Imputation In The Book of Mormon
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.“John 1:5 ESV
I left Mormonism and embraced Christianity after learning about imputed righteousness. Surprisingly, I found imputation in The Book of Mormon first, before seeing how much it was taught in the Bible.
You might be thinking, how can something good come from a fraudulent book? The Jews thought the same thing when they learned where Jesus was from. They asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth (John 1:46)?”
Praise God that He is sovereign in all things, and that He found me imprisoned in a false religion. He used the keystone of Mormonism to free me and undo three decades of blindness. There are no depths His grace can’t reach.
Imputation in The Book of Mormon is valuable because it uses the power of a Mormon’s testimony against them. If they know The Book of Mormon is true, but it teaches an exclusively Protestant doctrine, then Mormonism must be false, or at least unnecessary.
So without further ado, let’s dive in.
Enos made whole in faith alone
In the book of Enos, Enos prays all day and into the night. A voice speaks his name and says, “Thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.”
In awe he asks, “Lord, how is it done?”
This question of how salvation is won pierces to the heart. God answers that Enos’ faith has made him whole (Enos 1:5-8).
This is at odds with the 4th Article of Faith which qualifies faith as the first principle of the gospel, followed by repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
What this passage says, is faith is the only principle of the gospel. Faith alone made Enos complete, perfect, and justified.
God’s righteousness Our Only Source
But the Book of Mormon goes much deeper than that. In 1 Nephi chapter 2, we find this gem.
8 And it came to pass that he called the name of the river, Laman, and it emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof.
9 And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!
I shared this passage with two LDS missionaries one evening, and asked them who the fountain of all righteousness was. They responded that it was God.
They returned a few nights later and confessed the truth of alien righteousness. As you will see, The Book of Mormon teaches that the righteousness we need to enter heaven is not our own.
The Allegory of Laban
Perhaps the most stunning symbol of imputed righteousness comes from 1 Nephi chapters 3 and 4. Nephi and his brothers are tasked with obtaining the brass plates from a man named Laban.
However, Laban hoards his treasure and ends up turning them away. Nephi’s family gathers their valuables and attempts to buy the plates. Laban takes their things and his men drive them from the city.
In chapter 4 Nephi returns to Jerusalem alone and finds Laban passed out drunk in the street. He takes Laban’s sword and slays him at the urging of the Holy Ghost. Then he dons Laban’s armor and goes to his treasury.
The servant sees Laban’s garments and magically assumes Nephi is his master. He gives Nephi the brass plates without question.
This seems like a wild story, but if you plug in imputation it becomes an allegory. Nephi represents mankind, the brass plates are eternal life, and Laban is Jesus.
I know Laban is the villain, but bear with me for a minute. The Hebrew name Laban means “white”, which The Book of Mormon uses to denote purity (see Alma 13:11). The fact that Laban has to die for the plates to be obtained is another nod to Christ.
The failed attempt to buy the plates with gold and silver shows how fruitless it is to earn salvation in any way, shape, or form.
Nephi putting on Laban’s clothes is symbolic of putting on Christ’s righteousness. Even though it is an imposter under those clothes, he is seen as worthy to possess what rightfully belongs to Laban.
This is imputation my friends, there can be no doubt.
The Robe of Righteousness
In 2 Nephi 1:23 Lehi encourages his sons to put on the armor of righteousness.
A couple chapters later Nephi says this:
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
2 Nephi 4:18-19
It’s strange to find a passage like this in the same book that says God can’t save us in our sins or look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (Alma 11:37 and Alma 45:16). Yet Nephi’s trust in God takes precedence over his sin.
“O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!”
2 Nephi 4,33
This language should be familiar to a Christian. Imputation is like a robe that covers our sin in the righteousness of Christ, and God is the one that clothes us. All the elements are there in 2 Nephi.
Salvation is Free
2 Nephi chapter 2 is a treasure trove for imputation. In verse 3 it says, “thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy redeemer.” Verse 4 says that salvation is free.
Verses 6-8 are as good a description of Protestant doctrine as any I’ve seen.
6. Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
7. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
8. Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah…
Along this vein, 2 Nephi 31:19 says:
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Admittedly, the above verse is shaky because it’s preceded by the heresy that baptism is the gate to eternal life. However, Mormons are familiar with the phrase “relying wholly on the merits of [Christ].” And once they realize what imputation is, it’s tough to say The Book of Mormon is teaching something different.
The doctrine of sola gratia is found in 2 Nephi 2:24
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.
The Conversion of Alma the Younger
In Mosiah 27 a story is told of Alma Jr and his friends fighting against the church. An angel visits them and Alma goes unconscious for three days. When he wakes up he believes in the Lord.
He says, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit. And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, must be born again; yea born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.”
Somehow, Alma claims to be redeemed and in a state of righteousness, despite not taking any action. This only makes sense with imputation of righteousness, since Alma clearly did not prove his faith in any way.
Finally, Moroni 10:33 spells out imputation perfectly.
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
The major thing to note in this verse is that sanctification follows perfection. This is a classic if/then statement. If we are perfect by grace, then we are sanctified. Even though we are wholly righteous, there is a process of aligning our will with God’s.
In light of the above passages, the burden is on Latter-day Saints to explain two things.
- If imputation isn’t true, why does The Book of Mormon teach it?
- How do you account for all the passages that promote imputation when there are so many that oppose it?
Although the truth of imputation is hidden in its pages, The Book of Mormon is not scripture. It also teaches that man must be obedient to merit eternal life, and as Jesus said, a little leaven leavens the whole loaf.
We cannot say we are on a team with Jesus, working for our salvation. No man can serve two masters. If we play any part in salvation, it becomes a hostage situation. It allows us to hang something over God’s head and say, “I did X, Y, and Z. You owe me salvation.”
In truth, God doesn’t owe anyone anything. He is God, and until we give Him the final authority we will have a very small view of Him indeed. This is the ultimate problem with The Book of Mormon: its theology exalts man at the expense of God’s glory.