The sufficiency paradox, understanding the atonement

The atonement is the single greatest event in history, nothing else even compares, and as the single most important and relevant event in each of our own individual lives, it deserves our attention.

Unfortunately, amongst the various Christian denominations, there are lots of differences and views about the atonement, and many inaccurate understandings of how, exactly, it works.

As I have endeavored to teach the doctrine of the atonement, and how it pertains to mercy and justice, and the role of works in achieving exaltation, there has understandably been a lot of “firm” disputations voiced here by followers of other Christian faiths (those outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS, or Mormons).

Their (and the traditional) view of the atonement is one of what they call “sufficiency”.  In short, Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, and we do nothing to deserve or earn it, and that the atonement in and of itself is sufficient for our salvation – nothing need be done by us.

We seem to agree right up to that last qualifier.  Mormons too agree that Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, and that we do nothing to deserve or earn it.  But we do believe that we must accept it, for it to have efficacy in our life.  And in that regard, the notion of “works” enters the picture.  The idea that we must “do” something in order for the atonement to take effect (not mentioning the myriad biblical references to works as a requirement to salvation which I explore here:  What do Mormons believe about works?).

But this is where I always get met with opposition, for it flies in the face of the view that Mercy and the atonement is sufficient, and there is nothing we must do for it to take effect.  As these discussions continue, I inevitably ask the unavoidable question “If the Atonement is sufficient, and there is nothing we must do, then I am already saved, as are all Mormons (in truth, all humanity), correct?”  But that is always met with a “No”, and the statement that Mormons are not saved (as in the discussion on this post: How to tell if it’s the spirit or yourself). 

But to say in one breath that Christ’s atonement is sufficient without anything being required by us, and then in the next to say that it doesn’t work for one particular group of people, creates a belief paradox.  An irreconcilable contradiction.  For if one believes in “sufficiency”, but that a particular group of people isn’t saved, then it begs the question “Then why are they not saved?”

The answer must be because that particular group has not “done” something that they needed, that there is some unmet requirement, in short, that the necessary “works” have not been fulfilled.  So that in the process of attempting to refute the notion of works in salvation, they simultaneously validate the notion themselves.

There is one other possible explanation, which was presented in the comments of that last link (How to tell if it’s the spirit or yourself).   Jim B. who regularly posts very thorough doctrinal analysis about this topic, claims that we “can’t embrace the gospel without divine enablement”.

This implies, of course, that I because haven’t accepted their beliefs, I haven’t been divinely enabled.  Which would be to say that God plays favorites, and he loves some more than others, or seeks some, and not others, as opposed to loving all man equally, as one would expect from our understanding of the Character of God. 

Jim goes on in another comment to say “I am saved by grace, through faith, and it is all a gift of God’s grace.  I have merited nothing from God.  I did not desire God until he desired me.”  But then states that I am not saved.  Why?  Does God does not desire me?

But again, this creates a paradox, for in order to validate the belief in this doctrine of “sufficiency” (at least as it has been explained), you have to claim that all are saved.  But when they try to say that all are NOT saved, they’re left in contradiction to the first statement, which they attempt to explain by saying that either one hasn’t done the right things, or that God plays favorites – in either case defeating the belief of sufficiency.

But a true understanding of the atonement and its actual sufficiency doesn’t necessitate a rejection of the notion of works.  The two principles are perfectly harmonious.  Many mistakenly believe that this reconciliation between the atonement and works means that Mormons think that they earn their salvation.  But this is not true.

We too believe that no matter what works we do, no matter how hard we try, without the atonement salvation is impossible.  Only in and through the atonement of Christ can man be saved.  The Book of Mormon teaches this point repeatedly: “…remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come” (Helaman 5:9).  There is “no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood” (Alma 21:9), and many others.

But what then of works?  What about all these scriptures (listed here) that say “the dead were judged … according to their works (Revelation 20:12-15), and that salvation is “unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:5-10), and that only “doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13-16), and that God shall “render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:5-11), and that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26), and many others.  After all, they were “commandments”, not “recommendations”.

As I explain in detail here (“Picking the lock of salvation?“), the atonement of Christ made a gateway into the kingdom of God, but at those gates, we are required to present a key (symbolically speaking), we are required to have done certain things (e.g. baptism).  Without the gate, it wouldn’t matter what keys you have, and therefore, only “through” the atonement (or gate) can we enter the Kingdom of God.  But nowhere does it imply that the gate is sufficient in and of itself, to the contrary, the bible teaches that we must be baptized, keep the commandments, and do other things that qualify us, or give us the keys necessary to open that gate and enter the kingdom of God.

So you see, a true understanding of the Atonement of Christ need not create such a paradox.  We needn’t assume that these scriptures about works are somehow incongruous with the scriptures about Mercy.  As I explain here “The grand panorama of scripture” all scripture must be considered together (we cannot cherry pick only those doctrines that are most convenient).  And the principles and doctrines of Mormonism are sufficient to encompass the full breadth and depth of all scriptures, without such contradictions and paradoxes.  That’s the miracle of Mormonism.  That God, working today as he did in times of old, gave us prophets and apostles, inspired men of God who receive direct revelation to clarify such points of doctrine as this – even the most important.  To correct those beliefs that have mutated and changed over the years based on the philosophies of man and their committee-based cannon.

My invitation is to all people, to consider these things, to learn about the prophet Joseph Smith, to read the Book of Mormon, and to pray for yourself, if they are not true, that we all might glory in the beauty of clear doctrine, and avoid such confusing paradoxes, particularly as they pertain to the most important event ever to occur, even the very atonement of Christ.


44 replies
  1. Terry G says:

    The idea that God does what He wants, and that what He does is true and right because He does it, is foundational to the understanding of everything in Scripture, including the doctrine of election.

    In the broad sense, election refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He best sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence.

    The Bible makes this point repeatedly. In the very act of creation, God created precisely what He wanted to create in the way He wanted to create it (cf. Gen. 1:31). And ever since the creation, He has sovereignly prescribed or permitted everything in human history, in order that He might accomplish the redemptive plan which He had previously designed (cf. Is. 25:1; 46:10; 55:11; Rom. 9:17; Eph. 3:8–11).

    In the Old Testament, He chose a nation for Himself. Out of all the nations in the world, He selected Israel (Deut 7:6; 14:2; Psalm 105:43; 135:4). He chose them, not because they were better or more desirable than any other people, but simply because He decided to choose them. In the words of Richard Wolf, “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” It may not have rhymed as well, but the same would have been true of any other people God might have selected. God chooses whomever He chooses, for reasons that are wholly His.

    The nation of Israel was not the only recipient in Scripture of God’s electing choice. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is called Christ, “My Chosen One” (Luke 9:35). The holy angels also are “chosen angels” (1 Tim. 5:21). And New Testament believers are those who were “chosen of God” (Col. 3:12; cf. 1 Cor. 1:27; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9; 5:13; Rev. 17:14), meaning that the church is a community of those who were chosen, or “elect” (Eph. 1:4).

    When Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose Me but I chose you” (John 15:16), He was underscoring this very truth. And the New Testament reiterates it in passage after passage. Acts 13:48 describes salvation in these words, “As many as have been appointed to eternal life believed.” Ephesians 1:4–6 notes that, God “chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul reminds his readers that he knew God’s choice of them (1 Thess. 1:4), and that he was thankful for them “because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13). The Word of God is clear: believers are those whom God chose for salvation from before the beginning.

    Even the foreknowledge to which Peter refers should not be confused with simple foresight as some would teach—contending that God, in eternity past, looked down the halls of history to see who would respond to His call and then elected the redeemed on the basis of their response. Such an explanation makes God’s decision subject to man’s decision, and gives man a level of sovereignty that belongs only to God. It makes God the One who is passively chosen, rather than the One who actively chooses. And it also misunderstands the way in which Peter uses the term “foreknowledge.” In 1 Peter 1:20 the apostle uses the verb form of that very word, prognosis in the Greek, to refer to Christ. In that case, the concept of “foreknowledge” certainly includes the idea of a deliberate choice. It is reasonable, then, to conclude that the same is true when Peter applies prognosis to believers in other places (cf. 1 Pet. 1:2).

