I used to think that the problem of assurance of salvation was a big practical difference between Mormons and Evangelicals. I am not so sure now.The theological differences seem stark. According to the rough academic analogy, Mormons believe that everybody is born with a passing grade, and you have to decide to fail. So long as your intentions are in the right direction, and you are living up to your potential , you are going to the Celestial Kingdom. If you fall short you are going to get a great consolation prize– eternally living in heaven with Jesus forever. If you criminally screw up and reject Jesus, you are going to suffer for your sins but eventually you will be in a heavenly place with the eternal joy that the Holy Spirit can bring you. Mormons believe (or used to) that some striving souls could get a “second endowment.” An ordinance performed in the temple that seals a person with their spouse to the Celestial Kingdom. They have their “calling and election made sure.” Anymore, this concept and practice has practically disappeared from the Church. Mormons are left completely sure they are going to heaven, but always unsure of which heaven they will go to. I believed that whatever I–or nearly anybody else–was in for in the afterlife, it was going to be a whole lot better than this world.
Contrasting my experience with the children of Evangelicalism. I can see how the “faith alone” doctrine would have scared the hell out of me. Evangelicals believe you are born with a failing grade– the default is hell. People qualify for salvation by correct belief and reliance on the work of Jesus alone. It seems to me that if you are an Evangelical facing the never-ending torment of hell, you’d better make darn sure you are saved. And the problem is, because non-saving faith can masquerade as true belief and faith, there is a lot of room for consternation. Just as Mormons obsess about doing enough to be “good enough” , it seems that doubt-prone Evangelicals can easily fall into a cycle of severe anxiety trying to assure their faith is “true” enough. And the stakes– and possibly the potential anxiety seem considerably higher. It seems that many Evangelicals indeed have this problem of assurance gauging from this article in Relevant Magazine, by J.D. Greear, Evangelical author of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. .
Greear attempts to give believers a guide to knowing if they can rest easy from the impending threat of death and hell:
Here is how many Christians think of “getting saved”: they realize they’re a sinner and they need Jesus to save them. So they approach Him and ask Him to come into their heart. Of course He says, “yes,” at which time He forgives their sins, writes their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life, gives them a “certificate” of salvation (a carbon copy of which is placed in their Bible), and commences a party in heaven in their honor. If they begin to doubt later whether they are really “saved,” they replay in their minds that moment of conversion, assuring themselves of their sincerity and reminding themselves of the feelings they had after it.
The Bible depicts the moment of salvation differently. Instead of asking Jesus for a “certificate” of salvation, you start believing what God’s Word says about His Lordship and His completed work at the cross. You understand that you have lived in rebellion against the rule of God and have no hope of escaping God’s wrath on your own. You “kneel” in submission to His claim on your life, and rest your hope of heaven upon Him. Picture this as hopping up into His arms, submitting to go wherever He takes you, and trusting in Him to carry you into heaven.
If at some point in the future you begin to doubt whether you really have put faith in Jesus, do you look backward to try and remember that moment when you first hopped up into His arms? I suppose you could. Better, though, would be to look at where you are currently resting. If you are right now resting in His arms, knowing when you began to rest is less important than that you are doing it now.
Here’s another way to think about it: If you are seated right now, there was a point in time in which you transferred the weight of your body from your legs to the chair. You may not even remember making that decision, but the fact you are seated now proves that you did.
The apostle John almost always talks about “believing” in the present tense because it is something we do continually, not something we did once in the past (e.g., John 3:36; 9:36–38; 10:27–28; 1 John 5:13). The posture begins at a moment, but it persists for a lifetime.
Many people know exactly when the point of decision was for them. There was a dramatic moment when they submitted to Christ’s Lordship and trusted in Him for salvation. For others, the moment is less clear. Perhaps they were raised in a Christian home, and their awareness of Jesus’ Lordship grew over time. For them, it was more like they came to a point where they realized they believed rather than one in which they decided to believe.
Unfortunately, Greear’s explanation left me puzzled. It’s not clear at all to me what he is talking about other than evaluating whether your intentions and actions are focused on Christ. It seems the only solid way to know if you are saved is precisely the way Mormons gauge what level of heaven they may go to– by evaluating their actions and intentions, repenting, and striving for the good. On top of this, it seems that Evangelicals have to strive avoid the myriads of theological pitfalls that may invalidate their faith. I can see how this could easily lead to the same sort of practices and at attitudes that Evangelicals point to as evidence of LDS heresy–namely an obsessive focus on doing righteous “works” and having a strong enough belief or faith. The online commentators show how those with OCD could easily be tormented by this practical consequence of Sola Fida religion.
I’m interested in knowing if Greear’s cryptic explanation of how to know you are saved is enough for most Evangelicals? Am I missing something? Is the practical divide between Mormon and Evangelical religion as narrow as it seems?