This article is second of a two-part series that began in 2016. Part 1 can be found HERE.
“Are you saved?” This was the question that woke me out of a sound sleep around midnight, as a flashlight was thrust into my face in my tent at our Georgia Scout camp. It was the first time we’d held a summer camp for the older Explorer Scouts, and since the week started on a Sunday evening and I was on the youth planning council, I had arranged for the local missionaries to conduct a lakeside devotional. Apparently, it had motivated some of our Scouts to think of spiritual matters.
Fortunately, I quickly got over my initial irritation at being so rudely awakened, and my friends and I ended up having a long and thoughtful conversation in the moonlight on a boat out in the middle of Lake Mobley. But the question still remains one of ultimate concern when you really think about it. In the eternal scheme of things, what is more important than to know how you stand with God?
That was the burning question in the heart of young Joseph Smith as he walked into the Sacred Grove in New York in 1820. His biggest dilemma (or at least so he thought) was to know which church he should join, to assure his personal salvation. The answer he received was much greater than what he had anticipated.
So, what IS the answer for Latter-day Saints (or anyone) to the question “Are you saved.?” And HOW are you saved? Many Christians believe salvation occurs when one makes “a decision for Christ” or walks down an aisle in a church to accept an “altar call”, or simply prays with a pastor or another Christian and verbally promises their life to Jesus. Some may later choose to be baptized (in one manner or another) as a symbol of their commitment, but most believe baptism is optional for salvation.
Are Latter-day Saints “saved”? Well, I know some who are. And many who think they are. And some who are afraid they might not be.
Our 3rd Article of Faith says:
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind MAY be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
IS BELIEF ALONE ENOUGH FOR SALVATION?
There are several verses in the Bible that would seem to indicate that all a person has to do is believe that Jesus Christ is their Savior in order to be saved. For example, Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”. But other seemingly contradicting passages appear to indicate that belief alone is not enough for salvation. Indeed, in James 2:19 we read that, “the devils also believe, and tremble”. Are the devils then saved? I doubt it.
Since we all believe that the Bible doesn’t really contradict itself, let’s see if we can find a reasonable explanation for this apparent contradiction. If we look at the example above from Acts 16 in its context, we see that Paul and Silas had been unlawfully imprisoned in Philippi. Then about midnight …
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16: 26-30)
I guess it could be said that the jailor’s question had two meanings or levels. On the one hand, his life was over if his prisoners escaped, and he was about to commit suicide. So he could have been asking Paul what must he do to save his mortal life. But the next verses indicate that more was at stake: And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
Belief in Christ may or may not have prevented his physical execution (and that of his family?) if indeed his prisoners took advantage of the earthquake and ran away. But Paul and Silas had a greater purpose in mind:
And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. — ( Acts 16:26-33 )
So, we see that belief was only the first step. As Christ’s servants “spoke unto him the word of the Lord” the jailor and his whole family were baptized “the same hour of the night”. Thus, Paul and Silas were fulfilling our Savior’s Great Commission where he said “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”. (Mark 16:16) This is just one of many examples in the New Testament illustrating the proper order of response to the Good News of the Gospel: belief is followed by baptism.
WHAT EXACTLY IS SALVATION?
Latter-day Saints believe that “salvation” means admittance into the Celestial Kingdom where both God the Father and Jesus dwell. This is what Paul called the “third heaven” or the kingdom like the “glory of the sun”. (2 Cor. 12:2, 1Cor. 15:40-41) But the Bible also speaks of “better … things that accompany salvation” (Heb. 6:9) or rewards. These “rewards” pertain to what Latter-day Saints call “exaltation”.
IS CONFESSING WITH THE MOUTH ENOUGH FOR SALVATION?
Romans 10:9 is a popular verse among evangelical Christians. It says:
… if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
As I read this and thought about it, it gave me an idea. I considered how ineffective it would be to confess with one’s mouth that some drug or procedure is a cure for cancer, without taking the pill or undergoing the treatment required to cure the disease. So, if you only “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus” without doing what Jesus says, what good is that? Think about it.
