What do Mormons really believe, part 3

See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

(Disclaimer: These views are all based on my knowledge and interpretation as an active Latter Day Saint, or “Mormon”, only the actual article of faith I list should be considered “official”.  Still, I try to be accurate and do my homework 😉

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

3rd Article of Faith

Surely one of the most beautiful of beliefs and refreshing of realizations is the reality of the Atonement.  The third Article of Faith is meant to address the efficacy of the Atonement, and the profound role it plays in our lives.

We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved…  ALL mankind!  What more encouraging words could you possibly encounter?

That tells me that no matter where I am in life, no matter how far astray I may have gone, no matter what I’ve done, the atonement of Christ can save me from my sins.

How often Satan – ever our adversary – seeks to engulf us in the belief that we’ve gone too far, or done too much.  Enveloped with despair he tries to overwhelm us with our past, and blind us to the hope to which we are entitled because of the atonement.  But such is not the case.  Hope is ever ours to have.

Through the crucifixion of Christ and his unimaginable suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, He took upon himself the sins of the world, the sins of you and me.   All this that we might not have to pay the price for those sins – for indeed a price there must be, for mercy cannot rob justice.

But herein enters an important principle, the second part of this article of faith.  While the resurrection of Christ makes it possible for all mankind to be resurrected, a free gift with no prerequisite price to pay from us, the atonement of Christ is ours to have also, but is conditional.

For us to benefit from the Atonement, for us to “be saved”, we must first acknowledge and accept the Savior and His sacrifice.  He has cast us the lifeline, but we must exert ourselves to grab hold.  Said so simply, it sounds easy, but it requires genuine humility, which proves ever difficult for all.

And it doesn’t stop there… a portion of this principle that creates an unmistakable and compelling distinction between Mormonism and most other Christian beliefs.  The notion that after we have accepted Christ, and been baptized in His name, we must continue in the faith, abounding in good works, keeping the commandments of God, and continually repenting along the way.

But a life so led, where one struggles to stay on the path as he is frequently beset by the inevitable mistakes of mortality, is one that is acceptable in the eyes of God, and is one that leads to salvation.  We must first grab hold, and then endure to the end.


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0 replies
  1. ponderingpastor says:

    You are right that this is one area where Momanism and Christianity disagree. Reading your post and the Article of Faith through a Lutheran lens, I have to ask then what difference Christ makes in this formula? There was already salvation through adherence to the law before Christ. If salvation depends upon “continue in the faith, abounding in good works, keeping the commandments of God, and continually repenting along the way”, then what is different in the means of salvation pre-Jesus to post-Jesus? I see no difference if all this is true, and would therefore conclude that the “atonement of Jesus” means something completely different to Mormons than to Christians. For the Atonement of Christ to mean something, it needs to be sufficient. Oh, then there is Paul in Romans 3 and 4. Now granted, this is a stumbling block even between Christians. Just where does “good works” enter? How much? We Lutherans would rather err on the side of unmerited salvation as true witness to scripture.
    Pondering Pastor

    From Rusty

    Thanks for asking such important questions.

    First, to answer your question regarding the role of Christ in Salvation, particularly in relation to those who lived “pre-Christ”, I need to step back and establish a core principle upon which this answer must be founded – the principle of mercy and justice.

    For there to be mercy, there must also be justice (else what is mercy’s point), and the scriptures teach us that God is both merciful and just.

    The divine law of justice requires consequences for all actions (justice must be satisfied). Positive consequences, which we might call blessings, come from obedience to the laws of God. By the same token disobedience has its own consequences. Just as Adam’s transgression caused him to be cut off from the Lord, being cast out of the Garden of Eden, sin removes us from God, for no unholy thing can dwell with God.

    Justice, or the consequence of sin, therefore, is separation from God. A state in which we’d be forced to remain, were it not for the law of mercy. The law of mercy allows the atonement of Christ to intercede, allowing Him to pay the price, bringging us back into a state of holiness, where we can dwell with God.

