A Higher Law

In a comment on another post, Garth stated

Christ RAISED the bar for Christians, not lowered it. Christ said that now it wasn’t only murder–but even being angry was a sin. Not only was it adultery–but even lusting in your heart was a sin. Not only was it being circumcised in the flesh–but being circumcised of the heart which Christ would now require. Christ’s law emphasized what you DO–how you act–what you think–how you live–who you minister unto.

and in another comment stated:

I’m just trying to respond, from the LDS perspective, to your comment about “if St. paul were alive today he might request that the Book of Galatians be directed at the Mormons…” Frankly, I’ve always felt that he’d be directing it to the evangelicals with a little rebuke–that he was only talking about giving up the law of Moses. Not the higher law of Christ.

This is not the first time that I’ve heard a Mormon refer to the Sermon on the Mount and suggest that Jesus was instituting an new, “higher” law than the law of Moses.

I’ve always felt this argument to be a significant misreading of Matthew 5.

. . . For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

. . . “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

I think first off, anyone who heard Jesus speaking knew the reputation of the Pharisees as rigid keepers of the law. When he stated that a person’s adherence to the law would have to surpass the Pharisees’ it would have caused almost everyone to lose hope. They would have thought it would have been impossible to surpass the Pharisess’ “righteousness”. It simply could not have been done.

When Jesus informed people that holding anger and lust in their hearts was the same as murder and adultery. He was not raising the bar with a “higher” law. Instead he was pointing at the defiecency in the law. Anger and lust were not suddenly new found sins because Jesus declared them to be, rather they had always been sins that had always been seperating man from God and from one another. One could hold to all the outward rules of the law and still develop a corrupt heart. Mere adherence to the law was insufficient at transforming the individual. Jesus didn’t raise the bar. The bar had always been higher than what adherence to the law could meet.

When later in the sermon he told his followers to clean the inside of the cup, he was not giving a new law. Rather, he was instructing us to give up the law and focus on our hearts, and by doing so we would become people who could surpass even the Pharisees’ righteousness.

My thinking on these passages was significantly deepened by Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy”. I maintain that it is a must read for all serious followers of Jesus. He states that our legalistic bent encourages us to fall for the “Gospel of Sin Management.” we become convinced that the law makes us righteous, when in fact we live in an upside down world where law can only condemn us and only grace can save us.

He states:

And here also lies the fundamental mistake of the scribe and the Pharisse. They focus on the actions that the law requires and make elaborate specifications of exactly what those actions are and of the manner in which they are to be done. They also generate immense social pressure to force conformity of action to the law as they intepret it. they are intensely self-conscious about doing the right thing and about being thought to have done the right thing.

But the inner dimensions of their personality, their heart and character, are left to remain contrary to what God has required. That heart will, of course, ultimately triumph over their conscious intentions and arrangements, and will in fact do what they know to be wrong. (Matt. 12:34). And their need to appear righteous “before men” (Luke 15:15) then forces them into hypocrisy. Hypocricy becomes the spirit, or “yeast,” that pervades and colors their entire existence (Luke 12:1).

I think Mormons are attracted to this idea of “more” law for a number of reasons. First the LDS church attempts to practice some form of “Old Testament Christianity”. So a Messianic Law to compliment the Mosais Law makes sense in this context. Additionally legalism is tempting because it appears safe. It’s less messy to control what people eat, drink and wear than it is to allow people to let their actions reflect their heart. It’s much safer emotionally for all of us to focus on our exteriors than to dive into a desires and cause them to conform to Jesus.

I think Derek Webb nicely sums up the idea and why it fails in his song “A New Law”

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About Tim

Evangelical Christian living in Southern California. I live with my wife and whatever foster children happen to be in our home at this moment. I love photography, baseball, movies and I'm fascinated by Mormonism.

217 thoughts on “A Higher Law

  1. I’m sure I’ll have more to say later, but just a couple quick points and a question.

    Tim said:

    When Jesus informed people that holding anger and lust in their hearts was the same as murder and adultery, he was not raising the bar with a “higher” law. Instead he was pointing at the deficiency in the law. Anger and lust were not suddenly newfound sins because Jesus declared them to be, rather they had always been sins that had always been separating man from God and from one another. One could hold to all the outward rules of the law and still develop a corrupt heart. Mere adherence to the law was insufficient at transforming the individual. Jesus didn’t raise the bar. The bar had always been higher than what adherence to the law could meet.

    LDS teaching does not disagree with this. It is consistently taught in the Church that the higher law has always existed, and that the lower Mosaic law was a temporary substitute. So that while it may be said that Jesus “raised the bar,” he was only putting back to where it was in the first place.

    That said, I don’t disagree with this:

    Additionally legalism is tempting because it appears safe. It’s less messy to control what people eat, drink and wear than it is to allow people to let their actions reflect their heart. It’s much safer emotionally for all of us to focus on our exteriors than to dive into a desires and cause them to conform to Jesus.

    In fact, I agree that this is a huge problem in the LDS church, although probably not a bigger problem than it was in the corner of evangelicalism I grew up in.

    I have a question for you, Tim: What are some institutional things you see some evangelical churches doing to avoid legalism? Is there anything we can learn from you?

  2. Hi Anarchist.

    I think Eric has a wise question for Tim. Although legalism is also a problem in charismatic circles, we teach that the alternative to legalism to learning to recognize the voice of the Spirit and walking in the Spirit.

    When I have stressed this in the past, Tim has often told me I’m off balance, which is has been a sign to me that he has a problem with legalism himself. That’s why I think Eric’s question is very appropriate. . . . Will Tim try to wiggle his way out of this corner with a sly comment, or will he humbly face up to his weakness?

  3. I was reading the online preview of the book Tim mentioned and came across the following:

    The really good news for humanity is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life. The eternal life that begins with confidence in Jesus is a life in his present kingdom, now on earth and available to all. So the message of and about him is specifically a gospel for our life now, not just for dying. It is about living now as his apprentice in kingdom living, not just as a consumer of his merits. Our future, however far we look, is a natural extension of the faith by which we live now and the life in which we now participate.

    Love it!

  4. Even in theologies that CLAIM to have no legalism – people usually find a way to introduce it.

    Such as the way the Christian Right (largely composed of conservative “grace-only” Protestants) manages to smuggle in the ritualized mouthings of conservative orthodoxy into questions of fitness for salvation.

    And for all their talk of “grace-only” and “Jesus-saves”, it’s been repeatedly made clear that a lot of Evangelicals are very-much expecting some sort of performance from me as a condition to salvation – without which, all the red blood of Christ in Gethsemane won’t do me a lick of good.

    I’ve lost a lot of patience for this talk of what Mormons are doing and what Mormons have wrong with them.

    It is my fervent and full belief that Evangelicals are every-last-bit as grace-obsessed as Mormons are.

    They just like their “works” in different flavors than Mormons do, that’s all.

  5. Err… that should have read Evangelicals are just as “works-obsessed” as Mormons are. But I guess either way works.

  6. Textually, I think Mormons are on solid ground. In practice, I think since the time the law was given, we’ve all fallen short.

    2 nephite 25:
    24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
    25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
    26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
    27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.
    See also:
    Jacob 4:5
    2 nephi 11:4
    Alma25:15-16
    Alma34:13-14
    Ether12:11
    And others

  7. As St. Paul says, the Law which was carved in stone (The 10 Commandments) is “the ministry of death”.

    There is no life in it. The law says ‘do’…and it is NEVER done. Not perfectly and not ALL the time as the law requires. There are NO points for a ‘good effort’. Jesus said that we “must be perfect…” and He means just that. And that ain’t gonna happen because it’s much too late. Our innocence is gone.

    What we do to keep us off of legalism is to preach that law…and preach it hard. So that it exposes everyone, preacher included. At the end of a good sermon, NO ONE is left standing. All have been cut off at the knees by the law…except Jesus. We are exposed. We are slain by that Word of Law. There is no where to turn…but to Jesus…the Savior.

    Traditions that try and use the law to make people ‘better’, water it down and make it ‘manageable’. That is pouring gasoline on the fire. God is not trying to make you better…He is trying to kill you off to the notion that you are doing alright. That you have any bit of righteousness by what what you are doing or what you have done.

    And then the gospel is announced. The forgiveness of sins for the ungodly, the ones who Jesus came for (“the healthy do not need a Physician”)…and we are raised with Him, yet once again.

    And this happens over and over and over and over again. Because the entire life of the Christian (as Luther said in his very 1st of the 95 Theses) is one of repentance.

    That is the Law/Gospel paradigm that we derive from Scripture and that is what we see happening in the Sermon on the Mount.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share this with you.

  8. All the above comments are quite good.

    Eric, I figured the intentions behind your comments were gentler than my application of them. Sorry I painted you as a corner-er. :-)

    Your good question for Tim was, “What are some institutional things you see some evangelical churches doing to avoid legalism? Is there anything we can learn from you?”

