Just Not Enough

A friend of mine posted this comment on another post and I felt saddened by it

. . .Being a Mormon, I felt i could never do enough to earn my way to heaven. It’s been over 30 years since I left the Mormon church but I know this sentiment still exists as my brother (a Mormon) said to me once ‘I know I’m not going to heaven, I haven’t done enough good things’. This broke my heart and allowed me to tell him about God’s grace and mercy. He’s still a Mormon, but I know he sees Christ in me, and I know he longs for that same peace (he’s told me this). . .

If an Evangelical had said the same thing to me as her brother I would assure him that he’s right, he hasn’t done enough good things. I’d then show him how Christ has done the work for him and that there is no work necessary for a free gift from God. If there are “good things” done by us they are done out of an expression of how this free gift has changed us.

I’m curious, if you’re a Mormon, what counsel you would provide a fellow Mormon if he felt the same way, that he hadn’t done enough to be in heaven? Does he have the right frame of mind, that he should be doing more or would you challenge his approach to the dilemma? How would you encourage him?

48 thoughts on “Just Not Enough

  1. I don’t think I’d say anything different.

    But I’d add something Tim – I’d encourage him to get involved losing himself in service.

    These self-centered and inward sorts of obsessions about “am I good enough” and “I’m no good” aren’t healthy.

    They tend to fall by the wayside when you involve yourself in other people’s problems, rather than obsessing about your own.

  2. My answer can be found in Katie L’s brilliant post and my comment to it: Some Thoughts on the Psalm of Nephi.

    The fact are that none of us have arrived at the point where we qualify for heaven (I assume the writer here is referring to the Celestial Kingdom), none of us could do so no longer how long we try, and that after everything we can do, it isn’t what we do that saves us, it’s the grace bestowed on us through an infinite atonement. The writer, sadly, has missed the good news of the Good News.

  3. I would say almost exactly what you would say, Tim. I’d teach him about grace within a Mormon construct, so that he would be open to the idea. I’d pray that God would touch his heart, since God’s the one that handles that sort of thing.

  4. it seems to me that if you get married in the temple for time and all eternity, you’re rather set and everything else is just living life. That is the only thing i can see as a requirement for the top tier in the celestial kingdom. as far as the rest of the celestial kingdom, it’s nobody’s business as to who gets in.

  5. Katie: very well written blog post.

    Eric: I would often tell interviewees a similar thing when I conducted TR interviews.

    Tim: I might challenge this person’s approach more. Alma presents a view that gets us thinking of judgment less as a place (heaven) and more toward thinking about it as restoration. Now if he was “doing good” just to gain eternal reward then that might not be all that “encouraging” for him….

    I might also add something along the lines that Seth mentions (and is very reminiscent of a story from Pres Hinckley when he was struggling as a new missionary).

  6. Most likely, this story posted by your friend is a lie. This is an evangelical paradigm of Mormons. In particular, it is an ex-Mormon paradigm of Mormons. Evangelicals are convinced that Mormons must be unhappy because we are all trapped in a cult of works and rites. However, the recent Pew Forum survey of Mormons shows that Mormons are an uncommonly happy people. Moreover, while I have known Mormons with spiritual concerns, I have never known, or even known of, a SINGLE Mormon concerned that he or she was not going to Heaven because his or her good works were not sufficient. Maybe that is because people with such concerns are all ex-Mormons. I would appreciate the name and phone number of your friend’s bother so that I could find out if there is anything at all to this story or if, as I suspect, it is a total fabrication.

    Evangelicals love to quote just 5 words from 2 Nephi 25, and then stop, because if one keeps reading just a bit, the evangelicals get backed into a corner whereby, in order to distinguish themselves from Mormons (with respect to salvation), they have to argue that it is irrelevant whether one is a serial killer or whatever.

    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.
    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.

