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The Mormon View of Salvation

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The Mormon View of Salvation

The Bottom-Line Guide to Mormonism, Part 8
Robert M. Bowman Jr.

The LDS Church teaches that we all lived in heaven as spirit sons and daughters of our divine parents, Heavenly Father and Mother (see Part 3 of this series on the Mormon view of God the Father). God’s plan was that those spirit children would become humans on earth as a probationary stage of life on their way to becoming gods like their heavenly parents. To gain exaltation to godhood, Mormons believe, we needed to become mortals who could be tested spiritually, freely choose to follow God, die, and be resurrected with immortality. This is why, Mormons say, we had to come live in this world. 

In order to be mortal and die, we needed to be fallen creatures, born to mortal parents. This meant that Adam and Eve needed to transgress God’s command not to eat of the forbidden fruit in order to give birth to mortal children and set things in motion for their earthly offspring to be resurrected to immortality. Had they not done so, according to Mormonism, Adam and Eve could not have had children. In short, Adam did a noble thing by choosing to transgress God’s command. Thus, the LDS scripture Pearl of Great Price quotes Eve as saying, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11; see also 2 Ne. 2:22-25, Book of Mormon). 

Historic Christian View of Salvation

LDS View of Salvation

Adam’s transgression was a deadly sin

Adam’s transgression was a noble act

The wicked are resurrected to face hell

The wicked are resurrected to be granted a lower level of salvation

All who trust in Christ truly will be saved; many people will be lost

Almost everyone will be saved, but only Mormons can attain the highest salvation

People must be reconciled to God in this life

Billions of people, including many who knew about Jesus and rejected him in this life, can still accept the (LDS) gospel in the afterlife

Two possible futures: eternal life or eternal punishment

Four possible futures: the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms, and the outer darkness

The Bible, on the other hand, never says anything positive about what Adam and Eve did, plainly describing Adam’s transgression as sin (Rom. 5:12, 14). The fact that God instructed them, before they sinned, to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28) shows that the Fall was not necessary for them to have children. Eve’s pain in childbearing was increased because of the Fall (Gen. 3:16), which assumes she would have had children even if she had not fallen. 

As a result of Adam’s noble fall, Mormonism teaches, all people became subject to both physical death (separation of spirit from body) and spiritual death (separation from God). Evangelicals also affirm that physical and spiritual death resulted from the Fall, but Mormons put a different spin on this distinction, as we shall see. For people to live forever in heaven with their heavenly parents, both kinds of death needed to be overcome. God’s plan meets this need through Christ’s atonement—his suffering in Gethsemane (where, they believe, the Atonement mainly took place) and dying on the cross. On the core historical facts that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, Mormons are in agreement with the Bible. Unfortunately, their understanding of the significance of these events is radically different. 

Mormonism separates salvation into two different kinds: salvation from physical death and salvation from spiritual death. In the LDS view, God will resurrect all people to immortality regardless of how they live or whether they believe. This salvation from physical death is thus unconditional—not dependent on either faith or works. On the other hand, salvation from spiritual death, they say, requires both faith and good works—including works only Mormons can do. One must accept the Atonement, repent of one’s sins, be baptized (in the LDS Church), receive the Holy Ghost (by the laying on of hands by a man with the Mormon priesthood), and obey God’s commandments (which includes LDS rituals, notably getting married “for eternity” in a Mormon temple, and a long list of other obligations). Only people who do all these things can live in heaven with Heavenly Father and Mother and continue progressing toward the goal of becoming gods. In this sense, salvation is conditional—dependent on faith and the works required in the Mormon religion. 

Mormonism widens the number of people who might obtain this spiritual salvation by teaching that those who never heard the LDS gospel in this life (most of humanity) may accept it in the spirit realm. This is why Mormons get baptized for the dead—they are getting baptized on behalf of their non-Mormon ancestors in the hope they will accept the gospel in the afterlife. The Bible shuts the door on the idea of people being saved after they die (e.g., Heb. 9:27). 

What about the many people who will be saved to unending physical life but will not attain spiritual salvation necessary to return to live with their heavenly parents? According to the LDS Church, nearly all of them go to other heavenly kingdoms inferior to the “celestial” kingdom (where Heavenly Father lives) but still more glorious than our present world. The “terrestrial” kingdom (visited by Jesus but not the Father) is for decent non-Mormons as well as less than faithful Mormons, while the “telestial” kingdom (visited by the “Holy Ghost” but not Jesus or the Father) is for wicked people. Practically every human who has ever lived will enjoy unending life in one of these heavenly kingdoms. Only a comparatively few wicked humans who reject the truth after receiving a clear revelation of it (for example, some ex-Mormons) will be banished to “outer darkness,” spending eternity there with the devil and his angels. 

There are striking differences between the LDS and biblical views of salvation. Mormons believe that practically everyone will be saved, even people who rejected Christ. The Bible teaches that a lot of people will not be saved (Matt. 7:13-14) and that those who reject Christ are lost (John 8:24). Mormons teach that everyone, even the wicked, will be resurrected to immortal life in some heaven; the Bible teaches that the wicked will be raised only to face God’s judgment as whole human beings and be cast into hell, body and soul (Matt. 10:28; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15). Mormons believe that faith and works, including LDS rituals, are prerequisites to eternal life with God the Father. The Bible teaches that God redeems us to enjoy eternal life through faith in Christ alone, with our good works as the fruit, not the prerequisite, of that salvation (Eph. 2:8-10). (Mormons frequently belittle evangelicals for affirming salvation through faith alone.) The Bible reveals just two ultimate eternal futures for all people: eternal punishment or eternal life, the lake of fire or the new heavens and new earth (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 20-22). The ultimate goal of salvation in Mormonism is to become gods; according to the Bible, there will always be only one God (Is. 43:10), and no amount of faith, repentance, good works, or religious rituals can change that fundamental reality.