By Eric Johnson
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST?
The gospel of Jesus Christ is our Heavenly Father’s plan for the happiness and salvation of His children. It is called the gospel of Jesus Christ because the Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to this plan. According to His plan, our Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to show us how to live meaningful and happy lives and experience eternal joy after this life. Through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, you can become clean from sin and enjoy peace of conscience. You can become worthy to live in our Heavenly Father’s presence after this life.
Let’s be aware from the very beginning that the terminology used in Mormonism is very similar to what is used in Evangelical Christianity. Unless definitions are given, it can become quite confusing understanding what is meant. In the paragraph above (as we will see throughout the rest of the pamphlet), the words are not defined. For the sake of understanding these words in an LDS context, let’s use church manuals and the words of general authorities (LDS prophets, apostles, and seventies) for support:
- Gospel of Jesus Christ: Obviously this is the purpose of this booklet. In a manual used in 2014 for church meetings, President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Through obedience to those commandments which are set forth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and by continuance therein, we shall receive immortality, glory, eternal life, and dwell in the presence of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, where we shall truly know them.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 237.) In biblical Christianity, the “gospel” means “good news” and describes how a person can have a relationship with Jesus through faith and not through “obedience,” making the gospel something we earn. In addition, Mormonism says its gospel is the only true gospel. According to a church manual, “Testify that although other churches teach some truths and do many good things, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the earth because it is the only church that has the complete gospel of Jesus Christ and the priesthood authority to perform ordinances in the name of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ Church. It has his name and his law, and it is led by his appointed representatives. Express your gratitude to Joseph Smith, the prophet through whom the Lord restored the true Church.” (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 99. Italics in original.) I’ve got to be honest, I will never “express (my) gratitude” to Joseph Smith. This is reserved for Jesus.
- Heavenly Father: According to a Melchizedek Priesthood manual written by Milton R. Hunter, “Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is.” (The Gospel Through the Ages, 104-05. This originated with Orson Hyde, as quoted in Watt, ed., Journal of Discourses, 1:123.) Mormonism also teaches that Heavenly Father “has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22). In Christianity, God the Father is the first member of the Trinity and is spirit (John 4:24). He was never “once a child” or advanced as Mormonism has taught.
- Jesus Christ: According to Mormonism, Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer during a time before this earth called “premortality” or “preexistence.” One book written by a Mormon explains, “On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some, especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations. But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. . . . Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and influence. But as the First-born of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother.” (A Sure Foundation: Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions, 223–24. Ellipsis mine.) Jay E. Jensen, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, explained, “When the Lord came to earth, He had a veil of forgetfulness placed over His mind, as we do, but He, like us, progressed from grace to grace.” Ensign (January 2011): 42. According to Christianity, Jesus is the second member of the Trinity, God in the flesh, who incarnated onto this world. The sacrifice He made is efficacious for all who believe on His name.
- Salvation: There are two types of salvation in Mormonism: General and Individual. According to Mormonism, General Salvation (through the “Atonement”) allows for the resurrection of all people: “Through the Atonement, Jesus Christ redeems all people from the effects of the Fall. All people who have ever lived on the earth and who ever will live on the earth will be resurrected and brought back into the presence of God to be judged.” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 18.) Individual salvation is equated with “eternal life” or “exaltation,” which is equal to attaining godhood. As Stephen L. Richards, a member of the First Presidency, explained, “They [Mormon missionaries] made clear distinction between general salvation or resurrection from the grave and individual salvation or exaltation earned by a man through his compliance with the laws of God. They taught that there are preferential places in heaven as there are on earth and that the highest place or Celestial Kingdom could be attained only by those who faithfully subscribe to and keep all the laws and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and thereby entitle themselves to come into the presence of our God and Jesus Christ, His Son. Conference Reports (April 1941): 102-3. Brackets mine.) In Christianity, salvation has a singular meaning: either a person is “saved” or he is not “saved. Acts 4:12 says that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Grace: According to a church manual,
“D&C 17:8. ‘For My Grace Is Sufficient for You.’ After a man has done all that he can for himself, it is only by the grace of the Lord (that is, by his love, mercy, and condescension) that he can gain salvation (see 2 Nephi 11:24; 25:23).
These three men were promised that if they would do all that they were instructed in this revelation, the Lord’s grace is sufficient to ensure their salvation (see also 2 Corinthians 12:9; Ether 12:26–27)” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 34. Bold in original.). As Ephesians 2:8 and 9 explain, God’s people are saved by grace through faith and not through our works, because otherwise we would have the ability to boast in those works. This is a gift we could never earn on our own, no matter how obedience we think we can be.
