To my surprise, one of the local Mormon churches asked me to speak at a special dinner gathering last week. They billed the night as a “fireside” chat. The theme was “I Believe in Christ”.
The idea they seem to have intended to promote is that Mormons and Christians share the same faith in the same Christ. The local Mormon patriarch was slated to speak right after my talk and before my talk a married couple, a Christian man with a Mormon woman, were to share their “testimonies”.
The night was designed, I believe, to assure the Mormon congregation that “that which unites us is far greater than that which divides us.” Though I was very clear in advance that I wouldn’t say what they wanted me to say, I’m certain they were disappointed in our presentations.
The married man turns out to be one of my parishioners, “Chris”, a solid Christian and one of the more informed and straight talking members of Good Shepherd (though he was less knowledgeable about his faith when he got married). After his wife spoke, Chris presented his testimony - the story of how he came to trust in Christ alone for his salvation - using language and concepts intended to call into question the Mormon faith. My presentation is below. I believe it was also effective.
Afterwards the Mormon patriarch seemed disconcerted. He discarded his prepared remarks and spent most of his time addressing the points we had made - glowering down at me often from the podium that was set on the table all four speakers shared. He was trembling, visibly angry and off his game. Afterwards I was able to give out my number and the address for our church to many Mormons and we pray that God used our talks to plant seeds and soften hearts.It’s an honor and a privilege to be here this evening and I’m full of gratitude for your kind invitation, warm welcome and especially the pork. Who made the pork? It was awesome. Thank you. I’ll have a hard time not taking a nap while speaking I’m so stuffed.
I have enormous respect for Latter Day Saints. Not only are we allies in many of the cultural battles of the day, but personally speaking, every Latter Day Saint I have ever met and every LDS person I know now is full of integrity, hard working, zealous in the pursuit of his faith. I’m so thankful for the virtue and honor you display in your daily lives. You are, in many ways, a living model and portrait of what Christians ought to be.
And I include your missionary endeavors in the list of things I admire about you.
Some Christians get offended when LDS missionaries come round. I’m not. You treasure your faith. You find great meaning and purpose in the beliefs you hold so dearly and you want people to share what you treasure.
That’s an act of love.
I see a number of missionaries here tonight, so please accept my invitation…come to my house 356 Conklin Avenue, you’ll always be welcome.
As I was saying, I see your missionary work as an act of love. I hope that you’ll hear my words in the same way because I am here tonight for the same reason and purpose you send your missionaries. I treasure the gospel given to us through Jesus Christ and I want to share it with you. Good Shepherd has been praying for you since we received this invitation. I don’t know many of you, but The Lord I serve, Jesus Christ, knows everything about you and loves you all very much.
And it’s in his name and on the authority of his word and out of the eternal love that he has for you, that I’m called, as his servant, to say to you with a broken heart that the “plan of salvation” that you follow will not and cannot lead you to eternal life with the Father. I say this with great sorrow, but the gate your prophets and teachers have directed you toward is the wide one that leads to the outer darkness.
I’m going to spend some time at first explaining why that is. I’ll be using the KJV version of the bible along with Joseph Smith’s translation and I’ll also be taking you to a few passages from the Book of Mormon.
Jesus says in Matt 7:13-14: “13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (KJV)
The outer darkness, eternal punishment, is not for the few, says Jesus, but for the many.
Let me explain why it is so.
One of the most important commands Jesus gives - and one I believe you value greatly - is found in Matthew 5:48:
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Joseph Smith translates it: “Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”
3rd Nephi 12:48 reads: “I would that ye should be perfect, even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”
Note the tense of the word “be” in all three passages. It’s present tense, not future.
I have six kids. When I say “be good”. I don’t mean: “when you grow up”. I mean now.
If you’re habitually late to work and your boss says, “be on time”, he’s not saying, “I want you to engage in a process that will eventually bring about your punctuality.” He’s saying: “Be on time now.”
Likewise, Jesus’ command is not: “Engage in a process that will someday lead to perfection.” It’s not, “Strive toward becoming perfect in the far future, perhaps sometime after we die but before the final Judgment.”
No. It’s be perfect now, in this life, in the present.
In that same sermon Jesus reveals what perfect looks like.
Has anyone here ever looked at someone of the opposite sex lustfully? Jesus says: “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matt 5:28 KJV)
How about anger, anyone here ever feel angry toward someone without cause? Jesus says “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt 5:22 KJV)
Jesus says we will be judged not only by our actions, but also by our inner thoughts and desires.
“those things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” (KJV Joseph Smith Translation of Matt 15:16-18)
Perfection is not skin deep, it must be complete, inside and out. And the measure he uses, as we have seen, is not a human measure, is the perfection of the Heavenly Father.
And Jesus commands this perfection now, in the present.
You might say, alright starting now I’ll be worthy,
But be careful, one sin of desire or action is all it takes to destroy your efforts. James says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10 KJV)
To entertain, for example, a lustful thought for example, is not to violate a minor, inconsequential technicality. It is to break the entirety of God’s law and stand, as James says, guilty, condemned.
You might think, surely God can’t expect complete perfection in the present? Who could do this?
But in 1st Nephi 3:7 in the Book of Mormon we read this: “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.”
