During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Howard W. Hunter
Our Father in Heaven requires our total commitment, not just a contribution.
As I think of the blessings God has given us and the many beauties of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I am aware that along the way we are asked to make certain contributions in return, contributions of time or of money or of other resources. These are all valued and all necessary, but they do not constitute our full offering to God. Ultimately, what our Father in Heaven will require of us is more than a contribution; it is a total commitment, a complete devotion, all that we are and all that we can be.
In the card game of Poker, this is known as being “all in.” I think the concept desceribed by Hunter is consistent with the teaching of the Bible. The problem in attempting to live a righteous life is that it’s easy to become distracted and go after other things. Conforming to the world and its priorities can easily cause a person to lose direction. As Romans 12:1-2 says,
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
This reminds me of an old joke. The chicken and the pig were talking about making breakfast for their master. “I tell you what,” the chicken said, “let’s each make a contribution and we can feed this wonderfl man and his wife a delicious meal. I’m get the eggs and you bring the ham.” Without hesitating, the pig replied, “For you, this is a contribution. But for me, it’s a complete sacrifice.”
And so it is. Christians are called to be “living sacrifices,” which is certainly an oxymoron. By definition, a sacrifice is killed, so how can it be “living”? What Paul seems to be saying is that sacrificial lives won’t be conformed to the world (“don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold” is how the J.B. Philips version put it) but will rather be transformed by the renewing of their minds. It’s only then when we can know the perfect will of God.
All of that said, I think the Latter-day Saint cannot be fully sold out unless he or she “knows” it’s true. Of course, most Latter-day Saints claim to have a “testimony” telling them that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God, that the Book of Mormon is scripture for today, and the LDS Church is the one way to truth. But has that Mormon looked at the possibility that he or she might be wrong?
Let’s go back to the poker situation. If you had the chance to look at other people’s cards before you went “all in,” wouldn’t you? If you knew what the other players held and you comprehended that your pair of 9s was enough to win the game, it would be a no-brainer to place an all-or-nothing bet. In the same way, many Latter-day Saints go “all in” and yet they have the chance to see the cards of the other players (i.e. religions). Is Mormonism really the best possibility? Or could something else out there beat it hands down?
When I was a junior in high school, a religious leader by the name of Jim Jones ordered his 900+ followers to drink poisoned Kool Aid. They obeyed. At that time I remember asking myself, “What if I belong to a cult and don’t even know it?” This event caused me to read books on the topic of religion. Any time a Mormon or JW came to my door, I talked to them and asked lots of questions. I wanted to know if what I had (Evangelical Christianity) could meet up with the views of these other faiths. The experience caused me to grow closer to my faith and my Savior. Over the years I have studied dozens of other religions and have even taught on this subject to high school and seminary audiences.
Unfortunately, I have met too many Mormons who are unwilling to do the same. But what do they have to lose? If Mormonism is true, a search into other faiths will only prove that the faith is worthy to be held. There is a possibility that the Mormon faith will be shown to be wrong by a LDS seeker, which is a very scary thought. Isn’t it scarier to think that you would go to your grave believing in error when the truth is available, and all you needed to do is look at everyone’s cards?
I usually don’t get off the topic as badly as I have here, but my point is a person cannot be completely devoted or committed without some investigation. It does take work and there are plenty of risks. In the end, though, I think it’s worth the chance. For those Latter-day Saints who are reading this, my congratulations to you. Whether you are reading out of curiosity or you are preparing the lesson for this very chapter and wanted to get an Evangelical Christian’s viewpoint, the fact that you are on a web site such as mrm.org shows you are open-minded, at least some degree. Thank you for taking the time to see what we have to say.
Please understand that I do not speak only of a commitment to the Church and its activities, although that always needs to be strengthened. No, I speak more specifically of a commitment that is shown in our individual behavior, in our personal integrity, in our loyalty to home and family and community, as well as to the Church. …
Typically when a Mormon talks about total commitment, the (LDS) Church organization is the object of that devotion. Based on what I wrote above, I’m not talking about committing myself to moral behavior or integrity or even “loyalty to home and family and community,” as wonderful as all of these things are. No, I am fully committed to serving God—first and foremost. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “ But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” I don’t see Hunter talking about commitment in the same way I understand it.
