Archive for the ‘Divine Mercy’ Category

Justice Isn’t a Myth. But Neither is Grace and Mercy

by Michael Flournoy
Introduction
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
“Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.”

Justice Isn’t a Myth…
I’ve been in countless conversations with Latter-day Saints where I’ve stated my position on the gift of grace, and they’ve accused me of believing that grace is a license to sin. It bothered me that Mormons viewed grace with such little regard when it was so precious to me. Then I thought more about it and realized that logically, their argument held up.

Objectively, the Evangelical position seems preposterous. How can we claim that God is holy, but teach that He forgives sin without requiring anything in return? And what leads us to believe that sinners would turn from their wicked ways without fear of punishment as a motivation?

Imagine that a hardened criminal was taken to court. All the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty, but the judge decided to forgive him. Not only that, but the courts would turn a blind eye to any evil he did in the future. The judge’s pronouncement of innocence would be legal fiction. It’s unlikely that the man would change his ways just because he was forgiven. If anything, he would become more brazen in his crimes since there would be no fear of consequences. So wouldn’t a sinner behave the same way if God forgave his trespasses, past, and future, just like that? If we are honest, the only answer that makes sense is yes!

However, this really only tells part of the story. Yes, we are forgiven and justified freely by God through no effort on our own, even in the midst of sin and while fully deserving of condemnation.

But there’s so much more. Not only are we forgiven and given a clean slate, but we are also accredited with the actual righteousness of Christ! In other words, God sees us clothed in Christ’s righteousness and nothing more. Therefore we are deemed worthy, not on our merit, but because of our faith in Christ. This immediately makes us worthy of any reward Jesus earned through His merits. Latter-day Saints often mock the idea of imputed righteousness, saying it makes God a liar because He is proclaiming someone righteous who really isn’t. This changes my earlier analogy from a criminal who is given a clean slate, to that same criminal being given the key to the city.

Doesn’t this idea render God unjust and His disciples hypocrites? The short answer is no.

…But Neither is Grace and Mercy
Please allow me to posit that forensic righteousness is taught in scripture, lest my Mormon readers are given an out to say it’s a nice concept that isn’t true.

Let’s start in Romans 4. In this chapter, Paul asks a significant question: when was Abraham justified, before or after he was circumcised? He answers that he was justified before circumcision. Circumcision itself is not the emphasis of this chapter, but rather an example Paul uses to convey a wider question. Does obedience justify us before a holy God? The answer is no. Abraham was justified before he did anything to obey God. In verse 5 (ESV) Paul drills in this point:

“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
(Romans 4:5 ESV)

Mormons believe that faith is essentially an action verb that includes works, but Paul makes three points in this verse that refute that notion. First, he deconstructs faith down to its basic elements. Belief and an absence of work are described as the genetic makeup of faith. Second, faith is described as being the catalyst for one to become righteous. And third, he makes the shocking statement that God justifies the ungodly.

Paul doesn’t only equate an absence of works to faith, he also attributes it to grace.  Later in Romans, he states:

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
(Romans 11:6 ESV)

Just as oxygen loses its integrity and becomes something else with the addition of hydrogen, when works are added to faith and grace they too become something different.

Latter-day Saints are quick to argue from James 2 that people are justified by their works. But consider this, if people were justified for doing noble things, would they still be wicked? Certainly not! Such a position does nothing but cast suspicion on Paul, who says that God saves the ungodly.

If we make the necessary assumption that Paul and James agree on the gospel, we must conclude that the people James references did good deeds because they were already righteous. Take this passage in James for example:

And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
(James 2:23 ESV)

This scripture again points to belief as the catalyst for making someone righteous. In fact, the passage referenced here is Genesis 15:6, which occurred several years before the sacrifice of Isaac. This confirms that Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac to gain favor with God, but because he was already righteous. This righteousness acts like insurance, protecting us when we sin and still keeps us in God’s favor despite our shortcomings and failures. To illustrate this point, Paul quotes King David:

“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 4:7-8 ESV).

David is perhaps the greatest evidence of God’s mercy having nothing to do with our performance. Not only did he commit adultery, but he put the woman’s husband on the front lines of the battle to die. When the prophet Nathan confronted him, David confessed his sin and Nathan replied:

“The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
(2 Samuel 12:13 ESV)

I’ve had Latter-day Saints argue that Nathan was merely pardoning David from physical death. This flies in the face of the statement that God put away his sin. If God excused physical punishment but kept David’s sin in his back pocket for Judgment Day, that isn’t really putting the sin away, is it? Likewise, David would be misguided for praising God for forgiving lawless deeds, covering sin, and for not counting his sins against him.

Mormons would protest this line of thinking. After all, isn’t it more reasonable that a just God always metes out righteous judgment? How can He forgive heinous sins like David’s without some kind of recompense?