BELIEF VS FAITH
Those who say that “faith alone saves” may draw a distinction between belief and faith. I would tend to agree with that. I once heard a story that I think explains the difference between the two: As this story goes, there was a man who was among the first to walk across Niagara Falls on a tight rope. Others had done so using a balance pole, but this individual decided to cross the chasm on a tight rope pushing a wheelbarrow. As he addressed a large crowd of people before making his attempt, he asked if those present believed he could accomplish the task. “How many of you believe I will make it?” He asked. Most of the hands went up. He asked again, “how many of you really believe I can make it”? Again, there were cheers of agreement. “Okay then”, he said, “who wants to get in the wheelbarrow?” It was one thing to believe, but it took real faith to get in the wheelbarrow. Faith is a belief that motivates a person to action.
Let’s turn to Justin Martyr, one of the church fathers of the second century who wrote: (emphasis is mine)
“And let those who are not found living as He taught, be understood to be no Christians, even though they profess with the lip the precepts of Christ; for not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word:
“Not every one who saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven …”
And as to those who are not living pursuant to these His teachings, and are Christians only in name, we demand that all such be punished by you.11
BUT ISN’T SALVATION A FREE GIFT?
Absolutely! In Zarahemla, Alma the Younger spoke (in Chapter 5) to “my brethren, you that belong to this church” of two obstacles that Christ overcame for us, the
- “bands of death” and the
- “chains of hell”.
The first part is pretty simple. Our Savior loosed those “bands of death” for all mankind, unconditionally and without any action on our part. Paul wrote: “as in Adam ALL die, even so in Christ shall ALL be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:29)
The “chains of hell” is a different matter. Yes, Christ paid for our sins and offers forgiveness as a free gift. But even a free gift must be unwrapped, and the instructions on how to use it must be followed if it is to be of any usefulness to the recipient.
At the first Passover, the Israelite slaves in Egypt could receive the “free gift” of having the Angel of Death “pass over” their homes and not slay their firstborn children. But they had to accept or apply the gift by putting blood on their doorposts as instructed.
Likewise, as they traveled later in the desert, they had to apply the free gift of surviving the bites of poisonous serpents by casting their eyes on the brazen serpent that Moses lifted up on a stick. An easy thing to do, yet many of them would not do it.
MUST WE DO “GOOD WORKS” TO BE SAVED? AND WILL THEY SAVE US?
One of the myths often taught about “Mormons” is that we supposedly believe we can “earn” our way into Heaven by our “good works”. Sadly, some Latter-day Saints also have that misconception. They’ve lost sight of Alma’s teachings that it’s what is in our hearts that counts. He reminded the members of the “Zarahemla Stake” what God had done for their fathers:
“Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.” (Alma 5:9)
He reminded them that a “mighty change” had been wrought in their parents’ hearts, and then he asked them,
“behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? … And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”(emphasis added)
All of our “good works” cannot “save” us if we have not had a “mighty change” in our hearts. We can study scriptures daily and attend all our meetings, and have a stack of temple names or tithing receipts a foot tall, but if we are not “born of God” (AKA “born again”) and have not truly surrendered our hearts to Christ, we are as Paul said:
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity (the pure love of Christ), it profiteth me nothing.
(1 Cor 13:3)
HOW MUST BELIEF OR FAITH OR GRACE BE APPLIED?
Having faith that Jesus died for our sins won’t save us unless we correctly apply His atoning sacrifice. For example, let’s suppose that someone we’ll call “John” has accidentally ingested a lethal dose of poison and only has a few minutes to live. Another person named “Jim” comes to John and says “I have a vial of liquid here that can save you from death.” It’s a true statement, and John believes Jim.
He says “okay, how do I use it?” If Jim tells John that he must rub it on his head to be saved from death but what John really needs to do is to swallow it, John will soon be dead if he follows Jim’s instructions. Despite the fact that the antidote is real, and Jim is sincere, he is tragically (and fatally for John) mis-informed. The same is true for many Bible teachers today.
