Recently, five other friends and I visited Brigham Young University and Salt Lake Temple in Utah to share the gospel with Mormons. The Mormon religion is a formidable opponent of Christianity. Mormons say a lot of things that can sound Christian, so without discernment it is possible to think we share the same faith. However, through a Biblical examination of Mormonism, it is clear that they present a false portrayal of the gospel. Therefore, Christians must not only understand the distinctions between Mormonism and Christianity, but also equip themselves to engage with Mormons with the truth of the Biblical gospel.
One of the chief differences between Christianity and Mormonism lies in our understanding of the gospel. Paul issues a grave warning to the Galatians entertaining a false gospel, as he wrote to an audience believing the law was necessary to uphold salvation. Galatians 1:8-9 says:
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. 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.’
Salvation by grace rather than works is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity and, therefore, our understanding of this distinction is of eternal significance. In this article, I will examine the flaws of the Mormon gospel while comparing it to the message of the Biblical gospel.
Differing Views on Salvation
Mormons believe that salvation is obtained by placing one’s faith in the atonement of Christ, repenting from sin, being baptized, receiving the Holy Spirit, and enduring to the end. In 2 Nephi 22:31, the text states, “For we know that it is by grace we are saved after all that we can do.” Also, 1 Nephi 22:31, says, “If you follow the commandments and persevere to the end, you will be saved…” It is clear from these texts that repentance from sin, baptism, and perseverance are the meritorious causes of salvation according to the Mormon faith. They believe that the atonement alone did not secure salvation, rather it only made people savable. It is important to note this difference from Christianity as we believe that Christ alone has obtained our salvation through His act of propitiation on the cross.
Did the atonement merely make people savable as the Mormons claim? Romans 3:25 states that Christ was put forward as a “propitiation” to accomplish the redemption of sinners. On the cross, Christ satisfied the wrath of God for the sins of His people. Every ounce of His people’s guilt was imputed to Christ as Christ paid the penalty for sin. Colossians 2:14 says that our sins were forgiven “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” In Hebrews 9:12, the text states that:
Christ entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
Christ’s payment saved people on the cross and to say that Jesus only made sinners merely savable is to deny the nature of the atonement.
Distortion of Repentance
In the Mormon faith, repentance from sin is necessary as a means of making restitution to God for sins after conversion. Baptism actualizes the forgiveness of sins, yet one must continue on by their own obedience or else they will not be saved. In the LDS Pamphlet, it states that baptism is a commitment to follow Him and keep His commandments and then says, “If you do your part, your Heavenly Father promises to forgive your sins.”
On a pillar near the temple in Salt Lake City, there is an inscription that reads “The Way.” It quotes John 14:6 but also quotes Matthew 22:37-39:
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’
The Mormon gospel has no conception of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ for justification. It’s simply not found in any of their messages, but instead they encourage their followers to strive for righteousness in order to secure their salvation.
One question we asked Mormons was, “Have you repented perfectly of your sins? Have you repented of each and every one of your sins?” If repentance is meritorious towards salvation, then it must be perfect. But it is quite simply impossible to feel the perfect amount of sorrow and hatred for sin and perfectly desire to walk in obedience. And who could repent of each and every sin? The law of God is so great and demanding, and our hearts are so wicked, that we could never finish writing down a list of sins that we have committed. For Christianity, repentance for every sin is not a condition for justification. We are declared righteous before God by faith in Christ alone. Repentance is a necessary fruit of justification, wrought by the Holy Spirit, but it does not save.
Emphasis on Righteousness
According to the pillar and their plan of salvation, they must be inherently righteous to be saved. What they quote in Matthew 22:37-39 was not the gospel of God’s free grace, but of the law of God’s demands.
In Luke 10:25-25, Jesus says
‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.’
These two commands were brought up when a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). He did not ask, “What must I do to be saved?” (which the answer would be to believe in Christ [Acts 16:30-31]) but “What must I do to have eternal life?”
The former presupposes the problem that all people face: God is righteous and just while we are sinful and deserving of condemnation. The latter does not presuppose our sinful condition, but presupposes the state that Adam was in before the Fall. Adam was not sinful when he was created, therefore, he did not need a Savior but could merit eternal life himself through his obedience.
To answer the lawyer’s question, Jesus had him read the law: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself’” (v. 27). And Jesus said, “Do this, and you will live” (v. 28). The condition of the law to have eternal life is perfect and perpetual obedience. The problem is that none of us have loved God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, with all of our mind, nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves.
Paul writes in Galatians 3:10,
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’
Yet, the law’s requirements remain the same. We need a Second Adam to be righteous for us. And that’s what Jesus did. He perfectly obeyed God’s holy law in order to impute (charge, or count) His righteousness to all who believe. In the Christian doctrine of justification, Christ’s righteousness is transferred to all who believe, and their sins are placed on Christ in his act on the cross. We have peace with God, now and forevermore, solely because of the merits of Christ alone (Romans 5:1).
Lastly, is our endurance meritorious? Is it even by our own effort? Our subsequent obedience to God’s law is not involved in whether or not we gain eternal life. The righteousness of Christ alone saves. Saving faith itself is not meritorious either. It is only the instrument by which we receive the merits of Christ. And all who trust in Christ will endure to the end. No true believer will fall away. In the Canons of Dort, Article 8 states,
Thus it is not in consequence of their own merits or strength, but of God’s free mercy, that they neither totally fall away from faith and grace nor continue and perish finally in their backsliding; which, with respect to themselves is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since His counsel cannot be changed nor his promise fail; neither can the call according to his purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated.
In the end, through an examination of the Mormon faith, we can see the distortion of the gospel. I would encourage all Mormons reading this to embrace the true Jesus and the true gospel and to leave the LDS church for a church that rests solely in the work of Christ alone for salvation. I would also encourage all Christians to continue to have a heart for Mormons and pray that they would come to know the true Jesus and the true message of the gospel.