The Definition of Forgiveness

An LDS young woman visited my Sunday School class yesterday. She has submitted her mission papers in anticipation of serving a mission, but hasn’t yet received her call1. She was invited to church by a co-worker, who is a member of our class.

The class is currently studying couples from the Old Testament, and yesterday we discussed the relationship of Hosea and Gomer as told in Hosea 1-3. This chapter draws numerous parallels to God’s relationship with man and centers around the concept of unconditional forgiveness.

Hosea was a prophet during a time when the northern kingdom of Israel was acting particularly rebellious. As a sort of reality object lesson, God commands Hosea to take an adulterous woman as his wife2. Hosea subsequently buys Gomer’s freedom3 from her life of prostitution and she later gives birth to three children4. Through Hosea, God tells the Israelites that they are not his children, but that one day they will be in the same way that Gomer was once a prostitute but is now the wife of a prophet5.

At one point in our discussion, a member of the class raised an important question: are we ever told whether Gomer showed fruits of repentance, or was Hosea resigned to deal with her unfaithfulness all his life? We are not told in the text whether Gomer ever cleaned herself up. In fact, the Bible leaves wide-open the possibility that her second and third children may not have even been Hosea’s. One would hope that Gomer eventually repented and reciprocated Hosea’s love. Unfortunately, the scriptures simply do not say.

To that idea, the young lady responded with the following statement. I know this is not a direct quote, but I’ve kept as closely as I can to her actual words.

I think it’s good that we don’t find out whether Gomer repented or not. We are commanded to forgive others unconditionally. We should always forgive other people whether or not they ever repay us for the wrongs they committed.

This is just like Heavenly Father. He always has his arms outstretched and is willing to forgive us if we will turn to Him in repentance.

Her statement illustrates something I have known indirectly for some time, but only recently began to seriously contemplate: Mormons have two different definitions for forgiveness, and I don’t think many of them even realize it. According to Mormonism, the forgiveness we are commanded to grant others should be unconditional, but God’s forgiveness is said to have conditions attached.

In conversation with her later, I restated her comments back to her to be sure I had heard correctly. She confirmed that I had. When I proceeded to point out to her the obvious inconsistency, she remarked that she had never thought of it that way. She then rescinded her remarks and agreed with me that God’s forgiveness is the same as what he requires of us. I didn’t get much more time to talk with her, but I got the impression that she has never studied these issues in any depth, and was merely agreeing with me to avoid an argument.

I believe a correct understanding of forgiveness is vital in relating properly to God and Christ. God’s forgiveness is unconditional. He has accepted us as his children in the same way Hosea was commanded to take Gomer—all our sins and shortcomings included6. As Hosea paid a price for Gomer, Jesus paid the ultimate price for us on the cross7. Since he purchased us with his blood, there is nothing we can or should do to merit our own salvation. It is solely by grace through faith8.

Evangelicals and Mormons can argue all day long about things like Baptism for the Dead or the Trinity, and many Evangelicals will say that Mormons aren’t Christians because they don’t accept the creeds or various theological views of Evangelicalism, but these should not be our criteria. A person should be considered Christian solely on their understanding of the gospel. Does the person believe that Christ died for them and has justified them by grace alone, or are there strings attached? Attaching strings to the work that Jesus finished9 on the cross would be to insult him and his perfect work. End mark


  1. Mormon missionaries do not choose where they will go on their two year missions. They submit paperwork to church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah and wait to receive a letter directly from the President of the church. The President, who is considered a prophet, allegedly consults God and through revelation is told where the prospective missionary should serve. In this way, the young man or woman’s mission call is said to have come directly from the Lord. 
  2. Hosea 1:2 
  3. Hosea 3:2 
  4. Hosea 1:3-9 
  5. Hosea 1:10-11; Hosea 2:23 
  6. Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4-5 
  7. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Revelation 5:9 
  8. Ephesians 2:8-9 
  9. John 19:30; Hebrews 12:2; Hebrews 10:11-14 
  • “The forgiveness we are commanded to grant others should be unconditional, but God’s forgiveness is said to have conditions attached.”

    The reason we believe in this “contradiction” is most succinctly summarized in D&C 64:10, where it states “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” He doesn’t distictly state what his conditions are there, but He implies that there are conditions.

    I agree that every person is saved because of Jesus’ Atonement. However, I don’t think that forgiveness of sins is required for salvation. Every person will be brought to meet God because of Jesus’ atonement, and almost all will receive a degree of glory no matter if they repent and are forgiven or not. However, I believe we have to repent and be forgiven of our sins to gain exaltation, which is distinct from salvation.

  • Jared, while I appreciate your remarks, I fear you may have missed my point a little. The topic of discussion here is not who God forgives, but how and under what conditions he forgives.

