Last Update: 5/2015
In response to a news article titled "What's wrong with the world?" G.K. Chesterson succinctly responded, "Dear Sir, I am."
The Nature of Sin
There is a great chasm in the nature of sin and its effect on humanity in Christianity vs. Mormonism. Christianity, through the Bible, reveals a clear doctrine of “total depravity” or “moral inability.” This means as a result of the fall of Adam, everything about humanity—our flesh, emotions, thoughts, actions and will are corrupted by sin. We are born into sin (Psalm 51:5) and are sinners by nature (Matthew 7:17-18).
Whereas the Bible teaches we all inherit sin through Adam (Romans 5:12, 19), Mormonism teaches:
"We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression." (2nd Article of Faith)
In fact, Mormonism teaches the fall of Adam was a blessing, whereas this Bible shows it was the worst possible thing to happen in the history of humanity!
Because of our fallen state, no one is righteous or without sin (Romans 3:12, 5:12) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We are spiritually dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1-5) and dead people can’t help themselves; we need a Savior. Scripture clearly reveals we sin because we are sinners; we are not sinners because we sin.
Our works are nothing but filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6) because they are all tainted by sin. Even when we believe our righteous works are for God, deep down our underlying motives prove we are really doing them for ourselves in attempt to earn God’s favor. This is blatantly evident in organizations that use religion (personal righteousness, morality and works) as a means to merit or be worthy of eternal life in heaven.
If you were to ask most people, “What is sin?” they would probably reply with something like “being immoral” or “breaking the law.” While these actions are sin, they are probably far from the most common sin. You see, sin isn’t so much doing bad things as it is the over desire for good things. When you take good things and make them ultimate things, things you need to be happy in life—this is sin. When we seek to fulfill our desires, happiness and love from something other than God, it will eventually enslave, control and fail us. If the object of our worship is not Jesus and Jesus alone, we will be enslaved and controlled by that which we worship.
Original Sin of Idolatry
The original sin of humanity was idolatry. In fact, idolatry is at the root of all sin. Many people would associate idolatry with bowing down and worshiping a statue / false god. Though true, the vast majority of idolatry is the worship of the things we desire most to have happiness and joy in life.
Worship occurs when we deem that thing so important it fuels our behavior, emotions and heart; we give more weight to that thing than God. All religious and irreligious people have idols because we all worship something. For us, it might be religion, money, the approval of others, a nice house, a new car or family. For Adam and Eve, it was the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they ate the apple from the tree, they disobeyed God. The first thing to happen to them was they realized they were naked. But they were naked before so what happened? JD Greear explains:
“…prior to their sin Adam and Eve had been ‘clothed’ in the love and acceptance of God, so their nakedness did not bother them. Now having stripped themselves of God’s love and acceptance, they were left with a sense of exposure, fear, guilt and shame.
So what did Adam and Eve do about that sense of nakedness? The same thing any of us would do if we feel naked—they looked for something to put on! … They made themselves ‘coverings of fig leaves’ and hid from God. Their coverings made them feel more acceptable. We have all been on the same quest ever since. We try to cover the shame of our nakedness by establishing our worthiness in some way” (Greear, Gospel, p. 29).
This might be done by trying to be more religious, righteous and obedient, or by trying to be better parents, own a nicer home or make more money. We look to other things to make us feel more acceptable than what God has clearly demonstrated to us in the Bible as acceptable.
Did God approve of the fig leaf coverings made by Adam and Eve? No, the fig leaves were rejected. Just like God rejects Adam and Eve’s attempt to clothe their nakedness and shame through their own works, God will reject our attempts to cover our nakedness and shame with our works of personal righteousness and worthiness.
God sacrificed an animal and covered Adam and Eve with its skin. Why? Remember, the Bible informs us there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). David Guzik1 explains how this event is a type or foreshadow of Jesus Christ:
“Adam and Eve were clothed in a garment that was purchased with the life of another. We are clothed with a garment of righteousness that was purchased with the life of another, Jesus Christ.”
All the way back to the beginning of Genesis, God is showing us our attempts to clothe ourselves with our own righteousness will be rejected. We need to be clothed in a righteousness far greater than what any human is capable of doing for themselves - the righteousness of Christ. Guzik1 continues:
“There are only two religions; there is the religion of fig leaves and there is the religion of God's perfect provision through Jesus.”