This was the same assumption the Prodigal Son had in Luke 15 when he returned to his father asking to be hired on as a servant. He believed that because he sinned against his father, he was no longer worthy to be called his son. However, the father puts his ring and his robes on the Prodigal and announces a feast in honor of his return. He is brought back into the family without having to pay back a single coin of his father’s inheritance.

But despite this extreme show of mercy, there is an element of truth in the Prodigal Son’s assumption. For justice to be satisfied, someone has to pay. If God merely looked the other way, He would not be good. This is where Jesus comes in as Paul explains:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
(Romans 3:23-26 ESV)

 There is a lot to unpack in this passage, but basically, the full wrath of God was poured out on Jesus. He willingly took our punishment so we wouldn’t have to. This does two things. First, it makes God just because He punishes every sin. And second, it allows us to be justified freely.

But what does it mean to be justified freely? Simply put, it means we don’t have to do anything to escape God’s wrath, because there is no more wrath. His righteous anger for our sins has already been depleted on Christ. This is why Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus. The above passage in Romans 3 spells out clearly what enables us to benefit from the atonement. Verse 25 says this propitiation is received by faith. There is no mention of commandments or temple ordinances being required for salvation.

Through faith alone, we become the beneficiaries of God’s favor at Christ’s expense. And what a heavy cost it was. He was whipped, tortured, mocked, and killed. That doesn’t even account for taking our sins. There is nothing remotely cheap about this. In fact, I would argue that what cheapens the atonement is saying our actions make it function. If this is true then Jesus isn’t enough.

Why It Matters
Jesus paid a heavy price for salvation, but what’s to keep us from wasting that gift and living unrepentant lives, especially if we’re as ungodly as Paul says? Here’s the game-changer. When we come to saving faith, we are filled with the Holy Ghost. This initiates rebirth into a new life where we are convicted of sin and given righteous desires. The groundwork for this rebirth is laid out by another Apostle, John:

“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
(John 1:11-13 ESV)

 Spiritual rebirth and adoption into the family of God occur simultaneously when we receive Jesus, thus the gift of the Holy Ghost is received by “[belief] in his name.”

Paul goes into specifics on when this spiritual rebirth takes effect:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
(Romans 8:14-17 ESV) 

Paul indicates that we become sons of God when we are led by the Spirit. This presents a dilemma for Latter-day Saints because even they must admit that the Spirit leads people prior to them entering the baptismal font. If we become children of God and joint-heirs with Christ before baptism, then there are no eternal rewards to be gained through priesthood ordinances. In fact, there is no exclusive benefit to being LDS at all.

Some Mormons will say that temple ordinances are for our sanctification and not associated with salvation. While this doesn’t seem to be the orthodox LDS position, it’s worth noting that even this statement is demonstrably false. Consider, again, the words of Paul:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
(Romans 8:26-30 ESV)

Nowhere in this passage do we see ordinances helping us in our weakness, interceding between us and God, conforming us to the image of the Son, justifying, or glorifying us. However, the Spirit is associated with these things. Romans 8:10 (ESV) tells us, “although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

It is certain that a hardened sinner would naturally want to continue sinning if offered unconditional forgiveness. However, the Spirit works supernaturally in the hearts of saved sinners to conform them to the image of Christ. Because of this, Christians are spiritually reborn to desire the things of God, and thus justice is both satisfied and fulfilled in the best way possible: A corrupt criminal’s heart of stone becomes a fresh and renewed heart of flesh.

Summary and Conclusion
God’s word cannot be dismissed, so we can decisively come to two conclusions. First, the claim that Christians believe in cheap grace is a myth. And second, the LDS gospel of obedience to covenants in order to become joint heirs with Christ is equally fallacious.

If you are a Latter-day Saint reading this, you are without excuse. The Biblical gospel has been laid out, and if you reject it you also deny Christ. I implore you to repent of the pride that entices you to establish your own righteousness and surrender yourself to His.

You can accept Jesus at this very moment by trusting fully in Him and putting aside your attempts at worthiness. He will love and accept you as you are, warts and all.

So given all that, let’s return to the analogy that I started with: Again imagine that a hardened criminal is taken to court. All the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty and the legally mandated penalty is the death sentence – justice must be served. But before he can be led to death row, the guilty party breaks down sobbing, “I did it all and deserve nothing but death and damnation! I am indeed guilty as sin!”

The judge asks the sobbing man, “If someone were to take your place and take your punishment would that change your wicked heart and evil thoughts? Will you turn from your old ways and truly live rightly?”

“Yes! And I would be eternally grateful to the end of my days, your honor! But who would have such love? It’s impossible, not to mention ridiculous!”

