Chapter 3: The Plan of Salvation
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 58–71
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.
“Our Father in heaven established a plan of salvation for his spirit children … to enable them to advance and progress until they obtain eternal life.”
Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith
In the premortal spirit world, we rejoiced to learn of Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.
We are all members of the family of our Father in Heaven. We lived and dwelt with Him before the foundations of this earth were laid. We saw His face, felt His love, and heard His teachings, and He ordained the laws whereby we are able to advance and progress and gain eternal family units of our own.
“We lived and dwelt with [our Father in Heaven] before the foundations of this earth were laid.”
Our Father in heaven established a plan of salvation for his spirit children. This plan was designed to enable them to advance and progress until they obtain eternal life, which is the name of the kind of life our Father in Heaven lives. This plan is to enable the children of God to become like him and have the power and wisdom and knowledge which he possesses.
Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? These are questions every thoughtful human being has asked. The Bible gives much evidence about the final destiny of humankind. However, little is written about our existence before birth. Perhaps this is because there is nothing to talk about, since we did not exist. Mormon leaders, on the other hand, have built an entire doctrine around the idea that, like God, men and women have eternally existed since before the beginning of this world.
The Ensign magazine reports that “of all the major Christian churches, only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the human race lived in a premortal existence with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.” (Ensign, February 2006, 30.) This means that “all men and women are literally the sons and daughters of God.” (Gospel Principles, 9.)
What evidence do we have that we cognitively knew God before our existence on this earth and that God intends for us to attain godhood? Let’s see what the LDS Church provides.
We learn from the Pearl of Great Price, that there was a council held in heaven, when the Lord called before him the spirits of his children and presented to them a plan by which they should come down on this earth, partake of mortal life and physical bodies, pass through a probation of mortality and then go on to a higher exaltation through the resurrection which should be brought about through the atonement of his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ [see Moses 4:1–2; Abraham 3:22–28].
So far, we have passages form the books of Moses and Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price to support the case. Christians don’t hold these passages to be scripture since there is no proof that Moses or Abraham wrote them. Therefore, we cannot accept this supporting evidence.
The thought of passing through mortality and partaking of all the vicissitudes of earth life in which they would gain experiences through suffering, pain, sorrow, temptation and affliction, as well as the pleasures of life in this mundane existence, and then, if faithful, passing on through the resurrection to eternal life in the kingdom of God, to be like him [see 1 John 3:2], filled them with the spirit of rejoicing, and they “shouted for joy.” [See Job 38:4–7.] The experience and knowledge obtained in this mortal life, they could not get in any other way, and the receiving of a physical body was essential to their exaltation.
Here we are provided two references: 1 John 3:2 and Job 38:4-7. First John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Notice, this says “now” Christians are considered “sons of God.” Yet Mormons don’t believe they are gods now, only in a future state. This is not a good proof text to support this unique LDS idea.
As far as Job 38:4-7 is concerned, God questions Job and rebukes him for his pride, asking, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” When God formed the world, Job 38:7 says, “The sons of God shouted for joy.” BYU professor Charles R. Harrell questions this common LDS interpretation when he wrote:
“Most biblical scholars, however, see God’s question as rhetorical and intended to highlight the fact that Job was nowhere around during the creation. The whole tenor of the Lord’s query, when read in context with the entire chapter, is to emphasize the insignificance and fleeting nature of human existence. The Lord does tell Job, however, that the “sons of God” were there and “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7), but there is no indication that Job was numbered among them.” (“This is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology, 203.)
In effect, Job was reminded by God how he wasn’t even in existence when God created the world. Just as the clay should not talk back to the potter, so too Job had no business questioning God’s work (compare Jer. 18:1–6 with Rom. 9:18–26). This also is not a good support for the Mormon view of preexistence.
The Fall of Adam and Eve was part of Heavenly Father’s plan.
The Fall of Adam and Eve “brought pain, it brought sorrow, it brought death; but … it brought blessings also.”