The ability to stand by one’s principles, to live with integrity and faith according to one’s belief—that is what matters, that is the difference between a contribution and a commitment. That devotion to true principle—in our individual lives, in our homes and families, and in all places that we meet and influence other people—that devotion is what God is ultimately requesting of us. …
A successful life, the good life, the righteous Christian life requires something more than a contribution, though every contribution is valuable. Ultimately it requires commitment—whole-souled, deeply held, eternally cherished commitment to the principles we know to be true in the commandments God has given. …
If we will be true and faithful to our principles, committed to a life of honesty and integrity, then no king or contest or fiery furnace will be able to compromise us. For the success of the kingdom of God on earth, may we stand as witnesses for him “at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death.” (Mosiah 18:9.)
What Hunter seems to be saying is that, first and foremost, a follower of God must be “faithful to . . . principles” and “a life of honesty and integrity.” Again, there is nothing wrong with those things. If it were me, though, I will stress the importance of seeking God first; what follows is what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5. Just seeking after good things misses the heart of the matter! There are many honest, hard-working people who have no clue about the heart of the gospel. I’m afraid there will be many who have the same attitude talked about by Jesus in Matthew 7:22-23:
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Imagine how those doing “good works” are called workers of iniquity–by Jesus, no less! The previous verse to this passage, verse 20, says, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” The fruits are the end result whereby a Christian will be known. It’s not the cause.
Decide now to choose the path of strict obedience.
After having come to an understanding of the law of the gospel
Let me stop in midsentence. “The law of the gospel”? I decided to look this phrase up on Google. All the websites I found on the first page of Google were sponsored by the Mormon Church or Mormons! So then I decided to look this phrase up in the King James Version of the Bible. Nope, the phrase is missing there too. Tthen I shortened the phrase to “law of” to see what types of verses there were. As I expected there were a number of citations in the book of Leviticus. I moved over to the New Testament and most of the time these references are referring to the Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament. (Terms include “Law of Moses,” “Law of the Lord,” Law of the Jews,” and “Law of the Fathers.”) That was easy to predict.
One verse that seems puzzling is Romans 3:27, which says, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” In his shorter commentary on Romans, CEB Cranfield says it’s a “difficult” passage, but “G. Friedrich’s contention that by ‘law of faith’ the Old Testament law is intended’ should probably be accepted; this interpretation seems to fit the context best. We may then understand Paul’s meaning to be that the correct answer to the question ‘By what kind of law (has such glorifying been excluded)?’ is ‘By God’s law (namely, the law of the Old Testament)—that is, by God’s law, not misunderstood as a law which directs me to seek justification as a reward for their works, but properly understood as summoning men to faith’.” (Romans: A Shorter Commentary, p. 79).
and the will of the Lord by reading and studying the scriptures and the words of the prophets, then comes the further understanding of the reason why obedience is often referred to as the first law of heaven and why obedience is necessary to be saved. This brings us to the supreme test. Are we willing to become totally obedient to God’s law? There comes a time in our lives when a definite decision must be made.
The gospel is the fulfillment of the law, but it is inaccurate to say the gospel is under the law. Consider what Paul wrote in Galatians 2:
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
He adds this in Galatians 3:
24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
The King James Version uses the word school master rather than guardian, and I think that connotation is appropriate. The picture I get here is a disciplinarian teacher at the front of the class with a ruler in her hand, saying that those who don’t obey the rules will suffer the punishment. The Christian is no longer under the tutelage of this taskmaster! Rather, righteousness does not come through the law but through the grace of God. Justification comes by faith—the true Gospel—and has nothing to do with the “law.”
Consider more of what Paul wrote in Galatians 5:
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Paul writes this gem in Romans 10:4: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” This is so true and obviously not understood by Hunter.
In effect, Hunter is no different from other LDS leaders, as they command their people to return to their old master, the law, and turn faith into a religion of do’s and don’ts. Instead of saying that we need “to become totally obedient to God’s law,” as Hunter does, the Christian is completely freed to sin because forgiveness that was made available through a relationship with Jesus. Hunter offers a version that is completely contradicted by the gospel teaching as found in the Bible. How many people in Mormonism never find what they’re looking for because they are unable to do everything this religion has to offer? Spencer W. Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness is a tough read for Latter-day Saints because it tells the Latter-day Saint what she’s supposed to do along with the penalty for not doing it all. There is no grace in such a message. To say “law of the gospel” is an oxymoron and certainly confuses the gospel message.
