God’s Grace: So much more than what Mormons teach

I’ve been involved here and on Rusty’s Blog comparing Mormon and classic Christianity and challenging the Mormon’s (LDS) claim to be Christian.  Sometimes that discussion has been civil and informative.  On occasion, there have been some stress and strain.  As we engage in conversation, we quickly learn that we do not mean the same things by the exact same words. This is a very significant challenge, which means that we have to go slow and carefully explain what we mean by the very words we use.

Recently, there was a posting on Rusty’s Blog titled “Picking the Lock of Salvation”.  Briefly, it was a description about how Mormons understand the role of obedience to our salvation.  Part of what Rusty writes:

Reflecting on the whole thing, I couldn’t help but draw the parallel to those who somehow think they can “slide” into heaven, somehow opening the “doors” of heaven without actually going through the mandatory prerequisite steps.

I did not post a lengthy response on Rusty’s Blog, but rather have chosen to present the Christian (and especially Lutheran) perspective here.

First, I find even the title of the post pretty offensive to Christianity.  It demonstrates a complete ignorance of what is meant by God’s grace.  I ran the title by another Lutheran pastor colleague of mine, and her response was immediate.  “So, the door to the kingdom of heaven is locked and has to be picked to be open?  Does that mean we have to sneak in?”  Granted, I don’t think that’s quite what Rusty meant, but one has to move past his imagry just to get at the kernal of his message … and that is that unless you do the right things, God won’t let you into heaven.  From what Rusty has described, it seems that Mormons believe that Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension has resulted in the “creation” of the door to heaven.  The “key” to being able to unlock the door and actually enter is our “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”  Third Article of Faith.  Rejected is “saving grace”.

A newly published book, Crazy Talk: A Not-So Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms describes Justification this way.

“In the typographical sense, justification has to do with the alignment of text.  In the theological sense, justification has to do with God’s alignment of you.”

“‘A person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law’ (Romans 3:28).  Talk about crazy talk!  That’s about the craziest talk there is.  Because at the heart of justification is the word JUSTICE. Now usually when you think about justice, you think about the LAW.  So you’d think that justification would be all about the law–about measuring up to some legal standard.

“But noooo.  Instead, right there, smack in the middle of the New Testament, there’s this crazy talk of a new, nonlegal standard for justice–for “gettin’ right” with God.  What’s that you say?  You’re having a hard time understanding how you can have justice without law?  Well, you’re not the only one:

Duh: Okay, God, tell me again–which rules I have to obey to get on your good side?

God: You want to get on my good side?  Well then, the first thing you have to do is give up the idea that following rules is going to get you on my good side.

Duh: No rules?

God: No rules.  Instead, I’ll give you my Son, JESUS.  He’ll take care of all the rules.  He’ll be the one who makes sure that you’re on my good side.

Duh: But that’s just crazy.

God: Look, you’re going to have to trust me on this one…

Furthermore, this faith is not our own doing.  This FAITH is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast about how they were able to work up enough faith to get on God’s good side.

Now, that really runs counter to what Mormons teach.

What about works?  What about obedience?  What about all those Biblical passages that tell us we have to do something because we are judged by God?

Again, from Crazy Talk:

Good Works: What you do because you don’t have to do anything.

Your friend invites you to dinner.  You ask, “What can I bring?”

Your friend answers, “Nothing: there is nothing you can bring.  I’ve got it all covered.”

Out of gratitude, you bring something anyway.

Now read this again.  But …

For “friend” substitute “Lord.”

For “invites you to dinner” substitute “saves you from your sins.”

For “bring” substitute “do.”

But that is Crazy Talk!

Ok, let me introduce to you Martin Marty.  Pastor Marty “is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today.  Author of more than 50 books, he is also a speaker, columnist, pastor, and teacher, having been a professor of religious history for thirty-five years at the University of Chicago, where he is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus.”  The following excerpts are from his book, Lutheran Questions, Lutheran Answers: Exploring Christian Faith.

If We are Christians, Do We Have to Obey God’s Law?

