The Mormon Chameleon: The Ever-changing Gospel of the LDS Church (Part Two)

Posted: August 2, 2020 in Matthew Eklund, Mormon Studies

by Matthew Eklund
As we saw in part one of this series, the Mormon Gospel is impossible because a Latter-day Saint can never really an absolute assurance of their salvation. A common response to the point to this observation by outsiders is that some Latter-day Saints who say it isn’t about obedience to all the commandments but, instead, is just about “doing your best”. However, this isn’t what the LDS scriptures teach whatsoever. As Mormon Prophet Kimball said in his book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” (which we covered in some detail in part one) Jesus’ commandment to be perfect in Matthew 5:48 to mean you must actually rid yourself of sin, and that no commandment has been given to men that cannot be kept. Not only is this Mr. Kimball’s interpretation in his book, but this concept is also taught in the Book of Mormon and is often used by LDS members and missionaries:

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

Thus, if God commanded you to be perfect, you really can achieve it. LDS will say they can’t do anything without God’s help, but it still ultimately lies upon their shoulders to achieve it. LDS scriptures also say that, if you repent of a sin and return to it, the guilt of all your former sins returns upon your head:

“And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.”
(D&C 82:7, emphasis mine)

So, according to LDS doctrine, not only are you enabled to keep all God’s commandments, you must keep them all, every single one of them, and if you break any one of them, then the guilt of all the sins you’ve already repented of come back upon you. Thus, you can never truly achieve a state of forgiveness or a mended relationship with God, because humans are sinful creatures that sin many, many times every day. Those who deny this don’t really understand the absolute holiness of God or the depravity of man in their sin. Even a lustful or jealous thought is a sin against a holy God. Everything we do is tainted by sin. There is no complete freedom from the grasp of sin in this life. Thus, there is no true and lasting forgiveness in the LDS gospel.

To summarize, the LDS gospel according to their own materials, then, it would be:

1. Faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Repentance.
3. Baptism by water for the remission of sins.
4. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands of someone with priesthood authority.
5. Receive other ordinances such as priesthood (for men), temple initiatories (washing and anointing), temple endowment, celestial marriage/temple sealing for husband and wife.
6. Continue to be faithful, attend sacrament meetings, fulfill your church callings, etc.
7. Strive to reach for perfection by working and keeping the covenants you’ve made and keep all the commandments not just to the best of your ability but striving for absolute perfection, knowing that God actually makes it possible for you to achieve perfection in this life, since he cannot give you a commandment you cannot keep (according to 1 Nephi 3:7).

If you do all of these things, then, you might have a shot at achieving exaltation.

Does this sound too radical? Too ridiculous? “They cannot possibly believe all this”, you may say. Well, if it sounds like I am misrepresenting them, then I will quote the list of directions for achieving exaltation given by the LDS church manual, “Gospel Principles”, the book they use to teach aspiring and new members of the LDS church the basics of what they believe. In chapter 47 titled “Exaltation”, pages 278-279, it says thus:

To be exalted, we first must place our faith in Jesus Christ and then endure in that faith to the end of our lives. Our faith in Him must be such that we repent of our sins and obey His commandments.

“He commands us all to receive certain ordinances:

1. We must be baptized.
2. We must receive the laying on of hands to be confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
3. Brethren must receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and magnify their callings in the priesthood.
4. We must receive the temple endowment.
5. We must be married for eternity, either in this life or in the next.

In addition to receiving the required ordinances, the Lord commands all of us to:
1. Love God and our neighbors.
2.
Keep the commandments.
3. Repent of our wrongdoings.
4. Search out our kindred dead and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel for them.
5. Attend our Church meetings as regularly as possible so we can renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament.
6. Love our family members and strengthen them in the ways of the Lord.
7. Have family and individual prayers every day.
8. Teach the gospel to others by word and example.
9. Study the scriptures.
10.
Listen to and obey the inspired words of the [modern] prophets of the Lord.

