THE CROSS UNVEILED
Last Update: 8/2014
"God does not love us because we are valuable; we are valuable because God loves us." - Martin Luther
Religion vs. The Gospel
As a Mormon, I was taught my religiosity was what made me right and justified me before God. The better I was at following Mormon laws and regulations, the more God would bless me. I would use the word of God to fit the way of gaining eternal life I was taught. For example, I would see the law as a set of rules God gives us to follow and become more righteous without understanding the real meaning of the law. I was using religion as my means of salvation; I trusted in a combination of my works and Christ to make me righteous.
When I actually took the time to read and study the Gospel, a very different method of reconciliation and justification was revealed. The powerful word of God had unveiled how I was over-valuing my goodness and under-valuing God’s holiness.
‘Religion’ tells you what rules and regulations you need to follow to earn eternal salvation, whereas the gospel tells us to receive the free gift of eternal salvation. The gospel leads us to the realization we are so dead in sin we can't earn our standing before God, yet we are so loved by God He reconciles us to Him by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Because of this, the motivation derived from ‘religion’ is based on fear and guilt, but the motivation derived from the gospel is pure joy from the loving relationship we can now share with God. In ‘religion’, you obey to get from God (blessings, etc.) which makes God a debtor to you; but in the gospel, you obey only because of the gift of grace which was provided through Christ’s work on the cross, uniting us with God.
Tim Keller writes, "There is, then, a great gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done. Religion operates on the principle 'I obey - therefore I am accepted by God.' But the operating principle of the gospel is 'I am accepted by God through what Christ has done - therefore I obey.' Two people living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may sit next to each other in the church pew. They both pray, give money generously, and are loyal and faithful to their family and church, trying to live decent lives. However, they do so out of two radically different motivations, in two radically different spiritual identities, and the result is two radically different kind of lives.
The primary difference is that of motivation. In religion, we try to obey the divine standards out of fear. We believe that if we don't obey we are going to lose God's blessing in this world and the next. In the gospel, the motivation is one of gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Christ. While the moralist is forced into obedience, motivated by fear of rejection, a Christian rushes into obedience, motivated by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.
... In Christ I could know I was accepted by grace not only despite my flaws, but because I was willing to admit them. The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. ... I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less. ... The gospel makes it possible for a person to escape oversensitivity, defensiveness, and the need to criticize others. The Christian's identity is not based on the need to be perceived as a good person, but on God's value of you in Christ.
... The founders of every other major religion essentially came as teachers, not as saviors. They came to say: 'Do this and you will find the divine.' But Jesus came essentially as a savior rather than a teacher (though he was that as well). Jesus says: 'I am the divine come to you, to do what you could not do for yourselves.' The Christian message is that we are saved not by our record, but by Christ's record. So Christianity is not religion nor irreligion. It is something else all together" (Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pp. 186-188, 192).
Christianity is the only religion in the world that does not add works and obedience to laws and ordinances to earn your eternal salvation because it is freely received as a gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ’s shed blood. That is why Christianity is radically different from all other world religions.
The Gospel = The Cross
The gospel Paul preached, which was centered on the message of the cross, informs us in 1 Corinthians 1:18 the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are saved, it is the power of God. Mormons should ponder this verse and understand which side they fall into. Mormons do not acknowledge the cross is where the atonement occurred. They teach the atonement occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane. I have already answered the major doctrinal issue with this belief in the section titled “The Cross.” Mormons do not preach the message or the power of the cross. But Paul said in Galatians 6:14 the only thing he glories in is the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul realized, just like many millions of Christians do today, the cross is the central theme of the gospel message. There is no gospel message at all without preaching the cross.
Adding Works to the Cross
Mormon doctrine instead teaches a message which adds to the work of Jesus on the cross by including obedience to laws, ordinances, moral effort, and human works as requirements for their passport into one of three main levels of heaven. Their 3rd article of faith states, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
The gospel of Christ explicitly warns us to not add anything to the free gift of eternal life which has been given to those who believe because when you add to it, you reject the work Jesus did for us on the cross in favor of your own work. Paul warns the Christians in Galatia of this very thing in Galatians 3.
