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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, Chapter 13: Baptism

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 171–80

During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

“Baptism is literally … a transplanting, or resurrection from one life to another—the life of sin to the life of spiritual life.”

From the Life of Joseph Fielding Smith

In the April 1951 general conference, President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke about his experience 67 years earlier when he was baptized at the age of 8. On the day of his baptism, he said, he felt that he “stood pure, clean, before the Lord.” But he learned that he would have to put forth effort throughout his life to keep himself in that condition. He recalled: “I had a sister who was very kind, as all my sisters were, who impressed upon my mind the need of keeping myself unspotted from the world. Her teachings to me the day I was baptized have stayed with me all the days of my life.”

According to Mormonism, “baptism is essential for salvation” as it is considered “the gateway through which we enter the path to the celestial kingdom.” (Gospel Principles, 116.) While baptism is a very powerful symbol, it does not literally wash a person clean from sin. This is a work. It is only the blood of Jesus Christ and the faith a person has in the atoning work of the Savior that makes a person clean and cannot be earned or even maintained by “putting forth effort” throughout a person’s life.

True to his sister’s teachings, President Smith encouraged members of the Church to keep their baptismal covenant—to stay “within [the] spiritual life” they received when they were baptized. He declared:

“There is no more important counsel that can be given to any member of the Church than to keep the commandments after baptism. The Lord offers us salvation on condition of repentance and faithfulness to his laws.”

Those who are baptized make promises—also known as covenants—with God. As the February 2013 Ensign magazine explained,

Baptism also includes a sacred covenant, a promise, between Heavenly Father and the individual who is baptized. We covenant to keep His commandments, serve Him and His children, and take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ. (Ensign (February 2013): 14. Also see the July 2012 Ensign, 23.)

According to page 23 of True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, a person must “serve Him to the end.” What exactly does that mean? We’ll talk more about this later.

Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith

Baptism by immersion is in the similitude of birth, death, and resurrection.

Baptism, the third principle and first ordinance of the Gospel, is essential to salvation and exaltation in the kingdom of God. Baptism is, first, the means by which the repentant individual obtains remission of sins. Second, it is the gateway into the kingdom of God. The Lord, talking with Nicodemus, tells us so in John 3:1–11. …

The passage (the editors cut it off with the ellipsis) says in verses 5–6:

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

We must ask what being “born of water” would have meant to Nicodemus. He certainly didn’t understand Jesus to be referring to water baptism because Nicodemus appears confused as he tried to understand what Jesus meant. In his commentary on John, Leon Morris writes:

Nicodemus could not possibly have perceived an allusion to an as yet non-existent sacrament. It is difficult to think that Jesus would have spoken in such a way that His meaning could not possibly be grasped. His purpose was not to mystify but to enlighten. In any case the whole thrust of the passage is to put the emphasis on the activity of the Spirit, not on any rite of the church. (Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995): 215–16).

… Baptism is by immersion in water. … Baptism cannot be by any other means than immersion of the entire body in water, for the following reasons:

(1) It is in the similitude of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of all others who received the resurrection.

(2) Baptism is also a birth and in the similitude of the birth of a child into this world.

(3) Baptism is literally, as well as a figure of the resurrection, a transplanting, or resurrection from one life to another—the life of sin to the life of spiritual life.

I like the symbolism of the baptismal candidate going into the water to represent the new birth. Where I disagree is the claim that this ordinance is somehow necessary for a person to obtain eternal life.

Coming to the third reason: Baptism is literally, as well as a figure of the resurrection, a transplanting, or resurrection from one life to another—the life of sin to the life of spiritual life. …

… All men and women … need repentance. … They are in spiritual death. How are they going to get back? By being buried in the water. They are dead, and are buried in the water and come forth in the resurrection of the spirit back into spiritual life. That is what baptism is.

Little children who have not reached the years of accountability do not need baptism because they are redeemed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I know that little children who have not reached years of accountability, and hence are not guilty of sin, are … redeemed through the blood of Christ, and it is solemn mockery to contend that they need baptism, denying the justice and mercy of God [see Moroni 8:20–23].

In the 29th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says this (verses 46–47):

“But, behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten;

“Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.”

Now that sounds good. “Little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world.” What does He mean by that? It means that before the foundation of this earth was laid, this plan of redemption, the plan of salvation which we are supposed to follow in this mortal life, was all prepared, and God, knowing the end from the beginning, made provisions for the redemption of little children through the atonement of Jesus Christ. …

… When you look into the face of a little babe and he looks up and smiles at you, can you believe that that little child is tainted with any kind of sin that will deprive it of the presence of God should it die? …

… “And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability, are saved in the Celestial Kingdom of heaven.” [D&C 137:10.] That is what the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith in a revelation or a vision that he had in the Kirtland Temple. Does not that sound good? Is it not just? Is it not right? … [A baby] is not responsible for original sin, it is not responsible for any sin, and the mercy of God claims it and it is redeemed.

But how is it with you and me? Here we are, capable of understanding, and the Lord says: “Whoso having knowledge, have I not commanded to repent?” [D&C 29:49.] We are commanded to repent, we are commanded to be baptized, we are commanded to have our sins washed away in the waters of baptism, because we are capable of understanding and we have all sinned. But I have not been baptized and you have not been baptized for anything that Adam did. I have been baptized that I might be cleansed from that which I have done myself, and so with you, and that I might come into the kingdom of God.

The Lord has placed—and that in His own judgment—the age of accountability at eight years. After we get to be eight years of age we are supposed to have understanding sufficient that we should be baptized. The Lord takes care of those who are under that age.

According to Mormonism, baptism is not performed until 8 years of age. Anyone who dies before 8 gets a free pass to the celetsial kingdom. Yet not a single Bible verse is cited. Why not? Because the Bible gives no mention of any such stipulation declaring anyone under eight to be sinless. (I have known many children under eight who certainly understood the difference between right and wrong–if we’re talking about babies, that’s one thing, but kids as old as eight?) Christians differ on the topic and so a lot is left open to speculation. But to make such a concrete doctrine out of this is bilbically problematic.

Indeed, the Bible is clear that “all have sinned” and thus come short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). What should we think when a baby dies unexpectedly? For me, this is one of those issues that I have decided to let God be God! But I don’t believe Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God and thus I reject any “revelation” he supposedly received on this topic.

Every person baptized into the Church has made a covenant with the Lord.

Each person, as he enters the waters of baptism, takes upon himself a covenant.

“And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.” (D&C 20:37.)

“Every person baptized into this Church has made a covenant with the Lord to keep His commandments.”

I am going to read from the 59th section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

“Wherefore I give unto them [meaning the members of the Church] a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve Him.

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.

“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” [D&C 59:5–7.]

Every person baptized into this Church has made a covenant with the Lord to keep His commandments, and in this commandment, reiterated in the dispensation in which we live, we are told that we are to serve the Lord with all the heart and all the mind, and with all the strength that we have, and that too in the name of Jesus Christ. Everything that we do should be done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Let’s talk about this covenant (promise), which is made at baptism (once) and then continues every week in the local sacrament service. When Mormons are confronted with the fact that they cannot keep all of the commandments, many find refuge in their ability to repent. Earlier in the article the word “repentance” was mentioned; this supposedly erases the transgression and makes everything all right. This attitude has been 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.)

Note that last line very carefuly: “Repentance, however, requires that we forsake and turn completely from our sins and confess them.” While Seventy Claudio D. Zivic told an April 2014 general conference audience that “there is a need of constant repentance,” (Ensign (May 2014): 40), such a philosophy seems self-defeating because a person who has to constantly repent must not be doing what should be possible. After all, the Mormon prophet Nephi supposedly said in 1 Nephi 3:7 how he knew “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.” (Ensign (May 2014): 40.)

Another verse that ought to bring consternation to the sincere Latter-day Saint is D&C 82:7, which 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.)

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 handbook 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 mine.)

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. (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 reference 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 mine.)

Repentance is the mere recognition that you failed to do what was commanded. It won’t be the last admission of failure either. If a Mormon is depending on this for his salvation, this becomes a major problem.

In the waters of baptism we covenanted that we would keep these commandments; that we would serve the Lord; that we would keep this first and greatest of all the commandments, and love the Lord our God; that we would keep the next great commandment, we would love our neighbor as ourselves; and with all the might that we have, with all the strength, with all our hearts we would prove to Him that we would “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God;” [D&C 84:44] that we would be obedient and humble, diligent in His service, willing to obey, to hearken to the counsels of those who preside over us and do all things with an eye single to the glory of God.

We should not forget these things, for this commandment is binding upon us as members of the Church.

So, Latter-day Saints, how are you doing at this?

Let’s be quite frank. Nobody can fully keep the commandments because we are sinful human beings. Forgiveness is always an arm’s length away because we fall short on a regular basis in following God’s intended best for us. Unlike resurrection from the dead, exaltation requires a concerted effort on the part of the individual to live according to all of the commandments. In the end, the Mormon will not be able to resort to excuses for justification. In a 2012 general conference talk titled “What Shall a Man Give in Exchange for His Soul?” Seventy Robert C. Gay gave answered his title this way:

This is the exchange the Savior is asking of us: we are to give up all our sins, big or small, for the Father’s reward of eternal life. We are to forget self-justifying stories, excuses, rationalizations, defense mechanisms, procrastinations, appearances, personal pride, judgmental thoughts, and doing things our way. We are to separate ourselves from all worldliness and take upon us the image of God in our countenances. (Ensign (November 2012): 35.)

Mormons can never have the assurance that all their sins are forgiven, as President Spencer W. Kimball stated,

It is true that many Latter-day Saints, having been baptized and confirmed members of the Church, and some even having received their endowments and having been married and sealed in the holy temple, have felt that they were thus guaranteed the blessings of exaltation and eternal life. But this is not so. There are two basic requirements every soul must fulfill or he cannot attain to the great blessings offered. He must receive the ordinances and he must be faithful, overcoming his weaknesses. Hence, not all who claim to be Latter-day Saints will be exalted. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball. Italics in original.

As Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency, put it,

“To receive the gift of living with Him forever in families in the celestial kingdom, we must be able to live the laws of that kingdom (see D&C 88:22). He has given us commandments in this life to help us develop that capacity.” (Ensign (June 2011): 4.)

Over and over again, Mormon Church leaders have stated that, by itself, God’s grace—though vital for the “atonement—cannot fully “save” people from their sins. An unattributed article in the Ensign magazine stated,

“What do Latter-day Saints believe about grace? We believe that God’s grace is what ultimately saves us; yet it does not save us without our doing all that we can to live God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ’s teachings. We do not believe salvation comes by simply confessing belief in Christ as our Savior. Faith, works, ordinances, and grace are all necessary.” (Ensign (March 2013): 21.)

To make our point, consider these quotes from the church presidents themselves about the importance of obedience required to attain celestial glory:

•       Wilford Woodruff: “If a man does right, is valiant in the testimony of Jesus Christ, obeys the gospel, and keeps his covenants, when he passes to the other side of the veil he has an entrance into the presence of God and the Lamb; having kept celestial law he enters into celestial glory, he is preserved by that law, and he participates in that glory through the endless ages of eternity. It pays any man under heaven to obey and be faithful to the law of God the few days he spends in the flesh.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 212.

•       Joseph F. Smith: “Every blessing, privilege, glory, or exaltation is obtained only through obedience to the law upon which the same is promised. If we will abide the law, we shall receive the reward; but we can receive it on no other ground.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 153.

•       Heber J. Grant: “If you want to know how to be saved, I can tell you; it is by keeping the commandments of God. No power on earth, no power beneath the earth, will ever prevent you or me or any Latter-day Saint from being saved, except ourselves. We are the architects of our own lives, not only of the lives here, but the lives to come in the eternity. We ourselves are able to perform every duty and obligation that God has required of men. No commandment was ever given to us but that God has given us the power to keep that commandment. If we fail, we, and we alone, are responsible for the failure, because God endows His servants, from the President of the Church down to the humblest member, with all the ability, all the knowledge, all the power that is necessary, faithfully, diligently, and properly to discharge every duty and every obligation that rests upon them, and we, and we alone, will have to answer if we fail in this regard.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 38.

•       George Albert Smith: “Being a member of the Church and holding the Priesthood will not get us anywhere unless we are worthy. The Lord has said that every blessing that we desire is predicated upon obedience to His commandments. We may deceive our neighbors, and we may deceive ourselves with the idea that we are going through all right, but unless we keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father, unless we bear worthily this holy Priesthood that is so precious, we will not find our place in the celestial kingdom.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 53.

•       Joseph Fielding Smith: “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.

•       Harold B. Lee: “The greatest message that one in this position could give to the membership of the Church is to keep the commandments of God, for therein lies the safety of the Church and the safety of the individual. Keep the commandments. There could be nothing that I could say that would be a more powerful or important message today.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 35.

•       Spencer W. Kimball: “The Savior came ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39). His birth, death, and resurrection brought about the first. But we must join our efforts with his to bring about the second, to attain eternal life.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 29.

•       Thomas S. Monson: “Don’t put your eternal life at risk. Keep the commandments of God.” Ensign (May 2010): 66.

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 2011): 34. Italics in original.)

Bemoaning the fact that many Latter-day Saints don’t follow through on the promises they make every week, 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, 100.) As 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 Hs name upon us, and we renew our covenant of obedience and our promise that we will always remember Him.” (Ensign (December 2013): 19.)

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): 88.) 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., 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): 98. Italics in original.)

Certainly official church manuals are in alignment 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, 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, 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: A Gospel Reference, 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 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), v. Italics in original.

•       “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, 123. Brackets ours.

•       “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.

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

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): 22.

 Exhausted? I sure am.

To gain the full blessings of the gospel, we must continue to be humble, repentant, and obedient after we are baptized.

There’s a lot required here. But salvation and eternal life with God is not a pipe dream, according to biblical Christianity. 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: Its Meaning and Significance, 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. As Christian theologian B. B. Warfield once said, “The works of a sinful man will, of course, be as sinful as he is, and nothing but condemnation can be built on them.” (John E. Meeter, ed., Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, 2 vol. (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970), 1.283.)

Honestly, I like God’s plan much better than what is proposed by LDS leaders. 

One of the great purposes of the true church is to teach men what they must do after baptism to gain the full blessings of the gospel.

Every soul baptized, truly baptized, has humbled himself; his heart is broken; his spirit is contrite; he has made a covenant before God that he will keep his commandments, and he has forsaken all his sins. Then after he gets into the Church, is it his privilege to sin after he is in? Can he let down? Can he indulge in some of the things which the Lord has said he should avoid? No. It is just as necessary that he have that contrite spirit, that broken heart, after he is baptized as it is before.

Mormonism’s gospel required keeping all the commandments and forsaking all the sins. Christianity’s gospel records Jesus as saying, “It is finished.” Yes, our good works are important—for sanctification—but they don’t have anything to do with our justification. I can only say “Amen” to that because, down deep, I realize the impossibility of achieving all that God has for me.

I have heard some of our young men, and some not so young, talking on baptism. They say they do not know why it is, since baptism is for the remission of sins, that a man does not have to be baptized every time he commits a sin. Do you see the reason? As long as a man sins and stays within spiritual life he is alive, he can repent and be forgiven. He does not need to be baptized to be brought back to where he already is.

Once again, isn’t repentance a mere admission that you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. And again, what should we do with these verses:

‘By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them’ (D&C 58:43).”

D&C 82:7: “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.”

Because 1 Nephi 3:7 declares 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,” the Mormon who appreciates the face value of LDS scripture ought to ask, Why am I not doing the things I’ve been commanded? Why must I rely so much on repentance, which is nothing more than admission that I failed to keep the commandments?

Who, among Latter-day Saints, is seeking a place in the telestial kingdom? Who, among the Latter-day Saints, is seeking a place in the terrestrial kingdom? With those kingdoms we should want nothing to do; it is not the intention of the man who is baptized into the Church, or ought not to be, to so live that he will not find a place in the celestial kingdom of God; for baptism, itself, is the way into that kingdom. Baptism is of two-fold nature; primarily for the remission of sins, and then, entrance into the kingdom of God, not the telestial kingdom, not into the terrestrial kingdom, but entrance into the celestial kingdom, where God dwells. That is what baptism is for; that is what the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, is for—to prepare us that we may, through obedience, continue on and on, keeping the commandments of the Lord, until we shall receive the fulness in the celestial kingdom.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that baptism magically allows a person entrance into the celestial kingdom. Notice the second half of the last sentence: “through obedience, continue on and on, keeping the commandments of the Lord.”

Let me conclude by asking my Latter-day Saint readers one more time: Just how are you doing at that? Would you rather depend on God’s work rather than your own?

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