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Last Update:  4/2014

The Mormon Doctrine of Salvation within the Standard Works

What does Mormon doctrine have to say about salvation and is that what Jesus and His Apostles convey in the Bible?  First, when you speak with a Mormon, typically they will publicly say salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  With their desire to be more mainstream and accepted, they may initially sound biblical.  Yet, looking into the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and reading the Articles of Faith reveal a very different picture of what the requirements are for eternal salvation in heaven in the Mormon Church versus what the Bible portrays.

Obedience To Laws And Ordinances

The 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.”

So only by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the “Gospel” we may be saved through the atonement of Christ.  By the “Gospel,” they mean the Doctrine and Covenants because neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon contain the long laundry list of the laws and ordinances of the Mormon Church.

The Lord says in Doctrine and Covenants 64:13-14, “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.”

But the Bible says: 

Galatians 5:4 “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

Galatians 2:16 “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

Galatians 2:21 “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

Romans 3:20-22 “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…”

Romans 6:14 “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”

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!

Remember, we are no longer under the old covenant of the law, but are now under the New Covenant of grace Christ instituted with His shed blood on the cross (Hebrews 8-10).

Mormonism demands strict obedience to the laws, ordinances, commandments and covenants set forth by the church.  Doctrine and Covenants 42:78 states, "And again, every person who belongeth to this church of Christ, shall observe to keep all the commandments and covenants of the church."

Mormon Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “To enter the celestial and obtain exaltation it is necessary that the whole law be kept” (The Way to Perfection, p. 206).

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated, "My message is that God’s universal and perfect love is shown in all the blessings of His gospel plan, including the fact that His choicest blessings are reserved for those who obey His laws...God’s choicest blessings are clearly contingent upon obedience to God’s laws and commandments. The key teaching is from modern revelation: 'There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—'And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated' (D&C 130:20–21)" ("Love and Law," Ensign, November 2009).

Doctrine and Covenants 98:8 states, "I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free." This verse copies the popular John 8:32, 36 verses, which are about Jesus setting us free by his grace removing the bondage of the law from our shoulders. Joseph Smith removes Jesus' grace by adding that the law also makes you free. The Bible with absolute clarity demonstrates that we are set free (from the bondage of the law) when we trust completely in Jesus' work on our behalf and not in our own law abiding abilities. Why on earth would it make sense to be set free from the law only to add it back as a requirement?

The LDS teach obedience to their church, its leaders, and the laws and commandments they set forth are one of many requirements to becoming righteous so God can bless you.  You cannot become exalted in the celestial kingdom of heaven without complete and absolute obedience.

However, the Bible plainly teaches our obedience and adherence to laws is not what makes us righteous.

Romans 5:19 "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

The obedience of Christ is what gives us our righteousness.  When we transfer our trust from our own works to the work Christ performed on our behalf, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ so when God sees us, He sees the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This does not mean we are not obedient, but the motivation for our obedience is selfless and purely out of love when we realize Christ did for us that which we could never do for ourselves.  This is why He was sent, because if there were laws which could be put in place we could obey to earn our righteousness, they would have been put in place (Galatians 3:21).

After All We Can Do

The Book of Mormon states in 2 Nephi 25:23 "…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."

Well how much is all we can do?  Does the Book of Mormon or Mormon Doctrine detail what we have to do to have the knowledge of eternal salvation.  The LDS Bible dictionary only sheds a little more light on how Mormons can avail grace:

"...grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts...grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient."  

Does the Book of Mormon clarify the general statements of "after all we can do" and "total effort"?  Moroni 10:32 says, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you…”

So Mormons have the grace of God only after they deny themselves of all ungodliness (meaning become Godly).  Is it even possible to deny yourself of all ungodliness?  Doesn't denying yourself of all ungodliness mean you do not commit sin (by keeping ALL commandments)?  That is an impossible command to fill.  1 John 1:8 tells us if we think we don’t have sin, we are being deceitful and there is no truth in us.  Can even the most faithful person love God with all their might, mind, and strength?

