Mormon Answers: How Are We Saved By Grace? Are "Works" Required for Salvation? Must We Follow and Obey Christ?
This page explores the relationship between grace, works, and eternal life, based on the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes incorrectly called the "Mormon Church"). This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs" and is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay. While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias.
What is the relationship between faith, works, grace, and salvation according to the Bible and the teachings of original Christianity? You may be surprised!
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Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often criticized for alleged beliefs regarding what one must do to be saved. Some say we are not Christian because what they think we believe is not exactly the same as their interpretation of the scriptures. I think that approach is not terribly Christian - nor biblical. The following discourse is my explanation of LDS doctrine and its relationship to the Bible, showing that the LDS perspective can well be described as a Restoration of the Gospel rather than an innovation.
The discussion below is largely a response to forms of Protestant theology that I have encountered from friends, neighbors, contacts with ministers, and televangelists. Some of my comments are in response to increasingly popular systems that can be called "no-lordship" theology, which teaches that salvation comes from intellectual belief alone without repentance, commitment, or fully accepting Christ as Lord, and that once a person mentally accepts Christ, that person is saved even if they quickly reject Christ and fall away from God. I am more comfortable with the Protestant doctrine of "lordship salvation" theology, as espoused by John MacArthur in The Gospel According to the Apostles, Nashville: Word Publishing, 1993 (see also The Gospel According to Jesus). His system teaches that repentance, baptism, and obedience are essential parts of saving faith, though he argues that they are inevitable expressions of that faith and not something required for salvation, since salvation is entirely up to God and independent of any human action. Latter-day Saints agree that true faith brings us to Christ and leads us to keep His commandments. But is this an automatic process that requires nothing of us, with God doing everything? I disagree with the notion that salvation requires nothing from us, as if we cannot choose to believe God or can do nothing to accept (or reject) the gift of salvation. But I am jumping ahead. Below we will first lay the foundation of a Biblical understanding of these issues. At the end of this page, I offer a new section on lordship salvation theology and its relation to the LDS perspective.
Another recent development of much interest to some LDS people is the "New Perspective on Paul" in which serious and respected Protestant scholars and others have concluded, based on research into early Christianity and the teachings of Paul, that popular Protestant views on Paul's teachings are simply wrong. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article, "New Perspective on Paul," as accessed Jan. 30, 2013, which discusses the rise of the New Perspective on Paul (see the rest of the article for many details on the concept and some of the support for it):
In 1963 the Lutheran theologian Krister Stendahl published a paper arguing that the typical Lutheran view of the Apostle Paul's theology did not fit with statements in Paul's writings, and in fact was based more on mistaken assumptions about Paul's beliefs than careful interpretation of his writings. In 1977 E. P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism. In this work he performed an extensive study of Jewish literature and an analysis of Paul's writings in which he argued that the traditional Lutheran understanding of the theology of Judaism and Paul were fundamentally incorrect. Sanders continued to publish books and articles in this field, and was soon joined by the scholar James D. G. Dunn. In 1982 Dunn labelled the movement "The New Perspective on Paul". The work of these writers inspired a large number of scholars to study, discuss, and debate the relevant issues. Many books and articles dealing with the issues raised have since been published. The Anglican Bishop and theologian N. T. Wright has written a large number of works aimed at popularising the new perspective outside of academia.
The new-perspective movement is closely connected with a surge of recent scholarly interest in studying the Bible in the context of other ancient texts, and the use of social-scientific methods to understand ancient culture. Scholars affiliated with The Context Group. as well as many others in the field, have called for various reinterpretations of biblical texts based on their studies of the ancient world.
Robert S. Boylan, writing for the scholarly LDS blog, The Mormon Interpreter, wrote a book review of a book by Bart D. Ehrman in which Boylan mentions Protestant scholar N.T. Wright and some aspects of the New Perspectives of Paul that might be helpful for readers wishing to understand the relationship of LDS doctrine with other Christian views on Paul and his writings:
Ehrman's comments about the relationship between James's and Paul's epistles on justification, works, and "works of Law" will, I believe, be welcomed by Latter-day Saints, since there are now a growing number of Latter-day Saint scholars who welcome N. T. Wright's version of what is being called the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Latter-day Saint scholars tend to accept Wright's scholarly position on the apostle Paul. He holds a "covenantal nomism" which is that Paul taught that one becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ by entering into a New Covenant with God through grace, whose sign is faith rather than circumcision and dietary restrictions. One maintains this covenantal relationship with God through an active faith by keeping the commandments and thereby undergoing sanctification ending with justification at the final judgment. Wright's position on this issue is now being seen by LDS scholars as an accurate account of both Pauline soteriology and one that fits rather comfortably with an informed Latter-day Saint soteriology--that is, one drawn from the Book of Mormon.
The upshot is that the LDS view on grace, covenants, and salvation withstands scholarly scrutiny and in my opinion, increasingly bears evidence of being more of a restoration than an innovation by Joseph Smith. Take a look for yourself at some of the reasons why we feel the LDS viewpoint is on solid biblical ground and resonates well with earliest Christianity.
Talk given by Jeff Lindsay, Shawano, Wisconsin, Jan. 1995
(updated several times, 1996-2007)
--The words of Christ in Matthew 19:17.
As I share my views with other Christians who are not Latter-day Saints, I am amazed at the misinformation that has been spread about this Church. Many ministers publicly teach that Latter-day Saints are not Christians. The reason? Because, they claim, we think we get to heaven by keeping commandments, through our works, and not through the grace of Christ. Even those who know that we worship Christ and revere his word sometimes claim that we are not Christians because they say that we worship a different Christ than the one in the Bible or that we think we are saved by our works and become God.
Among all sordid deceptions and attacks in anti-Mormon literature, perhaps the most common assault is on our views - or on misrepresentations of our views - about grace and works. In the local Appleton, Wisconsin newspaper, I once saw a letter to the editor claiming that Mormons are not Christians because we think it is necessary to keep the commandments. The article quoted Brigham Young saying something that sounded very much like the Third Article of Faith:
"We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel."The writer, a minister, was shocked, wondering how Mormons could call themselves Christians if they thought that obeying commandments was necessary.
The Atonement of Christ and the grace He offers us is perhaps the most important thing that we could ever know. It is the core of the Gospel, of our religion, and should be at the core of our lives. We must likewise know how He offers us the riches of his grace, and what we must do to accept and partake of that grace. And therein lies the confusion that clouds much of the popular theology of today, a confusion that sadly clouds the thinking of some Latter-day Saints as well.
23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
Paul taught that God "will have [wants] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). Further, 2 Peter 3:9 teaches that God wants none to perish but wants all men to repent (see also Acts 17:30 and 2 Cor. 7:10). And Christ taught that "it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14).
Further, as I wish to demonstrate in the review of Biblical teachings below, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone without any requirement for obedience is not truly consistent with Biblical teachings on salvation, on judgment, on free will, and on the relationship between faith, and works. My intent, however, is not to criticize Protestantism or Martin Luther, a great but fallible Christian leader. My desire here is to clarify the truth about salvation and grace.
The truth is that we are saved by the grace of Christ which is offered to us through a covenant, a two-way contract: if we accept Christ and do our part, following and obeying him, then Christ does everything else, forgiving us, cleansing us, healing us, and giving us power to return to the presence of the Father - not because we earned it, but because we accepted the terms upon which he offers his infinite grace and mercy. Even in the days of Moses, the Lord proclaimed that God "shows mercy to those that keep his commandments" (Deut. 5:10), a principle that has not changed. The mercy or grace offered through a two-way covenant with Christ is implied in the Third LDS Article of Faith (quoted above; also see my Articles of Faith page), and in the teaching of the prophet Nephi who wrote in 2 Nephi 25:23:
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.The Book of Mormon actually makes it clear that humans are incapable of doing good on their own, due to our fallen nature, and that we must be changed by the power of Christ to be able to follow Him. For details, see "Cry Redemption: The Plan of Redemption as Taught in the Book of Mormon" by Corbin T. Volluz (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1994, pp. 148-169). This means that salvation comes through "the merits of Christ," not our own, but we still must choose Him and seek to repent of our sins with faith in Him. When we turn toward Christ, He can perfect us nd make us complete. Samuel the Lamanite, a prophet shortly before the birth of Christ, said (Helaman 14:13):
And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits.Moroni makes a similar statement in 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....In Alma 12:33-34, the prophet Alma explains the basics of salvation:
But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;A few chapters later, the missionary Aaron teaches a convert that we cannot earn our way to heaven:
Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.
And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth. . . .
Mercy and forgiveness from God is a gift, but we must meet the conditions God has given to receive that gift. We must repent and humbly follow Christ. Another Book of Mormon prophet, Lehi, explained the nature of grace and mercy in one of the most profound and powerful chapters in all of scripture, 2 Nephi chapter 2, verses 5-8:
...And by the law no flesh is justified....
Wherefore redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah, for he is full of grace and truth.
Behold he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
...no flesh...can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit...
Then, following a brilliant and inspired discourse on the relationship between opposition, agency, and the Fall of man - a discourse which solves many of the philosophical puzzles that have stumped philosophers and theologians for centuries, Lehi shows how the Atonement of Christ offers us true liberty, true freedom to choose between the great opposites of eternal life or death. Starting in verse 28, he concludes by urging his sons and us to choose Christ:
And to his son Jacob, Lehi said, "Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer" (2 Nephi 2:3), clearly indicating that salvation comes through the grace of Christ and His righteousness, not ours.
And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life....
Later, around 550 B.C., Lehi's son, Nephi, also a prophet, gives us more specific instructions on what we must do to partake of this grace of Christ (2 Nephi 31: 19,20):
...after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path [referring to faith in Christ, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forwards, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
A related passage of great beauty and clarity is in Mosiah 4:1-12, from King Benjamin's Farewell Discourse. A few key verses follow:
2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.