    The answer to your question, therefore, is that the application of Christ’s atonement is both sufficient and universal. Those who died before Christ are able to be saved only because Christ atoned for their sins too, the sins of all mankind, not just those who came after him. And it’s sufficient in that by repenting, our sins can be washed clean – entirely.

    But still, those pre-Christ people had to do their part by keeping the commandments. In this way, their salvation is the same as ours – made possible by the atonement (Christ paid the price of justice), and by keeping the commandments they can be saved.

    In the same way they had to keep the commandments to be saved, so too do we (our belief). And you’re right, this is a commonly debated principle, the notion that even after accepting Christ, you must live righteously to be saved. Mormon belief is that you can’t just accept Christ and fall into sin for which you do not repent, and still expect to be saved, for that person is still unholy. But rather, by continuing a path of repentance, we’re regularly washed clean in preservation of our spirituality.


  2. Bill says:

    If you are relying on keeping the law, the Bible leaves you with no hope. You must keep the law perfectly.

    Galatians 3:10 says, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

    We have zero hope of keeping the law. We do our best to be obedient to Jesus, because He’s done so much for us–not to exchange something for our salvation.


    From Rusty

    Thanks Bill for your insight. I refer to my comments above about Mercy and Justice. The law must be lived completely, or justice must be paid. Clearly, we’re not perfect, but we can be perfected in Christ, for His atonement intercedes in those areas where we fall short.

    God gave man commandments, and would not have done so if he did not expect them to be lived, for His word and His works are eternal, and just. Obedience isn’t optional, if it were, justice would cease to exist (why require justice if you don’t have to be obedient), and if justice ceased to exist, so too would mercy (there would be nothing to be merciful for). But God is both Merciful and Just, which means there is a law that must be followed, and a price to be paid when it isn’t.

    This is why it’s so important to have prophets and scriptures, to teach us the commandments of God. Whereas if the commandments didn’t matter, why then put forth so much effort to make sure they’re taught.

  3. jonseabourn says:

    rusty, here are a couple of lines from what you wrote above:

    “The answer to your question, therefore, is that the application of Christ’s atonement is both sufficient and universal. Those who died before Christ are able to be saved only because Christ atoned for their sins too, the sins of all mankind, not just those who came after him”

    in order to say that Christ’s atonement is sufficient, then there is nothing else necessary. therefore, there is no need for law, rules, regulations, etc. this is the meaning of sufficient.

    if Christ atoned for all sins for all time, then justice, as you term it, has been satisfied and is no longer hovering over the heads of those who have been saved by Christ. so, if a person who is saved sins, justice cannot demand of them payment for it has been satisfied. if one says it has not been satisfied, then Christ’s payment either was not sufficient or it was only for limited numbers of sins. in either of these 2 circumstances, it would seem that Christ would have to continually make payment, thus continually be crucified, over and over and over again.

    i am not sure i understand the use of justice and mercy. if Christ’s atonement pays the demand of justice, then what is extended to those saved by Christ is mercy, their accountability (to use the term from previous post) is done away with. is this according to your understanding? if this is the case, then justice is no longer a factor when Christ makes atonement and all that is left for the one who is saved is mercy. it seems that justice is out of the picture for good, for those who are save, anyway.

    thanks for entertaining my questions

    From Rusty

    Thanks for the opportunity.

    Let’s say there was a certain man who through his own mistakes, fell into debt, and owed a great deal of money. Having sincerely felt sorry for his actions, he worked and worked to earn enough to pay off his debt. When the time for his payment came due, and the collector came for the payment, he found he still did not have enough money.

    This man’s older brother, seeing his repentant spirit, and having watched as he had toiled to set it right, decided to step in and pay the rest of the debt for him.

    In this way, the debt was paid, the brother’s contribution having been sufficient to make up the gap that the man was unable to make up alone.