The plan of salvation, or code of laws, which is known as the gospel of Jesus Christ, was adopted in the heavens, before the foundation of the world was laid. It was appointed there that Adam our father should come to this earth and stand at the head of the whole human family. It was a part of this great plan, that he should partake of the forbidden fruit and fall, thus bringing suffering and death into the world, even for the ultimate good of his children.
The Fall was an essential part of man’s mortal probation. … Had Adam and Eve not partaken, the great gift of mortality would not have come to them. Moreover, they would have had no posterity, and the great commandment given to them by the Lord would not have been fulfilled.
What is the support for this unique LDS teaching? A reference is given to a 1957 book and a 1966 “Conference Report,” but no scripture—even unique LDS scripture—is provided. While 2 Nephi 2:27 is often used to support the LDS case, again, we don’t accept extrabiblical material as authoritative. Hence, why are we supposed to believe this? Just because the church says it’s true is not good enough.
The fall of Adam brought to pass all of the vicissitudes of mortality. It brought pain, it brought sorrow, it brought death; but we must not lose sight of the fact that it brought blessings also. … It brought the blessing of knowledge and understanding and mortal life. Jesus Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice to save us from the Fall and from our sins.
Adam’s transgression brought these two deaths, spiritual and temporal—man being banished from the presence of God, and becoming mortal and subject to all the ills of the flesh. In order that he should be brought back again, there had to be a reparation of the broken law. Justice demanded it.
It is most natural and just that he who commits the wrong should pay the penalty—atone for his wrongdoing. Therefore, when Adam was the transgressor of the law, justice demanded that he, and none else, should answer for the sin and pay the penalty with his life.
Adam’s sin caused original sin, tainting each person. Romans 3:22-24 says,
22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
It must be understood that, by itself, sin equals death (Romans 6:23). We must make it clear that there is nothing good, by itself, of Adam and Eve sinning. Only through the work of Jesus Christ can we be rescued from this desperate state we are in. Romans 5:15-19 says,
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
But Adam, in breaking the law, himself became subject to the curse, and being under the curse could not atone, or undo what he had done. Neither could his children, for they also were under the curse, and it required one who was not subject to the curse to atone for that original sin. Moreover, since we were all under the curse, we were also powerless to atone for our individual sins. It therefore became necessary for the Father to send his Only Begotten Son, who was free from sin, to atone for our sins as well as for Adam’s transgression, which justice demanded should be done. He accordingly offered himself a sacrifice for sins, and through his death upon the cross took upon himself both Adam’s transgression and our individual sins, thereby redeeming us from the fall, and from our sins, on condition of repentance.
It is our duty to teach the mission of Jesus Christ. Why did he come? What did he do for us? How are we benefited? What did it cost him to do it? Why it cost his life, yes, more than his life! What did he do besides being nailed on the cross? Why was he nailed there? He was nailed there that his blood might be shed to redeem us from this most terrible penalty that could ever come, banishment from the presence of God. He died on the cross to bring us back again, to have our bodies and spirits reunited. He gave us that privilege. If we will only believe in him and keep his commandments, he died for us that we might receive a remission of our sins and not be called upon to pay penalty. He paid the price. …
… No man could do what he did for us. He did not have to die, he could have refused. He did it voluntarily. He did it because it was a commandment from his Father. He knew what the suffering was going to be; and yet, because of his love for us, he was willing to do it. …
The driving of the nails into his hands and into the Savior’s feet was the least part of his suffering. We get into the habit, I think, of feeling, or thinking that his great suffering was being nailed to the cross and left to hang there. Well, that was a period in the world’s history when thousands of men suffered that way. So his suffering, so far as that is concerned, was not any more than the suffering of other men who have been so crucified.
Christians certainly believe that Jesus died on the cross in a horrendous way–there is no question of that.