- Mercy: According to Apostle Richard G. Scott, “The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God. Such repentance and obedience are absolutely essential for the Atonement to work its complete miracle in your life.” (“The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign (November 2006): 42.) According to Christianity, mercy is not receiving due justice, which is eternal death for our sins (Rom. 6:23). It is not something we can earn. We will delve further into this issue a little later in this review. Although I am not planning to dissect every term in this pamphlet, please understand something sounding so orthodox is actually quite different from the way millions of Bible-believing Christians all over the word accept these doctrines. According to Galatians 1:8-9: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Mormonism’s gospel is a deviation from the biblical Christian faith, as its teachings denies or distorts every single fundamental doctrine of the historic Christian church.
To receive this peace and strength, you must learn and follow the principles and ordinances of the gospel.
Ahh, here we go. Mormonism stresses the obedience aspect, necessary for a person in order to receive the true benefits of salvation. If you read this booklet carefully, everything is based on a person’s works and faithfulness. The question is, is anyone able to perform according to Mormonism’s standards?
A principle is a truth that can be applied in life; an ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood and is often a means of entering into a covenant with our Heavenly Father. The first principles of the gospel are faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. The first ordinances of the gospel are baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost. After you learn and follow the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, you seek to follow Christ’s example throughout the remainder of your life. This continued faithfulness is called “enduring to the end.”
This is an introduction to the different sections that will be talked about in this booklet. We’ll comment on each of these below.
FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST
Faith is a strong belief that motivates a person to act. Faith that leads to forgiveness of sins is centered in Jesus Christ, whose Atonement makes forgiveness possible. Faith in Jesus Christ is more than a passive belief in Him. It means believing that He is the Son of God and that He suffered for your sins, afflictions, and infirmities. It means acting on that belief. Faith in Jesus Christ leads you to love Him, trust Him, and obey His commandments.
According to this paragraph, faith:
- Is a strong belief
- Motivates a person to act
- Is centered on Jesus Christ
- Holds that Jesus is the Son of God
- Holds that Jesus suffered for your sins
- Results in Action
- Leads you to follow Him.
This might be surprising, but on the surface, as an Evangelical Christian, I agree with every single one of these points. So why, you might ask, am I writing such this review? It’s because, once more, the terminology makes it so people of two different faiths can look like they agree when they really don’t. For example, this says a person must have a “strong belief.” In Mormonism, faith by itself is not adequate to qualify a person for the best this religion has to offer, which is the Celestial Kingdom. It is only through obedience that this happens, which the text throughout shows is true. We’re going to spend more time on this later, but let it be known that Christians definitely believe in good works; it’s just not the good works that we do that qualifies us for heaven. So, while I can repeat these points and believe in them, I must understand how different my understanding is when put into a Mormon context.
Faith in Jesus Christ leads you to want to change your life for the better. As you study the gospel, you recognize that you have sinned, or acted against the will and teachings of God. Through repentance, you change those thoughts, desires, habits, and actions that are not in harmony with God’s teachings. He promises that when you repent, He will forgive your sins.
Once more, on the surface, I am in total agreement. Repentance—which is turning away from sin—is very important in Christianity. Yet like the other words we’ve talked about before, the meaning is different.
When you repent you:
Recognize that you have sinned and feel sincere sorrow for what you have done.
Stop doing what is wrong, and strive never to do it again.
Confess your sins to the Lord and ask for forgiveness. Doing so relieves a heavy burden. If you have sinned against another person, you also ask that person for forgiveness.
Make restitution. You do all you can to correct the problems your actions may have caused.
Keep the commandments. Obeying God’s commandments brings the power of the gospel into your life. The gospel will give you strength to abandon your sins. Keeping the commandments includes giving service, forgiving others, and attending Church meetings.
Acknowledge the Savior. The most important part of repentance is the realization that forgiveness comes because of Jesus Christ. Sometimes you may have felt that God will not forgive serious sins. But the Savior suffered for our sins so they can be put behind us, even the serious ones. The result of true repentance is forgiveness, peace, comfort, and joy.