This is what religion is really good at - keeping you busy with a list of "do’s and don’ts" for God in hopes to cover your shame and nakedness with your own righteousness attempting to restore the broken relationship with God. But all these things are really good for is gaining the approval of other people, which fuels the sin of pride and righteousness in your fleshly hearts.
The law can tell you what to do out of duty or obligation - do not lie, steal, etc., but the law cannot give you the power to obey from the heart - to obey because it genuinely desires obedience. Greear continues:
“What religion is unable to do, God does for us in the gospel. The gospel shows me a God who is better than the approval of others and a God more valuable than their praise. The gospel shows me that God’s presence and approval are the greatest treasure in the universe. The gospel reveals God’s mercy towards me, and that makes me more merciful with others—not because I have to be so to gain God’s acceptance, but because I am so overwhelmed by his mercy that I can’t help but extend that to others” (Ibid., p. 39-40).
Justified Apart from the Law
Without the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to our account (2 Corinthians 5:21), we have no hope as we fall far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Here we see the entire purpose of the Gospel unveiled in Romans 3:21, from all the Old Testament stories, people and places pointing us to Christ, to the New Testament which testifies of Christ and what he has done to sin. In this verse, God is revealing Christ was sent because we could never do enough to help save ourselves ( also Galatians 3:21). It would take a righteousness that far exceeds human abilities - a righteousness apart from the law, even a righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all who believe.
Do you see the simple truth here? We are not justified even in part by our works, morals or anything other than trusting in Christ and his finished work on our behalf alone (Romans 11:6). This is why just before Jesus died on the cross he declared, “It is finished.” The work is complete and reconciliation is once again available apart from the law. Christ came to forever set us free from the yoke and bondage of the Law (Galatians 3:10-13, 5:1), not to enslave us further with more laws! When you add any requirements to salvation other than trusting in Christ, the Gospel becomes null and void because it shifts glory and praise from Christ to humanity.
This is really bad news for humanity who, by nature, wants to at least share in some of the glory. We want to show God we can be righteous people showing good works, obedience and morality to assist in our salvation. This is clearly not the biblical Gospel and will only lead to death.
Mormonism teaches we are saved by grace after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23). Christianity teaches we are saved by grace completely based on all Jesus did on our behalf. Mormonism teaches we cannot be saved in our sins (Alma 11:37). However, Christianity teaches we all are saved in our sins (Romans 5:6, 8). Mormonism teaches you to try and be perfect because Jesus and God are perfect and are great examples for us in how to live our lives (misuse the context of Matthew 5:48). However, the Bible captivates us with overwhelming grace so we may extend this same grace to others through selfless acts of love. JD Greear summarizes:
“In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less” (Greear, Gospel, p. 40).
Since I was taught through my worthiness and morality I could control my eternal destination, I never thought I was a bad person as long as I was doing more good than bad. When you don’t think you’re a bad person, inevitably you don’t feel the need for a true Savior in a full sense. I was changing my behaviors and actions by trying my best to obey the law, but my heart remained unchanged as I did not comprehend the depths of my sin and what Jesus had accomplished for me by grace through faith. This is why grace is seldom used in Mormonism. Grace is the unmerited favor of God; it’s completely free and unearned.
To understand this you have to understand the definition of salvation in Mormonism. Whereas in Christianity, salvation means trusting in Christ's work for us alone forever secures our identity in Christ and a guaranteed spot in heaven as a child of God, the definition in Mormonism means being resurrected, period. That is all Jesus' death pays for. Judgment and eternal destination will based on your personal righteousness, and if you are good enough, Jesus may cover the rest. There is a popular scripture in the Book of Mormon that says we are saved by grace after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23). The Jesus of Christianity overcomes physical and spiritual death guaranteeing heaven (does all the work on our behalf), whereas the Jesus of Mormonism only overcomes physical death guaranteeing a resurrection (does some of the work required). The very definition of this shows humanity would share in the glory, which is completely unbiblical and absent real grace.
The Promptings of the Spirit
As a Mormon, my sin was a constant reminder that if I wanted God’s favor and blessings, I would have to earn it through my worthiness and morality in order to re-balance the scales so my good outweighed my bad. The weight of sin was a massive burden in that each time I sinned, all my former sin would come back to me as the Jesus I believed in taught (Doctrine and Covenants 82:7). The Jesus of Mormonism was more a burden-bringer than a burden-bearer as the Bible teaches. I was so busy trying to always perform and look like the perfect Mormon, my pride veiled the prison and bondage of my beliefs.
