With the exception of some miner changes required by context, this file is a copy of Chapter 13, "The 'Saved' Christian," from my book, Understanding These Other Christians (copyright 1998 by Richard Grant). This is a book written to introduce the LDS community to the Evangelical culture. Thus, that flavor will be seen in this chapter where the LDS doctrine of salvation is examined and explained using the terminology common in Evangelical discussions of salvation. This provides a valuable perspective, shining a new light on a familiar subject. Free use of this article is granted, with attribution, for any non-pecuniary purposes.
Justification and Sanctification
Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been asked, "Are you saved?" Most would be properly reluctant to answer this question affirmatively. We know that we must continue to "work out our salvation." When asked this question we might think or even respond, "Sure, I'm saved from death, everybody is. But what I want isn't just salvation, I want exaltation." This is, of course, ducking the question. We know that the questioner is intending the term "saved" to describe a state similar to that which we call exaltation. Elder McConkie makes this answer even more misleading with the clarification that, "Salvation in its true and full meaning is synonymous with exaltation."(1) If pinned down, you might say something similar to what I've said many times: "No man in this life can be sure that he's saved. We must first endure to the end. Only then is our salvation secure." While this answer is certainly true, it's not very helpful when responding to an Evangelical's query, and is almost certain to either end the conversation or begin an argument.
Dr. Robert Millet, Dean of Religious Education at BYU, commenting on this situation, laments, "It is unfortunate that a topic like being saved carries with it so much emotional baggage (and thus so many barriers between us and others of our Father's children) that we are not in a position to communicate--even our differences--appropriately."(2)
Latter-day Saints are quick to see the hand of Satan in the limited perspective of other Christians; but, we often fail to realize that Satan is just as interested in distorting the understanding of a Mormon. This distortion may not only affect our communication of the gospel message, it may also obscure our understanding of the application of that message in our own lives. Concerning Satan's efforts to distort our view of God's plan, Brother Millet gives us this sober warning:
If Satan cannot get us to throw it all away through massive sin, or if he cannot make subtle but serious inroads against our character through his unrelenting assaults on goodness and decency, then perhaps he will tempt us to conclude things about ourselves that simply are not true--that we are somehow spiritually deficient, defective, or even depraved. Our attitude becomes one of: 'I have tried and tried and tried to be perfect and I just can't do it. Why worry about it anymore? I quit!'(3)
While we might readily recognize that the "father of lies" is the author of this despair, we at the same time are aware of an edge of truth: we have been commanded to become perfect, and we can't do it. Brother Millet beautifully puts this paradox into perspective with a little story. He speaks of a bishop who ends his temple recommend interview with a simple question. "Brother Scott, if you were to die this minute, drop dead right here in this office, and you were allowed to skip the spirit world experience, where would you go? What kingdom of glory would you qualify for?" He then reports his experience (for he was this bishop, and he really did ask this question) that seven out of ten said something like, "I don't know. I suppose the terrestrial kingdom?" The interview would then continue something like this:
Bishop: "Then, you've obviously been lying to me."
Br. Scott: "Lying? Me? No, Bishop, why do you say that?"
Bishop: "You're really living the gospel and you have answered all of these questions honestly?"
Br. Scott: "Yes, Bishop, I'm really trying to be faithful."
Bishop: "Let me get this straight. You have a testimony of God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost. You have a witness of the truthfulness of the restored gospel and sustain the leadership of the Church. You live the law of chastity and the Word of Wisdom, and you are seeking to be honest in your dealings with your fellow beings. You are striving to keep your temple covenants. But you plan to go to the terrestrial kingdom?"
Br. Scott: "Well, it's not that I plan to go there. It's just probably where I will end up."
Bishop: "Why will you end up there?"
Brother Millet says that nine out of ten would respond, "Well, Bishop, I'm not perfect; I make mistakes!" He concludes:
And then came the moment that mattered--a sacred teaching moment. "Brother Scott," I would say, gently but firmly, "I know you are not perfect and that you make mistakes. You are mortal. You are human. But I know also that you are trying to keep your covenants, not only with deeds but with your whole heart. You truly love God and want to please him. You qualify to hold a temple recommend. These are not things to be dismissed lightly. They place you in a remarkable minority in this world. They are an indication to you, to me, and to your Heavenly Father that you are on course, that you are on the path. At the end of that path is eternal life. Hold on. Hope on. We're going to make it."(4)
Brother Millet's message is clear: if you are truly qualified to hold a temple recommend, you have, at that moment, met the qualifications for entrance into celestial glory. You are living in a saved condition. Might you not, then, be called saved?
Brigham Young said, "It is present salvation and the present influence of the Holy Ghost that we need every day to keep us on saving ground."(5) At another time he was even clearer: "The salvation we are seeking is for the present, and, sought correctly, it can be obtained, and be continually enjoyed. If it continues today, it is upon the same principle that it will continue tomorrow, the next day, the next week, or the next year, and, we might say, the next eternity."(6)
When we go to the temple, we have the opportunity to participate in a very sacred ordinance in which husband and wife are sealed together for time and all eternity. Following this ordinance it is common to speak of having been sealed. We might say, "I am sealed to my wife"; or, "I am sealed to my husband"; or, "I am sealed to my children." In actuality we have only received the ordinance of sealing. The promise has been given to us that we will be sealed if we remain faithful to our covenants. Yet, on the strength of that promise, and our commitment to remain faithful to our covenants, we can confidently say, "I am sealed." Might we lose that sealed status? Of course! But, right now, while we are in the covenant, we are sealed. Isn't it interesting? In spite of our ease in saying, "I'm sealed," we are very reluctant to say, "I'm saved." If our sealing is to be a reality, what Kingdom must we inherit? There is no sealing in the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms! To be sealed we must find ourselves in the celestial kingdom. Can we go to the celestial kingdom without being saved? Of course not! Thus, to say, "I'm sealed," is also to say, "I am saved"—even more —"I am sealed" is to say "I am exalted!!!" (7)
Well, how then should we answer our friends? When asked, "Are you saved?" do we simply say, "Yes"? Brother Millet gives us this wise counsel:
When we are asked by our friends, "Are you saved?" it wouldn't hurt for us to understand where they're coming from. It also wouldn't hurt for us to tell our friends that we understand where they're coming from. We probably don't want to adopt their terminology--for us to answer, "Yes, I'm saved," may be a correct answer. However, it really isn't making a helpful response to the question. We really don't mean the same thing. It probably wouldn't hurt if we explained our view of salvation and could understand our "saved" status.(8)
Elder McConkie has said that "saved," as it's used in the scriptures, should be understood by Latter-day Saints as a synonym for "exaltation." While this may be a completely adequate definition in an LDS consideration of salvation, in the context of this discussion there are some important things left unsaid.
First, "Saved from what?" The Evangelical will respond immediately, almost by reflex: "Saved from Hell!" For the orthodox Christian, Hell is very well defined. It's a physical place of everlasting burning. When an Evangelical says that all men and women who have ever inhabited this planet deserve Hell, they are saying that all deserve to spend eternity in a physical lake of fire and brimstone with a resurrected body that is everlastingly subject to pain. Obviously, to be saved, is not a thing to be taken lightly.
For the Latter-day Saint, the closest thing to the Evangelical concept of Hell is the casting of the sons of perdition "into outer darkness."(9) The knowledgeable Evangelical might well label Mormonism as partaking of the heresy of Universalism, which teaches that all will eventually be saved. Joseph Smith specifically taught: "All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition."(10)
For the Evangelical, saved from Hell means living for Eternity in the presence of Christ. There are only two possibilities: Heaven or Hell. Neither Paul's reference to a "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2) nor his description of three degrees of glory (1 Corinthians 15:40-42) can, for these Christians point to any divisions in Heaven. All must be equal. They see only one criterion for salvation: you either "accept Christ as your Savior," or you don't. Since the criterion is binary, there can only be a binary result. You're either saved and go to Heaven or you're not saved and go to Hell.
While, as presented above, we can make a case, even a strong LDS doctrinal and terminology case, for saying, "I am saved," this would not be a proper answer to our Christian friends. As Brother Millet points out, we really don't mean the same thing! This question is then an opportunity to explore this difference.(11)
Nephi gives us a useful analogy for organizing this discussion of salvation. He speaks of a gate and a path. He tells us that "the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost." He continues, "And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:17-18). Nephi's gate describes what we must each do to begin this process of salvation in our own lives. The path, which he describes as strait and narrow, addresses the life that must be lived by one who has passed through that gate if the destination of the path is to be realized. Each of these elements applies to both LDS and Evangelical views of salvation. This chapter will explore this path, its gate, and its destination, together with the language used by Mormons and Evangelicals to speak of these shared concepts.
