The Vicarious Atonement: An Explanation of Protestant Soteriology with LDS Terms

The Vicarious Atonement: An Explanation of Protestant Soteriology with LDS Terms

 

If you’re a Latter-day Saint, chances are that at some point you’ve been on the receiving end of an Evangelical Christian trying to save your soul, and you probably left the encounter feeling perplexed.

They likely insisted that you rely on good works to make it to heaven and that you lack true saving faith. Then they proceeded to describe your beliefs in half a dozen ways that seemed totally foreign to you.

That’s because Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints use the same words, but speak different languages. Think of it like this: the word no means the same thing in Spanish, English, and French. Now imagine that it was the same word but in French it meant ‘yes’ and in Spanish it meant ‘maybe’, and you can begin to understand why Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals confuse each other.

Words like grace, faith, heaven, and salvation are defined differently in these faiths. As a result, these groups tend to embrace stereotypes about each other instead of gaining true understanding.

That’s where I come in. I’ve been a member of both faith communities and have engaged in dialogues with both sides. Because of that perspective, I felt it would be prudent to create the first-ever translation of Protestant beliefs into plain Mormonese.

In 2015, I was entrenched in online debate against Evangelicals. They always fell back on one word to defend themselves: grace. It was the thing they claimed to have that Latter-day Saints didn’t. I decided to study the topic in depth so I could yank the foundation out from under them.

I went in with two questions: when does grace kick in and how much of the work of salvation does it accomplish? What I discovered shook me to the core. It grinded my preconceived notions to dust. It became my greatest nightmare and my greatest joy.

I had discovered a pearl of great price, and I sold everything I owned to gain it. Strange as it may seem to you, my dear reader, part of that price was my reliance on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I came to Jesus with nothing to offer, naked, and humiliated. He put His robes on me and the relationship I have with Him now is far beyond anything I had before.

So this is the part where I slander the church, and tell you you’re going to hell, right? Wrong! My only goal is to help you throw away stereotypes and truly understand what Protestants believe.

I’m not going to try to convince you of anything. That’s not my job. However, if the Spirit bears witness to the principles I’ll be sharing, as He did for me, I urge you not to resist Him. After all, despite what we believe to be true, who are we to withstand God?

Here lies the difference in our beliefs. As a Latter-day Saint, I believed in an enabling atonement. I thought there were ordinances and covenants I needed to make in order for the atonement to work. I thought that in some way, my obedience made Christ’s sacrifice more efficacious in my life and in determining what degree of heaven I’d be worthy to obtain.

As an Evangelical, I now believe in a vicarious atonement. I believe that Christ’s entire life was a vicarious ordinance on our behalf. He kept every iota of God’s law, and offered His righteousness to us on the cross. That’s why He told John the Baptist that His baptism would fulfill all righteousness- because His acts of obedience were literally accredited to all His disciples.

I believe we can receive the full benefit of the atonement simply by accepting it through faith. I should note that by “faith” I am not referring to an action verb that includes obedience. I am merely referring to a belief and trust in God. Of course, when this idea is brought up, Latter-day Saints assume that this “cheap grace” is nothing but a license to sin. Some have also argued that this stance makes God a liar, since He is proclaiming someone righteous who really isn’t.

Objectively, the Evangelical position seems preposterous. How can we claim that God is holy, but teach that He forgives sin without requiring anything in return? And what leads us to believe that sinners would turn from their wicked ways without fear of punishment as a motivation?

Imagine that a hardened criminal was taken to court. All the evidence proved beyond a doubt that he was guilty, but the judge decided to forgive him. Not only that, but the courts would turn a blind eye to any evil he did in the future. The judge’s pronouncement of innocence would be a legal fiction. It’s doubtful that the man would change his ways just because he was forgiven. If anything, he would become more brazen in his crimes since there would be no fear of consequences.

Add to that the idea that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinners, and suddenly our hypothetical criminal is not only forgiven for his crimes, but given the key to the city! Where is the justice in that? Where lies the motivation for the sinner to change? I will get to these questions soon, but before I do, allow me to show that forensic righteousness is taught in scripture.