4 And king Benjamin again opened his mouth and began to speak unto them, saying: My friends and my brethren...
6 I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body--
7 I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.
8 And this is the means whereby salvation cometh....
10 And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.
11 ... I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
This doctrine is clear, powerful, and beautiful, and is the core doctrine of the Church, for which we are called non-Christian by our enemies and even by sincere, well-meaning people, people who have been deceived by false doctrines of men. These false doctrines teach that once we accept Christ into our heart, we are saved - guaranteed, with no risk of ever falling. Some teach that we don't really need to strive to obey God's commandments or to make our calling and election sure. Some of these false prophets, who have twisted and mangled the word of God, teach the questionable doctrine of "once saved, always saved," even if we commit murder and fight against Christ. They lull people into false security, telling them that they are saved and that no further effort on their part is needed. As we shall see in a moment, this is far from the plain teachings of Christ.
Fortunately, many Christian ministers do teach the importance of obeying God and growing through diligence and obedience. And better still, the behavior of many Christians surpasses the theology that they are sometimes taught, for many of these Christians - true Christians - show with their fruits that they earnestly seek to follow Christ with all their heart and strength, that they wish to obey him and endure to the end. Rather than sitting on their heavenly laurels, they show that they are prepared to sacrifice all to follow him.
"Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary."
--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing, 1952, p. 115.
Unfortunately, too many Latter-day Saints fail to appreciate the strength of the Latter-day Saint position, a position which accords perfectly with the teachings of the Bible. Too many of us are unprepared to respond to scriptural questions from those of other faiths. I fear that we have not been clear enough in our study and teaching of the scriptures. I wish now to turn to the Bible to help us understand what the Bible really teaches about grace and salvation. I can only cover a small part in any depth, but for your study I have prepared a list of some key scriptures that we should be familiar with.
From the beginning of God's dealings with men, God has offered blessings to us through covenants. He offers us his mercy, his protection, his assistance, if we will simply follow him. That is not to say that we earn anything, but that he chooses to bless us if we do what he asks. Consider the words of God in Exodus 20:6, where God explains that he offers "mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." Has that concept changed? Was it revoked by Christ? Absolutely not. As we shall see below, God continues to offer his grace and mercy to those that love him and keep his commandments. The covenant nature of God's dealings with man should be kept in mind as we now consider the issue of grace and works.
A great place to begin is with a beautiful, powerful passage found in 2 Peter 1:3-10:
3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.
This passage is not an exception - its teachings are echoed throughout the Bible. Listen to these words: (verse 3) through Christ's power, we are given all things pertaining to godliness, for we have been called to glory, and in verse 4, we read that by these things we can become partakers of the divine nature - becoming more like the Lord - a state which we call eternal life or exaltation. To achieve this, Peter teaches us that growth is required, giving us a list of attributes to achieve step by step, "giving all diligence." It's not automatic! Those that do not do this can fall - becoming as if their sins had never been purged. In verse 10, he pleads that it not be so with us:
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.
Yes, we can fall (see also 1 Cor. 10:12), but not if we give diligence and endure to the end to make our calling and election sure. Amazingly clear.
That opening passage has very sacred overtones. It explains why we must endure and grow - because God is not just interested in slapping angel wings on our back and saying "you're saved." He is our Father and wants us to grow and develop and become more like him. How sacred this teaching is - that there is something divine that we have inherited from God, and that within us is the potential to fully become sons and daughters of God, living in his presence and sharing in the fullness of eternal life that is his. This profound truth is the target of some of the most vile attacks on our religion, yet it is a truth held and taught by the original Christian Church. Recall the words we just read from Peter, who spoke of Christ giving us all things that pertain to life and godliness, that we are called to glory and virtue, that we might be partakers of the divine nature. Now turn to Romans 8: 14-18, where Paul teaches the same concept:
For as many as are lead by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
...The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God;
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together;
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Joint-heirs with Christ! Divine glory to be revealed within us! This passage shows that we have a divine inheritance, that we are children of God. And just as earthly parents want their children to grow and become more like the parents, so our Father in heaven wants us to grow and partake of his glorious gift of eternal life. It is not an instant process, but one that requires that we learn, obey, and strive. This is further affirmed in Hebrews 12: 9,10:
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He [God] for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness."
Yes, God wants us to obey him and to be corrected that we might become partakers of his holiness, of the divine nature. It is through such striving that we can become more like His son, Christ. Listen to the words of Christ given to John in Rev. 3:21:
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
Again in Rev. 21:7:
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
Also in 1 John 3: 2:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him...
This doctrine is heavy, profound, even troubling, and easily misunderstood. To keep it clear, remember this: the growth and development and success of a child in no way detracts from the honor or glory of the parents, but adds to it. If we participate in Eternal Life as heirs of God, we will be worshipping and glorifying God fully and wonderfully - not taking or usurping his glory. And we will more perfectly and fully be able to say that we are His children, and He is our God, and glory be to his name forever.
Alas, much of the religious world condemns as for our belief in what the Bible teaches on this matter - that we can be joint heirs with Christ, who will always be our savior, and that through his Atonement, we can overcome and partake of the glory of the divine nature. It is a difficult and sacred doctrine, yes, but it is purely scriptural and needs to confronted prayerfully, contritely, with awe and reverence of how merciful our God is.
Now, how do we follow the commandment from Christ to become "perfect" (whole, complete)? How do we "overcome" to receive the promised blessings of Rev. 3:21 and Rev. 21:7? In other words, how do we take up the cross and truly follow Christ to obtain eternal life? Is there anything that we must do at all other than believe? Must there be a change in behavior, in our daily walk? Is there a need for patience and endurance? Paul teaches us in Romans chapter 2. In verse 4, he points out that the goodness of God leads us to repentance. Repentance, based on faith in Christ, is essential. We cannot allow our lives to be contaminated with evil, for there will be a righteous judgment of God, mentioned in verse 4 and 5, wherein God will judge every man according to his deeds. In verse 7, we read that God will give eternal life to those "who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality." Similar words are repeated in verse 10. In verse 13, it is "not the hearers of the law ... but the doers of the law that shall be justified" - and we know that he means justified through the Atonement of Christ, through his grace, for we are saved by grace, not by works, as Paul writes in Eph. 2:8, but it is by doing our part of the two-way covenant - the patient continuance in well-doing - that we gain access to that grace. The words of Christ to John the Beloved, as recorded in Revelation 22:12-14, reflect this relationship:
And behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be....
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
The idea of grace being linked to obedience is hardly a modern innovation, but is deeply rooted in early Christianity. Clement of Alexandria, a great early Christian teacher and writer, praised by many as a holy man and one of the greatest Christians of all, was just one of many early Christian writers who affirmed this doctrine. Here are his words from Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter IX:
The Lord tries you, that "you may choose life." He counsels you as a father to obey God. "For if ye hear Me," He says, "and be willing, ye shall eat the good things of the land": this is the grace attached to obedience."
Our entrance into the heavenly city is not "earned" by keeping the commandments, but through obedience we do our part in the two-way covenant of mercy and gain access to the full grace of Christ, or thereby "have the right to the tree of life." As God said in Exodus 20:6, he shows mercy (grace, kindness - not a salary based on merit!) to those that keep his commandments. That hasn't changed.
Many Christians stumble at the idea that we must "keep commandments," often misunderstanding the teachings of Paul. But the words of Christ are clear on the matter: though we are no longer under the Law of Moses, there are commandments that we must keep. He spoke of commandments frequently. In Rev. 22:14, Christ said "Blessed are they that do his commandments, . . . that they may enter in through the gates of the [heavenly] city." In John 13:34,35, Christ gave his disciples "a new commandment" to love another. In John 14:15, he said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." We need to show (and nurture) our love for him by keeping his commandments. In John 15:13, he said, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." In John 14:21,23, Christ said,
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him....
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
Christ was teaching his disciples obedience, implying that they had free will and needed to choose carefully how they lived their lives. If obedience were automatic for disciples, then Christ would not have worried about his disciple Peter and warned him that his faith could fail in Luke 22:31,32:
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
This was just hours before Christ would be taken and condemned to death. Peter had been following Christ for a long time, supposedly an experienced disciple, one who had accepted Christ and already had faith in him. Yet Christ was worried for the eternal welfare of Peter and warned him of Satan's intentions, as we all need to be warned. A few verses later, Christ warns his disciples to pray lest they enter into temptation (Luke 22:40,46). Christ even warned Peter that he would deny Christ, which shocked the disciple Peter. But Christ was right, and Peter would weep bitter tears of sorrow, the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance (Luke 22:33,34,54-62). Fortunately, Peter's fall from faith was brief and he returned to fulfill and magnify his calling in Christ's church. He had chosen to follow Christ before, and now, after denying him three times in one night, he chose to repent and continue following him again.
Gaining access to the mercy of God requires more than making a single decision on one day in our life. It is a decision that needs to be renewed and acted on daily. As the parable of the sower teaches us (Matt. 13), some may receive the word with gladness but later abandon it and perish (that means they lose the salvation that could have been theirs). We must strive to obey and follow Christ throughout our lives, enduring to the end to be saved (Matt. 24:13, Matt. 10:22, Mark 13:13, 1 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 3:14). This is why Paul can say in Philippians 2:12 that the Saints must "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (See also 1 Peter 1:17.) Not that the works alone bring salvation, but the growth in Christ through obedience is necessary to access that grace, and we need to be concerned and cautious lest we fall. Paul explains this process well in the next chapter, Phil. 3: 12-14, where he writes that it is:
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend [or grasp] that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
[The image is of Christ reaching out to grab us - through his Atonement - and now we must do our part to grasp the grace that is offered - J.L.]
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended [Paul is saying the struggle for salvation is not over!], but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Let us therefore ... be thus minded.
Further, in verse 21 of that chapter, Paul gives us another reference to the glory that waits to be revealed in us, as we will be resurrected in a glorious body like God's, a body which gives him power over all things. Remember, we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26,27; James 3:9).
Works are not necessarily an automatic result of "just" believing, but are something we must do to grow in faith and to seek the high goals that Christ has set for us (Matt. 5:48). Through works such as love, service, sacrifice and obedience, we grow in faith and grow closer to the Lord, reaching out to receive his grace. James teaches this plainly in James chapter 2:
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Peter likewise testifies that our obedience brings purification of our souls through the grace of Christ. He says "ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth" (1 Peter 1:22). In this section, he also warns of judgment according to works and of the need to be concerned (1 Peter 1:17), of the need to withstand trials of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-9); and the need to lay aside sin (2 Peter 2:1,11).
