This is part three of a short series on why the Apostle Paul could not have been a Latter-day Saint. In this post I would like to present how LDS teachings and beliefs deviate from that of the New Testament of the Bible when it comes to the doctrine of salvation. Or to phrase it more pointedly: What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what must a person do to be saved? Ultimately, if you’re currently part of the LDS church and you’re reading this post, you need to consider the eternal implications of what you believe. Do you believe the Gospel preached by the Apostle Paul or do you believe the Gospel preached by the prophet Joseph Smith? There is no safe middle ground when it comes to deciding who you will believe because their Gospels are radically different from each other and therefore they cannot both be true! In Galatians the Apostle Paul warned the believers in Galatia “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). Joseph Smith preached a gospel message contrary to the Apostle Paul. Based on these verses alone does Joseph Smith not qualify as a false teacher and should he not be accursed? Should he be the exception to the rule? Let us begin and then you can decide for yourself where the weight of the evidence points.
REASON # 3: SALVATION
For the sake of simplicity and pre-conceived theological assumptions please allow me to present this doctrine of salvation as a question that I believe goes to the heart of the issue: “Are we saved by Jesus plus our good works or by Jesus work plus nothing?”
Before we see how Joseph Smith would answer this question it is important to first understand how LDS leaders view salvation. Former President Joseph Fielding Smith explained it as follows “Salvation is twofold: General- that which comes to all men irrespective of a belief in Christ- and, Individual- that which man merits through his own efforts through life and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of salvation, 1:134). General salvation, or salvation by grace as it is sometimes called, is salvation that will be experienced by all people irrespective of whether they belong to the LDS church of Jesus Christ or not. Mormonism teaches there are three levels of heaven: telestial is the lowest level, terrestrial the second level, and celestial the highest level. The resurrection of Christ allows non- Mormons entrance to the telestial or terrestrial kingdom. The difference between general salvation (entering into the telestial or terrestrial kingdom) and individual salvation (entering into the celestial kingdom) is a matter of obedience to the gospel as Apostle Bruce R. McKonkie taught “All must repent to be free. All must obey to gain gospel blessings. All must keep the commandments to merit mercy” (McKonkie, The Promised Messiah: The first coming of Christ, 242). The Gospel Principles tell us that Jesus “became our savior and He did His part to help us return to our heavenly home. It is now up to each of us to do our part and become worthy of exaltation” (Gospel Principles, 19). The goal then of a faithful LDS is to obey all the commandments in order to achieve salvation by entering into the highest kingdom called the “Celestial Kingdom”. Current President Thomas S. Monson stated this goal as “the celestial glory that we seek. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is forever family in which we want membership. Such blessings must be earned” (Thomas S. Monson, “An Invitation to Exaltation”, Ensign, May 1988, 53).
I could quote many more former Presidents and Apostles of the LDS church of Jesus Christ but there is a constant theme that runs through all their beliefs regarding entrance or inheritance into the Celestial Kingdom: It must be earned through effort on man’s part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him. This is consistent with the Book of Mormon where 2 Nephi 25:23 sums up the doctrine of Mormon salvation comprehensively “We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Brigham Young University professors Joseph Fielding McKonkie (the son of Bruce R. McKonkie) and Robert L. Millet provide helpful commentary on what is meant by the phrase “after all we can do.” They write “After we have done all that we can do, after we have denied ourselves of ungodliness and worldly lusts, then is the grace of God sufficient for us; then we are sanctified in Christ and eventually made perfect in Christ” (Mckonkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 2:258). Another very important aspect of LDS salvation and one that ties into doing “all we can do” to enter the Celestial kingdom is water baptism. In Mormonism, water baptism is a requirement for both forgiveness of sins as well as membership in the church. Let us now tie the loose ends together by summarizing what Joseph Smith would teach people about the doctrine of salvation.
- General salvation is a free gift to all people (salvation from physical and spiritual death) – All people will be saved or enter the Telestial or Terrestrial kingdoms on the basis of the atonement of Jesus Christ regardless of their religion or beliefs. Joseph Smith would use 1 Corinthians 15:22 “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” to support this teaching of general salvation. Almost every person who has ever lived on the earth is assured salvation from the spiritual death (second death) or the lake of fire as well (see D&C 76:40-45; Alma 12:32; D&C 88:24).
- Individual salvation is conditional for certain people (salvation from sin or also called eternal life or exaltation) – Although all people will be saved from physical death and spiritual death owing to the atonement of Christ, not all people will experience the blessing of entering into the Celestial kingdom one day. Eternal life as defined by Joseph Smith is “to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and dwell with them forever—to inherit a place in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom (see D&C 131:1-4; 132:21-24). This type of salvation is however conditional. To be cleansed from sin through the Savior’s Atonement, an individual must do the following (This information is based on the Articles of Faith 1:4).
