The Vicarious Atonement: A Proclamation to Latter-day Saints

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 KJV

Have you ever talked with Evangelicals and become the victim of aggressive preaching? Perhaps they went so far as to attack your faith and regurgitated a hundred reasons why you aren’t a Christian. You may have been accused of worshiping Joseph Smith and participating in a cult.

I’ve been in that situation a hundred times as an LDS missionary, and later while defending the faith online. I’m familiar with the bad taste it leaves in your mouth and the knot that forms in the stomach. You’re left knowing nothing of Evangelical beliefs, except they don’t seem to like Mormons very much.

In 2015, I began a serious study on the topic of grace. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Within a year my convictions shifted and I found myself embracing the Evangelical position. I came to realize there are two kinds of gospels. One gospel teaches that we must cut all the sin out of our lives to become worthy. The other is about putting something on, namely, the righteousness of Christ. This gospel says that we can be saved despite our sins.

I discovered this second gospel, which I call the gospel of imputation, all over The Book of Mormon. The Bible also testified of its truthfulness. In this article, I’ll be explaining the Evangelical position using LDS scripture and language. As an added bonus, I’ll avoid the usual accusations and name calling.

The main difference in our soteriology is Evangelicals believe in only one temple. This temple only needed to be used once, and it transferred all the saving ordinances to everyone who believes in Christ. That temple was the cross.

The Gospel of Amputation

Growing up as a seventh-generation Latter-day Saint, I believed I needed to keep the commandments perfectly. If I sinned, I needed to repent and stop doing them. In essence, I needed to amputate the sinful behavior from my life. After all, Jesus commanded us to be perfect in Matthew 5:48.

I knew no unclean thing could enter God’s kingdom (3 Nephi 27:19). In fact, The Book of Mormon stated that God could not save us in our sins (Alma 11:37), nor could He look upon sin with allowance (Alma 45:16). That meant if I went to Judgment Day with sin, I would be cast out. Even my sins of omission had to stop. 2 Nephi 25:23 said we were saved by grace “after all we [could] do.” Moroni 10:32 said grace was sufficient after we denied ourselves of all ungodliness.

James 2:10 (KJV) says:

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

The Book of Mormon made it clear that God wouldn’t be impressed if my spiritual report card was a B+. James 2:10 said that a score of B+ was impossible. If I had one red mark, my score would become an F. Unfortunately for me, God was a holy being, and I was anything but that. In Matthew 5:18 Jesus said that until heaven and earth passed, not one jot or tittle of the law would pass. In other words, it was unacceptable to break even one iota of God’s law.

That wouldn’t have been a problem if God’s laws were easy, but they weren’t. In Matthew 5 Jesus said if we looked upon a woman to lust after her, we committed adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28) and if we called our brothers fools we’d be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22).

In his sermon in Alma 5:28-29, Alma says:

28 Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.

29 Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.

Despite the strictness of God’s commands, I gained comfort in the idea of enabling grace as defined in the Bible Dictionary. It was a power God gave his disciples so they could accomplish impossible feats. However, as time dragged on I found myself falling short again and again. I would repent of my sins only to find myself trapped in them again, or trespassing against God in new ways. This led me into greater despair and guilt than I originally felt.

Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 says:

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.

No matter how hard I tried, or how desperately I prayed for God’s enabling grace, I couldn’t approach God’s standard. It felt like the odds were stacked against me, like I’d been given an impossible gospel to carry out. Of course, I believed I’d get a second chance at repenting in the next life, but that didn’t carry much hope. I’d always been taught it was harder to repent in Spirit Prison. If I couldn’t reach perfection here, how could I do it there?

It was no wonder Romans 3:10 said there were none righteous and 1 John 1:8 said we deceived ourselves if we claimed we had no sin. That left me in a pitiable position since, according to the Bible, the wages of sin was death (Romans 6:23).

If you find yourself in a similar position, take heart. The message of the Vicarious Atonement is for you.