What, then, was his great suffering? I wish we could impress this fact upon the minds of every member of this Church: His great suffering occurred before he ever went to the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane, so the scriptures tell us, that blood oozed from every pore of his body; and in the extreme agony of his soul, he cried to his Father. It was not the nails driven into his hands and feet. Now do not ask me how that was done because I do not know. Nobody knows. All we know is that in some way he took upon himself that extreme penalty. He took upon him our transgressions, and paid a price, a price of torment.
Think of the Savior carrying the united burden of every individual—torment—in some way which I say, I cannot understand; I just accept—which caused him to suffer an agony of pain, compared to which the driving of the nails in his hands and feet was very little. He cried in His anguish, to His Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass!” and it could not pass [see Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42]. Let me read you just a word or two here of what the Lord says in regard to that:
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of the pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
“Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” [D&C 19:16–19.]
When I read that it humbles me. His love for humanity, for the world, was so great that he was willing to carry a burden that no mortal man could carry, and pay an awful price that no other person ever could have paid, that we might escape.
Mormon leaders have taught that the atonement of Jesus Christ releases the “human family” from the consequences of Adam’s fall and allows a general resurrection from the dead. The atonement began in the Garden of Gethsemane. This teaching is drawn from two passages within the LDS standard works. Mosiah 3:7 from the Book of Mormon gives a description of Christ’s suffering similar to what the biblical Gospels say He experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane:
And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
D&C 19:15–19 adds:
Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
A garden atonement seems odd for a couple of reasons. One, Paul always pointed to the cross where this event happened; never does he give any indication that the atonement was divided over two locations. In addition, the Bible only refers to the garden twice—never once in association with the atonement. Two, if Christ actually atoned for all of the sins of mankind in the garden, what would be left for Him to atone for on the cross? For more on this issue, see here.
“Our Savior Jesus Christ is the central figure in this great plan of progression and salvation.”
The Son of God [said]: “I’ll go down and pay the price. I’ll be the Redeemer and redeem men from Adam’s transgression. I’ll take upon me the sins of the world and redeem or save every soul from his own sins who will repent.”
Let us illustrate: A man walking along the road happens to fall into a pit so deep and dark that he cannot climb to the surface and regain his freedom. How can he save himself from his predicament? Not by any exertions on his own part, for there is no means of escape in the pit. He calls for help, and some kindly disposed soul, hearing his cries for relief, hastens to his assistance and by lowering a ladder, gives to him the means by which he may climb again to the surface of the earth. This was precisely the condition that Adam placed himself and his posterity in, when he partook of the forbidden fruit. All being together in the pit, none could gain the surface and relieve the others. The pit was banishment from the presence of the Lord and temporal death, the dissolution of the body. And all being subject to death, none could provide the means of escape.
The Savior comes along, not subject to that pit, and lowers the ladder. He comes down into the pit and makes it possible for us to use the ladder to escape.
In his infinite mercy, the Father heard the cries of his children and sent his Only Begotten Son, who was not subject to death nor to sin, to provide the means of escape. This he did through his infinite atonement and the everlasting gospel.
The gratitude of our hearts should be filled to overflowing in love and obedience for [the Savior’s] great and tender mercy. For what he has done we should never fail him. He bought us with a price, the price of his great suffering and the spilling of his blood in sacrifice on the cross.
Let it be clear that all of this is said in reference to “general salvation” given to everyone on this earth. According to LDS teaching, salvation by grace is synonymous with mere resurrection from the dead. In a church manual, President Harold B. Lee referred to this concept as “general salvation,” saying how this is given to every person on the earth, “whether they are good or bad, rich or poor, when they have lived—it makes no difference. All have the blessings of the Atonement and the blessings of the resurrection given to them as a free gift because of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 22.) Apostle Russell M. Nelson told a general conference audience, “To be saved—or to gain salvation—means to be saved from physical and spiritual death. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected and saved from physical death.” (Ensign (May 2008): 8.) In Mormonism, the Atonement allows for all humans to be qualified for one of three levels of heaven:
Through the Atonement, Jesus Christ redeems all people from the effects of the Fall. All people who have ever lived on the earth and who ever will live on the earth will be resurrected and brought back into the presence of God to be judged (see 2 Nephi 2:5–10; Helaman 14:15–17). Through the Savior’s gift of mercy and redeeming grace, we will all receive the gift of immortality and live forever in glorified, resurrected bodies. (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 18.)