What really is our saved status? Stephen Robinson points out that to be saved is to be in Christ's kingdom.(12) He then makes clear that we enter that kingdom when we pass through Nephi's gate. As described by Nephi, that gate is faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Since passing through this gate puts us into the kingdom, Brother Robinson says, "Nothing that happens subsequently can be understood as helping you get into the kingdom, or earning your way into the kingdom, or contributing to your getting to the kingdom--because you are already there."(13)
If you have passed through Nephi's gate, and are on the path, you're living in a "saved status." This is your present standing before God as a member of Christ's kingdom. The critical question is not how far you have progressed along this path; rather, "Are you still on the path?" However, it's important to note this declaration of President Spencer W. Kimball, "To be passive is deadening, to stop is to die."I interpret this to mean that if we stand still on this path we will fall off!
An important thing to know about any path is its destination: "If I stay on this path, where will it take me?" An interesting characteristic of this path is that, in a sense, it is the destination. Nephi describes it as "the way . . . whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God" (2 Nephi 31:21). It is the way. It is the way one who sincerely enters the gate and desires to be in the kingdom of God must live after passing through that gate. To be in the kingdom of God is to be on the path! Brigham Young helps us to appreciate this characteristic of the path:
If a person with an honest heart, a broken, contrite, and pure spirit, in all fervency and honesty of soul, presents himself and says that he wishes to be baptized for the remission of his sins, and the ordinance is administered by one having authority, is that man saved? Yes, to that period of time. Should the Lord see proper to take him then from the earth, the man has believed and been baptized, and is a fit subject for heaven--a candidate for the kingdom of God in the celestial world, because he has repented and done all that was required of him at that hour.(14)
Brother Robinson said that "nothing that happens" after I go through the gate and get on the path helps me to get into God's kingdom. Does this mean that nothing I do matters? Does it mean that getting on the path is all that I have to do? If I'm saved by just getting on the path, if going through the gate puts me in the kingdom of God, then I'm a "saved Mormon" and I've got it made, right? While the Evangelical would say, "Absolutely, your salvation is guaranteed," Nephi clearly disagrees, "Behold, I say unto you, Nay." He then reminds us of how we got onto the path, "Ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ" (2 Nephi 31:19). What Nephi is doing is teaching us the nature of this path. Isn't this the same path that John spoke of when he said, "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked"? (1 John 2:6.) Nephi's path is Christ's path. To walk this path is to follow Jesus--to walk in His footsteps. Nephi asks the defining question, "Can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?" (2 Nephi 31:10.) He then explains what we must do as we seek to walk in the footsteps of our Savior:
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press 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).
Once we have entered this gate and gotten on the path, having arrived in the kingdom, we must know how to stay in this kingdom. Nephi is here teaching us how to stay in the kingdom, how to stay on the path. The kingdom is the path! To stay on this path we "must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ." Elder Bruce R. McConkie explains more about this path and translates Nephi's instructions into the modern day activities that constitute walking this path:
We don't need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. You don't. There's only been one perfect person, and that's the Lord Jesus, but in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality, what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path--thus charting a course leading to eternal life--and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship. I'm not saying that you don't have to keep the commandments. I'm saying you don't have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved. The way it operates is this: You get on the path that's named the "straight and narrow." You do it by entering the gate of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that's called eternal life. If you're on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you'll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time that is given to men to prepare for eternity. Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you're working zealously in this life--though you haven't fully overcome the world and you haven't done all you hoped you might do--you're still going to be saved. You don't have to do what Jacob said, "Go beyond the mark." You don't have to live a life that's truer than true. You don't have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing. What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church--keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you're on that path when death comes--because this is the time and the day appointed, this is the probationary estate--you'll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure.(15)
This statement of Elder McConkie provides a clear illustration of the difference between the LDS and Evangelical understanding of salvation--that difference is in the word "if." "If you're on that path . . . " Very little else that Elder McConkie is saying here would be inconsistent with the way many Evangelicals see salvation. For them, however, "if" is unacceptable and inconsistent with the way they read their Scriptures: "once on the path, you'll never fall off, period!"
As Latter-day Saints seek to discuss this strait and narrow path with their Evangelical friends, they are frequently confronted with differences both in concept and terminology that aggravate understanding on both sides of that conversation. When Mormons talk of works, and covenants, and ordinances, and perfection, they seldom appreciate the concepts that are communicated to the minds of their Evangelical associates. When an Evangelical speaks of grace, or regeneration, or justification, or sanctification, or assurance, a Mormon listener is rarely able to meaningfully respond with the LDS doctrinal positions on these significant topics in a way that would be comprehended by their Evangelical colleague. We often see these differences in terminology as evidence of a difference in doctrine. But much of this difference is in emphasis or in a limited perspective on one or both sides of this conversation.
For example, Mormons will often stress the importance of good works while Evangelicals stress the importance of faith. Brother Robinson makes clear the error that is sometimes present in each of these perspectives:
For centuries theologians have argued pointlessly over whether individuals are saved by faith or saved by works. A pox on both their houses, for neither by faith alone (defining faith as mere passive belief) nor by works alone are we saved. Salvation comes through a covenant relationship in which both faith and works play their parts. To insist that salvation comes by works alone, that we can earn it ourselves without needing the grace of God, insults the mercy of God and mocks the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our behalf. On the other hand, to insist that salvation comes by belief alone and that God places no other obligations upon the believer insults the justice of God and makes Christ the minister of sin.(16)
What Brother Robinson is saying is that works salvation is contrary to the scriptures and faith salvation is also contrary to the scriptures unless you define faith as active and leading to good works (faithfulness in walking Christ's path). This is an example of a problem caused by a limited perspective on each side, which is then magnified by a difference in emphasis. In the LDS culture the importance of demonstrating faith by righteous living is stressed; thus, in a discussion with an Evangelical friend, the significance of these righteous works might be emphasized. In the Evangelical culture the accent tends to be on the importance of faith and the impossibility for any person to earn salvation. A discussion of salvation from these two perspectives can have many of the characteristics of the blind men describing an elephant. Each may be speaking of true characteristics of our Father's plan for the salvation of His children--both faith and works are required; nevertheless, because of differences in perspective and language, each may easily conclude that these expressed beliefs are not only dissimilar but contradictory.(17)
The Lord has stated that He speaks to His prophets "after the manner of their language" (D&C 1:24). As we seek effective communication with our Evangelical associates, our ability to follow this example of our Master might significantly influence our success.
The following paragraphs will discuss two terms that lie at the very core of this Evangelical language problem. For the Evangelical justification and sanctification are key words in their language of salvation.
When our Evangelical friends speak of being justified or of being sanctified, Mormons frequently find themselves on unfamiliar ground. These are mysteries that are strange to many of us and are seldom discussed. Yet, sanctification and justification are clearly taught in LDS scripture, and their meanings there are not significantly different from the meanings of our Evangelical associates. On the day of the organization of the Church, Joseph Smith had the following recorded in his history and later in Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; 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. (D&C 20:30-31)
Could the Prophet be speaking of anything other than the traditional Christian teachings regarding these doctrines? His intent is made plain in the next verse: "But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God . . ." This verse is responding to the related Christian doctrine of perseverance. This doctrine of perseverance, discussed later in this chapter, is the principal LDS objection to the general Christian understanding of salvation. I believe that Joseph Smith was saying, "While these doctrines of justification and sanctification are true, the Christian world's understanding of these doctrines and their interpretation of their application in the lives of the believer, is false."
In spite of the Prophet's endorsement of these sacred doctrines of justification and sanctification, an understanding of these doctrines has not been seen by many Latter-day Saints as significant to the comprehension of their theology. These doctrines are viewed as technical concepts that might be understood by the theologian, but of little importance or consequence to the average believer. However, in Evangelical theology these technical concepts are center-stage. Justified by faith and saved by grace, were battle cries of the Reformation as they are today's rallying calls of the Evangelical faithful. Thus, an understanding of these doctrines is essential in any attempt to grasp the relationship between Evangelical and Mormon teachings. Further, it is the message of this chapter that these doctrines, justification and sanctification are the essence of the true doctrine of salvation. They are crucial concepts to an understanding of the need and function of the atonement in our lives.