    So, if a Mormon were to tell me of being concerned about going to Heaven because of the quality or quantity of his or her good works, I would tell them that they are off the rails, to stop selling themselves short, to do their best, to look at their lives in a reasonable manner for the inevitable areas that could use improvement, and that everything is going to be fine. Nobody is perfect and Heaven is not vacant. Have you seen the news coverage of the advice Bishop Mitt Romney gave to a brother who was struggling with substance abuse? Also, please ask your friend to spare us the bullshit about his broken heart. We know what you think and why. Have you ever read James Talmage The Great Apostasy (1st ed. Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1909)? If you look in Chapter IV, particularly Sections 7 and 8, and note 2, regarding the Judaistic persecution of the early Christians, you will see yourself.

  7. My standing joke as a missionary with other missionaries was that everyone was doomed to hell, you either didn’t have the truth which assured you were going to hell, or you were not living up to the light and knowledge you had. Of course it was a joke. It was funny because the church definitely fosters that sort of attitude, but it wasn’t serious because most Mormons figure out a way to feel ok about themselves regardless of their obvious shortcomings.

    I would point out that there is no real eternal hell and he is going to get precisely what he wants from God. My understanding of Mormonism is that God is waiting to give us everything we are willing to receive. If you keep seeking God’s face you will eventually see it.

  8. Murdock’s comment was a little rude, but it was also spot on. The first thing I thought of after reading this post was “highly doubtful and/or suspicious.” if any Mormon thinks that way, 1) he/she is in the extreme minority, and 2) he/she doesn’t understand much about Mormon belief.

    My opinion is that most (not all) Mormons who become disenchanted with the church do so because of sin-induced guilt. Guilt is not comfortable to live with, but guess what, it’s not meant to be. Guilt can be erased and replaced by joy through repentance.

  9. Chris, I’m a lifelong Mormon, returned missionary, married in the temple, etc. I used to feel exactly as the person in the OP described feeling.

    I found a way to work through it within Mormonism, and I remain a committed member of the church. But it’s just completely disrespectful to say that people don’t really feel that way, or if they do, their experiences don’t count because they’re “in the minority” or they “don’t understand Mormonism.” I’ve met lots of people who have felt like I did, and many others who continue to feel that way. (BTW, in my experience they are mostly women, though I’m sure many men feel similar pressure.) Anyway,your comment denies people’s experiences and mocks their pain.

    Not cool, dude.

  10. Chris, the problem with Mormon history, is that it can give a lot of people some VERY legit reasons to leave. Reasons that have NOTHING to do with sin. For example, if you were an African man and heard about the priesthood ban, coupled with offensive statements from a good number of our past leaders, would it not take a major event just to listen to the missionaries? Would God really condemn you for that?

    I choose to be a Mormon, but I understand people who do not.

  11. I was very careful not to suggest that the reported conversation was epidemic in all of Mormonism. I think it wouldn’t actually be all that hard to find an Evangelical who feels the same way here or there. Whether you think the conversation is real or false or if you think the person stating it is a good Mormon or a bad Mormon is really beside the point.

    I’m merely curious how you would respond to them in a LDS paradigm if you happen to meet such a person. Surely you wouldn’t lead with “you must be lying.” This notion that all Evangelicals lie about Mormons is just as false a paradigm as “all Mormons are evil.”

  12. I agree that Murdock’s comment was uncalled for. I have heard a significant number of Mormons say something similar, and a few evangelicals too. I think way too much of LDS culture, with its emphasis on worthiness and more than a trace of legalism, can actually foster that kind of attitude. I haven’t heard people frame it so much as “I don’t think I’ll make it to the celestial kingdom” so much as a general “I need to do better if God is going to find me worthy.”

    I think that in general (with exceptions) evangelicals have done a better job of teaching that God loves us as we are. But some evangelicals have also ended up preaching a cheap grace, something it would be hard to accuse Mormons of doing.

  13. BrianJ said, “Murdock: everything on the internet is a lie. Including this comment.”


    Eric, I liked your comment at the other end of your link.