The Law our Schoolmaster

Evangelicals used to tell me God gave the Israelites the Law of Moses to show them they couldn’t keep it. That statement is antithetical to everything Latter-day Saints believe. Why would a loving Heavenly Father give us commandments we can’t keep?

To answer that question, let me point to a simple equation. 1+1=2. This equation has two parts, the problem and the solution. You can’t find the answer without the problem, and when it comes to salvation, the problem is the law. The more we try to amputate sin from our lives, the more aware we become of our enslavement to it.

The New Testament teaches that the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). As a Latter-day Saint, I thought that meant I became righteous by obeying God’s laws. However, the opposite is true. The law doesn’t make us righteous, it exists to condemn us.

Galatians 3:21-24 (KJV) says:

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

This is a shocking revelation. Paul says that righteousness doesn’t come by keeping the law, in fact no law can be enacted that generates it. In verse 22 he says it’s because we’re sinners that we can receive faith. In other words, we have to be beaten down and pinned against the wall before we realize we can’t do it ourselves. Faith is realizing we have nothing to offer. We acknowledge we have received the due wages of our sin and only Jesus can bring us to life.

In Colossians 2:13 Paul says we were dead in our sins. As a Latter-day Saint you are especially equipped to understand the implications of this because it coincides with your doctrine about temples. A vicarious ordinance can only be performed for a dead person. Once the ordinance is done, the dead person merely has to accept what was done on their behalf.

This is called imputation. In other words, your act of righteousness (i.e. getting baptized, endowed, or sealed) is accredited to the dead as if they did it themselves. But wait, there’s more. In LDS theology there’s never talk of the dead having to repent if they break the covenants associated with ordinances. In fact, Alma 42:13 says repentance can only occur in mortality. It logically follows that the dead don’t accept a covenant that can condemn them, but a covenant that acts as though it’s been kept perfectly.

This is essentially what Jesus did for us. He lived a perfect life of obedience to the Father, and on the cross he traded His righteousness for our sin. This is why Romans 5:10 associates salvation not only with Christ’s death, but with His life. Since He was obedient, we are endowed with a perfect righteousness. It is as if we obeyed every commandment God ever gave.

Nephi’s Courage

After leaving Jerusalem, Lehi and his family come to a valley with a river running into the ocean. He says to his son Lemuel, “Oh that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!” (1 Nephi 2:9)

The Fountain of all Righteousness is God, He is the source. The imagery of a river flowing endlessly into the sea is symbolic of what Christ does for us. Even though we continue to sin, His righteousness flows into us, drowning out our wickedness.

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well he said, “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.” (John 4:13-14 KJV)

If we’re trying to drink from the well of human righteousness, that well will run dry. However, Christ’s righteousness is infinite and never ceases to quench our parched souls.

In Philippians 3:8-9 (KJV) Paul says:

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

Here he claims that the righteousness he has is not his own, but that it comes from Christ. Furthermore, he obtained righteousness through faith.

This idea is echoed in Enos. After praying to God, the Lord tells Enos his sins are forgiven. Bewildered, Enos asks how it is done. The Lord answers in Enos 1:8

And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.

Enos wasn’t justified because of ordinances or obedience to commandments. If he were, he wouldn’t have been surprised when he was forgiven. When we work to become righteous, forgiveness becomes a wage instead of a gift. In this instance, it was faith alone that made Enos whole. All he had to do to receive the Vicarious Atonement was believe in Christ.

This idea of imputed righteousness is heavily emphasized in 2 Nephi chapter 2. Verse 3 says we are “redeemed because of the righteousness of [our] Redeemer.” Verse 4 says “salvation is free”, and verse 8 says, “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.”

Perhaps the greatest metaphor ever written about imputation comes from 1 Nephi chapters 3 and 4. It tells a story of Nephi and his brothers going to Jerusalem to get a set of brass plates from a powerful man named Laban.

Their initial attempts meet with failure because Laban is unwilling to part with his treasure. Nephi’s family comes back with their riches, intent on purchasing the plates. Laban takes their money, but drives them out of his presence.