By sharp contrast, Romans 4:5 declares the ungodly are justified, “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”  This is reiterated throughout Romans 5 too.  God does not justify us because of our good works and moral effort, but in spite of them because we are all ungodly.  We all fall short (Romans 3:23) and God freely justifies through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24).

When I was a Mormon, I never pondered exactly how impossible the Mormon gospel message was in trying to avail the grace of Christ.  I always thought it was good enough if I did my best.  In fact, this is what most Mormons believe, you just have to do your best and hope Christ covers the rest.  It was oblivious that doing my best was never going to be good enough when you define what the god of Mormonism requires.

According to the Book of Mormon, God gives us no commandments we cannot keep (1 Nephi 3:7).  Matching and surpassing the Mosaic Law, Mormonism has no fewer than 613 laws which demand strict obedience.  Even the most faithful Mormons in the world will daily break some of these commandments which means you are not doing "all you can do," extending "total effort," or "denying yourself all ungodliness."

The Jews lived by strict adherence the law, which was their way of attempting to earn their eternal life.  When Jesus came, He taught a polar opposite message shattering the long held law-keeping tradition of the Jews which revealed the self-righteousness and pride that developed in their hearts from this method of self-justification through self-righteousness.  Even the disciples of Jesus did not completely understand or trust Jesus initially when He taught the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith alone.  In John 6:28, the disciples asked Jesus what works they were to do in order to "work the works of God."  Jesus responds in John 6:29: “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”

The Lord is always dividing people into two separate categories, those who believe and those who don’t believe.  He never divides them based on those who earn vs. those who don’t earn.  This is constant throughout the New Testament, especially in the book of John (i.e. John 3:18, 3:36, 5:24, 6:35, 12:44, 12:46).  The Lord does nothing but rebuke those who try to earn their salvation through the works of the law (i.e. the Pharisees in Matthew 7, 23 or in Romans 3, Galatians 2, 3).

Sinning Removes Forgiveness

Additionally, repentance of sin must be permanent in Mormonism or all your former sins return to you.

“Those who receive forgiveness and then repeat the sin are held accountable for their former sins” (Gospel Principles, 1997, p.253).

“The miracle of forgiveness is available to all of those who turn from their evil doings and return no more, because the Lord has said in a revelation to us in our day: ‘Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth [meaning again] shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God’ (D&C 82:7). Have that in mind, all of you who may be troubled with a burden of sin” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p.120. Brackets in original).

So one must be perfect and never commit former sins again to remain forgiven!?  How is this going to spiritually uplift me, knowing any sin I commit, all my former sins return to me?  To top it off, the Prophet Harold B. Lee wants me to keep this in mind as I struggle with the burden of sin!  We already know there is no one without sin (1 John 1:8).  The standard God requires is so infinitely greater than what humanity could ever bring to the table which is why a perfect substitute without sin had to be sacrificed in our place.  Jesus Christ took on our sins and gave us His perfect righteousness in the transaction on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Mormon Church leaders like to provide its members who may struggle with sin a book authored by former prophet Spencer W. Kimball called The Miracle of Forgiveness.  If you are a Mormon and have not read this book, it is quite expansive on the topic of forgiveness of sins and the laundry list of requirements in order to be forgiven.  Kimball states, "Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal"  (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 208-9).

Many Mormons and former Mormons who have read the book would prefer to coin it with the title “It’s a Miracle if you’re Forgiven” rather than by its real title.  The requirements one must follow make it impossible in order to remain forgiven.  Therefore, you always are shouldered with a huge burden of guilt, shame and fear, which lead to a mountain of works to attempt to earn and maintain a veneer of forgiveness.  Unfortunately, Mormons are taught to focus on washing their sin through self-righteousness to become "worthy" and not on the grace of God.  Mormons believe focusing on the grace of God will only minimize sin, but what it does is maximize grace because by the grace of God, all sin, no matter how great, is washed away (Romans 5).

