Impossible Expectations

The word “Gospel” comes from the Greek eujaggevlion and means “good news." The good news is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-4). By this gospel we can be saved from the righteous judgment of God the Father by faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 5:1). This salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We can’t add to what Christ has done, nor do we maintain our salvation by our good effort. But what do we find when we look at the gospel according to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? How are the Mormons saved from their sins, and what must they do to be forgiven? Let’s take a look their scriptures, prophets, and teachers.

First of all, the Book of Mormons says,

“And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins” (The Book of Mormon, Alma 11:37). (All underlines in these quotes have been added for emphasis.)

This is reasonable, since God does not want us to sin against him and we cannot ignore God’s warnings against sin.

Second, the Book of Mormon says, “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,” (2 Nephi 25:23).

Now this is where we run into a problem. We have to ask what it means to be “saved after all we can do?” How much must we do in order to become saved? The representatives of the Mormon Church give us the answer.

“On the same basis men cannot be saved in their sins (Alma 11:37); the Lord has ordained the laws by which salvation and all good things come, and until obedience prepares the way, the promised blessings are withheld (D&C 88:21-24; 130:20-21; 132:5.). Men can no more be saved without obedience than they can be healed without faith. All things operate by law; blessings result from obedience to law and are withheld when there is no obedience” (BYU Professor Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the New Testament, p.222).

The 13th President of the Mormon Church, Ezra Taft Benson, said, “What is meant by ‘after all we can do’? ‘After all we can do’ includes extending our best effort. ‘After all we can do’ includes living His commandments. ‘After all we can do’ includes loving our fellowmen and praying for those who regard us as their adversary. ‘After all we can do’ means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and giving ‘succor [to] those who stand in need of [our] succor’ (Mosiah 4:15)-remembering that what we do unto one of the least of God’s children, we do unto Him (see Matthew 25:34-40; D&C 42:38). ‘After all we can do’ means leading chaste, clean, pure lives, being scrupulously honest in all our dealings and treating others the way we would want to be treated” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.354. Brackets in original).

“But all of these blessings are ours on one condition, and this is spoken of by Nephi, when he said: 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, [but mark you this condition,] after all we can do” (Harold B. Lee, Conference Reports, April 1956, p.111. Brackets and italics in original).

So, according to Mormonism to be “saved after all we can do” means to extend your best effort, live his commandments, love fellow men, pray for adversaries, cloth the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick, lead chaste, clean lives, and be honest.

This is a tall order, but does it really mean that you have to do all these things and others to be saved in Mormonism? Sure it does. But, is it possible for Mormons to do all of this? According to the Book of Mormon it is.

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 3:7).

Okay, so the Mormon has to keep the commandments to be saved and has no excuse for not doing them. In other words, Mormonism teaches that the Mormon must keep all the commandments all the time to be saved. But that isn’t all. The Mormon must also deny himself of all ungodliness in order for God’s grace to be sufficient.

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God” (The Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:32).

Notice that God’s grace is sufficient for you after you deny yourself of all ungodliness. That is a tremendously tall order — that is impossible. Who do you know, including yourself, who has denied himself of all ungodliness? Not most ungodliness, not some ungodliness, ALL! Remember, you must “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.” This is a hopelessly impossible command. No one can deny himself of all ungodliness. But, just in case you believe you can deny yourself of all ungodliness then that means you aren’t sinning any more. But, according to the Bible, if you say you aren’t sinning anymore, then you are self-deceived. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Obviously, this is a difficult teaching. But, there’s more. In Mormonism, repentance from sin must be complete and permanent. The Fourth President of the Mormon Church, Wilford Woodruff, said…

“And what is repentance? The forsaking of sin. The man who repents, if he be a swearer, swears no more; or a thief, steal no more; he turns away from all former sins and commits them no more. It is not repentance to say, I repent today, and then steal tomorrow; that is the repentance of the world, which is displeasing in the sight of God” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, pp.71-72).

Okay, so true repentance means that you don’t commit any of the sins that you have repented of. What would happen if you did commit one of the sins from which you repented? What does Mormonism have to say about that?

“The miracle of forgiveness is available to all of those who turn from their evil doings and return no more, because the Lord has said in a revelation to us in our day: ‘Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth [meaning again] shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God’ (D&C 82:7). Have that in mind, all of you who may be troubled with a burden of sin” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p.120. Harold B. Lee was the 11th President of the LDS Church. Brackets in original.)

“Those who receive forgiveness and then repeat the sin are held accountable for their former sins” (Gospel Principles, 1997, p.253).

“20. In order to remain forgiven we must never commit the sin again” (Mormon Missionary Discussion F, Uniform System for Teaching Families. 1981, p.36).

So in the Mormon view of repentance, once you have repented of the sin, if you commit it again, all of your former sins return to you. In other words, you have to be perfect. Is this a gospel of good news or of impossible expectations?