"Mormon Answers" to Questions about Salvation and Exaltation: What Do "Mormons" Really Believe?
Many people have misunderstood the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes incorrectly called the "Mormon Church") regarding salvation and the destiny of man. This LDSFAQ page seeks to clarify some of these issues and answer common questions about salvation and heaven. It is one of several pages in a suite on "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and has not been officially endorsed by the Church. While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias.
Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. Numerous issues have been discussed there. Join the fray! Or visit the other blogs on my blogroll there.
Also consider my "Book of Mormon Evidences" page.
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Note: Elsewhere I offer a detailed discussion of the Biblical relationship between faith, works, grace, and salvation. Here I only give brief answers to common questions, but some of the information on this page is not found in the lengthier discussion.
Everything that Christ offers us is through grace and not through our merits. That includes resurrection (salvation from physical death), which all will receive (I Cor. 15:20-22), and "eternal life" (salvation from spiritual death - the death caused by sin, the death that is equivalent to being cut off from the presence of God), which relatively few find (Matt. 7:14). Eternal life is life in the presence of God, where people can "partake of the divine nature" and of godliness (2 Pet. 1:4,5) and can become "joint heirs with Christ" and partakers of his glory (Rom. 8:14-18). This wonderful blessing is made possible through His grace, not by our works. We gain access to his grace through faith (Rom. 5:2), a principle that leads us to act and obey and grow in Christ, gaining patience, hope, and so forth (see Rom. 5:2-6; 2 Peter 1:3-10). Our faith and obedience does not earn salvation, but provides access to the gift. Thus, God says in Rev. 22:14, "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 [heavenly] city." It's not doing the commandments that earns that heavenly reward, but it is an essential element for us to receive the gift that no man could ever earn.
Salvation is only possible because the Atonement of Christ allows us to repent of our sins and be cleansed, to become purified even to the point of being like Him in some sense (1 John 3:2) and receiving a glorious resurrected body like His (Phil. 3:12, I Cor. 15:40-43). Eternal life is offered to us through grace - but it is CONDITIONAL, as are all God's covenants (and all covenants and contracts of any kind). It depends upon our accepting the terms upon which it is offered. Being conditional does not make it no longer by grace, but we need to receive that grace and follow Christ, as He commands us.
Is it really conditional? Must we really repent of our sins, change our lives, and keep the commandments to be saved (in the fullest sense of the word - receiving eternal life)? Yes. To me, the Biblical teachings on this are very hard to miss. Almost everything Christ taught was about the need to change our behavior, to get on the straight path, to obey his teachings, to forsake sin and temptation, and salvation was "conditional" upon this - not "once confessed, always saved". Twice He was asked what we must do to be have "eternal life", and both times he answered that we must keep the commandments (Matt. 19:16-17, Luke 10:25-28). He warned that even the elect could be deceived, but that those that endure to the end will be saved (Matt. 24). His parable of the goats and sheep in Matt. 25:31-46 makes it clear who will have eternal life: those "righteous" that follow Him in loving and serving and blessing others. Over and over this is taught, yet the LDS Church is condemned an non-Christian and even Satanic for teaching the same doctrine the Christ preached, a doctrine which also taught the necessity of baptism (John 3:3-5) and repentance (Matt. 4:17).
I offer many more Biblical examples of the conditional nature of "eternal life" on my web pages on faith and works (https://www.jefflindsay.com/faith_works_list.html, for example). Paul teaches the same doctrine just as clearly. Although we must keep the commandments, that does not save us. Although God saves the obedient (Heb. 5:9), their obedience is simply part of their side of the covenant through which Christ offers his Grace to us.
The grace of Christ must include all the gifts He offers us. Can we really accept Christ if we reject His words? Did He not say that we should live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4)? And how do those words get to us? Through prophets and apostles who provide ongoing revelation from God. Revelation is one manifestation of grace, a precious gift from God to mortals. We should cherish His revelations, not despise them and say we have no need.
Not one verse in the Bible indicates that God would stop speaking or that there would be an end to revelation. God can add to His words all He wants - and He always has, when His work has been active on the earth. Christ completed His mortal ministry and mission on earth and ascended to heaven, but continued to lead His church through revelations to apostles and prophets (Eph. 4:11-14; Eph. 2:18-20). Sadly, Christ predicted that His chosen messengers would be persecuted and killed (Matt. 23:34; John 16:2; Matt. 5:11-12). Those who rejected his messengers were, in fact, rejecting Him (John 15:20; John 13:20). It's a sin that still occurs today.
