Tag Archives: Mormons

Levels of Law and Mormonism

Steve F. and I were delighted to have three young Mormons at Steve’s place Friday afternoon. This was our second meeting with two of these missionaries. The topic of conversation: prophets. We talked for about an hour and a half or so, thus I will only share a brief summary with some reflections scattered throughout.

They said that each prophet brings a new law which is a higher level of law. Though they ultimately wanted to culminate our discussion with Joseph Smith and the new law offered by him, the two prophets we talked about most were Moses and Jesus. We spent much time talking about the relationship between the Mosaic Law and the person and work of Jesus Christ, which was a great stage upon which to preach the glorious riches of the true gospel of God’s grace.

I was able to read to them texts such as 1 Peter 1:10-12, Luke 24:25-27 and John 5:39, which all teach that the central role of the Law and the Prophets is to point people to Christ. I tried to explain that Jesus came to obey the Mosaic Law which Israel had broken. They seemed to be riveted on the fact that Jesus came to teach a new law because of the apostasy of Israel; however, they spoke without due attention to the fulfillment dynamic of Christ’s work and ministry. What I found especially interesting was their distinction between what they called higher law and lower law. This distinction is worthy of much attention. Is there such a thing as higher law and lower law? We know that Jesus spoke of the greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40) and that he gave a “new commandment” (John 13:34), but have God’s standards changed? What did they mean by levels of law? They did not offer a clear explanation of the different levels of law, but assured us that they will be able to better explain this doctrine at our next meeting.

We talked about God’s standards for a while. I was uneasy with the idea that Jesus came to fulfill a lower law. My uneasiness quickened me to talk about the person of Christ and his perfect work on our behalf. The more I think about the standards of the Old and New Covenant, the more convinced I am that both demand perfection (consider Galatians 3:10 and Matthew 5:48). However, as one of my Pastors (Julian Freeman) explained to me today, though God’s standards are always the same – with greater revelation comes increased accountability. In other words, as he said, “you are only accountable for what has been revealed.” So, since the coming of Christ, who is the fullness of God’s revelation (cf. Hebrews 1:3), there is a sense in which we are more accountable to that standard of perfection, which was not revealed with the same degree of clarity in the past as has now been displayed in Jesus Christ and his New Covenant. When the Mormons spoke of levels of law, they seemed to have another explanation in mind; but I will wait to hear them further on this point.

Though I was unable to explain these distinctions to the Mormons during our meeting, I took the occasion to highlight the glorious work of Christ. Since they had also brought up the topic of the Sabbath (and incorrectly mentioned that it is commanded in the New Testament), I read to them Hebrews 4:10, preaching Christ as our rest. By God’s grace I explained how the Sabbath, the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets all point to Jesus Christ. I preached that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of these things and tried to help them understand why Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” They had explained that this command is a call to hard work. I tried to explain that this statement functions (in context) to help people see their sin, and thus, to look to Jesus as the One who came to live a perfect life on their behalf (not that these commands are not binding on New Covenant believers; they are binding, but only by faith alone in Christ alone by the power of the Spirit are we to heed these commands). Accordingly, Matthew 5:48 functions to point us to fullness of faith in Christ and his perfect work. This passage is not a call to gaining God’s acceptance through Jesus + hard work. This topic of faith alone vs. faith + works was the major point of difference in our last meeting; thus, I took the opportunity to re-preach the truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

Well, that is all I shall share for now. Steve F. and I were both encouraged as we contemplated the perfect work of Christ on our behalf – what a glorious gospel! We enjoyed seeing these men again. They are very friendly and a joy to see. May the Lord help us to continue to love these men and preach Christ to them. May the Lord grant us wisdom to know how to best converse with them to the glory of His Name.

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Meeting with Some Mormons

John C. joined Steve F. and I for our meeting with a couple of Mormons in the afternoon. We met for an hour and a half or so . . . much to talk about. During our meeting, one of the mormons stated what the Gospel encompassed and looked to us for approval. We were not able to approve of his description of the Gospel, for he said the Gospel is a message centrally about faith, repentance, receiving the Holy Spirit, and perseverance. He taught us that there are 5 things man must do to enter into a right relationship with God. 

I responded  by telling him what I learned from John Piper (at T4G ’06), which is the Gospel in 5 parts (but NOT 5 things you must do). Here is the best explanation of the Gospel which I have heard:  The Gospel is a message about 1) historical events – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; 2) Achievements – the good things that Christ accomplished as a result of his work – forgiveness of sins (for people), removal of the wrath of God, installation of his Kingship over all things, completion of perfect righteousness, the defeat of Satan and death etc.; 3) Way of Transfer – the way for sinners “to get” the benefits and achievements of Christ applied (transferred) to them is by faith alone (which includes repentance), not by works (at all); 4) New Identity – the good things that are now true about the believer as a result of true belief – sons and daughters of God, counted righteous, receive the Holy Spirit, sins forgiven, etc.; and 5) God – the message of the Gospel is the clearest display of the character and glory of God – his holiness, love, justice, faithfulness, righteousness, grace and mercy, etc.

The Way of Transfer was the point of disagreement. They insisted that the way to get saved is not by faith alone, but also by faith and works. We spent much time debating this most important point of doctrine (called justification – how a sinner can be declared “righteous” by God the Judge).  We studied Ephesians 2. 4-10. Of special interest was their interpretation of Ephesians 2.8-10. They stated that when Paul says the way to get saved is “not a result of works” he really means “not by works alone.” In other words, they believe that the way to get saved is by faith and works.  Herein lies the difference of eternal life and eternal death.

There are many reasons why this Mormon understanding of how to get right with God is not true. The most clear reason is because that is NOT what Paul wrote. He wrote that the way to get saved is by free grace, for it is a “gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” He did not say we are saved by faith AND works. His main point is to make a positive-negative statement (yes to grace – no to works). If Paul (who is a master of precision) wanted to teach on the importance of grace in addition to works, he would have written that we are saved “not only by works, but also by grace.” Furthermore, if we are saved by works even in the least bit, there is no place for free grace; we would have to earn our way to heaven. We could have something (even a little bit) to boast about.

The reason why we are not saved by works (at all) is, as Paul said, “so that no one can boast.” True believers have no ground for boasting; the only thing they can boast in is the work of Jesus (Gal 6.14). As Paul said to the Romans, “Then what comes of our boasting? It is excluded” (Rom 3.27). There is no room for boasting because we are not saved by our own efforts (not even in the least bit).

 May the Lord have mercy on the Mormons as he has had mercy on me. It is only by God’s grace that I can see that the way to get saved from the wrath of God (which I deserve) is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

We plan to meet with these Mormons again. If you have any advice concerning how to best preach the Good News to Mormons, please let me know.