    The ninth chapter of Romans also reiterates the elective purposes of God. There, in reference to His saving love for Jacob (and Jacob’s descendants) as opposed to Esau (and Esau’s lineage), God’s electing prerogative is clearly displayed. God chose Jacob over Esau, not on the basis of anything Jacob or Esau had done, but according to His own free and uninfluenced sovereign purpose. To those who might protest, “That is unfair!” Paul simply responds by asking, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (v. 20).

    Many more Scriptures could be added to this survey. Yet as straightforward as the Word of God is, people continually have difficulty accepting the doctrine of election. The reason, again, is that they allow their preconceived notions of how God should act (based on a human definition of fairness) to override the truth of His sovereignty as laid out in the Scriptures.

    Frankly, the only reason to believe in election is because it is found explicitly in God’s Word. No man and no committee of men originated this doctrine. It is like the doctrine of eternal punishment, in that it conflicts with the dictates of the carnal mind. It is repugnant to the sentiments of the unregenerate heart. And like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the miraculous birth of our Savior, the truth of election, because it has been revealed by God, must be embraced with simple and unquestioning faith. If you have a Bible and you believe it, you have no other option but to accept what it teaches.

    The Word of God presents God as the controller and disposer of all creatures (Dan. 4:35; Is. 45:7; Lam. 3:38), the Most High (Psalm 47:2; 83:18), the ruler of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19; Is. 37:16), the One against whom none can stand (2 Chron. 20:6; Job 41:10; Is. 43:13). He is the Almighty who works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11; cf. Is. 14:27; Rev. 19:6), and the heavenly Potter who shapes men according to His own good pleasure (Rom. 9:18–22). In short, He is the decider and determiner of every man’s destiny, and the controller of every detail in each individual’s life (Prov. 16:9; 19:21; 21:1; cf. Ex. 3:21–22; 14:8; Ezra 1:1; Dan. 1:9; Jas. 4:15)—which is really just another way of saying, “He is God.”

  2. Rusty Lindquist says:

    That was a wonderful reply, thank you for putting such thought and time into it! It was so very well said, even if I don’t agree with all of it (although I do agree with a lot of it).

    Let me start at the beginning, and work my way through your comments.

    First, the notion that God does what He wants, and that what he does is true and right because he does it is, in my view, like only seeing the result or consequence, and looks past the reasons. I think that in all things that God does, there is a reason and a divine purpose.

    For instance, his choosing the nation of Israel. I don’t think that he chose the Jews simply “because”. There was no randomness to his choice. He would have chosen them for specific reasons, to bring about his divine purposes. Perhaps it was the simple fact that at the time, they would be the only people wicked enough to crucify their own Lord. Whether for that, or something else, it would be based on some reason, and more than simple fancy, randomness, or favoritism.

    In your other many illustrations referencing his chosen, you make reference to the doctrine of election, which I don’t disagree with. But I think its error to say that election based on foresight somehow demeans or diminishes God.

    It does give man a level of sovereignty that is godlike, however – and that is free agency – a gift of God, to man, because of his love for us, and because it was a vital component for our own perfection. When the Lord says “be ye therefore perfect”, he’s saying “work”, and “obey”, he’s not waving a wand.

    But we couldn’t obey unless we had free agency. We couldn’t learn and gain the experiences necessary for perfection without choice and free agency. But free agency required opposition (for how could we choose unless there were a choice to make), and opposition necessitated law (for we must choose the right in order to be perfect, therefore a law had to be provided so we would know what choices to make). But if there were a law, there would also have to be consequences, which required Justice, and from Justice flowed the necessity for Mercy, and hence the inclusion in his divine plan of salvation for a Savior, that an atonement might be made. But the atonement was necessitated because of free agency. From the foundations, it’s all based on choice and accountability – works.

    For if all things were foreordained (not just foresaw, but pre-determined), then how is sin, sin. Just as free agency required the atonement (looking at the effects of negative choices), free agency also gave rise to righteousness, and the ability to strive for perfection, which makes way for blessings from obedience. Hence “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:5-10), and why he shall “reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27, Rev 22:12-15).

    Going back to your implication that saying Gods decision was based on mans decision, how does it demean a father to reward his children when they’re good? We see such constantly throughout scripture (many of which I quoted above). The nature of rewarding righteousness is an illustration of his perfect love, not an indication of powerlessness.
    In short, even in foreordination, we’re talking about works.

    And if foreordination or election worked the way you suggest, then what about all those scriptures suggesting salvation is dependent on works (listed here? Why would we be judged by our works if they had no role and our calling and election was predetermined?

    Yet still, this important discussion is a sidenote to the afore described paradox of sufficiency – stating that the atonement is sufficient for all, but then saying it’s not sufficient for some. If you simply subscribe to the belief that “god must choose you”, and not based at all upon works, then that would also imply that it matters not what religion we follow, Mormons and Lutherans, and Episcopalians and Catholics, and all other members of any other denomination are all saved based on divine selection (which apparently has already been decided). So why try? Why bother believing anything? Why spend any time at all on someones blog trying to teach your beliefs, if the works you try to get me to do play no role in my salvation. That is the paradox to which I refer.

    Yet still, even if you’d rather focus on the former discussion of foreordination, it’s a fascinating discussion and I’d love to hear your reply.
    Again, thanks for your thoughtful remarks.

  3. Andrew says:

    Wonderful post, thank you for putting it up.
    I too have often been confused by this Paradox.

    Ev: “No works are required, you just have to have faith.”
    Me: “How does one have faith.”
    Ev: “They verbally or silently claim that Jesus is Christ.”
    Me: “Mormons do that.”
    Ev: “That doesn’t count, they’re still not saved.”
    Me; “Why not?”
    Ev: “Because they’re doctrine isn’t right.”
    Me “But you didn’t say that having the right doctrine saves someone, but Christ’s grace alone.”
    Ev: “Well obviously you have know the right things about God.”
    Me “But Paul didn’t say ‘It is by doctrine ye are saved’ but ‘it is by grace’.” Wouldn’t it be a work to pass some sort of doctrinal test. And who on earth are you to set up doctrinal tests to determine someone elses state in the hereafter. You don’t believe in authority. I let Jesus choose who is saved.
    Ev: “Well if you just read yer Bible”
    Me: “I read it, but I don’t make the same assumptions that you do.”

  4. Eric Nielson says:

    Excellent Rusty. When one examines what the typical evangelical claims to believe it ends up being really, really bad theology. There is no legitimate way around it.

    People like Terry G. can pick isolated verses of scripture and twist them while ignoring the rest of the book to make strict Calvinist claims regarding salvation. Bottom line it is God choosing who to save and who not to save.

    You have laid this out very well, and it exposes a huge weakness in many protestant beliefs, and the incredible strengths or Mormon beliefs.

  5. Eric Nielson says:

    I would like to add that my understanding of our (Mormon) doctrine of salvation is that BASIC salvation is a free and (nearly) unconditional gift from Jesus Christ to everyone except a small number who are the sons of perdition. Thus Mormonism is very generous when it comes to basic salvation. We are nearly Universalists.

    After that, the degree of glory we receive in this salvation is dependent on the type of person we have become, which is often expressed by what we do.

    With this combination, Mormonism provides both the most merciful and just view of the salvation and the atonment that ther is.

  6. Rusty Lindquist says:

    Andrew – perfect succinct incapsulation of the post in an easy-to-follow conversational format. Thanks.