Early Christian documents outside the New Testament confirm that continuing revelation is a manifestation of grace, not in opposition to it. For example, the Epistle to Diognetus, a Christian document counted among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (though it shows definite signs of Hellenistic influence in some areas), declares that:
grace ... gives understanding, reveals mysteries, announces seasons, rejoices over the faithful, is given to those who seek - those, that is, by whom pledges of faith [covenants] are not broken nor the boundaries set by the fathers transgressed.... If you do not grieve this grace, you will understand what the Word has to say, through whomever he chooses, whenever he wishes. For we are simply sharing with you whatever we have been prompted to speak with such difficulty by the will of the commanding Word, being motivated as well by a love for the things that have been revealed to us.
(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, pp. 304-305.)
The Didache, one of the earliest Christian sermons known, speaks of living prophets and apostles:
Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord.... Also, do not test or evaluate any prophet who speaks in the spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven. However, not everyone who speaks in the spirit is a prophet, but only if he exhibits the Lord's ways. By his conduct, therefore, will the false prophet and the prophet be recognized.... [G]ive these firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests.... Therefore appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are humble and not avaricious and true and approved, for they too carry out for you the ministry of the prophets and teachers. You must not, therefore, despise them, for they are your honored men, along with the prophets and teachers.
This is the really great news of the Gospel. Yes, the grace that Christ offers is being made available to all who will accept it, including those who lived and died without the chance to hear the message of Jesus Christ. It's the most wonderful news!
While we cannot save ourselves or remove our own sins--this is only possible through the Atonement of His Son--God is so powerful that He has given us "all things pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3-4), including the power to choose Him, repent of our sins, and enter into sacred covenants wherein we learn to obey and more fully accept Him. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the great plan of salvation, we are made free. Our freedom to choose persists throughout life. Once we have chosen Him, we can later reject him and fall from grace. This continued freedom does not make Him less, but is part of His plan to make us more (see Romans 8:14-18; 1 John 3:2; Matt. 5: 48).
This freedom to choose God and repent of our sins through the power of the Atonment is not given to only a few whom God elects to save while all others are thrown into hell with never a whisper of hope. The true and living God is so sovereign, and the Atonement of His Son is so efficacious and powerful, that it can break down all barriers, breaking down the very gates of hell to offer redemption to all those who will gladly accept it, to all those who will have faith in the Savior of the world. Those who limit God's love and desire to save to only a select few who lived after the time of Christ are missing the true sovereign power of God and fail to understood how great His mercy is. As the scriptures teach, He wants all to be saved. He gave His Son as a ransom for ALL, across all cultures, continents, and eras of time. Look at 1 Timothy 2:
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.
That passage of scriptures agrees powerfully with the mission of Christ into the spirit world (1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6) to preach the Gospel to those who had died. This concept, restored through revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith, along with the attendant blessings of the Temple, baptism for the dead, and other sacred concepts pertaining to the amazing grace and mercy of our most sovereign God, was largely lost from mainstream Christianity for centuries. But I encourage you to understand the early Christian roots. It is a testimony-building experience to contemplate the evidences for the Restoration and the wondrous, true mercy of God in providing means that all who will accept grace may receive it in the covenants and blessings He offers.
A great summary of information about early Christian concepts in this area can be found in two recent publications from the Maxwell Institute. Please see "The Harrowing of Hell: Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity" by Kendel J. Christensen, Roger D. Cook, and David L. Paulsen and "Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity" by Brock M. Mason, and David L. Paulsen. These are exciting, scholarly, and amazing articles that will help you better appreciate some of the reasons why we Mormons are so excited about the broad, broad scope of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the tools God has given us to participate in bringing the Gospel to His sons and daughters across the expanses of geography and time. Free agency and infinite mercy made available to all who will choose it--now that's a sovereign God.
