Has Mormonism changed the meaning of the word “gift”?

This Christmas I would imagine you received at least one gift. But, did you receive any “conditional” gifts? Did anyone tell you that you had to do something for them before you could open their gift? How many gifts are under your tree, waiting to be opened until you meet the requirements of the giver?

It might sound absurd to talk like this or think of “gifts” that we gave or received in this manner. When we know the person that gives us a gift, we realize that we don’t have to “do” something before we open their gift. We trust that the giver of the gift loves us and has given us their gift unconditionally and freely. In fact, if you look up the word “gift” in a dictionary you will find it defined as “Something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation.”

But, when speaking of spiritual matters in Mormonism, the word “gift” has been redefined! There is really only one unconditionalgift” in Mormonism and that is the gift of immortality (bodily resurrection). All other “gifts” are “conditional”. One simple example can be found in True to the Faith, page 52. In referencing Eternal life, it states “Like immortality, this gift is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, it requires our “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” The “condition” attached to this “gift” from Heavenly Father is obedience. Do a search at lds.org in the gospel library and type in the words “conditional AND gift”. You will discover that even God’s love, mercy and grace are all “gifts” conditioned upon your worthiness.

But the truth is that your Savior has many unconditional gifts waiting for you! One is the gift of eternal life! Not only does He offer it to you unconditionally but it is also given voluntarily. This gift was made personally, just for you, and it wasn’t an easy gift to make. Jesus lovingly spent thirty three years working on this gift. Day after day, despite many temptations by Satan, Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s laws for you. His suffering on the night of His death was tremendous. It must have been excruciating to take upon Himself the sins of the entire world and be cursed by His Heavenly Father. His shed blood covered over every sin you will ever commit. He willingly lived and died to give you the gift of eternal life.

Now, imagine that Jesus comes to you and personally offers His gift to you—freely and unconditionally. But, instead of graciously and excitedly thanking Him for the gift He worked so hard to make for you, you tell Him you can improve on His gift by adding your own works to it. Or, maybe you tell Him you can’t accept His gift because you believe you must first qualify for it. Imagine His disappointment as you reject this loving gift He made just for you.

Please don’t do this to my Jesus! Don’t reject the gift of eternal life Jesus worked so hard to give you! Through His perfect works He has qualified you to live eternally with Heavenly Father. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Believe that Jesus gained this gift for you and you will receive it! Then, spend the rest of your life freely serving God. “Freely” because doing so is your voluntary and unconditional gift of love to Him!

The “fulness” of the Gospel?

Once again, it was not easy reading the Gospel Doctrine Lesson. The words which were difficult for me: “Brothers and sisters, we have the richest blessings that God can give to His children. We have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We ought to be the most open, friendly, happy, kind, considerate, thoughtful, loving people in the whole world.

You hear these words and think you have been blessed with the “fulness” of the gospel. In reality, the gospel has been “stripped” of its fulness! You have not received any “blessings” from God because all blessings are predicated upon your obedience to His laws! I have been struggling with how to explain the difference between the “gospel” that you have and the “gospel” that I know. The best way I can come up with is to compare three gospel blessings provided by these two very different gospels.

The blessing of Eternal life:

A loving Heavenly Father has provided Salvation through His Son. All blessings are unconditional gifts given to His children because of His love. Every child rests in the assurance that their Daddy will take care of them in His home where they will live with Him forever. Eternal life is an unconditional gift given to God’s children through faith! Through the gospel of Christ a child of God can know they have eternal life right now (1 John 5:11-13). The LDS gospel took this blessing away and in its place, gives you a Plan” of Salvation. This “plan” exposes that your eternal destination hangs in the balance of your worthiness! It shows your gospel’s “condition” of withholding any blessing which has not been gained through obedience. Before you can live with your Heavenly Father you must first prove that you are worthy to do so. You can’t even know in this life whether you have done enough to be allowed to enter into his presence.