Just when things look hopeless, an angel appears saying Laban will be delivered into their hands. Nephi creeps into the city and finds Laban passed out drunk in the street. At the urging of the Spirit, Nephi takes Laban’s sword and decapitates him.

He then puts on Laban’s clothing and equipment and makes his way to the treasury. Once he’s inside, he is mistaken for Laban and given the brass plates.

In this metaphorical story, the brass plates represent salvation and Laban represents Christ. When they offer their riches to purchase the plates, they are driven off. Such will be the case if we try to offer God our obedience as a currency to enter heaven.

But then the story takes a turn. Nephi slays Laban and puts on his clothes. This symbolizes putting on Christ’s righteousness. Suddenly we are no longer judged as imposters trying to break into heaven, but as if we were Christ Himself. The Book of Mormon calls this “putting on the robes of righteousness” (2 Nephi 9:14).

Laban even has to die in order for this to take place. The parallels are really astounding.

In one of the more heartfelt monologues in The Book of Mormon, Nephi confesses that he is easily beset by sin, and tells us what it is that gives him courage in the face of his human frailty.

2 Nephi 4:17-19 says:

17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

There is no comfort in the gospel of amputation. It leaves us sorrowing over our wretched state. However, when we trust in Christ, he overcomes our sins and becomes our bedrock of courage.

The Tree of Life

In his vision, Lehi saw an iron rod leading to a tree with fruit that gave joy to all those who ate of it. There was an iron rod that led to this tree. In 1 Nephi 11:22 it’s revealed that the tree represents the love of God. If I can expound on this imagery further, I think the tree represents the cross of Christ, and the fruit is His grace. The iron rod ends at the cross because there’s nowhere to go beyond that.

Colossians 2:13-14 teaches the Vicarious Atonement in a nutshell. It reads:

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

14 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 the cross.

Romans 10:4 asserts that Jesus “is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

Where does this leave the LDS Church, with its saving ordinances and covenants? In one sense, it renders the Church obsolete. The gospel of imputation puts the emphasis on Jesus, and hangs salvation on His merits alone. He effectively becomes our baptism, sealing, and endowment. He becomes our priesthood and our temple.

Romans 4:24-25 teach that Christ’s righteousness is accredited to our accounts when we believe in Him.

However, Mormonism isn’t a bad thing either, if it’s viewed in its proper context. There’s no system or religion that can generate righteousness, not even the covenants of the restored gospel. However, Mormonism is extremely useful when identified as a schoolmaster bringing us to Christ. There are so many ways being raised as a Latter-day Saint has helped me understand and appreciate grace in a way I never could have if I’d been raised Protestant.

In Galatians 3:25 Paul says that once faith is obtained, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. If viewed this way, the LDS Church must be given up in order to gain something better.

Thanks to the Vicarious Atonement your work has been done.

The only question that remains is: will you accept it?

2 thoughts on “The Vicarious Atonement: A Proclamation to Latter-day Saints”

  1. 1/14/21

    Michael,

    A friend of mine in the ECO Church referred me to your article. Thank you for your thoughts and insights. I am a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that God our eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith early on a beautiful clear spring morning in 1820. That miracle and the ones which happened subsequent to that theophany have filled my life with joy, peace, and hope which are impossible to fully describe or express. For these reasons, the account of your de-conversion and your reinterpretation of some of the events in the Book of Mormon are somewhat astonishing to me, all of which lead to the following questions and comments:

    You cite many scriptures from the Book of Mormon and latter-day revelation. Do you still believe the Book of Mormon to be true and that it is the word of God? You describe the account of Nephi and his brothers retrieving the plates as a metaphor, so, I assume that you see the Book of Mormon in its entirety as a metaphor and not as a historical document containing the teachings of Jesus Christ. Is that the case? If Christ did not really visit the Nephites and teach them, but the Book of Mormon says He did, then is this Book something we should study, or take seriously, or conform our lives to?