    I will readily agree with you that God does not forgive all men. At the risk of endorsing the D&C, God indeed forgives “who [he] will forgive”.

    The issue here is what conditions should be met before forgiveness is granted. We are repeatedly taught in scripture that we are to forgive in the same way God forgives:

    * Eph. 4:32
    * Col. 3:13

    If God’s forgiveness is based on us righting our wrongs, should we only forgive those who right the wrongs they’ve committed against us? If I loan you ten dollars and you pay me back, is there anything left for me to forgive? That is not forgiveness; it’s being even again.

    D&C 82:7 states that “I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge … but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.” If I loaned you $10 dollars and later forgave you of that debt, but still later asked you to pay me back, did I ever really forgive you?

    In Mormon theology, Jesus doesn’t forgive. He merely refinances your debt. He pays off your creditor (God) and then demands that you pay him back. If you fail to pay him back, who will float you the payment then?

    I don’t believe God would ask us to forgive unconditionally unless he was willing to do so himself. If our hearts have been opened to accepting Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, we are absolved from obligation and justified to God. “By one sacrifice he has perfected forever those who are being made holy” (Heb. 10:14), “and where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Heb. 10:18).

    Of course, this justification should not be regarded as a blanket license to sin. It should instead give us hope. It should motivate us to lead pure lives, knowing that God has forgiven us and will keep us until the day of reckoning.

  • Keith

    Joey: In Mormon theology, Jesus doesn’t forgive. He merely refinances your debt. He pays off your creditor (God) and then demands that you pay him back. If you fail to pay him back, who will float you the payment then?

    Joey,

    This sounds like something you have taken out of context from one of Elder Packer’s talks. To be honest, you really should include the fact that Elder Packer stated that we must repay Christ under His new terms, not the old terms. In Mormon doctrine, the new terms of Christ�s law (new covenant (gospel)) are radically different from the old terms of the Law (Law of Moses).

    Here is the relevant excerpt from Elder Packer’s talk I am referring to:

    The mediator turned then to the debtor . “If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?”
    “Oh yes, yes,” cried the debtor. “You save me from prison and show mercy to me.”
    “Then,” said the benefactor, “you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.”

    See whole talk here: The Mediator

    Here is what I believe the LDS position is:

    Jesus suffered ALL for ALL. He desires to save us from hell (guilt) on the following conditions (terms of payment, if you must).

    1. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    2. Sincere Repentance.
    3. Baptism for the remission of sins.
    4. Receiving of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
    5. Enduring (sincerely striving) to the end by reflecting Gods love back to Him and His children (keeping His commandments). As we strive, the spirit will be with us.

    Without these things, it is US not Jesus, who are unable to accept His bounteous gift of salvation from sin and hell. To accept salvation without doing these things would be to live forever in a self imposed hell (guilt).

    If a Christian can accept His gift of salvation without loving him, I am happy for them. I just can�t do it. I love him too much.

    Last time I checked my dictionary, the work “if” denotes a condition.

    John 14:15 – If ye love me, keep my commandments.

    Note the conditions of the following verse:

    John 14:21 – He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

    John 15:10 – If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

    1 John 2:3 – And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

    1 John 3:22 – And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

    1 John 5:2 – By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.

    Joey: A person should be considered Christian solely on their understanding of the gospel. Does the person believe that Christ died for them and has justified them by grace alone, or are there strings attached? Attaching strings to the work that Jesus finished on the cross would be to insult him and his perfect work.

    So are you saying that if I error on the side of believing that I must do something to demonstrate my love of God (and thereby accept His grace) after having the same faith as any Christian, then I am somehow not a Christian?

  • Keith

    How does Evangelicalism square it’s concept of unconditional forgiveness with the following bible verses that seem to clearly condition salvation upon the requirement of taking actions to love one’s neighbor:

    (New Testament | Matthew 25:31 – 46)
    31 ¶ When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
    32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
    33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
    34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
    35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
    36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
    37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
    38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
    39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
    40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
    41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
    42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
    43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
    44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
    45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
    46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

  • Keith

    Joey: If I loan you ten dollars and you pay me back, is there anything left for me to forgive? That is not forgiveness; it’s being even again.

    Borrowing money from a willing lender is not a sin. If you steal $10,000 from me, and then repay it, do you have an obligation to ask my forgiveness. I think so, for anything short of that would be evil.

  • Jesus forgives unconditionally
    Jesus loves us and wants to forgive us. He has already paid the price for us and our sins. Therefore, if we repent, we will not have to pay any of the debt (see D&C 19:16).

    The scriptures are Christ’s plea to us: “Please repent and accept what I have done for you! Please choose to come unto me. I love you. I have suffered for you. If you will love me and follow me, my atonement will save you from satan and from yourself” (see Matt. 23:37, 3 Ne. 10:4–6).