Let’s start in Romans 4. In this chapter, Paul asks a significant question: when was Abraham justified, before or after he was circumcised? He answers that he was justified before circumcision.

If I understand the LDS mindset, your knee-jerk reaction is to argue that circumcision is part of the law of Moses, and therefore the contents of Romans 4 have nothing to do with your faith. But let me remind you that in Abraham’s day, there was no law of Moses. Therefore, the Mosaic law cannot be the subject of this chapter. Rather, Paul uses circumcision to convey a wider question: does obedience justify us before a holy God? The answer is no. Abraham was justified before he did anything to obey God.

In verse 5 (KJV) Paul drives in this point:

And to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Here, Paul makes three claims that refute the idea that faith is an action verb that includes works. First, he deconstructs faith down to its basic elements. Belief and an absence of work are described as the genetic makeup of faith. Second, faith is described as being the catalyst for one to become righteous. And third, he makes the shocking statement that God justifies the ungodly.

Paul doesn’t only equate an absence of works to faith, he also attributes it to grace. In Romans 11:6 (KJV) he states:

And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.

Just as oxygen loses its integrity and becomes something else with the addition of hydrogen, when works are added to faith and grace they too become something else.

But what about James chapter 2? Doesn’t it teach that faith without works is dead, just like a body without a spirit?

Yes, it does, but that doesn’t mean faith and works are conjoined. The body and spirit work together to do amazing things, but even paired they remain autonomous entities. Otherwise the spirit could not depart from the body.

So James is not saying faith can’t exist without works. Doing so would contradict Paul’s statement that justification precedes works. Rather, James is explaining that works are evidence that someone has faith. Think of a tree. Isn’t the presence of fruit proof that the tree is alive? And didn’t that tree have to be alive to produce that fruit in the first place? This is the relationship between faith and works in Protestant theology.

Consider this, if God saved people as a direct result of their obedience, wouldn’t salvation, at least to some degree, be earned? This would nullify grace as a gift for the ungodly, and transform it into a wage for the good. It would set Paul and James up as adversaries. But if we make the necessary assumption that Paul and James agree on the gospel, we must conclude that the people James references did good works because they had already become righteous through the unmerited gift of grace. Take James 2:23 (KJV) for example:

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

This scripture again points to belief as the catalyst for making someone righteous. In fact, the passage referenced here is Genesis 15:6, which occurred several years before the sacrifice of Isaac. This confirms that Abraham did not offer Isaac to gain favor with God, but because he was already righteous.

This righteousness acts like insurance, protecting us when we sin and keeping us in God’s favor. To illustrate this point, Paul quotes King David in Romans 4:7-8 (KJV).

“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”

David is perhaps the greatest evidence of God’s mercy having nothing to do with our performance. Not only did he commit adultery, but he put the woman’s husband on the front lines of battle to die. When the prophet Nathan confronted him, David confessed his sin and Nathan replied:

“The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13 KJV)

I’ve seen Latter-day Saints argue that Nathan was merely pardoning David from physical death. This flies in the face of the statement that God put away his sin. If God excused physical punishment but kept David’s sin in His back pocket for Judgment Day, that isn’t really putting the sin away, is it? Likewise, David would be misguided for praising God for forgiving lawless deeds, covering sin, and for not counting his sins against him.

I know what you’re thinking. What about justice? Shouldn’t a holy God always mete out righteous judgment? How can He forgive heinous sins like David’s without some kind of recompense?

This is the same assumption the Prodigal Son has in Luke 15 when he returns to his father asking to be hired on as a servant. He believes that because he sinned against his father, he is no longer worthy to be called his son. However, the father puts his ring and his robes on the Prodigal and announces a feast in honor of his return. He is brought back into the family without having to pay back a single coin of his father’s inheritance.

But despite this extreme show of mercy, there is an element of truth in the Prodigal Son’s assumption. For justice to be satisfied, someone has to pay. If God merely looked the other way, He would not be good.