“Is it?” the judge responds “What if I did? I only ask two things: 1) Let this love control you for the rest of your life through that gratitude 1, and; 2) Remember the slavery that your past sin has led you to – you’ll be free to live again, but you mustn’t return to it or you will be enslaved by it just as you were before2 This is my gift to you, will you believe and receive my unmerited favor and mercy?”3

“Yes! Yes! Absolutely, yes!” exclaims the man.

“Then so be it.” And with that, the judge takes off his robe and puts it on the man. “You are pardoned and are free to go, and as long as you are clothed in me, this pardon stands and you have the power to resist your old life. Bailiff, please remove his handcuffs, put them on me, and lead me to the electric chair. I will see that justice is served. Friend, go and sin no more.”4

And just like Barabbas of old, the pardoned scapegoat goes free while the Lamb of God marches to His death. That, my friends, is the love of God toward us. He has already stood in your place for punishment and completed all of the necessary work vicariously on your behalf. The only question is this:  Will you accept God’s free gift or not?

And if you do, why on earth would you want to continue in sin? Why would any truly saved person do that? Lord, knows that we don’t, so why, my Mormon friends do you accuse us of being what we aren’t?

“And with that, the judge takes off his robe and puts it on the man. ‘You are pardoned and are free to go, and as long as you are clothed in me, this pardon stands and you have the power to resist your old life.'”

END NOTES
1 2 Corinthians 5:13-14a (KJV) ” For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us”

2 Romans 6:1-3 (KJV) “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”

3 Romans 6:23 (KJV) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

4 If you are objecting to this analogy and saying, “Obviously no human judge would be holy enough to behave this way! This is ridiculous, it makes no sense!” you’re absolutely right. But that’s what’s so amazing about God. He is that holy, that merciful, and that praiseworthy. It is what Paul referred to as “the foolishness of God” that He would love us this much – it just makes no sense! But the fact of the matter is this: He does.

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
(1 Corinthians 1:17-25 KJV)

“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.”
(1 Corinthians 2:13-15 KJV)

About Michael “The Ex-Mormon Apologist” Flournoy
The Ex-Mormon Apologist was a Born Into The Covenant Mormon. His Mormon heritage dates back to a family member, Jones Flournoy, who sold Joseph Smith land for the Temple Lot temple. He faithfully served a mission in Anaheim, CA. When he returned from his mission he became a published Mormon Apologist. He served several callings faithfully and successfully in his 30+ years in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He still has Mormon friends and family members to this day. And he is still in Mormon Studies despite leaving the LdS Church.

The almighty Lord our God is our refuge and our strength
An ever-present help in troubled times
He will hear our desperate cry

Therefore we have hope and will not fear
For our God is near

The almighty God of Jacob is our fortress and our shield
Though the earth give way and mountains quake
He will hear our desperate cry

Therefore we have hope and will not fear
For our God is near

Be still and know that He is God
The Almighty Lord, He is with us

Be still and know that He is God
The Almighty Lord, He is with us

Therefore we have hope and will not fear
For our God is near

Be still and know that He is God
The Almighty Lord, He is with us

Be still and know that He is God
The Almighty Lord, He is with us

Be still and know that He is God
The Almighty Lord, He is with us

Therefore we have hope and will not fear
For our God is near

Therefore we have hope and will not fear
Because our God is near

(words and music by Tommy Walker from Psalm 46)

As performed on the album “Live at Home” by The C.A. Worship Band with Tommy Walker

A Prayer of Release for Former Mormons and their Descendants

by Tracy Tennant
The following is a prayer of release for former Mormons and their descendants. This can be used in conjunction with healing and deliverance ministry sessions or can be used by individuals who have left or are in the process of leaving Mormonism, or those with Mormon ancestry.

As with all forms of inner healing, forgiveness is key to breaking any “legal” rights the Enemy (unclean spirits, etc.) have to harass us or keep us in spiritual bondage. Being able to forgive LDS parents and/or ancestors for their participation in Mormonism is essential to being set free. So is forgiving yourself! Forgiveness can be stated out loud in private or in the presence of other Christians. This prayer should be spoken out loud.

Praise be to You Lord my God, King of the universe! I come to You in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, to seek cleansing and deliverance from the spiritual bondage of Mormonism and the curses related to the temple ceremonies.

I renounce every oath and vow made by my ancestors and myself as Mormons and rebuke every spiritual power consequently affecting me and my family.

I renounce my baby dedication into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the status of being “born in the covenant.”

I renounce my baptism and confirmation into the Mormon Church, and all priesthood blessings I received by the laying on of hands from Mormon priesthood holders.

I renounce the temple initiatory “washing and anointing,” and the sealing of the anointing,  done for myself and on behalf of the dead. I renounce the prayers, proclamations, and pronouncements made over me during the initiatory ceremony.