    To discourage legalism, charismatic evangelicals generally do what Paul did in Galatians when he encouraged them to “live by the Spirit” (5:16). I think Mormons can learn from that. If they will put the voice of the Spirit above the rules of their church, they will recognize that some of the rules are not of God and they will see that they don’t have to be so afraid of non-Mormon Christians. In fact, they will hear the call of God telling them to attempt to build bridges between us.
    If I can brag about my Mormon friend at GraceforGrace.com , this is what he is trying to do.

  9. Tim,

    When later in the sermon he told his followers to clean the inside of the cup, he was not giving a new law. Rather, he was instructing us to give up the law and focus on our hearts, and by doing so we would become people who could surpass even the Pharisees’ righteousness.

    Mormons would reply that this “focus on the heart” was the “new law”. Instead of burnt offerings the “new” sacrifice was a “broken heart and contrite spirit.”

    (“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:6–7).)

    Regarding the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Are you saying that Jesus was not advocating that people endeavor to follow what he said? Was it simply a rhetorical device to get people to give up their own efforts – rather than God’s – because they will never be good enough?

  10. Mormons would reply that this “focus on the heart” was the “new law.” Instead of burnt offerings the “new” law was a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

    I agree that this strain of Mormonism exists and is my preferred interpretation, but I think it is far from prevalent. I think most of us are excessively rule-happy, to our enslavement. I say this coming off Primary Program Sunday where the Entire. Damn. Thing. was “choose the right” this and “choose the right” that. Made me want to punch a Sunbeam.

    Steve, I dislike the idea that “the law condemns” because I don’t agree that The Point of the gospel is getting right with some abstract, free-floating idea of justice. The law does not condemn, because God isn’t up there with a ledger counting our individual trespasses and holding them against us. The law is love. Learning to obey the law of love is salvific. Being saved is not insurance against some abstract standard that is impossible to meet; it is soul transformation and revitalization, so that we when we see God, we will see Him as He is, for we will be like Him and in Him.

    Tim, I really liked this post. It made me grumpy because it brought to the forefront many of my frustrations (forgive me for my surlier-than-usual comment as a result), but I liked it.

  11. And why shouldn’t the program have been about making right choices?

    What’s wrong with telling kids to make right choices?

  12. “Was it simply a rhetorical device to get people to give up their own efforts – rather than God’s – because they will never be good enough?”

    For righteousness, yes.

    Our efforts are good and we ought make them, all the time for our sakes and the sake of the neighbor.

    But for righteousness sake, they get us nothing and can even make things worse (the Galatian letter).

  13. I’ve not been bothered by encouraging people, even youngsters, to “choose the right.” I’m sure Katie will have a good explanation for her reaction, but to me the problem occurs when making certain choices becomes an end in itself. Maybe that’s what was happening here.

    In any case, what’s rubbing me the wrong way today is an article I read yesterday in this month’s New Era magazine. It was an article about a teen girl who withstood peer pressure to remove her jacket at a dress, thereby exposing her sleeveless dress (I don’t make this stuff up). I’m not criticizing the girl’s decision; what I am criticizing is that the article in on the verge of reducing the Gospel to keeping our arms covered. Jesus said that others would know we are his followers by the way we love one another, but this article encourages the idea that others will know we are his followers by whether we follow arbitrary standards of dress. This whole modesty thing — and, to be clear, I believe the principle of modesty is both right and scriptural — has become an example in the Church of rulemaking run amok. I find it a serious distortion of what the gospel is about.

    And that’s the end of my rant for the day.

  14. I think asking a single New Era or Ensign article to cover the entire span and full detail of Jesus’ Gospel in a half-page article covering an inspiring anecdote is asking a bit much Eric.

  15. Great discussion on this topic. I appreciate the observations from all sides of the issue. A thought about how general Church leaders are helping leaders in Mormon congregations understand better that laws, ordinances & commandments (rules, if you’d like) are only there to help us become better people. The emphasis is on who we are becoming. They are teaching us that it is important to understand the doctrine first before we can understand the principles and actions behind the doctrine. A couple of examples (based on comments above):

    1- Doctrine: Those who love Christ keep His commandments (“If you love me, keep my commandments”); Principle & Action: Choose the Right.
    2- Doctrine: Our bodies should be the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor 6:19); Principles: Modesty, Chastity; Action: Always wear modest clothing.

    It is true that we often focus on the principles & actions instead of on the doctrine that motivate them. Thus, the recent emphasis in the Church on understanding and teaching doctrine, especially for those of us who serve in callings where we associate a lot with the youth. And, thus, a new book by one of the apostles, David A. Bednar, _Act in Doctrine_.

  16. I don’t have a problem with talking about making good choices, but my problem with the way it is generally presented (and was yesterday) is two-fold.

    First, “making good choices” is (and was yesterday) equated with “following the rules.” That’s not what I believe making good choices is about. Making good choices is about learning to listen to the Spirit and weigh the moral principles at play in a given situation to mindfully select one. It’s about taking responsibility for oneself as a moral agent. It’s about learning to be independent and gracious with others, who are also independent and thus will often make different choices. These are important things to begin to teach even young children. But yesterday it was, “When I obey the rules, God is happy.” “God wants me to obey the rules.” And so on. And I’m sorry, but at least half of our rules are a bunch of Pharasaical baloney (shirtsleeve length, anyone?). As Tim said in his post, it’s less messy to control everything. It’s also contrary to the gospel of Christ.

    Second, as Eric rightly guessed, “making good choices” (i.e. “following the rules”) is (and was yesterday) equated with the end game of the gospel. And while yes, a transformed heart results in good choices naturally, focusing on the choices while neglecting the heart produces hypocrisy, legalism, pride, judgment, guilt, shame, dishonesty, low self-esteem, and unrighteous dominion.

    This is an extremely serious spiritual problem. I get that “everyone does it” from a variety of traditions across the Christian landscape. I also understand that there are grace-filled, spiritually-transformative ways of approaching Mormonism that are beautiful and spectacular. These facts don’t make me any less concerned to see these harmful teachings and strains of thought in my church, which I happen to love. It’s probably because I moved back to Utah in May, but I’ve been seeing more and more of this lately, and it’s disconcerting.

  17. David C., rules don’t help people become better. DOCTRINES don’t even help people become better.

    The transforming power of the Jesus Christ helps people become better.

    There are but two great commandments. The sooner we let go of the rest, the better off we’ll be.

  18. Also, Seth, while an inspirational article doesn’t have to explain the entire gospel of Christ in half a page, it sure as heck doesn’t have to stomp all over the gospel until all that remains is wilted, lifeless rag.

    How about an inspirational anecdote about a girl who avoided peer pressure to tease a kid who doesn’t speak English, or even cheat on an exam? There are a million inspirational anecdotes we could tell about real things instead of made-up shirtsleeve craziness.

    DUDES. I’m fired up today!!!

  19. Katie L, agree with your comments, especially that we can only become better through Christ. Teaching doctrine is also important, as evidenced by Christ’s ministry. And, as you so rightly point out, learning to love as God loves is what this life is all about.

  20. We’re never going to learn to love as Christ loved, because we are tainted with ‘self’.

    I have never met a pure motive yet.

    We certainly ought do all we can for our neighbor (are we now? will we ever?) but much more than that, we ought trust in what the Lord has done for us, the ungodly and undeserving, and speak to that fact when and where we can. That is job #1.

  21. David C., don’t agree with my comments while disagreeing with them. We don’t get anywhere in the conversation because you’re deflecting my points by pretending to agree, while not absorbing or engaging anything I’ve actually said.

    Say, “Katie L., while I agree with some of what you’re saying, I disagree that teaching doctrine doesn’t help people become better. It seems to me that in Christ’s ministry, He taught doctrine clearly; thus, I don’t see how you can say that teaching doctrine isn’t transformative.”

    THEN we can have a conversation.

    Because what I’m saying is that what we call “doctrine” — a bunch of abstract concepts divorced from context to which we are supposed to give mental assent — is decidedly NOT what Jesus taught, and decidedly NOT transformative.

  22. hey Tim, my Mormon church preaches what you preach brotha. the raising of the bar, if you want to call it that, is focusing on the heart. Hugh Nibley perhaps agreed with you. I think he thought some things in the BYU honer code…dress code…were enforced improperly

  23. Since my comments generated the topic, may I agree–with a caveat–with most of what’s been said here. I only wish to add that I’ve never seen a real LDS conflict between grace and effort, i.e. sanctification and justification. Those who may think that justification necessarily equates to “legalism” are assuming you must throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s a false connection in the first place. Paul was rebuking the Judaizers in Galatians & Ephesians by emphasizing grace, but hardly dismissing the need for sanctification too. My most important comment to the heart of the point was actually: “In prior comments I’d hoped I’d expressed my view that our salvation with God is not based on how we pass/fail specific tests or commandments of life as if it’s a checklist or some quantitative, but rather do we allow those life tests to build our discipleship IN Christ. I have been arguing this whole time that God cares what we become in the aggregate, not the minutia of “check-list” commandments.” Otherwise summarized…Christ’s law emphasizes what we “become”. The law of Moses emphasizes how we “behave.” Tim is right that living ONLY for behavior does not necessarily lead to “becoming.” Christ’s law expects both, while emphasizing the motivation of “becoming”. Not obedience for the sake of obedience. The law of Moses used fear and obedience for motivation. The law of Christ used love and an outcome of choosing discipleship, for motivation.