Before launching into the detail of this discussion, some perspective is appropriate. In LDS teachings we emphasize the importance and efficacy of repentance. Sometimes Mormon teachers, when stressing the effect of repentance, might use the example of sin being like nails driven into a board. They might then describe repentance as pulling out these nails and point out that, because of the atonement, there will be no holes left in the board. Sanctification is the objective of this repentance process. In this life, to be sanctified is to have all the nails pulled out of our board (and to stop putting in new nails). To be justified is to have all the holes filled in. Thus, any discussion of salvation which is limited to only sanctification or to only justification can lead to confusion and error. They are a matched pair. Together they describe the full plan. I believe that much of the confusion that exists regarding our Father's plan for man's salvation relates to the failure to understand the difference and relationship between justification and sanctification, the failure to recognize which of these is the subject of a specific passage of scripture, and the failure to address these doctrines together.(18)
Dr. James Boice, president of Evangelical Ministries, quotes Martin Luther as saying that justification is "the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines." He then quotes Calvin who called justification "the main hinge on which religion turns."(19) The Christian doctrine of justification by faith declares that "all that we need to be made right with God has been achieved in the death of Jesus, and believers simply receive it by faith."(20) Many Latter-day Saints might associate this doctrine with the philosophies of men and with a dogma that has been declared apostate by the teachings of latter-day prophets. Our Evangelical brothers and sisters will quickly and with great feeling of assurance come to the defense of this doctrine by quoting the Apostle Paul: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28). Taken by itself, Paul's teaching in this verse does seem to be consistent with this orthodox Christian position and inconsistent with LDS belief. Yet, Latter-day Saints do affirm the authority of Paul as a true servant and spokesman for God. An LDS rejection of this doctrine is awkward to defend, doubly so when we are reminded of Joseph Smith's D&C 20 statement regarding the doctrine of justification. Isn't the Prophet's declaration a specific affirmation of this teaching of Paul? If Paul did not teach exactly what our Evangelical friends claim, what did he mean? An understanding of Paul will come as we understand his words and their relationship to the bigger picture. The key words in this quotation from Paul are "justified" and "faith."However, our divergence from the teachings of our Evangelical brethren and sisters relates more to their world view, the Big Picture, than it does to a difference in definition of these key terms.
A frequent LDS missionary response to this verse from Paul claims that "the deeds of the law" spoken of here were restricted to the Law of Moses. But, this argument ignores Lehi's teaching on the same subject. When instructing his son, Jacob, shortly before his death, Lehi told Jacob that he knew that Jacob had been redeemed. Jacob was a righteous son. He had even been privileged to see the premortal Christ (2 Nephi 2:4 and 11:3). However, Jacob's righteousness is not the reason given by Lehi for this assurance of salvation. Instead, Lehi said, "I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer." He went on to declare:
And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free. And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth (2 Nephi 2:4-6).
"By the law [not just temporal but also spiritual] no flesh is justified; or by the law men are cut off." This is the problem addressed by the doctrine of justification. A closer look at the meaning of the word "justification" will be helpful.(21) Brother Stephen Robinson provides this most useful description:
When human beings keep their covenants, when they abide by the conditions of their agreements with God, they are said to be justified. To be justified means to be declared innocent, to be acquitted of all charges of misconduct, to stand guiltless before the law. Justified has a strong courtroom or judgment nuance to it and emphasizes the "not guilty" verdict. To be justified, then, is to be declared by God to be not guilty, to be free from any taint of sin and to be acquitted of all our obligations toward him. Thus, being justified is logically equivalent to being declared worthy of the kingdom and presence of God.(22)
Because we are, all of us, His sons and daughters, and are His potential heirs (Romans 8:16-17), Father has established a program of training, of learning, of preparation for the great future that can be ours. He has sent us away to a school called Life. Our major subject in this school is obedience, or mastery over sin.(23) This is not a theoretical course but a practical, hands on, experience. He has given us instructions (commandments) to define this course. Sin is simply a failure to obey any one of these instructions. We begin this life in what has been called a carnal state (Mosiah 16:3-4). This is also referred to as the natural man (Mosiah 3:19, 1 Corinthians 2:14). We are here to learn how to overcome this natural man, to learn how to control our carnal natures, and to learn how to hear and obey the promptings of our Father's Holy Spirit. Thus, we are here to experience sin, and to learn how to repent. We are here to learn how to overcome our natural desire toward sin and to replace that carnal passion with a hunger for spiritual nourishment. Our goals are to learn to despise sin and learn to love holiness. President David O. McKay said it this way:
Indeed, man's earthly existence is but a test, whether he will concentrate his efforts, his mind, his soul upon things that contribute to his comfort and gratification of his physical instincts and passions, or whether he will make as his life's purpose and aim the acquisition of spiritual qualities. . . Spirituality, our true aim, is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the Infinite.(24)
Our Father well knew that in this school we must become contaminated with our subject if we were to learn its lessons. He knew that we would sin and become unclean. Everyone, except Jesus Christ, has at some time failed to do what he or she knew was right. Everyone, except Jesus Christ, has been overcome by temptation and has sinned (Romans 3:23). We are all unclean. Once we have sinned, once we have acted contrary to one of the commandments of God's law, no amount of righteous living can remove that sin. It happened! We sinned! We can repent--we must repent! But, we are still guilty. The law will condemn us. We have a hole in our board! We can (must) take out the nail (repent), but we can't fill the hole in the board!
God has said that no unclean thing can come into His presence.(25) Since we have sinned, we are unclean and the penalty for our sin is permanent banishment from our Father. No loving Father could be pleased with this prospect, nor would a faithful child. It would appear, however, that the very nature of God requires isolation from all that is tainted by sin. We are guilty, and God knows it. Thus, we cannot come back into His presence unless we are somehow cleansed of our sins.
A recognition of this required banishment is key to understanding our Father's plan for our salvation. Before the foundation of the earth, before any of His children were sent off to this school of life, God established a plan for washing clean those who learned the lessons that life was designed to teach. He called this "The Plan of Salvation." The most important part of that plan was His provision for a Savior. Jesus Christ was no after thought. He was not an expedient addition required to rescue the Father's plan from the bungling of His creation. The Savior was an essential and understood part of this plan from the very beginning.
We might think of the penalty for our sins as the price we must pay for our education--the penalty for our sins is our school bills. As we seek mastery over sin, we will sin and the penalty for those sins must be paid. We are told plainly in Section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants that Christ suffered the atonement so that we might not suffer. We are further told that those who do not repent (learn their lessons) must suffer even as Christ suffered. So long as we learn our lesson Christ will pay our penalty, he will pay our school bills. Those who don't learn, must pay their own bills!
However, payment of this penalty for sin still leaves us unclean. We have sinned and we can't remove that fact from our history. Since no unclean thing can come into the presence of God, we must somehow be cleansed before we can be allowed to return to our Father's presence. This is like saying that our history must be rewritten leaving out all the bad parts. We can't do it; history can't be rewritten.
Justification is the legal declaration that we are clean. The blessing of justification is Christ's promise that He will erase all the bad parts from Heaven's copy of our history. He says that He will remember them no more.(26) Justification does not mean that we are perfect; it measures neither our degree of repentance nor our holiness. It describes the cleansing made possible by Christ's atonement: that cleansing which we must each receive if we are to be permitted to return to our Father. We might call justification God's eraser.
Alma spoke of justification when he said to the people of Zarahemla, "there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain. . ." (Alma 5:21). This is, perhaps, the best part of the good news of the gospel. Christ, through the atonement, has provided this cleansing power--He has offered to do for us what we absolutely could not do for ourselves. We could pay for our sins by our own suffering, but we would still be unclean.
In the atonement, Christ offers to take upon himself, not only the penalty for our sins, but all of our sins. That is, He takes our sins from us. He not only suffered for our sins, He also takes our sins from us and leaves us clean. It is a gift! If we accept his atonement and repent of our sins, we are declared "not guilty" and our garments are washed clean even though we are guilty and we have made our garments filthy.
There is nothing that we can do to even help to bring about this cleansing. Yes, we must accept Christ as our Savior and we must repent, but these do not cleanse us, they qualify us. If qualified (saved) we are given this cleansing as a gift; because of the great love and grace of God our Father, and because of our faith in the atoning sacrifice of His beloved Son, and because we have learned our lessons!