    Katie L said, “I’ve met lots of people who have felt like I did, and many others who continue to feel that way.”

    Is this because you/they didn’t/don’t have the gift of the Holy Spirit, or was this because of the pressure of LDS legalism that you/they felt after becoming a Christian?
    If the latter, what specific rules made you feel that way?

  14. There is an awesome talk by LDS speaker John Bytheway entitled – ” Jesus Knows I am a Christian” that answers the above concern relating to concerns about the above mentioned concern.

    In His Debt/Grace

  15. Is this because you/they didn’t/don’t have the gift of the Holy Spirit, or was this because of the pressure of LDS legalism that you/they felt after becoming a Christian?
    If the latter, what specific rules made you feel that way?

    It’s complicated, Cal. I don’t feel as though I lacked the Holy Spirit — I have always felt that God is with me — and I don’t place the blame solely on legalism. I think that Mormon culture can be really high-pressure sometimes, for lots of reasons that extend beyond theology. We’ve got issues. As a people, we’ve been treated badly for a really long time, so we are extremely reticent to admit wrongdoing or appear vulnerable. This has repercussions across our entire culture.

    We’ll get it, though. I have a lot of faith in the Mormon people. 🙂

  16. This fairly short sermon is on just this topic (but not just for Mormons…but for all of us):

    [audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/welcome-to-lent-welcome-to-first-things.mp3" /]


  17. Katie, I think saying that my comment mocks people’s pain is a bit overboard. I wasn’t mocking anyone’s pain. The Mormon Church simply does not teach that people must buy their way into heaven with good deeds, which is what the friend’s supposed comment in this post is suggesting. However, if I were to assume that he was just struggling with feelings of spiritual inadequacy, my response would start out similar to Tim’s. We are all spiritually inadequate and we have all fallen short of the glory of God. No one can earn his own way to heaven. The part of Tim’s response I strongly disagree with is that “there is no work necessary for a free gift from God.” God absolutely requires us to work. Salvation is free, but you still have to reach out your hand and accept it. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Jesus doesn’t just open the door himself, walk in and hand you salvation. He invites you, even with loving, open arms. But you still have to get up, open the door and let him in. You see, salvation is conditional! If it were not so, every person on earth would attain heaven. In fact, the only reason not everyone will attain heaven is because inevitably, and unfortunately, some will choose not to accept Christ’s gift. Essentially salvation is contingent upon choice. Choosing to follow God’s will requires faith and hope and commitment and work! And how wonderful that it is so! Faith without works is dead. I honestly don’t know how James could have been more clear about this. James was not talking and pharisaical works, he was talking about belief in Christ that motivates and induces obedience and action–work. If you say you love God, but you don’t strive (work) to keep His commandments, do you love Him? Nope. Free agency and the opportunity to choose grace and choose salvation is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, His children. If no work were required, how utterly atrophied our spirits would become!

  18. James wasn’t talking about faith vs. works. He was talking about living faith vs dead faith.

    Along those lines, I agree we need to have a living faith.

  19. Thanks, Cal.

    Tim, on a side note, I would just like to say that I have been following the conversations on your site for several weeks now, and I appreciate very much what you are doing here. My wife’s side of the family is very devoutly Evangelical Christian (several of her aunts and uncles are team pastors). My wife and I are happily LDS, and although I strongly disagree with them and you on many important (essential even) points of doctrine, I also profoundly respect and even admire what you believe. Marrying into my wife’s family has been a privilege and I have seen first hand how their belief in Christ is real living faith. For several years I have sought to better understand Christian theology, but I have realized that it is nearly impossible to do so without viewing it through the lense of my own belief system, which is why your website is probably the best resource I have come across to help me better understand. Admittedly though, I still have a long way to go 🙂