    Therefore when Tim opines; “When Jesus informed people that holding anger and lust in their hearts was the same as murder and adultery. He was not raising the bar with a “higher” law. Instead he was pointing at the deficiency in the law.” Close,… but not quite, in my opinion. Actually, I think Christ was doing both. It’s not an either/or scenario. One can’t honestly claim discipleship while ignoring the path of the disciple. You can’t have the destination without the journey. So trying to divorce the two in some “meritless” concept of grace alone is just the pendulum swinging as far off center for some evangelicals, as the Jews swung it to the other. Yes, living the letter of the law without the spirit was falling short, but that does not mean you can pretend to live the spirit without living the letter either. That’s why his rebuke to the Pharisees about their paying tithes and offerings being insufficient alone, included his phrase “These things ought ye to have done and NOT to leave the others undone.” Mormon theology, in my opinion strikes the right balance of justification and sanctification,–mercy AND justice–which is one of the main reasons I remain Mormon. I do not find a grace alone message in the New Testament. Legalism is a separate issue. Faith and actions are simply different sides of the same “salvation” coin. Trying to divorce them is wrong. Christ DID raise the bar for his disciples in the context I’m discussing and Tim’s quote of Matt 5 sums it up better than anything I can say.

    Also, the B of M explains that this philosophy of “meritless salvation” would bastardize Christianity in the latter days; @ Ne 28: 8-9: “8. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. 9. Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts.” Granted, a mature Christian knows better, but one cannot deny that the logical extension of instantaneous salvation, eternal security, grace-alone, tent revival salvation, etc., is the risk of removing the need for man’s part in his own salvation equation.

  24. Garth: [Statement].
    [Any other person]: On the contrary, not-[Statement].
    Garth: I agree!

    This is not jsut hilariously Garth’s modus operandi, but other Mormons, especially Missionaries trying to build on common beliefs, do this all the time.

  25. God’s Law has two purposes;

    That we might live together in this world as best as sinners are able…and then to expose our unrighteousness and our great need for a Savior.

    When we (as most of the church does) get on a ladder climbing/spiritual improvement project, making ourselves “better” and “more acceptable” in the eyes of God, we will either becoming despairing of the whole thing, or we will actually delude ourselves into thinking we are doing alright, and we will become prideful. This is going on all over the place in churches of all stripes.

    Jesus is looking for the ‘good religious’ guy who is like the Pharisee in the Temple…but rather for the guy who does not dare lift his head to Him and who knows what a failure he is at keeping God’s Law the way it demands that we keep it (perfectly).

  26. I’ve learned a lot from this thread.

    When I kissed my 5 year old as she went off to kindergarten today, I refrained from telling her to be good today, and instead told her that she was a worthless sinner.

  27. You should tell her that she’s the most valuable thing in the universe. Not because of what she has done but simply because God LOVES her.

  28. Seth R told me:

    I think asking a single New Era or Ensign article to cover the entire span and full detail of Jesus’ Gospel in a half-page article covering an inspiring anecdote is asking a bit much

    I agree. But a half-page article could at least mention the principle at stake, and this one does not. It’s all about following an arbitrary rule. If this article had said something as minimal as “I didn’t uncover my arms because I didn’t want to present myself as a floozy,” that would have at least taught one of the principles of modesty and shown that the writer had internalized the principle behind the rule, and I would have given the article a pass.

    I just have a hard time as seeing this particular article as doing anything other than encouraging a legalistic approach. In some ways, I wish I didn’t see it that way, because I think the Church’s magazines usually do a good job, and I’m glad to have them in my home.

  29. Eric said

    I have a question for you, Tim: What are some institutional things you see some evangelical churches doing to avoid legalism? Is there anything we can learn from you?

    Very good question. First off, I think President Uchtdorf’s most recent conference talk was a good start.

    It strikes me that it’s not an institutional problem as much as a cultural and doctrinal one. Institutionally I think the church could stop prescribing specific rules like hem lengths, shirt colors, shoulder sleeves and beverage choices and rather teach principles of modesty and health. I think Bishops should have zero control over who takes the sacrament. This is legislating who has access to forgiveness and prevents people from experiencing the only source to freedom when they feel the need for it most. It also gives those who struggle with judgmentalism the opportunity to know who is “in” and who is “out”.

    I think the issue for the LDS church really is grounded in doctrine. As long as Mormons continue to persist that grace is only achieved AFTER all we can do, the problem will never be solved. Grace is the path to doing all we can do, not the prize.

  30. Seth said
    Even in theologies that CLAIM to have no legalism – people usually find a way to introduce it.

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s our twisted bent toward performance and fundamentally tied to idolatry and pride. We struggle to give credit to Jesus for what is rightfully his. We so desperately want the kudos.

  31. Katie, I like “fired-up Katie” she’s hysterical. Remind me to stay your good side.
    Kullervo, I noticed that too.

  32. “You should tell her that she’s the most valuable thing in the universe. Not because of what she has done but simply because God LOVES her.”

    Amen, Tim.

    Children AND adults should be reminded that God created them to be good.

    That none of us are good enough for righteousness sake does not negate that need.

    __

    But everyone ought be taught that nothing we do could ever save us, or condemn us…because of Christ Jesus.

    That’s the gospel.

  33. “You should tell her that she’s the most valuable thing in the universe. Not because of what she has done but simply because God LOVES her.”

    Is this better or worse: You should tell her that she’s the most valuable thing in the universe simply because God LOVES her.

  34. Law is a straightforward way to determine whether your actions are right or – at least- approved. Thus, Law – in principle – seems like a good thing. A higher law seems like a good way to provide a blueprint of a better way of being.

    The problem doesn’t seem to be law, but the tendency to see obedience to law as goodness itself, rather than a blueprint for goodness.

    Tim said: When Jesus informed people that holding anger and lust in their hearts was the same as murder and adultery.

    Was he saying this?

    It seems like he is simply saying “don’t judge or feel proud that you can keep the most simple of rules, when you don’t follow the principles behind them.”

  35. “It seems like he is simply saying “don’t judge or feel proud that you can keep the most simple of rules, when you don’t follow the principles behind them.”

    Yes, I think that is what Jesus is saying. None of us are able to keep the spirit of the law, because we are too tainted with ‘the self’. Jesus was selfless. We are not. Therefore there is absolutely no way we could ever be justified by ‘what we do’, or ‘what we don’t do’.

    We need grace and mercy and that is what Jesus, alone, provides for us who place our trust in Him, alone.

  36. Katie L- For some reason, I seem to have trouble writing on this forum without people thinking I have an ulterior motive or that I want to take the easy way out. I’m just writing from my own understanding, with no other reason that to express that understanding, so I apologize if it’s not clearly stated and that I have a thick head. :-)

    Perhaps in this particular case, we may be defining the term ‘doctrine’ differently. I was using the term doctrine as it is stated in the King James version of the Bible. For example, after Matthew completes his rendition of the Sermon on the Mount, he states in Matt. 7:

    28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:

    29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

    How does that fit with your understanding of the term?

  37. None of us are able to keep the spirit of the law, because we are too tainted with ‘the self’.

    This seems like a cop-out. I think some people can and do keep the spirit of the law. Whether this justifies anybody in not following the law itself is irrelevant.

  38. Jared,

    Do you, or does anyone you know keep the law and keep it perfectly?

    That is the standard of the Law and Jesus said as much in the Sermon on the Mount.

    It’s not a cop out, but a fact that none of us are up to it.

    That is the bad news. The Good News is that Jesus loves and died for sinners. Real sinners…the kind we know that we are.

  39. The fact that perfect compliance with the spirit of the law is impossible says nothing about whether it is good to endeavor to live according to that spirit.

    Whether Jesus loves all sinners and saves them despite their sin, again, is not relevant to what rules/standards we should live by.

  40. Of course it is good to try and live by the law. Of course! We want to do that. But we never look to the Law to make us better in any way concerning how God views us, or for our righteousness.

    “Christ is the end of the Law for all those who have faith.”

    That doesn’t mean that the Law is not good and that ought not live by it. We just put no confidence in it…only in the cross of Christ.

  41. Jared said

    It seems like he is simply saying “don’t judge or feel proud that you can keep the most simple of rules, when you don’t follow the principles behind them.”

    I can get behind that.

    I recognized while writing that bit that it’s problematic on a number of levels to say that anger and murder are the same thing and I don’t think what Jesus said was a simple as that. Just cutting to the point to get to a larger discussion.

  42. Garth

    I think it is a critical misreading of the Old Testament to say that fear is the motivation of the Old Testament. Spend some time in Psalm 119 and see what motivates the Psalmist to love the law. You seem to be creating a Marcion like dichotomy within God. I am also confused why a balance must be struck between justification and sanctification. Isn’t the God who justifies also the God who sanctifies? Justification and sanctification are distinct but inseparable.

    How do you merit grace? Honestly I have trouble understanding why obedience to the law of God (higher, lower, Moses or otherwise) must be based on merit. Shouldn’t the disciple delight in the law simply out of love and gratitude, without demanding that obedience merits anything? If the law reveals my need for a savior, doesn’t the same law show me what is pleasing to God? Isn’t gratitude sufficient motivation to make me long for the law?

