A Miracle for Mormons: Forgiveness of Sins
Christians believe that all mankind have sinned and deserve eternal punishment from God. But they also believe God loved mankind so much that He graciously provided a way of salvation, whereby they could be spared His just punishment of their sins, and instead receive eternal life in His presence, in full enjoyment of every blessing He has to offer. Christians believe this way of salvation was provided by Jesus Christ.
As a "lamb without spot," Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness here on earth, fully meriting and receiving the Father's complete acceptance. However, He voluntarily suffered the wrath of God against our sin, for us and in place of us, "the Just for the unjust," by sacrificing His life and perfect fellowship with the Father on the altar of the cross. Christians believe that Jesus' death in their place has paid and forever cancelled their "debt of sin."
They also believe his life of perfect righteousness is likewise credited to their account, qualifying them for a full inheritance in the kingdom of God. Everything to which Jesus is entitled by virtue of His righteousness, is the rightful inheritance of every true Christian - not by virtue of his own righteousness, but by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, credited to him. This includes the permanent companionship and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in this life, as well as glorification in the life to come.
Christians are those who trust God to save them "to the uttermost" by the Person and work of Jesus Christ alone. They trust his life and righteousness, and his death on the cross alone are entirely sufficient means to make them completely right with God. They believe those means are permanently applied, as a free gift, by God's grace, to whoever trusts God to save him by those means.
A counterfeit Christianity may acknowledge sin, the need of forgiveness and the idea that Jesus performed some mission in His life on earth that was impossible for anyone else to accomplish and that was essential to the salvation of mankind.
However, in counterfeits of Christianity, the atonement of Christ is never enough by itself to save any person from his sin and win for him eternal life in the presence of God in full enjoyment of all His choicest blessings. To be effective for that, they say, the atonement must be supplemented by some virtue or behavior of the one needing salvation. Christ only assists the believer, making possible an otherwise impossible job.
While falling short of the perfection required by God for right standing with Himself - a standard fulfilled for us, in our place, by Christ - the virtues or behaviors commanded by the counterfeits are almost always such that no reasonable hope of their accomplishment is possible.
The Mormon Example
A clear example of this is found in Mormonism. Consider the following from the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), 14:7. This is a purported revelation received in June, 1829, explaining the duty of man.
"And 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."
Taken at face value, this is saying that to receive eternal life one must not sin in any way. One must "keep the commandments," which, being unqualified, must be understood as all, not some, of the commandments.
Of course, everyone has already sinned, and Heavenly Father knows that. So it does not mean that one must never have sinned in all one's life. Rather, it means one must stop sinning and "endure to the end," - that is, stop sinning permanently.
The requirement stated in D&C 14:7 is not something one can fail to do and still find grace and mercy to be forgiven, through repentance and the atonement of Christ. The atonement does not create any alternate route to the blessing promised here, eternal life. To the contrary, this purported revelation was given long after the atonement had been made, and represents the duty of man even giving consideration to the atonement. It is what one must do in order to obtain grace and mercy, and have the atonement applied to oneself for the forgiveness of sins.
To "keep [Christ's] commandments and endure to the end" as required here is simply a description of repentance, according to Mormon doctrine. It is what repentance looks like. This is made explicit in D&C 58:42-43:
"Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.
"By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins - behold, he will confess them and forsake them."
Forsaking the sin does not mean "for a while" (however long) or "until the next time you do it." In the 1984 tract Repentance Brings Forgiveness, Mormon Prophet Spencer Kimball explained the last verse this way: "The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again."
Failure to repent - to stop sinning and start keeping all God's commandments - will result in the denial of grace, mercy and forgiveness, and require the infliction of sore and exquisite punishment (See, D&C 19:15-18).
Perfection Achieved, Then Grace Received
Other Mormon scriptures attest to the same thing. For instance, The Book of Mormon teaches:
"Come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ;....
"And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without a spot" (Moroni 10:32-33; emphasis added).