These teachings, which seem straightforward to many Latter-day Saints, will be novel and troubling to many. The clear meaning of the passages we have studied so far is that works - namely growth, diligent obedience, service - are needed to "make our calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10) by allowing us to access the grace of Christ. Faith without works, as James writes, is dead and does not bring eternal life (James 2:14-26). Later, James explains that to receive the grace of God, we must be humble, resist sin, repent sincerely, and draw close to God (James 4:6-10):
6 . . . Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
To those that disagree, I ask: "Can you read the words of Christ himself in the New Testament and come to any other conclusion? Is there any hint of the doctrine of "once saved, always saved"? Is there any solid evidence for what some call a "cheap grace" that requires no effort, no obedience, no sincere repentance, no discipleship, no patience? No. Rather, we see a God who urges men to sacrifice, to take up their cross, to come and follow Him. His Sermon on the Mount is entirely focused on the works that we need to do to become his children. He warns that trees without good fruit will be cut down. He warns that the path to life is straight and narrow, not broad and easy. He commands us to become perfect in obeying him. He teaches us that we need to forgive others to be forgiven, that we need to love others and remove hate and anger from our hearts. And he warns that even Christians and Christian ministers who are publicly active and vocal in religion will not be saved if they do evil and do not truly follow Christ. Let's read Matthew 7: 21-23:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Christians can fall from grace! That is why we must endure to the end to be saved, as Christ says in Matthew 10:22, 24:13, and Mark 13:13. That's why the Lord in Rev. 2:10 said "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." That's why Paul says there are people professing faith who deny God through their sins, their disobedience, and lack of good works (Titus 1:16). There are numerous other passages in the New Testament in which members of Christian congregations are warned of the sins that can keep them out of heaven (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:16-26; Eph. 5:3-7; 1 Thess. 4:1-7; Col. 3:5-25; Jude 1:14-25, and others). They are told that they must be cautious and diligent and not fall. Heb. 12:15 urges us to "look diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God." Heb. 3: 12-14 is especially clear:
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.
Can anyone read that and still believe in the abominable doctrine of "once saved, always saved" or in instant, guaranteed salvation? Rather, Christ taught that "in your patience, possess [preserve, win mastery over] ye your souls" (Luke 21:19; see also Matt. 24:13). A related passage is Matt. 16:24-27, which teaches that Christ wants us to take up his cross, to live our lives for him and to be ready to sacrifice our lives for him, and in so doing, we will find our lives (eternal life) when Christ comes to "reward every man according to his works." Therefore, we should not be surprised that Christ counsels us to "take heed" to avoid sin and temptation and to maintain our worthiness (Luke 21:34-36; Luke 22:31,32,40,46; see also 1 Tim. 4:16). In other words, we must strive to enter into and stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to life (Luke 13:23-28), which is what Christ taught in response to being asked if only few should be saved.
Though we are saved by grace, we can also fall from grace and lose our salvation. Thus, we need to be careful lest we lose the gift Christ offers. Consider 2 Peter 2:20-21, where Peter has been warning against sexual sin and other forms of sin:
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
The message is clear: if we turn again to sin and abandon the way of righteousness, we will not be saved.
To remove all doubt on this issue, let us return to the words of Christ. Twice he was asked point blank what needs to be done to obtain eternal life. His answer? Keep the commandments! Look at Matthew 19:16-21. Here a young rich man asked Christ what he needed to do to obtain eternal life. Christ says "if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Christ repeats some of the ten commandments and "love thy neighbor" when asked which commandments need to be kept. The young man says he has done all that. Christ knows that there is yet something which is holding this man back from serving God with all his heart, something which the young man has not yet overcome - namely, his love of wealth. For this man to grow and become a true follower of Christ, he needed yet to overcome this barrier. Therefore, in verse 21, Christ says:
If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
But the young man could not do it, and went away in sorrow. Christ notes in verse 23 that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter into heaven. The young man believed and accepted Christ - but he could not overcome, he could not do what was asked of him, he failed to make the final sacrifice required to become perfect in Christ - and he apparently did not enter into heaven. Cheap grace? Not at all. It may require all that we have, but God has the power to help us and to change us, if we are willing. The way seemed challenging and difficult to Christ's disciples, who asked "Who then can be saved?" (Matt. 19:25). But Christ explained that "with God all things are possible" (v. 26). He then explained that those who had sacrificed much for him would receive much more, including eternal life (Matt. 19:29).
Some people argue that Christ's request to the rich man to sell all that he had must not be taken literally, but was a case of sarcasm to illustrate the futility of works, a ridiculously impossible request to show the utter silliness of thinking that we can do anything to seek salvation. This argument is a classic example of "wresting the scriptures" - twisting the clear meaning to conform to a preconceived notion or to justify an error. Christ begins by teaching the man to keep the commandments, using words and language that abound in the scriptures, including the command to love thy neighbor as thyself. Was this sarcasm? Absolutely not. Was the further request to sell one's goods and follow Christ ridiculous? It's what he asked of many people. The simple request, "Come, follow me" led at least some of them to abandon their careers (Matt. 4:18-22) and become fully devoted to serving the Savior. In this same section, in Matthew 19:27, Peter affirms that he and other disciples had "forsaken all and followed thee." Christ replies in verse 29 that those that have forsaken houses, family members, or land for his sake shall inherit everlasting life. Sarcasm? Ridiculous? Not a chance. Christ asks others to give all for the kingdom of God again in Luke 12:31-34 (see also Matt. 13:44-46; Matt. 16:24-27; Luke 18:28; and Mark 10:21), and this level of sacrifice and commitment was had among the early Saints (Acts 2:44,45; Acts 4:36,37).
Luke 10:25-37 provides another example of Christ's answer to the question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life," and we again learn that we must serve God with all our heart and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. We are told to follow the example of the good Samaritan in response to this lawyer's questioning about eternal life. Some have argued that the above two passages from Christ were meant to be ironic parodies of the stupidity of trying to keep the commandments, but to argue such is to wrestle violently with the scriptures. Certainly it is impossible for man to be saved alone, without the grace of God, but Christ definitely and unmistakably taught that we must follow him and keep his commandments. He didn't say we would do that automatically if we believed him. He said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Likewise in John 15:14, he said, "ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."
In Mark 12:28-34, a sincere scribe approaches Christ and asks which is the first commandment. Christ does not criticize the question or impugn the whole concept of keeping commandments. Hear his words:
29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.
What was Christ teaching? That there are crucial commandments for us to keep - primarily to love and serve God, and to love our neighbors. His words speak of much more than belief alone. To the scribe who understood the importance of these commandments, Christ said he was not far from the kingdom of God. As Christ said in Luke 11:28, "blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." Using our free will to choose to follow Christ and to keep his commandments is not contrary to the Gospel - it's at the heart of the what Christ taught. If we hear and DO what Christ commands us, we our built on a sure foundation (Matt. 7:24-28). Does that teaching deny the status of Christ as our Redeemer and Savior? Absolutely not. It brings us to Christ, that we might gain access to his grace.
But what about the thief on the cross? Doesn't that story show that salvation can come instantly without conditions, without effort, without covenants, without baptism, without knowledge of the Gospel and without striving to obey Christ? Look at the relevant passages. To a thief who asked the dying Lord to remember him, Christ said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). But two days after this, when Christ was resurrected and had taken up a glorious, tangible body, he appeared to Mary and told her, "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17 - one of many passages, by the way, showing that God the Father and Christ are separate Beings). If Christ had been in paradise but had not yet ascended to heaven where the Father dwells, then what is paradise? It is obviously some other place besides heaven and appears to be a place where the spirits of the dead await the time of resurrection. I don't know what Aramaic word Christ may have used, but according to my non-LDS Greek Bible Lexicon, the Greek word for paradise can mean "the part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of pious until the resurrection: but some understand this to be a heavenly paradise." This agrees well with what Joseph Smith said that Christ meant: "This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits: then I will teach you all about it and answer your inquiries" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.309). Indeed, Peter explained that when Christ was dead, he went as a spirit to preach the Gospel to those who had died (1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6). Christ was not offering instant salvation to the thief, who knew little of the Gospel and had not covenanted through baptism to follow Christ. He was simply telling him that they would be in the same place that day, in the world of spirits. There, the thief could learn of the Gospel of Christ and accept it. He would still need to accept baptism, which the early Christians and modern Latter-day Saints offer vicariously to the deceased via the sacred ordinance of baptism for the dead.
So many people have misunderstood the story of the thief on the cross, thinking that it shows deathbed repentance is all it takes to get into heaven without baptism or anything else. Remember, though, that Christ did not offer instant salvation or heaven to the thief, but only promised that they would be in paradise that day. It would be at least two days after that before Christ ascended to heaven.
Does commandment keeping save us? Absolutely not, though Christ tells us that we must keep His commandments (strive to obey Him) if we would have eternal life. But it is by His grace that we are saved - and how we need that grace! How we need to be saved from our sins and our fallen nature.
As I look at the decay in the world today, the slaughter, the warfare, the crime, the divorce, the immorality, I realize that the humanist dream of man's endless progress on his own has become a nightmare, a tragic farce. Left to ourselves, there is little but death and hell to face this beast called humanity. How desperately we need a Savior! I reject the arrogance of those who say they need no savior, who feel that depending on a savior is a sign of weakness and dependency. Those men show me by their empty and selfish lives what weakness is. We need a Savior, a savior to free us from our sins, our destruction of ourselves and other, to free us from death and fear and hate. We need divine strength to guide us and change our hearts, to fill us with peace and love. We need the cleansing and transforming power of the Atonement of Christ in our lives - that ultimate and infinite miracle of grace.
This world needs a savior, we need a savior, I need a savior, and there is only one: the Lord Jesus Christ. Through his divine grace, we can overcome, we can become partakers in the divine nature, we can become strong and ultimately glorious and filled with joy, while those who reject his grace and do not keep his commandments will find themselves weak and terrified at the weight of their own sins. May we follow the Savior with all our heart, might, might, and strength, and feast on his word, enduring in his grace to the end, and making His grace and His Gospel known to others.