    Similarly, Christ’s atonement is sufficient for us, who (as mortals), consistently find ourselves falling short, making mistakes, and needing more. His atonement is sufficient to bridge the gap that we are unable to bridge alone. This is the sufficiency to which I refer.

    In answer to your second question regarding the use of justice and mercy, what you say in this paragraph is correct. Mercy allowed for Christ to pay the price of justice, so that justice is no longer a factor in preventing us from salvation, but only insofar as we truly repent of the sins for which we are accountable, and continue in the path of faith.

    Exaltation could be likened unto a mountain that we’re each trying to climb, and along the way we encounter perilous cliffs that we’re simply not strong enough to scale alone. Christ’s atonement is like a rope, hanging before us, sufficient to save us from despair and disaster, but only if we reach out and take hold, and exert ourselves to climb with His assistance. But without that effort on our part, the rope would just sit there, sufficient to save, but unused.

    In this way, Mercy is there to satisfy the demands of Justice, but it isn’t automatic. That mercy becomes efficacious to only those who do their part. Justice is automatic, mercy isn’t. Mercy must be sought.

  4. eyezayuh says:

    In response to the Lutheran Pastor, Fundamentalist Christianity tends to use the idea that “man is saved by faith alone” but at the same time, “faith without works is dead”, we are held accountable for that which we have been revealed. Those before Christ did not know Christ, and are therefore less accountable than those who Christ has revealed himself to. Our works are not that which save us however, it is only by the Grace of God that we may enter into his kingdom. But, simply “confessing” Christ and “accepting him as your own personal saviour” is not enough either. (I’m not saying that I do all of this because we are all fallen and imperfect) When we are true Christians and follow the word of God, that is where our works come, and at the same time, works done without Love are better not done at all. So, our works confirm our faith and we therefore “work for our salvation”, but works alone do not make us worthy.

    I’m very sorry if that was intelligible and convoluted, if you have questions regarding clarification, let me know.

    an Orthodox Christian.

    From Rusty – I think you said it beautifully. Thank you for participating.

  5. Dawna says:

    It is by grace that we are saved, AFTER ALL THAT WE CAN DO. We are required to make our best effort. Christ is the one who knows what we are capable of and whether in our heart we are giving it our best even with all our faults, shortcomings, and sins. Even when we are trying our absolute best we make and will make mistakes. we all like sheep have gone astray. This is where repentance and mercy and the atonement of Christ come in. For without His atonement, all the repentance in the world would not remove our sins and justice would have its claim. And we must be clean every whit in order to return to his presence. This means continual reliance on his mercy and faith in his power to save us, not IN our sins, but FROM them. Part of repentance, or a change of heart, is sorrow for our sins and an attempt not only to change our actions but to change our desires. Only through Christ is this possible.

    So to answer the pastors question about how “good works” enters and how much, the answer is “as much as you can.” We also continue to strive and go outside our comfort zone to become capable of more good works, then rely on the mercy of Christ when we fall short as we so frequently do.

    hope this clarifies a bit.

    From Rusty – I think it helps. This particular point has long been discussed amongst Christians, and I think having so many people join in the conversation is benefitial to all. I’d only add that whenever we come to a place where we discover a point of docterine that is foriegn, unfamiliar, or even contrary to past belief, and after studying it out thoroughly in our minds, we can always “ask of God” as James 1:5 states. I know that doing so with an open heart and a contrite spirit, separating ourselves from the grip of tradition, God will manifest the truth of it. That’s one of the most comforting aspects of the gospel, knowing that I can always ask of God, instead of relying on the arm of the flesh.