Everybody must be given a chance to hear the Gospel of Christ and to accept it or reject it. Part of accepting it is to accept a valid baptism (John 3:5; Mark 16:16) by those with proper authority (priesthood power from God). We believe that there is missionary work going on among those who have died without receiving the Gospel, and that opens up a long discussion for some future time (e.g., baptism for the dead).... God is just. There are many noble people in other Churches who seek with all their hearts to follow Christ. There are many LDS who don't. Many who are not now LDS may find that there are a few more things to be added to their understanding - and the same will be true of me. I reject anyone who says that only those who are Mormons in this life will be saved! The LDS Church, in my view, is the only one that is directly lead by Christ himself through his personally selected apostles and prophets whom He has called and given priesthood authority in the same way as in the original Church (Heb. 5:8,9; 1 Tim. 4:14). The other Churches may do wonderful things and have brought many to Christ (though proper baptism and other things may still be lacking). That does not mean that the doctrines they teach are approved by God or pleasing to him, and in some cases the teachings may be distressing.
We believe that we can become more like Christ, becoming eternal, resurrected beings in the kingdom of God sharing some of the attributes of Christ and the Father. That does not mean that anyone will worship us rather than the Father, for all glory is His and to Him forever. This is a heavy doctrine that is, however, quite biblical. Romans 8: 14-18 points out that we are sons of God, and thus can be JOINT HEIRS with Christ, and that we will be glorified together with a degree of glory. That pretty much summarizes LDS doctrine! It's heavy, ponderous, wild, but not unchristian.
2 Peter 1:3-10 is also consistent with this concept - that we can put on the divine nature and partake of godliness. In John 10:34,35 Christ repeats something from Psalms 82:6 - "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" Why would he ask this if there weren't something to it? Again, this a reference to the divine potential of humans as actual spirit sons and daughters of God (Heb. 12:9; Acts 17:28,29). That we may become like Christ - being "gods" with a small "g" (1 Cor. 8:5,6), does not detract from the glory of the One God, whom we will always worship and to whom all glory will be forever. My status as a father is not threatened when my children grow and mature - indeed, it is my whole desire that they will grow and mature and turn out well. So our Heavenly Father wants his sons and daughters to reach their divine potential - a potential only possible because of the Atonement (the at-one-ment) - which will allow us to be one with the Christ as Christ is one with the Father (see John 17:20-23). See also Phil. 2: 5,6 (where we are encouraged to follow Christ in seeking to become more like God), Phil 3:21 (where we are told that we shall receive a glorious body like that of God's), Rev. 3:21 (where those that overcome will sit with the Father in his throne), and 1 John 3:2 (where we read that we shall become like Christ when he appears).
Heavy stuff - and not likely to be agreed on by others, but it is not fair to say it makes us non-Christian. It sure doesn't make us fit in with the mainstream and we are inconsistent with the creeds (but we see those as man-made committee products from an era of apostasy), but we are Christians. Not many people would say C.S. Lewis was not a Christian, but I feel his understanding of John 10:34 and related passages in the Bible is reasonably close to the controversial LDS position. Here is a quote from his book, Mere Christianity (Collier Books, MacMillan Publ. Co., New York, 1943; paperback edition, 1960; p. 160 - the last paragraph of Chapter 9, "Counting the Cost," in Book IV):
"The command Be ye perfect [Matt. 5:48] is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and he is going to make good His words. If we let Him - for we can prevent Him, if we choose - He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said."
Does that story really 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 what the Bible actually says. To a thief also being crucified 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. See also 2 Cor. 12:2-4, where Paul speaks of someone being caught up to the third heaven and of someone being caught up to paradise, as if they were different places. Paradise 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 for a terrible sinner to get into heaven without baptism or anything else. Remember, though, that Christ did not offer instant salvation or heaven to the thief, only that they would be in paradise that day. It would be at least two days after that before Christ ascended to heaven. (And do we know that the thief was a terrible sinner? The Romans executed him for allegedly being a thief - but that tells us nothing of his real spiritual state. A sinner, certainly, but perhaps he was a penitent soul seeking the truth.)
A related concept is the Biblical teaching that Christ ministered to the dead souls in the spirit world while he was in the grave for three days. Peter writes of this in the New Testament, where in 1 Peter 3:18-22, he speaks of Christ going to preach to the dead while He was physically dead, and further explains 1 Peter 4:6 that the Gospel was preached to the dead in order to offer them life, not torment as some anti-LDS critics have argued.