The blessing of having your debt canceled:

Even though I owed a huge debt to my loving Father, through the gospel of Christ He completely “wrote off” this debt as “paid in full”. In place of my debt, He gives me a mansion in heaven where I will dwell with Him eternally! The LDS gospel stripped away the blessing of being “debt free” and instead “refinancedyour debt, making your oldest brother your creditor. You now owe your debt to Jesus. You must pay off this debt by keeping the commandments, one at a time.

The blessing of forgiveness:

Heavenly Father sacrificed His Son to cover over all sins. Through the gospel of Christ I am one hundred percent forgiven! My Father in Heaven forgave every sin I ever committed over 2000 years ago at the cross! There were no conditions attached to this blessing and I received it the moment I believed in it (Acts 10:43). This blessing of unconditional forgiveness given through the gospel of Jesus Christ has been completely taken out of the LDS gospel. When you sin, forgiveness is withheld until you prove your worthiness to receive it—you must first keep God’s commands. In fact, God withholds his forgiveness of you until you completely forgive all others for any wrongs they have done against you, whether they are repentant or not. Your gospel claims that God doesn’t even hold himself to the same standard he demands from his children. The harshest aspect of the LDS gospel is that God revokes your hard-won forgiveness when you repeat a sin you thought you had finally abandoned.

The richest gospel blessings that God gives to His children are forgiveness and eternal life. These gifts are truly gifts! One cannot qualify for them nor can they be earned. They are undeserved blessings offered to all, solely through the gospel of Jesus Christ! Please do not reject this amazing gospel or you will forfeit the richest blessings God has to offer you!

The Testimony of Three Witnesses: Faith Without Works is Dead!

I once had a testimony that the Mormon Church was true. When I discovered that my testimony was false I went searching to find the true church. I spent almost nine years between Mormonism and Christianity and met people from all different kinds of faiths. I discovered many people with a strong testimony in their church. I even met Atheists, Shamans and Agnostics with strongly held “faith” that what they believed was true. What I quickly realized is that the sincerity of a person’s “testimony” doesn’t necessarily mean that what they testify is true. It just means they have “faith” in something.

Through all my searching one thing I clearly believed was that I had to do something to live eternally with Heavenly Father. In the back of my head I always remembered that “faith without works was dead”. What I never knew is that these two teachings aren’t the same thing. It was exciting when I discovered that James’ point isn’t “how” we are saved, but how to identify real faith when we see it. He claims that what uniquely identifies a “faith” in the one true God is that it is alive! Faith is a gift from God placed in a person’s heart by the Holy Spirit. At that moment a person crosses over from spiritual death to being born again into a new spiritual life (John 5:24). Just as a newborn baby moves and breathes, someone with faith in God will do works—they just can’t help it! James emphasizes his point by saying that faith without works is like a dead body without a spirit. Even if someone claims to have a testimony of faith, if works are absent, that faith isn’t a true faith, its dead.

James uses three witnesses to make his point—himself, Abraham and Rahab. He uses the actions of these three witnesses as proof that a living faith always produces works. His first witness is himself. He contrasts his own life of both faith and works with that of a man who claims to have faith, yet has no works. His outward visible actions prove his testimony of faith.

Through Abraham’s witness, James gives us the vital key that faith comes first, and then works automatically follow. Because faith is living, like a living creature; it naturally produces the “fruit” of works. Similar to an apple tree bearing the fruit of an apple, a living faith will bear the fruit of good works, naturally and without being forced. Good works are merely proof that faith is present. Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac on the altar was one of many actions that evidenced his faith. His actions were the “fruit” of his faith and proved his faith true. Because his faith was alive, his works followed. It was not his works that made his faith alive.

We read that Abraham’s actions fulfilled a scripture from Genesis: “Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him as righteousness”. Here James clarifies that a person’s faith gains him righteousness and not his works. Abraham had been declared righteous by God many years before he proved his faith by his works, even long before Isaac was born! Abraham’s works did not make him righteous; his faith had already done that. Abraham’s works were merely evidence that he had already been made righteous by God.