I always just trusted in my leaders, my feelings and the Spirit. I had no idea Satan duplicates the feeling of the Holy Spirit to deceive us. How did I come to know the different promptings between the two? As JD Greear succinctly puts it:
“Satan starts with what you did and tears down who you are. The Holy Spirit starts with what Christ has declared over you and helps you rebuild what you did.
Satan beats us down with our failures. Jesus calls us up into our identity. Jesus starts with the perfect state he has purchased for us by His death and uses the power of His resurrection to bring us into conformity with it.
Each day Jesus says to us, ‘You are my beloved child. I am well pleased in you. Now live that way’” (Greear, Gospel, p. 52).
Too many Mormons live with this same heavy burden of constantly listening to and being torn down by the wrong spirit. Additionally, they worry about their sin and losing the presence of the Holy Spirit. Mormonism teaches each time you sin, the Holy Spirit leaves you because it cannot dwell in unholy temples (Helaman 4:24). However, the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit is with us forever once we have received it never to depart even with sin (John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13-14).
Mormonism and the Law
I was doing my best to obey God’s law, the Ten Commandments, as a way of earning God’s favor. It only makes sense that by being obedient to God and the Commandments that you would receive his blessings and be righteous, right? I mean, this is exactly what I and every other Mormon was taught and was striving for in everything we did.
This is also what the Jewish religious leaders (Pharisees and scribes) taught in the 1st century. But what did Jesus teach in Matthew 5-7 with the Sermon on the Mount? He was teaching that the law goes deeper than our actions; it plumbs the depths of our heart and the motivations driving it. Jesus wasn’t giving the sermon to tell us to follow the laws or else, he was showing us the proper understanding and application of the law - the spirit of the law.
The law is meant to expose the depths of our sin, not to be followed as a tool to remove our sin (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:24). The law was given to show what godly people look like, not to be used as a measuring stick to try harder to be more godly, but to reveal how eternally far off we miss the mark. The law convicts us guilty and points us to our only hope - Christ. So when Jesus teaches the law says thou shall not murder, but anyone who looks at another with hatred has already committed murder in his heart, he is showing us no human can possibly keep this law.
So what is Jesus really teaching? He is pointing out our grave state in that we are way more sinful than we could possibly imagine though He also shows us we are more loved than we can possibly imagine too. In fact, we are “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1, 5) meaning there is nothing we can possibly do about it. This is where our human nature rejects the Gospel of grace due to the self-righteousness and pride within our hearts because we all think we need to do something to earn God’s grace.
So through the Law, Jesus does not only expose our terrible state in sin, he is pointing us to Himself. Jesus fulfilled the law for us, and by doing so, earned the grace of God for us and he gives us his perfect righteousness as a free gift (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Tim Keller perfectly described how I was taught regarding the law:
"Every other philosophy and every other religion in the world essentially looks at life like the scales of justice. ...you're on
one side of the scale. And on the other side is the law of God. It says, 'Put God first. Love everyone. Obey the Golden Rule.' And the law of God is stacked against you dragging down the scale. You then have to spend the rest of your life desperately piling good works and merit and a disciplined life on your side of the scale to offset the weight of the law of God. In other words, the law is set up against you, and you had better live a good life or else it's going to outweigh you and be your doom. The law of God is constantly pointing you to condemnation, and you must offset or neutralize it.
But guess what. If Jesus is your Advocate, the law of God is now completely for you. It's on your side of the scale. When you put your faith in Jesus, when you say from the heart, 'Father, accept me because of what Jesus did,' then Jesus' work on the cross is transferred to your account. Now the law of God demands your acquittal. That is why John calls Jesus our Advocate, he also calls him 'the Righteous One.' This phrase suggests that when God looks at you, if you are a Christian, he sees you "in Christ." In yourself, alone on your side of the scale, you are a sinner; but in him you are perfect, just, beautiful, righteous" (Tim Keller, Encounters with Jesus, p. 140).
There is no sin that is bad enough which Jesus' shed blood did not pay for on the cross if you will only transfer your trust from your own worthiness to the worthiness of Jesus Christ. Because of sin, we all deserve hell. But because God loves us so much he sent Jesus to die on a cross, taking the punishment we deserve so we can have what we don’t deserve - His perfect robe of righteousness. What an overwhelming display of love and grace; and the best part—it’s 100% a free gift received by faith.
1 Guzik, D. (7 Jul, 2006). Text Commentaries: David Guzik (Blue Letter Bible: Genesis). Retrieved from:
THE CROSS UNVEILED