Archive for the ‘Matthew Eklund’ Category

We are, as Paul declares, “without excuse”

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”
(Romans 1:20 NKJV)

by Matthew D. Eklund
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

The Myth
“The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.”

Why It’s a Myth
Few topics ignite people’s imagination, fear, or indignation as the historic Christian understanding of hell. It has been understood as a place of torment for sinners without mercy or reprieve which endures for all time and eternity. The view of hell from the perspective of the teachings of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (hereafter LDS) differs significantly from that of the historic Christian understanding of hell; they have a temporary hell which is called “Spirit Prison” for those who died over the age of accountability (8 years old) and had not yet accepted the LDS “restored gospel.”  and a permanent hell for those who rejected the Plan of Salvation in the pre-mortal council in heaven or for those who commit the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost.1

There are two presumptions involved with this myth that must be addressed:

  1. People, even those who have not heard the gospel, are (or may be) good.
  2. It would be unjust for God to send people to hell who have not heard the gospel.

A logical syllogism2 can be made for these presumptions:

Premise 1: If someone is ignorant of the law, they are not held responsible for breaking that law.
Premise 2: If someone is not held responsible for breaking that law, they should not be punished for breaking that law.
Conclusion: If someone is ignorant of the law, they should not be punished for breaking that law.

A second related one can be made:

Premise 1: If someone is ignorant of the entirety of the law, they are innocent of breaking any laws.
Premise 2: If someone is innocent of breaking any laws, they are good.
Conclusion: If someone is ignorant of the entirety of the law, they are good.

Before introducing the Christian understanding of hell, these presumptions should be addressed on a logical and experiential basis. As for the first syllogism, is the first premise true, i.e., if someone is ignorant of the law, are they not to be held responsible for breaking that law? This would mean that an act is only immoral if it is committed with the full knowledge and recognition that it is immoral.

Let’s step back and use the analogy of man-made laws as they relate to God’s law since sin is essentially the breaking of God’s law, “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, NKJV). If someone were ignorant of either the law or the means to escape the punishment for their crimes against the law, does that automatically make someone innocent when they are found breaking the law? For example, if someone didn’t see a speed limit sign on a stretch of road and significantly exceeded the speed limit, does their oversight render them innocent of breaking the traffic code? No; their ignorance does not make them innocent. A crime is a crime whether one knows what they are doing is a crime or not. Perhaps law enforcement would choose to show mercy and abstain from issuing a ticket or arresting such a person for breaking the law based on those circumstances, but they have every right to enforce the law by punishing the perpetrator accordingly. It would hardly make the law enforcement officer a “monster” for giving a person the ticket.

Let’s examine the second syllogism. It seems reasonable that if one were ignorant of all of the laws that are in force, not just a few of them, such a person would be innocent. Imagine a traveler to a secluded island that had been completely cut off from any outside contact. He is completely unaware of any of the laws that have been enforced on that island. Perhaps the inhabitants of the island would also show mercy to the man if he were to break their laws. But, as with the previous example of someone who broke the speed limit, if the inhabitants of the island chose to enforce their laws, as sovereigns of that island, they would be fully in their rights to enforce those laws if they chose to do so. Even if that were not the case and it would be immoral for them to enforce their laws on a traveler who is ignorant of their culture, expectations, laws, and social norms. So, is that the case for mankind and God’s laws as well? That is what will now be addressed.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.”
(Psalm 19, NKJV)

How It’s a Myth
Romans is a beautiful and masterful work crafted by the apostle Paul. He starts by explaining that even those who do not believe in God know that there is a God because “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:19-20, NKJV). What is made known to all men? According to Paul here, all men know of God’s “eternal power” and “Godhead” (sometimes translated as “divine nature” as in the English Standard Version or New American Standard Bible). Now that we know what is revealed to men, how is it revealed to them? Paul says God has revealed these attributes to man: “what may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19, NKJV) and this has been done “since the creation of the world…by the things that are made.”  Through creation itself, God reveals his eternal power and divinity.  And how does this knowledge affect mankind? We are, as Paul declares, “without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NKJV).