In one of the teaching manuals officially approved by the LDS Church called “Life and Teaching of Jesus and his Apostles”, we read:
“Some people say, “Perfection? Why that is impossible!”... Yet would the Lord give us a commandment that was impossible for us to keep?...doesn’t he…prepare a way for us to accomplish what he commands? The Sermon on the Mount is the Lord’s blueprint for perfection. p.57”
So 1. Jesus commands you to be perfect now, not in the future. 2. He defines perfection as inner as well as outward purity, sinlessness that is measure by the perfection of the Father. And 3. your scriptures tell you you can be perfect.
Search your heart, your thoughts, desires, are you there? Are you perfect? Do you honestly think you’ll be perfect now, in this life?
We often play down the danger of sin, thinking of it as rule-breaking, ranking the rules in order of perceived importance to us. But the bible teaches that all sin is a direct assault against God. After committing adultery with Bathsheba, David wrote a confession to God in Psalm 51. In that psalm we find these words: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned” (v.4 KJV)
He sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, against Bathsheba, and against Israel, but David sees that his sin is really against God
Now it’s one thing if I offend an equal. If I punch my fried in the nose, he’ll punch me back and we’ll beat each other up and that will be it.
But what if I punch a police officer in the nose?
If I do what you tell me not to do, no big deal. If I do what the US government tells me not to do, I could go to prison.
Consequences are tied to the authority of the one we offend.
What consequence is there for the one who offends the infinite eternal almighty God? There’s only one answer. It is an eternal consequence. “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity 42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:41-42)
This is why Psalm 24:3-4 tells us: “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? 4He that hath clean hands (complete outward purity), and a pure heart (complete inward purity)...”
This is why Jesus says in the text I quoted earlier that the gate of destruction is wide and populous - we sin every day and each sin is an offense against God. No one follows Jesus’ plan. Nobody is perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
I’m happy to use that “we”. I know my heart, I know my thoughts. I know the selfish ways I behave. I do not follow the law of Christ.
So if the good news of the gospel is: “Jesus has paid for my sins and now I pay him back by following the plan that he gives me to gain eternal life with the Heavenly Father…” then I’ve no hope. And neither do you.
Jesus commands perfection now. I’m not perfect. Neither are you. And the fact is as I think you will acknowledge, no one here will achieve perfection in this lifetime.
If the gospel is as I’ve heard some of your prophets say, “Do all you can do and then God will do the rest.” Then we’re without hope.
No one does all he can do.
1. Jesus commands that we be perfect now. 2. Nephi says God will not command what is impossible to accomplish. 3. We are not perfect now, nor will we be.
Therefore, necessarily, you and I are not doing “all we can do”.
So what hope do we have?
Turn to Hebrews chapter 10:10-18. We’ll look at vv10-14 first.
“We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” (KJV)
Any offense against an eternal God warrants an eternal penalty. We have so completely offended that there is no crawling back from the pit - we cannot pay the price. But Jesus’ sacrifice, being himself eternal God and perfect man, was so complete, that the whole system of God’s justice was satisfied and we have been made perfect.
“By One Sacrifice he hath perfected forever those that are sanctified.”(14)
“Hath” is past tense. In Greek this phrase is in the perfect tense which refers to something completed in the past that has ongoing effects.
So By Jesus One Sacrifice we were made perfect - take note of the passive language here, this is something done to you by Another - and will always remain perfect.
Who’s done the work here? “He” hath perfected.
Jesus has done the work
We asked in the beginning: How can anyone be perfect? With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Jesus himself makes us perfect through his sacrifice.
The result of his work is found in vv17-18 “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”(KJV)
No more offering. Jesus is not our creditor. There is nothing to pay back. There’s nothing more for you or me to do to complete his work. There is no more offering for sin.
The book of 1 Nephi was right. God doesn’t command what he does not also provide a way to accomplish.
You can have the perfection Jesus commands now. Not a perfection of your own - that would be impossible - but the perfect life of Jesus and the perfect sacrifice of Jesus counted as yours.
You can today enter into life with the Father that begins now and never ends. Your Father who loves you stands ready to embrace you. He sent his Son to make the way. Here’s what you must do:
Let go of all hope in yourself - in you proving yourself worthy. That road will end in the outer darkness. You cannot do it. You cannot save yourself. Instead set your hope, your trust, in Jesus the Christ and in the perfect work that he accomplished for you.
And if you do this, his promise is that today you will today be perfect in the sight of the Father - not on the basis of perfection that is your own - but on the basis of the perfection that Jesus himself gives to you.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast.”(Eph 2:8-9 KJV)
In closing let me illustrate the difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and any “plan of salvation” that depends on human effort, striving or worthines
Pretend you’re an orphan living in an orphanage. One day a man comes, takes you to his home, and says: “I’ll make you my son on the condition that over the next month you obey all of my rules and never do anything to displease me. Otherwise, it’s back to the orphanage.”
What would you do? You’d work and striving to save yourself from the orphanage, longing to stay in the house. You would be living with anxiety and fear, never sure of the man’s love for you.
But let’s pretend a man comes to you in the orphanage and says: “Son, I’ve already paid all the fees and signed all the paperwork. I’ve done all that needs to be done. If you’re willing I’ll take you home to be my son. Your life will change, I’m going to train you to be mature, there’ll be hard times, but I’ll be with you. You will be my son, I’ll be your father and there is nothing you can do that will ever change that.”
What would you say?
That’s what the Heavenly Father has done for you through his Son Jesus Christ. He has paid the full price, signed all the papers. And this evening he invites you to be with him forever in his exalted home.
(This sermon follows the broad outline and uses some of the illustrations suggested by Truth in Love Ministries)