I renounce the New Name given to me in the temple.

I renounce the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty.

I renounce the Second Token of the Aaronic Priesthood with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty.

I renounce the First Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or sign of the nail, with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty.

I renounce the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood, the Patriarchal grip or sure sign of the nail, with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty.

I renounce all oaths made in the Temple, and all their accompanying signs, blessings, and penalties (curses).

I renounce all vows made at the various altars of the temple.

I renounce the True Order of Prayer spoken around the altar in the temple.

I renounce all covenants made to obey the five Laws given in the temple ceremony.

I renounce all the work done at and through the veil, with all the names, signs, and tokens.

I renounce all vows made over the altar during the sealing ceremony, with all its names, signs, and tokens, and any soul ties that were formed as a result.

I renounce the false marriage covenant of Mormonism, the “New and Everlasting Covenant,” and any unholy soul tie formed.

I renounce all temple work done by me on behalf of the dead.

I renounce all secrecy, work, rituals, vows, pagan symbolism, bondages, and blessings and curses of the Mormon temple ceremonies done for myself or on behalf of my ancestors and for the deceased, both known and unknown to me.

I renounce all sacraments, oaths, vows, covenants, promises, penalties, curses, prophecies, blessings, pronouncements, and laying on of hands done under the authority of the Mormon Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods.

I renounce and reject Mormonism and all false teachings, rites, and ordinances therein.

Father God, I ask for the holy blood of Your Son, Yeshua Messiah (Jesus Christ) to cleanse me from all residue of Mormonism. Cleanse my spirit, soul, and mind, my will, emotions, and every part of my body that has been affected by my participation in Mormonism. I ask You to dissolve all legal rights over me obtained by the Adversary and all unclean spirits; in Jesus’ name, I pray, amen!

(originally published on the “Equipping Christians” website. Republished here with the permission of the author.)

About the Author
Tracy Tennant holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication; Associate of General Studies, with a focus on early childhood education; and Certificate of Achievement in Practical Nursing. Her greatest accomplishment is being the mother of ten children. While an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 26 years, Tracy held many positions, including: Young Married Adult Activities Leader, Primary Teacher, Nursery Assistant, Assistant Ward Librarian, Ward Bulletin Specialist, Cub Scout Den Leader, Ward Music Chairman, Visiting Teaching Supervisor, Relief Society Teacher, and Relief Society President, among others. Tracy was a frequent vocalist and speaker at special youth and adult firesides.  She was serving as Relief Society President when she left Mormonism for a Biblical faith in Jesus Christ in November of 2000. She currently writes, blogs, and speaks on motherhood, family, and health, as well as shares her experience and knowledge of Mormonism.

Merry Christmas everyone! And since this is the last article of 2018, Happy New Year too. As we celebrate the holidays and move into the new year, let’s not forget to look back and remember Who has brought here, His faithfulness to us through thick and thin, and His promised faithfulness to us to the end – and then beyond. God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good. Amen? 

Performed by Brian Doerksen. 

Good To Me (I Cry Out) 
I cry out,
For Your hand of mercy to heal me.
I am weak,
I need Your love to free me.
Oh, Lord, my Rock,
My strength in weakness,
Come rescue me, oh Lord.

You are my hope,
Your promise never fails me.
And my desire is to follow You forever.

For You are good,
For You are good,
For You are good to me
For You are good,
For You are good,
For You are good to me

(Words and Music by Craig Musseau)

prayer-hands

Performed by Brian Doerksen on “Change My Heart Oh God, Volume 2”

© 1990 Craig Musseau ION Publishing &Vineyard Music.

A Response to Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s “Behold the Man” 2018 Easter Sunday Address

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaking on Easter Sunday at the April 2018 General Conference.
(click image to watch the full address)

by Fred W. Anson & Michael Flournoy
For me, Fred, every General Conference there’s always one speaker that I always look forward to hearing from, Dieter F. Uchtdorf. To say that he’s my favorite Mormon Leader is an understatement. In fact, I once offended an entire Internet group by suggesting that all the other Mormon leaders with seniority in front of him should choose the right by stepping aside and letting him assume his clearly rightful place as the President of the LDS Church. The non-Mormons were offended that I would implicitly endorse the LDS system of church governance and the Mormons were offended that I would suggest that their system is anything less than ideal. Toes stepped on all around. Well done, Fred!