Paul confronts them for their clouded perspective of Jesus and his work on the cross by departing from salvation by faith alone. He admonishes them in Galatians 3:2 for being deceived by beginning in the spirit (receiving the Holy Ghost by faith) to trying to gain spiritual growth by the works of the flesh (by adding laws and works to grace).
The Galatians have turned from the true gospel where Christ and His work on the cross was the center of their lives to a "Christ plus works" gospel that is false. Galatians 3:10-11 tells us people who try to add to grace Jesus gifted to us by His work on the cross are under a curse. He says no man will be justified (declared righteous before God) by the Law of Moses in the sight of God. Paul is telling these people they have been fooled and are no longer in Christ because they are following another gospel that was not preached to them.
Paul goes on to say if there had been a law which could have given life, then righteousness would have been by the law (Galatians 3:21). The law was our teacher (it was what made us conscious of our sin to show us of our need of a Savior) to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24; Romans 3:20). But now faith has come with the death and resurrection of Christ, we are no longer under the law (Galatians 3:25), for we are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26).
Our Works are Tainted
Everything we try to do to please God, whether it is tithing, performing good deeds or showing moral effort is tainted. This is why righteousness must come from God because when it comes from Him alone, it is untainted by our own sin. This is also why a Christian not only repents of their sins, but also repents of the prideful reasons for their righteousness (works). The true Christian departs from self-justification and trusts in the work of Christ as His righteousness is credited to our account (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let me be clear though, the focus should not be on our sin no matter how great the sin, the focus should be on the grace of God because His grace covers even the greatest of sins through the transfer of our trust to Jesus Christ.
The Meaning of the Law
An example in the Gospel that demonstrates eternal life cannot be earned by "doing" is exemplified in Luke 18:18 when the rich ruler asked the Lord, “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He tells Jesus he has kept all the commandments since his youth. So based on the beliefs of the rich ruler, he feels he should inherit eternal life. What this man fails to realize is although he attempted to keep the letter of the law in actions, he failed to understand the true interpretation God desired of the law. The correct interpretation can be found where Jesus teaches them on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The real meaning of the Law of Moses gets not only at your actions, but the issue of the heart. Our hearts commit murder (by hating others), even though we do not actionably commit murder. Our hearts commit adultery (look at another with lust) even though we do not actionably commit adultery. Our hearts commit idolatry (putting anything before God) even though we may not have a statue of a false god to worship. We are all convicted under the true meaning of the Law based on the interpretation of Jesus. This is why following the Law did not remove sin, but revealed our sin, therefore, our need of a Savior (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:24).
This rich ruler thought he was righteous based on the way he had interpreted the Law, but Jesus reveals to him the standing of his inheritance. Jesus tells him inheritance is not based on doing, it is based on being - being in the right family through faith on Christ and becoming a son and an heir. Jesus counsels to this man because although he has wealth, prestige, and a righteous and religious life, he lacked eternal life.
Everyone has idols they put before God, whether its family, fortune, fame or hobbies. This man who has a life envious of many really has nothing because his earthly treasures and a works-righteousness system (pride) were his god. Even though Jesus promises us treasures in heaven, people still draw to a works-righteousness system of inheritance. We all want to ask what is it we need to do to inherit heaven. The real work begins with believing on Jesus Christ (John 6:29). When that comes first, we begin to realize just how guilty we are as we have nothing without first having Christ. Once we are in Christ, the old us has passed away and all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Our Status in Christ
Romans 8:1-2 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."