  6. jonseabourn says:

    rusty – it sounds as if Christ’s atonement is not enough to satisfy justice. how does one know the amount of sin that must be overcome by the atonement after the limit of the work by man is reached? in the illustration of the brother stepping in to pay the remainder of what the first man owed even after working to obtain the money, if Christ is like the brother, i ask, if the man was unable to obtain any money to pay the debt, though he longed to do so, would Christ’s atonement be enough? it sounds like it is being said that man has to do something in order for the atonement to be applied, because the atonement will only bridge the remainder of the gap. i think then the question must be asked, how much must man do? if man has any capability at all of paying the demanded price for his sin, then why is man not able to pay it all? if Christ’s death and resurrection was really necessary to demand the price required by justice, then man’s works are removed from the picture…he has no part to play in paying justice.

    i agree more with your paragraph that begins “exaltation could be likened…” Christ’s gift is available, but not all experience it. it seems to me that actions by man are not necessary for salvation. but, having been saved through Christ, man’s actions(obedience to Christ) are an outpouring as a result of the incredible debt he has been set free from.

    again, if Christ’s atonement is truly an act of mercy, then it is something that man cannot do for himself, else mercy would not be needed.

    From Rusty

    Ah, now there is a very good question. When are our works enough? Indeed, I wish I knew, although I see the divine wisdom in not specifying. For it to be so clearly defined would remove so much of the beauty behind the thing.

    For sure, and as you so astutely point out, each of us are able to contribute at different levels, and indeed each of us at different levels throughout our life. Such is the beauty of the atonement, and the great plan of salvation. For in those times where we fall shortest, Christ steps in the most.
    But perhaps we’re mixing two things too closely – the distinct notions of repentance and obedience, for the two are mutually exclusive.

    In the case of the atonement, and how long we must work before it “takes effect”, that is entirely up to us. Some choose to go years before repenting, while others, torn by guilt, and acutely aware of their mistakes, repent immediately, thereby invoking the atonement sooner and saving themselves much heartache.

    But the separate notion of obedience, both of which are required for salvation and exaltation, is a bit different. For in the end, as we find in Revelations 20:12, the books shall be opened, “…and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

    Indeed, if it is by works that we shall be judged, then clearly their role is substantial in earning that great reward, for as James said (2:20, 26), “faith without works is dead”. To me that makes sense, for if obedience were voluntary, it seems they would be called “recommendations”, and not “commandments”.

  7. Bill says:

    We have broken God’s holy law (the Ten Commandments) by lying, stealing, having lustful thoughts, etc. We’re guilty criminals who will someday stand before the Judge.

    What can a guilty criminal tell the judge to let Him off. If the crime is serious enough (in this case it is, as we’ve sinned against an infinitely holy God), there is nothing the criminal can say to receive leniency. Justice must be served.

    In God’s system, payment for sin is made by blood (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22). Our penalty is infinite. My good deeds are not accepted as payment, and offering them is bribery, and only adds to my list of crimes.

    Jesus offers the gift of paying for our sins. If I try to repay Him, it is not only bribery, but it means that what Jesus did is no longer a gift. Furthermore, if our gift is of infinite value, and we are able to offer a finite amount, we’re no closer to paying our own penalty. (infinity – x = infinity).

    The Book of Mormon says it is by grace you are saved after all that you can do. Are you certain you have done all that you can do? How do you know? What if you’re wrong?


    From Rusty

    I refer to my statement above, where this conversation has begun to confuse two things – how to implement the atonement and how to gain salvation. The atonement, as you suggest, pays the price of our sins, it’s the only thing that can.

    But for salvation we also must be obedient, for we shall all be judged “according to our works” (Revelations 20:12). Our obedience isn’t an attempt to repay the Savior, but because faith without works is dead. After all, “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.

    P.S. Also, the Jesus of the LDS is not infinite, and cannot make infinite payment anyway. You need to find a loophole in this whole infinite penalty thing for Mormonism to work at all (and the dozens of verses in the Bible, and I believe also in the Book of Mormon).