Therefore, we must conclude with Paul, "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28), and we are saved by grace "through faith; and that not of [ourselves]: it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
Is Mormonism, then, in total agreement with the Evangelical interpretation of justification by faith? No. But, our difference is not in our understanding of justification. While we do have significant disagreement with the way some will define faith, this also is not the central issue in this difference. Our real difference is the LDS understanding of the purpose of life, and of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
The perspective represented in the above discussion of the school of life is totally missing in Evangelical theology. They have no understanding of the nature of this earthly state as taught to Jacob by his father Lehi.
Lehi told Jacob that following the Fall of Adam, "the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation . . ." (2 Nephi 2:21). This concept of probation has no meaning in Evangelical theology because it's not taught with any clarity in the Bible and it's not necessary to their big picture.(27) Without this concept, justification by faith is translated into justification the moment you believe in Christ. Dr. John MacArthur, a highly respected Evangelical author and President of Masters College and the Masters Seminary, laments that among some Evangelicals there is even the belief that, "It is possible to experience a moment of faith that guarantees heaven for eternity, then to turn away permanently and live a life that is utterly barren of any spiritual fruit."(28)
Sanctification is the name that the Lord has given to that process by which we may become perfect (the dictionary definition of sanctification is, "to be made pure"). Justification and sanctification are twins that must be seen together to be fully understood. Robert Millet tells us that:
To be justified is to be free from sin, to be legally right before God. To be sanctified is to be free from the effects of sin, to have had sinfulness and the enticements of sin rooted from our hearts and desires.(29)
"To be sanctified is to be free from the effects of sin!" It may at first seem as if this was what justification was all about. "Because I have sinned, I am unclean." Isn't being unclean the effect of sin? and doesn't justification make me clean? What is there left for sanctification to do? To understand this we must appreciate a second effect of sin. Yes, when we sin, we do become legally unclean. But, more significant to the problem of sin in our lives is that whenever we sin our character is corrupted. Our hearts and our desires are contaminated by sin; sin is habit forming! Sin is a disease that corrupts us and an addiction that binds us. We must not only be cleansed from the legal effect of sin, we must also overcome sin. "Sinfulness and the enticements of sin" must be "rooted from our hearts and desires." Our most important course in this school of life is mastery over sin!
Some may interpret this goal of mastery over sin as comparable with the humanist's goal of self mastery. There should be no confusion here. The great sins are pride and selfishness, and the great commandments are love thy God with all thy heart, mind, and soul, and love thy neighbor as thy self. Self mastery puts the man in the center of his own life and may even promote pride and selfishness. Mastery over sin must put Christ and our Father at the center of our life and requires humility and charity. We must surrender self to the directing influences of our Lord. C. S. Lewis powerfully teaches us this requirement and the promise (the covenant) associated with this part of our Father's plan:
Christ says "Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. . . Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked--the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours."(30)
"I will give you a new self!" This is the great promise of sanctification. Sin is any deviation from the will of God. Mastery over sin is turning our lives over to God, withholding nothing of ourselves, learning to do only that which is His will, and consecrating all that we are and have to His work and to His glory. Robert Millet puts it this way:
To be sanctified in regard to vice is to shudder and shake at its appearance, to feel a revulsion for whatever allurements would detour or detain the human heart. It is to be as Jacob was: "Behold," he said, "my soul abhorreth sin, and my heart delighteth in righteousness" (2 Nephi 9:4).(31)
This is certainly "a new self." We may not fully achieve this goal in this life; but, we can and are commanded to progress in this direction. In this life, the Lord has called those who are progressing toward this perfection: "sanctified."(32)
How are we sanctified? By receiving the Holy Ghost! We often talk of the comforting power and the revelatory power of the Holy Ghost. However, I believe that the most important gift of the Holy Ghost to each of us individually, the reason this gift is essential to our salvation, may be the role of the Holy Ghost as the sanctifier. Christ has clearly taught this sacred role:
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day (3 Nephi 27:20).
Sanctification is also something that we can't do for ourselves. It too is a gift from God. However, in this case we can and must participate in this sanctification process. Elder McConkie tells us:
To be sanctified is to become clean, pure, and spotless; to be free from the blood and sins of the world; to become a new creature of the Holy Ghost, one whose body has been renewed by the rebirth of the Spirit. Sanctification is a state of saintliness; a state attained only by conformity to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. The plan of salvation is the system and means provided whereby men may sanctify their souls and thereby become worthy of a celestial inheritance.(33)
He further makes clear the role of the Holy Ghost as the instrument of this sanctification: "The Holy Ghost is the Sanctifier. It is through his power as a Spirit Being that men may be sanctified and washed clean from all sin."(34)
"The Holy Ghost is the Sanctifier!" What, then, is our role? Some Evangelical theologians seem to teach that we can do nothing to contribute to this sanctification. For example, Dr. Boice says, "But no one can do good when measured by God's standard, for all that we do is corrupted by our touch. There can be no human victory over sin."(35) However, even Boice recognizes that man must at least cooperate in this process. He makes this clear in this paraphrase of Paul's command to "work out your own salvation" (Philippians 2:12):
Since you are saved, since God has already entered your life in the person and power of his Holy Spirit and is at work within you conforming you to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ--because of these things you are now to work as hard as you can to express the fullness of this great reality in your conduct. Nevertheless, as you do this, it is God who does the working.(36)
Boice is teaching that while God, though the power of the Holy Ghost, is the sanctifier, we must (or is Boice saying "should") do all that we can do! This is another example of a difference in perspective, a different emphasis. Both Elder McConkie and Dr. Boice are talking about the same stick, only each is picking up a different end of that stick! C. S. Lewis, in the previous quotation, provided a fitting summary when he said that our role is to "Hand over the whole natural self." We can't hold back and protect our favorite sins. God will change us, but we must want to be changed!(37)
Read Section D&C 11 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Circle the words: ask, seek, desire, trust, and faith. Then, read it again, looking for the processes of sanctification taught in this sacred message from our Father. "Even as you desire of me so it shall be done unto you. . ," "put your trust in that spirit which leadeth to do good. . ," "seek the kingdom of God. . ." This revelation is not a condemnation for sin, it's a call to faith, a call to service, and a promise of HELP from our Father. Elder Neal A. Maxwell assures us that "our loving Lord will work with us, 'even if [we] can [do] no more than desire to believe,' providing we will 'let this desire work in [us]' (Alma 32:27)." Elder Maxwell continues:
It is up to us. Therein lies life's greatest and most persistent challenge. Thus when people are described as "having lost their desire for sin," it is they, and they only, who deliberately decided to lose those wrong desires by being willing to "give away all [their] sins" in order to know God (Alma 22:18).(38)
I believe that when we see our role in this process of perfection as that of stamping out sin in our lives, we may be playing into Satan's hand. While our task is mastery over sin, there is a danger when our concentration is on sin. Whenever we concentrate on not doing that sin which we really want to do or on the necessity of doing that righteous work which we really don't want to do, our mind is in Satan's domain. We must replace Satan's spirit with God's Spirit. It's not sufficient to want to stop doing what's wrong; we must want to do what's right! The best way I know to stop doing what's wrong is to be anxiously engaged in doing something that's right. When we do this, we put our "trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good--yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously" (D&C 11:12). The Lord has promised that He will then "impart unto us of His Spirit, which shall enlighten our minds and fill our souls with joy" (D&C 11:13). When we truly desire to do God's work, when we go out and do the best we can, He has promised that He will bless us with His Spirit. That Spirit will then enlighten our minds and sanctify our souls. Thus He gives this promise, "As many as receive me, to them I give power to become the sons [and daughters] of God, even to them that believe on my name" (D&C 11:30).
The faith versus works debate is exactly this discussion of "I must do it myself," versus "God will do it for me." As Brother Robinson made clear, both positions are equally wrong. Neither view is consistent with LDS teachings, biblical scripture, nor with the belief and teaching of most Evangelicals. Both Mormons and Evangelicals believe in the same stick; however, we each pick up a different end. Unfortunately there are both Mormons and Evangelicals who only understand their most familiar end of that stick. If we are to understand and be understood by our Evangelical friends, we must comprehend and accept both ends. We must understand that our sanctification, our perfection, will be a gift from God, "We will be saved by grace, after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23).(39)
Sanctification is getting all the nails out of our board and overcoming our natural inclination to drive more in. Justification then fills up the holes--no, this is not just a filling of the holes, the holes go away--THERE ARE NO HOLES! The Evangelical has this same understanding of these doctrines, only the Evangelical reverses the order. They would teach that the holes disappear with the nails still in them--they believe that they are immediately and permanently cleansed of all past, present, and future sins (justified), the moment they accept Christ as their Savior--they teach that sometime following this justification, the Spirit will begin the process of sanctification. This view provides part of the support for Evangelical understanding of the orthodox doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This doctrine is variously referred to in their literature as ensured salvation, the endurance of salvation, or the security of salvation. Closely related, they also speak of the assurance of salvation.