    Eric – great addition. I do plan on expounding upon your latter point in an upcoming series about the plan of salvation. Actually it’s a larger project that will cover the sweeping panaroma of principles involved in it’s intricacies. I’m building it as a flash application which lays out visually the entire plan, with mouse-over sumaries of each primary point, and then links on each to more info – which will lead to a blog post dedicated to that point for further coverage and ongoing discussion. But I’m very glad you brought it up here, as it’s very suiting to this particular point, that the theology of sufficiency as held by traditional christianity represents an unreconcilable paradox that illustrates the effects of the apostacy and accentuates the beauty behind reveled doctrine and present-day prophetic and apostolic leadership.

  7. Clean Cut says:

    I really enjoyed this post. It’s so applicable with so many conversations I’ve tapped into recently. People of other faiths can’t begin to appreciate the strength of our position because they’ve boxed themselves into a very narrow (and oftentimes incorrect) understanding of the the gospel, so they’re blinded to what’s staring them right in the face.

    I also was intrigued by Eric Nielson’s comments.

  8. Low says:


    I found the dialog your wrote amusing. But here’s a different way of saying it:

    Me: “I have faith in Jesus Christ. I accept Him as my personal Savior. He is the only way to be saved. There is no other.”

    Ev: “That’s all it takes. His grace is sufficient.”

    Me: “Great. You should know that I’m a Mormon.”

    Ev: “Then you’re not saved.”

    That’s where the evangelical claims go to their final conclusion, and it doesn’t make sense. Because of this train of logic, Mormons can’t be saved because of something they’ve DONE, in spite of their firm faith in Jesus Christ. Mormons are condemned because their WORKS prevent them from being saved. And while they condemn Mormons, they profess that no works or effort are required for salvation.

    “There is nothing you can do. His grace is sufficient for salvation.”

    “You Mormons have done something that prevents you from being saved.”

    Yet all the while, as a Mormon, I profess my faith in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, knowing that there is no other way, nor any other means that I can be saved.

  9. Margaret says:

    There has been such a need for this post! Rusty, you have done a terrific job-very inspired. Wonderful comments by Andrew, Eric, Clean Cut, and Low, too. Even Terry’s long comment and Rusty’s response add a valuable component.

    Rusty, you have whetted my appetite for your future project on the Plan of Salvation (Happiness). I’m soooo glad I’m a Latter-Day Saint! I add my invitation to Rusty’s for all to consider these things carefully, with an open heart.

  10. ponderingpastor says:

    This is an important conversation. Unfortunately it misrepresents Christianity … and God, in no small part due to an assumption about paradox, among other things.

    Rusty, you seem to maintain that paradox is a problem. Lutherans see paradox as very scriptural and essential. Scripture is both Law & Gospel (the same passages at the same time). We are both saint & sinner (at the same time). The bread and wine in Holy Communion are also the Body and Blood of Christ. There are many other examples. What we experience when we attempt to resolve the paradox is that we diminish the witness of scripture, usually by ignoring those portions that don’t fit our resolution (as you’ve often warned against). Life is full of these paradoxes, and to diminish or excise them from our experience of faith diminishes faith. For example, my spouse is the source of my greatest joy and also the source of my greatest distress. So, which is it, those who want to resolve the paradox ask. It is both. Hence paradox.

    When Christians write Mormons out of God’s grace, it’s not because of some “work” that is not accomplished by Mormons. Most bluntly, it is because Mormons don’t worship the same God. I know that is a tough one, and I fully expect to be called on that, but that is what it boils down to. Mormons use the same words, point to the same scriptures, and worship a different God than I do. The Jesus Christ in the the official name of the LDS church is not the same Jesus Christ of the New Testament. Jesus warned of false Christs, and Christians believe that Mormons worship a false Christ. (To be fair, Christians are understood to be apostate by the Mormons … so really no difference here. Each “side” claims Jesus as their own.)

    Now, using logic. If this is true, and this is how those you describe above see it, then there really doesn’t exist the paradox you claim.

    Having said that (and ducking from the incoming rounds):

    Even the Evangelical Christians you point to have trouble with the subject of saving faith. Too often, the focus is on what they have done (as in Andrew’s example above). I think most of the time they get it wrong too, and when they start to sound like they are moving toward “a works righteousness” they skittle off confused. A friend of mine recently wrote the following:

    “I’ve had this brief conversation a few times: Someone asks, “Do you love the Lord?” I respond, “Yes, but more importantly, God loves me.” Faith and our proper confessions of Jesus begin with God. If we start
    with us rather than God, we can only confess with Luther: “I believe that I can’t believe.” We confess our sinfulness, our unworthiness, our imperfections, our inabilities, etc. When we are weak and helpless, then God is strong and powerful. The Christian faith is primarily about God. This means that God, (by some name,) needs to be the subject of our sentences about faith.

    “I’m not sure how many of our people in the pews understand this gospel-centered theology. Perhaps the most powerful idol we need to overcome is our selves and a works-righteousness that puts self in the center of our faith rather than God.

    So, in the end: Yes! Christ’s atonement is completely and absolutely sufficient for salvation. To say anything less is to place ourselves in front of Jesus. Frankly, there was a way to salvation (through the Law) before Jesus. If Jesus is just a door, then … what a waste!

    Pondering Pastor

  11. Low says:


    You’ve elegently bypassed the point entirely. If I walked up to you as a stranger and said: “I I have faith in Jesus Christ. I accept Him as my personal Savior,” you would welcome me as a fellow Christian. If I said “I’m a Mormon,” you’d cast my faith aside.

    I disagree with your point about the “different God” theory. It’s wrong. I KNOW I believe in the same God you do. I know I believe in the same Jesus Christ you do. You may not agree with that, and that’s fine. But you can’t reject the fact that’s what I believe to be true. There’s nothing in my theology that states your diety is different than mine.

    So, when it comes down to it, you’re classifying and stratifying fellow believers in Christ, based on their individual doctrines. It’s funny – there are thousands of Christian churches and denominations out there. Tens of thousands. They all look at each other and call themselves collectively “the church” (which is another doctrinal fallacy), even though amongst themselves, their beliefs are so variant that it’s impossible to comprehend. Yet the one thing most love to do is look at my brand of Christianity and judgementally say “you’ll never qualify”.

    Sorry, but that’s downright un-Christian. You’re REAL definition of salvation is “profess your faith in Jesus Christ AND don’t be a Mormon.” Both variables are required.

    Just like believing Lutherans, Mormons ” confess our sinfulness, our unworthiness, our imperfections, our inabilities, etc.” This means that God is the subject of our sentences about faith. And that’s no different than any other Christian.

  12. Rusty Lindquist says:

    Thanks for clarifying this from a Lutheran perspective.

    First and foremost, I enjoyed your description of putting Christ first in faith; I too believe that faith is the total abandonment of self. If we cling, in any way, to anything other than Christ, than our faith is not yet whole. We must place the Lord first in our lives. But isn’t that, by definition, work? For doing so is not natural. It’s not natural to completely abandon oneself and place yourself in the hands of someone else, and whom you’ve never seen (in the flesh). It requires faith, and is proved through works.

    But also you suggest that essentially our salvation is denied because our definition of God differs from yours. For while we describe God differently, and disagree on his characteristics, there is only one God, and our debates about definitions doesn’t change his reality, they merely reflect our understanding of scripture and revelation (whichever denomination you’re in). But while this feels a bit precarious, it still doesn’t address the main issue – that of sufficiency. For if this is your definition (we must agree on doctrine to be saved), then that’s far from “the atonement is sufficient for all”, and therefore contradicts itself.

    It just seems to me that simply accepting doctrinal paradoxes as “natural” stems from an inability to make sense of scripture in order to cling to the creeds of the past. In other words, “because this scripture flies in the face of an ancient creed, I must either deny the creed or deny the scripture, and since I can do neither, I’ll simply assume acceptance of the contradiction. For to deny the creed is to deny my faith.” And thereby you ignore indication of the necessity to explore theological alternatives in order to support a tradition to which you’ve dedicated so much.