Mormonism’s leaders have taught very clearly that true repentance means that you don’t just “try” ending sin, but rather this means ending it for good. Probably nobody talked about this issue with more conviction than President Spencer W. Kimball in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness. He wrote,
“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.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 165. This section was quoted in “Q&A: Questions and Answers” in the church magazine New Era, April 1995, 17)
This comment takes on a much stronger meaning when Kimball related a hypothetical dialogue between an army officer and a soldier to show that trying is “not sufficient” if exaltation is to be achieved:
An army officer called a soldier to him and ordered him to take a message to another officer. The soldier saluted and said, “I’ll try, sir! I’ll try!” To this the officer responded: “I don’t want you to try, I want you to deliver this message.” The soldier, somewhat embarrassed, now replied: “I’ll do the best I can, sir.” At this the officer, now disgusted, rejoined with some vigor: “I don’t want you to try and I don’t want you to ‘do the best you can.’ I want you to deliver this message.” Now the young soldier, straightening to his full height, approached the matter magnificently, as he thought, when he saluted again and said: “I’ll do it or die, sir.” To this the now irate officer responded: “I don’t want you to die, and I don’t want you merely to do the best you can, and I don’t want you to try. Now, 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.” (Ibid., 164)
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it’s not important to repent or even try to correct one’s ways. Living as humans, we’re bound to make mistakes and sin. What I am saying is that Mormonism stresses the importance of keeping God’s commandments, every last one of them, and unless a person is successful, there is no such thing as forgiveness of sins.
Repentance does not always mean making big changes. Often it simply requires an increased commitment to live according to God’s will. True repentance does not always happen quickly; be patient with yourself as you strive to do what is right and correct mistakes you make. As you repent, you will experience a change of heart. You will no longer desire to sin. You will come to know that you are a child of God and that you need not continue making the same mistakes over and over. Your desire to follow God will grow stronger and deeper.
Wow, what a statement. “You will no longer desire to sin.” Is this what we read in the Bible? Consider the apostle Paul’s words in Romans7:
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. 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.
If you struggle with sin, congratulations. . . this means you’re human! In this lifetime, Paul says that there is no arrival into sainthood because battles must be fought against the sinful nature. In fact, the more we seek to serve God, the harder it can become. He likens it to “waging war”! Can you imagine saying that a person “will no longer desire to sin,” as this pamphlet states? Perhaps this is why so many Latter-day Saints struggle with depression. Attend meetings in this religious institution for any length of time and you will know the commands! But knowing what to do and doing everything you’re supposed to are two completely different things.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-3o:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Unfortunately, many Mormons create a straw man fallacy of the biblical view of grace as taught in Christianity. Some may even argue, “You must believe that you can go out and murder and commit adultery.” It’s an old argument, to say that Christians believe they can walk up an altar and be free to sin as much as they want and still remain “saved.” No, Christians certainly believe that good works are important…not for justification from sins but what is called sanctification. To show how silly this argument is, consider Paul’s words in Romans 6:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
In Mormonism, returning to sin is the worst thing a person can do. Consider Spencer W. Kimball’s description of the Mormon gospel in a section of his book titled “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) . . . To return to sin is most destructive to the morale of the individual and gives Satan another hand-hold on his victim. Those who feel that they can sin and be forgiven and then return to sin and be forgiven again and again must straighten out their thinking. Each previously forgiven sin is added to the new one and the whole gets to be a heavy load. Thus when a man has made up his mind to change his life, there must be no turning back. Any reversal, even to a small degree, is greatly to his detriment.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 169-170)
According to Kimball, sins can remain unforgiven until the “repentant” person’s repentance is complete. He writes on page 179,
“Knowing the hearts of men, and their intents, and their abilities to repent and regenerate themselves, the Lord waits to forgive until the repentance has matured.”
And the repentance cannot be complete by confessing only to God, but a representative of the church must also hear the confession. Kimball adds,
“Then two sets of forgiveness are required to bring peace to the transgressor—one from proper authorities of the Lord’s Church, and one form the Lord himself.”
Although Kimball quotes from the LDS Standard Works to support his point, he only lists one Bible verse: 1 John 1:9. It says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Where in God’s Word does it say church authorities must be consulted for a person to receive forgiveness? While it’s important to confess our sins to each other (note: it’s not necessarily a church authority), Mormonism has created a situation where a human mediator is required. Yet 1 Timothy 2:5 says that “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”
BAPTISM AND THE HOLY GHOST
Faith in Jesus Christ and repentance prepare you for baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ taught that everyone must be baptized of water and of the Spirit (the Holy Ghost) for the remission, or forgiveness, of sins. Through baptism by one who holds priesthood authority and through receiving the Holy Ghost, you will be spiritually reborn.
Why Do I Need to Be Baptized?
Jesus Christ set the example for us by being baptized to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). When you are baptized, you receive a remission of your sins (see Acts 2:38).