The theme of Christ rescuing the souls of the dead by descending into Hades is ancient and widespread in Christianity, one that persisted into the Middle Ages but seems to have been more fully lost since the Reformation. Christ's mission of rescuing souls in hell is sometimes called the Descensus or the "Harrowing of Hell." According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church,
"Most Christian theologians believe that it [the Descensus] refers to the visit of the Lord after His death to the realm of existence, which is neither heaven nor hell in the ultimate sense, but a place or state where the souls of pre-Christian people waited for the message of the Gospel, and whither the penitent thief passed after his death on the cross (Lk. 23.43)."
[F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 395, as cited by Daniel C. Peterson, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1997, p. 137.]
There you have respected non-LDS scholars discussing the ancient Christian concept of the Descensus, the descent of Christ to rescue the dead in a place where the thief went, a place which was not heaven. These truths were not invented by Joseph Smith - they've been restored. Now quit wasting time and start digging in!
(In response to the above comments, one reader argued that this crucial story would be meaningless unless Christ was offering salvation to the penitent man. But is the story really meaningless unless there was instant assurance of salvation? Jesus was offering the man hope. He would be in paradise, and so would Christ. It appears that the thief was going to have the opportunity to hear the Gospel. But paradise - a word that refers to the waiting place of deceased souls prior to the resurrection - isn't heaven and isn't a final state of salvation, even though some will insist that it is, in spite of Christ not yet having ascended to His Father in heaven three days later.)
While I realize that some Christians have been taught that the resurrection refers to the spirit and not the body living on past death, the Bible emphasizes that our resurrection, like that of Christ, will be physical. The physical body is resurrected, inseparably joined to our spirit such that we become immortal.
The Bible is so clear in showing that Christ was physically resurrected. His body was raised from the dead, resulting an empty tomb. He showed His body to His surprised disciples in Luke 24:36-43. They first thought He is a spirit, but Christ asks them to feel his tangible body, saying, "handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." To drive the point home, he then asks for some food, and eats it in front of them. We actually believe that this happened and was a real event, not a dream or a metaphor. In contrast to my understanding of the standard Trinity doctrine (God "without body, parts, and passions"), we believe in a literal resurrection and believe that Christ is a resurrected Being with a tangible body, exactly as He showed us in Luke 24. He is in the express image of the Father, who also has a glorious, tangible body, in whose physical image we are created (see Gen. 1:26,27 and Gen. 5:1-3).
But does the physical resurrection of Jesus mean that we also will resurrect physically? That's what the Bible teaches. After all, Matthew 27:52-53 reports that "the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." Likewise, when we are resurrected, our bodies will be restored. In fact, Paul teaches that our present body can be changed to be like the glorious body of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21). He showed the way: our resurrection will be physical and literal, like His. This is Biblical doctrine and LDS doctrine. Sadly, few other churches teach this simple truth, having lost many precious doctrines in favor of man-made, metaphysical doctrines from post-Biblical creeds.
The physical reality of the resurrection is taught most plainly in the Book of Mormon, which provides additional eye witnesses who saw and touched the glorious resurrected body of Jesus Christ when he manifested himself in the ancient Americas (see 3 Nephi 11). Prophets before the coming of Christ in ancient Central America also taught of the resurrection, as did the prophet Amulek around 82 B.C. in Alma 11:42-45:
42 Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death.
43 The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.
44 Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.
45 Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.
While salvation is only through the grace of Christ, we believe that each of us will be judged according to our works, as the Bible teaches (Matt. 16:27; Rev. 20:12; Romans 2:5-15). The greatest work, of course, is to fully accept Christ and be valiant in serving Him and keeping His commandments. There are those who accept Christ only in part, yet are good and honorable people, and there are those who reject Christ. The Lord gave a beautiful revelation to Joseph Smith about the different rewards that await different classes of people. In that revelation, canonized as Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn that there are multiple kingdoms in heaven - a concept in harmony with the Bible.
The Biblical concept of multiple kingdoms in heaven is not understood by other Christian churches that I am aware of, perhaps because the Biblical references to it are quite incomplete in the absence of ongoing revelation through apostles and prophets. Yet it is still there. 1 Cor. 15:40-42 speaks of glories of the stars, the moon, and the sun in the resurrection, which correspond to the teachings about heaven in Doctrine and Covenants 76. Christ said that in His Father house are many mansions (John 14:2). Paul spoke of someone (perhaps himself) being caught up to the third heaven in 2 Cor. 12:2.