    But, for instance, the apostles of the Lord, when called as such, abandoned their nets, left their boats, and followed the Savior, even though he taught doctrine that was rebuked and rejected in his days and flew in the face of their traditions.

    But the interesting thing is that within the doctrinal explanations as revealed through Joseph Smith and latter day prophets, and upheld by Latter-day Saints (Mormons), there are no such paradoxes of principle. All truth is able to be harmoniously interwoven into one elegant, all-encompassing theology, free of such troubling in congruencies.

    It’s the beauty of Mormon doctrine, that all things now make sense, and there’s no more need for such debates (even among the same believers – as in the times of Creeds) to reconcile beliefs and come up with a compromise-based cannon. Rather it’s a cannon based on ongoing revelation to prophets and apostles, as in times of old.

  13. ponderingpastor says:

    When I’m speaking about paradox in my note earlier, I’m not including creeds. There are enough paradoxes in scripture, including the very atonement is sufficient vs. works necessary that we don’t even have to go to the creeds.

    Where you see beauty of Mormon Doctrine, I see a diminished experience of God as revealed in scripture as the paradoxes are “resolved”. That is where I believe Mormon Doctrine has not yet matured.

    It’s interesting that you equate maturation of a religion to accepting paradox, rather than having those contradictions resolved as more light and truth are revealed.

    To assume paradox is inherent (and not the subject of mans imperfect understanding) would be to imply that God is one of chaos and contradiction (which becomes problematic in our ability to have true faith), rather than a being of divine harmony and perfect reason.

    But I subscribe to the latter, believing that man can come to know God, can become perfect, even as he is, and that as we approach that level of personal progression, we come to find the answers that have eluded so many. We come to find that there is no contradiction with God, simply imperfect understanding of man, and as he reveales line upon line and precept upon precept, the mysteries of God unravel and we find a perfect path that is one eternal round, with no deviations, but rather with every action being based on eternal principles. This kind of principle-based governance cannot coexist with the philosophy that God is a god of contradictions, but rather that he his a perfected being, who has reached a level at which his actions are perfectly synchronistic with eternal principles.

    He tells us to become perfect, even as he is, and then endeavors to teach us those principles of perfection, line upon line, precept upon precept, that our actions might lead to ongoing personal progression predicated upon obedience to an ever expanding set of principles, until that perfect day, when we too become joint heirs with Christ.

    Did you pick up Fowler’s “Stages of Faith”? Last I knew you were looking for it. I’ve not yet heard whether or not you’ve read it. If I recall correctly (I’ve loaned my copy out) it speaks to this ability to embrace paradox.

    No, the place I went to didn’t have it. But thanks for the reminder. I’ll try my local B&N.

    Pondering Pastor

    • Lucas says:

      OK I have to ask, is there a copy or a book with Mitchell’s Eucharistic Prayer available semowhere? : I had in mind Paschal’s line “le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaeet point,” rendered into elevated but contemporary English and directed at the Almighty…Elevated contemporary English. ICEL was on to something. Give it 500 years?BTW, the Canadian Bishops adopted the ICEL collects from 1998 for their Sunday Celebrations book — which they don’t subtitle in a deliberately lay-demeaning manner… British Anglicans bit for some of the collects, offertory and invitations to communion, penitential rites and one of the alternate eucharistic prayers (Nathan Mitchell’s prayer, which the CDWDS jettisoned before “Sacramentary” stage). And some American Episcopalians are considering the possibility of adopting the alternative Exsultet. ICEL 1998 lives… just elsewhere.

  14. Sharon Clark says:

    There are only two possible ways to God – two conceivable ways to God. One involved your work, your effort, your righteousness, your goodness. The other acknowledges that you have none of that which pleases God. It either involves something you do to please God or nothing you do to please God and there can’t be any other way. There is no third alternative.

    There are only two possible paths to heaven. Either you contribute to your getting there or you don’t. Either you bring your righteousness to God and it counts for your salvation to one degree or another, or your righteousness is filthy rags that counts for nothing. So there are only two kinds of religions. Either you can be good enough to contribute to your salvation, or you can’t be good enough to contribute to your salvation. Either you have the ability to do something to please God, or you do not have the ability to do anything to please God. That is still the distinction.

    I agree that either we are required to do things or we aren’t. Do you believe you must be baptized? Do you believe I must belong to your church, or am I saved already?

    Only two religions in the world, only two – the religion of divine accomplishment, you can do nothing, God has done it all. That’s the true Christian gospel. Or the religion of human achievement, you do something, God does something and together, relatively, you make it to heaven and that’s every other religion in the world, but the true one. Even many, many forms of so-called Christianity. The religion of human achievement says that you have things that you can do that please God. Your goodness matters, your religious activity, your ceremonies. This is the religion of works.

    Out of curiosity then, what does he mean when he says we’ll be judged according to our works? What does he mean when he says that salvation comes “to all that obey him”, or that “the doers of the law shall be justified”?

    This is the religion of merit. This is the religion of self-righteousness. This is the religion of the flesh. It involves what we do. Or there is the religion of divine accomplishment which is all of faith, all of grace, and all what God does. And they don’t mix.

    They don’t mix – that’s the paradox to which I refer, since the scripture contains those of both grace, and works, how do you suggest they don’t mix, when the Bible itself mixes them thoroughly? It simply seems that the philosophies of man have conveniently carved out those portions that require obedience.

    You put any law in grace, the Bible says then grace is no more grace. You put any grace mingled with the law and you’ve corrupted law as the standard. It’s very confusing to be a legalist. It’s very confusing to think you can earn your way to heaven because you know you can’t be perfect and so you want to make sure that there’s a little cooperating grace there.

    Again, you suggest Grace and the Law don’t mix. Who was the author of Grace? Christ. Who gave us the law? Christ. First was the law of Moses, and once fulfilled, a higher law ushered in by his very birth. He gave commandments… **commandments**, and required obedience. Why, if grace and the law don’t mix? Can you help me understand how you reconcile that?

    In summary, while your comment restates traditional Christian belief, it does nothing to address the paradox to which I refer, nor attempts to reconcile any of these scriptures that clearly state otherwise. So while I appreciate your affirmation, I’m hoping you can help me (and other readers) understand how you justify such a belief with these clear biblical references.

  15. Terry G says:


    The fact that some sinners are not elected to salvation is no proof that God’s attitude toward them is utterly devoid of sincere love. We know from Scripture that God is compassionate, kind, generous, and good even to the most stubborn sinners. Who can deny that these mercies flow out of God’s boundless love? Yet it is evident that they are showered even on unrepentant sinners.

    It must be acknowledged, however, that explaining God’s love toward the reprobate is not as simple as most modern evangelicals want to make it. Clearly there is a sense in which the psalmist’s expression, “I hate the assembly of evildoers” (Ps. 26:5) is a reflection of the mind of God. “Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against Thee? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies” (Ps. 139:21-22). Such hatred as the psalmist expressed is a virtue, and we have every reason to conclude that it is a hatred God Himself shares. After all, He did say, “I have hated Esau” (Mal. 1:3; Rom. 9:13). The context reveals God was speaking of a whole race of wicked people. So there is a true and real sense in which Scripture teaches that God hates the wicked.

    So an important distinction must be made. God loves believers with a particular love. It is a family love, the ultimate love of an eternal Father for His children. It is the consummate love of a Bridegroom for His bride. It is an eternal love that guarantees their salvation from sin and its ghastly penalty. That special love is reserved for believers alone.

    However, limiting this saving, everlasting love to His chosen ones does not render God’s compassion, mercy, goodness, and love for the rest of mankind insincere or meaningless. When God invites sinners to repent and receive forgiveness (Isa. 1:18; Matt. 11:28-30), His pleading is from a sincere heart of genuine love. “‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'” (Ezek. 33:11). Clearly God does love even those who spurn His tender mercy, but it is a different quality of love, and different in degree from His love for His own.