After reminding his readers that all who "have entered in by the gate" are in the kingdom, Stephen Robinson points out that: "It logically follows that for those who have been born again, the critical question is not one of getting into the kingdom but of staying in the kingdom--of enduring to the end."(40) Staying in the kingdom was Alma's message to the people of Zarahemla. He first asked, "Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?" (Alma 5:14-36.) Alma was asking, "Have you been born again? Have you been saved?" Then he came to the important question for this discussion: "If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?" (Alma 5:26.) Alma was asking, "If you were once saved, are you still saved?" Alma then stressed the need for continual repentance, continuing in that righteous path of discipleship with Christ, if we are to retain our "born again" (saved) status.
To the Evangelical mind this language is strange and definitely in conflict with what they see as the clear teaching of the Bible. Remember the Christian doctrine of justification by faith declares that "all that we need to be made right with God has been achieved in the death of Jesus, and believers simply receive it by faith."(41) When they say they have been "born again," they are declaring that they have been justified; that they have been permanently transformed into new beings and born into the Family of God. These Christians believe that they are now adopted children of the Father, and God will never put them out of His family. This is what they mean by the endurance of salvation.
The doctrine of endurance originated with Augustine in the fifth century under the name of the "perseverance of the saints." Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of the Dallas Theological Seminary, gives us a very clear statement of current Evangelical understanding of this doctrine:
The concept that a believer who is once truly saved is always saved is based on the principle that salvation is the work of God not resting on any merit in the believer and not sustained by any effort of the believer. If man does the saving, it is insecure. If it is a work of God, it is secure.(42)
In saying that salvation is God's work, Dr. Chafer is not saying that repentance and righteousness are not required. He isn't speaking of sanctification, of gaining mastery over sin, or of Christian living. He is talking about justification. As Evangelical theologians interpret Paul's teaching on justification in Romans chapters 3 though 5 (particularly Chapter 4 verse 1: "Therefore, being justified by faith . . ."), they see in the tense of Paul's words a declaration that the believer has been justified. Justification is in the past; it is a completed work. Thus, they conclude that when a sinner accepts Christ, God must immediately declare that sinner clean--that believer is justified and their salvation has become secure. In the above quotation from Chafer, salvation means justification. Of course, this is true. To be justified is to be saved. In referring to this doctrine as the security of salvation, Evangelicals are claiming that the new believer is securely saved--they can't become unjustified, they can't become unsaved.
I once knew a man who had been excommunicated from the LDS Church. His had been a life of faithful dedication to service in the church. He had been a missionary, a bishop, a great teacher of the gospel, and a leader in his church community. In his later years he became involved with some practices which led to his excommunication. Shortly before his death he was re-baptized. He told me that he considered his excommunication a great blessing because he had now had all the sins of his life washed away by this rebaptism, rather than just those sins of his youth which had been cleansed by his first baptism. It is frequent that we say: "You have had your sins washed away." Which is the greater error, the Evangelical teaching that the sinner is made immediately clean for life, or the Mormon folklore that baptism gives you a clean slate that you are now responsible for keeping clean by your own righteousness?(43) Dr. MacArthur expresses the appropriate Evangelical concern:
If the preservation of salvation depends on what believers themselves do or do not do, their salvation is only as secure as their faithfulness, which provides no security at all. According to that view, believers must protect by their own human power what Christ began by His divine power.(44)
There is a strong current in today's Christian culture that rejects the concept that repentance is not a required part of the salvation process. They speak of a committed Christian. This points at a central issue: In a world full of professed "Christians" who show little evidence of a Christian commitment or lifestyle, how can Evangelicals continue to maintain that God takes over? How can they insist that salvation is God's work, and at the same time maintain that repentance and Christian living are necessary to salvation?
John MacArthur is one of the most outspoken leaders in what is called the Lordship Movement. This is an emphasis on the requirement of living as Christ taught, of accepting Christ as the Lord of your life. Nevertheless, MacArthur is also insistent on this security of the saved state. What about those who don't repent, those who bear no fruits, those who fail the test of a Christ like life? MacArthur says that they just aren't true believers:
All true believers will be saved to the uttermost. Christ's high priestly ministry guarantees it. We have been justified, we are being sanctified, and we shall be glorified. No true believer will miss out on any stage of the process, though in this life we all find ourselves at different points along the way. This truth has been known historically as the perseverance of the saints. . .
Perseverance means that "those who have true faith can lose that faith neither totally nor finally." It echoes God's promise through Jeremiah: "I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me" (Jeremiah 32:40).(45)
The believer will not turn away from God. Evangelicals see this as Scripture's promise. MacArthur, is saying that true faith is the key. How is this true faith defined? Certainly this must be the kind of faith that Mormon spoke of as recorded by his son Moroni:
And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart. If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity (Moroni 7:43-44).
Can a man or woman fall away from this kind of faith? Scripture seems to suggest that it is possible, however rare.(46) Christ suggested the conditions under which this falling away might occur in His allegory of the vine recorded in John 15:
I AM the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away. . . If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15:1-2, 6).
MacArthur, in responding to the interpretation that the burned branches are Christians who have fallen away, claims that there is no such thing as a Christian who does not bear fruit; therefore he claims that the fruitless branches could not represent Christians. He says that "externally they may be attached, but no life flows through them." He then goes on to refer to these fruitless branches as parasites, they "only appear to be a part of God's people." They are the tares that will one day be separated from the wheat.(47)
Is Dr. MacArthur right? Again, that depends on how "true Christian" is defined. Here, MacArthur is defining his terms and drawing his conclusions based on his definitions. Since they are his terms, how can we say that he's wrong? His definition of a true Christian is "one who cannot, or will not, fall away." Using this definition he totally controls the discussion. We might contend that the population described by this definition is very small; but, if we try to claim that he's wrong, we're not on firm ground. Of course, no Christian will fall away if only those who do not fall away are allowed to be called Christians. (Another example of the wisdom of God's counsel that we "Contend against no church. . ." D&C 18:20).
Many readers will be familiar with the warning in Hebrews 6:4-6 to those "who where once enlightened. . . and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost," of whom it is said that it is impossible "if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance . . ." Isn't this a clear refutation of this Evangelical claim that the saved can't fall away? Remember, however, Evangelicals also read Hebrews. They know what it says and interpret the meaning to be consistent with what they've deduced to be true. MacArthur explains that "enlightened" must mean an "intellectual perception." He sees the individual spoken of in Hebrews as having been given great evidence of truth, but never accepting that truth. MacArthur concludes that the condemnation that "they crucify to themselves the Son of God," is their judgment for having rejected the truth in the face of such powerful testimony.(48)
Again, MacArthur is saying is that if a man or woman falls away, no matter how enlightened, or filled with the Spirit, they can't have been a true Christian because true Christians don't fall away. As you can imagine, this doctrine of ensured salvation is very popular and satisfying to the Evangelical mind.
Evangelical literature also speaks of an assurance of salvation. This is a different concept, yet closely related. Ensured salvation says that the saved Christian will remain saved. Assurance refers to that confidence one might have that he or she is numbered amongst this population of the saved. This flows directly from the Evangelical emphasis on the true Christian. Chafer makes an interesting point considering all that has been said about this perseverance of the saints. First he acknowledges that assurance "is a matter of what one believes at a given time concerning his personal salvation." He then goes on to say that the believer's assurance of salvation depends upon three aspects of the believer's experience:(49)
1) understanding of the completeness of the salvation provided in Jesus Christ;
2) the confirming testimony of Christian experience;
3) acceptance by faith of biblical promises of salvation.
This reads like a Mormon formula!(50) When salvation comes down to the personal question, "Am I really saved?" a doctrine of ensured salvation loses its meaning. Our difference comes down to this: The Evangelical says, "If I am saved, I will remain righteous." The Mormon says, "If I am righteous, I will remain saved." Are not the Mormon and the Evangelical again speaking of different ends of the same stick?