The third witness is Rahab the harlot (who hid the spies at Jericho). Her strong faith and written testimony are found in Joshua: “for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above and in earth beneath”. Her life is a vivid example of how a woman had faith and then acted on it. Not only did she risk her life by rescuing Joshua’s spies, she lived the remainder of her life in Israel; got married and became the mother of Boaz, Jesse’s Grandfather and King David’s Great Grandmother.

In the Book of Mormon (Ether) we read about the testimony of a different group of three witnesses. These men were prophesied to one day declare to the world the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. But these three men all left Mormonism. Their lack of action is evidence that their faith was dead, their testimony false.

But, this was not all they claimed in their testimony. They also testified that one day they could be found spotless because of their own works. They testified: “And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ.” This testimony shows that they didn’t know what James knew and taught about Abraham: a person is found spotless in Gods eyes through their faith, and not their works!

After all you can do—-it isn’t enough!

As a Mormon, I could never understand how anyone thought they could be “saved by faith” in Jesus alone. It seemed clear enough from the words of James that we had to have works as well as faith. Also it was plain to see the many Bible passages listing all the commands Heavenly Father had given us to follow. Looking back, I see I was lacking one very important detail that I didn’t realize at the time. Mormon Prophets actually lowered God’s stated entrance requirements for eternal life! They changed God’s Words and lessened His demands. In reality, they had to do this in order to support their false teaching that a person can gain eternal life by adding their own works to their faith.

From what I can tell it started with Nephi. We read “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”. Here we see the LDS teaching that what is required is our ‘best effort’. The determining factor to being “saved” is not the final product, it’s the effort expended. If you just try as hard as you can then Jesus will step in and His Atonement makes up the difference.

While this sounds comforting, it is false! You can search the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find one passage that backs up this false teaching. Not one single verse claims that eternal life can be gained by simply trying to follow God’s commands. Just look at every Judgment Day picture mentioned in the Bible and you will discover that any sin ends with the same exact outcome—living eternally in Outer Darkness with Satan and his demons. The Bible clearly states that God demands 100 percent compliance with his laws and commands. In fact it was James who testified that if you fail at even one point you are guilty of breaking all of God’s laws (2:10). James testimony is reinforced in the letter to the Galatians which clearly says that you are cursed if you don’t continue to do everything written in God’s law (3:10).

Jesus Himself told us the standard we must meet. The perfection required from us is to be as perfect as our Heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48). On Judgment Day we will not be graded on a curve or compared to our neighbor! The standard for perfection is God Himself!

But how can it possibly be bad to try and keep God’s commands? Let me explain the danger using an illustration. Imagine that you are at the Olympics swim meet with Michael Phelps. You know that he is the closest thing to a perfect swimmer in the history of the world. But, you want to help him win his gold medal so you offer to swim the first lap for him, or even just five feet. What do you think will be the outcome? Would your effort help or hurt Phelps’ performance?

The same is true with the perfection Jesus accomplished. On your behalf, Jesus spent His entire life living for you. In your place he kept every command perfectly. He is your substitute for the perfection demanded by God. Jesus alone meets the requirement to be as perfect as Heavenly Father. Adding your “best effort” to His perfect score only makes your score imperfect! This is why we can only be saved through faith alone. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

I know you are trying to do what you think is right. But believing that you can somehow add to the perfect works that Jesus did on your behalf actually angers God! Adding your works to His Son’s work and believing such works are mandatory only testifies one thing. It declares you do not believe that His Son’s immeasurable sacrifice was sufficient to gain you eternal life! God sees such works as an attempt to bring glory on yourself—to actually boast in yourself! When you have faith that His Son’s sacrifice has gained you eternal life this gives all the glory to His Son–where it belongs! Only then are you free to live a life of voluntary works, which brings even more glory to God.

The Glory of God is Intelligence?