  20. On behalf of Tim (ha, ha), it’s nice to have you on board, Chris. You sound like a humble guy.

  21. Tim, while I’m mindful (and grateful) for you willingness to merely portray this as hearsay (and not an epidemic), I don’t think it was unfair or rude of Murdoch to point out the hearsay was told from an Evangelical viewpoint (not Tim’s, only Tim’s friend), and therefore has some bias in it. I’m much more sympathetic to Katie’s personal explanation of how she used to feel/think. I think it is highly likely that Murdoch hasn’t met someone who relies on themselves for their salvation. And I say good on that. Maybe Murdoch is tired of a perceived feeling of Evangelicals telling him, “The world is like this,” when in reality, his world isn’t like that. I’ve learned this through interactions with my wife, there are just certain things my wife never experienced while at BYU that I did. If I insist that the BYU experience is only what I experienced, my wife would be rightfully upset.

    @ the post, I heartily agree with teaching the concept of grace through the Book of Mormon. It’s there and it’s right. It’s just simply a red herring to claim Mormon’s don’t believe in Grace.

  22. I’m curious, if you’re a Mormon, what counsel you would provide a fellow Mormon if he felt the same way, that he hadn’t done enough to be in heaven?

    I think Evangelicals and Mormons are very similar on how they would deal with people that feel this way. But what about the corrollary question? How do you respond to the person that is not worried at all about hell and believe that they have done enough to go to heaven or be free from hell? A person whose conscious is clear and feels no burning desire to repent for who she is. Is being too secure as bad as being too insecure about your fate? Is there a difference in how Mormons and Evangelicals would respond to such a person?

  23. Good question, Jared.

    The Way of the Master ministry of Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron comes to mind. Perhaps some of you have seen their program.
    Although they are sort of non-charismatic in their approach to evangelism, that is, they don’t get words of knowledge from God for potential converts, or miraculous answers to prayers for physical healing of potential converts, they have an effective formula where they ask street people if they have ever told a lie, lusted, used God’s name in vain, and stolen anything.
    People usually reluctantly admit they have done those things, at which point Ray or Kirk asks, “If God judges you on the basis of the Ten Commandments would you be guilty or innocent?”
    They usually admit, “Guilty,” at which point Ray asks, “Would you go to heaven or hell?”
    They usually admit, “Hell.”
    Then Ray asks, “Does that concern you?”
    Then Ray tells them what Jesus did so they don’t have to go to hell, and tells them they need to repent and trust the Savior like you would trust a parachute.

  24. I think Jared C’s question is a good one, but I’m not sure I have a good answer. My problem probably is that, for me, Christianity at its heart isn’t about where you go when you die. I know that many evangelicals (if you don’t accept Jesus as your savior you’ll burn in hell) and many Mormons (join our church if you want to live together forever with your family) take such an approach. But, for whatever reason, I don’t find that very motivating.

    I am not saying that there are no eternal consequences for our decisions. And it could probably be argued that what I believe the Christian faith is about — a process of becoming like God (or Christlike, same thing) — is inextricably linked with one’s eternal destiny. But I don’t think that scaring people into faith (hell house, anyone?), nor the flip side of bribing people an eternal reward if they’re faithful, results in the kind of faith that is all that useful in fostering that goal.

    I agree with Tim’s opening post that the kind of faith God wants us to have comes about because of gratitude (that word is etymologically related to “grace,” by the way), although I don’t think that’s a complete view. I think that grace, as we are willing to receive it, does give us the desire to be like God, and it is that desire that can motivate us to do good (and, yes, gratitude is a big part of that). And that, it seems to me, is connected a lot more with the here and now than it is about where we go when we die.

  25. Eric: as a thought experiment, instead of contemplating what we might lose if we choose to stop acting righteously, we could consider what God would lose if he stopped. Gratitude is a good thing, but what does God have to be grateful for? More importantly, how would his changed behavior affect him I think Alma 40-42 with its emphasis on “restoration” holds the answer.

    You said you did not think that gratitude was the complete answer. I think charity is the greater measure of godliness—for both us and God.