Jesus redeems (liberates, frees, rescues, saves) those under the law that we might be sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:5). And because we are sons, we are heirs of God through Christ (Galatians 4:7). An heir is someone who inherits something through the death of a family member. The heir does not earn their gift as it is something earned by the person giving the gift. Jesus is like the family member who died and left us a gift (eternal life) and we are the heirs who inherit that gift. Jesus was perfect in thought, deed, and action and the gospel tells us, He redeemed us by His death on the cross so we may be joint heirs with Christ of eternal life in heaven (Romans 8:17). If we are found in Christ by believing on His shed blood, then we share the same relationship with God as Jesus does; therefore, we are joint heirs. As we have become children of God by faith, we have been given the gift of inheriting His kingdom.
Faith and Grace vs. Works and Laws
The Gospel is filled with the richness of grace and mercy that only comes to those who put their faith in Christ alone absent works. In Romans 11:6 Paul writes, “And if by grace, then [is it] no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if [it be] of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” God is telling us eternal salvation can be based on only one principle, grace or works, and not both as they are mutually exclusive in this context. If it is grace, then it cannot be of works or else grace is no longer grace. If it is based on even 1% works, then it is no longer based on grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “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.” If eternal life in heaven were to be earned we would have reason to boast of our efforts. If we earned our eternal salvation the glory is shifted from the only place it should reside in Jesus Christ to humanity.
Romans 3:27 says, “Where [is] boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” The gospel clearly indicates the glory lies alone in Christ and not in us to merit eternal life.
The laws and ordinances once against us and contrary to us, Jesus took away nailing them to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Just like in old times when a debt was paid in full, the debtor would nail the debt to a wooden post writing on it, “paid in full.” Jesus took our debt we could never pay and paid the fine for us, nailing it to the cross – “paid in full.” Just before Jesus died on the cross he said “it is finished,” meaning He completed the job He was sent to do in sacrificing His physical life so those who believe on Him could have eternal life in heaven. But obedience to Mormon doctrine, in effect, removes the “paid in full” sign Jesus nailed to the cross by saying what Jesus did for your eternal salvation was not enough and add their own requirements, laws and ordinances if you truly want to have eternal life.
Doctrine and Covenants 64:13-14 makes this extremely clear where the Lord says, “And this ye shall do that God may be glorified – not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver – Verily I say, for this cause ye shall do these things.” (emphasis mine)
Freedom in Works or Grace?
How can a person be free in Christ if they add to His grace? This is what the gospel says about adding to grace in Romans 4:4-6, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.”
Believing on Jesus justifies the ungodly (the sinner) while we are sinners (Romans 4:5, 5:6,8) because we all fall short. When you add to grace, you are now burdened with things like temple works, magnifying your calling, paying a full tithing, other good deeds, etc. because you do these things to earn the higher levels of heaven or blessings from God. These things are done to earn something for yourself, glorifying you and your efforts, and not done for the glory of God. It’s not that any of these things are bad themselves, but your motivation for doing these works and giving is bad because you do them to get something out of it. You don’t realize your motivations are selfish since they are done to earn blessings and higher levels of heaven, which makes God a debtor to you. Instead of Jesus being your Savior, you become your own savior. You have unwittingly stripped Jesus of His deity by reducing the power of His work on the cross and elevated humanity by adding obedience to laws, ordinances, works and moral effort to His gift of grace. You reject the work of Christ in favor of your own works.
The Mormon gospel teaches Christ atonement only covers Adam’s sin (2nd Article of Faith), which is why they believe in adding to Christ’s work on the cross obedience to laws, ordinances, works, etc. to truly have eternal life in heaven. The message of the gospel is clear - the blood that Jesus Christ shed on the cross was the propitiation (complete and satisfactory payment by way of atoning sacrifice) for all humanity for all-time (1 John 2:2). Those who have faith on His shed blood are freely justified by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).
Rescued from Death in Sin!
