This is hard medicine, because some of us in the Church have the idea that we can trifle with the Gospel of our Lord and with fundamentals of Eternal Life, and yet gain the place we want. This is not true. The Lord will be merciful, but he will be just, and if we want any blessing there is only one way we may obtain it, and that is to keep the commandments that will entitle us to the blessing.

Notice how D&C 1:31 explains that God “cannot look upon sin with the least of allowance.” According to the LDS Standard Works, God does not give any “commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). Repentance is not enough; what is needed is the forsaking of sins. When it comes to sins, according to D&C 58:43, a person must “confess them and forsake them.” And D&C 82:7 says that the person who sins after being commissioned to sin no more will have “the former sins return.”

Mormonism’s requirements are a heavy burden, as the Mormon attempts to do everything he/she can (and more) in order to attain the impossible. For Christians, justification comes by faith alone. There is no guesswork involved, as the Bible promises that they may “know” that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

If we are doing our full duty, our lives give evidence of our belief in the gospel.

Within the last year, I have had the privilege of meeting and conversing on the gospel with some men who live in this community [Salt Lake City], not members of our Church. One man had resided here for twenty years, a man whose life is above reproach, a good citizen, a splendid business man, one who has kindly feelings towards our people. He told me that he had lived here twenty years, and he had come to the conclusion that we were just as good as our neighbors who are members of other churches; he could not see any difference in us.

How would people view you? Are you any better than other religious people in your community?

I want to say to you, my brethren and sisters, that is no compliment to me. If the gospel of Jesus Christ does not make me a better man, then I have not developed as I should, and if our neighbors not in this Church can live among us from year to year and see no evidence of the benefits that come from keeping the commandments of God in our lives, then there is need for reform in Israel. …

… Are you doing your duty? are we performing the labor that the Lord has entrusted to our care? do we sense the responsibility that is upon us? or are we idly floating down stream, going with the tide taking it for granted that in the last day, we will be redeemed?

If our peculiarity went to the extent that we lived by every word that proceeds from the mouth of our Heavenly Father [see D&C 84:44], then we would indeed be a blessed people. We do, to a large degree, live by the testimony that has been given to us by our Redeemer, and thus far we are a blessed people; but we would be yet more greatly blessed and prospered if we could bring ourselves to do our full duty. Now let us examine ourselves. Are we doing as much as we should? And if we are not, let us turn around and do better. If we are doing as we should, if we are reaching out in all directions to do good to the children of our Father, then we will bring to ourselves the blessing of an all wise Father, and we will rejoice in the good that we accomplish here. …

Let us be humble and prayerful, living near to our Heavenly Father, and evidence our belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ by living up to its principles. Let us evidence our faith in God, and in the work He has given to the earth, by a correct and consistent life, for after all that is the strongest testimony that we will be able to bear of the truth of this work.

Latter-day Saint, are you doing your “duty”? Are you “doing as much as” you should? Couldn’t you do just a little “better”? Honestly, would you say that you are really living a “correct and consistent life”? Remember, as stated above, it can’t be done later, repentance means you stop that sin, and merely trying is not enough. Because it is impossible to attain, living all the commandments leads to a frustrating life. The Christian life was not meant to be lived in such a manner. Is there a chance your church is working you so hard in an attempt to earn something that the Bible calls a “gift”?

Suggestions for Study and Teaching

Teaching help: “To help us teach from the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets, the Church has produced lesson manuals and other materials. There is little need for commentaries or other reference material” (Teaching, No Greater Call: A Resource Guide for Gospel Teaching [1999], 52).

While the LDS Church says it can help a person understand truth by following its manuals and other materials, we think such a philosophy is quite dangerous. Instead, we would like to offer another “suggestion for study and teaching.” Consider reading the biblical book of Galatians in one sitting, with no commentaries or other reference material to get in the way, including those coming from the LDS Church. If the King James Version is too difficult to understand, perhaps try a modern version. (Go to and you can look up any number of versions. Some very good translations include the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New International Version (NIV).) Read as if you never read it before. When you’re done, answer the following questions:

  • In Gal. 1:8-9, Paul said to not follow any gospel that is different than what was originally preached. Why was this important to him? Does this same adage apply today?
  • In Gal. 2:21, he said that if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing. What do you think he meant by this?
  • In Gal. 3:1-14, Paul explains how faith, rather than observance of the law, is what God requires. If Mormonism teaches that there are certain things that must be done (i.e. baptism, membership in the LDS Church, keeping the Word of Wisdom, temple marriage, etc.) in order to qualify for the celestial kingdom, then how can those who accept Mormonism’s statutes be any different than the “foolish Galatians” referred to here?
  • In Gal. 3:23-25, Paul says that the law held the people prisoner until faith should be revealed, and that the law was meant to lead people to Christ. Now the redeemed are no longer under the supervision of the law. Is it possible that the requirements in Mormonism are nothing more than unnecessary add ons to what God requires, which is faith in God?
  • In Gal. 3:26-29, Paul teaches that a person who becomes a Christian is a son of God through faith. He said that there is no distinction between male and female, Jew or Greek. If people become “sons of God” through faith (and is not something that took place in a life previous to this one), how would this support the LDS view of predestination that was taught by Smith in the first chapter of the LDS manual?
  • In Gal. 5:1, Paul says Christians should not be burdened by a yoke of slavery. Read through the first chapter in this LDS manual, being studied by every adult in the church, and ask yourself how what President Smith proposed is NOT equal to a spiritual slavery.
  • In Gal. 5:4, it says that “you who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” Based on what you have read, how did the Galatians fall away from grace?
  • Although good works are not what save Christians from their sins, good works are very important. They take place after the gift has been received, not to pay back the gift, but rather performed in gratitude for what Jesus did for them. Based on Gal. 5:12-25, what does it mean to “live by the Spirit”?
  • In Gal. 6:15, Paul says what is more important than the law is that a person becomes a new creation. According to what you have read in the book of Galatians, what is required for a person to understand the authentic Gospel and be a Christian?

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