My enthusiasm is due to what I see as his clear focus on Jesus Christ and His redeeming grace above all else. In my opinion, if there is any voice in General Conference that can be counted on to exalt Jesus it is Dieter F. Uchtdorf. So you can imagine my excitement when there was a buzz on Facebook that in his Spring 2018 General Conference – on Easter Sunday, no less – address Elder Uchtdorf, had preached the clear, pure, gospel of the Bible. And we can see why they would come to that conclusion when words like this are spoken:

To find the most important day in history, we must go back to that evening almost 2,000 years ago in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus Christ knelt in intense prayer and offered Himself as a ransom for our sins. It was during this great and infinite sacrifice of unparalleled suffering in both body and spirit that Jesus Christ, even God, bled at every pore. Out of perfect love, He gave all that we might receive all. His supernal sacrifice, difficult to comprehend, to be felt only with all our heart and mind, reminds us of the universal debt of gratitude we owe Christ for His divine gift…

Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins.

All of them.

On that most important day in history, Jesus the Christ opened the gates of death and cast aside the barriers that prevented us from passing into the holy and hallowed halls of everlasting life. Because of our Lord and Savior, you and I are granted a most precious and priceless gift—regardless of our past, we can repent and follow the path that leads to celestial light and glory, surrounded by the faithful children of Heavenly Father.

Because of Jesus Christ, we will rise from the despair of death and embrace those we love, shedding tears of overwhelming joy and overflowing gratitude. Because of Jesus Christ, we will exist as eternal beings, worlds without end.

Because of Jesus the Christ, our sins can not only be erased; they can be forgotten.

We can become purified and exalted.

Holy.
(Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Behold the Man!” Spring 2018 General Conference)

But friends, there are some real problems here! For a start, not only does the Bible affirm that the atonement took place on the cross, not the Garden of Gethsemane, so does the Book of Mormon:

“And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world”
— 1 Nephi 11:33

“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world”
— 3 Nephi 11:14

And there’s a good reason for this, though the difference between Gethsemane and Golgotha might appear to be a trivial technicality, it underscores the vast differences between orthodox Biblical Christianity and Mormonism. By situating it at Golgotha, mainstream Christianity locates the atonement in the sacrifice of Christ; by situating it in Gethsemane, Mormons locate the atonement in the obedience of the believer.

It’s the difference between grace and works. On the one hand, there is the truly finished work that the believer looks to in faith; and on the other, there is the completed demonstration that the believer aspires to recreate (albeit metaphorically). In the latter, Christ might show the way, but he stops short of becoming the way, thus the believer is thrust back on his own efforts to secure the goal. As Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker noted, Mormonism is more about attainment than atonement, (Adam Gopnik, “I, Nephi: Mormonism and its Meanings”; The New Yorker, August 13, 2012). But such a focus denies the Christ-centered redemption narrative that’s at the very core of the gospel message and so rightly cherished by Christians the world over.

Further, and in the end, Elder Uchtdorf shifts the focus of his address off of the exaltation and glory of Jesus Christ and places it squarely on what Christ can do for us:

So, when you ponder the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, what do you see?

Those who find a way to truly behold the Man find the doorway to life’s greatest joys and the balm to life’s most demanding despairs.

So, when you are encompassed by sorrows and grief, behold the Man.

When you feel lost or forgotten, behold the Man.

When you are despairing, deserted, doubting, damaged, or defeated, behold the Man.

He will comfort you.

He will heal you and give meaning to your journey. He will pour out His Spirit and fill your heart with exceeding joy.

He gives “power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.”

When we truly behold the Man, we learn of Him and seek to align our lives with Him. We repent and strive to refine our natures and daily grow a little closer to Him. We trust Him. We show our love for Him by keeping His commandments and by living up to our sacred covenants.

In other words, we become His disciples…

My beloved brothers and sisters, I testify that the most important day in the history of mankind was the day when Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, won the victory over death and sin for all of God’s children. And the most important day in your life and mine is the day when we learn to “behold the man”; when we see Him for who He truly is; when we partake with all our heart and mind of His atoning power; when with renewed enthusiasm and strength, we commit to follow Him. May that be a day that recurs over and over again throughout our lives.

I leave you my testimony and blessing that as we “behold the man,” we will find meaning, joy, and peace in this earthly life and eternal life in the world to come. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
(Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Behold the Man!” Spring 2018 General Conference)

So, in the end, the message preached here is that when we “behold the man”, Jesus Christ becomes something of a magic talisman or cosmic “turbo button” that we can push to get past our problems and press on to both temporal and eternal achievement and accomplishment. In such a scenario God gets pushed right off of the throne of our lives so we can sit down.

This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is the gospel of I, me, mine. It is a false gospel.

Further, despite Elder Uchtdorf’s use of the scripture elsewhere in his address, this is not, “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26), this is the gospel of “It’s all about what Christ can do for me!” And, speaking as those with Mormon family and friends, it is this false gospel that breaks our heart.