While Christians believe in the importance of water baptism, they do not believe that this is a requirement for salvation. Adding another work to be justified of our sins is not what the Bible ever intended. Bill McKeever and I wrote a book called Answering Mormons’ Questions (Kregel, 2013). We explained how a common passage used to support the view of baptismal regeneration (the necessity to be baptized in order to be saved) is Acts 2:38. It reads, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The disagreement between Christian and LDS theology stems from the use of the word for in this verse. Those who accept baptismal regeneration argue that this means baptism grants remission of sins. However, the Bible emphasizes that it is the blood of Christ that cleanses a person from sin, not the water of baptism. For example, Colossians 1:14 says, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” First John 1:7 adds, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Because the meaning of a word is tied to its context, it can readily be seen how the Greek word translated “for” (eis) in Acts 2:38 cannot mean “in order to obtain” but rather “in view of” or “because of.” The usage indicates “the ground or reason for the action. It answers the question, Why?” (Brooks and Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek, 60). Consider a similar usage found in Matthew 12:41: “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at [eis] the preaching of Jonas [Jonah].” Are we to assume that the people in Nineveh repented in order to obtain the preaching of Jonah? Or was their repentance in view of, or because of, Jonah’s preaching? The latter interpretation makes more sense.
Explaining Acts 2:38, Christian commentator Richard N. Longenecker writes,
“In trying to deal with the various elements in this passage, some interpreters have stressed the command to be baptized so as to link the forgiveness of sins exclusively with baptism. But it runs contrary to all biblical religion to assume that outward rites have any value apart from true repentance and an inward change.” (“Acts” in Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 9:283-84).
Following his sermon in Acts 2, Peter stated in Acts 3:19, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” No mention of baptism is made here. Longenecker noted,
“This shows that for Luke at least, and probably also for Peter, while baptism with water was the expected symbol for conversion, it was not an indispensable criterion for salvation.”(Ibid, 284)
Christian theologian G. R. Beasley-Murray explained, “At the close of his address on the same day, Peter calls for his hearers to repent and be baptized, with a view to receiving forgiveness and the Spirit.”(Baptism in the New Testament, 105) The act of baptism is not something that saves a person but is an action that comes out of belief. Beasley-Murray wrote,
“Baptism is an overt, public act that expresses inward decision and intent; since it is performed in the open, and not in secret, it becomes by its nature a confession of a faith and allegiance embraced.” (Ibid, 101)
You make a covenant, or promise, with God: you promise to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, to follow Him, and to keep His commandments. If you do your part, your Heavenly Father promises to forgive your sins.
In Mormonism, making a covenant with God is equal to a promise of fulfilling every aspect. Failure to do so puts forgiveness on hold. In the manual that Mormons are reading in 2014, it says,
“I wish we could get the members of the Church to understand more clearly the covenants they make when they partake of the sacrament at our sacrament meetings” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 100).
In an article with no byline, the July 2012 Ensign states,
“A covenant is a two-way promise, the conditions of which are set by God. When we enter into a covenant with God, we promise to keep those conditions. He promises us certain blessings in return. When we receive these saving ordinances and keep the associated covenants, the Atonement of Jesus Christ becomes effective in our lives, and we can receive the great blessing God can give us—eternal life (see D&C 14:7). Because keeping our covenants is essential to our happiness now and to eventually receiving eternal life, it is important to understand what we have promised our Heavenly Father” (“Understanding our Covenants with God,” Ensign, July 2012, 22).
Listen to these other statements about what it means to make a covenant:
“When you renew your covenants each week by partaking of the sacrament, you covenant that you will always remember the Savior and keep His commandments” (Elaine S. Dalton, “At All Times, in All Things, and in All Places,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2008, 117).
“Within the gospel, a covenant means a sacred agreement or mutual promise between God and a person or a group of people. In making a covenant, God promises a blessing for obedience to particular commandments. He sets the terms of His covenants, and He reveals these terms to His prophets. If we choose to obey the terms of the covenant, we receive promised blessings. If we choose not to obey, He withholds the blessings, and in some instances a penalty also is given” (Gospel Principles, 2009, 81).
“The fulness of the gospel is called the new and everlasting covenant. It includes the covenants made at baptism, during the sacrament, in the temple, and at any other time. The Lord calls it everlasting because it is ordained by an everlasting God and because the covenant will never be changed” (Gospel Principles, 2009, 85).
“We promise to keep His commandments. We take these obligations upon ourselves when we are baptized (see D&C 20:37; Mosiah 18:6–10). Thus, when we partake of the sacrament, we renew the covenants we made when we were baptized. Jesus gave us the pattern for partaking of the sacrament (see 3 Nephi 18:1–12) and said that when we follow this pattern, repenting of our sins and believing on His name, we will gain a remission of our sins (see Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 26:24). The Lord promises that if we keep our covenants, we will always have His Spirit to be with us” (Gospel Principles, 2009, 136).
