“Mormons don’t rely on Christ but think they can be righteous and worthy by keeping commandments.” This was one of the themes recently hurled in my face several times by a minister who was teaching a woman and others that her sweet LDS parents weren’t Christian and were going to hell. He was especially offended by the idea of Mormons getting a temple recommend card to signify that they were “worthy” (he hated that word) to go the LDS temple.
A healthy counterbalance to such rhetoric can be found in the words of Jesus, which might not be considered as often as they should be in some circles. In recent posts I’ve pointed out how Christ responded that we should “keep the commandments” if we wanted eternal life–a request of His that clearly was not sarcastic, as this minister argued.
Matthew 5 is one example of many. The words of Christ in this sermon are focused not on one-time belief or salvation by faith alone, but on a lifelong journey of obeying God and eliminating bad behavior. He teaches us how to live and behave in order to more fully follow Him. It is a call for us to pursue righteousness, though we know it is only through His Atonement that we can overcome death and sin, or have any hope of truly choosing righteousness. No amount of obedience on our own can do anything to change our fallen nation or remove our sins, but His grace is offered to us in a covenant relationship to cleanse us and bless us. But that covenant involves our participation. We accept His grace by accepting Him and seeking to follow Him and yes, even obey Him, imperfect as we are. Keeping commandments in this covenant relationship does not create the tree of life, but gives us access to it, as Jesus Himself spoke to John in Rev. 22:14: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.”
Matthew 7 makes similar points, urging us to pursue the journey found on the straight and narrow way and warning us that the fruits of our choices and actions show whom we serve, and that those who profess belief and claim to have been great men of God yet have done works of iniquity will be cast out. It is doing his will, not just professing with our lips or claiming to be believers, that matters: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21)
He is not denying His own grace in saying this. He is not casting Himself out from true Christianity. He is teaching what He taught in his premortal role as Jehovah and what He teaches now as our resurrected Lord and Savior who sits on the right hand of the Father, doing all things to rescue us, if only we will let Him by exercising faith, repenting, and seeking to follow Him. The message of repentance, by the way, is not a Mormon heresy, but reflects some of the first words of Christ as He began teaching the world: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
The word “worthy,” by the way, reflects a goal of following Christ and does not imply self-sufficiency, perfection, or not needing grace. See how it is used in the scriptures. Also, if Paul could warn against partaking of the bread and wine “unworthily,” is it not possible that other rituals or ordinances might require some degree of “worthiness”?