  43. To say you have to merit grace means that you don’t believe in the word. A free gift simply cannot be earned.

    As Dallas Willard poignantly states. “Grace is opposed to earning, not effort.”

  44. The problem doesn’t seem to be law, but the tendency to see obedience to law as goodness itself, rather than a blueprint for goodness.

    I really like this, Jared.

    For some reason, I seem to have trouble writing on this forum without people thinking I have an ulterior motive or that I want to take the easy way out.

    David, I don’t think you have an ulterior motive or want to take the easy way out, and I do apologize for being kinda snappy. Like I said, I was fired up. It’s not my normal mode of communication.

    What I do think is that, as Mormons, we have a tendency to want to be liked and to “build common ground.” This causes us to gloss over important differences. In addition, as human beings, we have a tendency to deflect positions that challenge ours, and one very effective way to do that is to say, “There’s no difference between what I’m saying and what you’re saying!”…when, in fact, there are profound differences that carry important implications.

    It’s important to note…what you’re saying and what I’m saying are not the same thing. You’re saying that doctrines, principles, and actions help people become better. I say that Christ helps people become better. Doctrines, principles, and actions are useful only insofar as they help people tap into the bettering power of Christ. When they are taken as ends in and of themselves, they are idolatry.

    28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:

    29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

    I’m not entirely sure what this passage means. I once had a pastor of a local church where I took a class explain that this passage is related to the Jewish concept of smicha, or the right to teach under one’s own authority as opposed to under the cover of another rabbi or teacher. Chances are He had not been formally given smicha, and yet spoke as if He had it.

    I reiterate that I don’t know enough about the history to say for sure that that is the context, but what I was taught elsewhere. If you have some additional insight, I’d love to hear it!

  45. FWIW, almost every modern translation uses “teaching” instead of “doctrine” in Matthew 7:28.

  46. Gundek; “I think it is a critical misreading of the Old Testament to say that fear is the motivation of the Old Testament. Spend some time in Psalm 119 and see what motivates the Psalmist to love the law.”

    I was just generalizing and responding to the comments by others that the “legalism” of the law of Moses led to missing the spirit intended behind the law of Moses. I certainly agree that David’s plaintive cries of mercy, or Jeremiah’s fearless boldness before wicked priests and kings, were not motivated by fear. But, given the apostate devolution of the Jews at the time of Christ–who lived the law like lawyers, not disciples–the school master of the law had become only a platitude for lip service to many.

    And Kullervo–I actually DO agree, as I said, with much of the analysis preceding my one comment above, especially that which warned of the error of replacing grace with self-righteousness. I don’t think it’s fair to think I have to agree with everyone, before I can compliment the general trend of most who’ve expressed themselves honestly here. I really don’t see we’re that far apart since evangelicals and mormons actually come out near the same spot in the valley by taking different routes through the woods, as regards whether fruits reveal salvation or salvation reveals fruits. The net outcome is darn near identical. I also appreciate the devout “grace alone” promoters like Steve Martin here, though probably we would differ courteously on our path to a similar conclusion. If that makes me overly solicitous to not offend, so be it.

  47. Katie L – OK, I get it that doctrines do not help make people better. If I could write it again, I would put it this way: “doctrines help people realize that they should become better.” I assume that is why Christ taught the people and why we refer to his teachings (doctrines) today. When we begin to become better, it is through the grace of Christ–the only way we can become clean again. There is no other way. Is that the way you understand it?

    As far as verse 29 goes, you’ve got my curiosity up. I’m going to have to look into that one.

    Eric – Thanks for the info on ‘teachings’ and ‘doctrine’ in that particular verse. I agree that all teachings aren’t doctrine, but wouldn’t all the teachings of Christ be considered His doctrine?

  48. Thank you, Garth, I appreciate your passion for your beliefs, as well.

    I have to say that the (traditional) Lutheran position is much different than about 95% of Evangelical churches.

    We feel that a even a little bit of the law (for betterment, or righteousness sake) is tantamount to a drop of ink in the sparkling pure glass of water.

    That is why we doggedly stick to our guns on grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

    Thanks for the opportunity to air our beliefs in this forum. The folks here are quite gracious and the kind of people that I’d like to hang out with.

  49. My daughter is precious because she has inherent worth, and not just because God loves her.

  50. David C — I don’t want to get sidetracked on the matter here, but often the term “doctrine” is used to refer to a propositional statement that summarizes various kinds of teachings. Jesus usually didn’t teach doctrine directly (although there is some of that in the Sermon on the Mount), instead preferring to use stories (and his own actions) from which we derive doctrine. So there are both broad and narrow definitions of the term (as with many words).

    Back to the main topic and what Tim said:

    I think the issue for the LDS church really is grounded in doctrine. As long as Mormons continue to persist that grace is only achieved AFTER all we can do, the problem will never be solved. Grace is the path to doing all we can do, not the prize.

    Well said, and I fully agree. Next time I give a talk in church, I’m going to find a way to use that last sentence of yours.

  51. Anytime someone announces the grace of God for sinners, totally apart from anything that we do, or say, or feel, or think…they’ve got guts.

    Because the world is in love with self-progression religion. And that just flies in the face of the cross.

  52. Getting around 2 Nephi 25:23 is easy. There are ways to interpret it that don’t necessarily demand that it be read as it has been read traditionally, but even if Nephi meant it exactly the way it sounds, dude was wrong.

    Problem solved. ;)

  53. All of the ways I’ve heard “Grace Mormons” get around 2 Nephi 25:23 makes me fear they’ll use the same methodology on all of scripture and just brush the entire Bible aside. Textual analysis like that without the benefit of reading it in Reformed Egyptian is just kind of weird.

    Personally, I think the best way around it is to acknowledge Nephi never existed.

  54. Katie, you’re hinting at one of my great frustrations with the BoM. Even from a faithful Mormon perspective, we really don’t know exactly what we’re looking at. The context is almost all assumptions and blank filling. I’m always surprised that, contrary to Mormon teaching, we very often use the Bible to interpret how we understand the BoM.

  55. Personally, I think the best way around it is to acknowledge Nephi never existed.

    OH SNAP. That was funny. Made me laugh. :)

    All of the ways I’ve heard “Grace Mormons” get around 2 Nephi 25:23 makes me fear they’ll use the same methodology on all of scripture and just brush the entire Bible aside.

    In seriousness, you don’t have to brush all of scripture aside because you decide that one of the writers was wrong on a certain point, against the context of the rest of the body of scripture and one’s personal experiences with God. I’m comfortable with reliable, but errant, scripture. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.

  56. With reference to grace being the path, not the prize, I suppose this quote from Stephen Robinson’s book, _Believing Christ_, has been used here before:

    “I understand the preposition ‘after’ in 2 Nephi 25:23 to be a preposition of separation rather than a preposition of time. It denotes logical separateness rather than temporal sequence. We are saved by grace ‘apart from all we can do,’ or ‘all we can do notwithstanding,’ or even ‘regardless of all we can do.’ Another acceptable paraphrase of the sense of the verse might read, ‘We are still saved by grace, after all is said and done'”.

  57. Katie, you’re hinting at one of my great frustrations with the BoM. Even from a faithful Mormon perspective, we really don’t know exactly what we’re looking at. The context is almost all assumptions and blank filling. I’m always surprised that, contrary to Mormon teaching, we very often use the Bible to interpret how we understand the BoM.

    That’s true, Christian. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. The Bible is my favorite book of scripture by far (especially the gospels), but I do enjoy the Book of Mormon. I had some of my very first experiences with Christ through the Book of Mormon. But yes. That’s a good point.

  58. I like this quote when trying to ascertain if Scripture is worthy or not:

    “All upright sacred books agree on one thing, that they all collectively preach and promote Christ.
    Likewise, the true criterion for criticizing all books is to see whether they promote Christ or not, since all scripture manifests Christ. Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter and Paul should teach it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod should do it!” (LW 35:396)

  59. without actual reference to Reformed Egyptian, Robinson’s interpretation is gobbledygook. He might as well say “I’m going to make words mean what they don’t mean in order to get the passage to say the opposite of what it says”.

    I REALLY like the destination Robinson is aiming for, but his textual analysis is mind boggling. I don’t think it’s fair to the passage, to pre-existing Mormon thought, or to the English language.

  60. For the average Mormon, a BYU professor doesn’t trump a roughly 50-year-strong interpretation of a particular scripture from the LDS General Conference pulpit. Yet neo-orthodox Mormons sing:

    “We thank thee oh God for BYU professors to correct the errors of modern prophets and apostles.”

    While shouting:

    “A Standard Works, a Standard Works, we have a Standard Works and we need no other…”

  61. @ David C.: Mormon Brad V. Brase makes the same point as Stephen Robinson in Brad’s book “Why Would Anyone Join the Mormon Church?” Brad says,

    “Latter-day Saints do believe that man is saved by grace, for were it not for the atonement of Jesus Christ all of an individual’s good works and righteous deeds would be of no worth to he that performed them. Man is powerless to save himself, which is why an ancient prophet wrote, ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23) [Brad italicized "after all we can do"]. In other words, even after we repent of our sins and obey God’s commandments, it is still God’s grace that saves us from death and sin. . . .”