You're right, it's not. But it's a surprisingly logical word based on Greek roots. It may be derived from "telos" meaning "last." Thus, as Russell C. McGregor and Kerry A. Shirts explain ("Letters to an Anti-Mormon," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, p. 291), it could refer to the last kingdom, i.e., last in glory. But they also note that another Greek word, teloes, with its plural teleotes, refers to an apprentice of a master, and may relate to "the concept of this earth, in its present telestial state, as a place or learning and probation" (p. 291). Now if Joseph, with his general lack of education, was just making up words, we wouldn't expect them to make much sense. So where did he get the excellent and meaningful term, telestial, which is not found in the Bible? Hmmm ... could it be that God understands how to construct words from Greek roots?
Anti-Mormons really ought to try explaining how Joseph came up with this term, and how he came up with dozens of new and reasonable Semitic names in the Book of Mormon, including recently verified names such as the male name Alma, or how he came up with meaningful terms and explanations for Egyptian figures in the Book of Abraham, or how he accurately described a journey through the Arabian peninsula, including directions and a verifiable place name in ways that scholars of his time could not have done? They might be able to explain it - but it would take a miracle.
(The following is the first portion of a much longer discussion on the Fall, the Redeemer, and God's plan from the beginning for the glorification of His children. For a more complete discussion, see "Adam, the Fall, and the Messiah: The LDS Perspective.")
Latter-day Saints differ from much of modern "mainstream" Christianity in their views on the Fall of man. Many other Christians teach that God intended for mankind to remain in the Garden of Eden without knowledge of good and evil, childlike and innocent. Adam is the great villain, who spoiled everything for the rest of us, forcing God to come up with an inferior alternative to His original plan. This alternative is mortal life with free agency, with good and evil, with the choice of either sin and hell or, through Jesus Christ, the choice of eternal life. One minister explained to me that this whole existence of ours and all that we go through is a big mistake, all because of that villain of villains, Adam.
In the LDS view, God's plan was not thwarted. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God to rescue fallen mankind was not an unfortunate backup plan, but was a key part of God's perfect plan from the beginning. Thus, the New Testament speaks of Christ as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). In fact, it was God's purpose from the beginning for all of us to be introduced into mortality where we would learn to choose between good and evil, to learn how to walk in faith, and be able to repent and overcome all through Christ. Blissfully ignorant innocents in paradise would never be able to become the mature sons and daughters that God wants as his priests and kings in His kingdom (Rev. 1:6). Just as mortal parents recognize that it's best for infants to grow up and become accountable, hopefully choosing obedience and goodness, so God's purposes called for us to gain knowledge of good and evil, face opposition, make choices to follow Him, and receive of His grace. Thus, the Fall of Man was intended. As Brigham Young explained, "The Lord knew they would do this and he had designed that they should" (Journal of Discourses, 10:103).
Adam and Eve, as innocents without knowledge of even their own nakedness (Gen. 2:25; 3:7), were unable to have children and were unable to keep the greater commandment that they had been given, to multiply and replenish the earth. It was God's intent and sacred plan that they should have children, for as the Lord explains in Isaiah 45:18, He "created [the earth] not in vain, [but] he formed it to be inhabited." God gave Adam and Eve a higher and a lower commandment - multiply on one hand, or avoid the tree of knowledge of good and evil on the other. God knew of Satan's intent to stir up disobedience, but was one step ahead. Yes, Satan deceived Eve, and she partook of the fruit, which meant that she would be cast out of the Garden. Then Adam had to choose between staying in the Garden of Eve without Eve, where he could never hope to multiply, or following Eve into mortality by partaking of the fruit in order to keep the higher law. Adam, in choosing to partake of the fruit, Adam was transgressing a lower commandment to keep the higher law. Eve was deceived, but Adam was not, as the Bible states in 1 Tim. 2:14. What does this passage mean under "mainstream" views of Adam as a villain? Is there a more reasonable explanation than the LDS perspective, which holds, as the Book of Mormon teaches, that "Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25)?