This chapter started with a reference to Nephi's analogy of a gate, and a path. The journey along this path is sanctification. The destination of this path is salvation: to be sanctified, to be justified, to be perfected, to become like Jesus Christ. Not just to be in His presence, but to become what He is! Once we have passed through the gate, we must learn to walk this path to Christ. Both Stephen Robinson and Steve Covey have given us modernized versions of Nephi's analogy of the strait and narrow path. Each contributes to an effective summary of the message of this chapter. Each also models an aspect of the difference between LDS and Evangelical teachings on salvation.
Brother Robinson suggests that Nephi's path is really a train. I call this the saved train. This train is the kingdom of God; this train is our covenant relationship with Christ; this train is the church of Jesus Christ. The journey is called sanctification. Neither getting on the train nor the experience of the ride is reason for this trip:
Arriving at our destination is the point of the journey. Coming to Christ, being saved, . . . gets us on the train . . . but our ultimate object, our goal, is to become what Christ is. . . Those who do not desire to become entirely as Christ now is will find themselves increasingly uncomfortable with the process and will eventually get off the train, some nearer and some farther from their proper destination. But nobody gets thrown off. If we stay on board--if we endure to the end--we have God's promise that we shall reach our destination and become all that he is and receive all that he has (Romans 8:14-19, especially 17; John 16:15; Luke 12:44; D&C 84:38).(51)
The interesting thing is that both Evangelicals and Mormons get on similar trains.(52) The difference is clear, the Mormons say that riders are free to get off the train whenever they choose, while Evangelicals insist that once fully on, the riders will not, or can not get off. Both are aware that there are many who think that they are on the train who really aren't. They may be just hanging on, standing on the rail; or, could it be that they're on the wrong train?
Brother Robinson's message in this analogy lies at the heart of the Evangelical misunderstanding of the LDS doctrine of salvation as well as the Evangelical departure from the true gospel of salvation. Referring to a common Christian image of Mormon beliefs, he says: "They mistakenly suppose the Latter-day Saints are working to be saved, and, unfortunately, so do some of our own people. But Christ has already done that work; now we work to become as much like him as we desire to."(53) Yes, we must work to become like Him, but, our salvation is not dependent upon any degree of achievement or rate of progress toward that goal. It does not affect our salvation if we die on the day of our baptism or 60 years later after a lifetime of service in the kingdom.
We enter Christ's kingdom when we pass through the gate of faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.(54) Since, passing through that gate puts us into God's kingdom, puts us on the saved train, nothing that we do after baptism helps us get into the kingdom--we're already there. Having arrived in the kingdom, having entered the gate and gotten on the path, having gotten on the saved train, what we each must do is stay there, stay on the train—stay in our covenant relationship with Christ.
Evangelicals also speak of a covenant relationship. They call grace the "new covenant" which God has made with man. Grace, they say, is God's promise that, once really on the train, you can't get off--God won't let you off! Many of these Christians will also claim that no one can decide for themselves to get on the train. They would teach that if you're on the train it's because God put you there: "God started it, so He will also finish it."(55)
Steve Covey, the author of the best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is a world traveler who goes neither by foot nor by train--Steve likes to fly.(56) He suggests that we might liken traveling Nephi's path to a plane trip between two locations. The origin of this flight is the establishment of our covenant relationship with Christ (our baptism). Again, our destination is salvation: becoming like Christ. We are each the pilot of our own plane.
Before the pilot begins his journey, he must file a flight plan (we must know where we are going and how we are going to get there--we must know and understand our covenants with God). Once the plane is airborne (once we are baptized--once we have entered a covenant relationship with Christ) the plane will seldom be exactly on the flight plan (we all continue to sin and violate our covenants). The pilot must constantly check the flight plan and make adjustments (we must regularly review and renew our covenants through repentance and partaking of the sacrament) to keep the plane (our sanctification) on course. Sometimes the weather will be bad or there will be no visible navigational guides, then the pilot must rely on instruments to show him the true course (sometimes the right choice is not obvious and we must rely on the Spirit to show us the way). Even though the plane may stray from the flight plan or be blown off course (even though we may not be perfect and we make mistakes), the pilot can be sure that he will arrive at his destination (we can be sure that we will be sanctified, we will be perfected, we will be justified, we will be saved, we will become like Christ) so long as he keeps the plane in the air and is committed to his flight plan (so long as we remain in our covenant relationship with Christ).(57)
Again, this allegory enables a clear illustration of the difference between the LDS and Evangelical views of salvation. The LDS teaching is that the individual (the pilot) remains free at any time to change his or her destination. The flight plan and the navigational aids are available, but the pilot must choose to use them. The Evangelical, while acknowledging the necessity of the trip (sanctification) will insist that the Holy Spirit, as the co-pilot of the plane, will keep the pilot on course. However, for the Evangelical, the destination will not be important. Salvation was found at the airport before the journey began.(58)
This phrase, covenant relationship with Christ, speaks of that relationship we establish when we enter into God's commanded baptismal covenant. In baptism we take upon us the name of Christ. Abinadi says that we become His seed (Mosiah 15:1-13). That is, we become part of the family of Christ. We are born again—we accept Him as our father. We become members of His family and are known by His name. This is our covenant relationship with Christ.
Every Latter-day Saint has the opportunity to renew this covenant relationship each week when they witness unto their Eternal Father, in a sacred Sacrament Service. We witness that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of His Son—willing to be part of His family. We are members of Christ's family! We must "always remember" that He is our Father. We are His children and He is our Lord—and thus we covenant that we are willing to "keep his commandments" (D&C 20:77). We witness that we are willing. This is our covenant relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Savior gave us a parable of a Pharisee and a publican (Luke 18:9-14). These two men went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed, "I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." In other words, he thanked God that he knew the commandments and had been taught to live them. He felt that he was a pretty good guy. The publican (a despised tax collector), on the other hand, knew that he was a sinner. He went off in the corner, bowed his head, smote his breast, and prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Christ did not say that the Pharisee was a hypocrite. He said nothing to bring into question the truth of the Pharisee's claims of righteousness. His judgment, however, was clear and exact. "I tell you, this man (the publican) went down to his house justified rather than the other (the Pharisee): for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."(59)
This parable teaches clearly what we must do to stay on the flight plan, as well as the attitudes that will take us off course. As soon as we begin to be impressed with our righteousness, then we have begun to lose our way. We stop giving attention to our navigational instruments. We lose contact with our beacons (the Spirit). We are off course, but don't know it. Only when we are aware that we are off course are we motivated to take the corrective action that will keep us on the flight plan. When we are willing to acknowledge that we sin, when we truly desire to repent, when we humbly seek our Father's forgiveness, then we are returning to our course. We are following the flight plan.
If we were to declare that our salvation is sure, would we not be moving dangerously close to the attitude of the Pharisee? There's no doubt that the publican could not imagine himself as saved. He pled for mercy and for forgiveness with the anguish of a lost soul. It was, however, the humble publican who Christ identified as justified. Might this parable be a strong warning against the complacency that could accompany the belief in either salvation's endurance or assurance? Isn't Christ almost saying here that the man who thought he was saved was damned, while the man who thought he was damned was saved?
Thus we see, we will stay on course so long as we remain aware that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes; so long as we ask the Lord for His help and seek His forgiveness; so long as we are willing to make course corrections: then we are living in a saved state! We are living in a covenant relationship with Christ. As soon, however, as we think that we "have it made," that we are saved, we may already, to some degree, have lost our way. We are off course, but may be unwilling to make necessary course corrections; we may even be unaware that we have strayed. We have, until we return to our covenant and get back on course, lost our saved status.
There's yet another guide to our saved status. We can know that we are on course and living in covenant with Christ whenever we experience the manifestations of the Spirit.(60) Brother Millet makes this point: "We know that our lives are approved of God when we have the companionship of the Spirit. We know that we are in Christ, in covenant, when we have the companionship of the Spirit. And we know, I suggest, that we are saved when we truly have the constant companionship of the Spirit."(61)
When Evangelicals speak of salvation, the language they normally use to express this part of our Father's plan is different and sometimes sounds strange to our ears. However, that difference does not so much reflect a difference in their position on doctrine as it does a difference in their perspective and emphasis. Our understandings of many basic elements of our Father's plan of salvation are remarkably similar. In much of our discussion of salvation we are both speaking of the same stick; however, we each pick up a different end of that stick. Faith and works are these two ends. We both know that these are each necessary personal attributes of the saved Christian. Yet, our perspectives are very different.