--The discourse above is taken from a sermon given by Jeff Lindsay in Green Bay, Jan. 1995, with additional material added in Dec. 1996 and Sept. 1997.
Martin Luther achieved many great things for the Christian cause and many Latter-day Saints respect him. However, he was not a prophet of God, but a brave and intelligent man doing the best he could with his own understanding. He loved the scriptures and sought to reform the Church to more closely follow them. (One useful reference on his life and theology is Martin Luther by John M. Todd, Newman Press: Westminster, Maryland, 1964.)
Unfortunately, some of his teachings have caused many subsequent generations to stumble in a few areas. His misunderstanding of human free agency and the relationship between grace and works has proven especially problematic. I need to review these doctrines not to belittle Protestants, but to explain that this doctrine is Luther's and that rejection of Luther's teachings is not the same as rejecting pure Christianity. I also need to explain that Luther's doctrine of salvation by faith alone has caused serious confusion about the plan of salvation. Luther's views have been reviewed from an LDS standpoint by B.H. Roberts, an LDS leader near the turn of the century, in Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol.1, pp.487-488:
Instead of teaching that man must be absolutely obedient to the gospel in order to obtain salvation, Protestants taught that faith alone without works is sufficient for salvation. And this was the chief corner stone of Protestant theology; the point at which the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant church was most widely separated. The Catholic church, recognizing the operation of God's grace upon man, and also the power of will in man, came to the reasonable conclusion that man had it within their power to be obedient to the commandments of God, and that obedience united with the grace of God was the means of obtaining salvation; that man worked out his salvation both by faith and works. Protestants, however, regarding only those spiritual influences which operate upon man, came to the conclusion that the grace of God alone saved man, and that without any act on his part.
That I may convince you that I am not mistaken in what I say I will read to you some of the sayings of Luther upon this subject. "The excellent, invaluable and sole preparation for grace is the eternal election and predestination of God." This doctrine stands in marked contrast with the teaching of primitive Christianity. I hold that the New Testament scriptures teach in great plainness that God would have all the children of men to be saved, and is willing that none should be lost. But according to the teachings of Martin Luther, and the great body of Protestant Christendom, they would have us believe that there is a part of the great family of God predestined to eternal damnation; and, do what they will, they cannot be saved. [Webmaster note: I understand that Luther actually felt that some souls were predestined to be saved, but, technically, none were predestined to damnation. Predestination to damnation as well as salvation was taught by Calvin.] Their die is cast, their doom is sealed. They are reprobate, cast out from the affections and love of God. They stand not within the pale of salvation. But the gospel of primitive Christianity was a voice of glad tidings to all men, saying that they could be saved through faith and obedience.
While I have great respect for Protestants, I must differ with some of their doctrines (but I do expect that many of my now-Protestant and now-Catholic Christian friends will be in heaven). While Roberts' words seem harsh to me, I think he is right to reject the modern concept of predestination and to recognize the free agency of man as a great and divine gift (free agency to choose God and the grace He offers). Another quote from Roberts comes from Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, pp.252-254:
It is but just to the "Reformer," however, that it should be known that he did not himself reject good works, but on the contrary exhorted men to practice them; but he condemns those who did them with an idea that by them they would be justified, or that they were necessary to salvation. He held also that in order to do good works men must first be justified, and that good works done before justification were even sinful.[D'Aubigne's Hist. Ref., Vol. 1, pp. 117, 199.]
The Mischief of Luther's Doctrine:-- Though Luther did not reject good works, and though he held that justifying faith would produce them, yet his doctrine has been the source of much mischief in the world. When it was charged by his vicar general, Staupitius, that his doctrines were the delight of debauches, and that many scandalous practices were the consequences of some of his publications, he could not deny the charge, but contented himself by saying, "I am neither afraid of such censorious representations, nor surprised to hear them." [Milner's Church Hist., Vol. IV, page 379.] Luther's doctrine of salvation by faith alone, as stated by Melancthon, with his approval, stands thus:
"Man's justification before God proceeds from faith alone. This faith enters man's heart by the grace of God alone." [D'Aubigne's Hist. Ref., Vol. III, page 340.] This leaves man a passive creature in relation to his salvation. He is helpless to procure it; he can do nothing to hasten it; he is helpless; he must wait the divine workings of the grace of God. "As all things which happen," says Melancthon, "happen necessarily, according to the divine predestination, there is no such thing as liberty in our wills." [ibid.] ... Other followers of Luther, among them one Nicholas Amsdorf, went so far as to maintain that good works were a hindrance to salvation. [Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. (Murdock) Vol. III, page 147 (second edition.)]
By denying the existence of human liberty, and maintaining that all things happen necessarily, the "reformers," with Luther at their head, laid themselves open to the charges made by the partisans of the church of Rome, viz.: Their doctrine threw open a door to the most unbounded licentiousness since it furnished men with this defense for the crimes they committed--"We could do no other, our fate did not permit us to do otherwise." By saying that good works were not necessary to salvation, and assisted in no way to procure it, the "reformers" took away the chief incentive to good works, and removed the principal restraint to the doing of evil.
Moreover, their doctrine rendered void the ordinances and works required by the gospel; neither repentance nor baptism, nor any other act of obedience to God is essential if salvation is by faith alone. To say that it is a doctrine adverse to the whole tenor of scripture, notwithstanding a few isolated passages depended upon by the "reformers" and their successors to support it, is not necessary here. It is sufficient to remark that it is a doctrine which would render the commandments of God incompatible with the powers and capacity of his creatures; a doctrine which destroys at once the consistency of God, and the moral responsibility of man....
Luther felt that any attempt to add works to faith was an insult to the grace of God, but in my reading of the Bible, "faith without works is dead" (James 1:14-26 - but note that Luther felt James was one of several questionable books in the Bible, calling it the "gospel of straw" because he thought it had "no Gospel quality to it" [Martin Luthers Werke, Weimar: Bohlaus, 1906, vol. 6, p. 10, as cited by John W. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1990, p. 22]). Luther's views on predestination and our lack of freedom seem to me to contradict the entire premise of the Bible, that men are free and need to choose God. Paul taught that God "will have [wants] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). Further, 2 Peter 3:9 teaches that God wants none to perish but wants men to repent (see also Acts 17:30 and 2 Cor. 7:10). And Christ taught that "it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14). Indeed, Christ paid for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), so that forgiveness and grace is available to all who will diligently seek the Lord (cf. Heb. 11:6; Matt. 19:16,17). This is why we must preach the Gospel to all the world (Mark 16:15,16) and why the Gospel is even preached to those who died before the coming of Christ (1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6; the early Christian and LDS practice of baptism for the dead is also relevant).
Now if God wants all to repent and be saved, whose will is it that brings some to damnation? Calvin and many modern Protestants have taught that it is God's decision, that we are predestined and that we can do nothing about it. This seems to miss the whole purpose of the Bible and of Christ's mission: to offer salvation to those who will believe and repent and accept Christ. If we do not receive salvation, it is not God's will, but ours! Christ said, "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not" (Matt. 23:37). We have personal freedom to choose good, especially to choose salvation through Christ, in spite of the effects of Adam's transgression, a concept found not only in LDS theology but also in the writings of early Christians like Justin, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Clement. Although God wants all to accept him and be saved, we are free, and many of us will not choose correctly. He'll force no man to heaven - but the way is open to all who will receive it.
Before we entered this mortal world, we lived as spirit children of our Heavenly Father. Some of us were ordained - or foreordained - to become leaders in the Lord's kingdom and to serve Him in the Gospel (e.g., Jeremiah 1:5). Through God's knowledge of things to come, He knew when and where we would be born, what things would happen and what opportunities we would have. In spite of being foreordained or "predestined" to receive the Gospel, we are still free and still can choose to reject it or accept it. God's ability to see into the future, to know our nature perfectly, and to even know what we will choose does not take away our freedom to choose. (Does an observer with a time machine take away my freedom by having seen my future? No.)
The doctrine that God decided which of us would be damned even before we existed, and that we can do nothing but accept His decision, is a damnable heresy that makes God a capricious tyrant and humans mere robots, that denies the power of the Atonement of Christ, and that turns this mortal existence into a meaningless illusion. The truth is that God is our Father, He loves us and wants to save us all if only we will use our free agency to repent and choose Him, and this mortal testing ground is of great importance in God's plan for our eternal happiness, thanks to the Atonement of Christ.
covenant relationship in which He pays our debts, forgives our sins, makes us new creatures and gives us eternal life - but we must do our part. In Hebrews 6:1-2, Paul taught that we must have faith in Christ, repent, be baptized for the remission of sins, and receive the Holy Ghost. Likewise, Christ taught that we must be baptized to enter into heaven (John 3:3-5; Mark 16:16), as taught Paul (Titus 3:5; Romans 6:3-8; cf. Gal. 3:27), Peter (1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:37-41), and others. The necessity of baptism in particular is treated on my page about baptism (part of my LDS FAQ set).
Paul also warned many times that sin could lead believers to fall from grace (1 Cor. 10:12; Heb. 3: 12-14, Heb. 2:1-3; Heb. 4:1-11) and said that salvation requires that we "hold the beginnings of our confidence stedfast unto the end" (Heb. 3:14) and that we "labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall" (Heb. 4:11). Indeed, he urged us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) and to seek eternal life "by patient continuance in well doing" (Rom. 2:7) since God "will render to every man according to his deeds" (Rom. 2:6). In 2 Cor. 5:9,10, he said that Christians labor to be accepted of God since we will all be judged for the deeds we do in the flesh. Again, it is not works or baptism or any act of ours that saves us, but Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, we must accept His free gift by following and obeying Him who, in the words of Paul, is "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). If we are cautious and take heed to learn God's doctrine and continue in it (obeying Him), then, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:16, we will be saved and can help save those that hear us.