“As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you are a child of the covenant (see 3 Nephi 20:25–26). You have received the everlasting gospel and inherited the same promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You have the right to the blessings of the priesthood and to eternal life, according to your faithfulness in receiving the ordinances of salvation and keeping the associated covenants. Nations of the earth will be blessed by your efforts and by the labors of your posterity” (True to the Faith, 5-6).
“Receiving ordinances and keeping covenants are essential to Heavenly Father’s plan. The scriptures often refer to His people as a ‘covenant people.’ The Lord’s blessings exceed our mortal expectations. To live in the presence of our Heavenly Father, we must receive all of the necessary ordinances and keep all of the required covenants” (The Gospel and the Productive Life Student Manual Religion 150, 98).
When Mormons are confronted with the fact that they cannot keep all of the commandments, many find refuge in their ability to repent. Repentance, they say, erases the transgression and makes everything all right. This attitude is certainly frowned upon in church teachings. For instance, a reference manual refers to the necessity to accomplish the “abandonment of sin,” saying that “although confession is an essential element of repentance, it is not enough. The Lord has said, ‘By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them’ (D&C 58:43).” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 134.)
Utilizing this verse, Gospel Principles states, “Our sincere sorrow should lead us to forsake (stop) our sins. If we have stolen something, we will steal no more. If we have lied, we will lie no more. If we have committed adultery, we will stop.” (Gospel Principles, 110. Parenthesis in original.) Kimball said, “The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.” (Kimball, Repentance Brings Forgiveness, an unnumbered tract.) Brian D. Garner of the Church Correlation Department utilized a number of LDS scriptural verses to show how “this principle with a promise” requires both repentance and good works, as he italicized the word “and” in each reference to emphasize how forgiveness does not happen without both parts. (Ensign (December 2013): 43.) Verses he cited are D&C 1:32, 3 Nephi 9:22; 10:6; 21:22, Moses 6:52; D&C 5:21. For example, when speaking about D&C 1:32, he writes, “He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord.” A student manual explains,
D&C 58:42–43. The Lord Promises Complete Forgiveness to Those Who Truly Repent. The Lord forgives those who truly repent of their sins. This blessing comes through the Atonement of Christ, who ‘suffered . . . for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent’ (D&C 19:16). The Lord promises that He will no more remember the sins of those who repent (see Ezekiel 18:21–22). Repentance, however, requires that we forsake and turn completely from our sins and confess them. (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 122. Bold and ellipsis in original.)
Another verse that ought to bring consternation to the sincere Latter-day Saint is D&C 82:7, quoted earlier in this review by Spencer W. Kimball. It says,
“And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.”
A church manual provides guidance for the instructor:
Doctrine and Covenants 82:7. We are commanded to forsake sin. If we sin again after repenting, our former sins return. (5–10 minutes) Bring several rocks to class that are all labeled with the same sin (for example, breaking the Word of Wisdom). Tell students a story about an imaginary person who commits this sin. Invent details to embellish your story. Each time the imaginary person commits the sin, pick up a rock, until you are holding several of them. Set all the rocks you are holding aside and ask: • What might setting the rocks aside represent? (Repentance.) • What happens to our sins when we repent? (The Lord forgives them.) Read Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 and look for what happens when we sin again. Ask: • How many rocks would a person need to pick up if he sins after repenting? (All that you were previously holding plus a new one.) • Why do you think our former sins return? • What does that teach you about the importance of forsaking sin? • How can knowing this doctrine help you avoid sin?” (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, 134. Bold in original.)
There is no doubt that, in Mormonism, keeping commandments after repentance is not just a suggestion but a concrete requirement. Quoting D&C 1:31, a church reference manual states,
The Lord has said that He “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). The result of sin is the withdrawal of the Holy Ghost and, in eternity, being unable to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father, for “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21). (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 163.)
Referring to this same D&C passage, Kimball said,
In his preface to modern revelation, the Lord outlined what is one of the most difficult requirements in true repentance. For some it is the hardest part of repentance, because it puts one on guard for the remainder of his life. . . . 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. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 43. Ellipsis ours.)
Kimball also said 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. (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 170. See also the First Presidency Message in the March 1982 Ensign titled “God Will Forgive.”)
Quoting Alma 11:37 (BOM), a church manual explains that
repentance is much more than just acknowledging wrongdoings. . . The Lord has declared that “no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven” (Alma 11:37). Your sins make you unclean—unworthy to return and dwell in the presence of your Heavenly Father. They also bring anguish to your soul in this life. True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 132. Ellipsis ours.