Notice, though, how no biblical verses are cited to support this teaching.
We should also point out that general salvation, however, has nothing to do with the ultimate LDS salvation, which is known as exaltation. 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.)
Building on the foundation of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we work out our salvation during mortality.
Full salvation in Mormonism is exaltation or godhood, which is now the topic at hand.
Our Savior Jesus Christ is the central figure in this great plan of progression and salvation.
Building on the foundation of the atonement, the plan of salvation consists of the following things:
First, we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; we must accept him as the Son of God; we must put our trust in him, rely upon his word, and desire to gain the blessings which come by obedience to his laws.
If it stopped here, then perhaps we are on to something. After all, Romans 10:9,10 talks about what a person must do in order to become a Christian:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
However, notice how the paragraph in the manual uses the word “first.” This is just the “first” of what will be “many” requirements.
Second, we must repent of our sins; we must forsake the world; we must determine in our hearts, without reservation, that we will live godly and upright lives.
When Mormons are confronted with the fact that they cannot keep all of the commandments, many find refuge in their ability to repent. Repentance, they say, erases the transgression and makes everything all right. This attitude is certainly frowned upon in church teachings. For instance, a reference manual refers to the necessity to accomplish the “abandonment of sin,” saying that “although confession is an essential element of repentance, it is not enough. The Lord has said, ‘By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them’ (D&C 58:43).” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 134.)
Utilizing this verse, Gospel Principles states, “Our sincere sorrow should lead us to forsake (stop) our sins. If we have stolen something, we will steal no more. If we have lied, we will lie no more. If we have committed adultery, we will stop.” (Gospel Principles, 110. Parenthesis in original.) Kimball said, “The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.” (Kimball, Repentance Brings Forgiveness, an unnumbered tract.) Brian D. Garner of the Church Correlation Department utilized a number of LDS scriptural verses to show how “this principle with a promise” requires both repentance and good works, as he italicized the word “and” in each reference to emphasize how forgiveness does not happen without both parts. (Ensign (December 2013): 43.) Verses he cited are D&C 1:32, 3 Nephi 9:22; 10:6; 21:22, Moses 6:52; D&C 5:21. For example, when speaking about D&C 1:32, he writes, “He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord.” A student manual explains,
D&C 58:42–43. The Lord Promises Complete Forgiveness to Those Who Truly Repent. The Lord forgives those who truly repent of their sins. This blessing comes through the Atonement of Christ, who ‘suffered . . . for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent’ (D&C 19:16). The Lord promises that He will no more remember the sins of those who repent (see Ezekiel 18:21–22). Repentance, however, requires that we forsake and turn completely from our sins and confess them. (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 122. Bold and ellipsis in original.)
Another verse that ought to bring consternation to the sincere Latter-day Saint is D&C 82:7, 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. Bold in original.)
There is no doubt that, in Mormonism, keeping commandments after repentance is not just a suggestion but a concrete requirement. Quoting D&C 1:31, a church reference manual states,
The Lord has said that He “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). The result of sin is the withdrawal of the Holy Ghost and, in eternity, being unable to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father, for “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21). (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 163.)
Referring to this same D&C passage, Kimball said,
In his preface to modern revelation, the Lord outlined what is one of the most difficult requirements in true repentance. For some it is the hardest part of repentance, because it puts one on guard for the remainder of his life. . . . This scripture is most precise. First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 43. Ellipsis ours.)