Earlier today I read the Relief Society Lesson titled “Gaining Knowledge of Eternal Truths”. It’s evening now and I just got back from a Bible class at my Church. The Bible study was so awesome, and I am so grateful to my Lord for opening my eyes and heart to the truth. We were studying a few passages in Corinthians about comparing God’s wisdom with man’s wisdom.

The contrast of reading Joseph Smith’s words this morning with reading God’s Words tonight brings me such thankfulness and peace, and yet also turmoil. Joy washes over me because I am reminded that Jesus rescued me from believing in false teachings. Also though, turmoil comes because I know that your eternal life hangs in the balance of testing the words of your prophets.

I am overwhelmed with my desire to share my faith with you. I know I am not the best writer, but oh do I wish to share my Jesus with you! Your Heavenly Father sent Him to rescue you from the life you now live. No matter how unworthy, unloved or unforgiven you feel; Jesus will rescue you. In fact, He already has! His entire purpose for coming to this earth was to pick you up out of your pain and give you all His love for eternity.

I don’t wish to offend, but I feel I must warn you about some things your prophet tells you in today’s lesson. Joseph claimed:

“A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge…”

These words deny God’s truth, the truth that the simple faith of a small child is what saves us! Contrast Joseph’s words with Christ’s: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18: 3-4

Now, Smith’s whole quote with the words that disturbed me the most:
“A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth.”

These words deny the power of God! These words are the words of someone who does not know the love and power of the Almighty God of Heaven and Earth! All of God’s children are completely protected from evil spirits by their Father in Heaven!! Contrast Joseph’s words with Jesus’ words found in John 10: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand>.

Notice these words: My Father is greater than all. All, means all things, including evil spirits.

Please believe me when I tell you that it doesn’t matter how intelligent or sinful you are. You have been rescued from evil spirits. You have been rescued from your sinful life. With the simple faith of a child, trust that Jesus did everything for you and your Heavenly Father will safely hold you in His loving arms!

First Presidency Message: The Best Christmas Ever

In December’s First Presidency Message, President McKay is quoted as saying: “If we are to have the best Christmas ever, we must follow in the Savior’s footsteps”. What would it look like if someone really “followed in the Savior’s footsteps”?

Jesus never sinned, not even once. How closely are you following in the Savior’s footsteps of obedience? Examining specific commands one begins to understand the extent of what it means to “follow” in the footsteps of Jesus. In the entire 33 years of the Savior’s life He never told a lie. Are you following the Savior’s example? Jesus perfectly kept himself morally clean. Are you following in his footprints? Have you ever lusted after a woman you were not married to? Jesus never worried, he always trusted his Father. Are your feet always in his footprints? If you ever worry, they are not. What about gossiping or being jealous of someone? I haven’t even mentioned the good things you are commanded to do that Jesus did perfectly–like praying continually and visiting the sick. Can you follow in the Saviors steps by giving up every material possession except the clothes on your back? Do you perfectly follow the Greatest Command to love God with all your heart, mind and soul? How about the second greatest to love your neighbor as yourself?

Are you prepared to follow his footsteps into the desert?

Are you prepared to follow his footsteps into the desert?

Christ endured 40 days of temptation from Satan – in the desert – without any food. Are you prepared to follow his footsteps into the desert? Let’s follow the Savior’s path to the Garden of Gethsemane where the turmoil He suffered caused sweat like drops of blood. Or, see those feet stumble on the path to Golgotha, bruised, beaten and carrying the cross He would be crucified on. Are you able to forgive every person who ever hurt you, as Jesus forgave his betrayers and executioners at the cross?

The Savior’s footprints walk a path of perfection that leads to a sacrificial death on the cross. You cannot “follow in the Savior’s footsteps” as President McKay testifies you must! You can’t even come close. You can only convince yourself that you are “righteous” by hiding your sins from yourself or by comparing yourself to others. Maybe giving yourself a gold star every time you do a good thing helps to discount all the bad things you’ve done. Jesus told the rich young ruler “No one is good but God”! If you truly want to have the best Christmas ever, you must recognize that your Savior’s footsteps are too big to follow!! Quit trying and simply trust that your Savior walked every step perfectly—in your place.