    That seems like a different twist than is given 2 Nephi 25:23 by non-Mormon critics!

  62. Cal, I’m afraid that OUR OWN LEADERS have made some of the strongest and least grace-filled commentary on this passage over the years.

    I wish that weren’t true. But it is.

  63. “…after all we can do”?

    That’s not grace. Real grace is a totally free gift…for the UNDESERVING. For the “ungodly”, as the Bible says.

    True grace is given ‘in spite of all we can do’.

  64. I REALLY like the destination Robinson is aiming for, but his textual analysis is mind boggling. I don’t think it’s fair to the passage, to pre-existing Mormon thought, or to the English language.

    Tim, I’ll be the first to admit that the BoM is flimsy in a lot of ways because of the mystery concerning the books origins. But, that also means that the criteria for interpreting it is pretty wide open. How can you judge what’s fair to the passage? Robinson seems to be drawing an initial conclusion and looking at the verse differently because of it. That initial conclusion being that – of course Mormons believe that God’s grace is accessible throughout this life – not just at judgment.

  65. How can you judge what’s fair to the passage?

    I can’t judge what’s fair because I can’t read Reformed Egyptian. Neither can Robinson and neither could Joseph Smith (by his own admission).

    If Nephi was speaking English, then as an English speaker I think the passage is pretty clear. If I’ve got it wrong that means either Nephi, Moroni, Joseph Smith, Robinson or the Holy Ghost has a very poor command of the language.

    If Mormons want to ignore the text I’m HAPPY for it. But I can give them a much better way to do it than this.

  66. I tend to agree with Tim. The English text does not really support Robinson’s reading. But I don’t think Mormons should have a problem with what Nephi said.

  67. Mormon: “faith without works is dead”
    EV: you have to understand that verse in the larger context of scripture

    EV: “we are saved by grace after all we can do”
    Mormon: you have to understand that verse in the larger context of scripture
    EV: You don’t get to do that.

  68. I’m not doing that. I absolutely agree that “Faith without works is dead”. I quite earnestly insist that Ephesians 2:8-9 MUST be read with verse 10.

    A more comparable example would be:
    Mormon:Faith without works is dead.
    EV: When James says faith without works is dead, we have to understand that there are two separate clauses there; “faith without” means that faith is the only thing upon we can rest. “Works is dead” clearly means that we should expect no action in the believers life because Jesus has made works dead.

    If you see an Evangelical making that argument, please let me know so I can gracefully mock them.

  69. Am I wrong to expect some punctuation between two clauses? Was Luther reading it wrong too?

    IMHO, its clear that Protestants interpret the Bible through the lens of Paul. I’m actually more ok with this than you might think. But, why interpret 2 Nephi 25:23 on an island? If it reads how you say it does, (that grace is inaccessible to humans until judgment) then clearly the BoM contradicts the verse throughout. The rest of Mormon scripture, teaching and practice seem to also fly in the face of it. (who would repent? who would partake of the sacrament each week?) If Mormonism is an OT style of Christianity, then this reading of Nephi is even more extreme than that (since God’s grace is found throughout the OT).

  70. I disagree with Tim and Jared. I believe that in context, the sentence supports Robinson’s reading, and the verse shouldn’t be considered in isolation. The section of scripture is about who saves us, not when we are saved. I don’t think it’s doing the verse an injustice or torturing the language to paraphrase it something like this: After everything we can do, it isn’t our following the law that saves us, but the grace given to us through Christ. To me, it’s actually quite clear that’s what is meant.

    I also agree with Katie, unfortunately, that church leaders (as well as curriculum) have often interpreted the verse differently. I’ll say it flatly: In doing so, they were mistaken.

  71. Tim; I think you’re not giving a fair hearing to Robinson when you state about his discussion of 2 Nephi 25:23…”If Nephi was speaking English, then as an English speaker I think the passage is pretty clear. If I’ve got it wrong that means either Nephi, Moroni, Joseph Smith, Robinson or the Holy Ghost has a very poor command of the language. If you believe in context, as you’ve said in the past, then you may reconsider your rigid interpretation of “after all we can do” being only viewable as a “sequential” statement. Robinson’s commentary is actually totally consistent since the all verses after 23 are a warning to the Nephites NOT to rely on the law of Moses to save them. Nephi tells them that the law is dead. He tells them the law is only a foreshadow. He tells them that Christ saves, not the law of Moses or self-piety. Frankly, Robinson’s interpretation is the only in-context way to view it.

    24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

    25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.

    26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

    27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.

    28 And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law.

    29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

    30 And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.

    Context. Context. Context.

    This is the B of M version of Eph 8, or Gal 2, in which Paul also reminded the Saints of his day that the law of Moses (obedience alone) cannot save. If you accept Paul as emphasizing Grace, why do you insist Robinson can’t point out that Nephi is doing the same thing? It’s frankly pretty darn clear. Robinson is correct IMO, nor is he the first to point this out. He’s just the best published to point it out. “After” (read inspite of) all we can do, yet we are not saved without Christ’s grace. Pretending Robinson can’t read the context (which is virtually indisputable) seems a bit obstinate of you to pretend he’s making this up out of whole cloth. The only valid aspect of your criticism is that you are correct that others in the church–even Gen’l Authorities– have interpreted “sequentially”, without the context. Oops. Guess they are humans too. They erred IMO. Robinson got it right. It’s not “twisting” some new interpretation, but simply the normal process of good scholarship, deeper reflection, and contextual analysis. When evangelicals do it, they call it scholarly exegesis, which is a natural, evolving process of scripture study. When an LDS does it, it ought to be called the same.

  72. kullervo, Exactly. I was intentionally distorting it in the manner I think some distort 2 nephi. It would be absurd to read the passage that way.

  73. After I typed the verses above to prove the context, I see Eric was making the same point. Eric is spot on. It’s okay to say even gen’l authorities are allowed to miss deeper meanings in verses.

  74. A few observations on Bro. Robinson’s reading of 2 Nephi 25:23.

    First, there was no punctuation in the original copy of the Book of Mormon translation.

    Next, a question: How different is the understanding of that verse based on 19th Century English? I don’t know the answer, but the current dictionary might give us a clue with definitions of ‘after’. One is, of course, ‘later in time’. Another is:
    – below in rank or excellence; nearest to: Milton is usually placed after Shakespeare among English poets.

    Finally, personally, I don’t see how his reading contradicts the messages of the modern-day prophets. Yes, the prophets emphasize emulating Christ’s life as much as possible (works), but, here is one of the passages in President Ezra Taft Benson’s remarks in which he referred extensively to the above verse:

    “Let our actions be Christlike so that by our diligence and with God’s grace we may add to our character faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, and diligence.”

    It seems to me he is saying that without Grace, we cannot become better–without Grace, we will not be able to gain the character traits mentioned.

  75. BTW, I realized that after I read my reference to the alternate definition of after, it wasn’t really a good example. My point was that there *are* alternate definitions, especially if we consider 19th Century English.

  76. Can someone please show me another sentence in which the word “after” is used in a way that means “in spite of”? I am not aware of any such use, but I’m all ears.

    Just as punctuation is needed to make two clauses out of the passage in James; there seems to be several words missing from 2 Nephi to make it mean “despite.”

    As I read chapter 25, it’s all about how they need to continue living the law of Moses despite it being dead.

  77. They obeyed because they were commanded to obey, and the Lord required it, because the law was not yet fulfilled. The text seems very clear on that. The same message is found in lots of places in the book of Mormon.

  78. dictionary.com
    af·ter   [af-ter, ahf-]
    preposition
    1.behind in place or position; following behind: men lining up one after the other.
    2.later in time than; in succession to; at the close of: Tell me after supper. Day after day he came to work late.
    3.subsequent to and in consequence of: After what has happened, I can never return.
    4.below in rank or excellence; nearest to: Milton is usually placed after Shakespeare among English poets. (THIS ONE)
    5.in imitation of or in imitation of the style of: to make something after a model; fashioned after Raphael.

    My example: “Yet after knowing he would have walked the world over to get her whatever she desired, she still rejected his proposal of marriage.”

    And yes, Nephi does tell them to continue to live the “dead” law of Moses, but not to live it as the end, but only the means to the real end–Jesus Christ. Which is the very point you began with when you claimed Christ was only pointing out “the deficiency in the law of Moses.” You made the point yourself. The key verse, to which Robinson perhaps is focusing which you are not is 27…”we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward UNTO THAT LIFE WHICH IS IN CHRIST, and know for what end the law was given.”

  79. Let me clarify better:

    They continued to obey, despite the deadness of the law, because they were commanded to obey, and the Lord required it, because the law was not yet fulfilled. The text seems very clear on that. The same message is found in lots of places in the book of Mormon.

  80. “Faith without works is dead.”

    Maybe so, But no one can delineate a “Christian work” (outside of proclaiming Christ).

    The pagan and the atheist and the Muslim and Hindu are all fully capable of doing all the works that Christians do. And they quite often do.