Kimball also said that the “repentance which merits forgiveness” is the kind in which
the former transgressor must have reached a “point of no return” to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin—where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life. (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 170. See also the First Presidency Message in the March 1982 Ensign titled “God Will Forgive.”)
Quoting Alma 11:37 (BOM), a 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 ours.)
Former Mormon Mark Champneys has summarized Mormonism’s teaching into two sentences: “In Mormonism, before you can be forgiven of a particular sin by the atonement, you must successfully stop that sin permanently. So, in order to be forgiven of all sin for time and all eternity, you must successfully stop all sin permanently.” (See here.) Champneys has shared this summary with a number of LDS Church employees, who have agreed it is accurate.
Saying that “after doing all they can to repent, some [Mormons] worry whether they have been forgiven,” Brian D. Garner of the Church Correlation Department said it’s possible for Mormons to know that repentance has taken place. How? He says “when we regularly feel the influence of the Holy Ghost lives, we can be assured that the Lord has forgiven us.” (Ensign (December 2013): 43.) Yet another manual quoting President Heber J. Grant says “many Latter-day Saints” are “building their houses upon the sand. They are failing to carry out the commandments of our Heavenly Father that come to us from time to time through His inspired servants.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 26.)
Let’s be honest, nobody has been successful in permanently stopping sin with the exception of Jesus Christ Himself! For any Mormon to think it is possible to consistently obey God’s commandments is to demonstrate the epitome of prideful arrogance. Pride, it should be pointed out, is a sin, showing that an individual has violated celestial law. See Proverbs 16:18; 29:23; Obadiah 1:3; Zephaniah 2:10; Mark 7:22; 1 John 2:16. To such a person comes the condemnation of Alma 5:27-28 in the Book of Mormon:
Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life. (Other Book of Mormon passages, including 2 Nephi 28:12–15 and Jacob 2:13–22, also warn against the dangers of pride.)
Third, we must be baptized in water, under the hands of a legal administrator, who has power to bind on earth and seal in heaven; we must, through this sacred ordinance, enter into a covenant to serve the Lord and keep his commandments.
We have written an entire chapter in our 2013 book Answering Mormons’ Questions (Kregel, 2013). Chapter 21 asks, “Why don’t you believe baptism is necessary for salvation when Acts 2:38 teaches this?” We refer you to this chapter to explain why water baptism, while important, is not a work we do for salvation. For more on this topic as well, see a chapter review we did for the Lorenzo Snow manual.
Fourth, we must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; we must be born again; we must have sin and iniquity burned out of our souls as though by fire; we must gain a new creation by the power of the Holy Ghost.
As mentioned earlier in this review, it is vital for a person who is truly repentant to cease sin. This is taught both in LDS scripture as well as by the leadership. So it is accurate when it says “sin and iniquity” must be “burned out of our souls.” Question for the honest Latter-day Saint: How are you doing at this?
Fifth, we must endure to the end; we must keep the commandments after baptism; we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord; we must so live as to acquire the attributes of godliness and become the kind of people who can enjoy the glory and wonders of the celestial kingdom.
In chapter 1 of his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer Kimball warned church members:
“Because men are prone to postpone action and ignore directions, the Lord has repeatedly given strict injunctions and issued solemn warnings. . . . And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 9-10)
Kimball warned, “This earth life is the time to repent. We cannot afford to take any chances of dying an enemy to God.” (Ibid. 15) He criticized his people for their procrastination:
There are . . . many members of the Church who are lax and careless and who continually procrastinate. They live the gospel casually but not devoutly. They have complied with some requirements but are not valiant. They do no major crime but merely fail to do the things required—things like paying tithing, living the Word of Wisdom, having family prayers, fasting, attending meetings, service. . . . The Lord will not translate one’s good hopes and desires and intentions into works. Each of us must do that for himself. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 8).
Once more, I ask the faithful Latter-day Saint, How are you doing at this?