When we overcome this confusion of terminology we may even find that we can use much of the same language to describe our somewhat different beliefs. Nevertheless, as we unscramble this confusion of words and terms, we must not be led to conclude that we believe the same. We are each applying this vocabulary to describe a different picture. The process of salvation may be similar; however, our understanding of the very purpose of life and God's motivation for making salvation available to man is vastly different.
Both Evangelical and Mormon read the same Bible that calls God, Father, and speaks of earth's inhabitants as His children. The son has the potential to become like the father. This is a universal lesson we learn from our earthly experience. When describing our relationship using this mortal analogy, could God be suggesting anything less than the most obvious meaning of that analogy--He will make us to be like Him. He has not left us to wonder. He inspired His apostle, John, to tell us plainly, "we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2). This is the meaning of salvation: to become what Christ is! Christ is holy, He is perfect, He is without spot. Sanctification will make us holy and perfect; justification will cleanse us and leave us without spot.
The Christian world has not understood this sacred perspective of God's relationship to His children and Jesus' relationship to his spirit brothers and sisters. They see God and man, Christ and man, as totally different kinds of beings. Thus, the suggestion that man could literally become like Christ, has been seen as foolishness, even blasphemous. Recently, however, careful students of the scriptures have begun to see through this dark glass of tradition's error and are coming to perceive the fullness of God's promise to us. Christ became man to teach us about God and to show us how to become like Him. An Evangelical writer declares that the sanctifying work of the Spirit is to conform us "to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. . ."(62) Another writer teaches, "Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God."(63) C. S. Lewis was even more specific: "He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess."(64)
While the world is beginning to see some glimmerings of this truth, only the Latter-day Saints recognize the resounding significance of becoming like Christ. It is only in latter-day scripture that the fullness of our sacred relationship to God the Father has been unfolded. We are His Children! Stephen Robinson stresses the significance of this latter-day understanding of our Father's plan for our salvation:
Only the Latter-day Saints understand that the purpose of God's grace is to take us all the way to himself and make us--quite literally--what he is. Now that is grace indeed! For Latter-day Saints the focal point of this life must be coming to Christ and beginning the process, but we also look forward to that greater moment in eternity when we shall finally be like him (1 John 3:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). And toward that glorious day as faithful sons and daughters we consecrate ourselves in the every day unfolding of our lives, that by our labors we might close the gap between us. When we use the term coming to Christ in describing conversion, it is a figure of speech that describes our intent and our desires. But the ultimate realization of coming to Christ is in actually closing the distance between us by becoming what he is through doing what he does.(65)
To become what Christ is! This is a Big Picture! Our Evangelical friends may use similar words and may also describe "coming to Christ" as their objective of sanctification. Some will even talk about "becoming like Christ." They are unable, however, to take this to the conclusion that we might become what He is. They would say, "Becoming like Christ? Well, it really doesn't mean literally like Christ, only more like Christ, acting like Christ, but we should never imagine that we could become what he is and do what he does."
"Man is God's creature" versus "man is God's son." With foundations as different as the sun and a 10-watt light bulb, there is no way that a similarity in building material can result in a common structure. Thus, while our understanding of our Father's plan may bear surface similarities, there is a crucial thread of difference that moves through the whole fabric--that thread is AGENCY.
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1. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, article on "SALVATION." At the same time, when the Evangelical talks of salvation they are certainly not talking about the exaltation taught in LDS scripture and doctrine. The Evangelical salvation best corresponds to the Doctrine and Covenants' description of the Terrestrial Kingdom. See also, Elder Dallin Oak's April 5, 1998, General Conference talk, titled, "Have You Been Saved?"
10. Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358. See also Elder Dallin Oaks April, 1998, General Conference talk, "Have You Been Saved?" Elder Oaks gives six LDS meanings for "saved" together with an LDS answer to "What does it mean to be saved?"
11. Dr. Roger Keller, while a Presbyterian minister, wrote a book about Mormonism call, Reformed Christians and Mormon Christians Lets Talk. His attempt, in this book, to explain the difference between the Mormon concept of salvation and that of other Christians is instructive: "Some non-Mormon Christians would claim that the Christ in Mormon theology really does not save, but here we run into a difference in terminology. The non-Mormon Christian usually does not understand that Christ's atoning death is so broad that virtually all are saved from hell in the end [few are cast into outer darkness to dwell with Satan]--which is really what most non-Mormons mean by the word 'salvation.' The Mormon, on the other hand, means that salvation is equivalent to exaltation--i.e., to being perfect like one's Father who is in heaven and having eternal life as does he. Salvation for the Mormon means going beyond a mere escape from hell to a life of continued growth and responsibility in fellowship and companionship with one's family" (p. 125). With this level of understanding of Mormon doctrine, it should come as no surprise that Dr. Keller left his Presbyterian ministry and was baptized a member of the Mormon Church shortly after the publication of his book. He currently teaches at BYU.
16. Robinson, Believing Christ, pp. 69-70. Brother Robinson adds this important footnote regarding the meaning of faith: "Several places in scripture define faith as 'commitment,' thus including in the single word faith both belief and behavior. In this special sense, it could be said that we are saved by faith alone (i.e., by a total commitment--by our belief and/or behavior)."
17. In an Evangelical lecture the necessity of this LDS emphasis on righteousness was articulated as clearly and succinctly as I have ever heard it expressed. The speaker said, "Every life is important to God but sin limits our usefulness." As Latter-day Saints, the gospel message has not been given to us for our salvation alone. The covenant that we make with Christ is a covenant of service in his kingdom, of service to our Father's children. Only as we cleanse our lives of sin can we effectively perform that service to which we have been called.
18. I suspect that none in this life will achieve the state of sanctification where we are totally obedient to the Lord in all that we do--where we have totally stopped sinning. We can, however, with the help of the Spirit and a contrite heart, learn to quickly recognize sin, repent, and move ever closer to this goal of total obedience--this is "all we can do!"
21. The Greek word, dikaioo, that has been rendered "justification" in our English translations means: to render one as righteous; to show, exhibit, or provide evidence that one is righteous; or to declare or pronounce one to be just or righteous (Strong's Greek Lexicon, number 1344).
22. Robinson, Believing Christ, p. 37. Note that this definition of justification appears, at first, to contradict that given by Elder McConkie in Mormon Doctrine. There he says that justification refers to the Holy Spirit's approval of the actions of our life; it means to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. I believe that Elder McConkie was talking of the process, while Stephen Robinson is describing the results.
23. Since sin is willful disobedience to God's law (Mosiah 2:33), mastery over sin is necessary and sufficient to the accomplishment of obedience to God. However, I believe this to be a much broader understanding of sin than we usually consider. Does not this Mastery require the replacement of willful disobedience with willful obedience, obedience to all of God's law. The most complete summary of God's law is given in His commandment "Be ye therefore perfect." This obedience which is mastery over sin is the attainment of perfection. In this life we must be willing to strive for this mastery and do all we can to progress toward it. The achievement of this mastery is also, as explained in the following paragraphs on Sanctification, a gift from God, which comes only after all we can do.
25. This is clearly stated by the Lord: "no unclean thing can dwell with God" (1 Nephi 10:21; see also: Alma 11:37; 40:26; 3 Nephi 27:19). It is also the obvious symbolism of the emphasis on purity in the Law of Moses.
God created us so that there would be a group of people who would give Him the glory He deserves. A rebellion had begun in the Garden of Eden, yet God set out to redeem humanity. By His marvelous sovereign wisdom, He called rebellious humanity back to a place of giving Him glory. His goal in salvation is to bring believers to glory--to create an eternally redeemed community of people who are Christ like--and let Christ stand as the preeminent One, receiving worship and praise forever. . . The ultimate reason God is conforming you into Christ's image is so you will be able to give glory to the One who is most glorious. . . it's not our happiness or our holiness that is the apex of His divine purpose--glorifying His Son is. (Save Without a Doubt, pp. 57-8.)
32. For example, see D&C 43:9 and 88:2. The Lord's use of this term in the revelations recorded in the D&C is interesting. We are there commanded to "sanctify yourselves" (43:10, 16); we learn that bodies may be renewed by the sanctification of the Spirit (84:30); we are told that little children are sanctified (74:7) and that the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified by their believing spouse (74:1); we are further told that the sanctified "may fall from grace and depart from the living God" (20:32-34), that the sanctified must endure chastening (101:5), and to be sanctified is to "be prepared for the celestial glory" (88:2, 18; 76:21). Temples are sanctified by their dedication to the Lord and by the presence of the Lord (109:12-13). The earth was sanctified following its creation (77:12), and will be sanctified again at the beginning of the 7th thousand years (77:12); but, the earth will not be fully sanctified until it is celestialized and enters its "immortal, and eternal state" (77:1; 88:17-26; 130:9).
