The Miracle of Forgiveness Chapter 3, Reviewed by Stephen Livings

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This third chapter is entitled ‘None Righteous, No, Not One’ and its purpose is to make it very plain that we are all sinful.

Spencer Kimball’s first point here is to suggest that, in general, people are far better at recognising the sins of others and the fact that others ought to repent, rather than looking to themselves first. As he says, “Apparently it is much easier to see those [other people’s] sins than our own, and to walk com-placently through life without acknowledging our own need to mend our ways.” I am rather surprised at this statement. Certainly, growing up Mormon, my own experience was of an awareness, perhaps even an unhealthy obsession with, my sins and own unworthiness. For the Mormon, one’s whole life is an ongoing trial and an impossible challenge along a pathway to “mend our ways” to such an extent that one day we can be exalted (i.e. become a god).

Kimball then goes on to quote a series of Bible verses that set out our sinfulness. “There is none that doeth good, no, not one”, “there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not”, “who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from sin?”, etc. There are a couple of other Bible selections made by Kimball in this early part of the chapter but I wish to return to his use of those verses a little later.

After supplementing the Bible verses on our sinfulness with a couple of examples from the Doctrine and Covenants, Kimball adds: “There is never a day in any man’s life when repentance is not essential to his well-being and eternal progress.” Now, whilst I would not wish to belittle the significance of re-pentance at all, I would suggest that it is unbiblical to teach that daily repentance is essential to our eternal progress. Moreover, as many people, myself included, have demonstrated on this site, the Bible doesn’t support this Mormon notion of eternal progress in any case. Our repentance is a perma-nent choice we have made, and are continuing to make in our lives; a turning towards the Lord and a turning away from sinful actions. We are turning to the Lord as a response to his sacrifice for our sins. This is a gift that we have gratefully accepted, in the knowledge that, ‘There is none that doeth good, no, not one’ and also understanding that, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:’ (Ephesians 2:8) Clearly, if someone claims to be a Christian but is never brought to a position where they are asking prayerfully for forgiveness for their sins, you have got to question their original claim. But by the same token, a daily act of repentance is not the ultimate solution to some sort of eternal outcome. What would Kimball say in the case of an individual who had sinned after doing their daily repenting, but died before the next time that they ought to do some more ‘daily repenting’? Where does the Mormon God draw the line?

Kimball states later on that, “Repentance is for every soul who has not yet reached perfection.” This leads one to reflect back on the case that Kimball made so emphatically earlier, when, using Bible verses, he demonstrated that every single person is sinful. None is righteous. So where does he get this idea that we can reach perfection? The Bible has something to say about this, but it is a very different notion to the Mormon idea of perfection being when we become gods. One of the Bible verses Kimball quoted was Romans 5:12. In Romans 5 we are given God’s real view of our sinfulness and how we can be restored to how we ought to be. Kimball quotes verse 12 to demonstrate that all have sinned, but it should come as no surprise, given that he is presenting Mormon teaching in his book and not Bible teaching, that he neglects to consider verses 17-19, which state: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” It is important to remember that humankind was made in God’s image and God saw that it was good. For God to call his work ‘good’, we know that is saying something! Yet humankind needed to be made right with God once more, after ‘the Fall’ and it is through Christ that this takes place. That is what Romans 5 is telling us. We do not become sinless by ridding ourselves of our sins. As the Bible states, none is righteous. The Bible tells us here in Romans that, “by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Note here, be made righteous, not ‘make themselves righteous’. So perfection in Biblical terms is being ‘made righteous’. The idea is that God looks at those who are saved and sees the righteousness of the only one who truly is righteous, our Lord.
Kimball goes on to look at the life of Joseph Smith as someone who had to acknowledge and confess his own sins, the implication being that if someone as great as a chosen prophet had to work at over-coming sin, then we must also do the same. In this part Kimball uses the words of Smith himself, words well-known to Mormons: “In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature.” Kimball describes this and the rest of the account that this quote comes from ‘as a simple and honest confession’, but could it not also come across as someone trying to make excuses or minimising their own sinfulness? You’re either sinful or not according to the Bible. Surely, when making a confession, a man of God should come across as having a bit more humility. Interestingly, in this section about Joseph Smith and the importance of his efforts to lead an exemplary life, Kimball quotes D & C 3:4, “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal de-sires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.” I find this a fascinating quote be-cause, with hindsight one could see this as Joseph Smith condemning himself, since there are well-known quotations where Joseph Smith boasts of his achievements, even putting himself above Jesus. Of course, as well as this, Smith followed ‘after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires’, this proving eventually to be his final downfall.

In this section, Kimball illustrates well the sense of ‘fear of failure’ that many Mormons feel. He says, “Every person is subject to error if he is not always watchful, for victory over Satan is attained only by constant vigilance.” What a statement for a leader (who later became a prophet) of the one true Christian church to make. We achieve victory over Satan only by constant vigilance. Really? Doesn’t Jesus fit into this picture somewhere?