“Finally, each of us needs to receive the Holy Ghost and learn to follow His direction in our individual lives.” (emphasis mine; a note was added to indicate when LDS speak of “following the prophets”, they speak of their modern leaders, which they consider to be as much prophets as Moses or Paul and receive revelation directly from God)

In that same chapter on page 279, it states:

The Lord has said, “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “If we will continue in God; that is, keep his commandments, worship him and live his truth; then the time will come when we shall be bathed in the fulness of truth, which shall grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36).” (emphasis mine)

Could it be any clearer that salvation (eternal life with God and the fullness of happiness and glory with your eternal family) according to the LDS gospel certainly does depend on you, your faithfulness, your works, your struggles, your efforts to become perfect? When Christians point out that grace and the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is insufficient to grant eternal life according to Latter-day Saints, and that you must provide your own works of obedience to receive eternal life, we are often accused of misrepresenting them. But do these quotes from the LDS church’s own resources (which you can easily find on their website or buy in an LDS bookstore) provide enough evidence for our case?

Does this “gospel” sound like “good news” to you? To spend an entire life yoked with an immense set of commandments and covenants that you must keep perfectly according to your own faithfulness, or else you will receive a lower kingdom of glory? This is the exact kind of religion that Jesus came to abolish. The Pharisees believed it was their devotion to the 613 commandments in the law of Moses that made them right before God, but their hearts and devotion were far from Him who gave the law as a schoolmaster to bring Israel to the true Messiah. They were devoted, obedient, but they put their tradition on the same level of scripture, and they did not keep everything perfectly as they should. Jesus said of them that they are like “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside [they] appear to be righteous, but on the inside [they] are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

When I bring up this importance of obedience in the LDS gospel, I am criticized. “You never truly understood the gospel”. “That isn’t what we believe”. Then they present one of the myriad of explanations (as I gave above) of what they think the gospel really is. That is the kind of response I invariably receive when attempting to discourse with them.

They can label me as an “ex-Mormon”, an “anti-Mormon”, an “apostate” (which is technically true, as I did leave their faith) in an attempt to disparage me, but this is merely an ad hominem attack to avoid the substance of my argumentation. But do not the Latter-day Saints’ scriptures and leaders themselves (as I’ve quoted above) show that it is “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” that prepares them for eternal life? If this isn’t the case, how do they explain these statements from their scriptures, their leaders, and the official LDS church’s website?

When I attempt to address what the LDS church officially teaches and I’m told I’m misrepresenting them and what they believe, I wonder why this is the case. Why not just honestly describe what your church teaches? Does the LDS church not teach that you can become gods as D&C 132:19-20 state? Does it not teach you that obedience to the law is how you achieve such a status? Does it not also teach that God’s grace alone cannot save you, but you must also do works and receive ordinances to make eternal life possible? Why try to make the focus all about grace, all about God’s mercy, etc., and minimize the importance of your contribution and your obedience to your salvation when it has been made so abundantly clear by your church’s teachings?

For example, if I point out that LDS believe you need works to be saved and it is dependent on what you do (as I previously described), they rebut that I “never understood the [LDS] gospel” and that the gospel is more about being transformed by God’s grace to become like Him than obedience. So then I show that the gospel according to the Bible is indeed salvation by God’s grace [as they seem to be indicating], but that it is not just by God’s grace we are saved; it is by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone through which we are saved and receive eternal life. They then immediately point to James 2 to show you can’t just be saved by faith alone; you need good works to receive eternal life [this passage being taken completely out of context in their attempt to show our works contribute to our righteousness and receiving eternal life, which they don’t; that is a topic for another discussion]. It feels like playing a perpetual game of “whack-a-mole”, where one argument presents itself, and so you attempt to address it, but before you can address it, it has disappeared and been replaced by another.