This is where Jesus comes in. Romans 3:23-26 (KJV) explains His role:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

There is a lot to unpack in this passage, but basically the full wrath of God was poured out on Jesus. He willingly took our punishment so we wouldn’t have to. This does two things. First, it makes God just because He punishes every sin. And second, it allows us to be justified freely.

But what does it mean to be justified freely? Simply put, it means we don’t have to do anything to escape God’s wrath, because there is no more wrath. His righteous anger for our sins has already been depleted on Christ. This is why Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus. The above passage in Romans 3 spells out clearly what enables us to benefit from the atonement. Verse 25 says this propitiation is received by faith. There is no mention of commandments or temple ordinances being required for salvation.

Through faith alone we become the beneficiaries of God’s favor at Christ’s expense. And what a heavy cost it was. He was whipped, tortured, mocked, and killed. That doesn’t even account for taking our sins. There is nothing remotely cheap about this. In fact, I would argue that what cheapens the atonement is saying our actions make it function. If this is true then Jesus isn’t enough.

So yes, Jesus paid a heavy price for salvation, but what’s to keep us from wasting that gift and living unrepentant lives, especially if we’re as ungodly as Paul says?

Here’s the game changer. When we come to saving faith, we are filled with the Holy Ghost. This initiates rebirth into a new life where we are convicted of sin and given righteous desires.

The groundwork for this rebirth is laid out in John 1:11-13 (KJV):

He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Spiritual rebirth and adoption into the family of God occur simultaneously when we receive Jesus, thus the gift of the Holy Ghost is received by “[belief] in his name.”

Romans 8:14-17 (KJV) goes into specifics on when this spiritual rebirth takes effect:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

Paul indicates that we become sons of God when we are led by the Spirit, and that this status is what makes us worthy to be joint-heirs with Christ. This presents a dilemma for LDS doctrine because it admits that individuals are led by the Spirit prior to entering the baptismal font. If we become children of God and joint-heirs with Christ before baptism, then there are no eternal rewards to be gained through priesthood ordinances. In fact, there is no exclusive benefit to being LDS at all.

A Tale of Two Gospels

Your next question is likely: if the church is wrong about grace, what organization is better? And honestly, that is the wrong question. I’m not selling a particular church, I’m promoting Christ. If His grace is sufficient, then He is all we need. If we claim we need ordinances and commandments to be saved, we make His grace deficient.

There are essentially two gospels that exist on earth. Every religion will fall into one of these categories. First, there is the gospel of amputation. This gospel teaches that we must amputate the sin from our lives to be worthy. Since this includes sins of omission, we must also do good things. In regards to the LDS church, the temple ordinances play a vital role in bringing us to the Father’s presence.

In stark contrast stands the gospel of imputation. Instead of cutting off sin, we put on the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness drowns out our wickedness and immediately makes us worthy of the Father’s presence. What’s more, it occurs before we obey commandments or undergo a single ordinance. Since obedience doesn’t lead to salvation, sin can’t undo salvation. It’s not even in the equation.

When two religions practice baptism, but claim they are fully saved by imputation of Christ’s righteousness at faith, they esteem each other as brothers in the faith. This is why many Protestant denominations can coexist, but the LDS Church can’t tolerate another organization appropriating their temples and performing their rites. If another religion does baptisms, those baptisms are considered illegitimate by the LDS church.

Again, this is because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ties the ordinances themselves to eternal life. Once a religion does this, they must claim exclusive rights to their rituals or else there would be no need for their faith. This is true not only of your religion, but of every belief system that practices the gospel of amputation.

To demonstrate these two gospels, let’s look at a well known Book of Mormon analogy: the iron rod. Lehi has a dream in 1 Nephi 8, where he sees a rod of iron leading to the tree of life. Throngs of people hold tight to this rod as they make their way to the tree.

This is a good representation of the gospel of amputation. The tree symbolizing the love of God lies at the end of the path and effort is required to get there. The journey is treacherous, and many fall into forbidden paths and are lost. Others wander into filthy waters and drown therein. Even after reaching the tree and partaking of the fruit, some are embarrassed by the mocking of onlookers in a great and spacious building. They discard the fruit and enter the building, which later collapses.