Before concluding chapter 3, Kimball wants us to know that he has seen an awful lot of Mormons and wants them all to know that he has spotted them doing an awful of naughty things! He takes up five paragraphs, roughly a quarter of the chapter, detailing many examples of behaviour by LDS members that he doesn’t like. There are about fifteen sentences in this section beginning with, “I find”, “I saw”, “I have seen”, or “There are those/ some” where he outlines actions such as being unloving parents or spouses, gossiping and divisive church members, people speaking unkindly to others and questioning the motives of each other and church leaders. Considering the fact that this chapter begins with an important reminder to focus on one’s own need for repentance rather than looking at others, this lengthy bout of finger-pointing seems to me quite distasteful and hypocritical.

I wanted to end this review with another stark example of Kimball’s technique of pulling Bible verses out of their context and throwing them into his own context to make a completely different point. As I stated earlier, Kimball begins the chapter talking about ‘our own need to mend our ways’ and uses many Bible verses to demonstrate that all of us are sinners. The first example he gives is two verses from 1 John 1, which are presented like this, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Sounds fair enough right? But of course check the verses used in brackets: verse 8 and verse 10. How about looking directly at 1 John 1 and reading verses 7 – 10 inclusive this time? “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
So what has been removed in Kimball’s quote? Well, the gospel in a nutshell basically. God is faithful, just and forgives our sins, and cleanses us from all sin/ unrighteousness through the blood of Jesus. In Kimball’s teaching we must mend our own ways in order to reach perfection (which means becoming a god). This is another gospel. This is the ‘impossible gospel’ of the LDS church and it is not based around what the Bible tells us about sin and how God wishes to deal with sin. As Proverbs 20:9 puts it, “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from sin?”

8 thoughts on “The Miracle of Forgiveness Chapter 3, Reviewed by Stephen Livings”

  1. Interesting article. I agree with a lot of what Stephen Livings says but not much in his interpretation of what President Kimball meant in this chapter. I would like to compliment brother Livings in his style of presenting this material. It has been my experience that previous posts by Stephen have had a tone on anger and resentment towards the Church and it’s teachings. I did not read any of that in this article.

    I could respond to each and every point that Stephen makes but that would defeat the purpose of my reply. I would like to address the final paragraph though because that is the crux of the matter. The point President Kimball is trying to make is that repentance in essential for all of us because we don’t walk in the light the way the Savior walks in the light. He is perfect and the only way for us to become perfect is through our repentance. By offering Him a broken heart and a contrite spirit the Holy Ghost (Spirit ) cleanses us in the process of sanctification where at some point in the future we will become perfect even as the Savior is perfect. Brother Livings interprets Presidents Kimball’s remarks as the ‘impossible gospel’ of the LDS Church. No one can cleanse themselves of sin. The only way to receive this cleansing is through the Saviors atoning sacrifice. There is no other way. This is what Spencer W. Kimball meant in this book. I hope this clears up any misunderstanding on this issue.

    -Ned

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  2. Hi there Ned, great to hear from you. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my comments!

    Funny to see myself referred to as Brother Livings. I have officially not been ‘Brother Livings’ for 4 years, but spiritually speaking I would say that I stopped being ‘Brother Livings’ around 17 years ago.

    Anyway, to address your comments about this post, I think that your explanation of the Holy Ghost cleansing us in the process of sanctification contradicts the Bible verses I quoted which state that it is the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sin and all unrighteousness. Sanctification is an ongoing process for believers who have already accepted the cleansing of all sin by Jesus’ blood. The Holy Spirit acts in a life-changing way that we call sanctification, but the cleansing from all sin, has already happened.

    Do you not find it significant that Kimball omits the verses that address the cleansing from all sin by Jesus’ blood? I see these typical omissions and altering of the original teachings, and it is these ways of using the Bible which may lead you to sense some anger on my part. I find it manipulative for an organisation which claims to be the one true church on the face of the Earth not to use the writings of the Early Church leaders in context. Particularly when the way those verses are used means that the idea that the blood of Jesus cleansing all sin is omitted. Yet, while I disagree with such misuse of the Bible, at the same time, it does not surprise me since we know well that Brigham Young, the ‘Lion of the Lord’, openly taught that the spilling of one’s own blood was required for some sins.

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    1. I think it is possible that we are talking past each other. We both know that it is the blood of Jesus through His atoning sacrifice that cleanses us from all sin. The point I was trying to make about President Kimball’s remarks was the necessity of repentance. I would think that we both agree with that principle of the gospel and that was the point he was trying to make in this chapter.

      The use of ellipsis’s or selecting varies verses to make a point is common and was not used in this case to cherry pick scripture to distort the teachings of the gospel. President Kimball’s use of these selected verses was a illustration of the need for repentance not that our repentance cleanses us but allows the cleansing blood of Jesus as you put it to cleanse us. I think this is just a misunderstanding in the usage of terms to explain salvation and the Savior’s redemptive power.