- Exercise faith in Jesus Christ– Joseph Smith will emphasis that Individuals cannot be saved in their sins; they cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring a belief in Christ with the understanding that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives (see Alma 11:36-37). Therefore it is necessary to also do the following as well:
- Repent, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and commit to obeying all the commandments of God– Joseph Smith would use Acts 2:37-38 to support this teaching “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Those who have been baptized and have received the Holy Ghost through the proper priesthood authority have been conditionally saved from sin. Eternal life or exaltation requires that men receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, and that all Church members make and keep sacred covenants in the temple, including the covenant of eternal marriage.
How would Joseph Smith answer the question “Are we saved by Jesus plus our good works or by Jesus work plus nothing?” He would have to answer that Jesus plus our good works results in eternal life. The Gospel according to Joseph Smith is a Gospel of grace mixed with good works. Why? Because eternal life is conditional! It is dependent not upon faith in Jesus alone but also upon faithful obedience to the commandments of God through human effort. 2 Nephi 25:23 sums up Joseph Smith’s answer quite plainly “We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”
The Apostle Paul on the other hand taught that salvation is a free gift but he did not teach general or universal salvation in the sense that all people automatically qualify for salvation on the basis of their humanity. 1 Corinthians 15:22 “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” is a verse used by LDS’s to support this notion. Firstly LDS’s teach that all people are in Christ and will therefore be made alive. If people are all in Christ from birth then why did Paul start off the verse by saying in Adam all die? Time does not permit me to go into detail now but if you do not understand the doctrine of original sin then please read through the first part of this series. For now it will suffice to say that Paul is simply drawing a comparison between two groups of people: Those who are “in Adam” and those who are “in Christ”. Adam represents fallen mankind who are spiritually dead from birth and Jesus represents saved mankind who are spiritually alive after trusting Him for salvation. To use this verse to teach general salvation for all people is simply a bias and twisted interpretation of Scripture. So if this verse does not teach general salvation then let us focus on individual salvation.
One of the clearest places where we can learn about the doctrine of salvation in the New Testament is found in Ephesians 2:8-10. Listen to what the Apostle Paul writes “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Read these verses carefully again and answer these three questions:
- How is an individual saved?
- Is individual salvation a gift of God or the result of good works?
- What has God planned for people to do who have received Christ through faith?
Now you don’t need to be a person with a high IQ to answer these three questions once again. The Apostle Paul says that an individual is saved by God’s grace through faith. Faith means believing or trusting. Paul reiterated the importance of salvation by faith in Romans 3:28 again when he says “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Is that after all we can do as the Book of Mormon teaches? Certainly not! Paul goes out of his way to clarify that salvation is not based on faith plus human effort or the result of good works. Why? He is trying to tell us plainly that it is because salvation is a gift of God! Dear reader when you last received a gift did you turn around and offer to pay for it? Absolutely not! That would be crazy wouldn’t it? The beauty of a gift is that it is free. And that is the whole point of salvation: God offers His salvation as a free gift even though people don’t deserve it! (Read Romans 1:18-32 if you’re not convinced of how sinful and undeserving we are). What people deserve is spiritual death and separation from the presence of God for all eternity (Romans 6:23). The only acceptable response to the offer of a gift is to receive it. Listen to Paul again in Romans 5:17 as he emphasises the fact that all we have to do is receive God’s grace and righteousness “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Unlike the teachings of Joseph Smith the Apostle Paul would say “you can never make yourself worthy enough for God’s grace and mercy!” Once you start working for a gift it stops becoming a gift.
Why did Paul say “stop trying to earn God’s salvation?” He gives the reason: So that no one may boast. We may look good enough to enter heaven if we compared ourselves to the guy next to us but in God’s eyes there is none good enough to enter heaven. His standards are so high that He demands us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). Instead of that statement discouraging you and leaving you feeling unsure of your standing before God let it drive you to Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life on your behalf and paid for all your sins with His own blood (Romans 5:8; Colossians 2:14-15). He did that because He loved you and God offers you His life in exchange for yours. You can’t earn it, you can only receive it by faith. That might seem too simple right? Friends the Gospel is simple because it is the truth. The Apostle Paul told us exactly what the Gospel is in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” It’s all about Jesus Christ and all about the work He did on our behalf on the cross. When we add our additional works like water baptism (to publicly display your faith in Christ) to faith we are saying that the work that Jesus did for us was not enough! That is arrogant and boastful. Once we’ve received Jesus then God through His Spirit and His Word equips us to live a life of good works on this earth.
Let me leave you with a short story about a jailer who asked Paul and Silas one day what he must do to be saved? Paul did not tell him to repent, get baptized (this happens after he believes in Jesus), obey all the commandments, receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, keep the temple covenants, stop drinking coffee, alcohol, and smoking and only then he would be saved. Listen to what he told him and God tells us the same thing today by implication “30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (Acts 16:30-34).
In concluding, the third reason why the Apostle Paul could not have been a member of the LDS church of Jesus Christ is because he disagrees with the teaching of Joseph Smith on the doctrine of salvation. Whereas Joseph Smith teaches that we are saved by Jesus plus our good works, Paul teaches that we are saved by Jesus work plus nothing. In other words we are not saved by our good works, we are saved to do good works for God period! (See other Scriptures that teach this Titus 3:3-5; Romans 5:1-21).