The point is, there’s no assurance in the gospel of amputation. There’s no point in the journey where anyone can rest in the knowledge that their salvation is secure. Even after reaching the end of the journey and partaking of the love of God, they can be coaxed away.

But what if I told you there’s another route to the tree?

After wandering around in darkness for hours, Lehi prays for mercy and the darkness subsides. He finds himself in a spacious field near the tree. He simply walks up and eats the fruit. And he’s not the only one to forgo the rod. Nephi, Sam, and Sariah also approach the tree without using it. Of the four of them, none are lost to forbidden paths or drowned in the filthy waters, making this path far superior to the iron rod.

Imputation teaches that Christ already did the hard work of obeying God’s word. He made it past the iron rod, planted the tree of life, and built an escalator to heaven. This is the path of mercy. Justice is satisfied that Christ walked the path, and now Jesus can take us straight to the tree. The tree isn’t the end of the path, it’s the beginning. Once we board the escalator through faith, we can rest assured that our salvation is secure in the blood of the Lamb. There’s no way to get off and wander into the swamps of damnation. Our future in heaven with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an absolute certainty.

When faced with this concept, it’s not uncommon to wonder what role obedience plays. Allow me to answer that with an analogy about marriage.

In order to marry someone, all that’s required is acceptance. We show this acceptance with two words: “I do.” Contrary to what fairy tales teach, the story doesn’t end at marriage. It’s the beginning of the adventure. It’s a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It’s an opportunity to grow closer to your spouse and learn to trust each other. But even during the tumultuous drops, the marriage covenant remains intact.

Nothing changes within us when we enter this relationship. There’s no immediate transformation of character shouting to the world that we’re married. A couple may wear rings as an outward sign of their devotion, but that isn’t what makes them married. What makes them married is simply a legal declaration that they are.

Now let’s pretend the bride was $100,000 in debt on the day of the wedding but she married a billionaire. By virtue of taking her husband’s name, she is now a billionaire too! That’s how imputation works. We take Christ’s name upon us and acquire His righteousness. The difference is, His righteousness is infinite. So there’s nothing we can do to make up the difference or slide back into spiritual debt.

In my analogy, the husband may teach his bride to be wiser with money, but that comes after the marriage. In the same way, God’s word is a standard to teach us morality, but our covenantal relationship with Him predates our obedience.

Let’s shift over to a parent/child analogy. Many Latter-day Saints have told me they give rules to their children to teach them discipline. They have explained that our loving Heavenly Father employs the same methods. I agree, but with a caveat. Disobedience doesn’t undo the covenantal relationship. Can you imagine kicking your kid out of the house because he didn’t clean his room? Or disowning him because he told a lie?

Or is your love unconditional? Do you value your relationships with your children, even when they do things you’re ashamed of? If your child grew up and said they hated you and walked away, wouldn’t they still be a son or daughter in your eyes? I believe this resembles the relationship we have with God. When we sin, God doesn’t abandon us until we get our act together. If anything, He’s closer to us in these times, giving us the comfort and direction we desperately need.

As Paul so eloquently preaches in Romans 5:20 (KJV), “Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

So to my LDS reader I ask, does the same God who forgave David of murder and adultery really take away salvation when we do less evil than that? Does the Jesus who died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) abandon us because we’re still sinners?

Jesus prayed for the very people who condemned him to death saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 KJV) And I posit that it’s against Christ’s nature to turn around and disown His own children.

But what about us? Can’t we turn our backs on Him? We can leave him, but He will move heaven and earth to bring us back to the fold. Ultimately, the question that needs to be asked is this: do we adopt God or does He adopt us? If God adopts us, what right do we have to nullify that? We can complain or act out in defiance, but nothing we do can sever our relationship with Him. Even if we walk down an escalator, the stairs still work to bring us up.

Another disagreement Latter-day Saints have with Evangelicals is our tendency to say those who leave Christianity never believed in Jesus at all. But let me explain, using marriage as an example again.