The apparent conflict between Paul and other writers was addressed by James E. Talmage in his book, Articles of Faith, pp.480-481 (footnote 3):
Faith Includes Works -- By isolating certain passages of scripture and regarding them as though they are complete in themselves some readers have assumed inconsistency if not contradiction to exist. Paul has been misrepresented as a proponent of the sufficiency of faith without works, and James has been cited in opposition. Compare Rom. 4:25; 9:11; Gal. 2:16; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5, with James 1:22, 23; 2:14-26. Paul specifies the outward forms and ceremonies of the Mosaic law, which had been superseded by the higher requirements of the Gospel, as unessential works. James speaks of actual effort and effective deeds as the works that result from true faith in God and His requirements. But after all, the apparent differences lie in the words and not in the spirit or the fact. The following note by Elder J.M. Sjodahl of the Church Historian's Office is instructive and in point: "If we comprehend fully the meaning in which the authors of the scriptures use the word 'faith' we shall see that there is no difference in meaning between true faith and works of faith. In the Bible the two terms mean the same thing. James does not contradict Paul. For, to 'believe' is to live by the laws of the gospel.
In spite of Paul's much-quoted teachings on grace and the abolition of the law (often meaning the Law of Moses), Paul understood and taught that we must be obedient and strive to "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), as was demonstrated in many passages in the main discourse above (e.g., Heb. 5:8,9 and many others). A final example of this concept comes from Romans 6:15-16:
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
In other words, we must yield ourselves to obey Christ and become his servants, with our obedience leading to righteousness - through the grace of Christ. Again, there is an all-important interaction between God's grace and our free agency. He does not force us toward salvation or damnation, but we are free to choose to obey him, to yield to him, and to become his servants who then enjoy the blessings of his grace. Without that gift, without his mercy, all our obedience would count for nothing because we would still be stained by our inevitable sins and we would be unclean and unable to dwell in his presence.
Other non-LDS scholars have recognized the error of Luther's interpretation of Paul. E.P. Sanders, one of the leading experts on Paul, says that Luther's views have "often been shown to be an incorrect interpretation of Paul" and that "we misunderstand [Paul] if we see him through Luther's eyes" (E.P. Sanders, Paul, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 49; see also pp. 44,48; as cited by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, Aspen Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992). Salvation by grace alone hardly existed as a doctrine until introduced by Augustine, who was sorely troubled by his wicked past. Until Luther, that doctrine was not accepted by the majority of Christians who continued to believe that good works were required for salvation. Luther's views are not supported by early Christian documents such as the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. It is surprising that many modern Christians would deny the Christian status of anyone who does not accept a doctrinal position that hardly existed before the sixteenth century. (In addition to the quotations of early Christians on this page, you may wish to read the work of an evangelical Christian, David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, 3rd. edition (Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing, 1999), especially pages 56-68. Excerpts from Bercot can be read on pages by Steven Jones and Marc Schindler.)
As to the relation of Luther's views to the Bible, Luther had great difficulty with many writers other than Paul - and even Paul does not support him. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, gives no hint of salvation without works, but focuses on standards for human behavior, on sacrifice, of love, service, endurance, and teaches that such works are essential to salvation. Luther, however, said that the Sermon on the Mount was "a masterpiece of the devil," for he felt that Satan had done much harm by "misusing" the confusing teachings in it to suggest that works were needed. Luther also distrusted James and several other books that did not agree with his philosophy.
We should remember, of course, that the Apostle Peter was concerned about misunderstandings that might arise from the writings of Paul, as Peter explained in a passage that exhorts us to be diligent, to endure, to grow, and to beware lest we fall (2 Peter 3:14-18):
14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
Peter's concerns were justified, for many have misunderstood Paul's writings and have failed to understand our need to endure and to be diligent in obeying Christ. Many have misunderstood the role of works and keeping the commandments of God. Fortunately, many Christians have known and obeyed the truth written in their hearts.
Christ wants to bless us, and what better way to bless us than to give us His teachings, His commandments and His truths? As we live them, we draw closer to the Savior and learn to know Him, which is eternal life (John 17:3). As Christ said, "if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). Ironically, many say we are not Christians for holding to that belief! If believing what Christ taught makes me a non-Christian, then so be it. But I accept Christ as my Savior and worship Him as the Son of God - and sincerely hope you will, too.
Chapters 8 to 12 of Hebrews give an excellent overview of the way in which God deals with man through covenants. In Heb. 8:6, he points out that God has introduced a better covenant, replacing the old one that included the Law of Moses. The first covenant was imperfect (Heb. 8:7,8). As Paul explained earlier in Galatians 3:16-27, it was given because of transgression (the rebellion of the House of Israel after escaping Egypt) and served as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (to help people look forward to Christ, the real sacrifice for sin and the real High Priest that would come). Under the new covenant, we do not need all the numerous rules of the Law of Moses to teach obedience to a disobedient people, for God now will put his laws in the minds and hearts of his followers, that we might be his people and live (Heb. 8:10,11). In Hebrews 9 and 10, Paul then talks about the symbols of the old covenant which foreshadowed Christ. In the new covenant, we have Christ as our Savior and the Holy Ghost to witness to us and put the law of God in our hearts (Heb. 10:15,16). He concludes, then urging us to receive this covenant. How? "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 10:22). In other words, let us have faith in Christ, repent of our sins, and receive the ordinance of baptism. Then he encourages us to persevere in the new covenant, pursuing good works and helping others in the faith while avoiding sin, that we might have patience in doing the will of God:
23 Let us hold fast our profession of faith without wavering . . .
24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works
25 . . . exhorting one another . . .
26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; . . .
35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
Then in Chapter 11, Paul discusses faith, showing that it is a principle of action and works. Finally, in Chapter 12, Paul tells us what to do. He tells us to endure, to repent, to avoid sin, and to be diligent to maintain the grace of God in our lives. God's purpose is to help us become true children of him, so there will be some painful lessons to be learned, but we must endure these and continue in diligence and love. Likewise, we must seek to live in peace with all men and be holy. Here are the relevant verses of Hebrews 12:
1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. . . .
5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
17 For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
The better covenant that we have in Christ is not a one-way street. The principle of obedience still applies. We must accept the terms of the covenant by having faith in Christ, by repenting of our sins, by witnessing our commitment to Christ through baptism by immersion, and then by running the race with patience that God has set before us on the straight and narrow path. As we seek holiness and serve God in patience and diligence, God promises to bless us and give us eternal life through the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is a process requiring growth and endurance and diligence, not a one-time event based on a single decision. Hebrews 8-12 is fully consistent with the teachings of Christ and the rest of the Bible. It is also consistent with LDS doctrine. May we all enter into a covenant relationship with Christ and serve him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30) that we may fully receive the grace of Christ and be able to enter into the heavenly city to dwell with him and the Father forever (Rev. 22:14).
1. Wrenching the doctrine of "salvation by grace" (Eph. 2:8-9) from the doctrine of "judgment and reward according to works" (Mt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 5:10). The purpose of "salvation by grace" (i.e. from Adam's First Death, Rom. 5:15) was in fact to make it possible for men to perform the "good works" which God intended (Eph. 2:10; Rom. 8:8-10), and for which they will be variously judged and rewarded (Mt. 13:8, 23; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 15:41). Those who fail to live worthy lives may actually suffer a Second Death (Heb. 10:39; Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14).
2. Failure to take into account the dual processes of justification and sanctification. One is not "saved" instantly, but only justified, in anticipation of a successful sanctification by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:14: "That Spirit is the pledge that we shall enter upon our heritage, when God has redeemed what is his own," NEB). The transformation of our residual "Old Man" will in fact be completed only at the time of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:52-54), for none has yet become perfect while in the world (Mt. 19:17; Rom. 3:12). Even Martin Luther called the justified "both righteous and sinner" (simul justus ac peccator), for his sanctification is still an on-going process (Gal. 4:19), the results of which are yet to be "confirmed" by the sinner's personal "diligence" in incorporating the gifts of the Spirit into his life (2 Pet. 1:10; Gal. 5:25). Thus, during our earthly life, we have only the power to become "sons of God" (John 1:12), a process which requires a life-long process of sanctification, and may be interrupted before it is completed by a fall from grace. Failure to understand this dual process leads to flaw number 3:
3. The notion of instant and irrevocable salvation: Once reborn as a "son of God," one can never become unborn, even if one returns to sin. He may be "chastised," but he always remains God's son - just as an earthly son remains the offspring of his earthly father. Scripture, however, is replete with warnings that one may fall from grace and lose his salvation altogether (1 Cor. 9:27; 10:12; 1 Tim. 1:19; Heb. 6:4-6; 12:15). The New Testament therefore contains no such thing as "eternal security" ("Once saved, always saved").
4. Ignoring the importance of baptism. The false notion that being "born of water" (John 3:5) refers to a "natural birth" from the mother's amniotic fluid - later to be followed by a "spiritual birth" (vs. 6) - is found nowhere in Scripture. It is in fact contradicted by the context of the preceding verses, which clearly speak of a "rebirth," not an "initial birth." This is elsewhere specified as a "rebirth in water" (dia loutrou palingenesias, Titus 3:5), and baptism (baptizo) as the act of "immersion" (see Mt. 3:16 and Mk. 1:10, for Jesus' example; also Mk. 1:5; Acts 8:38, for the practice of the early church). Finally, baptism is not merely a outward sign ("like a wedding ring") that one already belongs to Christ, but the means of joining Christ ("Baptized into Jesus Christ," Rom. 6:3; "Baptized into Christ," Gal. 3:27; "Made to drink into one Spirit," 1 Cor. 12:13; etc.). Baptismal Rebirth was therefore the scriptural method of "washing away" one's sinful condition (Rom. 6:5-7; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Tit. 3:5), and was commanded by Jesus himself (Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:16). It was then followed by the laying-on-of-hands for the gift of the Spirit (see no. 5):
5. Failure to see the difference between an initial conversion by the Spirit and the permanent gift of the Spirit through the laying-on-of-hands (compare Acts 2:4 with 2:38: "They were filled with the Holy Ghost... Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized... and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost"). Furthermore, this gift could only be given by the laying-on-of-hands by those having apostolic authority (Acts 8:14-17; 9:17-18; 19:2-6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6; Heb. 6:1-2).