Now I testify that these laws which men must obey to gain salvation, and which comprise the gospel of Jesus Christ, have been revealed in this day to prophets and apostles, and that they are now administered by his church, which he has again established upon the earth.
This statement begs many questions, including:
- How do we know for sure there was a Great Apostasy?
- How do we know the LDS prophets and apostles truly speak for God?
- How do we know there is authority in the LDS Church?
Mormonism is proclaimed as being true. Really, how do we know for sure? What if the Mormon leadership is not telling it as it really is?
We are, all of us here in this mortal world, on probation. We were sent here primarily to obtain tabernacles [bodies] for our eternal spirits; secondly, to be proved by trial, to have tribulation as well as the abundant joy and happiness that can be obtained through a sacred covenant of obedience to the eternal principles of the gospel. Mortality, as Lehi informed his children, is a “probationary state.” (2 Nephi 2:21.) It is here where we are to be tried and tested to see if we will, when shut out of the presence of our Eternal Father but still instructed in the way of eternal life, love and revere him and be true to his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
According to Mormonism, it’s all about how each person performs that determines if the celestial kingdom awaits. Many Mormons realize they don’t have what it takes to qualify for the very best God has to offer and maybe just need more time. With more time, perhaps they can make it. In some ways there is a parallel between Mormons who think they only need more time to make things right and the servant in Jesus’ story in Matthew 18:23–27. In this passage Jesus tells of a servant who owed the king an insurmountable debt of ten thousand talents. The servant pleaded with the king to have patience with him. Somehow, he thought having more time would solve his problem. Thankfully for him, the king had compassion and canceled the debt.
In Luke 7:36–50, Jesus forgave a woman of her sins for no other reason than that she was worshipping Him. She was not required to go through a repentance process. Understandably, some Mormons feel a great amount of anxiety in not knowing whether they have done enough to secure their forgiveness. This could be because they have blurred the lines between what justifies a person (or makes them right) with God and what sanctifies (or sets them apart) unto God. This dilemma was explained in a sermon by Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle (1816–1900):
I am persuaded that one great cause of the darkness and uncomfortable feelings of many well-meaning people in the matter of religion is their habit of confounding, and not distinguishing, justification and sanctification. It can never be too strongly impressed on our minds that they are two separate things. No doubt they cannot be divided, and everyone that is a partaker of either is a partaker of both. But never, never ought they to be confounded, and never ought the distinction between them to be forgotten. See here.
Christians are justified, or made right with God, because of what Jesus did on the cross (cf. Rom. 9:16; Eph. 2:8–10; Titus 3:4–7). Princeton theologian Benjamin B. Warfield (1851–1921) succinctly summed up this incredible act when he said, “Justification by Faith, we see, is not to be set in contradiction to justification by Works. It is set in contradiction only to justification by our Own Works. It is justification by Christ’s Works.”(“Justification by Faith, Out of Date?” The Christian Irishman, Dublin, May 1911, 71).
Unlike the Latter-day Saints, Christians can be confident of their forgiveness because it has nothing to do with their personal merit or performance. They are able to claim 1 John 5:13 (“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”) based on Christ’s work on the cross, not on the things they are required to accomplish. Because they completely trust in the work of Jesus, they are not left in limbo, never to know if enough has been done.
We came here to be tested and proved by coming in contact with evil as well as the good. … The Father has permitted Satan and his hosts to tempt us, but by the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord and the commandments given through revelation, we are prepared to make our choice. If we do evil, we have been promised that we will be punished; if we do good, we will receive the eternal reward of righteousness.
If we do “good,” Smith says, then a reward can be received? However, Romans 3:11-12 says,
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
This mortal probation [is] a brief period, just a short span linking the eternity past with the eternity future. Yet it [is] a period of tremendous importance. … This life is the most vital period in our eternal existence.