For you see, the gospel isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. Perhaps another German said it best when he so plainly and directly stated, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And his words are even more powerful and plainer when considered in their full context:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship”, p.71, Nook edition)

A gospel than culminates in the garden rips the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ out of it. Mr. Bonhoeffer, might not be the Bible but he most certainly understood this. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
— Galatians 2:20&21 KJV

Or, better yet, consider the words of Jesus Himself:

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
— Luke 9:23&24 KJV

Garden theology and cross theology are completely at odds. The disciples were with Jesus in the garden. They were admonished to watch and pray. An angel came and strengthened Jesus. If the atonement happened in the garden, then Jesus was incapable of ransoming mankind alone. He needed help. This gospel makes grace an enabling power instead of a saving power, and salvation becomes a joint effort.

Cross theology has Jesus suffering alone. He even calls out saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” No one is present to strengthen the Savior or lighten his load. The burden is His, and His alone to carry. This gospel crowns him King of the Jews, the author, and finisher of our faith, and the sole rescuer of men.

Garden theology is a gospel of never-ending striving. In Mormonism, Jesus bled from every pore as He took the sins of mankind, but even after that he said to Peter, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11)  Speaking in the future tense, he admitted he yet had a cup to drink. He describes this bitter cup in 3 Nephi 11:11 as “taking upon me the sins of the world.” Mormonism, therefore, is a theology of never truly having salvation. Just as Jesus still had to drink the bitter cup, Mormons still have to keep the commandments and endure to the end. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, and salvation is always something you aim for but can never possess.

Cross theology has Jesus definitively saying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) It is a gospel of peace and rest, a gospel of trust, knowing that God has our salvation firmly in His grip. Salvation is a gift, it’s something believers can possess and be assured of in mortality.

Perhaps most dangerous of all, garden theology makes Jesus into a mere man. In the garden, he says to God, “Not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) This is a theology where men are on a journey to become Gods themselves, and Jesus is on the same path trying to align Himself with the Father. In this vein, in the aforementioned 3 Nephi 11:11 passage Christ even goes so far as to say, “I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” which implies that the atonement was a contest of his will v. Heavenly Father’s. Cross theology, in contrast, has Jesus in full submission to the Father. The wills are aligned. Jesus even says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34). In this theology, Jesus is already one with the Father. He is already fully God.

I, Michael, always thought it was amazing how Pontious Pilate could stare Jesus, the author of all truth, in the face and say, “What is truth?” It was this utter blindness that led him to say, “Behold the man!” What irony, that Pilate said these words, and nearly 2,000 years later they were repeated multiple times by a Mormon “pilot”. The true gospel of the cross does not inspire us to behold the man, it inspires us to behold the Son of God!

Garden theology teaches that God’s work is to exalt mankind. Everything is filtered through this lens. Every trial we go through is about our growth and learning. In cross theology, everything is for the glory of God alone. We are bidden to take up our cross, for only in losing our life can it be found – a paradox that requires a total and complete trust in God alone, even when the trial makes no sense to us or others. Thus, the gospel isn’t about personal achievement, it isn’t about self-actualization, it isn’t even about achieving personal perfection, it’s about dying to self, and being resurrected to live in Christ (see Romans 6:1-11). If the atonement culminates by simply achieving a life of self-glorifying obedience to religious laws and ordinances, then what need is there for the cross at all?

Friend, the gospel isn’t about using Christ as an enabling power, or a benevolent older brother to guide your way. The gospel isn’t about Jesus punching your E-ticket so you can be resurrected and spend eternity with your family and friends. The gospel isn’t about living a happy, self-actualized, prosperous life in the here and now. The gospel is about dying. The gospel can’t be found in the garden. Nor is it found in choosing the right. The gospel is found on Golgotha. On a cross. In a tomb. In death. The gospel is about dying to self and being raised to live with Christ in His righteousness. The gospel is Jesus Christ. He is the beginning and He is the end. As C.S. Lewis, said well,

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
(C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)“, pp. 226-227, Kindle edition)

Friend, He calls to you, to me, to us, and to anyone who will listen, “Come and die.”

The adoration of the magi is depicted in this painting in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

by Graham Kendrick
I discovered this classic in 1990 the same month that we discovered that my leukemia afflicted mother was given only weeks to live. I wept with grief and hope for her then as I listened, played, and sang this song. Now I weep with overwhelming gratitude for myself and my brothers and sister in Christ – including my mother who now watches from the great cloud of witnesses – whenever I encounter it. Because He came and died, my debt He paid, and my death He died that I might live. I can think of no greater gift, can you? — Fred W. Anson

My Lord, what love is this
That pays so dearly
That I, the guilty one
May go free!

