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Only “after all we can do”

By Sharon Lindbloom
7 March 2017

LDS author and blogger Mette Ivie Harrison recently addressed the question, “Can Christ Love Me In My Sins?” From a traditional Mormon perspective, the answer would be “No.” But Ms. Harrison is not a traditional Mormon. For her, unlike many other Latter-day Saints who actually hold to the teachings of the Mormon Church, the answer is “Yes.” Ms. Harrison explains,

“Mormons frequently talk about our need to do ‘as much as we can do’ to improve ourselves, to repent of our sins and to perfect ourselves, before expecting Christ’s Atonement to work on us and for divine grace to make it possible for us to be completely cleansed of sins. This emphasis on works is one of the defining differences of Mormonism from other Christian sects. Mormons do believe in grace, but we’re expected to work hard at doing good. This has led me ultimately to wonder if I have to wait until I’ve worked harder, done more, become more, before Christ can love me…

“Mormons are sometimes accused (perhaps rightly) of not believing in the importance of grace, and of believing that we perfect ourselves in our works…[this] denies the power of Christ’s Atonement and His divinity, His mission on earth. In addition, it simply boggles my mind. Anyone who has lived on this earth for any length of time knows very well that none of us have any real chance of perfecting ourselves in any meaningful way…

“The point is that Christ must love us in our sins because if He doesn’t, then we will never have any benefits of His love until we don’t need it anymore.”

It appears that Ms. Harrison understands (and has articulated) what Christians call The Impossible Gospel of Mormonism. That is, that what the LDS faith insists is required for a person to be forgiven, cleansed of their sins, and become pleasing to God is, in reality, impossible to achieve. While the Bible teaches Christians that it is a gift of God’s grace through faith that results in our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10), orthodox Mormonism teaches that one’s own achievement of personal righteousness is required before God’s grace and salvation will be extended. The Book of Mormon makes this clear:

“…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.” (Moroni 10:32; emphasis added)

“Ye cannot be saved in your sins.” (Alma 11:37)

“…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)

The Book of Mormon is not the only source for Mormonism’s impossible ambitions. Mormon prophets and apostles also have–and do–teach that God’s grace is only available to those who merit it through personal works of righteousness.

“Even that grace of God promised in the scriptures comes only ‘after all we can do.’” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1995, 19)

“Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).” (Dallin Oaks, “Two Lines of Communication,” Ensign, (Conference Edition), November 2010)

The Lord will bless us to the degree to which we keep His commandments. Nephi put this principle in a tremendous orbit when he said: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ (2 Nephi 25:23.) The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments.” (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places, 246. Also included in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 24.)

This Mormon doctrine of the after-all-we-can-do attainment of God’s grace is clearly understood – and explained — by Mormon scholars as well:

“The perfect relationship between the atoning grace of Christ and the obedient efforts of mankind is powerfully stated by Nephi: ‘We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). Furthermore, we are invited to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.’ When we deny ourselves ‘of all ungodliness,’ then and only ‘then is his grace sufficient’ for us (Moroni 10:32)” (Clyde Williams, BYU assistant professor of Ancient Scripture, “Plain and Precious Truths Restored,” Ensign, October 2006, 53; emphasis added).

“Indeed, it is only after a person has so performed a lifetime of works and faithfulness – only after he has come to deny himself of all ungodliness and every worldly lust – that the grace of God, that spiritual increment of power, is efficacious.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon 1:295)

In apparent opposition to the doctrines of Mormonism, Ms. Harrison writes that Christ loves her now, even though she is in a “pitiful, fallen state.” She writes, “He loves me just as I am,” even though leaders of her church say otherwise.

At the Mormon Church’s October 2014 General Conference, LDS apostle D. Todd Christofferson, in his authority and role as prophet, seer, and revelator, taught that it would be a mistake to think that “God loves and saves us ‘just as we are.’”

“God does not save us ‘just as we are,’” he said, “first, because ‘just as we are’ we are unclean, and ‘no unclean thing can dwell … in his presence.’” (Free Forever, to Act for Themselves,” Ensign, (Conference Edition), November 2014, 17)

The Bible tells us that Jesus came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). That while we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son (Romans 5:10). Indeed, the Bible explains,

“…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:1-7)

Mormon apostle Christofferson (and Mormonism at large) has missed the heart of the gospel. Jesus, in His mercy, rescues us from our sin. He delivers us from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). He doesn’t wait for us to do the impossible – to clean ourselves up and make ourselves righteous. As Ms. Harrison rightly notes in her article, if we finally achieve our own personal righteousness to merit God’s grace, we have no need for Christ’s redeeming love. Ms. Harrison seems to understand the deep problems inherent in Mormonism’s doctrines of salvation. I don’t know her heart, but in her writing, turned away from Mormonism’s Impossible Gospel, she seems to be reaching toward God’s mercy. It is for the benefit of Ms. Harrison, and for you, and for me, that God, being rich in mercy, has chosen to “show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Mormonism’s prophets and apostles have it wrong. Jesus offers us His love, His mercy, His sacrifice, and His grace right now – right when we most need it. At the very moment we realize we need a Savior, and we cry out to Him in our desperation, pleading for rescue, He opens His arms to us. At that very moment God loves us and saves us, just as we are.

What are you waiting for?

Reader, lest you mistakenly think Christians believe we are exempt from virtue, please read Bill McKeever’s “Grace unto Works” found on Mormonism Research Ministry’s website.

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