    I totally agree, it is not the love of His chosen ones that is inconsistent with the concept of Mercy and Justice, but in the doctrine that His “elect” were chosen somehow randomly. But perhaps I misunderstand. How does God choose his “elect” if not based on their willingness to obey, have faith, trust, love and believe in him (works)? If they do nothing to earn his love, as shown in the bible that God loves those who accept, love, and follow him, how does he choose them?

  16. Jim B. says:

    Wow, I can’t believe I’ve been named in a post! =)

    Rusty, you misunderstand “sufficiency”. You’re explicitly equating sufficiency with universalism. To say that the Cross of Christ (the Atonement) is wholly sufficient DOES NOT mean that it applies to everyone. Even Mormons believe some are “sons of perdition” – the Atonement certainly does not savingly apply to them, does it?

    You again seem to be either woefully ignorant of orthodox Christian doctrine, or purposefully misrepresenting it. I won’t pretend to know which is the case.

    The sufficiency of the Atonement means exactly what Mormons don’t want it to mean – Christ is sufficient for the believer; He has purchased everything for the believer pertaining to salvation, sanctification and glorification. The believer does not work for any of it . (Which is not to say the believer does no works – the believer is created for good works; it is to say the believer does no work to earn or merit anything from God. It is all a free gift of grace; the faith, repentance, sanctification, glorification, etc.)

    The Atonement’s “sufficiency” refers not to the number of those who receive its benefits, but to the complete adequacy of these benefits.

    So, to say that some receive the benefits of the Atonement, and that others do not, in no way limits its sufficiency. In fact, it really has no pertinence to sufficiency at all.

  17. Jim B. says:

    RE: Terry’s first comment and Rusty’s response

    I agree with Terry and think he did a very good job of laying out the Christian doctrine of election. I find it interesting that Rusty did not spend any energy on explaining or exegeting the plethora of Biblical texts Terry employed to make his case, but instead eloquently pontificated on God’s “gift of free agency” without any reference to scripture.

    I’ve always wondered how such an important doctrine could have so little (i.e. ZERO) explicit scriptural support. Where in the Bible does God give man the “gift of free agency”? And what exactly is “free agency”?

    RE: Andrew’s dialogue

    Despite all the CAPITAL-LETTER protestations to the contrary, the mere profession of faith in “Jesus Christ” does not save. God saves. When God saves, the saved will respond in genuine repentance and faith. Faith is a hope and trust in the promises of the Biblical Christ; reliance on the imputed righteousness of Christ purchased for the believer at Calvary; believing that Christ took the divine punishment rightly due to the believer upon Himself as a substitute.

    Belief in right doctrine doesn’t save. God saves. However, when God saves, the saved will believe in the Christ of the Bible. Mormons (and many other professors of “Christ”) do not believe in the Christ of the Bible.

    “And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ.”

    – Apostle Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 269

    How can I believe in a mythical Christ, and yet believe in the same Christ as McConkie believes in?

    “That Jesus attained perfection FOLLOWING his resurrection is confirmed in the Book of Mormon.”

    – Ensign (November 1995), p. 87

    “On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some…”

    – Jess L. Christensen, A Sure Foundation: Answers to Difficult Gospel Questions (1998, p. 223-23)

    I could go on. When I say “Jesus Christ” and a Mormon says “Jesus Christ”, we are talking about two distinct entities. They cannot both be the actual Christ, as McConkie rightly states above.

    You can call that judgmental; I call it reality.

  18. Terry G says:

    Election is the act of God whereby in eternity past He chose those who will be saved. Election is unconditional, because it does not depend on anything outside of God, such as good works or foreseen faith (Romans 9:16).

    Can you help me understand why then, what motivation we have? If it’s already been decided, why should I attempt to live righteously and follow God’s commandments? And why would he say that we’d be judged by our works, if none of that matters?

    This doctrine is repeatedly taught in the Bible, and is also demanded by our knowledge of God. To begin with, let’s look at the biblical evidence.

    The Bible says prior to salvation, all people are dead in sin–spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). In this state of death, the sinner is utterly unable to respond to any spiritual stimulus and therefore unable to love God, obey Him, or please Him in any way. Scripture says the mind of every unbeliever “is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8, emphasis added). That describes a state of total hopelessness: spiritual death.

    With this understanding, how do you describe such scriptures as those describing men being “pricked in their hearts”, such as the apostles, where the truth spiritually resonates with them, and when they ask what they should do about it, they’re told they should be baptized (follow the law of God), and they do. Is this not responding to spiritual stimulus and subjecting yourself to the law of God? I must be misunderstanding, can you clarify?

    The effect of all this is that no sinner can ever make the first move in the salvation process. This is what Jesus meant in John 6:44, when He said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”

    What about baptism? We read that only he that believeth and is baptized can be saved. But God is not baptized for me, I must do it myself. Or am I misunderstanding?

    This is also why the Bible repeatedly stresses that salvation is wholly God’s work. Consider these passages:

    * In Acts 13:48 we read, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
    * Acts 16:14 tells us that Lydia was saved when, “… the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”
    * Romans 8:29-30 states, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
    * Ephesians 1:4-5,11 reads, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will … also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
    * Ephesians 2:8 says even our faith is a gift from God.
    * In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, the apostle Paul tells his readers, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation.”
    * Second Timothy 1:9 informs us that God “has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

    Occasionally someone will suggest that God’s election is based on His foreknowledge of certain events. This argument suggests that God simply looks into the future to see who will believe, and He chooses those whom He sees choosing Him. Notice that 1 Peter 1:2 says the elect are chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” and Romans 8:29 says, “whom He foreknew, He also predestined.” And if divine foreknowledge simply means God’s knowledge of what will happen in advance, then these arguments may appear to have some weight behind them.

    But that is not the biblical meaning of “foreknowledge.” When the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it refers to God’s establishment of a love relationship with that person. The word know, in both the Old and New Testament, refers to much more than mere cognitive knowledge of a person. Such passages as Hosea 13:4-5; Amos 3:2 (KJV); and Romans 11:2 clearly indicate this. For example, 1 Peter 1:20 says Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.” Surely this means more than that God the Father looked into the future to behold Christ! It means He had an eternal, loving relationship with Him. The same is true of the elect, whom we are told God “foreknew” (Romans 8:29). That means He knew them–he loved them–before the foundation of the world.

    I guess I still don’t see how this contradicts the definition of foreknowledge as you described in the paragraph above.

    If God’s choice of the elect is unconditional, does this rule out human responsibility? Paul asks and answers that very question in Romans 9:19-20. He says God’s choice of the elect is an act of mercy. Left to themselves, even the elect would persist in sin and be lost, because they are taken from the same fallen lump of clay as the rest of humanity. God alone is responsible for their salvation, but that does not eradicate the responsibility of those who persist in sin and are lost–because they do it willfully, and not under compulsion. They are responsible for their sin, not God.

    All are responsible for their sin, whether “elected” or “un”, so wherein is the difference? And again, if God’s election is predetermined, what need have we to try to do good? Why bother giving commandments, if they don’t matter? Why say he’ll judge you by your works? What does that scripture even mean then? When I try to reconcile all scripture together with the views you describe, I keep coming up against these irreconcileable roadblocks to which I refer in my post. If read by themselves, your scriptures seem to back up your points, but when read as a whole, they suddenly encounter all of these problems. Am I simply missing something?

    The Bible affirms human responsibility right alongside the doctrine of divine sovereignty.

    So what is human responsibility? What are the results of my actions? You say my salvation is predetermined, but then tell me I’m responsobile for my actions. In what way? What reward/punishment is there for my actions, when my actions don’t matter?

    Moreover, the offer of mercy in the gospel is extended to all alike.

    But according to how I understand your prior description, it doesn’t matter if mercy is extended to all, it’s already been predetermined to only apply to some.

    Isaiah 55:1 and Revelation 22:17 call “whosoever will” to be saved. Isaiah 45:22 and Acts 17:30 command all men to turn to God, repent and be saved.

