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Review of “The Greatest Gift of Christmas” (Apostle Dieter F. Utchdorf, Dec. 2021 Liahona)

By Mike Rabus

Posted February 7, 2022

In the December 2021 issue of the Liahona magazine, Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf wrote an article encouraging church members to renew their focus on Jesus Christ. A few questions I have based on the topics he discussed include:

  • Is repentance in Mormonism really an attractive gift?
  • The famous hymn “Joy to the World” is in the LDS hymnal, but does it mean what the hymnwriter originally meant?
  • Does the gift of eternal life from Heavenly Father require certain qualifications?

Uchtdorf starts the article by recounting some faith-promoting Christmas memories. On the second page of the article, Uchtdorf says:

Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we know we can find rescue from remorse. We know we can change, improve, and overcome. We know we can repent of our sins and be forgiven. And as we exercise faith unto repentance, we know that the demands of justice are satisfied (see Alma 34:16).

“Repentance is a resplendent gift,” said President Nelson. “It is a process never to be feared. It is a gift for us to receive with joy and to use—even embrace—day after day as we seek to become more like our Savior.”

When I’m reading through these articles by LDS leaders, I pause at the times when the topics of repentance and forgiveness of sin are discussed. When Uchtdorf specifically says it’s possible to repent of sins and be forgiven, he must actually think this is possible.

What does Mormonism teach that is required for a person to successfully repent of a sin? The LDS missionaries will probably say that it is recognition of sin, confession, seeking restitution, and feeling godly sorrow. However, the one crucial test of repentance they might neglect to mention is abandonment of sin. A church manual used by the missionaries agrees:

When we repent, we feel godly sorrow and return to Him with full purpose of heart. We stop doing things that are wrong and continue doing things that are right . . . As we repent, our view of ourselves and the world changes. As we change, we recognize that we are children of God and that we need not continue making the same mistakes over and over. If we sincerely repent, we turn away from our sins and do them no more (Preach My Gospel, 2018, p. 64).

As recorded in a church manual, twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball gives the best explanation:

There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin. Providing that a person discontinues his sin with the right motives—because of a growing consciousness of the gravity of the sin and a willingness to comply with the laws of the Lord—he is genuinely repenting. This criterion has been set by the Lord: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins— behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:43. Italics added.) In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his way and started on a new path. . . . The saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life. True repentance prods one to action. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2011, p. 39)

If Uchtdorf thinks that true repentance is possible, then he must think that abandonment of all sin is possible. These LDS leaders seem to want the convey a message that they have somehow overcome all of their sins, even though they seem to never talk about their past sins or what they did to overcome them. While Uchtdorf tells the members that it’s their job to “change, improve, and overcome,” I wonder if he and the other leaders have abandoned all their sins? If not, why do they appear to want to give this perception?

Then Uchtdorf provides a quote from 17th President Russell M. Nelson about repentance being a “resplendent gift” and that we should use it “day after day.”

First of all, I don’t think Mormon repentance is such an attractive “gift” since it requires the abandonment of sin, an impossible task indeed. And what should we think about the use of repentance “day after day”? I can imagine most Mormons who read this will believe that total abandonment of sin must not be required. After all, if they can just seek out forgiveness each time the sin is committed, then there is hope. Yet that is not what Nelson meant when he says that repentance should happen “day after day.”

Nelson is not giving permission for the membership to continually commit the same sin each day when he says repentance is a daily process. If a Mormon successfully abandons a sin only to commit it the next day, the sin was never abandoned. In that case, true repentance hasn’t been accomplished. In other words, the Mormon didn’t repent but only repeated!

Nelson seems to have something else in mind when he says that repentance is a daily process. It’s important to understand this phrase because many LDS leaders have used it over the years. In this case, Nelson is saying that members ought to search their character, attitude, and actions for any hint of sin and then get eliminate it. That’s what Nelson must mean by daily or “day after day” repentance. He certainly isn’t approving continual sin because that wouldn’t be true or real repentance.

Returning to the article, Uchtdorf continues:

The Savior’s Atonement and Resurrection make possible the greatest of all gifts of Christmas: life everlasting (see Doctrine and Covenants 6:13; 14:7).

