The February 2017 Enisgn magazine of the Mormon Church just dropped through my letterbox. Leafing through it, my eye was immediately drawn to the visiting teaching message on page 7, Christ’s Atonement is Evidence of God’s Love.
The atoning work of Jesus is a fundamental of the Christian faith. What a movement has to say on this issue tells a lot about where it stands in relation to the clear message of the Bible on first principles.The piece begins:
“Understanding that our Heavenly Father gave His Only Begotten Son that we might have immortality and the potential for eternal life helps us feel God’s infinite and incomprehensible love for us.”
Mormon thinking is shot through with references to feelings of course. Understanding in this instance, “helps us feel God’s infinite and incomprehensible love for us.” The Bible, however, tells us that our understanding of gospel principles helps us know! John writes:
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
The same John, in his gospel, reports these words of Jesus:
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
The Bible speaks definitively of eternal life as a present possession for all who believe. It further makes clear that this is so because something has happened to the believer, who ‘has crossed over from death to life.’
Clearly, if we trust in Jesus, in the finished work of the cross and the evidence of an empty tomb, we who were once dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-10) have entered into life. That life is described as ‘eternal life’ and as a present possession. I have heard, believed, crossed over from death to eternal life, and am now confident I will not be condmened.
Mormonism offers only immortality, with only the potential to achieve eternal life, and that by our own efforts. Eternal life, in Mormon thinking, is spent in the presence of God, and is achieved through works. Yet, when we look at Paul, he writes of those who, saved by grace, are already seated with Christ in heavenly realms:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were deadv in our transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved, and God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Again we have a picture of salvation very different from that taught by Mormonism. In this we are ‘dead in our transgressions,’ and our salvation from that state cannot be by our own hand, a dead hand, but by the gracious hand of God. Having been ‘raised up’ from that dead state, we are described as already having possession of that place before the throne of God. The future for the believer is so assured that it is spoken of in the present tense, “God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes of believers being, “…marked with in him [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Our inheritance in Christ can be spoken of in the present tense because the believer has already received a guarantee of that inheritance in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
All that the Bible promises as the present possession of those who truly believe Mormonism offers as only potential reward for those who strive to gain it, for the most worthy. It is a strange love that offers itself conditionally, a strange life that is available only to those dead hands that can reach out for it, a strange ‘good news’ that offers these things on condition of ‘worthiness’ to a people so fallen as to be dead in sin and thoroughly incapable of proving worthy of anything.