If I try to show them what their own church teaches, it is repudiated, but then when I show them what the Bible teaches and how it refutes what they just stated that they believe, they claim that either what I’m understanding from the Bible is incorrect, or try to cast a different light upon their church’s gospel in an attempt to make the Bible fit with what they believe instead of what I believe. Or they will assert [albeit more rarely these days] that the Bible is corrupted or missing the entirety of the restored gospel from it; in their Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi chapter 13 teaches the Bible had many “plain and precious truths” removed from it by the “great and abominable church”, which was historically understood by Latter-day Saints to be the Roman Catholic church but, in recent years, has been changed to be any church that fights against them.

This is why I refer to the LDS gospel in these articles as the “chameleon gospel”. It isn’t because the LDS gospel isn’t well defined; it certainly is well defined by the LDS church’s leaders, scriptures, and teaching manuals, as the quotation from the LDS “Gospel Topics” manual above and the passage from the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 31:17-20 show. But the LDS gospel is presented as one of many different things in a variety of fashions by each Latter-day Saint, and the way they present it might change depending on what the topic is, and may even change within the course of the same discussion. This makes it incredibly difficult to do apologetics with Latter-day Saints because they each have their own version of what the LDS gospel “really” is. If we attempt to identify what their church believes, we are often accused of misrepresentation, lying, etc.

If you are a Latter-day Saint and you are reading this, I plead with you, read at least this paragraph: I love you. I try to discuss the Bible with you because I care about you and your eternal welfare. I truly believe what the Bible says, and what Jesus says in the Bible is that if you don’t have the correct belief of Him and of the gospel, you don’t go to a “lower glory” of heaven; you will burn in hell for your sins for all eternity (see John 8:24, Matthew 25:31-46). There are no second chances after we die. There is no gospel preached in the afterlife. This life, this time, now is the time to believe in the true Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe that created absolutely every created thing, everything that exists other than God (the only uncreated being) according to Colossians 1:15-17, He who is God from all eternity to all eternity and not a spirit child of Elohim and his wife (and definitely not the spirit brother of Lucifer). It is through faith in Him and His death on the cross alone that will make you righteous before God as it occurred with Abraham:

“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.
(Romans 4:1-8, ESV, emphasis mine)

I implore you if you do not know Christ [the Biblical Christ, as described above] as your Savior: turn to Him with an open hand, knowing you have nothing to offer God but only your dirty hands covered in the filth of your sins. Turn to Him as a Savior to pull you from the wretched muck that surrounds you. Trust in Him and in Him alone to save and keep you as your only hope. Reject your past works and accomplishments, which are as “filthy rags” before God (Isaiah 64:6). They will do nothing but condemn you. Rely on the mercy of God alone to save you from them. The perfection which is required in Matthew 25:48 can only be fulfilled by the One who did keep all the commandments, Christ Jesus, and receiving His spotless, perfect righteousness credited to your account through faith alone. This is how all your past, present, and future sins may be forgiven. If you are in Christ, the punishment for all these sins is placed on the Lord’s death on the cross on your behalf.

This is the Biblical gospel. This is how I and all saved Christians keep the command to be perfect. This is how we have a right relationship with God. This is how we are considered righteous. I am not righteous by what I do, because all my sinful deeds ever do is condemn me. Even after being saved, even my best efforts are tainted by my sinfulness. But I am saved because the Lord has died for my sins and I place all my trust in what He was done to save me. And God has made this promise for all those who do put all their faith and trust in Him:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 1:6, ESV)

I pray that God will open your hearts to this message and that you will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, as did the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-40) and countless others, including me, have done. Turn to Christ before it is too late.

About the Author
Matthew Eklund is a graduate student in nuclear engineering and a Utah native who converted to the LDS faith at the age of 10. He served a faithful two-year mission to Belgium and France and served in various teaching callings prior to being saved by God’s grace through faith in the Biblical Christ in 2016. He is now an active member of a Reformed Baptist Christian congregation in Albany, New York and is passionate about defending and sharing the truth of God’s saving grace to friends and family.

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