We don’t have a reason to claim we didn’t know at least the existence of God, even if we don’t know much about him. Sure, there are many who claim they either know or strongly believe there is a lack of evidence for such a being, but Scripture witnesses that such people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18, NKJV). This could be knowingly or unknowingly; when men refuse to acknowledge the existence of God who has made himself known to them in creation, they are rejecting that truth that has been given to all people everywhere. This agrees with the Psalmist who declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1, NKJV) Heaven is the canvas of God’s masterful art, and in every sunset, every constellation, every strand of DNA, we see the paint strokes from the master Artist.

As if this weren’t enough, Paul continues this topic in chapter 2 of Romans to show that man is not only without excuse as to knowing there is a God, but we are also without excuse to knowing at least some of God’s laws.3 Here, he is criticizing Israelites who boast of having been given God’s laws through Moses and the other prophets in the Torah (law) of the Old Testament. Paul extols the unbelieving nations, the Gentiles, who seek to follow at least some of God’s laws (whether protecting life, respecting ownership of property, or whatever law that may be).

Paul says that “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:14-15, NKJV).

Even Gentiles who had never heard of Moses, the Torah, the creation narrative in Genesis, the Messiah, or anything related to the laws given to Israel, do what is right by the dictates of their consciences. Paul says they do this because men show evidence of “the work of the law written in their hearts.” This is the conscience God gave to man in the beginning, and though it is imperfect due to the fall, a portion of that law written on our ancestors’ hearts still exists in the soul of man everywhere (what Latter-day Saints would call the “light of Christ”). One need only consider the universality of The Golden Rule (“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” Leviticus 19:18, NKJV) across cultures to see this:4

Ancient Egypt: “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do.”
(The Eloquent Peasant” c. 2040–1650 BCE)

Ancient India: “Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.”
(Kural 316 from “Book of Virtue of the Tirukkuṛa”, c. 1st century BCE to 5th century CE)

Ancient Greece: “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”
(Thales, c. 624–c. 546 BCE)

Thus, no man anywhere is completely ignorant of all of God’s laws; our consciences prick us at one point or another when we do not do that which is lawful according to the dictates of God’s moral law. The second syllogism then falls apart in premise 1. Thus, Paul can say in chapter 3 of Romans, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, NKVJ) and “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV).

“Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it.”
(Deuteronomy 10:4, NKJV)

Why It Matters
Having established that none can claim ignorance of the existence of God and of God’s laws, does this not destroy the first premises of both of the syllogisms I presented above? There is no one who is truly and completely innocent of the knowledge of God and his laws, and so to use this as evidence that God is “a monster who sends good people to hell” is incorrect since it has been sufficiently shown that none are good nor are they ignorant or innocent. That is, how can God be a “monster” for exercising justice against anyone when that person is guilty of breaking the very law that He has woven into His creation?

But why does this matter? This shows us that we are sinful creatures. We cannot hope to stand innocent before God based on our works. We cannot be righteous by what we do in terms of trying to keep God’s law by our own gumption and best efforts. And shaking our fists at God for executing justice against those who deserve punishment won’t fix the problem, either. God is fully just and right to punish those who break his law as he sees fit, and he has declared that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NKJV).

However, there is a “but” that follows this statement from Paul. The sentence reads, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NKJV) Thankfully, God has revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and passed down to us through the Christian faith and the Holy Scriptures the ‘good news of the gospel. God has not left all of mankind in this condemned state. He extends his arms open to anyone who will simply turn away from their sins and trust in Christ to rescue them from their sinful state. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) This is the only way to escape eternal death and punishment for our sins against God.

And I pray each one who reads this article will do so, trusting in nothing they can do or offer to God, but that they simply do as Abraham did: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3, NKJV). He was justified (declared innocent and righteous) because the righteousness of Christ was credited to him “apart from works” (Romans 4:6, NKJV). And this is the only way we can become completely and wholly righteous before God, standing before him at the judgment in the stainless, seamless, glorious righteousness of Jesus given to us.