I was married to my first wife for nine years. At the end of it she informed me that she wanted to date other men. When I protested, she filed for divorce. I spent months in a state of agony, reliving our most cherished memories, and yet they meant nothing to her. She saw my sorrow and wasn’t fazed. Did she fall out of love? No. The simpler explanation is she never loved me at all. What she felt for me was actually infatuation. Many people have an infatuation with the idea of God, but as soon as being a disciple becomes inconvenient, they abandon their Christian ideals.

My friends, do not be deceived. Someone like this could never have loved God, nor could they have experienced real charity. 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. If it doesn’t endure, then it isn’t charity.

As a Latter-day Saint, you may say: people get divorced all the time. Doesn’t that prove someone can walk away from God’s covenantal relationship? Can’t we reject His love?

The question of divorce was posed to Jesus by the Pharisees and He replied, “For the hardness of your heart [Moses] wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mark 10:5-9 KJV)

In other words, divorce is not a God thing, but a man thing. And according to the New Testament, Christ is our bridegroom (Matthew 25:5). If we have been sealed to Him, how can we be separated? Consider the words of Paul in Romans 8:35-39 (KJV):

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If you’re tired of fighting a losing battle to reach perfection, if broken covenants condemn you, if your sins have traded your peace with fear, and if a love that runs at the sight of your imperfections is what you’re used to, then I invite you to flee from it. You will never be enough in a gospel like that and you will never sufficiently prove your worthiness.

Instead, I invite you to embrace the unconditional, unending, fully accepting, ever merciful, totally sufficient, and all encompassing love of Christ. It’s the only way out, because the gospel of amputation ultimately condemns us. Even The Book of Mormon states that God cannot save us in our sins (Alma 11:37) or look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (Alma 45:16). It goes on to teach that if we are not stripped of pride and envy, we are not prepared to meet God (Alma 5:28-29). James 2:10 (KJV) states:

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

Take a moment and think about your spiritual situation. Have you repented of all your sins? If you were called up to Judgment Day at this very moment, can you say with certainty that you’d be worthy of the Father’s presence? Have you been overly harsh with your children? Have you been selfish? Have you experienced road rage? Is God going to be impressed if you show up to Judgment Day and your spiritual report card shows a grade of B+?

According to James 2:10, that score of B+ isn’t even possible. If we have one red mark, our grade falls to an F. It is unacceptable to break one iota of God’s law, and His laws aren’t easy. In Matthew 5 Jesus says that if we look at a woman with lust, we’ve committed adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28), and if we call our brothers fools we’re in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22).

Unfortunately, this is the boat all of humanity is in (myself included). 1 John 1:8 says that we deceive ourselves if we claim we have no sin. In other words, there is never a point in our journey where we can bail ourselves out of the condemnation we deserve. This is why the message of the vicarious atonement is so important.

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 couldn’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:

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. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 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 exists that can generate 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.

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.

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:

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, 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 this righteousness through faith.

Perhaps the greatest metaphor for 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 the story takes a surprising 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.

To recap, there are two gospels: the gospel of amputation that adheres to an enabling atonement, and the gospel of imputation that adheres to a vicarious atonement. The gospel of imputation puts the emphasis on Christ’s obedience and hangs salvation on His merits. It states that Jesus is sufficient. He effectively becomes our baptism, sealing, and endowment. He is our priesthood and our temple.

So where does that leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Like Paul said, there is no system that can generate righteousness, and that includes the ordinances of the restored gospel. However, if you embrace the vicarious atonement, it doesn’t mean you have to look back at the church with disdain. I don’t. Instead, I view the church as a schoolmaster that brought me to Christ. There are so many ways being raised as a Latter-day Saint helped me understand and appreciate grace that I never could have if I’d been raised Protestant.

The apostle Paul does say that once faith is obtained, we are no longer under a schoolmaster (Galatians 3:25). If you take this view, then you are no longer bound by the laws and ordinances of your old gospel. But you will gain something much more glorious, total assurance of your salvation, and a trust in Jesus that you never thought possible.

Thanks to the Vicarious Atonement your work has been done. The only question that remains is: will you accept it?