A few days ago, I read an article by someone who claimed to know a lot about Mormons. Like so many self-proclaimed experts on this subject, much of his information was inaccurate. One of his claims was that most Mormons don’t believe they will be saved because they aren’t perfect. This is, of course, false.
His theory was based on the Mormon teachings about obeying the commandments. Mormons do not believe that keeping the commandments is optional. The Bible, in fact, says the commandments are not optional.
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 (Matthew 7:21).
16 ¶And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).
We can see from these verses that we must keep the commandments. Many people prefer a guarantee that once they’ve taken a few one-time steps, they are assured a place with God, regardless of what choices they make otherwise. Some hope that if they take those simple steps they will automatically do the good works with no special effort on their own part. Because Mormons consider the act of accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior to be the first step, not the last, outsiders sometimes misunderstand the commandment as being one of working our way into Heaven.
They think Mormons are working their way into Heaven, making a checklist and crossing off steps like a Scout earning a merit badge. This is not how it works. Mormons believe the atonement of Jesus Christ is an essential part of the process. The Book of Mormon, which Mormons use in addition to the Bible, teaches:
Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that 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, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. (2 Nephi 2:8.)
From this we can guess that the author of the article was wrong. Mormons do not believe they have to be perfect. In fact, it is a core teaching of Mormonism that no mortal can be perfect. Only Jesus Christ was perfect during mortality and this is because He had God as His Father. What Mormonism does teach is that we are supposed to work towards perfection. The Bible says,
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48.)” A scripture like this could lead any Bible-believer to become discouraged, but Mormons know that while God never gives a commandment we cannot keep (He is, after all, unfailingly fair), some commandments are not completed in this lifetime. If Jesus’ atonement was required because it is impossible to be perfect, and we are commanded to be perfect, then it is clear we’re going to be able to work on the perfection after we die and Satan can’t get to us anymore.
So, Mormons work to improve their ability to keep the commandments because Jesus said that is how we show our love for Him. However, we don’t do it to cross something off a list because meaningless obedience is meaningless to God. If obedience is a measure of our love for the Savior, then it must be done because we love the Savior. If we say we love Him but then rob a bank or attack Him, clearly our words are meaningless, which is what is behind Matthew 7:21.
Mormons want to be as perfect as possible to please God and to demonstrate their love and faith, but they have been taught they will not be perfect in this life. They know God planned for eternal progression, meaning they can continue to learn and progress after they die. (Can you imagine how dull eternity would be if we just sat on clouds playing harps and never learning or progressing?)
It can be very difficult to understand another person’s faith simply because the subtleties and the understanding of how many small pieces fit together. For this reason, the best way to learn what Mormons believe is to ask a practicing, believing Mormon.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.