    But I thought you said that man cannot do anything, that we have no righteous desire, that we’re unable to respond to spiritual stimulus, how can I turn to God, and repent, for this would indicate works on my behalf, it would indicate that I am “spiritually stimulated” even unto good works, which lead to repentance to be saved.

    First Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 tell us that God is not willing that any should perish, but desires that all should be saved.

    But I thought you said that he’d already chosen who would be saved. So he is willing that some should perish, if that is the case, since the choice is God’s, and not man’s for apparently there is no “reward in heaven” (another scripture that I can’t reconcile here).

    Finally, the Lord Jesus said that, “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

    Wait a minute, didn’t we say that our works have no bearing on salvation? But here you’re saying that if we come to Christ he won’t cast us out? So how does that work… if I come to Christ, he won’t cast me out, but the things I do have no bearing on salvation… I’m hoping you’ll explain.

    In summary, we can say that God has had a special love relationship with the elect from all eternity, and on the basis of that love relationship chosen them for salvation. The ultimate question of why God chose some for salvation and left others in their sinful state is one that we, with our finite knowledge, cannot answer. We do know that God’s attributes always are in perfect harmony with each other, so that God’s sovereignty will always operate in perfect harmony with His goodness, love, wisdom, and justice.

  19. Jim B. says:

    Amen. I would love to see Rusty meaningfully interact with these texts, and not simply toss out amorphous terms like “free agency” without any reference to Holy Scripture.

    Additionally, while I think it is biblical to say that man is “unable” to subject himself to the law of God, or love God, or seek Him; I think it important to note he is also UNWILLING to do these things. No man is in the position of wanting or willing to subject himself to the law of God, or love and seek God, and yet finding himself unable to do so. Unregenerate man DOES NOT WANT any of these things. His heart is set on sin and self, and he acts and wills accordingly.

  20. ponderingpastor says:


    Portions of your note illustrate one of the more interesting elements of Mormon theology … that of God’s evolving. Your words –” but rather that he is a perfected being, who has reached a level at which his actions are perfectly synchronistic with eternal principles.” Of course, that is consistent with Mormon “humanology” in that as humans become more perfect, they too can achieve this godliness. My concern is that it merges creature with creator, blurring the distinction. This making ourselves gods is original sin according to the way I read the Genesis saga.

    I think you continue to misunderstand my take on paradox within religion. I hold that human beings are limited in understanding. I think that some paradox occurs because of that limitation. You seem to believe that humans can overcome that limitation (see the paragraph above). I don’t think we ever do, because we are creature, something less than God. What we see as paradox likely makes perfect sense in God’s realm. In that, you would agree, I think. Our difference lies in that you believe that as we achieve perfection the paradox is “resolved”.

    But there is something deeper at work in paradox. Paradox does not always equal confusion or falsehood. In fact, half of the definitions for “paradox” I find indicate truth. Attempting to eliminate paradox, eliminates truth. We even have a common colloquialism related to paradox … “different side of the same coin.” It is my view that maturity often requires embracing paradox because paradox often embraces truth. I maintain that some truths can only be told through paradox. So, yes, when you write “It’s interesting that you equate maturation of a religion to accepting paradox, rather than having those contradictions resolved as more light and truth are revealed.” you summarize this position perfectly.

    Pondering Pastor

  21. Rusty Lindquist says:

    Thanks PP for your reply – you have no idea how much I appreciate and respect your talent for expressing your beliefs and clarifying the doctrine according to your faith, but all the while doing so without coming accross judgmental, harsh, or disrespectful. The way you do it simply builds a valuable, clarifying conversation of principles and beliefs, and doesn’t sound like a debate, argument, or contest. It’s a credit to you, you’re a fine representation for Lutherans.

    Gimme some time to read and digest your comments. But I first just wanted to say thanks!


  22. Rusty Lindquist says:

    By the way, as I work my way through replying to these comments, I wanted to mention something regarding Jim B.’s accusation that I am woefully ignorant of orthodox Christian doctrine.

    Let me be the first to respond to that and clarify that he’s absolutely right. I really do have very little understanding. I should have clarified this earlier so that when you hear me ask for clarification you would know I’m not being trite, but that I really don’t know.

    So please, and in reference to the Pondering Pastor’s tone, the more you explain, the better, not just for myself, but for the value of the record for the benefit of future readers. Also, when we spend more effort on clear presentation of principles and their context, we also naturally spend less time in argue-mode.

    Anyway, thanks for your contributions to such important discussions. I’ll work my way through more of these today.

  23. Connor says:

    I hope that this thread has not died. My wife asked me to read this with her and I found it very insightful and uplifting. As Rusty said about PP’s response:
    “it simply builds a valuable, clarifying conversation of principles and beliefs, and doesn’t sound like a debate, argument, or contest.”

    Jim B. brought up a good point about the words “sufficiency” and “universalism”. In his post it becomes clear to me that the Lord’s grace is sufficient for all those that believe in Him. He also makes a good point: if we don’t have faith in the God that has power to save us, we should not expect to be saved. The same could be stated about the early Isrealites and Baal. Even if they had called their golden calves “Jehovah” it would not have been the same God and Baal would could never have power sufficient to save them under any name.

    The Jesus Christ that I believe in may not be the same Jesus Christ that someone else believes in, even though they have the same name. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians in chapter 2:
    8- For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the grace of God:
    9- Not of works, lest any man should boast.

    Paul suggests that it is through our faith that we obtain the grace that we do not “earn” (because that would be boastful). The faith however must be true faith which is not “They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him” (Titus 1:16) or in “false Christs” (Matt 24:24).

    I believe what it comes down to is: what Jesus Christ do we all believe in? As for me, I believe in Jesus Christ and He is alive and died for my sins. That there is nothing that I could do alone to erase those sins because I’m imperfect (just ask my wife). However, I can accept Christ as my Savior and do all that I can do to show that I have faith in him. The Christ that I believe in is not limited by the works and passages recorded in the Bible. We learn much of Him in the Bible but He lives and speaks to man still today.

    Thank you for this forum Rusty. I appreciate the kind, honest, open hearts that you have attracted here.

  24. Rusty Lindquist says:

    It hasn’t died, I’ve just been so crazy-busy lately. It’s “back-to-school” this week, and when you’ve got 6 kids, that translates into sheer chaos. Plus sports starting up, etc. In any event, I have had time to ponder, and I am going to try as hard as possible to reply to all of these tomorrow. There are actually several threads with really important ongoing discussions and meaningful questions that are waiting for me. I apologize for my delay, check back tomorrow!

    And thank you for visiting…

  25. Terry G says:

    In Isaiah 63:7–9 the prophet describes God’s demeanor toward the nation of Israel:

    “I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion, and according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses. For He said, ‘Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely.’ So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them; and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.”

    Someone might say, Yes, but that talks about God’s redemptive love for His elect alone. No, this speaks of a love that spread over the entire nation of Israel. God “became their Savior” in the sense that He redeemed the entire nation from Egypt. He suffered when they suffered. He sustained them “all the days of old.” This speaks not of an eternal salvation, but of a temporal relationship with an earthly nation. How do we know? Look at verse 10: “But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them.”

    That is an amazing statement! Here we see God defined as the Savior, the lover, the redeemer of a people who make themselves His enemies. They rebel against Him. They grieve His Holy Spirit. They choose a life of sin.

    Now notice verse 17: “Why, O Lord, dost Thou cause us to stray from Thy ways, and harden our heart from fearing Thee?” That speaks of God’s judicial hardening of the disobedient nation. He actually hardened the hearts of those whom He loved and redeemed out of Egypt.

    Isaiah 64:5 includes these shocking words: “Thou wast angry, for we sinned, we continued in them a long time; and shall we be saved?”

    How can God be Savior to those who will not be saved? Yet these are clearly unconverted people. Look at verses 6–7, which begins with a familiar passage:

    For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. And there is no one who calls on Thy name, who arouses himself to take hold of Thee; for Thou hast hidden Thy face from us, and hast delivered us into the power of our iniquities.

