Paul on Repentance, Obedience, and Works: Was He a Cultist?

To understand what Paul means when he speaks about grace in Eph. 2:8, it’s helpful to consider the totality of his writings and other Biblical writings. Here is one interesting passage to consider from Romans 2:4-11:

4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;

6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,

9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;

10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

11 For there is no respect of persons with God.

This is one of many passages from Paul and other New Testament writers giving a rarely heard perspective on the relationship between faith, grace, and works.

I still don’t see why Paul isn’t given the LDS treatment and condemned as a non-Christian cultist for writing such offensive material. In fact, Like Joseph Smith, he also claimed to have seen Christ in a remarkable vision – and gave three differing accounts of that vision. He claimed to be an apostle with special authority from Christ. He introduced new scripture. He teachings went contrary to established religious norms and to historical Biblical Judaism. He was arrested by the authorities for questionable dealings, and was generally viewed as a troublemaker and person of questionable integrity filled with delusions. He encouraged his followers to be part of an exclusive, close-knit organization with special rites and esoteric doctrines. And he taught the importance of works! Good grief, the more I look into Paul and his writings, the more I realize that he wasn’t just a cultist, he was essentially a Mormon cultist! The only thing he had going for him was not having more than one wife. Guess he was just too old.

This just in: I checked the definition of cult in the dictionary, and it turns out that even scholars recognize that Paul was a cultist after all. Paul, you see, was part of a religious organization. He meets the criteria for nearly every meaning of the word “cult,” as given at

    1. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance
      of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
    2. The followers of such a religion or sect.
  1. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
  2. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
  3. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.
    1. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
    2. The object of such devotion.
  4. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.

Well, there you have it. My instincts were right: Paul was a cultist, and apparently a Mormon-wannabe cultist as well. Shocking that such a man would get his writings in the Bible.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

17 thoughts on “Paul on Repentance, Obedience, and Works: Was He a Cultist?

  1. Thanks for that list of biblical passages about faith and works. The LDS topical guide under “works” is a good start, but is not all inclusive.

  2. “You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, burning bushes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that _we_ are the ones
    that need help?” …Mark Twain

  3. Another tripping point for many is not distinguishing the three kinds of “works” that Paul mentioned, “dead works,” “works of the law,” and “good works.”

    The works that Paul spoke against, and that many non-LDS get hung up on are the “dead works” and “works of the law”.

    “Works of the law” are the outward ordinances of the Mosaic law, and the context also makes that clear. The words “of the law” are a qualifier that distinguish it from “good works” or obedience.

    Rom. 9: 32 —
    Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

    Gal. 2: 16 —
    Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

    Notice every mention of works in those passages is qualified by “of the law.”

    This was a big thing for Paul, because prior to his conversion, he, as a Pharisee, relied on all those outward works or observances for salvation, such as ritual cleansings, and sacrifices. I don’t think he was denouncing the decalogue as “works of the law,” but rather the sacrifices and ritualized purifications from uncleanness.

    Paul mentioned “dead works” twice, Hebrews 6:1, and Hebrews 9:14. This is where a more modern translation than the KJV sheds lights.

    The New International Version, which is currently the most popular translation in Christendom, translates “dead works” as “acts that lead to death.”

    The popular New Living Translation translates “dead works” as “evil deeds” in the former passage and “acts that lead to death” in the latter.

    The Amplified Bible uses “dead formalism,” and adds “lifeless observances” to the latter.

    So again, Paul is not preaching against good works or obedience. “Dead works” are merely sinful acts or empty observances. “Works of the law” are the observances of the Law of Moses which were meant to point people to Christ’s atonement and cleansing power, but which were eventually misunderstood by the Jews to have saving power in and of the acts themselves.

  4. Funny that you liken Paul to Joseph Smith, considering the considerable evidence that Paul was a homosexual. Perhaps the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should reconsider…

  5. Anonymous said…
    “You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, ….”

    Where do you think J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling got their inspiration?

  6. Funny that you liken Paul to Joseph Smith, considering the considerable evidence that Paul was a homosexual.

    I’d be interested to know what this “considerable evidence” is, and how widely it is accepted by mainstream Biblical scholars.

    (Especially in light of several comments of Paul that are fairly clear he was opposed to sexual relationships outside of marriage, and certainly between people of the same gender.)