    Do you believe that Joseph Smith was visited by the Father and the Son and by the other heavenly messengers who restored the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, His Church, and priesthood authority and keys to the earth in these latter days? Have you left the Church and have you become what my ECO friend calls a Nicene Christian, accepting the Nicene Creed and the triune definition of God?

    I completely agree – we are saved by the atonement of Jesus Christ and not by our works. The Book of Mormon makes this abundantly clear, and as Elder Renlund said in the last Conference:

    “As followers of Jesus Christ, and as Latter-day Saints, we strive—and are encouraged to strive—to do better and be better. Perhaps you have wondered, as I have, ‘Am I doing enough?’ ‘What else should I be doing?’ or ‘How can I, as a flawed person, qualify to ‘dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness’?’

    “The Old Testament prophet Micah asked the question this way: ‘Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?’ Micah satirically wondered whether even exorbitant offerings might be enough to compensate for sin, saying: ‘Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten [thousand] … rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for … the sin of my soul?’

    “The answer is no. Good deeds are not sufficient. Salvation is not earned. Not even the vast sacrifices Micah knew were impossible can redeem the smallest sin. Left to our own devices, the prospect of returning to live in God’s presence is hopeless.

    “Without the blessings that come from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, we can never do enough or be enough by ourselves. The good news, though, is that because of and through Jesus Christ we can become enough. All people will be saved from physical death by the grace of God, through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And if we turn our hearts to God, salvation from spiritual death is available to all ‘through the Atonement of [Jesus] Christ … by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.’ We can be redeemed from sin to stand clean and pure before God. As Micah explained, ‘[God] hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’”

    Without His atonement, no amount of obedience to Christ’s commandments or participation in saving ordinances and covenants could save us—they would be utterly useless and powerless to conquer spiritual or physical death. However, do you believe that Christ requires anything from those who accept him as their Savior? You of course are familiar with the many commandments He has given to us and that He said that unless a man is born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. Once we have accepted Christ’s vicarious atonement, are we under any obligation to then act or speak in ways which are prescribed by Him and is there a consequence for not acting in those prescribed ways?

    My ECO friend says that Titus 2 is the closest to any demand Christ makes of us, but what about all the teachings of Christ Himself? The Sermon on the Mount makes one demand after another, culminating with the commandment to be perfect like our Father in Heaven is perfect and in stating that if we do not the will of the Father, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. If a man who has accepted the vicarious atonement lives for a long time, or a short time, without committing serious transgression, but then commits adultery and does not repent of that sin, does his lack of repentance affect his salvation? Will he still be saved, if he refuses to repent? Do any of Paul’s list of sins—adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like—keep the saved person out of heaven, if he does not repent of them? Christ says that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven, and if we’re not forgiven, we of course cannot enter heaven. In addition to accepting the atonement, do we actually have to forgive others to be saved? From what you have written, I think you now believe that repentance and cessation of adulterous behavior are not required of the man who has accepted the vicarious atonement and that he will be saved even if he continues to commit this sin, or other serious transgressions. If this correct? Recently I was reading in John 5, where Jesus heals the man by the pool of Bethesda. Later on, he sees this man again and says, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” (v14) Was this man capable of obeying the commandment which Christ just gave to him, or did his sin nature make it impossible for him to be obedient to this commandment? When Jesus said to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go thy way and sin no more,” was He serious? Did He really think she had the power to obey His command, or was He giving her false hope that she could actually repent of this sin she had committed? To be saved, would she need to obey this command, or would belief alone be sufficient? Micah says, “[God] hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Do you believe that God really does require these 3 things of us…or not?

    Also, if we are saved by grace alone with no requirement on our part, then why is even faith necessary? Faith is an act of will, a work, which makes the salvific power of grace dependent on something besides grace—the faith and belief of the person being saved by grace.