Now, take a closer look at the Saviors “bare” footprints. They bear the nail marks which paid the price for every time you failed to follow in His footprints. Those beautiful feet did the work that gained you forgiveness for all your sins by personally paying your debt to sin. His scars are proof that He took your guilt upon Himself and atoned for it. His willing steps led him to be your perfect substitute, your perfect sacrifice for sin on God’s ultimate altar! Believe it and a miracle will happen. When Heavenly Father looks at your sinful path through life it will be covered over by the Savior’s perfect footprints! Through faith, you get the credit for every perfect step Jesus took. Believe in this miracle and trust me, you will have the best Christmas ever!

Are You One Hundred Percent?

I was reading an article at MormonTimes.com about a talk given by the Young Women’s General President, Elaine Dalton. She issued a “challenge” to Young Women to study the Book of Mormon at least five minutes a day, say morning and nightly prayers and to smile. The article states:
“Elaine Dalton hopes she soon has young women approaching her with two thumbs up. That signifies they are ‘One-hundred Percent’ — one hundred percent in daily prayer, scripture study and what she says may be the most challenging, smiling”.

Two phrases in this article jump out at me. They are “challenge” and “One-hundred Percent”. They bring to mind one of my favorite scenes in the life of Jesus. It is the story about Simon the self righteous Pharisee and the woman who loved Jesus so much she washed His feet with her hair and tears (Luke 7:41). As a Pharisee Simon daily challenged himself to follow the teachings of his Church one hundred percent.

But Jesus used the example of the sinful woman to teach Simon a beautiful message: Someone who is forgiven much—-will love much! This Young Woman did not need to be challenged, because her focus was not on one hundred percent obedience; but rather on her one hundred percent forgiveness. Even through her tears you can see her smiling. Her tears were not ones of pain, guilt or stress; but tears of joy, thanksgiving and devoted love!

As a Mormon I was familiar with the concept of being challenged. I felt guilty reading Jesus’ words: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). I desperately wanted to be worthy but I knew in my heart that I loved my children and husband more than I loved Jesus. Since I didn’t know how to love Jesus more, I challenged myself to worthiness by trying to keep the commandments. And the greatest challenge was putting on a smile over my pain.

It was 1994 when I learned what Jesus tried to teach Simon. That was when I heard the truth that one hundred percent of my sins were forgiven! Like a giddy young schoolgirl I fell in love with the man who took away all my guilt! The love of my life became my Savior Jesus! That was over 14 years ago and I still love Him more than life itself, more than my husband and my children. My love for Jesus transformed me from a person who needed to be challenged to follow God’s commands—to a person who is compelled to follow them by love. Now, I would be challenged to hide my smile!

Elaine Dalton issued the challenge to be “One Hundred Percent”. She said “Can you imagine the implications that this has, if a young woman is 100 percent for 10 years, for 15 years?”

I imagine that the Young Women will dutifully say their prayers every morning and night. They will read the Book of Mormon, checking the clock to see when they have accomplished their goal. But without the knowledge that they have been one hundred percent forgiven, will they be any closer to loving Jesus? Will they be any closer to being compelled by such love?

The desire of my heart is that every Mormon hears they are “One Hundred Percent” forgiven! Can you imagine the implications if every Mormon knew this? They wouldn’t need to be “challenged” to pray and read scripture! Since Jesus would be their very best friend they would willingly pray to Him and their Father in Heaven whenever they could. They would willingly read the Bible—God’s love letters, and pour over its pages for comfort and guidance. And, they certainly would not have to be “challenged” to smile. The joy that comes from knowing you are “One Hundred Percent” forgiven, brings a sincere smile that lasts through eternity!

Click on this link to listen to a short video clip of an ex-Mormon Young Woman who discovered the joy of obedience through love: