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Review of “The Love of God” (Apostle D. Todd Christofferson, Oct. 2021 General Conference)

By Mike Rabus

Posted February 4, 2022

For a three-part Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast series on this talk that aired November 22-24, 2021, visit  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3.

Delivered by Apostle D. Todd Christofferson, the talk “The Love of God” delivered at the October 2021 general conference covers many of the doctrinal topics that come up in discussions with Mormons, including commandment keeping, repentance, sin, forgiveness, and perfection.

The pull-quote printed on page 16 of the November issue of the Liahona summarizes the talk:

Our Father and our Redeemer have blessed us with commandments, and in obeying Their commandments, we feel Their perfect love more fully and more profoundly.

The pull-quote describes how God’s love is tied directly to an individual’s ability to obey the commandments. Do you want your sins forgiven? That’s going to require you to stop your sins by keeping all the commandments. For more, see Preach My Gospel Lesson 4: The Commandments.

Notice how a person should feel blessed that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have given these commandments. It’s as if LDS leaders are saying, “Thank you God for giving us these perfect and unattainable standards that you are going to use when judging my worthiness!” If the standards are impossible, the restored gospel according to Mormonism is also impossible.

As we go through this talk, this pull-quote will serve as an important foundation to understand how a Mormon should view commandment keeping.

This divine love should give us abundant comfort and confidence as we pray to the Father in the name of Christ. Not one of us is a stranger to Them. We need not hesitate to call upon God, even when we feel unworthy. We can rely on the mercy and merits of Jesus Christ to be heard. {6}

Let’s consider the phrase “feel unworthy.” Latter-Day Saints might think Christofferson is saying that their standing before God is acceptable even if they are unworthy since there is the “mercy and merits of Jesus Christ.” But that’s not what Christofferson is saying here. He’s merely telling members that they can still “call upon God” because it’s the mercy and merits of Christ that allow these calls “to be heard.” Catch this, as he is not saying that sins are forgiven because of the mercy and merits of Jesus Christ. (This would be the belief of a Bible-believing Christian!) Christofferson is only talking about prayer in this paragraph.

As an interesting note, I wonder why Christofferson references 2 Nephi 2:8 in footnote {6}. It talks about humans being able to dwell in the presence of God because of the merits, mercy, and grace of the Messiah, but it doesn’t say anything about our prayers being heard.

The Love of God Does Not Excuse Sin; Rather, It Offers Redemption

Because God’s love is all-embracing, some speak of it as “unconditional,” and in their minds they may project that thought to mean that God’s blessings are “unconditional” and that salvation is “unconditional.” They are not. Some are wont to say, “The Savior loves me just as I am,” and that is certainly true. But He cannot take any of us into His kingdom just as we are, “for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence.”{7} Our sins must first be resolved.

Christofferson states his belief that blessings and salvation are not unconditional. In an LDS context, there are many different meanings to the word salvation. See this link for the official LDS definition. 

In this case, Christofferson is not referring to being saved to one of three kingdoms of glory, since this type of salvation is given to everyone through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, regardless of choices made throughout a person’s life. When Christofferson explains that salvation is not unconditional, he means that a person can only be saved from sins through faithful obedience to the commandments.

Evangelical Christians who believe that they are saved through the works of Jesus Christ might become confused when the Mormon agrees. However, the Christian understanding is that one’s sins are forgiven entirely because of the works of Jesus Christ, not through one’s individual efforts, thus sparing the person from God’s wrath at the time of judgment. Ask the Latter-Day Saint what exactly is meant by saying that salvation comes by the works of Jesus Christ.

Christofferson says that salvation is conditional before explaining how God “cannot take any of us into His kingdom just as we are.” Footnote {7} is a quote from Moses 6:57:

Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence…

Citing that very verse in a chapter titled “No Unclean Thing Can Enter,” twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball wrote,

But to God who is perfection, cleanliness means moral and personal cleanliness. Less than that is, in one degree or another, uncleanliness and hence cannot dwell with God (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 19).

The Mormon cannot inherit the kingdom of God and dwell in the presence of Heavenly Father unless he or she repents and then forsakes the sin. D&C 58:42-43 states:

Behold, he who has repented of his sin, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sin—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.

According to Moses 6:57, then, only forsaken sin can be forgiven.

Professor Hugh Nibley once noted that the kingdom of God cannot endure if it indulges even the smallest sin: “The slightest taint of corruption means that the other world would be neither incorruptible nor eternal. The tiniest flaw in a building, institution, code, or character will inevitably prove fatal in the long run of eternity.”{8} The commandments of God are “strict”{9} because His kingdom and its citizens can stand only if they consistently reject evil and choose good, without exception.{10}

Christofferson builds the tension about this issue of unresolved sin. First, he quotes Hugh Nibley to reiterate the problem of God having sin in His presence. As Nibley puts it, the kingdom of God wouldn’t be “incorruptible nor eternal” if this could happen.

So which commandments need to be kept? It appears all of them. How often do these commandments need to be kept? Christofferson makes it very clear: “without exception.”

What happens if somebody doesn’t keep all the commandments? Christofferson references Alma 37:13 in footnote {9} for the answer:

O remember, remember, my son Hellman, how strict are the commandments of God. And he said: If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land—but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence.

Mormons who don’t keep God’s commandments will be “cut off from his presence.” What do you think it looks like to be cut off from God’s presence during the mortal probation? Does this mean we can still have the Holy Ghost dwell inside us when we aren’t following every single commandment? Or is this referring to eternal life?