The books of Romans and Galatians proclaim God came on a rescue mission to save us from our sins and we cannot depend on our religiosity. Contrary to a standard Mormon portrayal of salvation, God did not lower a ladder down into a pit and tell us it is up to us to climb out and if we don’t quite make it all the way, Jesus will hopefully make up the difference. No, He recognized we were dead in our sins as the gospel declares in Ephesians 2:1-6 and he came down and rescued us from our sin so eternal salvation is completely of God.
Eternal salvation is a free, unmerited gift (Romans 5:15-18, 6:23, Ephesians 2:8, 3:7, 4:7) based on what Jesus Christ did through His work on the cross and not based on anything we do. A gift by nature is something free and unearned. And it must be a gift because the infinite and holy righteousness God demands is a righteousness no human will ever possess. If eternal salvation were not a gift and based on our own merits, then we would all be damned.
Examples of Works and Faith
If works were a component in the model to eternal salvation, why did Jesus rebuke the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23? Outside they were doing great works, were obedient to the law, and had high standards of morality, etc. They believed they were blessed because they were God’s chosen people and had His approval. Inside they did not have any real brokenness or commitment toward God. Sure they sinned and repented of their sins, but after they repented they were still scribes and Pharisees and their hearts were never transformed. This is why they were being rebuked by Jesus.
Look at the thief on the cross as an example in Luke 23. He obviously had not done anything himself to earn eternal salvation being put to death for his actions. Here is one of many consistent examples where the Gospel separates the believers and the non-believers for eternal salvation. One of the condemned criminals mocked Jesus and did not show trust in saying “If you are the Christ, then save yourself and us.” The thief believed and trusted in Christ based on his response to this other criminal. He showed respect to God by saying, “Do you not even fear God?” and recognized his own sin and his reward (being crucified) for this sin. He also knew Jesus had done nothing wrong and calls Him Lord, showing he believed in him as Lord and in asking the Lord to remember him when he comes to His kingdom. This shows the thief believed and trusted in Jesus’ promise of eternal life in heaven. Jesus’ reaction to the thief is undoubtedly full of the same free grace he promises everyone else who believes on Him. Jesus tells him with surety he will be with Him that very day in paradise. This is the only “deathbed” plea of trust and belief in Jesus in the Bible and may not seem fair, but it does give all the glory to God that eternal salvation is through Him alone and not in the merits of individuals.
In the section, Hebrews 11 - Hall of Faith, I walk through examples of those saved from the Old Testament not based on their religiosity and good works, but by their faith alone in God.
Easy Yoke and Light Burden
The Lord tells us His yoke is easy and His burden is light. The laundry list of ordinances, duties, laws, and works you must obey/perform in Mormonism creates a tremendous and unnecessary burden on its followers, which does not represent an easy yoke and light burden. The law is a yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1) and a curse (Galatians 3:10-13) Jesus' grace frees us from. Mormons not only put the law back on their shoulders, they add many more laws to it! Galatians 5:4 says, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” It is crystal clear the gospel declares if you believe any part of inheriting eternal life is based on following laws, ordinances, or based on your own works, then you have fallen from the grace of Jesus Christ.
Eternal Life in Heaven Biblically Guaranteed!
Additionally, the gospel Mormonism preaches does not provide a guarantee of heaven because you can never know how much you have to do to earn heaven. 2 Nephi 25:23 says it is by grace you are saved, after all you can do. Well how much must I do to know I can be saved? The Mormon gospel does not provide the peace Jesus promises in Romans 5:1 that comes with the guarantee of eternal life. The gospel, however, teaches all who believe on Christ can know at that very second they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Again, this is why the Christian is set free because of the grace of Christ; because the peace they have that eternal life has already been guaranteed leads to obedience and works which are completely selfless. The motivation is now pure, selfless love with the glory all on Christ instead of motivations based on fear or guilt in trying your best to earn the blessings, which develops a prideful and self-righteous heart.
If eternal salvation were based on anything I must do to earn it, then I would never have the peace Jesus provides because I am always going to worry about what I must do and if I did enough. If is based on Jesus alone, only then can I be free and have the peace Jesus promises.