After “all” the Bishop Could Do, it Wasn’t Enough

Reading the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson 9 reminded me of a talk I gave back when I was in high school. I served on the Seminary Council and one of my assignments was to speak in Sacrament Meeting. I decided to talk about Christ’s Atonement, specifically what we had to do to receive the “conditional gifts” associated with it. (You have to understand a little about my personality before I explain what I did to the Bishop during my talk. I grew up with three brothers and a Dad who incessantly teased me. Just to survive, I learned how to stand up for myself, but usually in a joking manner.)

In giving my talk, I wanted to teach about the Atonement, but the illustration I used was also done in a way meant to tease the Bishop. For my talk I brought some props from home. On the podium I set a large scale like the one you see for the “Scales of Justice”. On one side I piled about thirty large onions. The other side was empty. I set this up as an attention getter before I started talking. Then, I proceeded to talk about Christ’s Atonement. I spoke about our unconditional gift of bodily resurrection and what a blessing that was. Then I moved on to what we had to do to receive Heavenly Father’s conditional “gifts. Next I brought up Nephi’s passage testifying that we are saved only “after” all we can do.

This is the moment I called the Bishop to the stand. Without any prior warning, I told him he had to eat ALL the onions sitting on the Scales of Justice. Obviously, he couldn’t do it. Then I moved three onions to the other side and asked the Bishop if he could eat that many? Once again, the answer was no. In the end, the Bishop was only able to eat one small bite out of an onion! I remember making the comment that “all” that the Bishop could do wasn’t very much! I loved how my illustration generated lots of laughter from the Ward members. But, despite the humor involved, I was making a very important point. If we want to balance the Scales of Justice we must first do all we can. And then, Christ’s Atonement will cover the rest.

Thinking back to this Sacrament Meeting talk given over thirty years ago I am so thankful that the Holy Ghost has opened my eyes to the truth. I never knew that combining my works with my faith as a way to gain eternal life was false. I certainly never realized that attempting to do so would result in spending eternity with Satan. I fully trusted that Nephi and other Mormon prophets were truly God’s prophets. That was why I taught this message in Sacrament Meeting: “…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)

But Nephi taught us a way to be saved that is in direct opposition to what God’s Prophets and Christ’s Apostles taught: “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 2:8-10)

Here, the Apostle Paul testified it is faith, and not works that saves us. Nowhere in the Bible will you find the belief that we can gain eternal life by trying as hard as we can. Using the illustration of eating all the onions, taking even one bite means you believe Christ’s work was insufficient to pay your entire debt!

You are either saved because all of your works are perfect, or because you have a Savior who was perfect for you–in your place. There isn’t a “third” way that combines your works with Christ’s works to balance the Scales of Justice. If you take even one bite this means you would have to eat the entire basket of onions. No one will be saved by adding their own imperfect works to their faith.

Lesson 9 of the Gospel Doctrine Class is titled: “My Soul Delighteth in the Words of Isaiah“. Does your soul delight in these words from the Prophet Isaiah, about our own righteousness:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

I praise the Lord that Isaiah also testified that Jesus covers us with His robe of righteousness:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)

All my Bishop could do was eat one bite of an onion–it wasn’t enough. Similarly, all you can do, isn’t enough! You will only be saved by faith alone or by being one hundred percent perfect your entire life (as Jesus was)!

In one way, I do believe in faith and works. My faith in Christ’s works. I have faith that Christ’s works were sufficient to pay my entire debt! It was at Christ’s Atonement that He exchanged my sins for His righteousness!

By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:10-14)

In thankfulness, I devote my entire life to “him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen”! (Revelation 1:5)

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After “all” he could do, it wasn’t very much

Back in high school I served on the Seminary Council and one of my assignments was to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting. I decided to talk about Christ’s Atonement, specifically what we had to do to receive the “conditional gifts” associated with it. You have to understand a little about my personality before I explain what I did to the Bishop during my talk. I grew up with three brothers and a Dad who incessantly teased me. Just to survive, I learned how to stand up for myself, but usually in a joking manner.

In giving my talk, I wanted to teach about the Atonement, but the illustration I used was also done in a way meant to tease the Bishop. For my talk I brought some props from home. On the podium I set a large scale like the one you see for the “Scales of Justice”. On one side I piled about thirty large onions. The other side was empty. I set this up as an attention getter before I started talking. Then, I proceeded to talk about Christ’s Atonement. I spoke about our unconditional gift of bodily resurrection and what a blessing that was. Then I moved on to what we had to do to receive Heavenly Father’s conditional “gifts. Next I brought up Nephi’s passage testifying that we are saved only “after” all we can do.

This is the moment I called the Bishop to the stand. Without any prior warning, I told him he had to eat ALL the onions sitting on the Scales of Justice. Obviously, he couldn’t do it. Then I moved three onions to the other side and asked the Bishop if he could eat that many? Once again, the answer was no. In the end, the Bishop was only able to eat one small bite out of an onion! I remember making the comment that “all” that the Bishop could do wasn’t very much! I loved how my illustration generated lots of laughter from the Ward members. But, despite the humor involved, I was making a very important point. If we want to balance the Scales of Justice we must first do all we can. And then, Jesus’ Atonement will cover the rest.

Thinking back to this Sacrament Meeting talk given over thirty years ago I see where I was wrong! Using the illustration of eating all the onions, taking even one bite means you believe Christ’s work was insufficient to pay your entire debt! You are either saved because all of your works are perfect, or because you have a Savior who was perfect for you. There isn’t a “third” way that combines your works with Christ’s works to balance the Scales of Justice. If you take even one bite this means you would have to eat the entire basket of onions. No one will be saved by adding their own imperfect works to their faith. All my Bishop could do was eat one bite of an onion. Similarly, all you can do, isn’t enough! You can only be saved by faith alone or by being one hundred percent perfect your entire life (as Jesus was)!

I guess in one way, I do believe in faith and works. My faith, and Christ’s works. I have faith that Christ’s works were sufficient to pay my entire debt! In thankfulness, I devote my entire life to “him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen”!

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.