Article

 



What makes a person a true Christian

What makes a person a true Christian?

An Open Letter to Mormon Friends           

 

Dear Mormon friends, are you puzzled and frustrated to hear that Latter-day Saints are not Christians, when you revere Christ and believe Jesus Christ as your Saviour? You will say that the name of Jesus Christ is in the name of the church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You may have been familiar with the tenets of the teachings the Mormon Church since childhood.  Or you may be a convert to the Mormon Church who once was an active Christian in a Bible-believing church. A prominent member of the Mormon Church said to me,  “We are not saying you should abandon all your beliefs.  Bring all your beliefs and simply add some more on top of them. Join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”   Sounds familiar?  Or you may not believe in everything that the Mormon Church teaches and trust the Christ of the New Testament as the Saviour and the Lord?  If you are truly regenerate, the Lord will preserve you to the end (1 Corinthians1:8).  But is it right for such a person to remain in the Mormon Church? 

 

What makes a person a true Christian?  What does the Bible say about Christians? The Greek counterpart “christianos” appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16).  The word “Christians” is used each time in a context of outsiders seeking a label for the fledging Jesus movement.1  Acts 11:26 tells us that the name “Christian” originated in Antioch.

 

Acts 11:26": And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”(The King James Version- The Mormon Church only recognise this version)

 

 

The NT does not give any formal definition of “Christians”, but the above passage says, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”  So we should look up Bible passages on disciples to understand what it means to be a true Christian.  Jesus taught the marks of true disciples of Christ in Mark 8:34 ff, 10:21, John 7:13-27, 8:31-37.  In John 8:31-37 Jesus is addressing those who had made an outward confession of faith, but had not developed into full believers.

 

1.   What does the Bible say about marks of a true Christian?

 

John 8:31-37 31Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. 33They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? 34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. 36If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. 37I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.”
 

The character of a true Christian/disciple is to abide in the whole teaching of Christ. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed."  Note Jesus’ words: “that then are ye my disciples indeed.”  He does not say, “you will be my disciples.”  An Australian Bible teacher, Leon Morris says, “Jesus is not laying down conditions of discipleship, but telling them in what discipleship consists. When anyone abides in Christ’s word, then that person is a true disciple.” 2  

 

The privileges of a true Christian/disciple are the knowledge of saving truth and liberty. Jesus made two promises to his true disciples: And ye shall know the truth” and “the truth shall make you free’. The truth is closely related with the Person and work of Jesus Christ (John 1:17,14:6). “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”(John 14: 6). He clearly shows the way to eternal life with the Heavenly Father. The truth liberates.  “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners”(Luke 4:18).  It is the saving truth that sets people free from the bondage of sin.3

 

      Those who sin are slaves to their sin whether or not they realise it.4 The Pharisees were proud of their national identity and religious system and did not recognise their need to be free.  “They answered him, ‘We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?’”   “Verily, verily, I say unto you” (which means he was going to make a important statement)  “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” No one is exempt from sinning (Romans 3:10-11), so everyone must be a slave to sin. This includes Abraham’s descendants.

 

What is sin? Sin is an attitude of rebellion against God, not acknowledging God as God (Romans 1-2). The Bible teaches that we are dead in sin and by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3, Colossians 2:13). Human beings are born into the world with sin (Psalm 51:5).  Sin is sin regardless of a person’s awareness. David prays, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Psalm 19:12).  Sin is not just what we do, but how we are. Outward sinful acts are merely symptoms of how sinful we are (Mark 7:21-23).  Both inner thoughts and external acts render a person guilty (Matthew 5:28). No sin escapes God’s notice (Matt. 22:18, Luke 6:8). See James 2:10 and I John 1:8-10.

 

 James 2:10  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

 

 John 1:8-10  “8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

 

A true Christian/disciple is set free from sin and shall have a permanent place in God’s family. There is a chasm between bondage and freedom, a slave and a son, in the rights that each possesses (35).  We, slaves, cannot break away from bondage by our own efforts.  Remember we are dead in sin and the dead cannot even cry out for help. How can we be set free from bondage to sin?  If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (36). True freedom comes only through the Son.

 

Latter-day Saints, you may think that you are doing well, following the commandments of God.  The Mormon Church teaches its members to take sin seriously, while definition of sin in the Mormon Church is different from that in the Bible.5   The Book of Mormon says,“…there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God” (1 Nephi 15:34). We need to compare the official Mormon Church teachings of how we are forgiven with those of the Bible to see the differences.

 

2. What does the Mormon Church teach about how we can be set free from the bondage of sin?

 

The Mormon Church teaches that forgiveness is granted at the end of the process of complete repentance of sin by keeping the commandments.

            An official Mormon Church teaching manual, Gospel Principles (pp.123-126) teaches in order to obtain forgiveness, there are six steps of repentance to be taken:

 

1.      Sincere sorrow for our sins           4.   Restitution for sin

2.      Abandonment of sin                     5.   Forgiving others

3.      Confession of sin                         6.   Obedience to the commandments of God

 

The Mormon Church teaches that in order to be forgiven, one must forsake sins permanently, not ever repeat sins, then keep all the commandments perfectly.

 

“If we sincerely repent, we turn away from our sins and do them no more. We no longer have any desire to commit the sins”(Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel, 2-14- an official Mormon Church teaching manual for missionaries)

 

Doctrine & Covenants 58:43 "By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins - behold, he will confess them and forsake them."

 

     Doctrine & Covenants 82:7  “And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and   sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall  the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.”    (See Gospel Principles, p.253 - An official Mormon Church teaching manual).

 

 Late Mormon President Spencer W Kimball says:

      “If the sinner neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant.” (“Repentance Brings Forgiveness” (1984)- an official Mormon Church tract)

 

     “…living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sin and assures one of  exaltation” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.208- a nonofficial Mormon source)

 

Mr Kimball teaches that “trying is not sufficient” if exaltation /”eternal life”/ having an eternal family is to be achieved

      “There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin…. The saving power does not  extend to him who merely wants to change his life….Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin….To ‘try’ is weak. To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can”(The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.162-165).

 

 You may have been burdened with these requirements, while you have never recognised that submission to the Mormon Church’s system of regulation led to bondage.  Let me ask you a few questions?

 

     V  Have you permanently forsaken sins, including sins of omission (James 4:17)?

         If not, how do you know that you have fully repented?

     V  Have you found it difficult not to commit the same sins again?

     V  If you wish to live with the Heavenly Father, are you sure that you have kept all the commandments?  If not, how do you know that you are forgiven?

 

If Mormonism is true and if you have failed to keep the commandments, even in one point, you are going to a lower heaven, which is called “damnation.”  The [Mormon Church] Bible Dictionary  (p.652) says that  “All who do not obtain the fullness of celestial exaltation will to some degree be limited in their progression and privileges and hence damned to that extent” (See Mormon Doctrine, p.177). “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). You know your heart.  You know you yourselves better than anyone else.  “Trying is not sufficient!” said, Mr. Kimball.  The Bible has better answers.

 

3.   What does the Bible teach about how we are set free from the bondage of sin?

 

The Bible teaches that Jesus death on the cross brings about complete forgiveness of sins.  As a result of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for you, all your sins, your past sins and the sins you will still commit, will be blotted out from God’s record, and will never be brought up against you (Colossians 2:13-14).6   God says that he will not remember your sin.  Incredible!  “But with God all things are possible”(Matthew 19:26).

 

     Ephesians 1:7 “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

 

     Colossians 2:13-14 “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;”

   

     Hebrews 10:17-18 “and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”

 

The Bible teaches that forgiveness is given on the basis of God’s grace, not our performance.7

  

Luke 7:36-50 tells us the story of a sinful woman whose sins are forgiven. She stood behind Jesus, weeping. She showed deep humility and sincere sorrow for her sin in Jesus’ presence. She anointed Jesus with perfume, but she could not finish her task without shedding tears. She washed Jesus’ feet, which was a menial task customarily performed by a slave.She demonstrated her devotion and gratitude to Jesus. Jesus said, “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little”(7:47). Please note that Jesus did not gloss over her sins (“Her sins, which are many”).9  But in the NT no matter how many and how great the sins, God’s graciously forgives us. Jesus said, “She loved much.” Jesus did not say that neither her action nor her love merited forgiveness.10 Her love demonstrated that she had already been forgiven.  Jesus said, “Thy faith hath saved you”(v50). See Romans 5:20.

 

     Romans 5:20 “Moreover, the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded,   grace did much more abound”.