Yes, indeed, always yes.  Christians cannot conceive of God as being half-serious in giving commands… Lutherans are just as emphatic in saying that no human other than Jesus…kept the commandments.  Instead, Jesus stands in their place and by his perfect obedience has won a new situation before God for believers.  So the New Testament can speak at times abou tthe law having been done away with, and thus Christians are to live by grace and freedom from the tyranny of the law.  Christians set out to keep the law because it is God’s law, because Jesus fulfilled the law with love rather than smashing it.  Properly seen, the law can be used in the larger society just as the biblical stories suggest it was designed to serve among the nomadic children of Israel…In a classic formula, lex semper accusat (the law always accuses).  It shows how great is the gap between what a holy God expects adn what an unholy human at her best can deliver.  It drives believers from teh notion that they can please God by having kept the law.  It drives people who are thus accused to run for mercy to Christ, who did keep the law.  So don’t expect Lutherans to relativize the law o fGod or to subvert it.  They simply want to block notions that keeping the law is the way to pleace God and to win God’s favor and salvation.

The distance between Lutherans and Mormans can’t be made more clear than this last line.  Mormons clearly state that salvation depends upon our obedience to the law (and what they refer to as ordinances of the Gospel … a change in what “Gospel” means!).

And, in a direct comparison, the Augsburg Confession (a document Lutherans use as a true defintion of the faith much the same way that the Mormon Articles of Faith are used) says:

Likewise [the churches among us] teach that human beings cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works. But they are justified as a gift on account of Christ through faith when they believe that they are received into grace and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. God reckons this faith as righteousness (Romans 3 and 4).

What matters most in this conversation to Lutherans is that we do nothing to take credit for our own salvation, whether that be by our good deeds, our following God’s commandments, the “level” or “depth” of our faith.  We understand grace as a gift.  We understand grace as salvific.  It comes through forgiveness of sins, the very real recognition that we are faulty, and even our best efforts fall short.

Mormons have a very different view of humanity and our ability to perfection.  That different view leads naturally, I think, to the kinds of abuses we see in west Texas with the poligamest sect.  (I know, the main Mormon church does not recognize this group as a valid Mormon group.)  The connection is that if humans are able to achieve perfection, are capable of contributing to their own salvation, then there are certain humans who have the ability to “rise above the fray” and speak and teach with an authority beyond the rest of us.

This is already too long of a post, and yet there is so much more to say.  I’ll simply end this here, and invite comments.

Pondering Pastor

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13 responses to “God’s Grace: So much more than what Mormons teach

  1. As I’ve said before, I don’t think your understanding of LDS belief is complete. I don’t personaly know any Mormons who think that they can or will reach any kind of perfection through thief own efforts. It is our relationship/covenant with Christ that makes us complete. His Atonement did more than just create the door, it is the way, the only way to get to and through the door.

    Here’s where I think the real difersnce lies. . .the ability to choose. Where the Lutheran, from my own limited understanding, believes that faith is a complete gift of God with no influence or choice required of the believer, Mormons also believe that faith is a gift of God or a gift of the Spirit, but we must chose to revive or accept that gift. We don’t believe God will force it on us. All other actions we take on the Path to God are a result of that faith and enabled by the power of Christ.

  2. that should say recieve not revive.

  3. “Mormons clearly state that salvation depends upon our obedience to the law (and what they refer to as ordinances of the Gospel … a change in what “Gospel” means!).” I’m not an argumentative person (really!), but the word “salvation” in this sentence should be switched to “exaltation.” There’s a huge difference between these two terms, and like Lutherans, we too take no credit for our salvation; it’s a gift, just like grace.

  4. ponderingpastor

    Paul, I’m gradually learning about Mormonism, so there will be a general lack of understanding. I can only respond from my perspective. Likewise, your description of a Lutheran understanding that God “forces” grace upon us suffers from the same.

    Marla Jayne (Mormon Article of Faith #3: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be *saved*, *by obedience* to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”). From a Lutheran/Christian perspective, that is not grace. If I give you $100 that is grace. If I demand then that you do me a favor later because I gave you $100, that’s not grace.

    Pondering Pastor

  5. 14 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; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory. . . (Alma 22: 14)

    25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.
    26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. . . (Moroni 7: 25-26)

    6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
    • • •
    8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that 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, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
    • • •
    27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and call things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (2 Nephi 2: 6, 8, 27)

    20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a clove of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31: 20)

    7 Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things. (Jacob 4: 7)

    4 And this according to the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be all glory, both now and forever. Amen.
    • • •
    30 And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;
    31 And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.
    32 But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God. . . (Doctrine & Covenants 20: 4, 30-32)

  6. ponderingpastor

    So then Paul, why does the Article of Faith contradict these teachings? Why then do I experience rejection of “saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ” when speaking with Mormons? Why is obedience always described as a condition for salvation?

    There are passages within those you quoted that seem to counter “grace”, for instance D&C 20:31 could be understood that sanctification is conditional upon obedience.

    What I’ve also learned in this discussion is that what Mormons mean by certain words is not the same as what Christians, and especially Lutherans mean by the same words. We need to be careful here.

    (Unaddressed in all this is the identity of Jesus as part of the Holy Trinity … a whole separate and important issue.)

    Pondering Pastor

  7. “From a Lutheran/Christian perspective, that is not grace. If I give you $100 that is grace. If I demand then that you do me a favor later because I gave you $100, that’s not grace.”

    From a Latter-day Saint Christian perspective it is not a matter of doing God a favor. Latter-day Saints learn in Mosiah 2: 21 the following:

    21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

    Grace and Salvation are a matter of making a covenant with Christ. Through this covenant we become his sons and partake of His Grace.

    7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
    8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives. (Mosiah 5: 7-8)

    Following the example you gave. . .you may have $100 dollars to give me, but to benefit I have to be humble enough to accept your gift, and when I truly accept your gift my heart will be changed. I will desire to never defile or dishonor your gift. . .I may through my weakness stumble and at times fail in my desire. However, I will throughout my life continue to love and turn to my merciful and graceful benefactor and he will lift me up, dust me off and continue to help me along with his gifts.

    It’s not a perfect analogy, but you get the gist I’m sure.

  8. “Why then do I experience rejection of “saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ” when speaking with Mormons?”

    I would personally say that many Mormons I’ve known have a misunderstanding of this subject.

    I also think that we commonly may have some misunderstanding by what other some Christians mean when they say, “Saved by Grace Alone”.

    I don’t think you mean once you are saved, “it doesn’t matter what you do in this life Christ’s wing will cover you…”

    For me it’s pretty simple, as you said, we are “saved by grace through Faith in Jesus Christ”. This faith will naturally result in a hunger and thirst for righteousness and in good though imperfect works. Faith itself is more than passive belief it is a principle of action. When we truly have faith in something, that faith moves us to take some action in our lives. Faith is a transformative principle, and Christ has the power to transform.

  9. Paul, I noticed that in your list of quotes, Doctrines and Covenants states that it is possible for a man to fall away from grace and depart from God. Do you believe this? Actually, no one can lose his or her salvation. I have a post from a few days ago entitled “Eternal Security” that you may like. Do you believe a person can lose his salvation? If so, which sins would make a person do so?

  10. andrealudwig,

    Yes, I believe a person can lose his/her salvation. This would be done by denying one’s Faith and rejecting Christ.

    If we are saved through our Faith in Christ, if we deny or reject that Faith we are in danger of losing the resulting grace and salvation.

    I do believe it is possible for a person to reject and rebel against salvation. . .we have our agency.

  11. ponderingpastor

    As I read these recent posts, I’m reminded of something that Christians have that Mormons have completely rejected. That is, nearly 2000 years of wrestling and give-and-take about what scripture means and doesn’t mean. Mormons maintain that the church ceased to exist (although they may temper that) following the death of the apostles until Joseph Smith. That means that on these kinds of questions, they can’t use the wisdom of the saints, nor their experience in any kind of instructive way. My guess is that they are going to have to do all this work over again as the Mormon church evolves.
    Pondering Pastor

  12. ponderingpastor

    Paul W
    You wrote: “Following the example you gave. . .you may have $100 dollars to give me, but to benefit I have to be humble enough to accept your gift, and when I truly accept your gift my heart will be changed. I will desire to never defile or dishonor your gift. . .I may through my weakness stumble and at times fail in my desire. However, I will throughout my life continue to love and turn to my merciful and graceful benefactor and he will lift me up, dust me off and continue to help me along with his gifts.”

    Whether a gift is grace-filled or not depends completely upon the giver. It has nothing to do with how the gift is received, used, or not used. If there is any expectation about how a gift is used or received, it is not grace filled.

    Pondering Pastor

  13. “Whether a gift is grace-filled or not depends completely upon the giver. It has nothing to do with how the gift is received, used, or not used. If there is any expectation about how a gift is used or received, it is not grace filled.”

    Okay, agreed. I don’t see how that counters anything I’ve said.

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