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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, Chapter 12: Obedience: Simply Live the Gospel

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016

“The way of the gospel is a simple way. … Humble yourselves and walk in obedience.”

From the Life of Gordon B. Hinckley

When Gordon B. Hinckley was about 14 years old, he had an experience in the Salt Lake Tabernacle that stirred him to make an important resolution. He later recalled:

“I [heard] President Heber J. Grant tell of his experience in reading the Book of Mormon when he was a boy. He spoke of Nephi and of the great influence he had upon his life. And then, with a voice ringing with a conviction that I shall never forget, he quoted those great words of Nephi: ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them’ (1 Ne. 3:7).

“There came into my young heart on that occasion a resolution to try to do what the Lord has commanded.”

President Hinckley’s response to 1 Nephi 3 fascinates me. After all, this verse clearly states that God does not give commandments unless they can be kept by “the children of men.” In other words, the commandments of God are “do-able.” A person who does not keep them with precision had every opportunity to do the right thing but, for whatever the reason, didn’t. Here, Hinckley says that he would “try to do what the Lord has commanded.” I find it interesting that this response as recorded in this church manual uses the word “try”–and it’s not the only time this word is used. According to the title of this chapter, obedience is “simply liv(ing) the Gospel.” Perhaps I’m making too much of Hinckley’s use of this word, but imagine the following fictional conversation:

Bishop: “Are you staying morally pure?”

Person requesting a recommend: “I’m trying, bishop, really I am. But there are so many temptations out there.”

Bishop: “Are you attending church services regularly?”

PRR: “Well, sir, I’m trying, but I make it to at least one or two each month.”

Bishop: “Are you paying an honest tithe?”

PRR: “Bishop, you know I don’t make as much money as you. But I’m proud to say that, last year, I tried to tithe and I gave 1.5% of my total gross income to the church.”

We’ll stop here. How likely is it that this person will be given a temple recommend? Wouldn’t you agree that it is highly unlikely? It is obvious that trying and doing are two different things. One is acceptable and the other rejected in Mormonism. Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball explained in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, “Trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sins. . . . To try is weak. To do the best you can is not strong. You must always do better than you can” (pp. 164,  165).

Kimball cited 1 Nephi 3:7 as a source for his conclusion. It would seem that too many Mormons are using excuses when this scripture is clear about how it is possible to keep the commandments. While some Mormons don’t pretend to be perfect and claim to regularly repent, obeying just some of the commandments is not an option. According to Apostle Russell M. Nelson:

Teach of faith to keep all the commandments of God, knowing that they are given to bless His children and bring them joy. Warn them that they will encounter people who pick which commandments they will keep and ignore others that they choose to break. I call this the cafeteria approach to obedience. This practice of picking and choosing will not work. It will lead to misery. To prepare to meet God, one keeps all of His commandments. It takes faith to obey them, and keeping His commandments will strengthen that faith (Ensign, May 2010, p. 66).

Bemoaning the fact that many Latter-day Saints don’t follow through on the promises they make every week, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “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, p. 100). Apostle Robert D. Hales explained, “Each week as we participate in the ordinance of the sacrament, we renew the promise of the Savior’s birth in our own lives. We take His name upon us, and we renew our covenant of obedience and our promise that we will always remember Him” (Ensign, December 2013, p. 19).

There’s plenty more. In a talk titled “Obedience to Law is Liberty” at the April 2013 general conference, Apostle L. Tom Perry stated, “We must not pick and choose which commandments we think are important to keep but acknowledge all of God’s commandments” (Ensign, May 2013, p. 19). Apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated in that same general conference, “From modern revelation, unique to the restored gospel, we know that the commandment to seek perfection is part of God the Father’s plan for the salvation of His children” (Ibid., p. 98). Seventy Bruce C. Hafen taught, “If we must give all that we have, then our giving only almost everything is not enough. If we almost keep the commandments, we almost receive the blessings” (Ensign, May 2004, p. 98).