    Still, we must ask for forgiveness
    Although he wants to forgive us, Jesus will not force us to accept his atonement and his forgiveness. With all the love he has, he will plead for us to repent, but he will not force us to love him or to follow him. His words, “ye would not!” imply that we may choose to accept his loving grace or to reject it (see Matt. 23:37).

    WE must choose to have faith. WE must choose to repent. WE must choose to ask for his forgiveness. WE must choose to follow his commandments (see Acts 2:37-38).

    Why must WE do these things? Because Jesus will not do them for us!

    No scripture has ever said that the atonement frees us from our personal responsibility to have faith, to repent, and to love and accept our Savior. On the contrary, most scriptures command us to DO these things despite the atonement! Such scriptures are not “mocking the finished work of Christ.”

    If we do not choose to love the Savior, we will not feel the full effects of his grace because we will have rejected him! (See 1 Sam. 10:19.)

    Asking for forgiveness does not save us; Christ saves us
    In other words: We will never repay Christ

    Although our repentance is required before the atonement can take effect in our lives, our repentance is not what saves us. We can repent all we want; we can keep the commandments all we want; we can pray all we want, and we will never overcome the effects of our sins and transgressions. We will never save ourselves. We will never repay our Savior or free ourselves from our debt (see Mosiah 2:20–25).

    When we repent and accept Christ, we do not merely refinance the debt. Truly the debt is paid, and we have a new creditor. However, that creditor loves us and forgives us our debt. He does not demand us to repay him. We cannot repay him!

    “All that he requires of you is to keep his commandments” (Mosiah 2:22). Keeping his commandments is not repaying him. It is merely keeping ourselves out of further debt. Even if we could keep his commandments perfectly after being forgiven, our debt to the Savior would still remain.

    I challenge anyone to show me where Mormonism teaches that we can save ourselves without the Savior’s atonement. I challenge anyone to show me where Mormonism teaches that we can repay our debt to the Savior. We can not. We will always be indebted to our Elder Brother, should we choose him to be our creditor.

    Only Jesus Christ can save us, but we must accept the work he has done for us, or it is of no effect, for God will not force us to heaven (see 2 Ne. 2:7–8).

    Jesus tells us how to ask for forgiveness
    In summary, Christ will surely forgive us unconditionally, but we must ask him to do so! He has prescribed the way that we must ask: we must demonstrate our love to him by attempting with all our heart to follow him (see John 14:15, Matt. 3:8).

    If we do not attempt to follow him and keep his commandments, then by our actions we are choosing to follow his enemy, Lucifer (see 2 Ne. 10:16). And Christ will not save us against our will. He will allow us to follow Lucifer if we choose.

    He begs us to repent and follow him, because he is ready and willing to forgive us if we will just ask!

  • We just read a great article by Bruce C. Hafen, currently a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy: The Restored Doctrine of the Atonement.

    Please read the article, which clearly explains certain LDS beliefs about the atonement, and resolves some of the perceived conflict between grace and works. It also corrects erroneous perceptions (held by much of the Christian world) about the LDS doctrines of atonement and grace.

  • Thanks for the multiple responses, guys. I’m especially thankful for your concise explanations of the LDS concept of atonement. Your comments have demonstrated (better than I could have) that Mormons do have two definitions for forgiveness. I’ll leave this one up to the discerning reader.

    Like Jared, though, I fear you have both missed what I was trying to say. We could go back and forth on all of your comments, I could explain how evangelicals exegete the passages you’ve listed, I could answer all your questions, but I don’t think it would get us anywhere.

    I just want a straight answer to this question:

    If God doesn’t (can’t?) forgive unconditionally, why are we commanded to forgive unconditionally? Or do you not believe that we are commanded to forgive unconditionally?

  • Keith

    Joey: If God doesn’t (can’t?) forgive unconditionally, why are we commanded to forgive unconditionally? Or do you not believe that we are commanded to forgive unconditionally?

    Here is the straight answer:

    First: God does forgive unconditionally. He forgives us of the fall unconditionally. We are given the resurrection unconditionally. When one is baptized, they are forgiven of all their sins, unconditionally. After we are brought into the covenant, if we sin (and all do), then we either must suffer as Christ did for those new sins, or we can repent and escape suffering. Repentance is the only condition (we need not pay for the sins).

    Second: Yes, we are commanded to forgive unconditionally. As for why we should forgive unconditionally, I think it is because we do not know another’s heart and mind, therefore we are commanded to give others the complete benefit of a doubt. Since God knows ones heart and mind, he knows whether one is sincere or not. He knows the true intent of the heart and therefore knows if one has truly turned back to him (repentance) or not.