      You may want to consider the following in reference to the so called doctrine of blood atonement.

      http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_doctrine/Repudiated_concepts/Blood_atonement

      -Ned

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  3. Hi Ned. Thanks for your comments. Just to clarify something, you assert that, “We both know that it is the blood of Jesus through His atoning sacrifice that cleanses us from all sin”, yet Brigham Young clearly taught Mormons that there are some sins that must be atoned for by the shedding of the sinner’s own blood. So would you say that, despite being a prophet, Brigham Young was teaching non-Mormon teachings or doctrines to the people who heard and read his words?

    I think it would be fair to say that we understand very differently what it means to be cleansed from all sin. I would argue that the Bible teaches us that through demonstrating faith in Jesus, we are cleansed by his blood. Through this faith, we are justified in God’s eyes. We can not add anything to this in order to satisfy God since we have taken Christ’s loving sacrifice and free gift on ourselves. Mormonism doesn’t teach this. It teaches that once we have fulfilled the requirements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, then the atoning sacrifice of Jesus comes into play so that one may be accepted into the celestial kingdom, thereby satisfying the demands God places on us. Do you believe in one of these interpretations or do you believe in something else?

    I would love to hear more from you on this.

    Steve

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    1. I think it would be fair to say that we understand very differently what it means to be cleansed from all sin.
      (Ned) Perhaps but I don’t think so.
      I would argue that the Bible teaches us that through demonstrating faith in Jesus, we are cleansed by his blood. Through this faith, we are justified in God’s eyes. We can not add anything to this in order to satisfy God since we have taken Christ’s loving sacrifice and free gift on ourselves.

      (Ned) I agree.

      Mormonism doesn’t teach this.

      (Ned) I disagree.

      It teaches that once we have fulfilled the requirements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, then the atoning sacrifice of Jesus comes into play so that one may be accepted into the celestial kingdom, thereby satisfying the demands God places on us.

      (Ned) Entering into coveants and keeping them is part of our good works. We are saved unto good works (our token efforts) not saved by them. Like baptism. The ordinance is the outward expression of our internal commitment. Without the internal commitment the ordiance means nothing. Being changed by the Savior’s grace (regeneration as you would state it) will infuse us with the desire to perform good works.

      You may want to review the book “Odds are you are going to be Exalted” by Alonzo Gaskill or listen to my podcast interview with Dr. Gaskill about this book.

      http://blog.fairmormon.org/2014/02/27/mormon-fair-cast-203-odds-are-you-are-going-to-be-exalted/

      One more thing. Did you read the reference I gave you concerning Brigham Young?

      I don’t desire a confrontational dialogue or debate of gospel teachings. I believe debate does not generate charity, the pure love of Christ, resolve conflict or estabilish truth.

      If you would be interested I would extend a intvitation to be interviewed on my podcast concerning your membership in the LDS Church and your subsequent change of heart.

      -Ned

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  4. Hi Ned,

    I have to keep this brief I’m afraid, so I just want to pick up quickly on two aspects of what you said.

    Firstly, when I claimed that Mormonism doesn’t teach that “through demonstrating faith in Jesus, we are cleansed by his blood. Through this faith, we are justified in God’s eyes. We can not add anything to this in order to satisfy God since we have taken Christ’s loving sacrifice and free gift on ourselves.” your response was that you disagreed. I’d be interested to look at some good Mormon quotes that back up the view that Mormonism does indeed teach this.

    Secondly, you said that, “Like baptism. The ordinance is the outward expression of our internal commitment.” Presumably though, the ordinance is essential too in your view, since baptism for the dead is seen as necessary for the eternal progression of those who have been taught ‘the gospel’ after they have died.

    Thanks,
    Steve

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    1. Steve,

      This is the best example that I can think of and it’s from the Book of Mormon.

      Helaman 5:9, O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.

      I think that baptism is a commandment. The Savior told His disciples to go unto all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. So we just can’t ignore His commandments. How that plays out in the hereafter is not clear. I would think that all those who accept Jesus as their Savior would want to be baptized as the public expression of their commitment. It’s not part of a check list that must be completed before God accepts us. It is a natural consequence of our acceptance of Him.
      -Ned

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  5. Hey Ned, that is a really good quote to support your statement. I wonder how well it really fits in with Mormon teaching though, since their own website states that “To make His Atonement fully effective in your life, you need to:
    • Exercise faith in Him.
    • Repent.
    • Be baptized.
    • Receive the Holy Ghost.
    • Choose to follow His teachings for the rest of your life.” (http://mormon.org/beliefs/plan-of-salvation)

    So here is a list of things we need to do. The consequence of that statement is therefore that following his teachings are essential to salvation, it is not simply through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, as stated in Helaman. This includes baptism (not to mention the big checklist given in chapter 47 of Gospel Principles).

    I agree that those who accept Jesus as their Saviour will, more often than not, want to be baptised as a public declaration of their commitment. But clearly this is not done as something that they need to do to receive the full effects of the atonement. This would contradict the acceptance that Jesus IS ALREADY their Saviour. Hope that makes sense.

    Thanks a lot,
    Steve

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