But this, of course, always leads to the nagging question, “That’s good news for those who have heard of the glorious news of this gift of God and have received eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, but what about those who haven’t?” Well, first, looking at Christian Church history, this burning question above all else, has driven Christian Missionaries since the ascension of Christ in glory. As Paul says so well elsewhere in Romans:

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”’ (Romans 10:14-15, NKJV)

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him,”
(Psalm 8:3-4, NKJV)

Second, as Theologian, R.C. Sproul points out:

“The New Testament makes it clear that people will be judged according to the light that they have. All the elements of the Old Testament Law are not known by people living in remote parts of the world. But we read that they do have a law “written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15). They are judged by the law they do not know and are found wanting. No one keeps the ethic he has even if he invents it himself….

Thus if a person in a remote area has never heard of Christ, he will not be punished for that. What he will be punished for is the rejection of the Father of whom he has heard and for the disobedience to the law that is written on his heart. Again, we must remember that people are not rejected for what they haven’t heard but for what they have heard.”
(R.C. Sproul, “Objections answered”, ellipses added for the sake of brevity)

Thus, God will be both just and equitable in His final judgment, we have His word on it. The Bible says that it is both, “they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NKJV) and, “(… the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves, their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:15-16, NKJV) and the Bible is also clear that on their own all men will fail at this.

So, now let’s compare what the witness from God as we have seen directly from the pages of the Bible with what Joseph Smith had to say about hell. He says of those deserving of everlasting condemnation, the ‘sons of perdition,’ the following:

“All sins shall be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy… You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance: they make open war like the Devil, and awful is the consequence.”
(Joseph Smith Jr. (Joseph Fielding Smith, compiler), “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, ellipses added for the sake of brevity)

Thus we see that Joseph Smith asserted that the only ones destined for “hell” are those who had a nearly perfect knowledge of not simply the existence of God, but also a nearly perfect knowledge of Christ and his work and of the truthfulness of the work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This places those who consider Joseph Smith a true prophet in a dilemma: do they believe the Bible, or do they believe Joseph Smith? Do they choose God’s truth, or do we choose something that sounds more comforting but, in reality, isn’t biblical? If you find yourself in this dilemma I urge you to be reconciled to what the Word of God has to say on the topic and reject the erroneous teachings of Joseph Smith.

Summary and Conclusion
The argument that “God is a monster who sends good people to hell” is typically based on faulty argumentation. It assumes that people are good, innocent, and/or should not be held accountable for breaking God’s laws. Scripture states that, due to the fall of mankind, we are not by nature good, innocent, or guiltless before God if left to ourselves. Neither can we become good by our works according to God’s law because we cannot obey it perfectly. It is only by trusting in God in Jesus Christ, turning away from our sins, and not resting on our own good works to make us righteous before God that we may be declared justified (innocent or righteous) before him.

“God has so clearly, clearly manifested Himself ever since the creation of the world, through everything that is made, that you can never use ignorance as an excuse before God.”
(R.C. Sproul, “All Are Without Excuse”)

1 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Hell,” Guide to the Scriptures.

2 A “syllogism” can be defined as “a process of logic in which two general statements lead to a more particular statement” (see Cambridge Dictionary, see “syllogism”). That definition may not really be that helpful, so I’ll try to offer a simpler one. With a syllogism, two premises are presented which lead to a conclusion. The conclusion is only true if both premises are also true; if one or both premises are not true or are not logically sound, then the conclusion need not necessarily follow. One form of syllogism, the hypothetical syllogism, says that if “A” is true, then “B.” If “B” is true, then “C.” The conclusion is, then, that if “A” is true, then “C” is true. This is the type of syllogism used in this article.