To receive the "remission of [one's] sins," i.e. forgiveness, one must have been sanctified. To be sanctified one must have been made perfect in Christ and deny not his power. To be made perfect in Christ requires the grace of God. To receive grace "sufficient" for one to be made perfect in Christ one must have met certain requirements.
Meeting the requirements, then, is the first step, prerequisite to receiving sufficient grace, without which there can be no perfection in Christ, no sanctification and no remission of sins.
An Impossible Standard
So what are the requirements? They are the same as in D&C 14:7, only made somewhat more explicit. One must a) deny oneself of all ungodliness and b) love God with all one's might, mind and strength.
Ungodliness would be whatever God forbids. All ungodliness would mean everything God forbids. So to "deny [oneself] of all ungodliness," would be to stop doing anything God forbids. This is the elimination of all "sins of commission."
Jesus said whoever loves Him will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23). Obviously then, to love Him "with all one's might, mind and strength," is never failing to do anything He has commanded to be done. This is the elimination of all "sins of omission."
One may not protest that this is impossible to do, because of one's weaknesses. God knows about each weakness of every person. With that knowledge He has prepared the way for every person to keep every one of his commands:
"...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 added).
Please note, this does not say God has prepared a way for one to fail to keep the commandments and yet escape the punishment for such failure. This is not referring to the atonement, forgiveness, grace or mercy, though indeed it is gracious and merciful of God to prepare the way for everyone to keep his commandments.
No, what is spoken of here is the means and power for individuals to actually do whatever God commands. Nephi states the principle in the context of him and his brothers being required by God to actually do something in the real world, to accomplish a particular task.
This principle does not deny human weakness, but affirms that such weakness is not a legitimate excuse for failure to obey God in every particular. Accomplishment of the most difficult command is held to be within the capacity of the weakest human being, by means of the way God has prepared.
The circumstances in which one encounters the need or demand for obedience to any commandment, together with the aid of the Holy Ghost, will always be such that a person can do, and accomplish, whatever God commands. A Mormon, having received the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, has no excuse for any sin.
Neither may one protest that this is impossible under the pretext that "Jesus was the only perfect man to have ever lived." The perfection of Jesus was that He never sinned. He did not need, as do all others, to stop sinning.
The requirement to stop sinning does not deny Jesus His uniqueness as the only truly perfect man - the only man never to have sinned in all His life. Rather, it only requires one to fulfill or obey the command Jesus Himself is supposed to have given in the Book of Mormon when speaking to the Nephites, after the atonement and the resurrection:
"And it shall come to pass that whoso repenteth [stops sinning] and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end [does not go back to sinning], behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
"And he that endureth not unto the end [does not stop sinning permanently, but returns to sinning], the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father...
"And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
"...Therefore, what manner of men ought ye be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am." (3 Nephi 27:16, 17, 19, 27; emphasis added).
President Kimball understood this to be Christ's commandment for gospel living today, not something done away with the Law of Moses. Further, he made it plain that one must do this during this lifetime. He wrote, "The Savior voiced the same instructions to his Nephite leaders when he told them the requirements of the gospel: to be like himself (3 Nephi 12:48). The Savior had lived the commands of his gospel; now it was required of all men to likewise live the commandments...
"Christ became perfect through overcoming. 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" (Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 209-10; emphasis added).
How Then Can We Be Saved?
Honesty demands the recognition that one will never achieve all the requirements described above. One should not give up trying to do good. No, as Jesus said, let your good works shine as a light to cause men to give glory to God. But one must stop trusting in one's good works as having anything to do, either in whole or in part, with securing the forgiveness of one's sins. They can never have any such role, for they can never meet God's standard.
The atonement did not change or lower God's standard. God has only one standard, the standard Jesus met. His righteousness fulfilled all God's requirements. It is sufficient to make one perfect before God, and it is given freely, for the asking. Begin now to put all your trust in Jesus alone, to save completely. He can and will save everyone who trusts Him that way.