  • Keith said:

    After we are brought into the covenant, if we sin (and all do), then we either must suffer as Christ did for those new sins, or we can repent and escape suffering.

    Allow me to share a handful of passages from the Bible. I won’t ask you to explain how you square them with your religion. How you wrestle with these verses is your own business. I didn’t start this blog to argue with anyone, but to share my views in hopes that they bring people closer to Christ.

    If you can honestly walk away after reading these verses still firmly rooted in Mormonism, then there’s not much more I can say to you. In that case, I fear continued comments on this subject would spiral into an argument rather than the good-natured discussion it has been up to now. As a part-time college student with a full-time job, I can’t spare much time for unprofitable discussions, nor do I care to.

    Please don’t misunderstand me, however. I believe if any subject is profitable to discuss, it is this subject. I would not trade this discussion for a thousand discussions about temple rituals, baptism for the dead, monarchial polytheism, the inerrancy of the Bible, or the life history of Joseph Smith. I very much appreciate your comments above. If I didn’t appreciate them, I would never have allowed commenting on this blog. I hope you’ll continue contributing to future discussions.

    Forgiveness means Christ pleads our case

    My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

    Those who have been “brought into the covenant,” as you say, have no need to repent of their future sins, because they have an advocate — someone who pleads their case constantly before the Father.

    Forgiveness means we’ve been perfected forever

    And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:10, 14)

    By Jesus’ sacrifice, those who are being made holy (an ongoing process) have been justified in God’s sight. They have been perfected (past tense, a done deal) forever.

    Forgiveness leads to reciprocated love

    We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

    Obviously a person who has been pardoned by God will desire to reciprocate that love. Understand, however, the love we offer God is never a condition for forgiveness. It is a result — the outcome, if you will — of our salvation.

    Forgiveness is a release from the law’s obligations

    Do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to men who know the law — that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.

    So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:1-6)

    If we have died to the law through Christ, we are free from it’s obligations and consequences. The most amazing thing is that, through the Spirit, we are empowered to live a life that would make us worthy of the law if it still had jurisdiction over us, even though it does not.

    Forgiveness gives us freedom

    So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

    See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

    For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

    When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

    Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

    Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their selfimposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:6-23)

    Apologies for the length of this passage, but I wanted to get the whole thing in context and it is so relevant to what we are discussing.

    I’m very concerned for you. I believe you’ve been taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy. You’ve been led to believe that after accepting Christ’s sacrifice, you are still under obligation to follow certain commandments. These may have the appearance of wisdom, but they are worthless.

    If you have received Christ as Lord, he has cancelled the written code that stood against you. You are no longer obligated to it. It has no power over you.

    Do I think it is wrong, then, to strive for perfection? No. If, out of love and gratitude for Jesus’ substitutionary death for you, you wish to submit yourself willingly to certain regulations of the law, be my guest. In fact, I believe that is the most appropriate response a person can offer.

    If, however, you see submission as a condition for the continuance of the promise you’ve received, you have been deceived and your faith is founded in the wrong place. You are trusting in your own abilities and your unspiritual mind has puffed you up with idle notions. You’ve lost connection with Christ, or more appropriately, you never were connected.

  • Keith

    I agree that we are really not acomplishing anything here but solidifying our different positions in our own minds.

    One comment you made, however, seems incomprehensible to me. You said that one in the covenant has “…no need to repent of their future sins…”. Here is the reason this seems like double talk. As you know, I served a mission in Sweden. The word repent in Swedish is “omvend”; “om” is literally “about” and “vend” is literally “turn”, so the word translates literally as “about turn”. The word “sin” on the other hand denotes a turning away from God. So what you are saying here is that if one turns away from God (sins) in the future, one need not turn back to God (repent).

    I doesn’t compute, nor does it feel morally right. If mankind was totally devoid of any ability to do good, then I supppose God would have to make us be good, rather than ecourage it by His love and confidence. But if that is the case, I mean, if man is totally depraved, then why did God make us that way, and why does He prolong our depravity? What purpose is in that?

    If we truly are all depraved beings, then anything short of saving every human would be immoral, don’t you think? For if we have no responsibilty to choose good, then we certainly can’t be held responsible for choosing bad. This would make life pointless, IMHO.

  • Keith said:

    One comment you made, however, seems incomprehensible to me. You said that one in the covenant has “…no need to repent of their future sins…”.

    I’m sorry. You’re absolutely right. I should have explained what I meant by “sins”.

    There is an “already, but not yet” aspect to this. The breakdown goes like this:

    * Justification — free from the penalty of sin.
    * Sanctification — free from the power of sin.
    * Glorification — free from the presence of sin.