 

The Bible offers a better solution to sin problems. God has promised to always forgive those who admit that they are sinners and lay their sins before God and seek forgiveness.11 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9). Forgiveness of all sins is for all time and eternity by grace alone. It is a free gift from God.

 

     Ephesians 2:8-10For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of your yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”                                                                                                              

 

True freedom is not liberty to do anything we please, but freedom to follow God. Paul tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Please note words  “Not of works, lest any man should boast.Good works will be the result of God’s grace to us, not the cause of it.

 

Titus 2:11-13 1 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12  Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

 

4.  Doctrine matters!

 

In Galatians1:8-9 the apostle Paul twice used strong words, “let him be accursed” to anyone who preaches “another gospel” other than the gospel the risen Christ entrusted Paul to preach. The Judaizers were professing Jewish Christians. Paul was in no doubt questioning these people’s sincerity or commitment. They had never denied one’s need to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Saviour. But they had been zealously convinced that to be serving Christ as pre-eminent, Gentile Christians should to take an additional step and become Jews through circumcision.  Another Australian Bible teacher, R. Alan Cole says, “Here Paul is questioning not their sincerity but their theology: sincerity in itself is not enough, and indeed, if misdirected, may do more damage.”12   Doctrine matters.  The saving truth set you free. What is the Gospel the risen Christ gave Paul?  It was the gospel of free grace, which stressed the truth that sinners cannot atone for sin, but it also stresses the truth that Christ’s sacrifice of himself puts away all sin. 13  Any other gospel which requires sinners to work for their own salvation, means the rejection of grace. For Paul it is the perversion of the Gospel. Paul said, “let him be accursed.” See Galatians 5:4

   

      Galatians 5:4  “Christ is become no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

 

The Mormon gospel is all the teachings, laws, and ordinances of the Mormon Church (Mormon Doctrine, p331- non official Mormon source). Do you think that the Mormon Church leaders are perverting the gospel of grace?

 

Conclusion:  A true Christian abides in the whole teaching of Jesus, knows the saving truth and is set free from slavery of sin. Sin enslaves us, controls us, dominates us, dictates our action.14  The saving truth will set you free. You may not be convinced of your need of freedom from sin like the Pharisees in John 8:31-37.  But everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Submission to the Mormon Church’s system of regulation leads to bondage. True freedom is not liberty to do anything we please. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”  A true Christian knows beyond any shadow of doubt that if he/she did die tonight, he/she would live with the Heavenly Father, as all his/her sin is forgiven.  If you think you are a truly born again Christian but wish to remain in the Mormon Church because of your network of friends and their support system, how can you grow to maturity where unbiblical teachings are given? Doctrine does matter!

 

Notes

 

 1.  Craig Blomberg,  “Is Mormonism Christian” in “The New Mormon Challenge” (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2002) p.317 

 2.  Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995) p.p.404-405

 3.  Ibid. p.405

 4.  Ibid, p.406

 5. The Mormon Church teaches that “sin is the transgression of the divine law” but we are not held responsible for sins against a law that we have not had an opportunity to know. “One must have a conscience before he/she can violate it, as made known through the conscience or by revelation. A man sins when he violates his conscience, going contrary to light and knowledge - not the light and knowledge that has come to his neighbour, but that which has come to himself. … One may suffer painful consequences for only blundering, but he cannot commit sin unless he knows better than to do the thing in which the sin consists. One must have a conscience before he can violate it.”(The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979, p.410)

          According to the Mormon Church, Sin consists in willful wrong deeds. “… he cannot commit sin unless he knows better than to do the thing in which sin consists. One must have a conscience before he can violate it”(Ibid). Sin is not man’s basic nature. Children are innocent until they reach accountability at the age of eight. (The Doctrine and Covenants 29:46-47).

6.  F.F Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews NTCNT (Michigan, Eermans Publishing Company, 1990) p.248

7.  Jerald & Sandra Tanner, “Terminology” in  “The Counterfeit Gospel of Mormonism”(Oregon, Harvest House Publishing, 1998) p.214

8.   Leon Morris, “Luke” Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, IVP, 1992), p.162  

9.     Ibid.p.163

10. Ibid

11. Howard Marshall, The Epistle of John, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), p.113

12. R. Alan Cole, Galatians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, IVP, 1989) p.76

13. Leon Morris, Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom (Leicester, IVP, 1996) p.44

14. Life Application Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1991) p.1894

 

 Copyrightă2003 Mormon Outreach Ministries, Sydney