6. Ignoring the importance of an organized church (the "Body of Christ," Eph. 1:22-23) as a means of receiving Christ's Spirit and fullness, and of being perfected (1 Cor. 12:1-13; Eph. 4:11-13; Col. 1:18-19 and 2:9-10).. The view that men can be saved simply by a "private" or "personal relationship with Christ" is nowhere contained in Scripture.
Some of our critics vehemently attack the notion that obedience, commandment keeping, and enduring to the end could have any bearing on our eternal salvation. Such LDS beliefs, they charge, are radically different from those of "historic Christianity" and demonstrate that we are not Christian. Over and over they allege that we have departed from historic Christianity because our understanding of the doctrines of salvation, grace, faith, and works are not identical to theirs. Their attacks frequently quote Brigham Young or Joseph Smith saying things much like the Third Article of Faith: "We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." That statement of belief seems to raise their ire, but there are many much more forceful quotes from other Church leaders of the past that the critics might want to consider if they're looking for a fight. Since we have nothing to hide, let me openly share excerpts from seven other Church leaders that offer the kind of characteristic LDS teachings that our critics love to hate. Critics, feel free to include these excerpts from past Church leaders in your next anti-Mormon book or Web page (sources will be given below):
For if we do the will of Christ, we will find rest; but if we do not, if we disobey his commandments, then nothing will save us from eternal punishment... [W]hat assurance do we have of entering the kingdom of God if we fail to keep our baptism pure and undefiled? Or who will be our advocate, if we are not found to have holy and righteous works?...
So, then, while we are yet on earth, let us repent.... [A]s long as we are in this world, let us repent with our whole heart of the evil things which we have done in the flesh, in order that we may be saved by the Lord while we still have time for repentance... So, brothers, if we have done the will of the Father and have kept the flesh pure and have observed the commandments of the Lord, we will receive eternal life.
Let us therefore serve God with a pure heart, and we will be righteous....
So, my brothers, let us not be double-minded, but patiently endure in hope, that we may also receive the reward. "For faithful is he who promised" to pay each person the wages due his works. Therefore, if we do what is right in God's sight, we will enter his kingdom and receive the promises which "ear has not heard nor eye seen nor the heart of man imagined."
Let us repent, therefore, with our whole heart, lest any of us should perish needlessly.... And let us think about paying attention and believing not only now, while we are being admonished by the elders, but also when we have returned home let us remember the Lord's commands and not allow ourselves to be dragged off the other way by worldly desires, but let us come here more frequently and strive to advance in the commandments of the Lord, in order that all of us, being of one mind, may be gathered together into life.
...let us do all the things that pertain to holiness... "For God," he says, "resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Let us therefore join with those to whom grace is given by God.... [Let us be] humble and self-controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words....
And so we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the almighty God has justified all who ever existed from the beginning.... What then shall we do, brothers?... let us hasten with earnestness and zeal to accomplish every good work.
Blessed are we, dear friends, if we continue to keep God's commandments in the harmony of love, that our sins may be forgiven through love.
Let us, therefore, be careful not to oppose the bishop [I had to throw that in - a favorite quote of mine], in order that we may be obedient to God....So you are all fellow pilgrims ... adorned in every respect with the commandments of Jesus Christ.... For the Work [of Christianity] is not a matter of what one promises now, but of persevering to the end in the power of faith.
But he who raised him from the dead will raise us also, if we do his will and follow his commandments and love the things he loved, while avoiding every kind of unrighteousness, greed, love of money, slander, and false testimony....
...let us arm ourselves with "the weapons of righteousness" and let us first teach ourselves to follow the commandments of the Lord.... If we please him in this present world, we will receive of the world to come as well, inasmuch as he promised to raise us from the dead and that if we prove to be citizens worthy of him, "we will also reign with him" - if, that is, we continue to believe. Let us, therefore, become imitators of his patient endurance....
Consequently, let us be on guard in the last days, for the whole time of our faith will do us no good unless now, in the age of lawlessness, we resist as well the coming stumbling blocks, as befits Gods children.
To the best of our ability, let us cultivate the fear of God and strive to keep his commandments, that we may rejoice in his ordinances. The Lord will judge the world without partiality. Each person will receive according to what he has done: if he is good, his righteousness will precede him; if he is evil, the wages of doing evil will go before him. Let us never fall asleep in our sins... lest the evil ruler gain power over us and thrust us out of the kingdom of the Lord. ... [L]et us be on guard lest we should be found to be, as it is written, "many called, but few chosen."
Only do not be careless, but be courageous and strengthen your family.... Do not cease, therefore, instructing your children, for I know that if they repent with all their heart, they will be enrolled with the saints in the books of life.
[God] will keep the promise which he promised to them with great glory and joy, if they keep God's commandments....
The Lord tries you, that "you may choose life." He counsels you as a father to obey God. "For if ye hear Me," He says, "and be willing, ye shall eat the good things of the land:" this is the grace attached to obedience. "But if ye obey Me not, and are unwilling, the sword and fire shall devour you:" this is the penalty of disobedience. For the mouth of the Lord--the law of truth, the word of the Lord--hath spoken these things. [emphasis mine]
According to some of our critics, I suppose any one of these quotes from church leaders would be evidence enough to prove that we have departed from historic Christianity, that we worship a "different Christ", and that we are not even close to being Christian. Have we departed from historic Christianity? Judge for yourself. Those seven excerpts above, all of which provide solid LDS doctrine - doctrine for which I need make no apology - came from Church leaders, but not LDS leaders. The seven writers quoted above were leaders in the early Church of Jesus Christ, not its restored counterpart, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each excerpt was taken from collections of the earliest Christian writings available besides the New Testament. The first six writers were among the Apostolic Fathers, taken from the book The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989, for which page numbers are listed below. The reference for seventh writer is given in its entirety below. The sources are:
1. An Ancient Christian Sermon - Commonly Known as 2 Clement (pp. 71-77) - this is the earliest known complete Christian sermon.
2. The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, Commonly Known as First Clement (pp. 44-46,56)
3. The Letters of Ignatius: To the Ephesians (pp. 88, 89, 91)
4. The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians (pp. 124, 125, 127)
5. Epistle of Barnabas (p. 166)
6. Shepherd of Hermas (p. 196)
7. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 153-217), Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter IX, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885-1896, 2:198 (available online at the Early Church Fathers Site of Wheaton College).
First and Second Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas were treated by some early Christian groups as scripture, having been included in some canons. All six of the church leaders responsible for these documents were indisputably Christian and were among the earliest Christians. What they say sounds like solid LDS doctrine, and is certainly different from much of the "mainstream" Christian teachings of today. There was an apostasy from the fullness of the Gospel that occurred gradually as apostles and prophets were persecuted and killed, and worsened greatly as the State took over the Church in the day of Constantine. Fortunately there has been a Restoration!
Mormons aren't the only ones to see how modern, mainstream Christianity has departed from the understanding of early Christians on this issue of faith, works, and salvation. One writer, Joel Kalvesmaki, raised as an Evangelical Christian, speaks of his discoveries as he read the writings of early Christians (the complete article was posted May 4, 1999 on the newsgroup "aus.religion.christian" and is archived online with Google newsgroups):
After a while I gave myself permission to vent my hungry heart and reach out to the saints of which Eusebius spoke. Instead of trying to fit them into my own mold, I asked them to tell me their story.
Where have you been all my life? As an Evangelical missionary and "apologist," I felt robbed. I had spent hours poring through Christian bookshops and had never read this kind of material. I didn't even know there were writings available from the period. Most versions of Church history I had read would briefly mention the second and third centuries, briefly focus on the trinitarian debates of the fourth, highlight Augustine, then jump into the sixteenth century for the Reformation. Never at a Christian bookstore or booktable had I seen patristic writings being reprinted and sold. We have been content selling the writings of any nutcase who pretends to be Evangelical, but have not bothered to consider selling the works of the sons and grandsons of the Apostles.
And I soon realised why. If Evangelicals ever bothered to reprint and study Ignatius, Polycarp, Tertullian or Irenaeus, their writings would step on our theological toes....
Irenaeus, in his treatise Against Heresies, catalogues and deals with Gnostic heresies, primarily combatting their views on the godhead and creation, while also addressing their inclination towards sectarianism, anti-sacramentalism and departure from the Apostolic succession. Tertullian, the first Christian to use the term Trinity, also looks at the nature of heresies in his day and observes how they have departed from the historic Apostolic faith in both teaching and practice, giving no regard to the sanctity of the Eucharist or the Apostolic succession. The criticisms Irenaeus and Tertullian make against their opponents are still valid against many forms of Evangelicalism.
Allow me to qualify these bold strokes. Some of the early authors may have looked upon certain groups such as Anglicans or Lutherans with a sympathy that may have extended to mutual recognition and communion. However mainstream Evangelicalism, as represented by the Evangelical Alliance or most interdenominational agencies, would not be in favor with the consensus of the earliest Fathers....
Early Christianity maintained that we are saved by faith in Christ through baptism. We are being saved now and will be saved if we abide in Christ. Their writings are full of warnings against falling away from Christ, with the understanding that it could and does happen. Even though they had no understanding of eternal security, the Fathers had no "eternal insecurity." They understood that God initiates our salvation by sending His Spirit and power into our lives, a love which we reciprocate. The concept of salvation by faith alone or by irresistible grace was a concept foreign to the Church. Rather, the Calvinist system, which I had embraced for many years, finds unusually strong echoes in the teachings of Gnostic sects.