Certainly official church manuals align with this attitude:

  • “Latter-day Saints are Abraham’s seed of the latter days. Their exaltation or eternal life depends on their obedience to the covenants they have made and kept with God” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis-2 Samuel, p. 62).
  • “The Atonement of Jesus Christ assures each of us that we will be resurrected and live forever. But if we are to live forever with our families in Heavenly Father’s presence, we must do all that the Savior commands us to do. This includes being baptized and confirmed and receiving the ordinances of the temple” (Gospel Principles, p. 233).
  • “Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into your life, including increased strength to overcome your weaknesses. This obedience includes actions you might not initially consider part of repentance, such as attending meetings, paying tithing, giving service, and forgiving others. The Lord promised, ‘He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven’ (D&C 1:32)” (True to the Faith, p. 135).
  • “The Lord keeps His promises: ‘I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise’ (D&C 82:10). We must do our part to qualify for the blessings (see D&C 130:20–22). We should also remember that God determines the then part according to His wisdom and not according to our expectations” (Building an Eternal Marriage Teacher Manual: Religion 235, p. v).
  • “Have class members find and read Moroni 10:32. [It reads: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in no wise deny the power of God.”] According to this verse, what must we do to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him?’ (‘Deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness, and love God with all [our] might, mind and strength.’) Explain that ‘deny yourselves of all ungodliness’ means ‘give up your sins.’ We must strive to give up our sins and demonstrate that we love God with all our might, mind, and strength. If we do this throughout our lives, then Jesus Christ, through his Atonement, will help us become perfect” (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, p. 123).
  • “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, p. 98).

According to Mormonism, each person is responsible to keep the commandments in order to receive “the Lord’s blessings.”

In his first general conference as President of the Church, President Hinckley issued a call for all to try harder to live the gospel:

“Now, my brethren and sisters, the time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a season to be strong. It is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, the breadth, and the importance of our mission. It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences that might follow. It is a time to be found keeping the commandments. It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to become more Christlike.”

Here’s the kicker. It is impossible to “keep the commandments” the way they were intended. Many Mormons like to cite Matthew 7:1, which says to “be perfect.” Mormons are told to keep the commandments (as Hinckley admonished here). So you ask, “How many?” The response? “All of them.” Then the question, “How often?” The answer, “All the time.” Watch the blank stare when the final question is, “So how are you doing at that?

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

We are a covenant people, and great are the obligations that go with that covenant.

We are a covenant people, and that is a very serious matter. When this work was restored and the Lord set forth the purposes for that restoration, He said that one reason for the restoration was that His everlasting covenant might be reestablished. That covenant … was made between Abraham and Jehovah when the mighty Jehovah made a great and solemn promise to Abraham. He said that his seed should become as the sand upon the seashore, that all nations would be blessed through him. He made this covenant with him, that He would be their God and they would be His people. … There was established then a relationship that was of eternal consequence in the eternal lives of all who would enter into it. Marvelous are its implications: if we will act as the children of God should act, He will be our God to bless us, to love us, to direct us, to help us.

There are implications in making covenants with God. In a straightforward address given in the Ensign magazine titled “Understanding our Covenants with God,” readers were told:

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 (Ensign, July 2012, p. 22).

Each week at sacrament meetings all over the world Mormons make promises to keep their covenants. Each week Mormons repent because they didn’t keep the covenants they made. As this Ensign article states, “keeping our covenants is essential to our happiness now and to eventually receiving eternal life, (so) it is important to understand what we have promised our Heavenly Father.”

Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith exclaimed,

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, 2013, p. 100).

Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson said that keeping covenants was the only way possible to “merit” mercy. He explained,

We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 442).

This is not just a teaching from decades ago. Rather, it is a current teaching. A 2004 church manual states:

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, 2004, p. 98)

 Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency, taught at an April 2014 general conference session:

The greatest of all the blessings of God, eternal life, will come to us only as we make covenants offered in the true Church of Jesus Christ by His authorized servants. Because of the Fall, we all need the cleansing effects of baptism and the laying on of hands to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. These ordinances must be performed by those who possess the proper priesthood authority. Then, with the help of the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost, we can keep all the covenants we make with God, especially those offered in His temples. Only in that way, and with that help, can anyone claim his or her rightful inheritance as a child of God in a family forever. To some listening to me, that may seem a nearly hopeless dream (Henry B. Eyring, “A Priceless Heritage of Hope,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2014, p. 24).

How many Mormons realize that every time they make covenants, they are making promises that are 100% sure to be broken? It is a vicious circle with no hope of ever completing the mission.

Now, in this dispensation, that everlasting covenant has been reaffirmed. We, in effect, made that covenant when we were baptized. We became a part of His divine family, as it were. All of God’s children are of His family, but in a particular and wonderful way there is a special relationship between God and the children of His covenant. And when we came into the Church, … we became a part of a covenant people; and each time we partake of the sacrament, not only do we do it in remembrance of the sacrifice of the Son of God, who gave His life for each of us, but there is the added element that we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and pledge ourselves to keep His commandments and He pledges with us that He will bless us with His Holy Spirit.

Hinckley explains that a covenant is a “pledge” to “keep (God’s) commandments.” Only when this is done will He follow through with the “pledge” to “bless us with His Holy Spirit.”

We are a covenant people, and great are the obligations which go with that covenant. We cannot be ordinary people. We must rise above the crowd. We must stand a little taller. We must be a little better, a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more courteous, a little more thoughtful, a little more outreaching to others.

I’m not sure what it means when Hinckley uses “a little more” in front of adjectives that people must become. According to the title of this chapter, the gospel is “simple.” “Just do it” is not just a slogan for a shoe company. It is the way to attain the celestial kingdom. And as he pointed out, 1 Nephi 3:7 says it’s possible. So, as the slogan goes, just do it. Don’t be satisfied in being a “little more” [blank]. Rather, only be satisfied in keeping the commandments.

We are a people who have taken upon us a solemn covenant and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us strive a little harder to keep the commandments, to live as the Lord has asked us to live.

Is it possible to touch the moon? Will “striv(ing) a little harder” to reach it help? Of course not. Or, let’s be more realistic. Is it possible to run a 2-minute mile? You can train all you want, but that mark is impossible to reach. Now,  is it possible to “keep all the commandments”? No matter how hard a person “tries,” it’s just not going to happen. God expects perfection and falling just an inch short means you failed. It doesn’t matter that a person keeps “most” of the commandments or tries his hardest. Striving harder is not the answer.

“Each time we partake of the sacrament, … we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and pledge ourselves to keep His commandments.

The Lord expects us to live the gospel in every aspect.

We live in an age of compromise and acquiescence. In situations with which we are daily confronted, we know what is right, but under pressure from our peers and the beguiling voices of those who would persuade us, we capitulate. We compromise. We acquiesce. We give in, and we are ashamed of ourselves. … We must cultivate the strength to follow our convictions.

The way of the gospel is a simple way. Some of the requirements may appear to you as elementary and unnecessary. Do not spurn them. Humble yourselves and walk in obedience. I promise that the results that follow will be marvelous to behold and satisfying to experience.

The title comes from this: “The way of the gospel is a simple way.” Hinckley says, “Humble yourselves and walk in obedience.” If this is so “simple,” then why is it that I don’t meet any Mormons who can tell me that they are keeping all the commandments like they promised they would do at baptism, sacrament, and temple.

My great plea is that we all try a little harder to live up to the stature of divinity that is within us. We can do better than we are doing. We can be better than we are. If we would hold before us that image constantly of divine inheritance, of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man as realities, we would be a little more tolerant, a little more kindly, a little more outreaching to lift and help and sustain those among us. We would be less prone to stoop to those things which clearly are unbecoming [of] us.

Hinckley teaches that if “we all try a little harder…” that “we can do better than we are doing” and “we can be better than we are.” As I have pointed out, “trying harder” is not the ticket to keeping all the commandments. I have met too many sincere Mormons who have tried as hard as they could, yet they are failing at doing what they believe God requires. Again, I don’t want to take away from the effort these folks are making to do what their church says must be done. Unfortunately, they have placed their people in a hamster wheel that goes nowhere but provides lots of guilt and frustration. I don’t believe this what Jesus intended based on his words from John 10:10.

The religion of which you are a part is seven days a week, it isn’t just Sunday. … It’s all the time—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

A good reminder. If you are going to make commandment- and covenant-keeping the goal, then this is not a “some” or “most” proposal. It’s “all” the commandments and “all” of the time.

The Lord expects that we will keep our lives in order, that we will live the gospel in every aspect.

In Mormonism, God expects the people to “keep (their) lives in order” and “live the gospel in every aspect.” But nobody is able to do it!

God will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments.

The Lord told Elijah to go and hide himself by the brook Cherith, that there he should drink of the brook, and that he would be fed by the ravens. The scripture records a simple and wonderful statement about Elijah: “So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord” (1 Kgs. 17:5).

There was no arguing. There was no excusing. There was no equivocating. Elijah simply “went and did according unto the word of the Lord.” And he was saved from the terrible calamities that befell those who scoffed and argued and questioned.

Imagine if Elijah merely tried and failed to obey the commandments. I guess this means that if Elijah can do it…so can you!

The whole story of the Book of Mormon is a story that speaks of the people who, when they were righteous, when they worshipped Jesus Christ, prospered in the land and were richly and abundantly blessed of the Lord; and when they sinned and went astray and forgot their God, they fell into misery and war and trouble. Your safety, your peace, your prosperity lie in obedience to the commandments of the Almighty.

Eleventh President Harold B. Lee explained another way to have safety:

You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with your social life.…Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow.…Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church (CR, October 1970, pp. 152-153.)” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 139. Ellipses in original).

A little later, Hinckley is quoted in the article saying Lee is correct.

“Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive.” [D&C 25:15.] That was the promise of the Lord to Emma Hale Smith. It is the promise of the Lord to each of you. Happiness lies in keeping the commandments. For a Latter-day Saint … there can be only misery in the violation of those commandments. And for each who observes them, there is the promise of a crown … of righteousness and eternal truth.

Hinckley rightly points out that this is not only a word given to Emma Smith but to everyone. Notice the last part of verse 15: “And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.” If you are not obedient in Mormonism, it is impossible to go where God is.

True freedom lies in obedience to the counsels of God. It was said of old that “the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light.” (Prov. 6:23.)

The gospel is not a philosophy of repression, as so many regard it. It is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior. Its fruits are sweet and its rewards are liberal. …

Hinckley says that his gospel is “not a philosophy of repression.” So many Mormons, however, realize that they are not doing what they are supposed to do and become depressed.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Gal. 5:1.)

I find it fascinating that Hinckley cites from Galatians 5. It is Mormonism, however, that attempts to tangle the LDS people “again with the yoke of bondage.” The whole book of Galatians could be cited here, but for now, let me just bring in the following verses in the ESV:

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Mormonism dictates how there are many, many rules to keep. When I hear the word “circumcision,” I immediately think of “baptism” and “confirmation,” which are required in Mormonism for someone who hopes to reach the heights of the celestial kingdom. And then there is so much more. A church manual states it clearly:

When you were baptized, you entered into a covenant with God. You promised to take upon yourself the name of Jesus Christ, keep His commandments, and serve Him to the end (see Mosiah 18:8– 10; D&C 20:37). You renew this covenant each time you partake of the sacrament (see D&C 20:77, 79) (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 23).

Kimball explained:

Baptism into Christ’s true church by proper authority opens the doors for exaltation in the eternal kingdoms of glory, exaltation to be earned by repentance, by living righteously, keeping the commandments of the Lord, and service to one’s fellowmen (“The Stone Cut without Hands,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1976, p. 7).

What are the commands? Kimball states these on page 25 of his book The Miracle of Forgiveness:

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 (NOTICE THIS ONE!), 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 ever sex perversion, every hidden and secret sin and all unholy and impure practices.

Then he adds these interesting words:

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 for forbidden in scripture.

This means he didn’t even list every possible rule and command. (Don’t you wonder what he could have left out!?) Yet I have trouble keeping every item that he lists. Latter-day Saint, are you doing everything that Kimball said you’re supposed to do? The law is a terrible taskmaster. It demands everything and never gives in to anything. The rules are clear: keep all of God’s commandments. And if you are not doing this–even though it is  do-able, as 1 Nephi 3:7 states–then who is to blame?

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor. 3:17.)

Based on Kimball’s list given above, is there any liberty here? Is the Spirit of the Lord really with the leadership of the Mormon Church?

Our safety lies in repentance. Our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God. … Let us stand firm against evil, both at home and abroad. Let us live worthy of the blessings of heaven, reforming our lives where necessary and looking to Him, the Father of us all.

We have nothing to fear. God is at the helm. He will overrule for the good of this work. He will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments. Such has been His promise. Of His ability to keep that promise none of us can doubt.

God’s ability will not be doubted. But what will be doubted is our “ability to keep (our) promise(s).” We are sinful and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). What a predicament we are in!

Church leaders point out the way and invite members to live the gospel.

There are those who say, “The Church won’t dictate to me how to think about this, that, or the other, or how to live my life.”

No, I reply, the Church will not dictate to any man how he should think or what he should do. The Church will point out the way and invite every member to live the gospel and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. The Church will not dictate to any man, but it will counsel, it will persuade, it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein.

Is this a game of semantics? Hinckley says that “the Church will not dictate” what a person should do. But then he says it will “persuade,” “urge,” and “expect loyalty” from the followers. I’m not sure how this is not the same as “dictate.”

When I was a university student, I said to my father on one occasion that I felt the General Authorities had overstepped their prerogatives when they advocated a certain thing. He was a very wise and good man. He said, “The President of the Church has instructed us, and I sustain him as prophet, seer, and revelator and intend to follow his counsel.”

I have … served in the general councils of this Church for [many] years. … I want to give you my testimony that although I have sat in literally thousands of meetings where Church policies and programs have been discussed, I have never been in one where the guidance of the Lord was not sought nor where there was any desire on the part of anyone present to advocate or do anything which would be injurious or coercive to anyone.

I say for each and all that we [who sit in the general councils of the Church] have no personal agenda. We have only the Lord’s agenda. There are those who criticize when we issue a statement of counsel or warning. Please know that our pleadings are not motivated by any selfish desire. Please know that our warnings are not without substance and reason. Please know that the decisions to speak out on various matters are not reached without deliberation, discussion, and prayer. Please know that our only ambition is to help each of you with your problems, your struggles, your families, your lives. … There is no desire to teach anything other than what the Lord would have taught. …

Ours is the responsibility outlined by Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.” (Ezek. 3:17.)

We have no selfish desire in any of this, other than the wish that our brethren and sisters will be happy, that peace and love will be found in their homes, that they will be blessed by the power of the Almighty in their various undertakings in righteousness.

 Apostle L. Tom Perry taught,

God’s eternal blessings are contingent upon our obedience and adherence to the word of the Lord that is revealed to us through His holy prophets” (“We believe all that God has revealed,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2003, p. 88).

In Mormonism, what the leaders say and the way they interpret their scripture is the “golden ticket.” But, what if they are wrong?

God is constantly making known, in his way, his will concerning his people. I give you my witness that the leaders of this church will never ask us to do anything that we cannot perform with the help of the Lord. We may feel inadequate. That which we are asked to do may not be to our liking or fit in with our ideas. But if we will try with faith and prayer and resolution, we can accomplish it.

There’s that pesky word “try” again. And when Hinckley says that the leaders of the Mormon Church “will never ask us to do anything that we cannot perform with the help of the Lord,” I ask, “Mr. Hinckley, did you keep the commandments of God? Mr. Thomas S. Monson, are you keeping the commandments of God? General authorities, are you doing better than the membership you address twice a year from the general conference pulpit?” These leaders so often speak a big game and make an appearance that they are doing everything they say needs to be done. But are they really?

I give you my testimony that the happiness of the Latter-day Saints, the peace of the Latter-day Saints, the progress of the Latter-day Saints, the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, and the eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of the priesthood of God.