    The Savior said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 7:21) Do you think He really means what He says, and are we required to actually do the will of our Father in order to enter his kingdom? When the young rich man asked the Savior what he needed to do to be saved, Jesus told him to obey the commandments, and then He told him to sell all that he had and follow Him, which the young man was unwilling to do. Was belief in Christ all that was required of this young man, or did he have to do certain things in order to be saved? Did His refusal to sell his possessions and follow Jesus jeopardize in any way his salvation? Paul says:

    8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
    9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. (Heb 5)

    Is Paul telling the truth? Now that you have a new perspective, do you still believe what Paul says here?

    Paul also says that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling before God. (Philip 2:12) Is this really a requirement?

    You cite the Prophet Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life and the rod of iron which leads to the tree of life which represents the love of God. What did the people have to do to get to the tree? They had to grasp the iron rod, which is the word of God, which of course means that they had to obey what that word said. If they let go of the iron rod, they wandered into forbidden paths and were lost. The ultimate representation of the love of God is indeed the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, but to access that love and partake of the fruit, you cannot let go of the iron rod, or start disobeying the commandments. If you do, then you are lost, no matter how good your intentions and desires may be, unless you grasp hold of it again. It’s not enough to stand in the field and look at the Tree of Life, and admire it from afar. To partake of the love of God, one must grasp the iron rod and do something, no matter how inadequate he may feel. Do you believe that once a person has accepted Christ and His vicarious atonement that his salvation is then irrevocable, or does he have to continue obeying the commandments? What happened to those who partook of the fruit, but then noticed the great and spacious building, felt ashamed, and departed from the tree? Now that you have left the Church, do still believe it is necessary to endure to the end in obedience to God’s commandments to be saved, as Christ has taught us many times in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon?

    You cite the Psalm of Nephi, where he laments his weaknesses in his apparent inability to obey the commandments as perfectly as he would like to do, but then you stop and do not quote the rest of what he says! Does he conclude, as you have concluded, that strict obedience to the commandments of God is just too much and that the Lord can’t be serious when He requires us to obey His commandments. He doesn’t say, “I now see why the Lord has given us these commandments. He doesn’t really expect us to obey them; they are intended to show us that we are weak, impotent, and wicked individuals and that our salvation is solely and only the result of His grace, and it does not matter whether or not I am ‘strict in the plain road’ or whether I ‘walk in the path of the low valley.’ I believe in him; I am saved; that is enough.” On the contrary, he spends the rest of this remarkable outpouring of grief, faith, love, and determination pulling himself together and redoubling his efforts to do exactly what the Lord has commanded him to do.

    26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
    27 And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
    28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. (2 Nephi 4)

    He will not give in to the temptations which do so easily beset him; he will not yield to sin because of his flesh; he will not give way to temptations so that the evil one can destroy his peace and afflict his soul. He recounts all the blessings the Lord has given to him, all the reasons He has given him to obey the commandments, and then declares that he will do better, he will obey, and with the Lord’s constant help, which will come because of Nephi’s sincere and constant prayers, he will succeed. His “voice shall forever ascend up unto (Him), his rock and his everlasting God.” (2 Nephi 4:35)

    And you never mention his words in 2 Nephi 31:

    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.
    20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

    I think you should include in your essays all that the Book of Mormon says on particular subject, not just a couple selected verses.

    You say that the law exists to condemn us, and yet the scriptures are full of valiant men and women who did a magnificent job of obeying it:

    • Noah was perfect in his generation.
    • Job was perfect and upright.
    • Enoch and his people were taken up into heaven without tasting death.
    • Abraham accepted and kept the covenant God offered to him, and so did Isaac, who submitted to the terrible test of faith being given to both him and his father.
    • Moses obeyed the law which God gave to him, and tried his whole life to persuade his people to do the same. Should he have tried, if it was impossible for the children of Israel to obey that law and if its main purpose was to show how wicked they were?
    • Zacharias and Elizabeth were “both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (Luke 1)
    • Mary was “highly favored” and “blessed among women.” Was that because she was slothful in obeying God’s commandments?
    • John the Baptist cried repentance to all of Israel. Was he calling on them to do something they were incapable of doing?