  7. Protestantism (especially the Reformed/Presbyterian arms of Protestantism) does a “fantastic” job ignoring Paul’s emphasis on works. Roman Catholicism has a far better understanding (comparatively) of the synergy between faith and works.

  8. People are always making the “Gay Claim” Remember a few years ago when they were saying Abe Lincoln was gay? And Alexander The Great? By the time they are finished every significant historical figure was “probably gay.” It’s the same tired old flap

  9. I’ve encountered something that doesn’t seem to be much of a phenomenon among homosexuals. I have a gay friend who is a member of the Church, and his suspicion is that the rest of us are gay but won’t admit it.

    With this in mind, why don’t we tack on homosexual in addition to cultist?

    Please note that the last statement should be read with more than a touch of sarcasm:)

  10. I appreciate your page about faith/works. In few places are hardline LDS folks so frank about the necessity for a RELATIONSHIP between faith and works (indeed, I speak of them as if they were two different entities, which is a dubious assumption).

    I wonder if sometimes LDS members have a siege mentality when it comes to this debate. In other words, because the “other” churches believe in faith w/o works (except for the Catholics, but everyone “knows” they’re the great abominable church anyway, right ;), we have to believe in works w/o faith, as though it were some kind of zero-sum game of theology.

    Any thoughts?

  11. Actually most Protestants do NOT truly believe in salvation by faith without works. To be sure they may SAY they do, but most hold to a form of Lordship salvation where good works are necessary as the sign and seal of your faith. In other words, faith is not enough, true saving faith shows itself through your works.
    Furthermore, many of the Protestant denominations hold to a form of Arminianism with their “work” being their choice of God and Christ, and their continuous “work” of faith, and that they can fall at any time. Only a few Reformed and Presbyterian churches really believe in a faith without works, when it comes right down to it.
    ALso, we must not only assume it is the Roman Catholics who are blatant about their faith/works, but do not forget the Eastern Orthodox groups which in many areas mirror Catholicism (or is it Catholicism that mirrors ORthodoxy?). Regardless, the issue is deep.
    Latter Day Saints should be commended for the emphasis on faith and works as clearly that is what the Old Testament Prophets, Christ, and the New Testament writers wrote and held to.

  12. Faith is like skydiving.

    You can believe your parachute will open all you want.

    But it’s not faith until you put it on, get in the airplane, fly up in the air, and then jump out. Only after you’ve let go of the airplane is it faith!

    I’ve heard/read more non-LDS say that “faith is believe in action.” So I tend to think this debate is merely about semantics, or the definition of what “works” means. Paul mostly qualified that word into 3 categories: good works, dead works, and works of the law. It’s the few verses that he didn’t qualify that trip people up when taken out of context.

    I still wonder if those who accuse us of believing in salvation through works are using the definition of works as “outward formal ordinances.”

    And we of course are using the definition of works as “obedience to the commandments.”

    When you get down to brass tacks, the vast majority of conservative protestants, and evangelicals, and fundamentalists preach obedience to the commandments too. So we’re not all that different on the subject.

    Don’t most of them say that if you backslide and go back to sinning, that you have fallen from grace? Or, if you backslide and return to sin, they say that is evidence that you were never “saved” in the first place.

    Another facet is that our opponents in the debate sometimes say “We obey the commandments as a result of being saved, and you obey the commandments in order to be saved.”

    Again, semantics come into place about the definition and meaning of conversion experiences, “getting saved”, and the different meanings of “salvation”.

    Elder Dalin Oaks gave a good talk about the 5 or 6 meanings of “salvation” in response to the question “Are you saved?”

    I had a profound religions experience in my youth in which I came to a belief in Christ, called upon Him, “accepted” Him, and felt like I had been cleansed of or had been unburdened of sin. At the time I described it as “accepting Christ as my Savior” and “being ‘saved’.” Now I see it as one step in a life-long process of growing and enduring to the end.

