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What Do Mormons Teach About Eternal Life?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-- Romans 6:23 --


Eternal life in Christ Jesus is a free gift of God. It cannot be earned by works including water baptism, communion, church attendance, or any other good work you do that you think will earn your way into heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes this very clear:


For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.


Does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (herein referred to as LDS, Mormon, or Mormons) teach that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone? Likewise, does the LDS teach that eternal life is a free gift of God?


Salvation

How does someone obtain salvation in the LDS?


Bruce R. McConkie, a member of the First Council of the Seventy of the LDS wrote the following in "Mormon Doctrine: A Compendium of the Gospel" (1966) [1]:


"Full salvation is attained by virtue of knowledge, truth, righteousness, and all true principles. Many conditions must exist in order to make such salvation available to men. Without the atonement, the gospel, the priesthood, and the sealing power, there would be no salvation. Without continuous revelation, the ministering of angels, the working of miracles, the prevalence of gifts of the spirit, there would be no salvation.

  • If it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be no salvation.

  • There is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."


In 1857, Brigham Young stated the following in the LDS "Journal of Discourses" [2]:


"I want you to tell them, and tell all the great men of the earth, that the Latter-day Saints are to be their redeemer…. Believe in God, believe in Jesus, and believe in Joseph his Prophet, and in Brigham his successor, and I add,

  • “If you will believe in your hearts and confess with your mouth Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph was a prophet, and that Brigham is his successor, you shall be saved in the Kingdom of God.”

  • He also said, "No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith… every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansions where God and Christ are—I cannot go there without his consent … he reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven."


Compare what Brigham Young stated to Romans 10:9 - that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. He made it very clear that you will be saved in the Kingdom of God. In other words, you will not be saved until you finally get to your celestial kingdom where you will obtain godhood. Of course to qualify for godhood, you must go through a period of Mortal Probation.


Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth president of the Mormon church, wrote the following in the book "Doctrines of Salvation" under the heading The Importance of Mortal Probation [3]:


"This mortal probation was to be a brief period, just a short span linking the eternity past with the eternity future. Yet it was to be a period of tremendous importance. It would either give to those who received it the blessing of eternal life, which is the greatest gift of God, and thus qualify them for godhood as sons and daughters of our Eternal Father, or, if they rebelled and refused to comply with the laws and ordinances which were provided for their salvation, it would deny them the great gift and they would be assigned, after the resurrection, to some inferior sphere according to their works."


If you fail to participate in secret temple rituals and don't comply with all of the laws and ordinances of the LDS and the Mosaic Law, you will be assigned to some inferior sphere based on your works.


In the temples of ancient Israel, the High Priest would pass through a veil when entering the Holy of Holies—the most sacred room in the temple, where God symbolically dwells. The same thing happens for the men and women who participate in the Endowment, as they pass into what we call the Celestial Room of the temple... Latter-day Saints believe that you must participate in certain ordinances or religious rites like baptism in order to be exalted. The Endowment ceremony is another one of those exalting ordinances [4].


The word endowment means “a gift.” The temple endowment is literally a gift from God through which He blesses His children. The endowment can be received only in holy temples [5].


Other LDS temple ordinances include [6]:

  • Sealing of Husband and Wife - “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan." A temple sealing joins a husband and wife together for time and all eternity. Couples who are sealed in the temple are promised glory and joy throughout eternity (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:19–20)."

  • Sealing of Living Children to Parents - Children who are born after their mother has been sealed to a husband in a temple are born in the covenant of that sealing. They do not need to receive the ordinance of sealing to parents. Children who are not born in the covenant can become part of an eternal family by being sealed to their birth or adoptive parents. These children are entitled to the same blessings as those who were born in the covenant.

  • Baptism for the dead - the living are baptized by proxy on behalf of the dead.


In Matthew 22:23-30 the Sadducees introduced a scenario to Jesus about seven brothers and a widow. Each brother married the widow after a previous brother died. All of the brothers died and then the widow died. The Sadducees then asked Jesus this question - In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her." But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:28-30).


The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead!


