Sunday, October 12, 2008

Justification, Works, Deeds and My Salvation

When I hear Shawn McCraney, Bill McKeever, James the screamer or a myriad of other critics talk about the LDS beliefs, either intentionally or otherwise, they get them wrong. I showed an ex-Mormon person I meet with weekly, to discuss LDS doctrine, notes from Shawn McCraney's show on the First Vision. I had added my responses and references, and he turned to an anti-Mormon fellow sitting there with us and said "Shawn should not claim to be an expert on Mormonism." Nearly every "fact" he asserted in his notes was documentably false. What makes one chuckle is McCraney's repeated assertions that Mormons never challenge his facts, they are just frustrated with his doctrinal analysis and Biblical expertise. Of course, that is it.

Not to pick on McCraney exclusively, it is precisely such assertions that make having a conversation with anti-Mormons and some brainwashed ex-Mormons about actual history and doctrine so difficult to carry out.

One problem is that there is no canonized dictionary of the definitions which often get drawn into the contention. So let's pick on what a few critical words mean.

I love the Evangelical argument that Ephesians 2:5, 8-9 that you are saved by Grace through faith. What does that mean? I fail to see the words confession there (Romans 10:9). I don't see believe in your heart. In fact, Ephesians 2:10 basically restates what Romans 5-8 teaches, that we are saved by Grace, but we are required to be obedient to Christ's teaching, thus we must "walk in [good works]". Grace is a gift which is not conditioned on any act of our own. Thus Romans 5:9-10 tells us that everyone was reconciled to God, through the death of Jesus, but "being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." The idea here is that we put on the life of Jesus by ceasing from sin and being obedient to the commandments of God.

If I read all the main "Born Again" or "Grace Only" verses, there is no commonality across all of them. In 1 Cor 15:1 Paul specifically says that he is declaring the Gospel. And what does he declare? That IF they remember that Jesus died according to the scriptures, was buried and rose we will be saved. Where is our faith? Where is confession? Where is the sinners prayer?

In Romans 10:9 Paul teaches that if we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth, we will be saved. He goes on in verse 16 to explain that belief and obedience are equivalent terms. Where is Grace? Where is the discussion of Jesus dying?

Justification means to make us right before God in a legal sense. We are declared "not guilty" of whatever we did. But Justification is not a pardon of future actions. It is not a blank check to sin. In fact, in Romans 5:18-21, which declares ALL people are made righteous in God's sight through the atonement of Christ, is immediately followed by the very specific teaching of Romans 6 that we must cease sinning, or we are condemned to death. He asks the question:
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Rom 6:15-17
It is hard to imagine a more "Mormon" passage anywhere in scripture, and there is stands in the middle of Romans.

Works are confused between the "Works of Moses" and just being obedient to Christ. Paul does not say we should not obey, he says the idea of "earning" heaven is impossible. You can never get God in debt to you (Mosiah 2:21-25). No matter what you do, God gives us more than we can give him, so there is no way to put him into debt to us and earn salvation.

Moreover, "Works of the Law" is a technical term, and saying "works" (Greek "ergon") in a context of salvation is short hand for works of the Law of Moses. Ergon is also perfectly good to be used in a context outside of the "works of the Law" of Moses, but context makes such usage clear, such as Romans 2:6, 7 ("deeds" and "doing"). Romans 3:27 uses the shorthand "of works" in reference to the Law, and Romans 4:2 is clearly referring back to works of the Law as cited just two verses earlier in Romans 3:31.

This is probably a good point to mention the cultural teaching style was to read the letters to the congregation in a continuous reading. Chapters and verses were not added to the scriptures for hundreds of years. We now routinely see people dividing thoughts into sub-thoughts as if they were detached from the context.

So for a Mormon, myself, I am confident of my Justification. I am equally convinced that I cannot earn salvation, but that I know that as long as I am acting in faith, I am saved. I still have my shortcomings, but that is why Christ asks only for my obedience, not my human perfection.


ammon said...

I have to say... you are my hero.

Tony said...

Those scriptures you provided? Pure gold!

Aaron said...

I think that you just summed up the whole point of the Gospel. We are servants of the righteous one (Jesus Christ) and not of the sinful one (Satan, who is eternally separated from our Heavenly Father). We needed a restored Gospel to renew our covenants to God and a restored Church that would be directed by our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.