Former Mormon Mark Champneys has summarized Mormonism’s teaching into two sentences: “In Mormonism, before you can be forgiven of a particular sin by the atonement, you must successfully stop that sin permanently. So, in order to be forgiven of all sin for time and all eternity, you must successfully stop all sin permanently.” (http://home.comcast.net/~champmd/blessing.html. Accessed 13 December 2013.) Champneys has shared this summary with a number of LDS Church employees, who have agreed it is accurate.
Saying that “after doing all they can to repent, some [Mormons] worry whether they have been forgiven,” Brian D. Garner of the Church Correlation Department said it’s possible for Mormons to know that repentance has taken place. How? He says “when we regularly feel the influence of the Holy Ghost lives, we can be assured that the Lord has forgiven us.” (Ensign (December 2013): 43.) Yet another manual quoting President Heber J. Grant says
“many Latter-day Saints” are “building their houses upon the sand. They are failing to carry out the commandments of our Heavenly Father that come to us from time to time through His inspired servants.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 26.)
To show how impossible it is to fully repent, ask yourself, have you struggled with lying or being dishonest? Have you actually told a lie? According to President Harold B. Lee, such a person cannot be considered a “truly converted Latter-day Saint” for he said:
“No truly converted Latter-day Saint can be immoral. No truly converted Latter-day Saint can be dishonest, nor lie, nor steal. That means that one may have a testimony as of today, but when he stoops to do things that contradict the laws of God, it is because he has lost his testimony and he has to fight to regain it again. Testimony isn’t something that you have today and you keep always. Testimony is either going to grow and grow to the brightness of certainty, or it is going to diminish to nothingness, depending upon what we do about it” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 43).
Let’s be honest, nobody has been successful in permanently stopping sin with the exception of Jesus Christ Himself! For any Mormon to think it is possible to consistently obey God’s commandments is to demonstrate the epitome of prideful arrogance. Pride, it should be pointed out, is a sin, showing that an individual has violated celestial law. See Proverbs 16:18; 29:23; Obadiah 1:3; Zephaniah 2:10; Mark 7:22; 1 John 2:16. To such a person comes the condemnation of Alma 5:27-28 in the Book of Mormon:
“Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.” (Other Book of Mormon passages, including 2 Nephi 28:12–15 and Jacob 2:13–22, also warn against the dangers of pride.)
According to the LDS Church, as a person gets older, the desire to sin ought to lessen. One teacher’s manual says,
“Explain that the last step in repentance is striving to keep all the commandments of God (see D&C 1:32). Repentance is a process that we will have to use throughout our lives, but as we become more perfect in keeping the commandments, we will do less for which we need to repent.” (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 65.)
When you are baptized by proper authority, your sins are washed away. Baptism involves a brief immersion in water. This is how Jesus Christ was baptized. Baptism by immersion is a sacred symbol of the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; it represents the end of your old life and the beginning of a new life as a follower of Jesus Christ.
If baptism “washes” sins away, then why is there a need to repent any further? No, in Mormonism baptism is just the start of doing commandments and it will never see an end. Once more, please don’t misunderstand and think that I am suggesting that baptism is not a good work. It is. But as Titus 3:5-7 says,
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Thus, our salvation with God does not depend on the good works we have done but on His mercy!
Why Do I Need to Receive the Holy Ghost?
While baptism washes you of your sins, the Holy Ghost sanctifies, or purifies, you. If you remain faithful to your baptismal covenants, you can have the Holy Ghost with you always. All good people can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, but only those who are baptized and who receive the Holy Ghost have the right to His constant companionship throughout life.
The truth of Mormonism is based on good feelings. However, the Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be cleverly deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”
The Holy Ghost helps you recognize and understand truth. He provides spiritual strength and inspiration. He comforts you in difficult times and guides you in making decisions. You can feel God’s love and influence in your daily life through the Holy Ghost.
There are going to be times when we don’t “feel” God’s love. This is why it is important to “know” that God loves the believers. When we base our relationship with God on feelings, there is potential danger.
Your ability to enjoy this divine gift depends on your obedience to God’s commandments. The Holy Ghost cannot remain with those who do not live according to God’s teachings. They lose the privilege of His guidance and inspiration. Always strive to be worthy of the companionship and direction of the Holy Ghost. You receive the Holy Ghost after baptism. In an ordinance called confirmation, one or more authorized priesthood holders lay their hands on your head. They confirm you a member of the Church and bless you to receive the Holy Ghost. This ordinance normally takes place in a church service soon after baptism. When you are baptized and confirmed, you become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We have already spent some time talking about the importance in Mormonism of the requirement to obey in order to retain the “gift” of the Holy Ghost. Mormonism is based completely on a person’s response. What is a shame when Mormons are told that they will “lose the privilege of His guidance and inspiration.” What a scary thought this should be. After all, receiving the Holy Ghost after baptism will become meaningless unless the person obeys. Is this the gospel of the Bible? Hardly.