In The Gospel Through the Ages, one of the current texts for the instruction of the Melchizedek priesthood, Milton Hunter brings Joseph Smith’s teachings up-to-date. He says:


God not only revealed the doctrine of baptism for the living to the Prophet Joseph Smith but He established on earth again the glorious doctrine of baptism for the dead, thereby opening the door to all of His sons and daughters who have ever lived in mortality to come back into His presence on condition of their worthiness. The Lord told Joseph that baptism for the dead should be performed in His holy house; in fact, one of the principle purposes He had in mind in commanding the Latter-day Saints to build temples was for the performance of the holy ordinance. In the revelation the Lord declared: “For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead.” Then God commanded the saints to build temples in which to perform the ordinance of baptizing for the dead, proclaiming that this ordinance was instituted before the foundation of the world for the salvation of His children who, for various reasons, would not accept the Gospel while in mortality [7].


According to Mormonism, “baptism is essential for salvation” as it is considered “the gateway through which we enter the path to the celestial kingdom.” Those who are baptized make promises—also known as covenants—with God. The February 2013 edition of Ensign magazine (a monthly publication of the LDS) explained:


Baptism also includes a sacred covenant, a promise, between Heavenly Father and the individual who is baptized. We covenant to keep His commandments, serve Him and His children, and take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ [8].


In the LDS "Introduction to Gospel Topics," the following is stated in the section titled Salvation under the heading Salvation from Sin:


To be cleansed from sin through the Savior’s Atonement, an individual must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37–38). Those who have been baptized and have received the Holy Ghost through the proper priesthood authority have been conditionally saved from sin. In this sense, salvation is conditional, depending on an individual’s continuing in faithfulness, or enduring to the end in keeping the commandments of God [9].


From the LDS perspective, Acts 2:38 is a series of steps in response to the question "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). These steps are: 1. Repent; 2. be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ; 3. you will obtain forgiveness of your sins; 4. you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is a common teaching among churches such as the "Church of Christ" where baptismal regeneration - you must be baptized (immersed in water) to be saved - is a core doctrine. This is not what Acts 2:38, as well as the rest of scripture, teaches. I discuss Acts 2:38 in great detail in my blog titled "When Do You Receive The Holy Spirit?" (published October 2021).


Since baptism is essential for salvation of the living, likewise it is essential for someone to be baptized by proxy on behalf of the dead if the deceased was never baptized in the LDS.


Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms on behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done on their behalf [10].


John 3:5 has nothing to do with water baptism. I address this passage in my blog titled "Why Should I Be Born Again?" (published December 2022).


The only mention of baptism for the dead is found in 1st Corinthians 15:29 - Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?


The apostle Paul bolstered his argument for the reality of the resurrection that some were denying - Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1st Corinthians 15:12).


No information is provided concerning how this (baptism for the dead) was done or what it was believed to accomplish. We simply cannot know. Nevertheless, any idea that a living person could be baptized and impact the salvation of one already dead contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture on both salvation and baptism. It could not be a practice of which Paul approved [11].

  • John 3:36 - He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

  • Hebrews 9:27 - And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.

  • Revelation 20:14-15 - Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.


If you die without Christ, you are eternally condemned. There are no second chances even if someone gets baptized on your behalf!


Joseph Fielding Smith wrote in "Doctrines of Salvation" under the heading No Salvation Without Accepting Joseph Smith:


"If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth when he said that he stood in the presence of angels sent from the Lord, and obtained keys of authority, and the commandment to organize the Church of Jesus Christ once again on the earth, then this knowledge is of the most vital importance to the entire world. No man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of god. It is, therefore, the duty of every man to investigate that he may weigh this matter carefully and know the truth" [12].


Those Mormon missionaries who knock at your door will tell you that they believe "The Book of Mormon" is the word of God and that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God. You will never hear them say that their sins are forgiven and that they have eternal life because they put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.


Eternal Life

What does the Bible teach about eternal life?


As I stated earlier, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). The word 'free' in the Greek is the noun charisma - something that is freely given (a gift) on account of favor and kindness [13]. This noun is also used in Romans 11:29 - for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Eternal life is a free gift of God that is irrevocable - it is final, not able to be changed or reversed.


The phrase "eternal life" is mentioned 43 times in the New Testament. We see this phrase in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, Galatians, 1st Timothy, Titus, 1st John, and Jude. Here are a few passages:

  • John 3:15-16 - so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

  • John 5:24 - Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

  • John 6:40, 47 - For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day... Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.

  • John 10:27-29 - My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

  • Acts 13:48 - When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

  • 1st Timothy 1:16 - Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

  • 1st John 5:11-13 - And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

  • 1st John 5:20 - And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.


Jesus Christ, the true God, is life. Without faith in Him alone, it is impossible to have eternal life, which begins the moment you believe in Him and never ends.