Another interesting early Christian author was Saint Cyprian (ca. 200-258), Bishop of Carthage, whose writings are available in Volume 5 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), downloadable or viewable at the Early Church Fathers Site by Wheaton College. Cyprian's discourse on repentance stands in stark contrast to modern "cheap grace," emphasizing that repentance sometimes can be a painful and lengthy process, almost identical to common LDS teachings. The following excerpt from is taken from his Treatise III: On the Lapsed (pages 446-447 of Volume 5 of ANF):
But you, beloved brethren, whose fear is ready towards God, and whose mind, although it is placed in the midst of lapse, is mindful of its misery, do you in repentance and grief look into your sins; acknowledge the very grave sin of your conscience; open the eyes of your heart to the understanding of your sin, neither despairing of the Lord's mercy nor yet at once claiming His pardon. God, in proportion as with the affection of a Father He is always indulgent and good, in the same proportion is to be dreaded with the majesty of a judge. Even as we have sinned greatly, so let us greatly lament. To a deep wound let there not be wanting a long and careful treatment; let not the repentance be less than the sin. Think you that the Lord can be quickly appeased, whom with faithless words you have denied, to whom you have rather preferred your worldly estate, whose temple you have violated with a sacrilegious contact? Think you that He will easily have mercy upon you whom you have declared not to be your God? You must pray more eagerly and entreat; you must spend the day in grief; wear out nights in watchings and weepings; occupy all your time in wailful lamentations; lying stretched on the ground, you must cling close to the ashes, be surrounded with sackcloth and filth; after losing the raiment of Christ, you must be willing now to have no clothing; after the devil's meat, you must prefer fasting; be earnest in righteous works, whereby sins may be purged; frequently apply yourself to almsgiving, whereby souls are freed from death. What the adversary took from you, let Christ receive; nor ought your estate now either to be held or loved, by which you have been both deceived and conquered. Wealth must be avoided as an enemy; must be fled from as a robber; must be dreaded by its possessors as a sword and as poison. To this end only so much as remains should be of service, that by it the crime and the fault may be redeemed. Let good works be done without delay, and largely; let all your estate be laid out for the healing of your wound; let us lend of our wealth and our means to the Lord, who shall judge concerning us. Thus faith flourished in the time of the apostles; thus the first people of believers kept Christ's commands: they were prompt, they were liberal, they gave their all to be distributed by the apostles; and yet they were not redeeming sins of such a character as these.
If a man make prayer with his whole heart, if he groan with the true lamentations and tears of repentance, if be incline the Lord to pardon of his sin by righteous and continual works, he who expressed His mercy in these words may pity such men: "When you turn and lament, then shall you be saved, and shall know where you have been."
Such doctrines will get one branded as a non-Christian cultist these days.
I have often challenged critics of the Church to explain why the writings of the earliest Christians are so much closer to the doctrines of the Restoration than they are to modern mainstream Christianity. Who can honestly read the Apostolic Fathers and think that their doctrines accord well with modern mainstream teachings? But the critics have been rather silent on this issue, generally preferring to switch to some new objection rather than address what I see as strong evidence for an Apostasy and a Restoration.
One Protestant reader was disturbed by my inattention to "Lordship Salvation theology" as presented by John MacArthur. The reader claimed that MacArthur's view "fits in best with the biblical data." To rectify this defect, I'll briefly discuss MAcArthur's views and their relation to what I have given above.
I own a copy of John MacArthur's recent work on Lordship Salvation, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1993). It's a well written book and clearly explores the very heated Protestant debate between "lordship" and "no-lordship" salvation theology. If you've missed this mostly-North American controversy, one of several schisms in evangelical Protestantism deals with the issues of repentance, works, and sanctification for converted Christians. MacArthur and other advocates of lordship salvation maintain that it is not enough to just intellectually accept Christ as our Savior, in contrast to the "no-lordship" camp. Lordship theology maintains that Christ is not only our Savior, but must also be our Lord whom we follow. If we have true saving faith, then we will repent of our sins, keep His commandments, and walk in newness of life. If such works don't follow our conversion, then we are not saved, for the apparent conversion was not based on true saving faith. But, as is common to Protestant theology, the works and the obedience are not meritorious - they play no role in our salvation - but are outward expressions of our saved state. Salvation - that is, justification - occurred when God turned us to Christ and we received the gift of faith in Him. But God's work doesn't end there, for He wants us to be sanctified, to become more like Christ, and thus will lead believers to repent and do good works and become holy. Saved Christians may stumble, as Peter did, but God's grace is efficacious and will inevitably lead the elect to grow in the Gospel.
Here are a few key passages from MacArthur's book:
Advocates of "no-lordship" salvation teach that a person may be assured of salvation by largely mental acceptance of Christ, even if there is no change in the person's life. The "convert" may even willfully rebel against Christ but still be assured of salvation, for "once saved always saved." To say that good works are an inevitable sign of true saving faith is considered to be a form of "works salvation" that denies the grace of God. Repentance and commandment keeping may be helpful is a person wants to walk in communion with God in this life, but are not essential conditions for or signs of salvation.
MacArthur's "lordship salvation" is close to the LDS view in some ways. We agree that true faith in Christ leads us to repent and keep God's commandments, and that God gives us power to do these things. And we agree that those who show no signs of repentance and obedience to God are in peril of their salvation. This view is much better than the no-lordship view which I have encountered so often. And it's great to see Protestants stress the importance of sanctification and obedience in Christian life, even to the point of being condemned by other Protestants for allegedly espousing salvation that requires works. Finally, I am thrilled to see emphasis given to the process of sanctification, which MacArthur often describes in terms familiar to Latter-day Saints: "becoming like Christ." In fact, MacArthur sounds a lot like those "god-maker" Mormons when he makes the very Biblical statement, "He is not finished with us yet, and His work will not cease until He has made us into the perfect likeness of His Son (1 John 3:2)." Whew! A man can get condemned as a cultist for saying that in some places....
While this page on faith and works was written partly in response to the no-lordship folks, who are quite vocal and hard to miss, many of my arguments apply to Lordship Salvation as well (i.e., both of these Protestant systems share common doctrinal errors, in my opinion). The LDS view (and, in my opinion, the Biblical view) differs most from Evangelical lordship theology in maintaining that God gives us the freedom to choose or reject Him. And that decision is not just made once in our life - something the Bible does not teach - but can be made daily. We can accept Christ for years and then choose to reject Him. We can fall from grace. It is precisely because God gives us this level of free agency that we need people to preach the Gospel to us, not just before we believe, but afterwards as well. That's why Paul spends so much time exhorting believers, and warns them that they can fall. But we can avoid falling by doing what Christ and His apostles told us: endure to the end, keep the commandments, be diligent, keep the faith. And ultimately, we will be judged not by the level of faith that we had at the moment of conversion, but by our works. That's what the scriptures teach repeatedly. As shown above, works and repentance and our actions play a role in our access to the gift of faith and salvation. What happens to us is not all automatically due to God's predestination.
What I find most interesting about MacArthur's approach is how closed some aspects of his system is, being hermetically sealed against outside evidence. Specifically, MacArthur argues that works and perseverance in the faith are inevitable results of the efficacious grace of God for those to whom He has given true saving faith. If we have saving faith, then of course we will be baptized and strive to obey and keep the commandments and become sanctified, etc. A good outcome is guaranteed by a good beginning, with no possibility of failure, for God's will cannot be thwarted - but this claim is immune to empirical evidence or to arguments and observations about human free agency. It looks as if there is no way to tell if someone has saving faith at the all-important beginning of their (apparently) true conversion unless we jump ahead to the end and see how that person turned out - sanctified or fallen. If an apparently faithful believer later appears to fall away and reject God or to become totally sinful, then it is not because he fell away and changed his mind or rejected God or showed any sign of letting human will affect their salvation, but because he never had saving faith to begin with. Of course, the elect with saving faith have assurance of salvation all along, while those who end up not being true to the faith and thought they had the same assurance were just deceived all along.
How can such a system be tested? All results can then be explained as being entirely due to the starting point: was there saving faith or not? It's like cliff diving: whether one survives or is dashed against the rocks depends primarily on the initial moment when the leap was made. But to me, the scriptures teach that obtaining the gift of salvation requires more than just a single leap of faith: they teach that we are in a race where we can continually choose to stay on course or can choose freely to depart from the faith and abandon Christ. We must endure to the end, giving diligence to make our calling and election sure. MacArthur can quote such passages from the Bible without even noticing the apparent problem, for all is forced to fit his view: those that have saving faith initially will inevitably give diligence in good works, showing that their initial salvation is assured because they had true saving faith after all.
Near the end, Christ was worried about Peter and warned that Satan desired to have him. Peter showed weakness and did reject Christ momentarily. MacArthur assures us that it was not God's will for Peter to fall and thus, even though he would stumble, he would ultimately remain on course and continue in the faith. He had saving faith, revealed to him by the Father, and God's grace to Peter was efficacious- Peter could not escape. Now under the very same circumstances, if Peter had fallen away fully after denying Christ three times and had never come back, MacArthur would see this as another case of someone who appeared to believe but never had saving faith to begin with. All examples can be characterized in this way, but it's a circular argument. In my opinion, this approach is not based on the scriptures alone, but on the foundation of the philosophical maxim that humans are totally depraved with no free will - a maxim derived from human reasoning. Was Peter converted? He had been. But was his conversion complete? No. Peter was still growing in the faith. The incompleteness of Peter's conversion is attested by Christ's statement to Peter at this time:"When thou are converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32). This statement comes well after Peter's declaration that Jesus is the Christ, a declaration made possible by divine revelation from the Father, a declaration showing that Peter's conversion had begun (Matt. 16:15-17). And yet Peter was at risk, his faith was in danger of failing, and he needed further conversion before he would be strong enough to truly strengthen others. Here, the Biblical record does not fit MacArthur's lordship salvation, and certainly doesn't fit the no-lordship view of Protestant theology. But it clearly squares with LDS theology and its recognition of human free agency interacting with God's call to repent and His offer of grace.
In reading MacArthur's work, I had the impression that all scriptures can be interpreted (or mangled) to comply with evangelical lordship doctrine, regardless of what the author of the scripture appears to intend. If a scripture says we will be judged by works, warns against the possibility of believers falling, and commands us to keep the commandments in order to be saved, MacArthur's response could well be:
"Exactly so! The works are the outward expression of our saving faith and are a good way to determine whether we had saving faith to begin with, so judgment by works is really judgment of our initial saving faith. And yes, those without saving faith do fall, even if they think they believe, so they better examine their faith and hope God gives them saving faith. And yes, we must keep the commandments, but it has nothing to do with salvation except that it is an expression of our saved state."