37. This perspective expressed by Boice is almost identical to that taught by King Benjamin in Mosiah 4:5-16. When we approach these verses from the "I will do it" end of the stick, we might read verses 14 and 15 ("do not suffer your children . . . that they transgress the laws of God, and . . . teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness") as very frustrating commands, which we might struggle imperfectly to obey. When we understand that King Benjamin is speaking from the "God who does the working" end of the stick, we realize that rather than commandment, these verses are pronouncing great and welcome blessings which are available to the faithful.
39. Or, as Stephen Robinson suggests, "We are saved by grace 'apart from all we can do,' or 'all we can do notwithstanding,' or even 'regardless of all we can do.'" Brother Robinson goes on to emphasize, our dependence on God's grace: "Grace is not merely a decorative touch or a finishing bit of trim to top off our own efforts--it is God' participation in the process of our salvation from its beginning to its end. Though I must be intimately involved in the process of my salvation, in the long run the success of that venture is utterly dependent upon the grace of Christ." (Believing Christ, pp. 91-92.)
42. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes, pp. 223-224, emphasis added. While Chafer was writing at the turn of the century, his teachings form the foundation upon which much of Evangelical theology rests. Thus, this argument for ensured salvation is found in almost the same words in most all Evangelical literature (this is the total message of MacArthur's Saved Without a Doubt, see particularly pages 39, and 54-55).
43. If we come to baptism worthily, we are given a clean slate. If all past sins have been repented of, we are at that time clean. We keep that slate clean, not by perfect righteousness, but by that same process of repentance that prepared us for baptism. At any time, when we have repented of our past sins, our slate is clean, we are clean, we are justified.
45. MacArthur, Faith Works, p. 177, (emphasis in the original). Other scriptures cited by MacArthur as supporting this doctrine are: John 4:14; 6:35; 1 Corinthians 1:7-9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 1 John 2:19; Jude 24-25.
47. John MacArthur, Saved Without A Doubt, p. 32. Note that MacArthur's argument is circular. There is a foundation assumption (Christians can't fall away) which is declared to be true. Then, all apparent challenges to that assumption (some Christians don't bear fruit and are cut off) are countered with the affirmation that the assumption is true (all true Christians will bear fruit because they can't fall away).
"The enlightenment spoken of here [it is impossible for those who were once enlightened] has to do with intellectual perception of spiritual truth. It means to be mentally aware of something, to be instructed, informed. It carries no connotation of response--of acceptance or rejection, belief or disbelief. The tasting or partaking [and have tasted of the heavenly gift] implies something similar: a mere sampling of truth. It was not embraced or lived, only examined.
"Those individuals had been wondrously blessed by God's enlightenment, by association with His Spirit [and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost], and by sampling His heavenly gifts, His Word, and His Power [and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come]. Still they did not believe. Hence comes the fearful warning that for those who have experienced all that, 'and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame' (Hebrews 6:6)."
50. This description by Chafer of the requirements of assurance comes very close to Joseph Smith's conditions for faith. The Prophet said: "Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his [God's] will." (Lectures on Faith 3:2-5.)
51. Robinson, Following Christ, p. 68. Brother Robinson says that "no one gets thrown off." Some may disagree with this, citing excommunication as the example. Excommunication is not, however, a banishment from the train. The sins we choose to commit, for which we might be excommunicated, constitute "getting off the train." We are always free to get off the train and follow some forbidden detour. However, when we do this, we break our covenant--excommunication merely acknowledges that we have departed from that covenant relationship--that we have already voluntarily left the train! Remember, we are always welcome to return to the train!
52. While the judgment as to whether both Evangelical and Mormon are participating in the same journey (sanctification) and traveling to the same eternal destination is not relevant to this analogy, I believe that serious contemplation of this journey is not only appropriate but necessary. I doubt that there is only one train making this sacred journey. Yes, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Earthly Kingdom, but is it the only path to the Heavenly Kingdom.
Roger Keller, when a Presbyterian minister, challenged his Mormon friends to ask themselves a very soul searching question: "Would I be a Christian, if I did not believe in an afterlife?" He continued with this exploration by sharing a sobering perspective on the journey we each embark on as we enter into covenants with our Lord. He asks, "Are we Christians to get something, or are we Christians because we have experienced the graciousness of God, and we simply want to walk with him? I believe it was Luther who once said that the only person who was truly Christian was the one who would be willing to be damned to hell, if that would give glory to God. What he was saying was that true Christianity is not a religion of getting, but rather one of giving!" (Op. Cit., 125-6.)
While "willing to be damned to hell," is extreme, is not Luther (and Keller) expressing the Lord's message when He has commanded that we keep our eyes single to his glory. Is it not the service that we give to the Lord and to our fellow men that will prepare us, even more than ordinances, for exaltation in that Heavenly Kingdom, the kingdom of our Father? Remember; God is no respecter of persons. The great work of the temple is to make the ordinances of salvation available to all who will accept Christ and serve Him..
1) "The covenants are started with God's declaration, 'I will establish my covenant'. . . In this sense, the covenant is one-sided and reflects the unconditional character of election."
2) "The new era in no way diminishes God's demand for a covenant-keeping people. Hence, the new covenant itself promises the ability to keep the covenant as one of its greatest benefits (2 Cor. 3:3-6; Heb. 8:10; 10:16; 13:20-21)."
57. The message of the saved train is "nobody gets thrown off." The saved plane's message is "stay with your flight plan." The two allegories appear to have an element of contradiction: The saved train implies we are carried toward our destination with no requirement to direct our journey, while the saved plane must be guided to its charted target. This is not a contradiction--in the Lord's plan of salvation, both are true! As with all allegories there is a limit to their ability to accurately model reality and two models help. We don't know the way, but the track assures us that the way is known. Yes, we must follow the flight plan just as we must stay on the train. Each train stop is a decision point, a time of temptation. On the train we must also keep to our travel plan.
58. Dr. Charles Ryrie, an Evangelical writer and Dallas Theological Seminary professor, does see some merit in this journey. For the believer, he says, "salvation with its assurance of heaven is not in question, only whether heaven will be entered with or without rewards" (A Survey of Bible Doctrine, p. 179).
59. Dr. Ryrie has an astonishing view of this parable. He says' "Today, such a prayer [the prayer of the publican] would be a waste of breath. . ." His reason for his belief is instructive not only for the light it sheds on his view of salvation but also for its insight on Ryrie's concept of the relative relevance of biblical passages. First, he claims that a better translation of Luke 18:13 would be, "God be propitiated towards me a sinner." He tells his readers that propitiation means to appease or satisfy one who is angry. Thus, Ryrie claims that Christ is teaching that, as a sinner living before the atonement, God is angry with the publican. Ryrie then claims that this anger of God was appeased for all mankind by the atonement of Christ: "Today, such a prayer would be a waste of breath, for God is propitiated by the death of Christ. Therefore, our message to men today should not suggest in any way that they can please God by doing something, but only that they be satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ which completely satisfied the wrath of God." (A Survey of Bible Doctrine, p.123).
Notice, Ryrie is rejecting a clear teaching of Christ. He's not claiming Christ didn't teach this, nor that the passage has been misinterpreted. His reason for this rejection is solely that it does not fit his theology. He concludes that the atonement changed the rules. Strange that Luke, a disciple of Paul, would have bothered to record this teaching if it was no longer appropriate.
60. We know that when we are baptized we are told that our sins are forgiven (we are justified). Are you aware that James makes this same promise to anyone who is healed by a priesthood blessing? (James 5:15.) Enos prayed humbly for a remission of his sins and they were forgiven him (Enos 1:2-5). Six brethren accepted a call to take the gospel to the Lamanites; in revelation the Lord told them that their sins were forgiven them (D&C 29:3). A testimony is born and sins are forgiven (D&C 62:3). See also D&C 60:7; 61:2; 84:61. The Spirit's ratification of our standing before the Lord: this is Elder McConkie's definition of justification (see Mormon Doctrine). Yes, the Evangelicals are right, the Lord does frequently speak of justification (and sanctification) in the past tense.