One of the biggest questions that religion seeks to answer is the question of: how can I be right with God? That’s the question of salvation. Let’s take a look at what Mormonism teaches about salvation by comparison to historic biblical Christianity. First of all, Mormonism asserts that there are two kinds of salvation called immortality and exaltation. And to begin with, immortality is general and unconditional. To Mormons, immortality means resurrection to some level of heaven. And this is given to everyone regardless of what you believe or how you live. You don’t have to trust Jesus or accept some kind of a salvation message or to live a certain way to get this. It’s just given to everyone, essentially everyone and this is described in the LDS instructional manual gospel principles. Because of his atonement, everyone born on this earth will be resurrected. This condition is called immortality. One contemporary Latter-day Saints leader put it like this: To be saved or to gain salvation means to be saved from physical and spiritual death. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected and saved from physical death. That’s immortality – saved from physical death through resurrection to some level of heaven. But along with that, latter-day saints also believe that exaltation is limited to those who keep all of the requirements. The same speaker went on to make the distinction. He said “People may also be saved from individual spiritual death through the atonement of Jesus Christ by their faith in him, by living in obedience to the laws and ordinances of his gospel and by serving him.” To be exalted or to gain exaltation refers to the highest state of happiness and glory in the celestial realm. So immortality refers to being resurrected to some level of heaven while by contrast exaltation means being resurrected to the very highest level of heaven. And that’s available only to those who accept the Mormon message and fulfill all of its requirements. And so only the most worthy are able to gain entrance to the highest level of heaven called the celestial kingdom.
By contrast, the Bible talks about just one kind of salvation. Now there are many different elements to it and the Bible uses a lot of different words to describe various facets of that salvation but there aren’t different kinds of salvation for different kinds of people. Jesus talks about that in Matthew chapter 7 starting in verse 13: you can enter God’s kingdom only through the narrow gate, the highway to hell is broad and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the Gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult and only a few ever find it. There’s only one gateway to life, there’s only one kind of salvation.
The second thing Mormons teach about salvation is that people are saved by grace plus obedience. Now Mormons value God’s grace but in a different way than we do. They believe that people are saved in the highest sense of the word by God’s grace plus our own good works. And we see this in the book of Mormon in second Nephi chapter 25: for we labored diligently to write to persuade our children and also our brethren to believe in Christ and to be reconciled to God for we know that it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do. The work of Jesus in the atonement is very important to Mormons. They believe that without Jesus’ atonement we could never be saved from our sins. But they don’t believe that Jesus’ work actually saves us from our sins without adding our own good works and our own righteousness. And we see this in the Mormon scripture called the Articles of Faith. It’s in the third article of faith: We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. So Mormons believe that God’s grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ gives us the opportunity to add our own good works to attain our salvation. They believe that a person has to be worthy to receive forgiveness of sins and to live with God and eternal life forever and a person becomes worthy by fulfilling all the commandments and ordinances of the LDS Church.
However, the Bible teaches that we’re right with God through His grace alone, not by the addition of any works on our part. And we see this in Romans 6:23: for the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. So forgiveness of sin and eternal life with God are clearly offered as a free gift of God toward us. They’re not based on our obedience or our worthiness but they’re based strictly on the work of Christ on the cross that paid the penalty for our sin. Take a look at Romans 11:6 “And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is – free and undeserved. What he’s saying there is: If you add good works, then you no longer have grace; the two are mutually exclusive. They’re incompatible and that’s because it’s the nature of a gift that if you try to pay for it or offer something in return for it, then is simply no longer a gift. And so salvation is by grace alone, not by grace plus obedience. Let me just say that salvation is in fact a divine act of God by which he makes us new and so while obedience cannot add or contribute anything to our salvation, obedience is the natural result of our salvation. And we see that in Ephesians 2:8-10: God saved you by his grace when you believed and you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece, he has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Salvation is by grace but it results in good works.
The next thing the Mormons teach about salvation is that there is a second chance for salvation in the next life. Mormons believe that a person can receive salvation after they have died. Let me show you a quote from a textbook that the Mormon church uses to train their students. “Between the death and the resurrection of the physical body, the spirit lives in the spirit world and has the opportunity to continue to progress toward perfection. Jesus Christ initiated the teaching of the gospel to those in spirit prison. Many in the spirit world anxiously await the blessings of gospel ordinances.” So Mormons believe that certain ordinances are required for exaltation including things like baptism and temple marriage and so they perform these ordinances by proxy on behalf of people who have already died in hope that those people will accept the work that was done for them and will convert to Mormonism there in the spirit world. But the Bible teaches that this life is the appointed time to get right with God, that our eternal destiny is fixed at death and after that there’s no longer an opportunity to have a change of heart. Look at Hebrews chapter 9: each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment. This is why traditional Christians are so eager to tell their friends and their family about the wonderful grace of God that’s offered to us in Jesus Christ that we can be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life with God on the basis of what Jesus has already done for us, not because of any good or worthy deeds that we do ourselves.