President Spencer W. Kimball told of a man who wanted to make sure he had made final spiritual preparations before undergoing “radical surgery.” Kimball wrote,
In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, “Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?” “Yes,” I said, “but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 286)
Speaking in general conference, President Thomas S. Monson stated,
“God our Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, have marked the way to perfection.They beckon us to follow eternal verities and to become perfect, as they are perfect (see Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48).” (“An Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign, May 1988, 54)
Latter-day Saints have been given conflicting counsel as to when they are supposed to reach this goal. President Heber J. Grant gave the impression that this perfection finally could be reached sometime in the future eternities. Referring to the LDS doctrine of eternal progression, he encouraged members to build
“upon the achievements of our first spirit-life, our first estate, and of our mortal life, or second estate, progressing through the endless eternities that follow, until we reach the goal the Lord set: ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ [Matthew 5:48.].”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 49).
Another church manual states,
“Remind class members that while perfection cannot be entirely achieved in this life, we can make great progress toward it. The Lord expects us to do all we can toward giving up our sins and becoming perfect, and he has given us the gospel to help us do this.” (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 123-24)
Some, like Kimball, have insisted that the “second estate,” or this mortality, is the time to accomplish this perfection. “This Life Is the Time,” Kimball titled chapter 1 in The Miracle of Forgiveness. In a section titled “Dangers of Delay,” he 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)
The list of requirements are many. When it comes to tithing, for example, the Mormon Church has emphasized its necessity in relation to repentance and forgiveness. President Kimball gave a First Presidency message in October 1982 where he said,
“If one neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant. The Lord knows, as do we, the degree of full and sufficient compliance we make with these fundamental aspects of the law of repentance, which is really God’s law of progress and fulfillment.” (“The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, October 1982, 5)
Referring to Kimball’s final point in his “five essential elements of repentence” given in The Miracle of Forgiveness, Apostle Richard G. Scott told a general conference audience,
“Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into your life with strength to focus on the abandonment of specific sins. It includes things you might not initially consider part of repentance, such as attending meetings, paying tithing, giving service, and forgiving others. The Lord said: “He that repents and does the commands of the Lord shall be forgiven.” (“Finding Forgiveness,” Ensign, May 1995, 76. Scott was quoting D&C 1:32)
Since tithing appears to be one of the essential ingredients for forgiveness, one must wonder what the Mormon should do with the following words from Mormon 8:32:
“Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.”
Another Book of Mormon passage, 1 Nephi 3:7, affirms that God gives no commandments to the “children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” If this is true, then we must assume that those Mormons who fail to repent of all of their sins are guilty of squandering their mortal opportunity and indeed have procrastinated their repentance. This is a perilous situation since, as Kimball stated, “Incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 212)
In an article written to Mormon youth, Jay E. Jensen, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, said,
“Another prerequisite or condition to repentance is to know that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see 1 Ne. 10:21;1 Ne. 15:34; Alma 7:21; Alma 40:26; and Hel. 8:25). You can hide sins from your bishop, you can hide them from your parents and friends, but if you continue and die with unresolved sins, you are unclean and no unclean thing can dwell with God. There are no exceptions.” (“The Message: Do You Know How to Repent?” New Era, November 1999, 7)
Referring to Matthew 5:48, Christian theologians Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes write,
This verse does not mean human beings can actually become perfect in this life. . . . The context of this verse is that the Jewish leaders had taught that we should love those near and dear to us (Lev. 19:18), but hate our enemies. Jesus, however, said we should love even our enemies. After all, Jesus said, God’s love extends to all people (Matt. 5:45). And since God is our righteous standard, we should seek to be as he is in this regard. We are to be “perfect” (or “complete”) in loving others as he is perfect. Furthermore, the Bible certainly does not give support to the idea that we can actually attain sinless perfection in this life, for all of us are fallen and sin continually (1 John 1:8). The good news is that by trusting in Jesus, his perfection becomes ours: “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14 nasb). (When Cultists Ask, 100-101)
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.”
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)
Forgiveness is a certainty because it has nothing to do with their personal merit or performance. Rather, it is solely based on what the work of Jesus.
For other passages discussing common passages used by Latter-day Saints, click here.
For another article on this topic, see Matthew 5:48 and C.S. Lewis