I’d argue that LDS doctrine teaches both: that the Holy Ghost won’t currently dwell in an unrepentant sinner, and an unrepentant sinner will not inherit celestial glory. If you haven’t stopped sinning, then you are not obeying all the commandments. And if you are not obeying all the commandments, you are cutting yourself off from God’s presence. As a side note, I wonder if Christofferson is keeping all the commandments?

Footnote {10} references D&C 1:31. It says, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” There is no leniency since sin can not be allowed in God’s presence. To the contrary, Christians believe that forgiveness of sins comes only through the work of Jesus, not theirs.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland observed, “Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).”{11}

If you’re a Latter-Day Saint who believes a list of the commandments must be followed, add forgiving sin to the list. In this quote, Holland refers to the belief in modern culture that forgiving sins and approving of sins may be thought of as the same thing. That might be true, but I think the key point here is that Jesus never approved of sin, not “even once.”

Footnote {11} brings some clarity to that statement, which references a talk done by Holland at BYU on August 23, 2021 in which he said:

As near as I can tell, Christ never once withheld His love from anyone, but He also never once said to anyone, ‘Because I love you, you are exempt from keeping my commandments’” (“The Second Half of the Second Century of Brigham Young University,” Aug. 23, 2021).

Holland and Christofferson agree that nobody is exempt from keeping all the commandments. Those Mormons who admit that they have not abandoned all their sins, I ask, “Which commandments are you exempt from keeping? And why do you think God will give you a pass for not keeping all the commandments?”

Despite our present imperfections, however, we can still hope to attain “a name and standing,”{12} a place, in His Church and in the celestial world. After making it clear that He cannot excuse or wink at sin, the Lord assures us:

“Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.”{13}

“And as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.”{14}

Since it’s “clear that God cannot excuse or wink at sin,” it seems that a current commandment-breaker wouldn’t have any hope. According to LDS scripture (D&C 1:32 and Mosiah 26:30), then, God “assures us” that the only things that an individual needs to do is repent and follow all the commandments of the Lord. Mormons who successfully do that will have God “forgive them their trespasses.”

If a Latter-Day Saint currently isn’t keeping all the commandments, all that must be done is stop sinning. It seems the restored Gospel of Mormonism is straightforward yet impossible. Is there a Latter-Day Saint who has actually abandoned all sin while keeping all the commandments? When I ask my Mormon friends if they have arrived at this status, I have been told no and that the only one who has done this is the current prophet. I reply that even he cannot keep all the commandments because such a feat is impossible for a sinful human–even the apostle Paul said he had not arrived! (See Romans 7:14-20.)

Repentance and divine grace resolve the dilemma:

“Remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.

“And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.”{15}

This quote comes directly from Helaman 5:10-11. Could the point be any clearer? Notice the italics on the words “in” and “from” in the first paragraph? This emphasis was made by Christofferson! He wanted to show how the Lord will only redeem people who are no longer “in” their sins. There are two kinds of Mormons: Mormons in their sins and Mormons out of their sins. What happens to those Mormons who are not successful in ceasing sin? Alma 34:35 in the Book of Mormon explains:

For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

Those who have neglected to repent of all their sins do not have the Spirit of the Lord and the devil will have all power over them. According to LDS scripture, this is the “final state”!

We don’t have to attempt the impossible in trying to rationalize our sins away. And on the other hand, we don’t have to attempt the impossible in erasing the effects of sin by our own merit alone. Ours is not a religion of rationalization nor a religion of perfectionism but a religion of redemption—redemption through Jesus Christ. If we are among the penitent, with His Atonement our sins are nailed to His cross, and “with his stripes we are healed.”{19}

A Mormon might object and say perfection is not required. After all, Christofferson said, Mormonism “is not a religion of rationalization nor a religion of perfectionism.”

What exactly is Christofferson saying? After spending a lot of time saying it is impossible to be saved in sins and that all sin must be abandoned, it does not seem likely that the LDS apostle will reverse his entire point by saying, “I know I told you to abandon all your sin, but you really don’t have to abandon all your sin.”

Christofferson is teaching how the Mormon should not think the impossible task of justifying sinful behavior and mere efforts alone are enough to erase the debt created by sin. The Mormon gospel doesn’t say sinful behavior can be justified. Mormonism’s Jesus is willing to pay off the debts of sin, but only under the condition of true repentance (i.e., the person forsakes the sin). Only then will His Atonement be applied to past sins.

If an LDS member wants to define perfectionism as “stopping all sin,” then Christofferson would say that Mormonism is indeed a religion of perfectionism. But since that isn’t how he defines perfectionism in this talk, he can claim Mormonism isn’t a religion of perfectionism. It is evident that Christofferson carefully chose his words to potentially create a statement of comfort to an unrepentant LDS member.

Because They love you, They do not want to leave you “just as you are.” Because They love you, They want you to have joy and success. Because They love you, They want you to repent because that is the path to happiness. But it is your choice—They honor your agency. You must choose to love Them, to serve Them, to keep Their commandments. Then They can more abundantly bless you as well as love you.

Christofferson says that the Father and Jesus gave commandments as a loving way for people to be blessed and loved, but it’s really the way they decided to prove our worthiness. They love us so much that they gave us the process of repentance as a way to happiness. But we must make the choice to love them back by keeping Their commandments.

Conclusion

It is admirable to try and keep commandments. But is it possible to keep them all for one’s entire life? Maybe you’ve realized that abandoning all sin is an impossible standard. However, there is hope in the Gospel offered in the Bible. Maybe it’s time for you to abandon Mormonism instead.

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