Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More on Mormons - The Unattainable Goal A.K.A. The Jesus Plus Program

It seems that Mormons have the idea that it is faith plus works (Jesus Plus) that gets you into heaven.  This is a blatant contradiction with non-Morman Christians (I don't know enough about Catholicism but I think this sentence should also say non-Catholic Christians, but like I sad, I am not sure). Edits in Red. Thanks to those of you who have helped me understand the beliefs in the Mormon church. I certainly don't want to offend or hurt any who practice Mormonism I simply want to learn more. 

I know this topic is heavily debated amongst various churches. My only position is that any church or view that is works based is 100% wrong (read Galations for clarification). I do not claim to know that Mormons believe works in the currently life get you to the afterlife or adhere to legalism while on earth. Rather I want to learn more about the debate.

It is important to note that even though Mormons use Christianese, many of the significant theological terms have completely different meanings (This is true with Islam as well...It can take 45 minutes of using a term in a conversation to realize that the meaning is completely different). It is difficult to fully comprehend the differences when you are used to hearing terms used in one context, but once you grasp some of these ideas, you will see some extremely significant differences. The entire gospel in one of these religions is not only different but the exact opposite of the others. Here are some theological vocab examples.

Repent – Mormons believe that repentance is turning away from, and never sinning again.

Non-Mormon Christians believe that after we repent we will sin again and that Christ’s grace is sufficient to cover all, even individual sin, regardless of our actions.  This can be seen in Romans 7:15.

Mormon Scriptures

Doctines and Covenants 58:42-3 the term forsake means to completely give up. How was Jesus forsaken? Repent means to stop your sinning completely. This contradicts the heart of non-Mormon Christianity.

Moroni 10:32 This verse has the if/then clause that “if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness…then his grace is sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” which takes us back to the idea that you must be perfect first.

2 Nephi 25:23 states that “we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

Heaven – these viewpoints are discussed in my Eternal Progression post in the chart.  "Jesus Christ Is the Way" talks about salvation and the role that Jesus Christ plays in the church.

Lets look at some key points from this article on LDS.org:

The first paragraph says that “the scriptures say that His Spirit cannot be with us if we are sinful.” This is talking about how must repent and not be sinful. We are cleansed of our sins when we reach perfection.

Physical death is the first death where you go to one of two places depending on whether you believe in Jesus. Your perfection determines in part where you go after here.  One of these options is understood as the Mormon hell. For more information see my Eternal Progression chart and my Eternal Progression blog post.

Spiritual death is the second death (see Eternal Progression) where we will either go to eternal damnation (non-Mormon Hell) or have the opportunity to “be resurrected just like Christ was and live forever in perfected [by our own works] bodies after we leave this life.”

Mormon salvation is what everyone experiences because of Christ after physical death. But we “must do our part to overcome spiritual death.”

From my research, Mormon forgiveness is based on the “need to repent [fully by never sinning again] and increase out faith in Jesus Christ throughout our lives. We will not be saved simply because we get baptized or say we believe in Jesus Christ. It takes work…”

Am I missing something?   Can any Mormons out there explain some of this to me?  Why does it seem that Jesus not enough?  Thanks in advance guys! And thanks for the great responses since this post. There have been some very insightful responses.

I don't know a lot about the Mormon church and I realize that there is misinformation all over the place. Please share your views below. Especially if you disagree...That is the only way to learn. I am certainly not anti-Mormon.


  1. Perhaps one of the hardest things to understand about LDS theology from a Protestant perspective is the concept of how salvation, grace and what we do (our works) are related. Let me try to explain it.

    You have quoted some of the more well known scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the D&C but there are others that will perhaps help you understand this concept better. In the Book of Alma in the Book of Mormon the prophet Amulek was talking to some people who were wondering why they had to have faith in Christ. In Alma Chapter 34, verse 9 he explains that, "For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made."

    So up until now this is exactly the same as any other Christian church teaches. So, later on in verse 16 he says, "And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption."

    Here is what many Protestants would consider to be the difference. For those who have enough faith in Christ to repent of their sins then the Plan of Salvation (Christ's atonement) will begin to work. Now before we continue with this we must understand why this needs to be.