    So…”we walk by faith, and not by sight.”

    We trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in us, despite what we can see, or can’t see in ourselves.

  81. Here’s another great Lutherism (that drives the Catholics and Evangelicals nuts):

    “The good you do won’t save you, and the evil you do won’t condemn you.”

    (because of Christ)

  82. Katie said, “I’m afraid that OUR OWN LEADERS have made some of the strongest and least grace-filled commentary on this passage [2 Nephi 25:23] over the years.”

    I won’t doubt that.

    In any case, here’s a quote from page 77 in the official LDS book “True To the Faith”:

    “Our sins make us unclean and unfit to dwell in God’s presence, and we need His grace to purify and perfect us ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with Him. The Lord has commanded us to obey His gospel, which includes having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and enduring to the end.”

    In my mind, the “unclean and unfit” part of that quote take care of the “undeserved” part of the definition of grace.

    That “effort is required” is perfectly biblical. Just plug the word “effort” into any Bible search engine.

    My quote of “True To the Faith” goes on to specify some of the effort required. Except for being baptized, the requirements listed are entirely biblical, that is, they are all indispensable essentials for entering heaven. (How many heavens there are is another subject.)

  83. Garth, your example still uses the “subsequent to” definition.

    Can anyone use “after” to mean “separately” in a sentence as Robinson takes it to mean? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that use.

  84. I think the best someone could do with this passage is to say they misplaced the punctuation and offer this alternative.

    23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved.

    24 After all we can do, and, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

    This actually fits the context and doesn’t butcher the English language.

  85. But Moroni 10:32 still presents a problem.

    32 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, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

  86. Tim, I like your re-punctuation of 2 Ne 25. I think that would certainly clear up the confusing “sequential” error as if Christ must wait for us before he can start. But do not think that by making our works (sanctification) subordinate to Christ’s grace (justification) that it magically disappears all together. This just clears up the error of apparent subordination of Christ to us, as it’s actually the other way around.

    Therefore, though not literally sequential, as in AFTER I’ve done everything I can do, THEN Christ begins to apply the atonement–but we do still believe that both are required. (Steve’s quote of eternal security would not fit the LDS concept of free will.) So in that context, realizing that both J and S are different sides of the same salvation coin, I don’t think Moroni 10:32 is too troublesome? Not really. I realize you’re apparently focusing on the word “then”–again inferring a sequential quality. But I think this is just an unavoidable fact that human language is linear. I think it’s not trying to state a sequence, so much as just stating the two conditions (our part and Christ’s part) which must exist. Like mixing two chemicals to make a compound. It’s just saying that while we’re doing our part of sanctification (deny yourself of all ungodliness, love God) Christ does his part by perfecting us to the Father. “Then” the task is accomplished. I’m not sure how else the verse could be said.

  87. Tim asked:

    Can someone please show me another sentence in which the word “after” is used in a way that means “in spite of”? I am not aware of any such use, but I’m all ears.

    It happens frequently with the phrase “after all”: After all his studying, he flunked the test. She married him, after all she said. She still hates me after all I’ve done for her.

    As to Moroni 10:32, I agree with Garth that we’re not necessarily talking about something sequential. More than that, Moroni says it is by grace that we become perfect in Christ, and it seems a reasonable inference that it is that kind of perfection that would allow us to love God with all our might, mind and strength. I fail to see a shortage of grace in this verse.

  88. And if Moroni 10:32 is problematic, then James, which says that we’re justified by works, is more so. Context, context, context.

  89. That is why Luther had so much trouble with James. It contradicts the clear Word of the gospel in Paul.

    James can be a useful corrective for believers who may take for granted their faith, but it can also send people who do not totally understand justification by faith alone, back into themselves.

    James rains on the parade of grace, and that isn’t a good thing.

  90. Steve; Or James is not appreciated by those who choose to interpret Paul’s denouncement of the law of Moses, as a denouncement of the law of Christ. (To the LDS, this point alone underlines why we needed a restoration, not just a reformation.)

  91. I don’t know why Luther or Steve would dispute James.

    Faith in Christ is what saves us. James doesn’t discuss whether faith or works saves us. Rather he describes the difference between living faith and dead faith.

  92. Aaron, nice to see you coming out of long hiding just to make an overdone childish taunt.

    What do they sing at your church?

    “We thank thee oh God for John Caaaalvin”?

  93. Take the phrase:

    “It is by grace we are saved after all we can do.”

    This is not a clear statement.

    Simply where you put the voice inflection on the sentence changes the entire meaning.

    Which means that you have to look at this verse in context with the rest of Lehi’s speech on the Atonement, the words of King Benjamin, and all the rest if you want a clear meaning.

    If you do that – Robinson’s interpretation is actually pretty compelling. Certainly worth more than a dismissive – “well Spencer W. Kimball didn’t say that” from Evangelicals.

  94. I don’t know why Luther or Steve would dispute James.

    I don’t know why Steve would, but Luther had a reason for this. At the time of the Protestant Reformation the canon was being changed. The books that are now known as apocryphal/deuterocanonical were left out of Protestant Bibles at this time. Because the canon was being revised, the early reformers were open to other canonical changes as well. Luther did not think that James taught the gospel and kicked around the idea of leaving it out, though ultimately he left it in. Unrelated to this dispute, Luther also thought about leaving Revelation out as well, though he did leave it in.

  95. Tim, you said:
    ” Faith in Christ is what saves us. James doesn’t discuss whether faith or works saves us. Rather he describes the difference between living faith and dead faith.”

    What constitutes faith unto salvation in your view.

  96. What constitutes faith unto salvation in your view.

    I’m sorry I don’t speak Mormon. What does that mean?

  97. Ha!! Actually, you speak Mormon better than most Mormons.

    Faith unto salvation or faith that saves. You said that Faith in Christ is what saves us. Define faith, I guess is what I’m asking.

  98. Faith = active trust

    “Faith in Jesus” is believing that he’s the only one who has the power to save you from your sin and actively trusting that his plan for your life is better than your own (which means conforming your life to the Bible and promptings of the Holy Spirit).

  99. “Faith in Christ is what saves us. James doesn’t discuss whether faith or works saves us. Rather he describes the difference between living faith and dead faith.”

    So a sign of a “living faith” would be………good works??
    And a sign of a “dead faith” would be……….wickedness?

  100. yep.

    Evangelicals aren’t opposed to works or good fruit. Quite the contrary. Our objection to Mormonism is a horse and cart issue. We believe in the horse and the cart. But emphatically persists that the horse comes first. The grace of Jesus is the only thing that saves us. We do good works as evidence of our trust in him. Our good works are good, they just aren’t effective in saving us from our sins.

  101. The grace vs. works argument, I think, is better understood in the context of the Fall of Adam and Eve. To me, that is where the grace/works argument begins. Mormons and EVs have very different views with regards to The Fall and it directly correlates to our theologies, including why we are here… purpose of life…the plan of salvation. And though I think we define grace similarly, there’s no way considering our views on the purpose of life that we can ever entirely agree on how grace and works play into the plan of salvation.

  102. Jesus saves us, and restores us…in spite of what is seen.

    I’m not crazy about James because the focus, the onus, is on ‘you’. It’s not clear gospel.

    I’m not crazy about Leviticus, or Numbers, for the same reason.

    We don’t place the same value on each and every line of Scripture. Some are much more useful than others.

  103. How is that different from liberal Christians who are accused of picking and choosing passages from the Bible that support their interpretations of Christianity?

  104. We don’t throw out God’s Law (as the liberals do) and then the gospel always trumps the law.

    The Bible is God’s Word. That Word is infallible and inerrant (that Christ died for sinners).

    How do we know that we are sinners? God’s law exposes us. Then we need a Savior and Christ Jesus is that Savior.

    Liberals have a crummy doctrine of sin, and anything goes. And so many conservatives are legalists.

    The Law/Gospel paradigm keeps us off the progression/pride project and hands over the Savior that we need.

  105. Seth said, “What do they sing at your church? We thank thee oh God for John Caaaalvin”?

    LOL

    Tim said, “‘Faith in Jesus’ is believing that he’s the only one who has the power to save you from your sin and actively trusting that his plan for your life is better than your own (which means conforming your life to the Bible and promptings of the Holy Spirit).”

    I like it, I like it.

  106. So I will repeat my question: why is it acceptable for you to pick and choose which passages from the Bible to emphasize, and not okay for liberals to do the same?

    I understand why you pick and choose: you have a particular gospel message in mind, and you want to emphasize it and de-emphasize passages that conflict with or do not clearly support it.

    But that is exactly the same thing that liberals do. And you object because you think they pick and choose the wrong passages, i.e., the particular gospel message they have in mind as a guide for what they pick and choose is not the same gospel message as the one you have in mind as a guide for what you pick and choose.

    You claim that your gospel is Biblical and theirs is not, but in fact (by your own admission) you are just as guilty as they are of deciding a priori what the gospel is and reading (or ignoring) the Bible accordingly. So your objection to liberal cherry-picking is an exercise in begging the question.