    These are clearly unconverted, unbelieving people. In what sense can God call Himself their Savior?

    Here is the sense of it: God revealed Himself as Savior. He manifested His love to the nation. “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (63:9). He poured out His goodness, and lovingkindness and mercy on the nation. And that divine forbearance and longsuffering should have moved them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). But instead they responded with unbelief, and their hearts were hardened.

    Isaiah 65 takes it still further:

    I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, “Here am I, here am I,” To a nation which did not call on My name. I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts. (vv.1–2)

    In other words, God turned away from these rebellious people, consigned them to their own idolatry, and chose a people for Himself from among other nations.

    Isaiah reveals the shocking blasphemy of those from whom God has turned away. They considered themselves holier than God (v. 5); they continually provoked Him to His face (v. 3), defiling themselves (v. 4) and scorning God for idols (v. 7). God judged them with the utmost severity, because their hostility to Him was great, and their rejection of Him was final.

    Yet these were people on whom God had showered love and goodness! He even called Himself their Savior.

    In a similar sense Jesus is called “Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42; 1 Jn. 4:14). Paul wrote, “We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (1 Tim. 4:10). The point is not that He actually saves the whole world (for that would be universalism, and Scripture clearly teaches that not all will be saved). The point is that He is the only Savior to whom anyone in the world can turn for forgiveness and eternal life—and therefore, all are urged to embrace Him as Savior. Jesus Christ is proffered to the world as Savior. In setting forth His own Son as Savior of the world, God displays the same kind of love to the whole world that was manifest in the Old Testament to the rebellious Israelites. It is a sincere, tender-hearted, compassionate love that offers mercy and forgiveness.

  26. Rusty Lindquist says:

    Pondering Pastor,

    In regards to your comment about Mormons belief that “god is evolving”. The LDS belief about God is not one in which he’s in a state of constant evolution, for that term carries the connotation of change, and we believe God is unchanging, that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But when Mormons talk about “eternal progression”, what we mean is that we (and He) gains glory from his creations. Many times in introducing his son he makes the statement that he (Christ) glorifies the father. Indeed, we believe that our very actions, as we strive to live and obey his commandments, glorify our Father, much as I “feel” glorified as I watch my own sons do certain things which make me proud. What’s more, his creations are without beginning of days or end of years, but are ongoing. Just as our creations here on earth, in a very limited capacity, can make us great men, so too do God’s never-ending creations add to his eternal glory.

    Otherwise, I think you give a very eloquent and understandable explanation of paradox, the best I’ve read (I still haven’t gotten that book yet – I know, slacker…). You articulate both sides nicely, whereas we believe that these paradoxes are resolved as we begin to gain greater light and understanding, you embrace them for what they are, and appreciate them for their own particular beauty. As Mormons we likely mean much the same when we say “there must be opposition in all things”. I think our beliefs converge here somewhat.

  27. Rusty Lindquist says:


    Thanks for sharing your own insights and explaining it as you did. I think you offered a very accurate explanation.

    Terry G,

    In response to your last post, in each instance, Christ could call himself their savior because when his suffering and atonement was eternal and all-encompassing. He necessarily atoned for the sins of all man, not just those who would accept him, rather his atonement is complete and sufficient, excluding no one, that all if they would repent, might be saved. So even for the most wicked, he is their Savior. But that declaration is different than saying that the wicked shall be saved in their wickedness. Rather it’s simply saying that the atonement is for all, he is the savior for all mankind, now it is up to them to accept him.

    Finally, I was greatly confused by a number of your comments, so I responded in several places above. Can you help clarify those for me?

    Jim B.

    In a previous comment, you say that man is unable to subject himself to the law of God.

    I’m not sure what that means. When God says “thou shalt not kill”, and I don’t kill, am I not subjecting myself to His law? When he says repent and be baptized, and then I do, what then? I guess I’m misunderstanding what you mean here, and when you say “no man is in the position of wanting or willing to subject himself to the law of God, or love and seek God…”

    Does this mean there is no righteousness among man? If so, what of the many scriptures that talk of the righteous works of man, and blessings from righteousness? Perhaps you could expound a bit more on this particular concept, for I think that surely I’m not understanding it.

  28. Jim B. says:


    Are you sure you don’t kill (murder), Rusty? Have you ever harbored anger in your heart toward another? Have you ever acted out of this anger toward another? Then, according to Christ, you ARE a murderer.

    God sees the hearts of men. He sees all our “good deeds” as filthy rags (I won’t go into the icky details of what these rags actually refer to). Why? Why is my feeding the poor or helping the old lady across the busy intersection a filthy rag? How can God say “no one is righteous; not one… all have turned aside” (Romans 1-3:19)? Because, God sees the heart. He sees that all our “good deeds” are tainted with sin and are ultimately self-serving. I do good deeds, because I want approval from man, or improved self-esteem, or to make God my debtor (God must accept me, because I did A, B, C…).

    This is not to say that I don’t personally appreciate the tainted good works of men, or that God doesn’t in some measure honor even tainted good works. God works much common grace to man via the sin-tainted works of other men. However, none of these works are genuine submission to God’s law; all are done from self-seeking, self-promotion and self-preservation. All spring from sinful hearts.

    Do you have another interpretation for the universal condemnation of man in Romans 1-3:19?

    God Bless

  29. JW K says:

    When reading the many statements made I asked myself, what is sin? I came to understand that no matter what man does, he sins. Why? Because sin is doing anything that does not build God’s kingdom. Therefore, unless we are always building God’s kingdom, every second of every day, then we sin.

    The only thing we can do is the best we can, and that means that we should always try to do what Jesus did. There is no way we can do what Jesus did but we can try to always serve others, even when they don’t deserve it (according to man’s interpretations.)

    The true disciple will serve others and seek to always be in the background, never seeking to be noticed. This is why Jesus pointed out things we should not do to draw notice to our deeds, for when someone does, then he has his reward.

    I think that is why Jesus told us that there would be those who will come to him and say ‘Lord, Lord, ….’ and he will have nothing to do with them. Yes, the Lord knows our hearts, and because he knows our hearts he will look to see our works, for the true heart will seek to serve meekly but whole heartedly.

    As far as people saying that Mormon’s or some other group of people will not be saved, that person will most likely find him/herself answering some pointed questions when he/she has their interview with Christ.

    Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, as long as they accept Him and all that He wants them to do. I have been astonished by the nuggets of truth found in the scriptures that so many people tend to ignore when defending their position.

    As I see it, the problem with people is that they want to limit God to that which they want Him to be. They say that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, yet they say He won’t do something today that He did yesterday. Many say that someone will be condemned as if they know the mind and will of God. Hardly! Man doesn’t even know his own mind and will.

  30. Catalino Estrella Jr. says:

    Bro. Lindquist,
    To end this “sufficiency” topic, may I add my opinion that other Christian denominations may understand that unconditional salvation (doctrine of sufficiency ) is applicable to all people who ever existed on this earth whether they believe in God or not or even without doing anything in this life (works not required) and this is true as far as resurrection or immortality is concerned. All would be necessarily resurrected to receive judgment accordingly whether they like or not and no exception. On the other hand, conditional salvation (exaltation) is ongofu applicable only to those who were able to follow all the necessary requirements of the gospel of Jesus Christ including “works” that you have explained so simply with biblical references but somehow was rejected by some of your christian friends who obviously were only able to understand only the other side of the truth. These Christians must be able to differentiate between unconditional and conditional salvation to clear their one sided wisdom.
    I am so glad to be able to learn so much in your awesome blog.
    Bro. Estrella

  31. Mark Martins says:

    You may have ended the topic but I warn you of teaching your doctrine of “able to follow all the necessary requirements of the gospel of Jesus Christ including “works”. This statement is proof in itself that they have not come to Christ that they may receive life.