Yes, Adam faced a dilemma because of Eve's disobedience, and thus had to disobey one instruction to keep another that was more important (to multiply and replenish the earth). As a result of the transgression, they were cast out of God's presence and became mortal, fallen creatures, yet they were blessed with knowledge of good and evil, free agency, and the ability to have children. But faced with death and the certainty of sin, they were doomed creatures - were it not for the foreordained role of the Messiah, who would redeem them and provide a way to return to the presence of God as glorious sons and daughters of the Father of glory. The end result is that God's children, by passing through this fallen state of mortality, can gain knowledge of the glories of God and become joint heirs with Christ of all that God has (Rom. 8:14-18). We must taste the bitter to fully understand the sweet, and we must enter into the dangerous stage of mortality in order to receive the blessing of eternal life, which is God's kind of life (not just immortality per se). The words of God to Enoch, recorded in the Book of Moses (given to Joseph Smith by revelation), summarize this powerful doctrine well (see Moses 6:55-61).
If Adam were the ultimate villain, it is puzzling that the Bible would speak of him as a symbol of Christ ("the figure of him that was to come" - Rom. 5:14) or say that he was not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14) or refer to Christ as the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Yet Adam's fall resulted in death and sin in the world, which could only be overcome through an infinite price paid by a sinless Redeemer who took our pains (the price of our sins) upon Him and sacrificed His own life that we might be free from the Fall and become new creatures in Him (Rom. 5:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:17-21). Christ's Atonement overcomes spiritual death, the state of being cast out of God's presence by sin, by having paid for our sins and offering us forgiveness through his cleansing blood, if only we will follow Him. His Atonement also overcomes physical death, the death of the body, by the power of the Resurrection, offering immortality to all (1 Cor. 15:21,22 - "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"; see also John 5:28,29). His glorious role as Redeemer required that there be a Fall. Without the Fall, there would be no grace. Without death, there would be no righteousness. Without knowledge of sin, there would be no knowledge of goodness and thus no true appreciation of the glory of God. As the Book of Mormon teaches, there must be opposition in all things to achieve God's purposes (see 2 Nephi 2 in the Book of Mormon).
The ultimate implication of the Fall is the possibility of having joy. True joy comes in knowing God and Christ and knowingly choosing to follow them, entering into their presence as sons and daughters who chose the good part and the grace offered by Christ. A babe without knowledge of good and evil cannot know the joy that comes with good, or the growth that comes by choosing the source of all good. It is through overcoming the trials of mortality, "our light affliction," that we have hope of "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17). This mortal experience gives us the opportunity to become the "jewels" of God (Malachi 3:17), being refined and chosen in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10), enabled to sit with Christ in his throne if we overcome (Rev. 3:21). God wants us in heaven with Him and Christ. The Garden of Eden was not heaven. Our intended and long-planned destiny is not ignorant nakedness in the Garden of Eden, but as Paul said in 2 Cor. 5:2-4,
2 ...we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven;
3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.
4 For we that are in this tabernacle do groan being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up in life.
For more information, see my page, "Adam, the Fall, and the Messiah: The LDS Perspective."
Such a doctrine is not found in the Bible. Salvation through faith in Christ is expressly taught, but neither Paul nor anyone else speaks of faith alone or belief alone. Rather, there is a synergy between faith and works. The only place in the Bible that I know of that uses the words "faith" and "alone" together is James 2:24, which has the Greek phrase ouk ek pistewV monon (English "not by faith alone" - or "not by faith only" in the KJV). This verse teaches that man is justified by works and not by faith alone. I hope you'll think about this. A basic doctrine of the theology you have inherited not only isn't found in the Bible, but is expressly and explicitly rejected by the Bible. Salvation by faith alone is a man-made doctrine. Once you understand what the Bible really teaches about salvation and the relationship between faith, grace, and works, you'll see why Latter-day Saint theology really is closest to theology of the early Christian Church, but restored by a living prophet through revelation from Jesus Christ. Won't you please look into this more closely? The Restored Gospel is the greatest thing on earth, regardless of the rantings of the critics.