  • John 11:25-26 - Jesus said to her (Martha), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

  • John 14:6 - Jesus said to him (Thomas), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.


Eternal life cannot be earned by our own merit and good works. A great example of this is found in Luke 39-43. One of the two criminals hanging on the cross said, “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” Jesus responded to him by saying "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." How did this condemned and dying criminal earn entry into Paradise? He didn't. He simply confessed that he deserved the just sentence that was being carried out, that Jesus did nothing wrong, and that He will be coming again! In other words, He believed that Jesus is the Son of God! There was no Mortal Probation period, nor was he assigned to some inferior sphere based on his works! He went straight to Paradise the moment he died.


What does the LDS teach about eternal life?


Eternal life is Exaltation.


To Latter-day Saints, exaltation is a state that a person can attain in becoming like God-salvation in the ultimate sense. Latter-day Saints believe that all mankind (except the sons of perdition) will receive varying degrees of glory in the afterlife. Exaltation is the greatest of all the gifts and attainments possible. It is available only in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom and is reserved for members of the Church of the Firstborn. This exalted status, called eternal life, is available to be received by a man and wife. It means not only living in God's presence, but receiving power to do as God does, including the power to bear children after the resurrection. Blessings and privileges of exaltation require unwavering faith, repentance, and complete obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Savior stated the following conditions: "Strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me." All Church ordinances lead to exaltation, and the essential crowning ordinances are the Endowment and the eternal marriage covenant of the temple [14].


In "Doctrines of Salvation" Joseph Fielding Smith wrote the following in the section titled Immortality and Eternal Life:


Immortality and eternal life are two separate things, one distinct from the other. Every man shall receive immortality, whether he be good, bad, or indifferent, for the resurrection from the dead shall come to all. Eternal life is something in addition. None shall receive eternal life save it be those who keep the commandments of the Lord and are entitled thus to enter into his presence... But to be exalted one must keep the whole law... but to receive the exaltation of the righteous, in other words eternal life, the commandments of the Lord must be kept in all things... No one receives eternal life except those who receive the exaltation [15].


In order to be exalted, a member of the LDS must:

  • Obey all of the Mosaic laws that are defined in the LDS "Doctrines and Covenants."

  • Participate in all LDS ordinances required for exaltation. In the Church, an ordinance is a sacred, formal act or ceremony performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. With each of these ordinances, we enter into solemn covenants with the Lord [16].


In the May 2007 edition of the LDS magazine Ensign, Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency said the following:


“It is hard to know when we have done enough for the Atonement to change our natures and so qualify us for eternal life" [17].


This should truly scare every member of the LDS and anyone considering becoming a member of this cult!


In Closing

A few years ago I befriended a young Mormon missionary on Facebook who was living in another state. He was a very pleasant and friendly young man, the kind of son that every father wishes for. We got into a deep discussion on eternal life. He didn't seem to have any real hope at the time that he would ever obtain eternal life. A dear friend of mine, who escaped from Mormonism many years ago, jumped into the conversation. This friend started asking this young man about exaltation. It appeared that this was something he was not supposed to talk about. Our conversations came to an abrupt end.


The bottom line is this: those trapped in the LDS have no hope of eternal life because they preach a Jesus that did not earn eternal life for them! They must earn eternal life on their own merit and good works as defined and commanded by the LDS, and even then, are they doing enough to qualify for eternal life?


But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

-- 1st Peter 3:15 --


Unfortunately, members of the LDS cannot give an account for the hope (or lack thereof) that is in them.


References

[1] https://archive.org/details/MormonDoctrine1966/page/472/mode/2up

[2] Gordon H. Fraser, Is Mormonism Christian? Mormon Doctrine Compared with Biblical Christianity (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1977), Chapter 13.

[3] Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 1, Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith (Bookcraft, 1954-1956), 43.

[4] https://saintsunscripted.com/faith-and-beliefs/laws-and-ordinances/mormons-actually-do-secret-temple-rituals/

[6] ibid

[7] Is Mormonism Christian? Mormon Doctrine Compared with Biblical Christianity, Chapter 12.

[8] Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-Day Saints (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015), 220.

[9] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/salvation

[10] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/baptisms-for-the-dead

[11] David R. Beck, “Baptism for the Dead,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 169.

[12] Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 1, Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 117.

[13] Jonathan W. Lo, “Grace,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[14] https://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Exaltation

[15] Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 1, Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 222-225.

[17] Examining the Religion of the Latter-Day Saints, 157.


Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.

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