    If we are in Christ, we’ve been justified, which means we are free from the obligations of the law and consequences of sin. Once we are justified, the process of sanctification begins. We may still be enslaved to certain undesirable behaviors, but one by one Christ changes our desires and by the power of his Spirit we learn to overcome our addictions. We will not be glorified until we reach heaven, where we will be in God’s presence.

    This is why the writer of Hebrews could confidently say that “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV), while Paul can make statements like the following:

    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

    All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Phillipians 3:12-16)

    The writer of Hebrews is talking about justification, which is a past tense for those who are in Christ. Paul is talking about sanctification and glorification, which are the ongoing and future completion of our perfection.

    So, we really cannot sin if we are in Christ. We may still view certain acts as if they were sins, and it is appropriate for us to feel guilt and sorrow for those acts, but God overlooks them because he sees us through the blood of Christ.

    Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him. (Romans 4:7-8)

  • Keith

    Joey: So, we really cannot sin if we are in Christ.

    There’s that word “if” again. Does it not denote a condition? I think we both agree on this statement. The real question might be, just what does it mean to be in Christ? Can we abide in him with no personal striving on our part? Must God do ALL the work?

    Joey: We may still view certain acts as if they were sins, and it is appropriate for us to feel guilt and sorrow for those acts, but God overlooks them because he sees us through the blood of Christ.

    Yes, but how does one resolve the guilt and sorrow for ones own sins? When one does something that one knows disappoints God and their neighbor, how does one dump the guilt? How does one escape the pain of hell this can bring upon oneself?

    Yes, Christ has already suffered for our future sins. We agree upon this. But guilt will still come upon one when they commit sins, and that must be dealt with. I believe we can only be relieved by sincere repentance, which includes sincere remorse, sincere striving to restore what was lost (if possible), resolve to not repeat the error, and a sincere expression of sorrow to those one has wronged. When we sincerely turn back to God by taking such actions, it is then that we are able, through faith, to let the guilt slide off our shoulders into the abyss of the atonement, for in turning back to God we have renewed faith that Christ has paid the price for those sins, nearly 2000 years ago.

    Just as baptism is symbolic of how Christ’s atonement cleanses us (not the dirt from the skin, but the guilt from the conscience), so the partaking of the sacrament following sincere repentance, also symbolizes a renewal of baptism (which itself is symbolic of the cleansing power of the atonement):

    (New Testament | 1 Peter 3:21)
    21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

    The difference in the two approaches (LDS and Evangelical) to the same thing, really, lies in ones confidence in man’s ability to actually do the right thing out of his own free choice. If one has confidence in man’s ability to be good, then one will also see in man a responsibility to repent when he messes up. If one has little confidence in man’s ability to be good, then one must fall back on such answers like “one need not repent for future sins”.

    In my opinion, Evangelicalism is stuck in a rut dug by the courageous but visionless fathers of their creeds. They are stuck there because they (at least partially) cling to the Augustinian-Lutheran-Calvinist misconception that man is totally depraved, thus unable to participate in his own salvation to much of a degree, if any. Therefore God does all the choosing for man. God chooses who to save, and he chooses who to give the spirit too. The lucky ones he chooses go on to do godly works, not of themselves, but by a Godly compulsion, therefore they cannot fall from salvation. The gracious gift of free will is totally lost in the equation. This kind of thinking may have worked prior to the reformation when mankind wasn’t really free anyway, but it really has no place in a free society that cherishes freedom of religion. Our founding father’s believed that God had bestowed inalienable rights upon mankind. With rights comes the responsibility to do the right thing. If man has no ability to be righteous, then our whole society is founded upon a farce.

    I agree that most modern day Evangelicals would not see their own position as I have painted it, but common sense would dictate that their doctrines have certainly been influenced by the long held erroneous belief that man has little ability to do good on his own.

    While such a view is extremely humble, it lacks merit, because it imposes a severe humility upon all mankind, a humility that we have no right to impose upon others, IMHO. It’s one thing to not put your self above another, but to put down all mankind to the level of depravity is really an evil form of humility, in my opinion.

    For an Evangelical to claim that another is not a Christian (as many (not all) Evangelicals say of Mormons) or that one will not be saved, when in fact one really does not know these things, for only God knows, is the most curious thing to me about Evangelicalism. On the one had they claim little personal ability to do righteous acts on their own, yet they seem to know better than God about the “Christian” status or the “salvation” status (or lack thereof) of the Mormons.

  • Sorry for posting here when it appears you would like to wrap this up. But I’ve been thinking for over a week about why God would command us to forgive unconditionally, when He Himself puts conditions on granting us forgiveness. This is a great question, and I wanted to find an answer to it for myself. You might not agree with the conclusions I have come to, but you might be interested to hear what they are anyways. So I’m kinda skipping over a lot of the later comments that have gone away from that idea.