A CATHOLIC VIEW OF FAITH AND WORKS
In contrast to the protestant evangelical position on “faith alone”, the Roman Catholic Church’s beliefs in this matter seems much closer to Latter-day Saint doctrine. From the Catholic Apologetics Network website we read (emphasis mine):
the Catholic Church does not teach “justification by faith alone” because the Bible does not teach justification by faith alone! The word “faith” appears in the New Testament 230 times, the word ‘alone’ 32 times. Paul uses “alone” more than any other New Testament author. Yet Paul never puts “faith” and “alone” together. One has to ask why is that? In only one instance in the Bible do these two words appear in the same verse. That verse … is James 2:24 “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” How is it, then, that they can teach as true, a doctrine that is explicitly denied by the plain reading of the text?7
EVEN SOME EVANGELICALS UNDERSTAND
But even in the protestant evangelical branch of Christianity there are some pastors and teachers who seem to “get it” about faith, grace, works, and salvation. When I lived in Southern California, I used to listen to a well-known evangelical pastor on a radio program called “Grace to You”. His name was John MacArthur, and although his views are not universally accepted among Christians, much of what he said made a lot of sense to me. In his book called The Gospel According to Jesus he demonstrates that at least some Christians have an understanding of grace and works that is similar (but not identical) to what I’ve learned inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
The Gospel in vogue today holds forth a false hope to sinners. It promises them they can have eternal life, yet continue to live in rebellion against God. Indeed, it encourages people to claim Jesus as Savior yet defer until later the commitment to obey him as Lord. —Page 15
… the Good News of Christ has given way to the bad news of an insidious easy–believism that makes no moral demands on the lives of sinners. It is not the same message Jesus proclaimed. … The church’s witness to the world has been sacrificed on the altar of cheap grace. —Page 16.
The language of the modern message sounds vaguely similar to (the hymn) “Just as I Am”, but the difference in meaning is profound. Sinners today hear not only that Christ will receive them as they are but also that he will let them stay that way!
The pattern of modern evangelism is to take people through a formula, get them to pray a prayer, sign a card, or whatever, then tell them they are saved and should never doubt it. … The teaching that Christians are freed from observing any moral law is rampant in today’s evangelical community. We are told that there is no reason to examine one’s life —Page 190
I find it ironic that even Martin Luther who is known for his “liberating” doctrine of “sola fide” found that many Christians of his day had gone too far with the idea that Christianity did not require any obedience to the commandments of Christ. He wrote a treatise “Against Antinomianism” where he coined that term which means: “The unbridled Christian belief against obeying any law.” Many Christians today would be very surprised to read that Luther described the saving kind of faith as:
a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever…Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!10
IF FAITH IS A BELIEF THAT LEADS TO ACTION, WHAT ACTION IS NEEDED?
The Bible has a clear answer (at least it seems pretty clear to me). Peter and the apostles were preaching to a crowd of at least 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost and said:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:37-38)
The people were “pricked in their hearts”, meaning that the Holy Ghost had convicted them of the truth of the apostles’ words. They were given through grace the gift of testimony and faith with no effort or “works” of their own. They received an instant confirmation in their hearts that Christ’s special witnesses had spoken the truth.
They then exercised their (1) faith by asking “what shall we do?” Peter did not say as many Evangelical preachers do today: “You don’t have to do anything. Jesus has already done it all for you.” They were told to (2) repent, (3) be baptized, and (4) to receive the Holy Ghost.
This Biblical example is how Christians must apply the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to their lives and to accept Him as their personal Savior. To teach any other response is to teach “another gospel”, and we all know what the Bible says about that.
So am I “saved”? Absolutely yes!
Now, as Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “(not) leaving” these “first principles and ordinances of the Gospel”, let us “go on unto perfection” (or in the Greek, “completion”). (Hebrews 6:1)
But that’s another story. Milk before meat.
This article is excerpted in part from Robert Starling’s book “A Case for Latter-day Christianity”, also known in an earlier edition as “Really Inside Mormonism: Confessions of a Mere Latter-day Christian”, available on Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, and by request in Deseret bookstores.
5 The American Heritage College Dictionary. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1997.
p. 91. ISBN 0-395-66917-0.
6 Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. p. 191
8 A. Ironside, Except Ye Repent, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1937, page 11
9 W. H. Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans n.d. P. 371
10 “An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans,” Luther’s German Bible of 1522
11 Justin Martyr First Apology, Chapter 16