Amazing love, O what sacrifice
The Son of God given for me
My debt he pays, and my death he dies
That I might live, that I might live

And so they watched Him die
Despised, rejected
But oh, the blood He shed
Flowed for me!

Amazing love, O what sacrifice
The Son of God given for me
My debt he pays, and my death he dies
That I might live, that I might live

And now, this love of Christ
Shall flow like rivers
Come wash your guilt away
Live again!

Amazing love, O what sacrifice
The Son of God given for me
My debt he pays, and my death he dies
That I might live, that I might live

© 1989 Make Way Music

Other performances of “Amazing Love” by Graham Kendrick
Recorded live in Boston, the album features several recently written songs, two of them brand new, delivering that trademark Kendrick intimacy and richness of content, side by side with some of his best-loved, era-defining classics.

Graham says: “We simply wanted to capture the sound and atmosphere of worship, the sense of being there in the presence of God and in the company of other worshippers. My musicians were on great form and there were some very special moments, so I’m thankful that the tape was running.

Amazing Love (My Lord what love is this) performed by Graham Kendrick, Mark Prentice (Double Bass) and Terl Bryant (Percussion).

A Critique of Brad Wilcox’s “His Grace is Sufficient”

“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
(Matthew 12:7 ESV) 

by Michael Flournoy
I was born and raised in the Mormon Church, and in early 2015 I began a serious study on the topic of grace. One of the first videos I watched was a BYU devotional given by Brad Wilcox called “His Grace is Sufficient”. Not only did Mr. Wilcox revolutionize the way I viewed grace, his talk was largely responsible for my journey out of Mormonism and into mainstream Christianity.

I was surprised when I listened to it recently, to see how it sounded to my Protestant ears. I caught myself saying “amen” half a dozen times. I was struck by how useful his catchphrases were for explaining my own transition. He says for instance, that we aren’t earning heaven, we’re “learning heaven.” He uses a piano analogy where Mom pays for lessons and requires us to practice. Practicing does not pay for the lessons, nor does it pay back Mom. He goes on to say that we’re keeping the commandments for a different reason, “it’s like paying a mortgage instead of rent, making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt…”

To this day Brad Wilcox is a favorite LDS speaker of mine. However, I found a few problems with his speech. Namely, the way he describes Evangelical Christians is mostly false. He says his Born Again friends often ask him if he has been saved by the grace of Christ, and he replies with a question they haven’t fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?”

This is a common misconception about Evangelical Christianity. Having been LDS, I recall thinking the Christian model of salvation was very 2-dimensional. Having passed through the veil so to speak, to the other side, I see now that Christianity is not what Brad portrays it to be.

In fact, as an Evangelical, my day to day lifestyle is not so different from how I lived as a Mormon. What has changed is my motivation for living the way I do: before, I was trying to earn heaven, and now I’m learning it. I was obeying from a place of condemnation, but now it’s from a place of acceptance. Before it was about fear, now it’s about appreciation. When I embraced Brad Wilcox’s grace, I found that I fit in with Evangelicals much more than my fellow Latter-day Saints. So in answer to his unconsidered question, here is my unexpected answer: yes, the grace of Christ is changing me.

As a Latter-day Saint, I scoffed at the idea that we were created for God’s glory alone. As I mentioned previously, it seemed 2-dimensional. I thought those who were “saved” would have no motivation to be better spouses, parents, employees, and disciples. I assumed as Brad stated, that Christians believed “God required nothing of [them]”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, God’s abundant grace motivates Christians to improve and give their lives to Jesus.

He goes on to explain that Latter-day Saints can sometimes view God’s commandments as overbearing and say, “Gosh, none of the other Christians have to tithe. Gosh, none of the other Christians have to go on missions…” Actually, we do. To set the record straight, “other Christians” do understand the importance of obedience.

I was shocked the first time tithing was discussed at my Protestant church. I thought I had gotten away from all that! My pastor explained that we don’t pay tithing to get into heaven, but because we’re free. As a Latter-day Saint, my perception was that Christians viewed grace as a license to sin. I see now that grace is better described as insurance, covering us in case we sin.

In his speech, Brad Wilcox mentions several people who don’t understand grace: there are those who are giving up on the LDS church because they are tired of falling short, young men and women who graduate from high school and slip up time and again and think it’s over, return missionaries who slip back into bad habits and break temple covenants and give up on hope, and married couples who go through divorce.

He chides anyone who thinks there are only two options: perfection, or giving up. He does not seem concerned that such a huge swath of Latter-day Saints are ignorant about grace, even after admitting he used to picture himself begging to be let into heaven after falling short by two points. My idea of grace was not dissimilar to his. Ironically, he belittles Christians for having the same view of grace he has now, while turning a blind eye to Latter-day Saints who hold an opposing view, as if it were a coincidence.

