By Eric Johnson
Posted May 24, 2022
Many have argued that the views of Mormonism’s leaders are inching closer to an Evangelical perspective that teaches how salvation comes by grace and not by works. Sometimes general conference talks given by leaders have seemed to encourage individual Latter-day Saints to think this way, including:
- Worthiness is not Flawlessness (Brad Wilcox November 2021 General Conference Talk) Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 November 1-5, 2021
- Being Perfect Eventually (Jeffrey R. Holland’s October 2017 General Conference Talk) Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 October 16-20, 2017
- Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland’s Credit for Trying (April 2016 Conference Talk) Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 June 20-24, 2016 (Article)
However, in the past few years, the “covenant path” has been emphasized more than ever before. In these types of talks, the encouragement is to keep covenants by obeying all of God’s commandments. For example, these talks have been given in the past three years:
- The Covenant Path (D. Todd Christofferson April 2021 General Conference Talk) Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 July 12-15, 2021
- Covenant Constancy (Dale Renlund October 2019 General Conference Talk) Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 January 13-15, 2020
- Covenant Belonging (Gerrit Gong October 2019 General Conference Talk) Part 4 January 16, 2020
- Qualifying for the Gift (Henry B. Eyring October 2019 General Conference Talk) Part 5 January 17, 2020
In the April 2022 general conference, the theme of staying on the “covenant path” continued with five different speakers. Is the leadership moving over to a more grace-filled teaching of salvation? Or is keeping all the commandments still a requirement in Mormonism?
Let’s take a look at these five talks, positioned in different articles as follows (these articles forthcoming):
- “‘Then Will I Make Weak Things Become Strong'” (Seventy Kevin S. Hamilton–article below)
- “Covenants with God Strengthen, Protect, and Prepare Us for Eternal Glory” (Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President)
- “The Power of Spiritual Momentum” (President Russell M. Nelson)
- “Divine Love in the Father’s Plan” (Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency)
- “The Covenant Path: The Way to Eternal Life” (Seventy Adeyinka A. Ojerdiran)
Keeping God’s Conditions and the Requirement for Change
In his Saturday afternoon session talk (“Then Will I Make Weak Things Become Strong,” Liahona, May 2022, 50-53), Seventy Kevin S. Hamilton emphasized the importance of attaining exaltation and that church followers were capable of changing their sinful ways. He provided a helpful illustration to understand the meaning of an “if-then” statement, stating,
Computer software developers use conditional statements to tell computers what to do. These are sometimes referred to as if-then statements. As in, if x is true, then do y. The Lord also operates through conditions: conditions of faith, conditions of righteousness, conditions of repentance. There are many examples of conditional statements from God such as:
“If you keep my commandments and endure to the end [then] you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” [D&C 14:7]
Or, “if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, [then] he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost” [Moroni 10:4] (50).
I can think of an even better example in the same book and chapter of the last book he cited, Moroni 10:32:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and 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, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
In other words, if you deny yourself of all ungodliness and, in turn, love God with all your might, mind and strength, then God’s grace is sufficient for you to make you perfect in Christ. Effort on the part of the individual is thus required to gain the grace that offered by Jesus.
Hamilton cited John 15:10, which says, “If ye keep my commandments, [then] ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” In this passage, Jesus talked about how the believer who remained in the vine would bear fruit, which verse 8 says would glorify the Father and “so prove to be my disciples.” Jesus was not saying it is necessary to keep God’s commandments for a person to receive eternal life. Rather, He taught that believers need to keep the commands given by God since Christians have been commissioned to bear much fruit. The passage goes on to show how Jesus chooses His followers to bear fruit–the believer bears fruit not to abide in God’s love but rather, by abiding in Him, fruit is borne.
Earlier in John, Jesus made it clear that it is belief alone that provides eternal life, not keeping commandments. He taught:
- John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'”
- John 6:40: “‘For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’”
- John 6:47: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.'”
- John 10:9: “‘I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.'”
- John 10:27-30: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
Keeping commandments is not a condition for any of these statements. One commentator writes,
Love is the relationship that unites the disciples to Christ as branches are united to a vine. Two results stem from this relationship: obedience and joy. Obedience marks the cause of their fruitfulness; joy is its result. Jesus intended that the disciples’ lives should be both spontaneous and happy rather than burdensome and boring. Obedience is carrying out his purpose would be a guarantee of success, for Jesus never planned failure for his disciples. Joy logically follows when the disciples realize that the life of Christ is them is bringing fruit–something they could never produce in their own strength (Merrill C. Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 9:152).
The Sinfulness of Humans
Hamilton cites a general conference talk given in October 2021 by Apostle D. Todd Christofferson:
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” [Moses 6:57]. Our sins must first be resolved (50).
Christofferson is right. God cannot tolerate sin at any level. A person must have no taint from sin to be accepted into God’s presence. The question is, how does a person go about getting forgiven of sin? Hamilton explains the LDS position:
We have become natural men and women because of the Fall of Adam. But through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can overcome our weakness, or our fallen natures. . . . as we first change our fallen natures, our weakness, then we will be able to change our behaviors, our weaknesses (51).
This is an incredible statement because Hamilton says we must “first change our fallen nature. . . ” Yet it is impossible for us to change that nature, as every person is a sinner. As Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. And the result, Romans 6:23 says, is eternal death. It is God who justifies. Romans 4:1-5 says,
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness
Verses 13 and 14 add,
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
Thus, it is impossible for a person to change his or her nature just as a leopard is incapable of changing his spots. No amount of good works will suffice. Rather, it is through what Paul calls the “righteousness of faith.” Hamilton stresses that believers must change their fallen natures so they can change their behaviors. Notice how the emphasis is on the individual to change their behaviors; God is relegated to the back seat as an observer to see if this impossible endeavor will be done.
The seventy provides a list of requirements:
- Humble ourselves. He points to being “humble and submissive. We must be humble enough to follow a living prophet. Humble enough to make and keep temple covenants” (51). Alma 5:28 does say, “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.” However, nowhere in that passage does it say anything about following the prophet or keeping temple covenants.
- Have faith in Jesus Christ. But this will merely give the person “the power to overcome our weaknesses,” which must be completed in order to qualify for celestial glory (51). In Mormonism, Jesus is not enough.
- Through Christ’s grace, weak things become strong. In Mormonism, grace is nothing less than God’s enabling power. “His strengthening, enabling grace gives us power to overcome all obstacles, all challenges, and all weaknesses as we seek to change” (51). Grace merely provides the means for a person to overcome sinful ways.
On page 52, Hamilton said,
The Savior worked out His infinite and eternal Atonement, so that we could in fact change, repent, and become better. We can actually be born again. We can overcome habits, additions, and even the “disposition to do evil.”
Jesus did not come so we could change and qualify for the celestial kingdom. Rather, He came to cleanse believers from their sins. He does all the work. Some verses to support this concept:
- Acts 10:34: “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
- Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
- Hebrews 8:12: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
- Hebrews 10:17: “Then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’”
As far as overcoming the “disposition to do evil,” apparently Paul never got that message. In Romans 7 he wrote:
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Notice, Paul is not saying he’s not a Christian, but he does acknowledge in verse 17 the “sin that dwells within me.” He admits that he doesn’t do the good he wants to do but the evil he keeps on doing. Life is difficult, even as a saint, but there is no changing of the sin nature until the believer faces Jesus in heaven.
Granted, the more we walk with Jesus, the more we should become like Him. However, there is a spiritual warfare that goes on and, until we see Jesus face to face, we will be like Paul warring against the flesh. As Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
For other articles from this general conference, visit the links given at the top.