    Well further on in verse 33 and 34 we read,

    "33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

    34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world."

    Here we see a critical idea, because in the when we die the same spirit (our spirit) that possesses our body, that is to say what ever good, or evil, that we have in our souls will stay with us in the resurrection. When Christ restores to us our bodies, what ever type of person we were in this life, if we were mean and hateful, or kind and gentle, then we will still be like that after the resurrection.

    The whole point is that when Christ comes to save us He will not, I repeat will not save us in our sins. He will only save us from our sins. He gives us a way out. A way out of bondage from our sins. This is what the scriptures mean when they say that Christ is the way. He is the way out of bondage from our sins. Thus for Mormons, to continue in our sins (to continue sinning) is to deny The Way, or the way out. Which is to say, to accept Christ as your savior, but then continue in your sins is to deny Christ, and the power of His atonement.

    ---continued in next comment---

  2. So the next question is, why is this?

    Well, if we continue reading in Alma 34:35-36,

    "35For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

    36 And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell; yea, and he has also said that the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out; but their garments should be made white through the blood of the Lamb."

    If we sin, which is to say we do not listen to the counsel of God and Christ, then we are opening ourselves up to the Devil, and he will make us unclean. And if we are unclean, then we cannot enter in to the kingdom of God. This is not just a Mormon thing. In Ephesians 5:3-5 it reads,

    "3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;

    4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

    5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."

    The thing to remember is that once we are unclean, once we have sinned, there is nothing we can do that will cleanse us of our sins. If it were entirely up to us then we would be forever shut out from the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ. But through the atonement of Christ we can have "our garments made white". There is no other way.

    After they are made clean, the only thing that make them unclean is ourselves, returning to the sins we had previously given up.

    With this in mind let us look at some of the phrases you picked up from lds.org and other places. One of the phrases you quoted, “the scriptures say that His Spirit cannot be with us if we are sinful.” This quote related to the idea that God cannot dwell in unholy temples, or to put it another way, God cannot dwell within us if we are sinning. To say otherwise would be to make God a liar. His spirit withdraws from us and we are left to ourselves, without his support.

    Then you said, "We are cleansed of our sins when we reach perfection." I think a better way of saying this would be, "We are cleansed of our sins so that we might reach perfection." The further issue of what perfection is, and how the concept of perfection has been corrupted by different philosophies, would take a very long book to explain. The short answer is that Mormons try not to have an impossible view of what it means to be perfect. Anyway, back to the subject...

    ---continued in next comment---

  3. So finally we come to spiritual death and our salvation. With all this in mind if we consider the implications of sinning again, then that is a strong incentive to not sin, or to continue being a good person. So when we get baptized, both by the water and by the spirit, the Atonement of Christ cleanses us from our sins. Now it is up to us to not mess it up, because we can return and sin we are also able to act for ourselves and to not sin. But if we do mess up, then Christ can again cleanse us from our sins and let us start new again. There are no sins (except for denying the Holy Ghost) that Christ cannot cleanse us from. To not even attempt to repent is to deny the Way, which is to deny Christ.

    I think that is a start.

  4. Thank you so much! I am excited that this can be a place where people can discuss beliefs without being offended or offending others.

    That does make sense and clarifies some questions. It seems that most of those beliefs (I think all) come from Holy books other than the Old and New Testaments. I am not sure which passages are from which books, but if someone only believes in the Old and New Testament part of the Bible, that is where these beliefs would vary. These are some interesting differences. Any other thoughts our there?

  5. I agree that neither religion believes that sin is ok or good, but the difference still seems to be the necessity of specific behaviors factor. I also understand that defining perfect from the Mormon perspective might be difficult but from a Protestant perspective, perfection is unattainable (especially the idea of becoming a God – I am not sure if that is involved in this, but is another point of confusion.)

    Is this the basic Mormon argument?

    1. If we continue in our sins, we deny Christ and the power of his atonement.

    2. We are humans and sinners and we will continue to sin (I agree that there is a difference between living in sin and living in repentance, but even living in repentance, we still sin every day.)