It’s called “vital,: and yet a Latter-day Saint is not able to know that his or her sins are washed away by the blood of the Lamb? Rather, the Mormons are left hanging and wondering if they are good enough. What a predicament!
All people will receive the blessing of resurrection through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Now, to confuse the issue, the writers of this manual return to general salvation.
We came into this world to die. That was understood before we came here. It is part of the plan, all discussed and arranged long before men were placed upon the earth. … We were ready and willing to make that journey from the presence of God in the spirit world to the mortal world, here to suffer all that pertains to this life, its pleasures and its sorrows, and to die; and death is just as essential as birth.
No biblical verses are used to support this concept.
Physical death, or the death of the mortal man, is not a permanent separation of the spirit and the tabernacle of flesh, notwithstanding the fact that the body returns again to the elements, but is only a temporary separation which shall cease at the resurrection day when the body shall be called forth from the dust to live again animated by spirit. This blessing comes to all men through the atonement of Christ, irrespective of their goodness or wickedness while in mortality. Paul said there should be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15), and the Savior said that all who were in their graves should hear his voice and should come forth “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29).
According to Jesus in John 5, there are two resurrections: one to life and one to damnation. A Mormon may say “damnation” refers to not qualifying for the celestial kingdom, but this reading into the passage is not what it is saying. Damnation refers to separation from God forever. Even those who believe they did “good” works are in trouble at the Great White Throne judgment, as described in Matthew 7:22-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
According to D&C 76:77, those in this kingdom will “receive of the presence of the Son….” Even if this is not considered to be the “fullness” of Jesus, this seems to contradict what Jesus said in Matthew 7: “Away from me,” he said.
Every fundamental part of every body will be restored to its proper place again in the resurrection, no matter what may become of the body in death. If it be burned by fire, eaten by sharks, no matter what. Every fundamental part of it will be restored to its own proper place.
Christians believe in the resurrection of the body. See 1 Corinthians 15 for Paul’s systematic look at this issue.
The faithful will inherit eternal life with their families in the presence of Heavenly Father.
Here is another presupposition of Mormonism: the idea that biological families will dwell together in the afterlife. Once more, I will ask: Where is the biblical support?
Some men inherit wealth through the industry of their fathers. Some men are through inheritance raised to worldly thrones, to power, and position, among their fellow men. Some seek for the inheritance of worldly knowledge and renown through the application of their own industry and perseverance; but there is one inheritance which is worth more than all, it is the inheritance of eternal exaltation.
Please understand what eternal life, or exaltation, means to a Latter-day Saint: Godhood in a new world.
The Scriptures say that eternal life—which is the life possessed by our Eternal Father and his Son, Jesus Christ,—is the greatest gift of God [see D&C 14:7]. Only those shall receive it who are cleansed from all sin. It is promised to those “who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things.” [D&C 76:53–55; see also verse 52.]
This plan of salvation is family centered. … [It] is designed to enable us to create eternal family units of our own.
No biblical references yet.
Those who receive the exaltation in the celestial kingdom will have the “continuation of the seeds forever.” They will live in the family relationship.
We are taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ that the family organization will be, so far as celestial exaltation is concerned, one that is complete, an organization linked from father and mother and children of one generation to the father and mother and children of the next generation, and thus expanding and spreading out down to the end of time.
Some Mormons have created a stereotype about the Christian’s view of heaven, assuming it means sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp, and singing hymns to Jesus throughout eternity in a most boring fashion. While this is certainly not a completely accurate picture of heaven, perhaps the Latter-day Saint should consider Mormon 7:7 in the Book of Mormon. It reads, “And he [Jesus] have brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.” In the mind of the Latter-day Saint, it makes sense that heaven includes the family unit.
Certainly Christians should invest heavily in their earthly families, but nowhere does the Bible teach that mom, dad, grandparents, children, or others will live together as a family unit in heaven. Jesus plainly explained the role of marriage and families in heaven in Matthew 22:23–30 and Mark 12:18–27. Answering the question posed to Him by the Sadducees, Jesus answered them,
“Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:29–30).