No wonder we sing, “Joy to the world.” {8}

After Uchtdorf declares that “life everlasting” is the greatest of all gifts of Christmas, he references the hymn “Joy to the World.” Footnote 8 directs the reader to Hymn 201 in the LDS hymnal. The fact is that the LDS version of “Joy to the World” is different than the one originally written by Isaac Watts in 1719!

In fact, William W. Phelps published an altered version in February 1836 to fit LDS theology. Phelps played an important role in the early years of the LDS Church and is also known for writing many popular LDS hymns, most notably “Praise to the Man.”

This Phelps adaptation is the version originally published in A Collection of Sacred Hymns, which was the first LDS hymnal. (The current version of LDS hymn 201 restores some of Watts’ original lyrics.)

Phelps Original LDS Adaptation (published in February 1836)

Joy to the world, the Lord will come!

And earth receive her King;

Let ev’ry heart prepare him room,

And saints and angels sing.


Rejoice! rejoice! when Jesus reigns!

And saints their songs employ:

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,

Repeat the sounding joy.


No more will sin and sorrow grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He’ll come and make the blessings flow

Far as the curse was found.


Rejoice! rejoice! in the Most High,

While Israel spreads abroad,

Like stars that glitter in the sky,

And ever worship God.


Watts Original

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And heaven and nature sing.


Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns!

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy.


No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found.


He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness,

And wonders of His love.

As it can see, Phelps changed a lot of the original lyrics. The first one that caught my attention was in the first stanza about having the “saints and angels sing” instead of “heaven and nature sing.” That was the first clue to me that the original must have been altered or “Mormonized.” The fourth stanza in Watts’ version, which is celebrating Christ’s rule over the nations, was completely replaced by Phelps.

The most interesting is in the third stanza when the issue of sin and the curse is covered. Notice that in the LDS version, sin and the curse are viewed in the past tense. “No more will sin and sorrow grow” and “Far as the curse was found.” In the original version by Watts, the line was “No more let sins and sorrows grow” and “Far as the curse is found.”

This might be a small change, but I think it makes perfect sense in Mormonism. Just like Uchtdorf explained, it is possible to “change, improve, and overcome” our initial sinful condition by abandoning all sins and receiving forgiveness. Those who obey all the commandments means freedom from sin. All sin should be in our past. It wouldn’t make sense for  faithful Mormons to sing about preventing sins from growing because they shouldn’t have any seeds of sin remaining in their lives.

If Mormonism is true, and abandonment of sin is the only way to truly repent and receive forgiveness, would you be singing “Joy to the World”?

To give Him our heart, we need to first accept His help. Giving the Savior our whole heart means coming unto Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit of repentance (see 3 Nephi 12:19). Only then can we fully receive His gift of the Atonement and qualify for God’s gift of eternal life. As we willingly repent, we show our love and gratitude for God’s gift and for the Savior’s sacrifice in our behalf.

The best that Mormonism offers is the gift of eternal life, which should be the goal of every faithful Mormon. Is this a gift that must be qualified for? From a Christian perspective, such a concept sounds foreign. A gift does not need to be qualified for. If I have earned something, must I show gratitude when I receive this gift?

An illustration may help. Imagine working a 40-hour week and on Friday your boss announces that he has an amazing gift to bestow. He hands you an envelope and you open it with excitement only to find that it’s your weekly paycheck. And it just happens to be the exact amount that you were due, based on your pay rate and hours worked. Your boss insists that this “gift” was given to you out of his love; even though you earned it, does his gesture require gratitude? In light of Romans 4:4-5, such a scenario makes no sense. :

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

In the same way, Mormonism’s “gift” of salvation is nothing more than earning and receiving what you are owed. The Bible teaches that justification is not a gift that requires certain qualifications. Instead, it is a gift to believers in the work of Jesus Christ. That is the faith that is counted as righteousness.

This article by Uchtdorf is called “The Greatest Gifts of Christmas,” but is the gift that Mormonism offers really the greatest gift? What gift would you be more thankful for, one that requires your personal qualifications? Or one where all the work has already been done by Jesus Christ? The answer seems obvious.

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