Surely the Lord loves, more than anything else, an unwavering determination to obey his counsel. Surely the experiences of the great prophets of the Old Testament have been recorded to help us understand the importance of choosing the path of strict obedience. How pleased the Lord must have been when Abraham, after receiving direction to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, did as he was instructed, without question and without wavering. The record states that God said unto Abraham:
“Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Gen. 22:2.)
The next verse simply states:
“And Abraham rose up early in the morning … and took … Isaac his son … and went unto the place of which God had told him.” (Gen. 22:3.)
Years later, when Rebekah was asked if she would go with the servant of Abraham to become Isaac’s wife, and no doubt knowing that the servant’s mission had the blessing of the Lord, she simply said, “I will go.” (Gen. 24:58.)
A generation after that, when Jacob was instructed to return to the land of Canaan, which meant leaving all for which he had worked many years, he called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and explained what the Lord had said. The reply of Rachel [and Leah] was simple and straightforward and indicative of [their] commitment: “Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do.” (Gen. 31:16.)
We have, then, examples from the scriptures of how we should consider and evaluate the commandments of the Lord. If we choose to react like Joshua, and Abraham, and Rebekah, and Rachel [and Leah], our response will be, simply, to go and do the thing that the Lord has commanded.
Hunter misses the entire point of the Christian gospel. Yes, these early patriarchs were faithful. But it wasn’t their obedience that gave them the ability to have a relationship with God. Rather, it was their faith. The writer of the book of Hebrews makes this very clear in the early verses of chapter 11:
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.
Notice how they received their commendation not through works but through faith! Speaking specifically of Abraham and Isaac, the chapter continues:
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
Their obedience was a result of their faith. Hunter misses this very important aspect and somehow places obedience as the goal. While obedience is important—as explained by the writer of Hebrews—the focal point of biblical Christianity is faith. As Paul explained in Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” In the Inspired Version, Joseph Smith added the word “alone” after “faith.” Even though that word is not literally found in any ancient biblical Greek manuscript, I have to admit that “alone” is what Paul certainly meant in that passage. Still, I don’t regard Smith as a capable translator of the Bible!
Belief alone is not sufficient; we also need to do Heavenly Father’s will.
This is spot on consistent with other Mormon leaders. For instance, twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball wrote (and cites in a church manual),
One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 206. See also The Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 36).
The problem is that Mormons don’t understand what Christians mean when they talk about sola fides (faith alone). When people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, a miraculous event occurs. They become justified before the living God and are thereby declared guiltless, allowing them to be identified with Christ from the point of conversion to eternity future. It comes not by a person’s own works but by God’s working in that person. Acts 13:39 says, “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” In Philippians 3:9, Paul stated that it was possible to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (ESV). Romans 5:1 adds, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Christian theologian Leon Morris wrote:
Justification then means the according of the status of being in the right. Sin has put us in the wrong with God and justification is the process whereby we are reckoned as right. In one way or another all religions must face the ultimate question: “How can man, who is a sinner, ever be right with a God who is just?” Most religions answer, in some form, “By human effort.” Man committed the sin, so man must do what is required to put things right and undo the effects of his sin. It is the great teaching of the New Testament that we are justified, not by what we do, but by what Christ has done. Paul puts it simply when he says that we are “justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:9). He links our justification directly with the death of Jesus. (The Atonement, p. 196)
Since we are unable to comply with all of God’s standards (Rom. 3:23; Gen. 8:21; Ps 51:5, 58:3; Eccles. 9:3; Jer. 17:9), we deserve death because all good works by themselves are like “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Rom. 6:23; Isa. 64:6). But God Himself has provided the way through faith to allow believers to experience the fellowship of God and become righteous in His sight.
One of the toughest concepts for anyone, especially Mormons, to understand is that it is faith, not works, that 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 was about ready to commit suicide only to be stopped by Paul, who told him not to fear because no one had escaped.
Seeing this to be true, the frightened jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). If Paul had been a good Mormon living in modern times, his response might have been, “Believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God. Join the true church, don’t drink coffee or tea, pay a full tithe, receive the Melchizedek priesthood, be baptized for your dead relatives, perform your endowments, and make sure you are married for time and eternity. Do these, along with following the whole law, and thou shalt be saved.”