3 Throughout Romans 2 and elsewhere, Paul refers to “law.” It is common in my experience for LDS to point to Paul’s references of “law” as referring only to the law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai (and usually they further limit this to the ceremonial laws, animal sacrifices, other temple sacrifices and ritual cleanliness, etc.).

Thus, in so limiting Paul’s use of “law” to an outdated law, it is understood that God condemns seeking righteousness by laws that are no longer in force while allowing for seeking righteousness by the laws of God employed in the “new and everlasting covenant.” This ultimately results in rejection of justification by grace alone through faith alone as has been taught throughout church history and most clearly made known since the Protestant Reformation.

If their explanation were the case, then they may have a good reason to question why all people everywhere are judged guilty by a law that is no longer in force. Certainly, parts of the law given to Israel no longer apply.

But much does still apply, namely, the moral laws taught in the 10 Commandments. This is evident when Paul, returning to Romans 2, asks those who claim to rest in the law and their law keeping as their righteousness before God, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (Romans 2:21-23, NKJV). Paul here refers explicitly to the eighth commandment against stealing, the seventh commandment against adultery, and the second commandment against idols. He seems to be indicating these are moral principles that are still in force for Israelites today.

Not only that, this is the same law by which Gentiles “who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law” (Romans 2:14, NKJV) when they are following the dictates of their consciences. There is no evidence to suggest that these Gentiles were spontaneously choosing to circumcise their infant boys, offer animal sacrifices according to Torah law, or any other ceremonial component of the law of Moses. But if that is what Paul meant by “law” throughout Romans, then that is what Paul would be speaking of here. However, the more consistent explanation is that Paul was not using the word “law” to strictly speak of the ceremonial law of Moses; the Gentiles were obeying their consciences in regard to the moral law of God, the law by which all men everywhere will be judged.

For a scholarly treatise on the moral, ceremonial, and civil/judicial distinctions in the law of Moses as understood in the Reformed tradition and earlier, I recommend reading, “From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law” by Philip S. Ross.

4 These examples are from Wikipedia, “Golden Rule”. The “Got Questions” website also cites these examples from the Orient that are just as enlightening:

Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you”
(Analects 15:23)

Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you”
(Mahabharata 5:1517)

Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”
(Udanavarga 5:18)

About the Author
Matthew D. Eklund was born and grew up in northern Utah. He has one sister, one half-brother, and 11 step-siblings. He served as a full-time LDS missionary to France and Belgium as a French-speaking missionary. He returned home and earned several degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. During his doctoral studies in New York, he resigned from the LDS faith in 2017. He started attending a Reformed Baptist church outside of Albany, New York which holds to the 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. There in 2019, he was baptized as an Evangelical Protestant Christian and became a member of that congregation of believers. At that church, he met his future wife, Rebekah. They now live in Idaho Falls, Idaho where Matthew is a researcher at Idaho National Laboratory.

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.
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.
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.

(click to zoom)

by Matthew Eklund
I was a member of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (a.k.a the LDS or Mormon church) from the age of 10 until 30 when I officially resigned in 2017. I served a faithful two-year evangelistic and service mission to Belgium and France between 2007 and 2009. Since God showered grace upon me to learn the truth of the LDS church, that it does not follow the gospel and it does not worship the God as written in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Scriptures, I have come to receive a knowledge of the true Lord Jesus Christ, God from all eternity to all eternity who took upon flesh to die for my sins, and to exercise saving faith in Him.

In the time since I resigned from the church, I have communicated with those who are still members of the LDS church and attempted to have respectful, loving dialogues with them. I know most of them are moral people who claim to seek truth and follow Jesus. However, they have been blinded by a system that does not accurately teach the Christ that Christianity has worshiped for nearly 2000 years. Their view of who He is, what He actually accomplished on the cross, and how to be in a right relationship with Him has been distorted by teachings given by the first president and “prophet” of their church, Joseph Smith, Jr. He emphatically denied the God from the Bible which says that He is God “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2) when Smith said this at a sermon for a funeral ceremony:

“For I am going to tell you how God came to be God and what sort of a being He is. For we have imagined that God was God from the beginning of all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so you may see… He once was a man like one of us and that God Himself, the Father of us all, once dwelled on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did in the flesh and like us.”
(Joseph Smith, Jr., King Follett funeral discourse, April 7, 1844, emphasis mine)

At this moment of time, Joseph Smith eternally severed “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” from biblical and true Christianity and declared war upon those who do believe and follow the Bible. When I evangelize Latter-day Saints and tell them they are not actually Christians, I do so out of love for them and their salvation and not out of spite. However, I do so in acknowledging that we do not have fellowship and they are not yet my brothers in Christ as long as they continue teaching and believing what the LDS church has to say about Christ and the gospel.

When I speak with Latter-day Saints, I try to touch on the most important points of sharing the gospel. They must understand:

1. Who God is.
2. Who Christ is and what He accomplished during His incarnation.
3. What the “good news” of the gospel is.

What makes these tasks difficult is that, in interacting with Latter-day Saints, each has their own description of what the gospel is, how we have a right relationship with our Creator, and how we return to live with God after this life. I’ve heard many different descriptions when speaking with them. The following are some examples of things I’ve heard.

I have heard from various Latter-day Saints that the gospel is:

1. Becoming more like their Heavenly Father.
2. Becoming more like Christ.
3. Receiving eternal life by obedience to the “laws and ordinances of the restored gospel”.
4. The plan of happiness.
5. What Jesus did for us that we couldn’t do ourselves.
6. The way to return to heaven with our families forever.
7. Receiving forgiveness of sins.
8. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

And the way to receive the “restored gospel” is, according to the “Preach My Gospel” handbook that is given to every single missionary:

“Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
(Preach My Gospel, Chapter 1: “What is My Purpose as a Missionary?”)

Yet I hear from Latter-day Saints that the purpose of the gospel or the way to return to live with Heavenly Father differs. Some say:

1. We have to humble ourselves and accept Christ.
2. We are only saved by grace, but we have to receive ordinances and keep the commandments and our covenants to receive them.
3. The gospel is meant to transform us to be more like God; it isn’t a set of rules or “dos” and “don’ts”.
4. We are to prove our faithfulness to God by keeping our “second estate” [the “first estate” being the “pre-mortal life” where Latter-day Saints believe we all lived in heaven with God before coming to earth, and since we came to earth, it shows we were faithful and “kept” our “first estate” faithfully].
5. We are to love God and our neighbor and if we have loved enough, then God will allow us into heaven.
6. We have to love Jesus and keep the commandments as best as we can, we don’t have to be perfect, and Jesus will make up for the rest.

However, if you look at all those various definitions, some of them seem to be theologically shallow (focused more on emotions or not getting into the heart of the matter) and some are even mutually exclusive (meaning they all cannot be simultaneously true). We are either saved by God’s grace, or we must keep the commandments. One is the gift of the gospel, and one is salvation by works [even if God is helping us to keep the commandments, it is still up to us to get to heaven]. Salvation is either entirely a gift, or it is something you work for. According to the Bible, salvation is entirely a gift and not something we receive by any measure of our works:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
(Ephesians 2:8-9, New International Version)

When discussing what the gospel is according to Latter-day Saints, I will usually be given different requirements for attaining eternal life from them than from what previous leaders of the LDS church have provided. In a BYU devotional address titled “Be Ye Therefore Perfect” given on September 17, 1974, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“Let me say, then, that perfection is still our goal. It is reached by climbing steadily upward, controlling all our desires, impulses, and urges. It is possible. Remember that the Lord gave us Abraham as an example and quoted him often: “Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne” (D&C 132:29). This is not a promise; it is a reality. “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved” (D&C 132:32)…

“Perfection is a long, hard journey with many pitfalls. It’s not attainable overnight. Eternal vigilance is the price of victory. Eternal vigilance is required in the subduing of enemies and in becoming the master of oneself. It cannot be accomplished in little spurts and disconnected efforts. There must be constant and valiant, purposeful living—righteous living. The glory of the Lord can be had only through correct and worthy marriage and living a clean, worthy life.”
(emphasis mine)