  107. Kullervo, I agree. Liberals have the “social gospel” and disregard sin in order to emphasize it. Steve has the “Pauline gospel” and diminishes James in order to emphasize it.

    Suggesting that a Christian’s life should be different is not necessarily “law”. “Act in as if grace has changed your life” is hardly telling someone they have to perform to earn God’s favor.

  108. Tim, about the horse/cart – a mainstream Mormon argument could be made for Mormon baptism-as-horse. But I’m guessing you’ll tell me that getting dunked in water is a *work* – and saying a prayer to Jesus is not.

  109. Noting that everyone is picking and choosing is a rather worthless observation if you don’t drop the other shoe –

    Whose selection and arrangement of verses is more compelling, and why?

  110. Tim, I’m certainly not insisting that a Christian is necessarily obligated to give undeviating, equal and uncritical weight to each jot and tittle of the canonical Bible. Obviously the Bible is a deeply contextualized set of documents and should be read and understood as such. I’m not even saying that you can’t interpret the whole thing through a particular theological lens (which could even be derived from something other than or in addition to the text itself, e.g., tradition).

    It’s just that there is a word for condemning someone else for doing the same thing you do, and Jesus had some harsh things to say about it.

  111. Noting that everyone is picking and choosing is a rather worthless observation if you don’t drop the other shoe –

    Whose selection and arrangement of verses is more compelling, and why?

    I disagree that it is worthless for a number of reasons, but I do agree that your “other shoe” is the critical next step.

    Yes, we all have weaknesses and fallacies in our theological arguments–that’s the reality of seeing through a glass darkly–but ultimately the question is, what is True? And frankly, not all flawed theologies are equally flawed.

  112. Clearly Paul himself was picking and choosing. Jesus as well.

    Where does it say that all rhetorical descriptions of the mechanism of salvation should have the same weight or taken to be literally true?

    This is the heart of a big Mormon complaint against traditional Christianity. Where is the authority. I think the Mormon answer is too simple, and maybe a bit naive, but elegant and effective in a way. If there is such a thing as the Spirit of God that could provide light to every person, it seems like it should be the guide to deciding what matters most.

  113. Christian J said

    But I’m guessing you’ll tell me that getting dunked in water is a *work* – and saying a prayer to Jesus is not.

    I think both a prayer and a baptism are an outward sign of faith; as Kullervo pointed out, a sign shouldn’t be confused with faith. I don’t think that someone dunked in a soccer baptism is any more saved by it than I think someone who mimics the words of a sinner’s prayer is saved. The heart behind both is what actually saves.

    I you want to debate whether or not a “choice” is a “work”, I’m sure I’ll be bored but a number of hard-line Calvinist will entertain the discussion.

  114. I you want to debate whether or not a “choice” is a “work”, I’m sure I’ll be bored but a number of hard-line Calvinist will entertain the discussion.

    Hilarious.

  115. I don’t blame you for being bored about the debate over whether “choice” is a “work” or not Tim.

    But just realize that I view most of the current grace-vs-works debate as merely a long-winded extension of that debate. And I often feel equally bored with it these days.

  116. I agree with Seth, broken down, the Evangelical position on what causes salvation is nearly identical to the Mormon position- with a marginal difference in emphasis.

  117. I disagree, Jared. I think that the average Mormon’s idea of what a saved person’s life looks like is materially similar to the average Evangelical’s idea of what a saved person’s life looks like, but I think their respective ideas of how you get there and why are profoundly different, and I think each would tell you that the differences matter.

  118. It is clear that the differences may matter to them. But do they matter outside the narrow debate on how to describe the process of getting to the “saved” life? It seems the relative emphasis on grace vs. works is psychologically important, but it doesn’t seem practically important considering the guides to what is a good life are the same.

  119. Kullervo, I just think you’re adding a layer to what Jared said, and I agree. The Evangelical talks about salvation in terms of being restored to the same condition as they were prior to the fall, where a Mormons would say that the purpose of life is to progress well beyond where they were before the fall. Again it all begins with different theology regarding the Fall and whether it is by Divine design or not.

    An EV would probably object to a Mormon saying that through the grace of Christ they are working to become like Christ. By using the term “working” I think they are simply recognizing man’s agency, which God fully gave us, and that is all. We are yoked with Christ in this endeavor. So it is by God’s grace and Man’s agency that it gets done.

  120. Ask Katie if she thinks the traditional way Evangelicals describe grace and the traditional way Mormons describe grace has been anything but an argument over semantics in her life.

  121. An EV would probably object to a Mormon saying that through the grace of Christ they are working to become like Christ.

    ????
    I think that’s EXACTLY how and Evangelical would describe it. We would love to hear Mormons say that.

    Evangelicals would object to Mormons saying that through their works they hope to become like Christ so that they may obtain his grace.

  122. Mormons may have a more narrow view of what sort of life is an appropriate sign of your faith, Evangelicals have a more narrow view of how you define the object of a saving faith. But both trust in the same Savior, both acknowledge that faith without works is dead, and both believe in living righteously. And I think the argument about causal connection between righteous works and salvation is ultimately illusory. Any Divine component in salvation is going to completely outweigh the human component to the point that it seems nearly accidental. Ultimately I think how you view causality effects psychology of the believer, but in the big picture the spectrum of difference in how people view grace/works seems trivial.

  123. Tim, like Katie, a lot of people found a fresh outlook on life when they got into a different setting.

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the new setting had anything inherent in it that was actually fresh, or that the person couldn’t have also found in the old setting.

  124. Evangelicals would object to Mormons saying that through their works they hope to become like Christ so that they may obtain his grace.

    Just so its clear, Mormons believe in repenting for their sins – A LOT. And by *repenting*, I mean they say a prayer and ask for the work of Jesus to miraculously forgive them. That’s not “Grace Mormon” stuff, that’s a central teaching. Is this really a surprise for anyone?

  125. Also, to be clear, Mormons don’t believe that good works save you from hell. Good works and rewards from those works are worked into a plan of salvation that is wholly provided by the grace of God.

  126. Tampinha,

    It is an error to claim that evangelicals think of salvation as being restored to the same condition as they were prior to the fall. The promise of the new heaven and the new earth go well beyond the pre-fall creation.

  127. Sure they answer that question. It’s just that their answer to that question shifts the focus to sanctification and works.

    Grace alone is sufficient to save more people within the Mormon understanding than it is in the Evangelical understanding because of the Mormon belief in post-mortal attainment of saving faith in Jesus. A saving faith is all but assured (“every knee shall bow and every tongue confess”).

    To those who have faith in Jesus (i.e. both Mormons and Evangelicals), it seems like the focus is on how to attain sanctification and discipleship rather than salvation. The fact that one person believes that being a good disciple is a cause rather than an effect of salvation seems trivial if the mechanism to become a disciple is the same and both believe they are saved from punishment.

  128. “Grace alone is sufficient to save more people within the Mormon understanding …”

    Precisely, as basically universalists, I don’t quite understand why Mormons get worked up over works and merit to begin with. They are basically universality.

    It would seems that evangelicals are having a Roman Catholic Protestant debate with an entirely different religion.

  129. Kullervo,

    We pick parts of the Bible that emphasize God’s grace for sinners. We use good theology to get there. Faith is created (given) by the hearing of the gospel (Romans 1:16). Not by what ‘we do’.

    So while we still agree that they are still canonized Scripture, we don’t regard them as valuable as parts of the Bible that emphasize the gospel.

    That’s why we have a canon within the canon.

  130. Mormons generally don’t get worked up over it, especially lately. I think when Mormons do get “worked up” over the protestant doctrine they generally don’t have a good understanding of what it means.

  131. I would refer you to Garth’s “meritless” concept of grace alone, or any of the countless other threads on works and grace. But you are probably correct that most people don’t get the Protestant doctrines.

  132. About the OP – The background and intention of the author of ‘Matthew’ and his audience are pretty obvious contributors to the ‘higher law’ flavor of Jesus’ words in that part of the Bible IMHO. Can someone accept this sort of exegesis and still be considered an ‘Evangelical’? I hope so.

  133. We pick parts of the Bible that emphasize God’s grace for sinners.

    Why? Why those parts? What tells you that those are the parts of the bible that are the most important?

    We use good theology to get there.

    Where do you get that theology? From the Bible?

  134. Yes, we get that theology from the Bible. The Bible tells us and we have seen it in many many people, that the hearing of the gospel (Romans 1:16) creates faith in people.

    The law doesn’t do that. The grace of God does that.

  135. So, you are saying that you have derived a theology from the most important verses in the Bible, and based on that theology, you decide which are the most important verses in the Bible.

    That is begging the question.

  136. We derive the most important verses by the ones who tell us what we are (sinners), what we can do about it (nothing), what it means for us (being eternally lost), what God has done about it (sent Jesus who forgave us and died for us and was raised for us) and how it is that we can believe all of this, access it (through faith), given as a result of hearing the gospel.

    The Bible, without Jesus and His gospel, merely becomes a law book and is nothing new.

    Our theology is Christ centered. Even before there was a Bible (New Testament). The Word (Jesus) was around long before there was a Bible. The Bible was put together as a re-calibration of that preached Word, which had started to go off the rails with all sorts of heresies.