“Confirmation” is discussed here as well. While Mormons like to stress how they follow biblical precedent, I wonder where “confirmation” is ever taught in the Bible. Where did a person ever receive the Holy Ghost after this ceremony was performed? While we may see hands being laid on people’s heads on certain occasions, it’s just not there.
Today there are more than 15 million members claimed by the LDS church. What do these people all have in common? All of them were baptized and confirmed. That’s all. This does not mean all of them are active in their church. In fact, only 30 percent of Mormons worldwide (about 4.5 million) regularly attend church meetings, a certain requirement in Mormonism. There are at least seven countries with member activity rates of 15 percent or less (Chile, Portugal, South Korean, Panama, Hong Kong, Croatia, and Palau). Even in the United States, the country of origin and where most Latter-day Saints live, only 40 percent of all people claimed by the church are active. (“Counting Mormons,” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 11, 2014, C2).
If you are reading this and have been baptized and confirmed but no longer believe the LDS Church is true, you ought to consider getting off the church’s rolls. (See here.)
After you are baptized, you can renew your baptismal covenants each week by partaking of the sacrament. During the sacrament service, bread and water are blessed and passed to the congregation as a reminder of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The bread represents His body, and the water represents His blood. As you renew your baptismal covenants, you are promised that you will have the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, with you always.
So every week the Mormons makes specifics promises that they, most likely, will not be able to keep. It’s a vicious circle. In Christianity, the promise of God is most important. God said in Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
ENDURING TO THE END
You become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. After you become a member of the Church, you will continue to grow in understanding. You will continue to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, renew your baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament, and follow the guidance of the Holy Ghost. These first principles and ordinances of the gospel are a pattern to follow throughout life. This lifelong commitment is often called “enduring to the end.”
In Mormonism, a person can never have assurance of eternal life. Such a person must “endure to the end.”
Enduring to the end brings direction, peace, and happiness to life. You will feel the joy of trying to become more like Jesus Christ as you serve and help those around you. You will better understand your relationship with your Father in Heaven and feel His perfect love for you. You will feel hope and a sense of purpose in an often unhappy and troubled world.
According to the pamphlet, there is “peace” and “happiness” in enduring to the end. There is also supposed to be “hope.” If this is so, again, why are so many Mormons depressed? Why do so many worry about death and feeling that maybe they didn’t do everything they needed to do in order to earn salvation?
HOW CAN I KNOW?
The gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored through revelation from God to the Prophet Joseph Smith and to other prophets.
According to LDS leadership, the only true gospel is found in Joseph Smith. Listen to what these manual say about the Great Apostasy and why Christian churches today do not have the proper authority:
“After the Crucifixion of the Savior and the death of His Apostles, people changed some of the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel. Even though many good people believed in Jesus Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, the fullness of truth was no longer available. The result was varying stages of apostasy among the surviving Christians. While they had many truths, none of them had the fullness of Christ’s doctrines, ordinances, or priesthood” (“The Gospel of Jesus Christ was Restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Ensign, December 2012, 8).
“One by one, the Apostles were killed or otherwise taken from the earth. Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were also taken from the earth. The organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy. Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians” (Gospel Principles, 2009, 92).
“After the Savior ascended into heaven, men changed the ordinances and doctrines that He and His Apostles had established. Because of apostasy, there was no direct revelation from God. The true Church was no longer on the earth. Men organized different churches that claimed to be true but taught conflicting doctrines. There was much confusion and contention over religion. The Lord had foreseen these conditions of apostasy, saying there would be ‘a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. … They shall … seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it’ (Amos 8:11–12)” (Gospel Principles, 2009, 95. Ellipsis in original.).
“The Savior told him not to join any church because the true Church was not on the earth. He also said that the creeds of present churches were ‘an abomination in his sight’ (Joseph Smith—History 1:19; see also verses 7–18, 20)” (Gospel Principles, 96).
“Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. The Savior told him not to join any church because the true Church was not on the earth. He also said that the creeds of present churches were ‘an abomination in his sight’ (Joseph Smith—History 1:19; see also verses 7–18, 20). Beginning with this event, there was again direct revelation from the heavens. Christ is the head of His Church today, just as He was in ancient times. The Lord has said that it is ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased’ (D&C 1:30)” (Gospel Principles, 2009, 97).
“After the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles, men corrupted the principles of the gospel and made unauthorized changes in Church organization and priesthood ordinances. Because of this widespread wickedness, the Lord withdrew the authority of the priesthood from the earth. During the Great Apostasy, people were without divine direction from living prophets. Many churches were established, but they did not have priesthood power to lead people to the true knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Parts of the holy scriptures were corrupted or lost, and no one had the authority to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost or perform other priesthood ordinances. This apostasy lasted until Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 and initiated the restoration of the fulness of the gospel (True to the Faith, 13).