However, these views against grace are not a coincidence, but a byproduct. My diagnosis is that Brad Wilcox understands grace, but he doesn’t understand Mormonism.

After all, Alma 5:28-29 in The Book of Mormon says if we are not stripped of pride and envy we are not prepared to meet God, nor do we have eternal life. Where’s the grace in that? Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 says if we sin our former sins return to us. Where’s the grace in that? Moroni 8:14 states that should someone die while thinking children need baptism, his destination is hell. Where’s the grace in that? Alma 11:37 says that Jesus cannot save us in our sins. My friends, there is no grace in a religion that says we must amputate all sin from our lives before Jesus can save us.

Mr. Wilcox conveniently leaves out covenants in his speech, which form the foundation of eternal life in Mormonism. According to LDS doctrine, covenants like baptism and temple sealings are required to enter the Celestial Kingdom. These covenants are two-way promises where God gives us eternal life if we keep our end of the bargain. The temple covenants include keeping the commandments, so a Latter-day Saint who fails by 2 points on judgment day will have no right to plead for grace. In Mormonism, grace is not enough.

I do love Brad Wilcox’s speech. I would not be where I am today without it. That said, I call upon him to repent for his false witness against Evangelical Christians and I pray he will see the error in defending an organization that tramples the grace of God. I can say from experience that coming into Protestant Christianity from Mormonism is like “…paying a mortgage instead of rent, making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt…”, it’s the difference between being a servant of your own free will, and being a slave.

mercy-and-grace-heat-map

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.

An Election Day 2016 prayer 

20130301-023109

Lord, You have told us,
Lord, You have promised
That if Your people would pray
That You would hear from heaven,
You would send Your mercy and
Touch us with Your strong, healing hand

So we’re calling out to You,
Crying out to you,
Forgive us of our sin, heal our land
As we seek your holy face,
We turn from all our wicked ways
Hear from heaven even now as we pray

Hear from heaven even now
Hear from heaven even now
Hear from heaven even now

(words and music by Tommy Walker)

From the album “Calling Out To You” by The C.A. Worship Band with Tommy Walker

by Michael Omartian

Add up the wonders,
And all of the numbers that people do,
So much comes to nothing.

They ride all their sorrows
On a wave of tomorrows,
Just to get them through.
Then watch the tide come rushing.

dreamwashedaway

But You can lift my spirits high,
Like no one has before.
You’re not like this world,
You’re something more.

And You have filled my life with joy.
There’s so much love around You.
Your freedom has freed me too.

Gather the gladness,
In the rush hour madness,
Sell it all for a dime.
Someone will come to buy it.

MorningRushHourFreeway

Make a short cut to living
Without any giving,
And wait for a time.
Someone will always try it.

But You can lift my spirits high,
Like no one has before.
You’re not like this world,
You’re something more.

And You have filled my life,
With all the love that flows around you.
Your freedom has freed me too.

On with the choices
And the unhappy voices,
on the telephone line.
Another day to work through.

cold_call

At the end of the maze
And the spiritual haze,
It will all be fine,
Cause I’ve got you to come home to.

(From the album “White Horse” by Michael Omartian)

worshipIntroduction:
I’ve been a Christian a long time and this simple song of Christ’s mercy, grace, and unmerited forgiveness still reduces me to a grateful, humbled puddle of devoted tears everytime I sing or hear it. Even after all these years I still come empty handed and unworthy of the great gift that I’ve been freely given or the tender mercies I’m daily shown.
— Fred W. Anson 

Majesty (Here I Am)
Words & Music by Martin Smith and Stuart Garrard

Here I am
Humbled by your majesty
Covered by your grace so free

Here I am
Knowing I’m a sinful man
Covered by the blood of the lamb
Now I’ve found the greatest love of all is mine

Majesty
Majesty
You grace has found me just as I am
Empty handed, but alive in your hands


Here I am
Humbled by the love that you give
Forgiven so that I can forgive

Here I stand
Knowing I’m your desire
Sanctified by glory and fire

Now I’ve found the greatest love of all is mine
Since you laid down your life the greatest sacrifice

Majesty
Majesty
Your grace has found me just as I am
Empty handed, but alive in your hands

Singing
Majesty
Majesty

Forever I am changed by your love
In the presence of your majesty
Majesty

Singing
Majesty
Majesty

Your grace has found me just as I am
I’m nothing but alive in your hands

We’re singing
Majesty
Majesty

Forever
I am changed by your love
In the beauty of your majesty

Hillsong++Delirious+unified+praise

Video performance by Martin Smith with Delirious? and Hillsongs

Other inspiring performances of this classic praise chorus by Martin Smith

(Martin Smith with full orchestra)

(Martin Smith with Delirious? live at Willow Creek in 2006)