    First, I agree that there seems to be a contradiction here, because it is true that God commands us to forgive all men. It is also true that God grants forgiveness only on condtions of repentance. At first I thought that it could be because of the differences between us and God. When we cannot forgive others, we show a lack of charity, and we prevent ourselves from growing in charity as well. This inability or unwillingness to forgive others places a seed of anger and bitterness in our hearts, which if not rooted out, can grow to hatred. However, as we forgive others, we receive more charity from God, and an increased closeness to Him. I thought maybe God is just so perfect that he could withhold forgiveness and not develop that anger or hatred, but still love without condition. The more I thought about that answer, though, the less I liked it. It makes it sound like God can do bad things and escape unharmed, because he’s perfect.

    I also thought about the standard “God knows the hearts of people and we don’t” answer. I don’t like that one very much either. God does know when people have repented, and are worthy of forgiveness. What does that have to do with us? Should I forgive everyone of all things just because I don’t know their hearts so well? And what if the person makes it totally obvious that they are not repentant? I still have to forgive them, even when they have made it very clear that they don’t want to repent. So that answer doesn’t really fly either.

    Here’s what I believe to be the real reason. Let’s say that Bad Guy commits a sin by beating me up and stealing my money. As offended and angry as I may be, he broke God’s law, not mine. God has an obligation to make sure the broken law is satisfied, because he is completely just. It could be satisfied by punishing the sinner, but it mercifully can also be paid through Christ’s atonement. We accept that atonement by having faith and repenting. In other words, God can only forgive sins because of Christ’s atonement, and we accept Christ’s atonement through faith, repentance, etc. In that way, repentance is a condition for forgiveness from God.

    Since Bad Guy didn’t break my law, I have no right to condemn or punish that person, especially since I have broken God’s laws as well. This is why we are commanded to forgive all men. Our forgiving someone, or lack of forgiving that person, does nothing for that person. God isn’t going to say, well since Bob forgave you (or didn’t,) you can (or can’t) get into heaven. Our forgiving others only increases our own ability to love.

    In that sense, I believe that our forgiving another, and God’s forgiveness are really worthy of two different words. God’s forgiveness is when the penalty has been paid, and he remembers our sins no more. Our forgiveness is when we have let go of the anger and bitterness towards the person who has offended us, and learn to love.

    You claimed that God forgives without conditions, and also state that you believe that God will forgive whom he will forgive. To me, that implies that there must be some condition that He uses to determine whom to forgive. Does He arbitrarily forgive some and not others, with no conditions to choose between the two? You claim that our insistance on staying obedient, and enduring to the end, cheapens the atonement, and makes man seem more powerful than he truly is. I don’t see it that way. I believe that by being obedient, we show our faith to God. And as long as we show our faith through obedience, God will continue to forgive us our mistakes, because we will have an attitude of humility and repentance. No LDS person believes that his works or righteousness could ever pull him out of even the deepest corner of Hell had Christ not lovingly extended His Grace. Christ’s grace will extend to all people, whether they accept him or not, and bring them into God’s presence, grant them immortality, and an eternity of living in joy with a member of the Godhead. However, to get the greatest prize, we should have faith in Jesus Christ. The only reason we discuss works as we do, is because works can be a measuring stick to ourselves and God of our faith. If we lose faith in God, it will show in the attitude with which we do those works, and eventually it will even show in whether we do good works or not. Works are merely the barometer of our Faith in Jesus Christ, which faith is required to truly receive Christ’s atonement into our hearts.

    I hope I addressed adequately your original question, as well as some of the concerns you might have with that answer. I also hope that I was able to say these things without any spirit of contention, but in a spirit of trying to clear up misconceptions and build mutual understanding. Again, I really liked the question. Probably one of the best questions I have heard in years from anybody of any religion.

  • I do not understand how people can think that Mormons claim to save themselves. Accusing Mormons of such a belief is terribly unjust. LDS scriptures teach no such thing. The Church teaches what I mentioned before: Christ saves us, but we must repent and ask for his forgiveness because he will not force anyone to accept his atonement.

    Please read the last sentence again and test if it is true. It is what Mormons believe.

    Christ Saves Us
    As Jared commented above, “No LDS person believes that his works or righteousness could ever pull him out of even the deepest corner of Hell had Christ not lovingly extended His Grace.”

    Those who think Mormons try to save themselves should read the Book of Mormon carefully!

    Modern scriptures are clear (I have abridged the verses below for clarity and simplicity):

    …If you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you…if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. … And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? (Mosiah 2:20–24.)

    Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah;…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;…there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah…he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved (2 Ne. 2:6–9).