In a book titled “The Miracle of Forgiveness”, written by future LDS President Spencer W. Kimball*, he writes that perfection is not only a commandment, but it is an attainable goal for Latter-day Saints:

Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.
(Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, chapter 15, “Keeping God’s Commandments Bring Forgiveness”, pages 208-209, emphasis mine)

Kimball adds, on page 210 of the aforementioned book, “only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality.” (emphasis mine)

Here, President Kimball states that you actually can attain perfection according to your obedience and that the time to reach for perfection by your own obedience is now. This is done by climbing the ladder of obedience, and that obedience and submission to the law is how Abraham received his inheritance (quoting the “Doctrine and Covenants”, a.k.a. D&C, a book of scripture used by the LDS church). Doesn’t this go against what other Latter-day Saints have said personally where they say it isn’t about being perfect, but about doing our best? Or those who say our works actually don’t give us eternal life, but we are saved by grace?

To quote another LDS leader, Apostle (now President) Russell M. Nelson said the following:

“If I were to ask which of the Lord’s commandments is most difficult to keep, many of us might cite Matt. 5:48: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’…

“Keeping this commandment can be a concern because each of us is far from perfect, both spiritually and temporally…

“When comparing one’s personal performance with the supreme standard of the Lord’s expectation, the reality of imperfection can at times be depressing. My heart goes out to conscientious Saints who, because of their shortcomings, allow feelings of depression to rob them of happiness in life…

Mortal perfection can be achieved as we try to perform every duty, keep every law, and strive to be as perfect in our sphere as our Heavenly Father is in his. If we do the best we can, the Lord will bless us according to our deeds and the desires of our hearts.”
(Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection Pending”, October 1995 Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, text in parentheses added by speaker, emphasis mine)

Here, Nelson paints a slightly less grim picture than Kimball does of what it requires to attain perfection as a Latter-day Saint, but I think he does so inconsistently. He recognizes that Jesus commands perfection in Matthew 5:48 and that we are capable of being perfect in “our sphere as our Heavenly Father is in his” and that we need only “do the best we can”. But you cannot be “keeping the commandments”, including the command to maintain perfection, and fulfill this requirement by simply doing “the best [you] can”. That is not good enough. Perfection is perfection. Even if you were capable of keeping all of the law (which isn’t possible) but sin in one area, you are found guilty. James wrote in his epistle, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10, English Standard Version). It is not about doing what we can and having Jesus “make up the rest” (as many Latter-day Saints will say).

If you say your eternal life hinges on perfection, and keeping all of the commandments, as the LDS scriptures and leaders have said, you must keep all of them perfectly. Just as a college student will mourn over that single “A-” grade which ruins their perfect GPA, only one sin is required to break the law. Even repentance cannot simply undo that mistake. This is why salvation cannot be based on our keeping the commandments. Even if this were possible, and the Atonement undoes all of our previous sins, this would mean our salvation is still dependent on ourselves and none of our future sins would be covered. We would be completely dependent on our ability to keep the commandments for our salvation. We would have no assurance. We could be doing well for our entire lives and all it takes is one sin for which we have not repented sin to keep us out of heaven.

If our eternal life depends on us and on how well we keep the commandments, how can we believe the Bible that says that we are saved by grace? How can both of these propositions be true simultaneously when they are so completely irreconcilable? The Bible says that if salvation has anything to do with us and our works, it is not grace, but it is a payment (even if the payment is much higher than what we did to earn it, that doesn’t make it grace). In speaking of a remnant of people in Israel saved by God, Paul describes them being chosen not by what they did, but according to the grace of God alone:

“In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise, grace is no longer grace.
(Romans 11:5-6, New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition, emphasis mine)

Many times when showing a Latter-day Saint a quote from a President of their church (who they sustain as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and speaks directly with God) with which they disagree, they often say that he was “speaking as a man”, made a mistake, or employ some other explanation to avoid the fact he disagrees with what they say or what they believe. But President Kimball quoted their own scriptures in the D&C as justification for what he said. Is the D&C wrong in this case, also?