“As you help investigators see the pattern of apostasy and restoration, they will be prepared to understand the great need for the latter-day Restoration. They will see the need to accept the restored gospel, receive the ordinances of salvation by the authority of the restored priesthood, and follow the way to eternal life. Help people recognize that the Church is not just another religion, nor is it an American church. Rather, it is a restoration of the ‘fulness of [the] gospel’ (D&C 1:23), the same as was revealed and taught from the beginning” (Preach My Gospel, 7).
“Without revelation or priesthood authority, false doctrines began to be taught and the true Church of Jesus Christ was lost. God allowed truth, as well as His priesthood authority, ordinances, and Church organization to be taken once again from the earth because of the apostasy of His children. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches. False ideas were taught and knowledge of the true character and nature of the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrine of repentance became distorted. Baptism and other ordinances and covenants were changed or forgotten. The gift of the Holy Ghost was no longer available. This period of time when the true Church no longer existed on the earth has come to be known as the Great Apostasy. It lasted until the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Missionary Preparation Student Manual: Religion 130, 66).
“The Lord commanded Joseph Smith not to join any church because all of them were wrong (see Joseph Smith—History 1:18–20; see also 2 Timothy 4:3–4; Mormon 8:28, 32–38)” (The Pearl of Great Price Teacher Manual Religion 327, 56).
Thus, beware: When a Mormon says that anyone else is “Christian,” it probably doesn’t mean Christian in the full sense of the term. What’s interesting is that Mormons often are offended if Christians don’t think they are also Christian, yet it is very clear from the Mormon leadership that Mormonism is the only true Christian religion. All others are considered to be “wrong.”
You can know for yourself that these things are true by asking your Heavenly Father in prayer.
Bill McKeever and I wrote about this topic in chapter 27 of our book Answering Mormons’ Questions. James 1:5 is often cited in support of this idea. It should be noted that Joseph Smith disregarded the immediate context of this verse, which speaks of gaining wisdom, not knowledge. Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. In this verse James tells his Christian audience to ask God for wisdom when they are undergoing trials and temptations, not for testing various truth claims.
First John 4:1 tells believers to “try [test] the spirits.” Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were considered noble because they “searched the scriptures daily” and tested Paul’s words against what God had already revealed. In other words, Christians are to test all truth claims with the Bible, not with subjective experiences, even if that experience involves a supernatural “vision.”
Another verse commonly used is Moroni 10:4. When this verse is brought up in a conversation, you might ask your acquaintance whether his or her feelings have always been accurate. At one time or another, all of us have been fooled by our feelings, no matter how sincere we might have been. For example, Mormons believe that marriage is not only for life but also for eternity. Should it be assumed that the many Mormon couples who are divorced did not pray about their relationships beforehand? Surely knowing information about another person that could have exposed potential behavior problems—such as drug addiction, sex addiction, pornography issues, inward apathy to God, or repressed anger—would have helped with making a more informed decision.
Yet how many Mormons must have “felt” God’s approval in relationships that were tragically doomed from the beginning? The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”
He will answer you through the Holy Ghost, who is also called the Spirit of God. The Holy Ghost witnesses, or testifies, of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost confirms truth through feelings, thoughts, and impressions.
The Holy Ghost also works through the scripture (Bible) that we have been given. “All scripture is inspired by God,” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, and through this it says we can learn how to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Because all of us have been deceived at one time or another by our feelings, it is better to rely upon God’s Word where He will confirm truth through our study. Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While it is true that faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that has already been disproven. If the Bible disproves a spiritual truth claim, it must be rejected.
The feelings that come from the Holy Ghost are powerful, but they are also usually gentle and quiet. As taught in the Bible, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23).
The fruit of the spirit is wonderful, but these truths are not necessarily felt by feelings. After all, there are times when we are in sin when we feel good about it. However, when we compare our lifestyle with the words of the Bible, we receive conviction. Never assume that feeling good is always a good thing. The true “peace that passes all understanding” only comes when we are in a right relationship with God.
These feelings are a confirmation from the Holy Ghost that this message is true. You will then need to choose whether you will live in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through Joseph Smith.
So here we go. We must choose between the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the Bible or the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by Joseph Smith and other LDS leaders. I’ll chose the former any day of the week.
Perhaps you disagree with my assessment. If so, feel free to write out your disagreements and send them to [email protected]. I would be happy to answer and have a conversation on this very important topic.