    For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent… (D&C 19:16).

    We must Repent and Ask for Forgiveness
    Despite Christ’s sacrifice, the scriptures clearly teach that we must still repent! Christ and the apostles constantly preached repentance; surely, they didn’t mean it was optional!

    Although the atonement of Christ was accomplished, Paul still declared that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30, emphasis added). Paul directed men, “that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20, emphasis added).

    Can we agree that faith (belief in Christ) is required for salvation, that repentance is a necessary result of true faith, and that works are a necessary result of true repentance?

    If so, here is that statement in basic logic (pseudo code):
    IF works THEN possibleRepentance ELSE noRepentance;
    IF repentance THEN possibleTrueFaith ELSE noTrueFaith;
    IF trueFaith THEN salvationByGrace ELSE noSalvation;

    Said another way, although repentance and works do not save you, you may be sure you lack “faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5) if you are neither repenting nor performing good works. This is what the apostle James meant when he said, “faith without works is dead” (see James 2:14-26).

    We must Repent Continually
    Christ has never revoked his command for us to repent and perform good works, despite his overcoming the law.

    Mormons seek to continually repent and perform good works because they strive to retain true faith in Christ, not because they believe their works will save them. However, without their continued repentance and good works, their faith would be dead–Christ’s salvation and atoning blood could not justify them nor have any saving effect.

    Even the bible teaches that church members should continually repent of their uncleanness. Even Paul expected “saved” saints to repent of their sins.

    For example, he once wrote to the “the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia,” and he called them “ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Near the end of his epistle, he feared for these particular members of the body of Christ, “Lest, when I come again, …I shall bewail many [of you] which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed” (2 Cor. 12:21). (I am assuming “church” means those who have already accepted Christ and not just those attending a particular weekly meeting.)

    Additionally, the Spirit said unto the church at Laodicea:

    I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot…So then because thou art lukewarm…I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:…As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent (Rev. 3:15-19, emphasis added).

    These verses teach, among other things, that if you are not constantly repenting, you are not sufficiently zealous nor sufficiently humble. Despite Christ’s sacrifice for you and despite your initial repentance and membership in his church, he can (and will) still spue you out of his mouth if you remain lukewarm.

    A direct response to Joey
    We can all agree that, “Forgiveness means Christ pleads our case,” he perfects us forever, he releases us “from the law’s obligations,” and he “gives us freedom.”

    But let us not err in how and when we have received forgiveness from Christ. As mentioned, forgiveness (or salvation) requires true faith. True faith is not present without repentance and works. For many people, such faith takes a lifetime to develop, and forgiveness, therefore, takes a lifetime to achieve.

    Despite the atonement, the New Testament is replete with calls to repentance and calls to obedience. In their letters to the saints, the apostles came down on all forms of sin and proclaimed that such sinners will not be saved! Obviously, the saints were still obligated to keep the commandments–not to produce their own salvation, but to evidence their true faith and repentance, which are required to receive forgiveness.

    Joey said:

    Do I think it is wrong, then, to strive for perfection? No. If, out of love and gratitude for Jesus’ substitutionary death for you, you wish to submit yourself willingly to certain regulations of the law, be my guest. In fact, I believe that is the most appropriate response a person can offer.

    The only difference between your belief and mine is that I see submitting yourself willingly to Christ and his commandments (New Testament “regulations,” if you must) as the only appropriate response a person can offer, not merely the most appropriate response.

    If you have not submitted yourself willingly to Christ and kept his commandments, you have not completed the repentance process, and your faith is not yet unto salvation. For Christ “now commands all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30, emphasis added).

    Once again, if you truly have faith and repent, you will never have to pay for your sins or repay Christ for his sacrifice; he has saved you. However, true faith and repentance is found only in the person who willingly submits himself to Christ and keeps his commandments. No one who claims true faith without submitting himself to the King of Kings is truly his subject, for “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24; 3 Ne. 13:24).

  • Jared said:

    In that sense, I believe that our forgiving another, and God’s forgiveness are really worthy of two different words. God’s forgiveness is when the penalty has been paid, and he remembers our sins no more. Our forgiveness is when we have let go of the anger and bitterness towards the person who has offended us, and learn to love.

    Now you’ve come to the heart of the matter. I really appreciate the thought you’ve put into this, Jared. I’m glad you’re willing to acknowledge the contradiction here. I can tell you’ve grappled with it a little. You’ve given it some thought and you’re willing to admit that several of the above proposed explanations just don’t work.

