Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.Matthew 23:27-28 (KJV)
As a Mormon apologist, I once posed the following question to an Evangelical:
“If a Latter-day Saint helps an old lady across the street, and an Evangelical is honking at them to get out of his way, which of the two is going to heaven?”
The Christian I was debating said the Evangelical would go to heaven. That answer was contrary to everything I believed. After all, the righteous went to heaven and the wicked were punished, right? His answer seemed like a perversion of God’s justice.
However, there was an underlying issue I had no concept of: the role of Christ’s imputed righteousness.
Fast forward a few years and now I find myself on the side of Evangelical Christianity with the challenge of explaining this phenomenon.
The Christian position is this: men and women are desperately wicked. We aren’t capable of doing good, because our good deeds are laced with sin.
However, the opposite occurs when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. We can’t sin away our salvation because our negative actions are overpowered by His righteousness.
Before you start shaking a finger at this, consider that this is exactly the message of Moroni chapter 7:6-11.
6 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
8 For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
9 And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
10 Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
This rings true of me when I was a Latter-day Saint. I would pray to God, and afterward I’d be puffed up in pride. I would consider myself righteous when I prayed or read the scriptures.
I wasn’t trying to be a Zoramite on my Ramiumpton, but my wicked heart made it so I couldn’t pray sincerely. I was far too engrossed in my own glory to care about God’s.
It should be noted that this verse is not saying a saved person can’t sin because let’s face it, we’re all sinners. So it must be echoing what is taught in Romans 4:6-8 (KJV).
6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
The passage makes two points. First, God counts us righteous apart from any works we do. And second, our sins no longer count against us.
What made King David so certain of this? In the book of 2 Samuel, David impregnates Bethsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. His gross sin is compounded when he sends Uriah to the front lines and has him killed.
Nathan the prophet approaches David and tells him a story about a poor man who only had a lamb to his name. This lamb was stolen by a rich man and prepared for his guests.
In a rage David proclaims that the man who has done this must die. Nathan replies, “Thou art the man.” He goes on to pronounce the consequences of David’s sins:
The sword will never depart from his house, his neighbors will sleep with his wives, and the child he had with Bethsheba will die.
In 2 Samuel 12:13 David acknowledges that he has sinned against the Lord. Shockingly, Nathan replies, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”
This is a scandal! David killed a man and took his wife, but the Lord forgave him. It doesn’t count against his salvation at all.
The Two Wells
David’s theology can be summed up like this. Imagine there are two fountains. One is made of the finest marble and sculpted beautifully. The other is made of rough stone and is cracked and unattractive.
Now imagine the ugly fountain is placed in the mountains amid the purest streams and the beautiful fountain is built on a swamp. Which would you rather drink from? In this scenario, the ugly fountain is the good one, unable to bring forth bitter water. The elegant fountain is bad since it’s incapable of producing good water.
Perhaps the best portrayal of this is in John 4 when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and asks for water.
In verse 9 she replies, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, asketh drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?”
In verse 10 Jesus flips the tables saying, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”
She replies, “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?”
I imagine her looking at Him suspiciously. He’s offering her water, but she’s the one with access to the well. It doesn’t make sense. This is probably how Latter-day Saints view Evangelicals when they claim to be saved.
After all, the well is deep, and we don’t have anything to draw with. We don’t have priesthood ordinances or temples, so where do we get our righteousness?
In verses 13 and 14 Jesus says. “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Clearly Christ is not talking about water at this point, but the two wells from which righteousness is drawn. The first is the well of man, and the second is Christ Himself.
When we rely on works, priesthood, or ordinances we are stuck needing more. We must partake of the sacrament to renew our covenants and continually repent of our sins. Then we must endure to the end. Our thirst is never quenched.
With Christ however, there is no drawing mechanism. We obtain His righteousness through faith alone. We are instantly forgiven of all sins past, present, and future.
God’s mercy is new each morning. The righteousness of Christ is a fountain reaching all the way to eternal life. There is nothing we must do to bridge the gap. He gets us all the way there.
This is the core of the gospel. We don’t have to be perfect because Christ’s perfection covers the chinks in our armor, and scars on our bodies, and the wickedness of our hearts. That’s why it’s called the “good news.”
Sadly, this is not the gospel Mormonism teaches. In fact, Doctrine and Covenants 132:39 says David fell from his exaltation due to the incident with Uriah.
This contradicts 2 Samuel 12:13 which says God put away David’s sin and Romans 4:8 where the blessed man does not have his sins imputed to him, because in the D&C God does count his children’s sins against them.
Not only is this “bad news” unbiblical, it’s a mockery of everything Christ stands for. In Romans 5:6-8 (KJV) we read:
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners,Christ died for us.
The grace and love of God are unconditional. If you believe God gave His life to save the ungodly, but now withdraws grace from His children who sin, you believe in a God who changes. You are found in a false gospel, and on the left hand of God.