    I compare it somewhat to the experiences of Lamoni and Lamoni’s father in the Book of Mormon, though not quite as powerful or dramatic as their experiences. (I wasn’t stuck unconscious for one.) They were curious, listened to a preacher, and both prayed to know if what the preacher said was true, and called upon Christ to be forgiven of their sins. Non-LDS would call Lamoni’s and Lamoni’s father’s experiences “accepting Christ as their savior” and “getting saved.” We call it one step, although a big dramatic one, on a lifetime of progression and striving towards perfection. But we also point out that such quick and powerful conversions are infrequent, and conversions most often occur gradually over a period of time.

    One analogy is like filling a pillow case one feather at a time, versus getting all your feathers at one. The person who gets most of his feathers at once knows when he has a pillow. The person who gets his feathers one at a time can’t point to a specific day when he finally had a real pillow. But there may be a specific day when he finally realized he had a pillow.

  13. Ah, I see that the crux of my post slipped through the cracks. You see, while on my mission, I used analogies, illustrations, object lessons ad infinitum with the evangelical investigators. No matter the illustration, the evangelicals seemed to have their ears plugged, humming loudly to themselves, “I’m saved, I’m saved.” Upon hearing the word “works” in any of its contexts, they, at best, reacted like I was being ridiculous (as steve and Books of Mormon in Indy said, of course you need to stay true to be saved) and at worst, like I was speaking blasphemy and that I should be rebuked to the dust.

    What I’m talking about is how to cultivate some theological diplomacy. How do we effectively communicate our similarities (as I believe we have more in common w/them than not) while not sounding like we’re spouting off hackneyed phrases (as they often accuse us of doing so that we can supposedly lure them to join our “cult”). What think you?

  14. Walker,
    I dunno. What motivates people to investigate us. Our simillarities with other churches, or our differences?

    If we emphasize our similarities, then we’re “just another church”.

    However, once we reassure someone we are basically Christ-centered and Bible-believing, I think it is the differences that make us “special” and attract people who are dissatisfied with their current church or non-church-going situation.

    The things for which (I think) we need to emphasize similarities are that we are Christ-centered, Bible-believing, encouraging each other to practice what we preach, in doing good and bringing about righteousness etc., and not just giving lipservice to God on Sunday.

    Elder LeGrande Richards’ book “Marvelous Work and a Wonder” is great for illustrating that we believe the Bible.

    From my standpoint, having visited evangelical/fundamental churches before finding the restored church, I think we have more in common with them than with the so-called mainstream churches.

    It’s the evangelicals/fundamentals (if I’m still identifying them correctly) who believe somewhat like us in walking by the Spirit, gifts of the Spirit, miracles, personal revelation, healings, tongues, etc.

    I would think we would want a dichotomy or separation between us and the mainstream churches who deny outright miracles, revelations, prophecy, miraculous healings, tongues, etc.

    However, a problem creeps in the evangelical/fundamental churches. Those who seek continuous powerful or outward spiritual manifestations can be deceived by the adversary. Especially when they don’t realize that, even though powerful manifestations sometimes happen, the majority of time the Spirit manifests Himself through quiet means such as the still soft voice.

    No matter what you’re looking for, either arm-waving holler-rollerism, or staid white-bread conservative WASP-ism, there is a church for it set up somewhere that can provide what you’re looking for. It’s the law of supply and demand: if there’s a demand, someone will supply.

    So how do we get the attention of and attact the pure-in-heart, those who are “Christ’s sheep” in order that they will investigate and “hear his voice?” And at the same time not contend and not intentionally give offense to anyone like the Lord commands?

    IMO: by teaching the truth and by bearing simple Spirit-filled testimony of that truth.

    We don’t have to attack or put down others’ beliefs or teachings. We just need to speak and teach our own beliefs, and bear testimony of them.

    Then the truth-seekers who are pure-in-heart will be attracted to it. The indifferent will ignore it. And as has been true since the beginning, there will be those who take offense no matter what we do or say, and will attack us. Let us allow the Lord to be their judge, while we strive to be honest, faithful and innocent of offense.

  15. Have you ever known an evangelical who claims he is saved, who is not surrounded by good works.

    An equation for you—

    Read scriptures + pray often + love everybody === works. Works are an “outgrowth” the above.

    However I am a simple minded fool. I cant get on your high levels of discourse.

    Love one another, even as I have loved you.

  16. “Have you ever known an evangelical who claims he is saved, who is not surrounded by good works.”

    I agree. So why do they mormon-bash over the words “works”?

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