Again, the Bible, by contrast, informs us in Jeremiah 31:34 and Micah 7:19 the Lord casts our sin into the depths of the sea and remembers it no more.  It is forever gone and we are forever in Christ when we transfer our trust to Him and away from ourselves.  This doesn't mean you will not sin, but it means God no longer chalks sin against your account.  It is for freedom that Christ has made us free from the Law (Galatians 5:1).  Freedom to love and serve God and each other selflessly because the debt has been paid. 

Enduring To The End

On top perfectly following all the laws and ordinances of the LDS church, they teach one must "endure to the end" if you want to avail the grace of Christ.  This means keeping your faith in the church, its leaders, Jesus, and continual absolute obedience to all the laws and ordinances of the church because if you don't, God won't bless you as much and you won't make it into higher levels of heaven.  What a huge burden that is self-centered and being driven by guilt and fear!  When the Bible refers to "enduring to the end," like in Matthew 24:13, it is talking about keeping your faith and trusting in the work Christ performed on our behalf (not in our own efforts and works), period.  Only this way can your motivation for obedience be pure, selfless and centered on Christ alone.  Only then can we show the depth of love Christ showed us and wants us to share with others.

Romans 8:35-39 states nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, nothing!  The Mormon leaders don't want you to trust in the words of Christ and his Apostles, but in their doctrines.  They want you to believe each sin committed returns all the former sins to bear on your shoulders separating you from the love of Christ.

Does this sound like a gospel of good news to anyone?  Is the yoke of Jesus easy and is His burden light according to the Mormon gospel?  Jesus promised rest for those who come to him (Matthew 11:28).  Is rest attempting to keep all the laws and ordinances of the Mormon Church and trying to be perfect?  Again, this does not mean we have a license to sin (Romans 6:1-2, 15; Galatians 5:13), but we trust and have faith in what Jesus finished on the cross for us.  Remember, if righteousness could come through the law (works and moral conformity), then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21).

Our works are filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6).  Jesus denounced those who attempted to combine works and grace in Matthew 7:22-23 “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

The Sermon on the Mount 

Mormons will also point to Matthew 5:48 to justify their striving to become perfect though their moral efforts and good deeds.  This verse reads, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is not the context of the verse and chapter when examined though.  Jesus clarifies what it will take to get into the kingdom of heaven if you desire your righteousness to be based on the law and not on grace through faith.  It requires a perfect obedience to the law and a more perfect righteousness than even the scribes and Pharisees had (also shown in James 2:10).  The bar has been set by Jesus as to what God’s holy standard requires for those who choose the way of the law rather than grace alone.  Jesus has established humanity is in need of a righteousness which is apart from the law (Romans 3:21-22). Paul informs us in Romans 8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus..."

Matthew 5 is the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus revealed even though you may keep the letter of the law, your heart is the big problem.  Until you can fix the heart problem, your works will never be selfless and pure because they are being done to earn salvation; they glorify you and not God.  When you use the law in the correct manner, it will convict you by exposing you of your sin showing your desperate need of a Savior (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:24).  You will realize you are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1,5) and nothing can make you alive but transferring your trust to Jesus' shed blood alone.  Understanding the only way for us to be reconciled to God while we are still sinners is by the shed blood of Jesus (apart from anything we can do) brings deep humility.  Our hearts will begin to be transformed and our motivations will shift to glorify God in all we do because of the free gift of eternal life we have received.  Only the works which pour out from a transformed heart with selfless motivations will be pleasing to God.

Public Evidence of Faith

Other Bible scripture examples Mormons may use to support their belief salvation is based on works plus the grace of Christ are John 5:28-29 and 2 Corinthians 5:10.

John 5:28-29 states, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul states something very similar when he writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

It can be understandable why if you read these verses in a vacuum you would think our own effort plays some role in gaining eternal life or eternal damnation. This of course would need to be read in context though to see if there is more to these statements by Jesus and Paul because if not, then Jesus contradicts Himself and Paul five verses earlier in John 5:24 when He states, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” In John 6:28-29, Jesus demonstrates what works we are to do by stating the work of God is to believe on Jesus.