    3. The only way to be unclean is to return to our sins. Which we will do.

    4. Denying Christ is the only unforgivable sin. But returning to our sins is denying Christ.

    This does seem impossible to me…Can any Mormon honestly say that he has reached perfection (I am not trying to call anyone out on this; I really want to know if the everyday Mormon has accomplished this.) It seems that Protestants believe that it is impossible to be perfect and Mormons do not.

    Protestants tend to believe that no matter what you do you can make it to heaven. Actions are irrelevant for salvation, your faith and relationship with God is what leads to salvation. Good works should be motivated by your love for God, not so that you will be perfect (or better, or even good) but because you thank and love God, and his spirit lives in you. This does not mean that you should keep on sinning, it means that you shouldn’t, but will.

    The religions still seem to have a different interpretation of scripture (which a variety of individuals within every religion have a different understanding of scripture). One example specific to the Mormon/Protestance distinction is “I do the things I do not want to do…(Rom 7:14-19).” Protestants believe that this means that we will continue to sin because it is in our nature. Mormons seem believe that this sin means that we are denying Christ if we give in. This difference may go back to the different understanding of The Fall and the book of Genesis (I am not familiar with all of these differences, but did catch that there are two kinds of sin for the Mormon faith and sin is all the same to Protestants) or it may go back to the understanding of the word perfect. I am not sure here...

    I also don’t know that I buy the idea that God leaves us “to ourselves, without his support.”

    Thanks again for you comments! I think it is good to understand the differences (or at least look into them, even if you don't understand) and similarities among religions.

  6. Hi Felicia,
    I think part of understanding the idea of becoming perfect has to come from realizing that it won't happen in our lifetime on earth. We, LDS, don't believe we can be perfect in our mortal lives. So I doubt you will find anyone who thinks they are or can be on earth/mortality. We believe that it is attainable in heaven. It is a long process of learning what is sin and repenting of our sins. True repentance means you won't repeat the same sin. That may be impossible for some things, but it really is trying to live our lives as Christ taught and showed by example. I'm not sure what you mean by two types of sin. you'll have to elaborate a bit there. But we believe that no unclean thing can enter God's kingdom and we do believe sin is all the same. Some may be more severe, but sin is sin.
    I wanted to take your statement that it doesn't matter what we do we'll make it to heaven, that our actions are irrelevant to our salvation to an extreme to see if you still believe it is a true principle. Because if you can really do anything and actions have no importance to salvation, then someone could murder, rape, molest children, be immoral, sleep with anyone, be a thief, wife beater, their whole life and still be right next to someone who does none of that. So you either have to totally agree with that or actions really do matter. I'm just interested to know if they really matter or not.
    I totally agree that good works should be motivated by your love for God, and that is really what is taught and followed in the Mormon church. Understanding that at some distant future we can become perfect isn't motivation for good works.
    The other curious idea was that Mormons think we are here on our own without his support. That couldn't be further from the truth. We are here away from the presence of God to learn by experience to follow Christ with Faith. We have prayer to communicate with God and the Holy Spirit to be our guiding companion throughout our life. A Prophet that receives revelation for the entire church from God to help guide us, plus scriptures which give the ability to know what God wants us to do.
    hank you for posting these so there can be a good helpful discussion about religions.

  7. Rich,

    Thank you for your response. I have loved being able to read about the Mormon Church from those who are actually Mormons. I think it has been productive for the most part : ) I do not understand the two types of sin. Maybe someone who believes in them can help (or someone who knows what I am talking about). From my understanding, they had to do with the fall, or maybe two types of death. Does anyone have more on that? It was in a lecture that I attended a while back.

    I know about the idea that actions do not matter can be pretty intense, but I do believe that any of the sins you listed are not enough to keep someone out of Eternity with God in heaven if they accept Christ.

    This poster series I created touches on my understanding of grace.


    Another resource would be the book “What’s so Amazing about Grace” by Philip Yancey. All you NEED to do is accept Jesus (I probably should write a post on how I define accepting Jesus, but that will be another day). Jesus IS the way, not A way, along with works and good deeds. I don’t believe that grace is fair, or that it makes sense. Look at the posters…I think they show my understanding.

    Also, the idea that “we are here…to learn by experience” is interesting.

    Thanks again for you response.