    Your answer has merit, but I think it still falls short. You’ve done a good job of explaining why Mormonism has two different definitions for forgiveness. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, though, I have to ask: how does this square with verses that tell us to forgive as God has forgiven us? I’ve linked to them above, but I want to quote them here for the full effect:

    Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

    Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

    These verses indicate to me that there is no difference between God’s forgiveness and what is required of men. We are clearly required to forgive others “as” the Lord has forgiven us, not “with less conditions than” or “more liberally than”. In my mind, no explanation of why there may be two differing kinds of forgiveness will ever harmonize with these clear statements from scripture.

    Further, I think your explanation ignores the realities associated with one person sinning against another. When someone steals something from me, yes, they’ve broken God’s law, but they’ve also violated my rights to an extent. As humans, we naturally set up our own laws of the land and expect people to adhere to them. Someday I will have certain rules in my household that I will expect my children to comply with. God expects us to unconditionally forgive even if people violate our own rights or the laws we have set up for ourselves.

    Jared said:

    You claimed that God forgives without conditions, and also state that you believe that God will forgive whom he will forgive. To me, that implies that there must be some condition that He uses to determine whom to forgive. Does He arbitrarily forgive some and not others, with no conditions to choose between the two?

    That’s a whole other discussion, but it is related to forgiveness and I want to touch on it briefly. I do claim that God is the one who does the choosing. I believe it because I see it clearly in the Bible, and after much study and prayer, it is the answer God has led me to believe. He does not do the choosing arbitrarily, though. The choosing has its basis in God’s perfect will (Romans 9:10-18; Ephesians 1:3-12). He may have conditions, but I don’t think we will ever understand them, and I don’t believe they have anything to do with us or what we have done. On the basis of what we have done, each of us deserves hell. By very definition, “grace” cannot be merited in any way.

    For further reading on the subject of predestination, I would recommend a good book called Chosen by God, by R. C. Sproul. If you’d like a copy of the book, email me your shipping address and I’ll be happy to send one to you free of charge (I can get them much cheaper than Amazon’s price).

  • Sorry to skip reading all the discussion, but I wanted to add a tidbits. Romans 4:4-8 really nailed it for me when I was wrestling with Mormonism, the Bible, and justification:

    “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

    A couple of notes:

    * If I work as though I can do v. 4, I’m not justified.
    * God justifies the ungodly by faith, those who can’t do v. 4 and therefore embark upon v. 5.
    * The same type of man spoken of here as “ungodly” (be it David or Abraham) is spoken of as “godly” in Psalm 32, the referenced Psalm. Not, of course, for his ability to do Romans 4:4, but because he freely confessed his sin before God (see the whole of Ps. 32).

    A book I think is stellar on this topic is “Righteous Sinners“, by Ron Julian.

    Grace and peace in Christ, the justifier of the ungodly,

    Aaron

  • I know I’ve posted enough.

    I simply want to point out that “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” and “Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” does not necessarily mean, “Forgive in the same manner as the Lord forgave you.”

    In fact, if it did, wouldn’t that suggest that we should suffer for our neighbors and personally pay for their trespasses against us…and then frankly forgive them?

    Isn’t that the way God forgives us? Isn’t his forgiveness possible only because someone (He) paid the price? So, if we are to forgive in that same way, shouldn’t we go and pay the penalty for others’ wrongs against us, and then forgive them.

    I don’t mean to be facetious here. I’m just pointing out how easy it is to read things into scriptures.

    When I look at those two scriptures, I can read them another way.

    Please consider this rewording, “As the Lord forgave you, forgive!” And this, “Just as God forgave you in Christ, forgive each other!”

    I interpret the versus thus, “Since the Lord God forgave you in Christ, you ought to forgive one another!”

    I don’t rule out the possibility that those verses mean we should forgive in the same manner as Christ forgives us. However, I urge others not to rule out the possibility that those verses simply mean, “Since Christ forgave you, you must forgive.” I’m not sure the verses truly prove that the two acts of forgiveness are accomplished in the same manner.

  • “Mormons have two different definitions for forgiveness…”

    With respect, you’re wrong. Latter-Day Saints do NOT believe this. Rather, the young woman was (correctly, IMO) referring to the sort of forgiveness that the Lord wishes for US to practice.

    D&C 64:10 states:

    “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

    That certainly points out the “dichotomy” between what we as God’s children are expected to practice, and what the Lord with His perfect knowledge will do regarding forgiveness.

    You are correct that God commands us to forgive unconditionally, but He Himself sets conditions on His forgiveness. But you are INCORRECT to state that we Latter-Day Saints do not believe this way.

    (N.B. Interesting site you have. A very unique approach to “witnessing” to Latter-Day Saints. Maybe you’ll peel off a few of the weaker ones, you’d be doing us a favor. But I appreciate the fact that you desire to discuss with us based on the assumption that we are intelligent, well-reasoned and Godly people. We don’t have to agree on doctrine to at least agree on that).

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