  26. Never been a sinner I never sinned
    I got a friend in Jesus
    So you know that when I die
    He’s gonna set me up with
    The spirit in the sky

    There are two reasons I’m adverse to Ray Comfort’s method. First it assumes he’s not living in a post-Christian society where the Bible and the 10 commandments are no longer taken as a given. Second, it gets people to admit sin rhetorically but not with conviction in their heart.

    G.K. Chesterton said

    Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proven.

    I think when people say they aren’t sinners, they are just rejecting the parameters of sinfulness that they feel other people have established. I think everyone, everywhere knows that they haven’t lived up to even their own moral standards (much less an objective external standard). So probably where I would begin is to probe delicately for places where Norman feels dislocated from himself and from the people he’s in relationship with and discuss in what ways he’s the source of those issues. Where might he justifiably feel shame and guilt and discuss whether or not he has the power to heal his own soul.

    We might also need to discuss whether or not sin exists at all. Are other people sinners? Is there a condition on humanity that makes us less than we would hope to be? If not, why does the vast majority of humanity seek spiritual ways of overcoming what they perceive to be their own short comings?

    Clearly he presents an evangelistic problem because he immediately rejects the need for a savior, much less whether or not Jesus is a savior.

  27. I don’t like Ray Comfort’s method, either, primarily because it makes sin and “getting in” the Big Issue in Christianity.

    Along the lines of what Eric was saying, I don’t think forgiveness from sin for the purposes of avoiding hell is the most important aspect of Christianity. I think that people who feel badly about themselves resonate with a sin-centric message — or those who have done truly awful things and want forgiveness — but Christianity is a lot bigger than that. Why not appeal to the idea of inner transformation, deeper relationships, and purer, more perfect love?

    For a long time, I think the “pitch” for Christianity (at least to non-believers) has gotten it backwards: BIG emphasis on salvation from sin, smaller emphasis on becoming a new creature in Christ. What if we switched them? What would that do?

  28. I whole-heartedly agree that we make a mistake to pitch Christianity as merely fire insurance. Bu I have to ask, why do we need to become new creatures in Christ?

  29. Well, right. I think we all realize we are not as we could be, that we could be fuller, more engaged with life, kinder, better. And I’m not one who denies the existence of sin or anything. It’s mostly just a question of approach: “fire insurance” vs. a better life here, not just hereafter. I definitely prefer the latter (and it sounds like you do, too)…

  30. For a long time, I think the “pitch” for Christianity (at least to non-believers) has gotten it backwards: BIG emphasis on salvation from sin, smaller emphasis on becoming a new creature in Christ. What if we switched them? What would that do?

    Well…. you would get a focus on the personal will in salvation and a rejection of Calvin’s TULIP, Arminian theology. The very definition of salvation would be a desire to repent of sin and a desire to change behavior, “All holiness consists in the elective preference of the greater above the smaller, and all sin consists in the elective preference of the smaller above the greater, good of sentient beings.“.

    This sort of view, lets call it New Divinity, might lead to a very dynamic form of preaching and encouraging people, even non church goers to work towards righteousness and see church as a way to achieve that. Imputed righteousness would cease to the focus and instead righteous behavior would become more of a focus. This would lead to taking on major social ills, some successfully and some unsuccessfully. The style of preaching would be less intellectual and more emotional, where preachers focus on themes and have blocks of material that they use as the crowd is emotionally swayed, extemporaneous preaching. This style would be more effective on the unchurched who weren’t as used to it, and thus the conversion rate would be sky high, in lets call them revivals.

    Those that stayed focused on the hard incremental work of social reform would evolve into what today are liberal Christians. For others the frustration with incremental change might lead to utopian social experimentation to create not just a regenerate church but a regenerate society as the focus of their Christianity. In these societies we would see a prophetic tradition emerging.