And there you go. Notice, “eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of the priesthood of God.” In other words, listen to the leaders. President Benson taught,

The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time. Sometimes there are those who feel their earthly knowledge on a certain subject is superior to the heavenly knowledge which God gives to His prophet on the same subject. They feel the prophet must have the same earthly credentials or training which they have had before they will accept anything the prophet has to say that might contradict their earthly schooling. How much earthly schooling did Joseph Smith have? Yet he gave revelations on all kinds of subjects. We haven’t yet had a prophet who earned a doctorate in any subject, but as someone said, ‘A prophet may not have his Ph.D. but he certainly has his LDS.’ We encourage earthly knowledge in many areas, but remember, if there is ever a conflict between earthly knowledge and the words of the prophet, you stand with the prophet, and you will be blessed and time will vindicate you. (‘Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,’ in 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: BYU Press, 1981], p. 27.)” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 137).

There are some LDS lay apologists who disagree with Benson that the prophet has the ability to to speak authoritatively on issues he is not trained. For more on this, see a review on Michael Ash’s book Shaken Faith Syndrome.

And once more, I ask the question, what if these men are wrong?

By living the gospel, we strengthen the Church and help God’s work grow across the earth.

You can make [the Church] stronger by the manner in which you live. Let the gospel be your sword and your shield. …

… How magnificent will be the future as the Almighty rolls on His glorious work, touching for good all who will accept and live His gospel.

I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. If we will cling to our values, if we will build on our inheritance, if we will walk in obedience before the Lord, if we will simply live the gospel, we will be blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way. We will be looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness.

Let every man and woman and child resolve to make the work of the Lord better and stronger and greater than it has ever been before. It is the quality of our lives that makes the difference. It is our resolution to live the gospel of Jesus Christ that makes the difference. This is an individual matter. If we all pray, the Church is so much the stronger. And so it is with every principle of the gospel. Let us be part of this great forward-moving cause that is growing across the entire earth. We cannot stand still; we have to move forward. It is imperative that we do so. The personal conviction that dwells in each of our hearts is the real strength of the Church. Without it, we have very little of anything; with it, we have everything.

I invite every one of you, wherever you may be as members of this church, to stand on your feet and with a song in your heart move forward, living the gospel, loving the Lord, and building the kingdom. Together we shall stay the course and keep the faith, the Almighty being our strength.

I’ve spent a lot of time in this review speaking about my disagreement with Hinckley and other LDS leaders regarding their view of obedience and salvation. Let me discuss how a person can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that one’s sins are forgiven.

The first thing that must be understood is that the Bible teaches how Jesus paid for all sin to those who believe. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And Romans 5:18 adds, “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.”

One of the toughest concepts for 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. As stated earlier in this chapter, the word salvation has two different meanings according to LDS theology. “Salvation by grace,” known as unconditional or general salvation, is a free gift provided by Christ to everyone on this earth. This salvation allows each person the ability to be resurrected. On the other hand, conditional or individual salvation (exaltation) is the right to go to the highest level within the celestial kingdom.

So to which salvation was Paul referring when he spoke to the Philippian jailer? He certainly could not have been speaking of general salvation (“Believe and thou wilt be resurrected”), since everyone receives this regardless of belief. On the other hand, Paul could not have been referring to individual exaltation (“Believe and thou wilt be exalted”), since perpetual good works and strict adherence to celestial law are the only ways to achieve this, according to Mormonism. 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.” Paul clearly communicated this truth in Ephesians 2:8–9 when he said faith, not works, justifies a person before God. He also declared in Titus 3:5–6 that Christians are saved, “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (ESV).

Christian theologian F. F. Bruce expounded on the idea that faith, not one’s personal works, brings redemption:

If there is to be any salvation for either Jews or Gentiles, then, it must be based not on ethical achievement but on the grace of God. What Jews and Gentiles need alike, in fact, is to have their records blotted out by an act of divine amnesty and to have the assurance of acceptance by God for no merit of their own but by his spontaneous mercy. For this need God has made provision in Christ. Thanks to his redemptive work, men may find themselves “in the clear” before God. . . . The benefits of the atonement thus procured may be appropriated by faith—and only by faith (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 328).

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