Elsewhere in the D&C, it teaches that every blessing received is through obedience:

“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
(D&C 130:20-21, emphasis mine)

Here, we see that LDS scripture teaches that any blessing from heaven, which would certainly include the blessing of eternal life, is attained by obedience to that law. This is further reiterated in the LDS “Gospel Topics” manual under the entry of “Eternal Life” (which can be accessed at the LDS church’s website), where it says this:

“Eternal life is the phrase used in scripture to define the quality of life that our Eternal Father lives. The Lord declared, “This is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Immortality is to live forever as a resurrected being. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone will receive this gift. Eternal life, or exaltation, is to live in God’s presence and to continue as families (see Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4). Like immortality, this gift is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, to inherit eternal life requires our “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel(Articles of Faith 1:3).

When we are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, we enter the path that leads to eternal life…

After we are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, much of our progress toward eternal life depends on our receiving other ordinances of salvation: for men, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood; for men and women, the temple endowment and marriage sealing. When we receive these ordinances and keep the covenants that accompany them, we prepare ourselves to inherit eternal life.”

What is clear here is that God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ and His finished work on the cross alone (as taught and believed by orthodox Biblical Christianity) are insufficient to bring man to a right relationship with God. You must receive ordinances, keep the associated covenants by obedience, and keep other commandments given by God through obedience to receive eternal life according to LDS doctrine.

In the Book of Mormon, another book of scripture for the Latter-day Saints and the namesake of the common moniker “Mormon”, it reiterates that faith alone is insufficient to reach eternal life. It says:

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.

“And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

“After ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

“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 31:17-20)

The Book of Mormon reiterates that God’s grace alone is insufficient. You need, at a minimum, faith, repentance, baptism by water, and the “gift of the Holy Ghost” to even enter the path to eternal life. But it doesn’t end there, either. You aren’t saved yet (in the sense that Biblical Christians understand the word “saved”, being sealed up unto eternal life and having an assurance of salvation from sins, death, and hell by the blood of Jesus). If you also don’t obey God and “endure to the end”, which includes receiving the ordinances of priesthood for men, temple endowment, and celestial marriage/temple sealing for husband and wife, you will not receive eternal life and exaltation in God, but you will receive a lesser glory. Thus, you must continue in faithfulness and add to your salvation by your own works. Even if God is helping you out, it still depends on you.

Thus, you can’t really ever have an assurance of salvation as a Latter-day Saint because it depends on you and your works. If a Latter-day Saint were to say they do have an absolute assurance of their salvation, I would ask, “And if you commit a sin tomorrow and are excommunicated from the LDS church? Did you lose your salvation, or was your assurance of salvation unfounded to begin with?”

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.

* I say “future President” because Spencer W. Kimball was an Apostle when he wrote and published, “The Miracle of Forgiveness”. That said, and for those who say we shouldn’t quote “The Miracle of Forgiveness” because it isn’t in the LDS Standard Works (the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) and that it doesn’t represent orthodox/accepted LDS doctrine, the book has been recommended by several LDS General Authorities in recent years to be read and followed by LDS members, including Prophets Thomas S. Monson and Ezra Taft Benson, Apostles Richard L. Evans in 1970, Richard G. Scott in 1995 and in the October 2000 General Conference, Boyd K. Packer, and more. “The Miracle of Forgiveness” is also quoted in many LDS church manuals that you can find on the LDS church website today. For a thorough examination of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” and how it teaches forgiveness of sins only comes through obedience to all the commandments, I recommend reading the article by Eric Johnson at the “Mormonism Research Ministry” website at which outlines the broad and wide-reaching influence of this book on modern Latter-day Saint soteriology and theology.