    I’m afraid you’ll need to clarify this, I’m not sure I understand how Jesus is not Infinite. It sounds like you might be misinformed, for the Bible confirms that Christ is infinate, as is His ataonement, and Mormons believe in the bible. Let me know and I can help clarify any misunderstandings.

  8. BrianR says:

    I have been reading the above comments. I want to know for sure that I’m going to go to heaven. I know that God’s commandments are Holy. So Holy in fact, that He says that if I even look upon another woman with lust then I have committed adultry in my heart. The more I see the Holiness of His law in their true clarity and pureness, the more I see that they will not give me life, rather they will give me death. His commandments are so Holy, that no man can satisfy God ‘s justice in any regard or any measure through observing them. They are the knowledge of sin.

    So, I am relying 100% on Christ’s attonement. That is his promise that He has offered free of charge.

    James 2:20 – States exactly a true saying: Isn’t faith without works dead faith? Isn’t it?

    “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”

    So you see, my works are done in love and honor of Him in response to my absolute faith from what he has already accomplished on the Cross.

    Rusty, how does your truth set you free?

    From Rusty: First, thanks for contributing. I believe the following two responses covered what I would have suggested, but even better than I could have said it. I’ll post a follow up after theirs though.

  9. Doc says:

    I don’t think our motives for works are any different. I will tell you how the truth sets us free, because of the Savior, now when I make a mistake, I don’t have to say, well I guess that’s it and resign myself to eternal damnation. Now I can work on that mistake and become something better. In reality, what the Lord requires of us is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. With that he can make us into something better. This is the transformative power of the atonement. and what being born again is all about.

    I am hoping Rusty will get to this in the next article of Faith, which goes more into what exactly the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel actually are.. In the end I think our heart and contrition are the only things we have to give. As everyone seems to agree, nothing we do will ever be enough. In fact, to paraphrase Dawna’s verse from the Book of Mormon, you could say, after all we can do, in the end it is only by Grace that we are saved.

    I think the differences on this point between Mormonism and Protestantism on this point are more in framing, vocabulary and conceptualization, not substance. In the end it is all cosmetic..

    From Rusty: Well said, thank you for your contribution

  10. dlmtleart says:

    I’m going to go ahead and post again. because I think we’re not covering the second half of the article, and I think that’s where some might be getting confused?
    where it says “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel,” the ordinances part refers to things such as Baptism by Immersion, laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, partaking of the sacrament and so forth.
    also as far as faith being dead without works: Faith is not just simply a belief, but a belief that empowers us to act. If we are not acting on our faith by doing good works then our faith is effectually dead, having no life–or power, or effect in our lives.
    The other thing is that Salvation is really two part. First is being saved from death. This part is completely and utterly free to all regardless of their actions because of Christ’s death and resurrection. The second part, which He paid for in the Garden of Gethsemane, is Exaltation, or being able to live with God and Christ in heaven. For this we are required to repent and show forth a broken heart and contrite spirit, relying on the mercy of Christ to save.

    From Rusty: Thanks for bringing that out, I had hoped to cover the incredible beauty behind ordinances, but decided to save them for a separate post. There’s unmistakeable magesty in the ordinances of the gospel.

  11. MartyH says:

    “Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the Passover. And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For The Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, The Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.

  12. George W. S. says:


    you pointed out above: that atonement and obedience are required for salvation. if that is true i believe the thief on the cross is out of luck. he didn’t have any time to work out his salvation plan, he simply believed who Jesus was. end of story.

    I like your comments (I’m about to reply to your other comment), they’re perceptive and intelligent. Again, my only goal is to clarify what we believe… We believe that after you accept Christ, you must “endure to the end”, meaning that you strive to be righteous till the end. You’ll fail, so you’ll need to repent (confess and forsake) of your sins, and then keep trying – all the way till the end, which in the case of the thief, wasn’t a very long time.

    But your point is powerful for a number of reasons in some conversations we’ll have over the next post about baptism. I’ll bring this up again there – it’s a great illustration.


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