I have two questions for advocates of lordship salvation (or Protestant doctrine in general):
Question 1. If the evangelical lordship view were actually incorrect, and if God actually did give us free agency to choose or reject the salvation He offers, and if we must meet His conditions for receiving the gift of salvation, conditions like repentance and baptism and enduring to the end, then is there anything that God could say to make this point that would not be interpreted away to fit with the preconceived concepts of human depravity and salvation by faith alone?
For example, what if God were to go so far as to tell believers that they must not remain static, but must grow and add new attributes to faith, attributes like virtue, godliness, charity, etc., and that these things were needed to remain purged of sins? What if He then told believers to be diligent in such growth in order to make their calling and election sure, warning that believers can actually fall? What if He warned believers that they could depart from the living God through sin and explicitly stated that salvation is assured IF they hold the faith they had at the beginning steady until the end? Would that all be tossed away with words like, "Yes, those with saving faith naturally will hold what they had at the beginning unto the end - and those who fall away after an apparent true conversion actually were just deceived into thinking they truly believed." By the way, the above hypothetical statements about what God might try to say are based on what He did say in 2 Peter 1:4-10 and Heb. 3:12-14.
Question 2. Do we really lack freedom to choose to follow Christ, or to choose to reject Christ? If so, why bother preaching? Why should we exhort fellow believers lest they be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin and fall away, as Paul asks us to do in Heb 3:12-14? If everything depends on God choosing us or not choosing us to have the gift of saving faith, and if nothing we do can have any outcome on our salvation, then why does John MacArthur or anyone else bother writing and publishing books on the topic? (Perhaps, one might ask with tongue in cheek, because there might just be thousands of people who are predestined to buy the book?) Really, why bother preaching at all if no act of human will can play any role on our salvation?
Along this line, consider Romans 2:14-15:
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts....
Gentiles can obey the law of God "by nature," is it possible that their "nature" is not entirely depraved? If the law of God, though not preached to them, is nevertheless written in their hearts, can we accept the notion that man is utterly incapable of doing anything good, that the heart is utterly dead to God? They still sin, but there is certainly a spark of good in them and some power to choose good! In Romans 2, Paul teaches that God is no respecter of persons (v. 11), but rewards each according to their deeds (v. 6). He teaches that the goodness of God leads to repentance (v. 4), but a hard heart (human will) stands in the way (v. 5). Eternal life is offered to those who seek for glory through "patient continuance in well doing" (v. 7). Glory and honor are offered to "every man that worketh good" (v. 10), not because an arbitrarily chosen group will inevitably do good apart from any human action or effort, but because God has no respect of persons (v. 11), meaning that he treats us FAIRLY, applying the same standard to all and offering the same salvation to all. This passage underscores human agency and accountability. God would be a respecter of persons if only an arbitrarily chosen group had any chance of salvation. Judgment by works would be absurd if we had no power to choose good works (but the unconverted Gentiles have such power, and so do we). We must eliminate the perverse and blinding doctrines of total human depravity and lack of free will - doctrines absent from the earliest Christian writings - if we are to understand the Bible. Free from such blinders, we can see that God is just and not capricious when it comes to salvation, that He is not a respecter of persons or groups, and that salvation is offered to Jews and Gentile as a gift that is conditional upon our obedience.
If our actions could have no bearing on our salvation and our acceptance by God, why does Paul in 2 Cor. 5: 9,10 urge us to labor in order to be accepted of God, explaining that we will be judged by what we do? Regardless of who Paul is speaking to, there are things we must do to be accepted of God, who will judge us according to our works. If those works are all God's, or the inevitable result of what God does to us, then judgment based on those works makes little sense. God would be judging Himself, not us.
Please remember that the whole purpose of the scriptures and of the preaching of Christ and the Apostles is to teach man how to come unto God. The human subject must interact with the word of God: not just understand it, but respond to it, believe, and act. All glory is to the Father, all the actions we take are made possible by Him and, if we respond to His word, our holy actions are inspired and assisted by Him. But we do not lose our free agency in this process. We can choose to accept eternal life, or to reject it, and we don't lose that power to choose just because we accepted Christ once. MacArthur's views on this are incompatible with many scriptures, many of which were discussed above in this page.
As further evidence, consider 1 Timothy 6: 11,12:
But thou, O man of God, flee these things [the love of money, greed]; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
According to MacArthur, the man of God, called unto eternal life, and already showing a good profession, would have salvation guaranteed and would inevitably follow after righteousness. Why, then, must Paul urge the man of God to do these things? Why urge him to fight the good fight - a process that requires endurance? Why imply that these things are part of the process required to "lay hold on eternal life"? If eternal life were absolutely guaranteed, why ask the man of God to "lay hold" on it? If man can do nothing to affect his salvation, why use such language at all?Clearly, human agency is still at work and can still affect the salvation even of one who is currently a man of God called unto eternal life. Remember, being called to eternal life does not guarantee the outcome, thanks to human agency, for "many are called but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14; also Matthew 20:16).
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul again uses the metaphor of fighting and enduring as a "good soldier of Jesus Christ," asking Timothy to "be strong in the grace" of Christ and to "endure hardness" (v. 1-3). In verse 5, Paul speaks of the conditions that still must be met for Timothy's eternal crown: "And if a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." The crown is not guaranteed! Our strivings must be done according to God's law. Paul then shows his concern for the salvation of THE ELECT in verse 10:
Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
Paul is working hard for the salvation of the elect, willing to endure all things to help them obtain it. Again, human agency plays a role, which is why Paul and others must continually work with the elect as well as with the unconverted to help them accept the gift of salvation. Paul expresses a similar idea in Romans 11:22, where believers are promised the blessing of "goodness" instead of punishment IF they "continue in goodness, otherwise [they] shall be cut off." This outcome is not predestined - otherwise it would be nonsensical for Paul to warn believers to "take heed lest he also spare not thee" (Romans 11:21). If we can take heed to prevent loss of salvation, we certainly have a degree of free agency.
Finally, if humans are totally depraved with no power on their own to choose God or do good or stand approved by God until God reaches down and converts them to Christ, why do we find the scriptures speaking of the goodness and justice of unconverted people like Cornelius in Act 10? This Roman, a centurion, is described as "a just man, and one that feareth God" (Acts 10:22). God sent an angel to him to prepare him for the ministry of Peter, who would baptize this Gentile. When Peter met him and learned of God's angelic work with Cornelius, Peter declared something in stark contrast to MacArthur's position:
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10: 34,35)
Even people that have not yet heard of Christ but fear God and strive to be righteous can be "accepted" before God, though they must still hear and accept the covenant of salvation offered through Jesus. Though Cornelius was just and accepted before God, his journey was not complete. He needed to learn of Christ and be baptized. But he showed a degree of spiritual life within him even before he had saving faith in Christ. MacArthur's position does not seem to allow for such a possibility.
Peter/s declaration in Acts 10 is similar to Paul's in Romans 10:11-13, where Paul declares that there is no difference between Greek and Jew, for "the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him" and that "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Here human will is still at work. Those who choose to call upon the Lord and turn to him will be saved (naturally, they must learn and do the things the Lord requires, but it all begins with turning to God, having faith in God). It's not a matter who God chooses to save, but who chooses to accept God's gift of grace. It begins with the choice to call upon him.
If God's will is the only force active for human salvation, then how can He say it is His will that all should be saved and none perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Matt 18:14) while electing only a few to be saved? And if human will can play no role at all in the salvation of man, why bother preaching? Why spend any time reading the scriptures? Why try to follow Jesus? Why strive to develop faith by doing the will of God, as Christ taught in John 7:17? In that passage, He said that those who obey will see whether Christ's doctrine is from the Father or not (in other words, basic faith can be developed by obedience to God's teachings - it gives us true faith in His word as we see its effect in our life; see also John 8:31,32). And if we can do nothing good on our own and all the work is God's, then why does Christ exhort us to humble ourselves and become like children (Matt. 18:2-4)? The language there, as in nearly all of His words, implies effort is required on the part of the would-be convert. We must humble ourselves and become as a child if we wish to come unto God and accept His gifts. And some may choose not to humble themselves, for there is agency at work here!
In summary, lordship salvation theology is a great improvement over the no-lordship position, recognizing the importance of works and obedience in the life of a Christian, but it fails in refusing to acknowledge the gift of free agency that God has given us, and the role that agency can play even after an initial conversion.
See my list of associated scriptures on salvation, faith, grace, and works.
The LDS Perspective on Adam and the Fall - Did Adam thwart God's plan? Is this mortal life of ours just a mistake? What is the nature of the Fall and the need for the Messiah, Jesus Christ? Also discusses the apostate doctrine of original sin.
A Look At Ephesians 2:8-9 - Allen Leigh explains the term "gift" in the Greek text of this verse probably refers to the sacrifice of Christ, not to salvation per se.
Salvation by Grace Alone? by John A. Tvedtnes, an excellent article at FAIRLDS.org. This article poses some tough questions for critics of LDS theology and clarifies misunderstandings about the LDS view.
Steven Jones provides excerpts from David Bercot's book, David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, 3rd. edition (Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing, 1999). Bercot is an Evangelical Protestant who is finding that "historical Christianity" is a lot different than many modern Christians think. The issue of faith and works is one prime example. To the dismay of many anti-Mormons, the early Christians turn out to sound rather like modern LDS leaders in their views. You see, there really was an Apostasy and a Restoration!
Have You Been Saved?- A speech given by the LDS Apostle, Dallin H. Oaks, at the April 1998 World General Conference of the Church. He discusses the various meanings of "salvation", which is only made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Meaning of Salvation - a separate page written by a friend and used with permission. Some of the misunderstanding about LDS doctrine is due to semantics, for the words "salvation" and "save" can mean different things, both in the Bible and in religious discussions. His article may be helpful.
Frequently Asked Questions About LDS Beliefs - my answers to many common questions. This is the index page to a suit of "LDS FAQ" pages covering common questions and anti-Mormon attacks.
Cry Redemption: The Plan of Redemption as Taught in the Book of Mormon" by Corbin T. Volluz (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1994, pp. 148-169). A great article on the effect of the fall on man.
Faith, Grace, and Works - this article by Barry Bickmore includes a discussion of early Christian writings. See his website on Mormonism and Early Christianity (archived).
FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research)