The gospel maintains throughout salvation is by grace though faith, which is evidenced or demonstrated by our works.  John Piper gave a sermon on this topic and this is the core message he conveyed (through the Solomon example): When we stand before Christ at the judgment the eternal destiny which awaits us will not be based on our works, but according to works (2 Corinthians 5:10) and our motivations for doing them. There is a world of difference in the definition between these two words. This is why we must contextually take the Bible seriously or we will risk building our faith on unbiblical doctrines which can have eternal consequences.

When we are judged, Christ will be looking for public evidence of our faith. The works we do will bear witness of whether we believed in the name of Jesus Christ and if our motivations for doing these works were selfless and purely out of love for Christ. This is why according to works is used in this verse and not based on works. If it were based on works then the works we do are a payment to God saying “look at what I have done now pay up with my eternal salvation God.” The motivations for works in this example are not done selflessly and purely out of the love for Christ who redeemed us, but selfishly to earn the favor of God. You see when you read scriptures in context you will find there are no contradictions in the Bible. If the Mormon doctrine on salvation were true, then the gospel would be full of irreconcilable contradictions and would mean Christianity is a fraud.

The gospel provides a great example of judgment according to works and not based on works. Remember the story of Solomon and the two harlots who both claimed to be the mother of the baby in 1 Kings 3:16-28? The two women looked to Solomon as the judge to decide who the real mother of the baby was. Solomon’s response it to get sword, cut the baby in half so they can each get half of the baby. One of the women steps forward and says, no, do not cut the baby in half; give the baby to the other lady so the baby can live. Solomon then declares his judgment this is the true mother and to give her the baby. Now did the deed or work the true mother showed by telling Solomon not to kill the baby earn her the baby? Did Solomon tell the true mother, ok you have paid so now I will pay you? This is not what was being revealed in this story. What Solomon wanted was some real evidence as to who the real mother of the baby was. He wanted public evidence of a mother’s heart.

Just as Solomon judged based on the public evidence of the mother’s heart, Jesus will judge us in this same manner. He will be looking for public evidence of the faith in our hearts demonstrated by our works. The evidence of our faith which will be judged by God is not like a payment to him in attempt to earn eternal life. Again, God is not judging based on our works but according to our works as they are the outward manifestation of our faith. God is looking within our hearts to see if we have the heart of a child and that our motivations are selfless. The life we lead will be bearing witness as to whether we truly believe in our heart Jesus Christ alone is our Savior and redeemer.

What do you put your faith in to have eternal life? Is it in Jesus resurrecting you from the grave plus extending your best effort in hopes of qualifying for eternal life? Or is it by grace alone through the promise of faith believing in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross which transfers His perfect performance record to you so God sees you sinless and spot-free?  


The gospel promises in 1 John 5:13 that this was written so those who believe in Jesus will know with certainty they have eternal salvation.  If it were even partially based on your own performance, then you could never know for certainty you can have the gift of eternal salvation.  Grace is constantly described in the Bible as a free unmerited gift (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:24, 5:15-19; John 4:10; Acts 8:20).  A gift cannot be earned, nor can it be taken away.  This is why the gospel constantly talks about being free in liberty, peace and grace in Christ and out of the yoke and curse of the law (Galatians 3:10-13, 5:1; Romans 7:5-6; Acts 13:38-39, 15:10).  You cannot have true liberty and peace with the law.  Grace and the law are mutually exclusive methods of a relationship with the Lord.  Romans 11:6 says "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."

The relationship of faith and grace is the same as works and law.  Grace and law are the fundamental doctrines, while faith and works are the vehicles we use in pursuit of those doctrines for a relationship with God.  A Christian’s fundamental doctrine of salvation is centered on the grace of God.  The Christian’s faith, his trusting love, is the vehicle used in pursuit of their relationship with God.  A Mormon’s fundamental doctrine of salvation is centered on works, laws and self-effort.  The Mormon’s works are the vehicle used in pursuit of their relationship with God.

When we sin, we are breaking trust with God.  A relationship of trusting love is the heart of the plan of redemption and not obedience to laws and ordinances.  This is the essence of faith - a trusting love of God and His promise of grace through faith.  If our relationship with God is centered on obedience to laws and ordinances, God does not have our love and our hearts and His plan is rejected.