In Mormonism, dwelling together as a family unit presupposes that each member of the family was able to follow the whole law during each person’s mortal probation. Mormonism teaches that only those who are truly obedient will qualify for the benefits of the celestial kingdom. Smith says that “to enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept.” For the sake of argument, suppose that keeping the whole law is possible. Where will all the billions and billions of family members from the beginning of time physically reside? Are we to assume that the God of Mormonism continues to reside with his extended earthly family? Does he worship the God who preceded him? And since Jesus is our spirit brother from the preexistence, will He become “Uncle Jesus” to the offspring of a Mormon who becomes a god? Will “Heavenly Father” be known as “Heavenly Grandfather” to these offspring?
What about those members of a Mormon family who do not qualify for celestial glory? Mormonism teaches that a person can’t reach the celestial kingdom on the coattails of another faithful member; each person must individually qualify. Even if this concept ended up being true, the odds are that most LDS families will be incomplete because some of their loved ones will fail to live up to the proper standards during their mortal probation.
Finally, it is a misnomer to say that Christians don’t believe in an eternal family structure since all forgiven humans are a part of God’s family. As such, all redeemed believers will live in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God will be the focus of our attention in eternity, not us. Sadly, Christians will not experience eternity with unforgiven loved ones. However, in Mormon teaching this same situation exists. Faithful Mormons will not be joined by family members who were unfaithful in mortality.
On the surface, the idea of eternal family units may sound very appealing to some, but once the LDS concept is carried to its logical conclusion, it breaks down quickly.
These glorious blessings of eternal inheritance … do not come except through willingness to keep the commandments and even to suffer with Christ if need be. In other words, candidates for eternal life—the greatest gift of God—are expected to place all that they have on the altar, should it be required, for even then, and should they be required to lay down their lives for his cause, they could never pay him for the abundant blessings which are received and promised based on obedience to his laws and commandments.
So here we go again: to be a “candidate for eternal life”—it’s a “gift,” this says—it is imperative to place “everything” on the altar and be obedient to “his laws and commandments.” While “salvation by grace” is thrown around and misunderstood by many, never associate this idea with eternal life, or what Mormonism again calls “exaltation.”
It’s a broken record, but to the Latter-day Saint, I ask: How are you doing at this?
When we have come out of the world and have received the gospel in its fulness, we are candidates for celestial glory; nay, we are more than candidates, if we are faithful, for the Lord has given unto us the assurance that through our faithfulness, we shall enter into the celestial kingdom. …
“If we are faithful.” The word “if” is huge. To be eligible for celestial glory, once again it is imperative for the Latter-day Saint to keep the covenants made at baptism, the temple, and every week at the sacrament meeting. If you don’t keep these promises, then you are not faithful.
… Let us live so that we will be assured of our place, and so we will know, through the lives we live, that we shall enter into His presence and dwell with Him, receiving the fulness of the blessings that have been promised. Who among the Latter-day Saints will be content with anything short of the fulness of salvation which is promised us? … It is necessary for us, in our humility, and in the spirit of repentance, to press on and on; keeping the commandments unto the end, for our hope and our goal is eternal life, and that is life in the presence of the Father and of the Son; “And this is life eternal,” said the Lord,” that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” [John 17:3.] And I pray that this may be the happy lot of all of us, in our own due time.
D&C 25:15 says the Mormon must “keep the commandments continually.” By Smith’s own admission, this is the only way to achieve the goal of eternal life, or exaltation and being with one’s family forever. The message of Christainity, as taught by the Bible, is so much different.
If you are a Latter-day Saint and want to know more, please see the second half of this article I list here. Or, if you’d like, I would love an opportunity to talk with you about how you can know that your sins are forgiven and how you can live a life that has true hope. Email me at eric at mrm.org. May God bless you as you search for the truth.