In spite of the clearly scriptural basis for our belief that we should follow Christ and strive to obey his commandments in order to gain full access to the gift of His grace (see my discussion on grace, works, and salvation), many of our critics claim that our approach is a departure from "historic Christianity." What some of them don't understand is that their Christian tradition, which they call "historic Christianity," is actually a fairly modern flavor of Christianity deriving from a sixteenth-century movement in northern Europe and is not nearly so universal or historic as they think. Turning to the earliest writings of Christianity, we find doctrines that actually come remarkably close to the views of modern Latter-day Saints, views that would get those early Christians labeled as unchristian heretics by some defenders of "historic Christianity." I believe that anyone familiar with genuine LDS doctrine will enjoy reading a collection of the earliest Christian writings available outside the New Testament in 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). Most of the sermons and letters in this collection resonate well with LDS beliefs, and some sound like typical, modern General Conference sermons. On the other hand, those who deny the importance of obedience, works, continuing repentance, striving for perfection, and respect for bishops and apostles and living prophets, will be troubled by this book or may dismiss it as heresy. But those writings are respected, undeniably Christian writings from before the era of Augustine and the creeds, an era in which Greek philosophy and political machinations had much sway on the development of the surviving remnants of the original Church.
For example, here are some passages from "The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, Commonly Known as First Clement," in The Apostolic Fathers:
Seeing, then, that he desires all his beloved to participate in repentance, he confirmed it by an act of his almighty will. Therefore, let us be obedient to his magnificent and glorious will, let us fall down before him and return to his compassions, laying aside the fruitless toil and the strife and the jealousy that leads to death. Let us fix our eyes on those who perfectly served his magnificent glory....Abraham, who was called "the Friend," was found faithful in that he became obedient to the words of God. (p. 33)
[L]et us strengthen ourselves, that we may humbly walk in obedience to his holy words....Therefore it is right and holy, brothers, that we should be obedient to God.... (p. 35)
Take care, dear friends, lest his many benefits turn into a judgment upon all of us, as will happen if we fail to live worthily of him, and to do harmoniously those things which are good and well-pleasing in his sight.... Let us realize how near he is, and that nothing escapes him, either our thoughts or the plans which we make. (p. 40)
[L]et 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.... It is, therefore necessary that we should be zealous to do good, for all things come from him. For he forewarns us, "Behold, the Lord comes, and his reward is with him, to pay each one according to his work." (pp. 44-46)
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. (p. 56)
That phrase, "all we can do," probably refers to our need to do all we can do to repent and be reconciled to Christ, rather than emphasizing works. A similar phrase was used by the a king of newly converted Lamanites, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, who explained why he and his people would not take up weapons to defend themselves against their fellow Lamanites:
And now, behold, my brethren, since it has been ALL THAT WE COULD DO, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was ALL WE COULD DO to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain...
(Alma 24:11, emphasis mine; see also verse 15.)
Their salvation was not based on doing all the works they could throughout their lives, but on doing whatever it took to repent of their awful sins and receive a forgiveness of their sins. Repentance was not a simple matter of saying, "Sure, I guess I believe." It took courage and commitment, but they did repent and received the grace of Christ. They had done all that they could to repent and they did receive His grace. Not because of endless works, but because they chose to repent, at all costs, and to accept Christ. And we need to have this same attitude in us!
(Special thanks to Matt Roper for pointing out Alma 24:11.)
Here is the question I received in August 2003:
I noticed that on the LDS official web page [this was somewhere on www.mormon.org] they say that a person must be humble and purify themselves to be saved by Jesus. How can a person purify themselves before they are saved when Jesus is the only way to purify ourselves. What do they mean by purify anyway?
The concept of purifying oneself is analogous to repenting from sins and allowing the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ to make us clean. To speak of "purifying oneself" is an entirely Biblical concept. For example, James 4:8 gives mortal men this command:
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
Peter in 1 Peter 1:18-22 refers to a relationship between the saving Atonement of Christ and the process of purification that occurs as we repent and obey God, accessing His grace:
18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.
22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently. . . .
Note that Christians purify their souls in obeying the truth, as Peter teaches in verse 22. This purification process requires that we use the free agency God has given us and choose to repent and seek to become pure, though it would be in vain without the Atonement of Christ. But make no mistake: human will and action is involved; indeed, we must obey God and keep His commandments to be saved (and purified), for when Christ was asked what we must do to obtain eternal life, His answer was unmistakably clear in Matthew 19:16-21: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."