Instead, Paul and Silas merely answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (v. 31). It is important to note that Paul made no reference to following any set of rules or rigid standards. Rather, his message was simply, “Believe . . . and thou shalt be saved.” As a result of their saving faith, the new believers were immediately baptized.
The New Testament contains many examples of how belief alone, not one’s works, justifies a person before God. For instance, Jesus said in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life.” He also said in John 6:47, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” 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.”
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. (F.F. Bruce, Paul: An Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 328.)
When speaking to the multitudes, the Master said: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21.)
As I listen to these words, it seems to me that the Lord is saying, “Just because a person may acknowledge my authority or have a belief in my divine nature, or merely express faith in my teachings or the atoning sacrifice I made, does not mean he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven or attain a higher degree of exaltation.” By implication he is saying, “Belief alone is not sufficient.” Then he expressly adds, “… but he that doeth the will of my Father,” that is, he that works and prunes the vineyard that it may bring forth good fruit. …
And what was the will of the Father in heaven? Jesus talks about this in John 6:35-40:
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Quite simply, Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:21 that those who do the will of the Father (i.e. believe) will be saved and enter the Kingdom of heaven. He certainly wasn’t talking about a lifetime of obedience!
All nature, which is God’s domain, seems to portray this same principle. The bee that will not “doeth” will soon be driven from the hive. As I watch the busy ants on the trail and around the ant pile, I am impressed by the fact that they are doers and not just believers. Clucking doesn’t produce any seeds for the hen; she must scratch. A stagnant pool, green with algae and the scum of inactivity, is the breeding place of the diseases of the swamp, but the clear mountain stream dashing over the rocks as it winds its way down the canyon is an invitation to drink.
The words of the Master regarding the house without a foundation say to me that a man cannot have a shallow and reckless notion that he is sufficient to himself and can build his own life on any basis that happens to be easy and agreeable [see Matthew 7:26–27]. As long as the weather is fair, his foolishness may not be evident; but one day there will come the floods, the muddy waters of some sudden passion, the rushing current of unforeseen temptation. If his character has no sure foundation in more than just lip service, his whole moral structure may collapse.
James said, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
In other words, religion is more than a knowledge of God or a confession of faith, and it is more than theology. Religion is the doing of the word of God. It is being our brother’s keeper, among other things. …
We can be religious in worship on the Sabbath day, and we can be religious in our duties on the other six days of the week. … [How] important it must be that all of our thoughts, the words we speak, our acts, conduct, dealings with neighbors, business transactions, and all of our everyday affairs be in harmony with our religious beliefs. In the words of Paul, “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Can we therefore eliminate religion from our weekday affairs and relegate it to the Sabbath day only? Surely not, if we follow Paul’s admonition.
While justification—which took place in an instantaneous moment and is good forevermore—is a past event in the Christian’s life, sanctification has its roots in conversion and will continue to blossom throughout the rest of the believer’s life. Sanctification is synonymous with holiness and means to be set apart for God. First Corinthians 6:11 says, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Hebrews 10:10 says, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Verse 14 adds, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
On profession of faith, believers are immediately qualified to dwell with the Father. This does not say that they will always do what is right. Christians are still human beings fraught with human frailties and defects. However, because God has begun a new work in them, their desires and outlook will be different. Because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life, the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22–23 should become more evident while the “works of the flesh” as described in the previous three verses diminish.
The Christian needs to realize that the sanctification process is what Paul was describing in Philippians 2:12 when he implored the believers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Although Paul declared in Ephesians 2:10 that the believer was created unto good works, he was very clear to also point out in the previous two verses that it is faith and faith alone, not works, that justifies the believer. According to Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Paul says almost the exact same thing in Galatians 2:16 and 21:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. . . . I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
Unfortunately, Mormonism’s leaders have a presupposition that Christians don’t believe grace and works can fit together. Consider how one church manual focusing on the “life and teaching of Jesus & His Apostles” destroys the context of two verses written by the apostle Paul and creates a classical example of the straw man fallacy:
(41–3) Romans 10:9, 10. Can One Achieve Salvation Simply by Confessing with the Mouth? These two verses of scripture have been quoted very often by those who believe that salvation comes by grace alone and is not dependent in any way upon man’s good works. Some groups even go so far as to say that if a man should confess Jesus before he is killed in an accident he will be saved in the kingdom of God, even if he had lived a wicked life prior to that time. Not only does this idea go contrary to the vast weight of Paul’s own teachings (some within the Roman epistle itself—for example, 2:5–13; 6:13, 16; all of chapters 12–14), but it is also a gross misinterpretation of what Paul is really saying. (Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, p. 333)
Many Mormons are quick to point to James 2:14–26 in an attempt to show how faith is not enough to justify the believer. If it’s just faith that’s needed for “salvation,” the argument goes, then it would seem reasonable that Christians could do whatever they wished (i.e., murder, commit adultery, steal) and still call themselves Christians. Referring to how he, as a missionary, had conversations with Bible-believing Christians, E. Richard Packham wrote an article in a church magazine titled “My Maturing Views of Grace” using a somewhat sarcastic tone:
One verse they commonly used was the Apostle Paul’s statement, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). They reasoned with me that grace is a gift of God that freely comes when we accept Christ. For the first time in my life, I realized how easily we can become confused about any doctrine if we focus on a single verse and don’t take into account the whole of gospel teachings. I also formed the opinion that people gravitated to the doctrine of unconditional grace because it was so easy to accept. After all, life can appear a whole lot simpler when all one has to do for salvation is “accept Christ.” (Ensign, August 2005, p. 22)
Never has the Christian church taught that the believer has the license to break God’s commands. Paul instructed in Romans 6:15, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” As far as James 2:14–26 is concerned, it is important to understand the context of this passage. Written by the half-brother of Jesus to explain how good works are important, James never taught that Christians receive salvation through their works. Rather, his point was to show how good works should accompany a valid profession of faith. Like a butterfly that has shed its chrysalis, so, too, do believers begin to be “transformed by the renewing of (their) mind” and display good fruit because of the dramatic life change (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 5:17). Concerning this good fruit, F. F. Bruce wrote, “As an apple-tree does not produce apples by Act of Parliament, but because it is its nature so to do, so the character of Christ cannot be produced in his people by rules and regulations; it must be the fruit of his Spirit within them.” (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 461)
Although it is true that a doctrine can be misapplied, it is a dreadful mistake to suppose that it is false merely because it can be abused. Should good works be minimized merely because groups like the Pharisees took them to a legalistic extreme? Obviously not! Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who felt their good works made them righteous in God’s sight, calling the legalistic Pharisees vipers, whitewashed tombs, and hypocrites (Matt. 23:27, 33). These rebukes, however, were not meant to take away the importance of righteous actions. When we accept the love of God as offered through belief in His Son, our response is to obey our Creator and Sustainer. The more we learn about God’s love for us, the more we want to reciprocate by demonstrating our love for Him through service.
“Living members” strive to have a total commitment.
The Lord revealed in the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants that this is the “only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” Then he added, “with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually” (D&C 1:30). This should raise a question in our minds of eternal significance: We know that this is the true and living church institutionally, but am I a true and living member individually?
… When I ask, “Am I a true and living member?” my question is, am I deeply and fully dedicated to keeping the covenants I have made with the Lord? Am I totally committed to live the gospel and be a doer of the word and not a hearer only? Do I live my religion? Will I remain true? Do I stand firm against Satan’s temptations? …
We have a firm belief in the statement that this is the true and living church of the true and living God. The question we have yet to answer is: Am I dedicated and committed, a true and living member?
May we stand firm and be true and living members of the Church and receive the promised reward to be among those spoken of in the Doctrine and Covenants “who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all” (D&C 76:66).
Mr. Hunter, even though you have long passed on, your questions are nothing less than insulting. For the most part, I believe the majority of Mormons I know are hard-working individuals who are doing the very best they can. Yes, they are trying hard to be “true and living members”! Yes, they are doing their best to keep their covenants! And yes, they have every intention to remain true and stand firm against Satan.
But, Mr. Hunter (and those in the curriculum department who decided to bring these words back from the grave), nobody can do everything your church says must be done. There’s not enough time in the day. You mock the idea of salvation by grace through faith alone, as we have shown is taught in Ephesians 2:8-9. Yet this is the simple gospel message. As John 3:16 puts it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Your church has turned this simple message into a list of rules and regulations. Instead of celebrating the fact that assurance of salvation is possible for the believer (see 1 John 5:13), you have made the gospel into a litany of do’s and don’ts. Shame on you and shame on your church for taking a hard-working people and making them doubt that they are able to do enough to be worthy of God’s love.