  32. ryan says:

    No, no. You misunderstand. Mormons do not teach that works alone are adequate. This is the argument many take when justifying their belief that faith alone is adequate.

    Although it’s been hashed out many times before, here it is again. Jesus taught, “No man cometh to the Father but by me (John 14).” Nephi added it in another way, “No unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus Christ’s sacrifice gave every human a chance to become clean again. His atonement meets the demands of justice for every being on earth. But in order to make the atonement personally effective, I need to 1) have faith, 2) repent, 3) receive baptism for the remission of sins, and 4) live worthy of the Holy Ghost’s promptings. Numbers 3 and 4 determine how sincere I am with numbers 1 and 2. If I fail (we all do) I rededicate myself to numbers 1 and 2, and try again.

    In other words, works are necessary to show your true conversion to Christ and are never used to bypass Christ.

  33. Mark Martins says:


    So lets say I do 1, 2, 3, but after a while I fall back into being led by my flesh and let’s say I died on my way back from a adult book store in a car accident, before I had a chance to repent and start over. Am I going to Mormon heaven?

    Or answer this, how does one get to the highest Mormon heaven?

  34. ryan says:

    In your scenario, by visiting an adult bookstore your mind and heart were obviously not coinciding with Christ. You have not shown true faith in Jesus. So you wouldn’t make it to the highest heaven, or the celestial kingdom.

    Rusty has promised to provide an explanation of the Mormon view of the afterlife, so I won’t go into much detail here. But the bottom line is that after death but before judgment there is a chance to repent again, but the Lord is the judge and He knows our hearts. If we sin knowingly thinking that we can procrastinate the day of our repentance, then that repentance isn’t as meaningful. I have faith that we will be judged according to our committment to our faith. And luckily it’s not in or out–there are varying degrees of glory and what awaits us is what will suit us most.

  35. Mark Martins says:


    How about David with his sin with Bathsheba? He wouldn’t have made it to the celestial kingdom either? Sounds to me like you have a works doctrine. So how many sins or how great of sin does it take to out sin grace?

  36. Mark Martins says:

    Most people understand that doing evil can keep us out of heaven. But few realize the Bible also teaches that doing good cannot get us in. None of us could ever gain enough merit to deserve heaven. We are sinful, and God’s standard is utter perfection. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). He added, “you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    Then who can be saved?
    The disciples asked Jesus this same question (Matthew 19:25). His answer? “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (v. 26). In other words, our salvation is not something we can accomplish. It is something God must do for us.

    What if I stopped sinning now and never sinned again?
    We are hopelessly in bondage to sin and could not cease sinning no matter how hard we tried. Scripture says even our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, we are sinful to the core. Furthermore, a single sin would be enough to destroy us forever: “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). But even if we never sinned from now on, we still bear the guilt of our past sins. And “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

    Is there any way to be free from the guilt of sin?
    The Bible says, “The blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

    How can Jesus’ blood cleanse our sins?
    When God forgives, He doesn’t merely overlook sin. Atonement must be made. Christ’s death made full atonement for those who trust Him. His dying counts in our stead if we believe. However, that only erases the guilt of our sin. Remember, we still need perfect righteousness in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

    Where do we get that perfect righteousness?
    The full merit of Jesus’ righteousness is imputed, or credited, to those who trust Him alone for salvation. Scripture teaches that God “justifies the ungodly” by reckoning Christ’s righteousness to them (Romans 4:5). They are clothed in His righteousness, and God accepts believers solely and exclusively on that basis. That’s why Paul was willing to discard all his own efforts to earn God’s favor, preferring instead to stand before God robed in a righteousness that was not his own (Philippians 3:8-9).

    If you are not a Christian, you need to lay hold of this truth by faith: the sin that will keep you out of heaven has no cure but the blood of Christ. If you are weary of your sin and exhausted from the load of your guilt, He tenderly holds forth the offer of life and forgiveness and eternal rest to you: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

    How can I be sure Christ will save me?
    No one will be turned away: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). All are invited: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

  37. ryan says:

    Yes! Yes! That is what I am saying. I never said you can bypass Christ to enter heaven. No one can. You made some wonderful points that show your whole-hearted conversion to Christ. I too am whole heartily converted to Christ. Whether it be the slightest mistake or the gravest of sins, in order to become clean we need the Atonement of our Savior.

    And as you illustrated above, perfect righteousness should be our goal. And I believe we should always be striving for it. Not so we don’t need Christ anymore, but because we are so grateful to Him for His sacrifice that we want to do all we can for Him. Of course we will fall short. So we recommit, repent, and accept Christ’s sacrifice again.

    Just like in your last paragraph, Jesus said “Come!” And thanks to His love he stretches his arms out to even a wretch like me.

    Please acknowlege that Mormons are not trying to “pick the lock” of salvation. Works alone are dead. We all need Christ.

    So you see, we are saying the same thing. Christ will intercede to provide salvation for all. Mormon’s believe that we need to accept that salvation wholeheartedly. And whether it was at the beginning of the day or in the 11th hour, those wholeheartedly converted to Christ will be saved. Works are used only as a measure of our faith.

  38. Catalino Estrella Jr. says:

    Mark Martin,
    Congratulations! At last you have finally come to the conclusion of what I’m trying to opine as you explain to Ryan very clearly your very bright understanding of Christ’s invitation for salvation.
    Thank you very much too Ryan for being able to hit two birds with one stone. Well said conclusion!

  39. Michael says:

    I haven’t read all posts so this may have been addressed at some point. I would like to point out that Mormons do not believe in the same God as ‘mainstream’ Christianity (although Jesus is another story). Let me demonstrate with the end of a religious conversation I had with a friend of mine recently (M = me and F = friend):

    F: Well at least we believe in the same God.
    M: No we don’t.
    F: What do you mean? Of course we do.
    M: No, barely even similar. The God I believe in has eyes He can see me with, ears to hear me with, hands to pick me up with when I am weak, and feet with which He can walk beside me…
    F: Yeah, that’s the God I believe in. (Perhaps he didn’t realise Mormons believe God and Jesus are two separate beings.)
    M: Hang on, I haven’t finished yet.
    F: Oh.
    M: And the God I believe in, in the spring of 1820 appeared to a young farm-boy in a grove of trees near Palmyra, New York, and introduced His Son Jesus the Christ, whereafter the Church as it was in the time of Christ was restored.
    F: Well I don’t believe in that God.
    M: Exactly.

    See how the ‘Mormon God’ and the ‘Real God’ are quite different? Jesus is a different matter. Most if not all differing opinions of Jesus come from different interpretations in scripture. Usually when ‘learned men’ try to interpret scripture themselves without aid of the Holy Spirit. All I can say to such learned men is what Nephi said in 2 Nephi 9:28:
    “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.”

    Not saying that being learned is necessarily a bad thing, far from it, but the fruits of being learned certainly do make it harder to listen to God. I mean, how many learned men have been chosen as prophets or apostles? Moses was slow of speech, Peter was a fisherman, and Enoch was the village idiot (Not to mention those such as Joseph Smith who had never had an education). Great is the learned man that walks solely by the Spirit. For it is the Spirit that interprets scripture. Not the minds of men, nor other scriptures. Scriptures are writings inspired of the Spirit, thus should they be interpreted. It’s a pity so many people don’t realise you can’t understand the Word of God without the Spirit, even the plain and simple things.

    P.S. Are there any scriptures that support the Trinity yet refute Mormon rejection? All ‘pro-Trinity’ scriptures I can find still work perfectly in accordance with LDS theology. Well, except where it says God is -a- spirit, but there is no indefinite article in the original Greek and no linguistic reason to suggest why there should be so that one hardly counts.
    P.P.S. Is there any truth to what I’ve heard about a catechism (CCC) erasing the Second Commandment? I would be highly disturbed to find it true, I mean, I thought the Decalogue was the one thing -everyone- agreed on.


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