    And the list goes on and on. These men and women were not perfect; they had a multitude of human frailties and flaws, but they tried as hard as they could to be faithful to the commandments God had given to them, because they loved Him. Jesus says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. What does it then mean if we don’t keep His commandments? If you are capable of loving Him, then you are capable of keeping his commandments—not perfectly, but as well as you can, and the key to understanding this is the verse you reference in your essay, which is one of the most wonderful summaries of the plan of salvation in all of Scripture:

    23 For we labor 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. (2 Nephi 25)

    All we can do may not be much, but all we can do is sufficient, and the Lord compensates for all of our foibles, shortcomings, imperfections, and sins. You say that, “No matter how hard I tried, or how desperately I prayed for God’s enabling grace, I couldn’t approach God’s standard.” That’s what the atonement is for—it makes up the difference; it makes all the difference. I don’t see how you could have misunderstood that after reading the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. How could the “odds have been stacked against you” when you had the infinite power of the atonement at your disposal?

    Concerning vicarious ordinances, you say that once the ordinances are done, that person merely has to accept what was done on his behalf and that all of our acts of righteousness (i.e., getting baptized, endowed, or sealed) is accredited to the dead as if they did it themselves. But then you say that LDS theology never talks about the dead having to repent if they break the covenants associated with the ordinances. Joseph F Smith says otherwise:

    57 I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead.
    58 The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God. (D&C 138)

    Which brings another question to mind—What do you think becomes of the children of God who live and die on this earth without ever having the opportunity to repent and accept their Redeemer? As you know, one of the most glorious truths revealed to mankind came in its fullness through the Prophet Joseph Smith when Elijah restored the sealing power to the earth and vicarious work for the dead began. Will these children of God, countless in number, ever have the opportunity to accept the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ and be saved? My evangelical friends tell me that they will not, that if they die without a knowledge of Christ, they are lost. Have you accepted that belief, or do you still believe that the gospel is being preached to those who have died and that saving ordinances are being performed for them in the temples of God? The cross and the empty tomb are indeed appropriate symbols for the temples the Lord has restored to the earth, which are concrete expressions of God’s love for all of His children and of His insistence that the vicarious atonement the offered to all of them.

    You speak of “the LDS Church with its saving ordinances and covenants,” as if they originated with the Church, but they belong to Christ, and He is the one who has offered them to us. Our acceptance or rejection of these covenants and ordinances are a perfect illustration of the Prophet Lehi’s teaching:

    27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (2 Nephi 2)

    I hope you will return and renew the sacred covenants you once made and honored.

    May the Lord bless you and your family.

    Scott Laird

  2. Hi Michael! I sent you a text message and agree with many things you are striving to convey. These are some things I think are incorrect and need to be changed:
    “The law doesn’t make us righteous, it exists to condemn us.” Not true. I don’t establish rules or laws in my home to condemn my children because I love them. I establish them for their safety, well being, protection and to be truly happy, just as Heavenly Father does. That is wresting what Paul said and meant. The Law of Moses was given as a schoolmaster to bring His covenant people to Him as their Savior so they could become like Him, perfect, sancified, holy, without blemish, prepared to live eternally with Him and Our Father in Heaven. A process beyond the grave. Christ taught several times in the NT to live and keep His commandments that He gave His covenant people in the OT. Why? Because He loves them and knows what is best for them. Also, repentance can occur in beyond the grave. This is a probationary state, but Alma did not say we couldn’t repent after this life, which as you stated is harder without a body and not being able to live in a physical world for which it was intended. Christ wants us to be saved on His conditions of repentance, through His atoning Grace and love. He is the only way to true salvation and exaltation. We cannot do it by ourselves nor on our own merits. We must follow Him and His word through His living prophets and apostles just as those did anciently. The scriptures make it clear and the Holy Ghost bears witness of these truths and all truth. Love you brother! Gary

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