For further details, see my page on the relationship between faith, grace, and works.
No, it's based on revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith. The passage in 1 Cor. 15 does appear to be limited to heavenly and earthly bodies and not the concept of the Resurrection itself, but we know that early Christians did understand it in much the same way LDS people do. Barry Bickmore made the following comments (used with permission) in 2003 in e-mail correspondence to someone questioning the standard LDS interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:40-42:
Consider the following commentary by Origen:Our understanding of the passage indeed is, that the Apostle, wishing to describe the great difference among those who rise again in glory, i.e., of the saints, borrowed a comparison from the heavenly bodies, saying, "One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, another the glory of the stars. [Origen, De Principiis 2:10:2, in ANF 4:294.]
Consider also the following by John Chrysostom:And having said this, he ascends again to the heaven, saying, "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon." For as in the earthly bodies there is a difference, so also in the heavenly; and that difference no ordinary one, but reaching even to the uttermost: there being not only a difference between sun and moon, and stars, but also between stars and stars. For what though they be all in the heaven? yet some have a larger, others a less share of glory. What do we learn from hence? That although they be all in God's kingdom, all shall not enjoy the same reward; and though all sinners be in hell, all shall not endure the same punishment. [John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:4, in NPNF Series 1, 12:251.]
I can give you many other early Christian references to degrees of glory, but 2 Corinthians 12 ought to be sufficient.
You are right that, on its face, the passage seems to be just talking about heavenly vs. earthly bodies. However, the passage also has this little enigmatic reference to "one glory of the sun, one glory of the moon, and one glory of the stars," and one star differs from another in glory. What does that mean? Most people would just skip right over it, but the early Christians seem to have placed great significance on it, taking it to mean that there are degrees of reward and punishment in heaven and hell. Whether he was actually restoring lost text, or not, Joseph Smith restored the basic meaning that early Christians attached to the passage!
Here is a question I received in 2005:
Jesus died for our transgressions. But why? Did he know he was suppose to? I ask this because according to what I've been reading, LDS belive that Jesus started out as a man, just like us, but because he lead a "sinless" life he was exalted to become a part of the Godhead (or to be a God). So if he was mortal just like us, to an extent wouldn't he too have been veiled and really not know of his decision to die for the sins of his mortal brothers and sisters?
To say that Jesus was just an ordinary mortal like us who progressed by keeping the commandments is a far cry from my understanding of real LDS doctrine. Perhaps a good place to read would be in the Book of Mormon, Alma 12, 34, and 40-42, plus Mosiah 13-16, and 2 Nephi 2, 9, and 31, along with many Bible passages such as Heb. 2 or Isaiah 53. And don't miss Abraham 3 and Moses 4. Many others, too. You'll see that we believe that Jesus was not some ordinary mortal like us, but was Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator of the earth, the greatest of all, the chosen one from the foundation of the world who chose to accept the Father's plan by being born as the Son of God but also as a mortal - a unique mortal unlike any others, divine, with the power to take on the infinite suffering of the Atonement and the power to take up His life again. He was truly and literally the Son of God, the heir of the Father, who descended from a heavenly throne to take on mortality with us and suffer and die for us that we might be joint heirs with Him, in the words of Paul in Romans 8. He was mortal like us in many ways, but was still God, a member of the Godhead who put off His visible glory. Yes, He was tempted as we are and suffered all the pains and challenges of mortality, but did something that we fail to do: He lived perfectly, resisting the sorest of trials but never falling into sin, that He might be the unblemished Lamb that could be sacrificed for others. Yes, the scriptures challenge us to follow His example, and to seek to be perfect as He was (Phil. 2:5-12, Matt. 5:48, John 13:15, 1 Pet. 2:21-25), and promise great blessings to those who overcame as He did, even to the point of being joint heirs with Him and sitting with Him in His thrown (Rom. 8:16-17, Rev. 3:21) - but we are the fallen and the sinful in need of Him, the sinless Savior. He was not just an ordinary person like us.
Mormonism and Early Christianity, an excellent, archived site by Barry Bickmore exploring what early Christians wrote and taught about the Gospel, with comparisons to LDS teachings.
Excerpts from David Bercot's book, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity - provided by Steven Jones. 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.