  137. I’m perhaps late to the party, but the Robinson interpretation of 2 Nephi 25:23 makes sense to me as a possible meaning of the English, i.e. After we have done everything we can possibly do, in the final analysis, it is still entirely by grace (and not by what we have done) that we are saved.

    The question of which of the two interpretations is most likely to cohere with the authorially intended meaning may depend somewhat on who we think is the author of 2 Nephi.

  138. Eric,

    Thanks for the post, that is classic.

    “Robinson’s reading has the obvious defect of working best when the actual text is changed.”

    That is the singe best line of exegetical evaluation I have read in a long time.

    Have you taken your study of “after” any further? Say the Webster’s 1828 edition?

  139. That was the first place I looked. Everything I know about the use of “after all” is in that post, but it’s a work in progress so we’ll what else I can find.

  140. Eric, that’s pithy, but it ignores the context of the rest of the Book of Mormon. Robinson’s reading works well in context of all the other sermons in the Book of Mormon. It’s only by isolating Nephi’s quote that the Evangelical critique works at all.

  141. I liked your analysis Eric, I posted a comment at your blog.

    Another way to look at it is conceptually is “after all we can do” = “our worship/faith/actions while on earth” i.e. our lives.

    Seen this way the relationship between grace and works is not contingent, only chronologically later. In all Christian traditions salvation comes after life.

  142. Also, read in context, the “after all we can do” passage is immediately followed by one averring that compliance with the Law of Moses is no longer required or effective for salvation.

    23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

    24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

    25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.

  143. Seth,

    I would be interested in your thoughts on J. Nelson-Seawright’s exhortation interpretation. I’m not a Book of Mormon scholar but his exhortation view seems to make the most sense to me.

  144. Do you mean “after life” as in, “you can’t be saved until you are born,” or as in “you can’t be saved until after you die”?

  145. No, i contend that salvation occurs during life. But yes there is a view that salvation was both accomplished and applied on the Cross, although the exact theological term for this belief slips my mind.

  146. Do you mean “after life” as in, “you can’t be saved until you are born,” or as in “you can’t be saved until after you die”?

    Maybe a bit of both. My point: Christianity teaches that salvation is logically and chronologically prior to events in life. I.e. you cannot be saved from sin until you have lived a sinful life, and you cannot be saved from death until after you die.

  147. “Justification from eternity” was the term I was looking for.

    With most Christians rejecting human preexistence it follows that life proceeds application of salvation but who teaches that salvation only comes after death?

  148. Maybe a bit of both. My point: Christianity teaches that salvation is logically and chronologically prior to events in life. I.e. you cannot be saved from sin until you have lived a sinful life, and you cannot be saved from death until after you die.

    But at the very least, the vast majority of historic Christianity teaches Original Sin.

  149. Agreed, So, in context of this discussion, my point was really to deflate the significance or uniqueness of 2 Nephi 25: 23. Most Christians believe that grace saves us “after all we can do”.

    The question is what can we do? Nephi clearly states that it is his “faith” that keeps him “alive in Christ” and that he has no hope in law. i.e. this passage is essentially identical to protestant theology.

  150. Seth R. said:

    Robinson’s reading works well in context of all the other sermons in the Book of Mormon. It’s only by isolating Nephi’s quote that the Evangelical critique works at all.

    Oh, I agree entirely. The pithy comment wasn’t mine.

    The problem, though, isn’t that the evangelical critique isn’t aimed solely at Nephi’s quote, but also the way it has been interpreted by the church culture and some church leaders.

  151. “When later in the sermon he told his followers to clean the inside of the cup, he was not giving a new law. Rather, he was instructing us to give up the law and focus on our hearts, and by doing so we would become people who could surpass even the Pharisees’ righteousness.”

    He was telling us to give up the law? That’s going beyond what the text states. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” …. that would conflict, unless he specifically said, “I command you to give up the law.”.
    So we must separate these things out…we cannot say that he meant for us to give up keeping the commandments, but if any laws were called into question, it would be the law that the Pharisees created for themselves. What do we lump with that batch of laws? Baptism for the remission of sins? I hope not…that’s a key point in the gospel of Christ.

    Who’s offering is ‘more’ pleasing…the man who tosses in a gold coin in the midst of wealth, or a poor widow who gives her last penny? Here, the poor widow is justified…is more righteous? I don’t know, but her heart was in the right place.
    The 10 commandments are not done away with…they’re still there, and God does not want us giving up on Loving him, through our obedience.

  152. Pingback: Does ‘after all we can do’ = ‘despite all we can do’? | Overcome with Good

  153. Pingback: The paradox of good works | Overcome with Good

  154. “So it is with the whole of the discourse. The new law of the Sermon on the Mount, in itself, can only produce despair. Strange indeed is the complacency with which modern men can say that the Golden Rule and the high ethical principles of Jesus are all that they need. In reality, if the requirements for entrance into the Kingdom of God are what Jesus declares them to be, we are all undone; we have not even attained to the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and how shall we attain to that righteousness of the heart which Jesus demands ? The Sermon on the Mount, rightly interpreted, then, makes man a seeker after some divine means of salvation by which entrance into the Kingdom can be obtained. Even Moses was too high for us; but before this higher law of Jesus who shall stand without being condemned? The Sermon on the Mount, like all the rest of the New Testament, really leads a man straight to the foot of the Cross.”The new law of the Sermon on the Mount, in itself, can only produce despair.”” – J. Gresham Machen

    Where do the Gospels support this view?

  155. It seems that Machen is trying reinstate the cross as the center of Christianity and that the Sermon on the Mount “correctly interpreted” merely pointed the way, It was a recipe for despair. But Jesus didn’t teach what Paul taught during the Sermon. Hence my question.

  156. Machen sounds to be saying the same thing Jesus said to the Rich young man, anyway isn’t it obvious that Jesus doesn’t teach what Paul does?

  157. I don’t think it should, “A disciple is not above his teacher”. The influence of the Sermon on the mount is unmistakable in Paul as is the influence of the cross. If we are comfortable with the law then really all we have achieved is the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?

  158. I am very suspect of discounting the golden rule. I think there is a valid narrative that says that God, through a mind like Paul’s was able to articulate the theological message of the Gospel, and that was not Jesus’ role. (Paul was the foil of John the Baptist). But I don’t think Jesus points to Paul. I think Paul points back to Jesus. And Jesus and Paul clearly were speaking a different sort of language. Jesus was not a Pharisee, he confounded them. Paul could convince them. What does this mean? I think it is one of a whole lot of questions that Christianity raises.

    I think what Machem is saying makes a lot of sense in this way: Without the “Cross”, the ultimate forgiveness of sins through grace, guilt will often crush the golden rule, something that takes amazing courage to follow. (1 Peter)

    “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John

    I think the Sermon on the Mount points to this sort of light, which doesn’t seem to be the same thing as the Cross.

  159. If we are comfortable with the law then really all we have achieved is the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?

    The Mormon in me things that Jesus was talking about something that was transcendent of the law.

  160. Transcendent of “the law” if you mean the Law of Moses, okay, but that’s not what Gundeck, Machen or I am talking about. We’re still talking about commandments that we don’t keep.

    How do you come to know your misery?

    The law of God tells me.

    What does God’s law require of us?

    Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22:37-40: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
    and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

    Can you live up to all this perfectly?

    No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.

  161. How is Paul the foil of John the Baptist?

    I’m not sure what transcends the law in Mormonism?

    I don’t think you can separate Machen’s book from the Presbyterian controversies of the early twentieth century.

    So you have Machen arguing explicitly against overturning the golden rule, or any of the NT ethics that his liberal contemporaries were fond of, by taking denying the authority of the divine declaration “but I say unto you…” found throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Two pages before the original quote Machen says “We have no mere prophet here, no humble exponent of the will of God; but a stupendous Person speaking in a manner which for any would be abominable and absurd. (Christianity and Liberalism pg 36)

    From Machen’s perspective the Sermon on the mount loses its authority to proclaim the ethic the Liberals wanted when they gave up the the divinity and authority of the proclamation and the Person proclaiming. .

  162. From Machen’s perspective the Sermon on the mount loses its authority to proclaim the ethic the Liberals wanted when they gave up the the divinity and authority of the proclamation and the Person proclaiming.

    From mine, endeavoring to apply the Sermon on the Mount to your life is the core of Christianity. Salvation seems cheap and easy, almost irrelevant. How Christians handle the “next step” is what defines it.

  163. The Sermon on the Mount is a picture of what we are not. And a picture of what Jesus is.

    The SoM exposes us. It’s not marching orders. It’s FAR too late for that.

    We need a Savior.

  164. “Yeah, that’s pretty much doing a good job of turning Christianity back into not-Christianity, Jared C. ”

    How so? If a believer in the sole and unique saving power of the Cross, accepting but not dwelling on the fact that her faith will save her, then puts the Sermon on the Mount at the center of her religion, they are now no longer practicing Christianity in some form?

  165. Isn’t the Sermon on the Mount cheap and easy, almost irrelevant if Christ isn’t the core of Christianity?

    It doesn’t seem to be cheap and easy under any circumstances.

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