    One could even imagine a farm boy growing up during this revival period. He sees the cynicism born by repeated exposure caused by people faling to live up to their expectations and the emotional style of preaching no longer working from repeated exposure. And this boy who was exceptionally prophetically gifted, was not alone in coming during the second stage as the prophetic / utopian communities are forming. And so by a mixture of his compelling visions and luck this particular community happened to survive for two centuries. And then we could imagine because it survived for two centuries, it becoming institutionalized; turning its back on its founder’s style and methods and finally castrating his prophetic messages.

    All of this has happened before and will happen again. Brigham Young frequently preached on eternal reoccurrence, and it has been long enough that there will in the next 100 years be more Brighams. Evangelical Christianity though is in the 1780s-90s, not ready yet for Charles Finney much less Joseph Smith, so you and I might not live to meet the next Brigham.

  31. “But I have to ask, why do we need to become new creatures in Christ?”

    Because the people around us would all benefit greatly if we didn’t misuse or abuse them, or if we were kinder, more generous, more patient. That’s not to contradict what Katie mentions—“a better life here, not just hereafter”—it’s just to emphasize that the personal benefit shouldn’t take precedence over the benefit to others.

  32. Charismatic leaders have criticized the more traditional denominations for over emphasizing getting your sins forgiven (justification, acceptance with God), and under emphasizing the overcoming life. In that respect, we are like Mormons.

  33. people around us would all benefit greatly if we didn’t misuse or abuse them, or if we were kinder, more generous, more patient.

    This presupposes that we all misuse and abuse people and that we lack kindness, generosity and patience. Norman Greenbaum doesn’t think that’s true of himself.

    I understand and agree with what you guys are trying to do, but the message of Christianity can’t be divorced from the fallen human state. Jared’s question is appropriate because it hits at the first fundamental claim of the faith. It really can’t be brushed aside as just a point of overemphasis.

  34. Ran into this quote in my notes when responding to the other thread.

    Self-effort, the conscious operation of will, has moved man onward to his present high degree. However, while all progress is due to self-effort, other beings of power may contribute largely to the ease of man’s growth. God, standing alone, cannot conceivably possess the power that may come to him if the hosts of other advancing and increasing workers labor in harmony with him. Therefore, because of his love for his children and his desire to continue in the way of even greater growth, he proceeded to aid others in their onward progress. John Andreas Widtsoe, Rational theology as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints

  35. I meant to presuppose that all of us fall short in at least one of those ways, not necessarily all of them. And, having many wonderful atheist friends, I don’t have a good answer to Jared’s question.

    As far as divorcing the message of Christianity from the fallen human state, I’ll be frank: I’ve never found an explanation/definition for that that I found meaningful, real, or relevant. Certain aspects work okay, but no comprehensive theory meets my satisfaction. So, no, I don’t lead with that or find it at all helpful in presenting the gospel.

  36. Ray Comfort argues that God uses the law to make us aware of our sin. Romans 3:20, NIV, says, “Through the law we become conscious of sin.”
    Most unbelievers think they are good people—I did before I took the plunge. So in order to make unbelievers aware of their need to repent and believe in a Man who took their punishment for them, Ray leads them through some laws. If you watch videos of Ray or Kirk Cameron doing this, you can see it’s often effective.
    They ask questions of the potential converts so that the potential converts themselves say with their own mouths that they are sinners.

    I have charismatic friends who say there is a higher place of following the Spirit where you witness to everyone differently as Jesus did. I agree with that but at least Ray & Kirk are out in public sharing the message, which is more than I can say for my friends who criticize them. Until we demonstrate we can do it better, our criticism is pretty empty.

  37. Jarred,

    If I understand your question correctly you are asking what the evangelical response is to a person who feels no need for personal salvation. I don’t know if I have a 30 second YouTube clip answer but I think the love of God and the love of neighbor is where I would start. If the message of loving God resonates producing the love of neighbor the rest will follow, especially the resting in the person and work of Christ and the freedom to love he gives.

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