Is it possible some people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are saved? A caller asked Greg this question on the show this week. I think it’s theoretically possible, but as to whether there actually are any people identifying as Mormons who are saved, I’m doubtful. Here’s why.
The Mormon understanding of both God and the gospel are radically different from the true God and gospel in ways that are relevant to salvation. For Mormons, God is the same species we are; He’s just farther along in His development. He’s an exalted man, who, like other men, has a physical body. Our highest goal (according to LDS theology) is to become just like Him so that, along with our spouse, we can lead our own world populated by our own spirit children. This is accomplished through the LDS gospel, a plan we must follow and fulfill in order to achieve our goal of becoming gods. (Follow the links for more details.)
God Saves through Hearing the Gospel
Now, can someone who is trusting in these things—this LDS god and this LDS gospel—be saved? Here’s the problem: God saves through hearing the true gospel for a reason. Ephesians 1:4–6 says,
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.
And in Philippians 2:8–11, we read,
Being found in appearance as a man, [Jesus] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The goal of all things is the glory of God—and in particular, the glory of His grace. This is why He saves through our believing the gospel and trusting in Christ—because by this, God and His grace are glorified. To save through another god or gospel would be to give His glory away to something not worthy of it, a terrible thought. Imagine God glorifying a false god and the enslavement of people to a yoke of rules for earning godhood! It’s unthinkable.
Since God saves through hearing the gospel—that is, when someone hears what Christ has done and puts his faith in Him—I can’t see someone getting saved from within the LDS church because the gospel simply isn’t taught there.
The possible scenario Greg offered was a person with orthodox Christian beliefs who was drawn out of a Christian church into the LDS Church, not realizing how different LDS theology is from biblical theology. That seems like the only possible scenario to me where someone who calls himself a Mormon could be a Christian. But even if that were true for someone, I don’t think it could be true for long. It’s hard to imagine God leaving a saved person in the LDS Church, disconnected from His people, of whom Christ is “the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God” (Col. 2:19; see also Eph. 4:11–16).
The caller to the podcast asked her question because of conversations she’d had with Mormons she met on a Utah mission trip. How could they speak of Christ as their rock and comforter the way they do and not be saved? The question is understandable. When talking to Mormons, it’s easy to hear them speak about their savior’s grace and miss the differences between us. You have to dig a little deeper. Not only do they ascribe different meanings to the same terms we use (“grace,” “God,” “gospel,” etc.), but on a more fundamental level, they also view Jesus’ role in their lives differently.
Jesus, a Means to an End?
A couple of years ago, I joined hundreds of other Christians in Manti, Utah, where, for decades, the LDS Church produced the “Mormon Miracle Pageant” for two weeks every summer—a play depicting the events of the Book of Mormon as well as the story of Joseph Smith and the beginnings of the LDS Church—for tens of thousands of Mormons, on the hillside of the Manti temple (last year was the final year). We Christians were there, outside the grounds, to talk to Mormons who were waiting for the pageant to begin, and the conversations I had were eye opening.
In the pageant, the stories of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were woven around the story of a husband and wife in the 1800s, who, desiring to be together forever (something the LDS Church promises people), join the new church and make the trek out West with them to Utah.
It was the ending of the pageant that stunned me. After the wife dies halfway through the play, everything leads up to the final, climactic moment when the husband dies and joyfully goes to meet, not his savior, but his wife. That was the reward he longed for, and that was the reward the LDS Church wanted to hold out to us, the audience, as the greatest thing they have to offer.
Jesus was nowhere to be seen in this final moment of triumph.
When I saw this, my mouth fell open. And that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Just as, in Athens, Paul’s “spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16), I was deeply disturbed by this unmistakably clear depiction of their theology. But even more than that, I was heartbroken for a people who think they know Jesus, but who are placing their hope in something worth far less than the true Jesus.
So, in the following days, I decided to ask the people I talked to this question: What is your highest goal for eternity? Without exception, the answer I received was some form of “To be with my spouse.” I explained to one couple how surprised I had been when I saw the end of the pageant. For Christians, I said, our highest goal is to be with Jesus, so the ending of the pageant was unexpected and jarring. He responded, “Well, Jesus is the way we get to be with our spouse.” Dumfounded, I said, “You mean, He’s a means to an end?” “Yes,” he nodded, “He’s the way.”
And that, dear friends, is the most telling difference between Mormons and Christians. For Mormons, Jesus is our literal brother (“just a brother,” some at Manti told me, “not someone we worship”), a fellow spirit child of our heavenly father and mother—someone who has made it possible for us to follow a plan to reach our goal. For Christians, Jesus is our goal. We unite with Him for His own sake. We are saved by Him, for Him, and to Him. Yes, we will also be in fellowship forever with everyone else who is united to Him, but that is secondary to being with Christ. Not only do LDS and Christians trust in different gods, not only do we believe in different gospels, but our views of who Christ is to us are drastically different in a fundamental way. Christianity is all about being united to Christ. This is not the case for Mormonism, as much as they speak reverently of Him.
They Need to See Jesus
I spent the rest of my time in Manti trying to find ways to move their eyes from their spouses and hoped-for exaltation to godhood to the much bigger prize, Jesus—trying to give them a glimpse of who He really is so that they might be drawn to seek out more. I wish I had thought to read them Philippians 3:7–10 and then ask what they thought of Paul’s love for Jesus. Would they like to know Jesus in that way—as greater than everything, even their spouse?
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him….
In John 14:1–3, Jesus comforts His disciples, who are devastated to hear Him say, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now.” Why are they devastated? Not because they want Him to do something for them, but because they don’t want to be parted from Him, as Jesus’ words of comfort make clear:
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
And what of the ending of Revelation—the climax of the entire Bible? Indeed, there is a marriage there, but it’s not the eternal sealing to one’s spouse that Mormons seek:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready…. Then [the angel] said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Rev. 19:7–9)
God has “seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6–7). It’s all about Jesus. But seeing Jesus as He is doesn’t happen naturally:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:3–4)
The Holy Spirit ends that blindness. He removes that veil. He makes us into new creatures who see Jesus in a new way (2 Cor. 5:16–17)—not just as someone we admire and respect, but someone about whom we say, “To live is Christ and to die is gain [because then we will be with Christ]” (Phil. 1:21–23), someone who makes all other things look like rubbish by comparison.
Mormons do not see Jesus as He is because they are not yet new creations, and sometimes you have to dig deeper before that becomes clear.