Monday, December 28, 2009

The Atonement Defined I: Justification

It is common to hear religious people marvel at the "incomprehensible" nature of the atonement and suffering of Christ.  This can be attributed to many true statements made by the general authorities along those lines:

"How One could bear the sins for all is beyond the comprehension of mortal man" (Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 89–101).

"In some incredible way that none of us can fully comprehend, the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world" (M. Russell Ballard, "The Atonement and the Value of One Soul," Ensign, May 2004).

"We can’t fully understand how Jesus suffered for our sins" (

“While we do not fully understand how the Atonement of Christ was made, we can experience 'the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.'” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” Ensign, May 2001,

However, while there are clearly aspects of the atonement which defy mortal understanding, or which have not yet been revealed to us, there is much that has been taught in the scriptures and by latter-day prophets concerning the atonement which is plain and easy to understand.  Furthermore, the fact that there are are some incomprehensible aspects of the atonement is not an excuse for members of the church to remain ignorant of the workings of the atonement when there is so much we do (or can) understand if we will only apply ourselves to study and reflection.

To fail to grasp the plain and simple truths to which we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have been granted unprecedented access, is to waste one of the most precious gifts which has been given to man.  Moreover, if we fail to fully comprehend what is comprehensible about the atonement, we may keep ourselves from fully enjoying the blessings and the peace which Christ offers to each one of us.  In fact, I daresay that much of the personal suffering and anxiety among the individual members of the church can be traced back to an imperfect (or downright incomplete) understanding of the blessings and power of the atonement.  Worse, as a  missionary church, we try to communicate to others the blessings of a greater light and knowledge regarding the gospel which Christ taught, and which is supposed to bring us closer to Him; however, if we ourselves do not have a correct understanding of Christ's atoning sacrifice and its meaning in our own lives, then how can we expect to be able to convert others to the truth?  How can we expect others to represent our beliefs correctly if we ourselves do not possess a correct understanding of the very foundation of our faith?

"We need to understand the Atonement more fully than we do, both because outsiders may misperceive our doctrine and because we may view the Atonement too narrowly in our own lives. For example, Newsweek magazine has stated: “Unlike orthodox Christians, Mormons believe that men are born free of sin and earn their way to godhood by the proper exercise of free will, rather than through the grace of Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus’ suffering and death in the Mormon view … do not atone for the sins of others.” (Newsweek, 1 Sept. 1980, p. 68.)

It disturbs me that Newsweek would miss the point of our core doctrine, even though the article purported not to summarize our theology but to report what Latter-day Saints actually believe. It is unfortunate when we convey incorrect ideas to others; but it is worse when we, by our limited doctrinal understanding, deny ourselves the reassurance and guidance we may desperately need at pivotal moments in our lives" (Bruce C. Hafen, "Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ," Ensign, May 1990,

To the end that we might more fully understand the power and blessings (and the basic workings) of the atonement, I have begun a series in which I will define certain basic terms which are commonly used in scripture to describe certain aspects of the atonement and how or why it was made.  The terms include words and phrases such as, justification, sanctification, and propitiation.  It is my hope that a more complete understanding of the terms used in the scriptures to communicate the power and meaning of the atonement will provide a jumping off point whereby those who read these articles might enabled to make discoveries and gain insights of their own as they study the scriptures to learn more about the atonement.  Hopefully, they might be taught more fully by the Holy Ghost as they revisit the scriptures with new eyes, and with the aid of an increased understanding.

Justification: Being accounted righteous by God through faith in Him. This is essentially a purely legal term that does not in fact deal with one’s inner nature in any way. It is the declaration by God that

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Great Apostasy - Part 2

What caused the Great Apostasy?/External Persecution?

Here is the second part in my series on the Great Apostasy.  If you have not yet viewed Part 1 you should follow this link so you can view it first before you start part 2.  In this segment we examine the persecution that was heaped upon the early saints, and attempt to determine how and if that persecution contributed to the eventual demise of the primitive church as it was established by Christ. As always, feedback is appreciated.  Also, when you are done you can move on to Part 3.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Great Apostasy - Part 1

Introduction/Prophets and Apostles

This is the first in a planned series on the Great Apostasy. For ideal viewing, click the fullscreen button on the bottom left hand side of the player, or hit Ctrl+Shift+F to view the presentation at its full size. Let me know what you think of this format in general, and my presentation in particular.  Also, here are links to Part 2 and Part 3

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Please be patient.

I'm working on the next post, but it's turned into a bigger project than I anticipated. I expect to have it done in the next day or two. It will be something a little different from the things that I have posted in the past.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Don't forget to "follow" my blog

In the sidebar on the right hand side of your screen you'll find a list of my followers. Click on the link, and you can follow as well. This will make it easier for you to find out about new posts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A question about the Bible

Last year a friend of mine sent me an interesting question about the Bible. In many respects it is similar to questions that I was asked on a regular basis while I was on my mission, but in this case I got to talk a lot longer and, perhaps, develop my ideas more fully. That's code for: I enjoyed answering this one.

A. K.
September 22 at 8:17pm

Do you know how many different versions of the bible there are? I don't understand how any of it could be true when it's been edited so much. I was thinking about getting a Hebrew bible once. I figured that might be as close to true as you could get but I'm sure that's been edited way beyond truth too.

Michael Maier
Today at 4:35pm
I hope that this answers some of your questions:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A few thoughts on Hope as a principle of the Gospel

A friend of mine asked me for some insights on Hope and belief when she was asked to speak on the subject in church. I have posted my response here in the hope that you will find my thoughts on the subject instructive and perhaps even enlightening.

You might choose to focus on the fact that hope is not only an essential attribute of Christ that we ought to strive to emulate, but that it is also one of the 3 paramount spiritual gifts that any Christian might aspire to receive. Moreover it is one of the great principles of salvation and exaltation.
Have you heard the biblical phrase "faith, hope, and charity"? That phrase comes from Paul's great treatise on the nature of spiritual gifts. It stretches from 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, but 13 is all about faith, hope and charity (mainly charity, but as you read you'll see that they are all inextricably interconnected-you can't truly possess one of these attributes without possessing the others.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Anonymous Religion Questionnaire #1

Just for fun you can fill out this questionnaire about your religious habits. There are two versions of the questionnaire. This one is aimed more at people who identify with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Copy and paste these questions into your email, then answer the questions and email it to:
Don't send me your name, as I am more interested in your answers than I am in your actual identity.

Anonymous Religion Questionnaire #2

Just for fun you can fill out this questionnaire about your religious habits. There are two versions of the questionnaire. This one is aimed at people who do not identify with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Copy and paste these questions into your email, then answer the questions and email it to:
Don't send me your name, as I am more interested in your answers than I am in your actual identity.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why should you care?

In Bible Study, we recently finished reading the epistle of James, and are now in the midst of Galatians. In preparing (and teaching) for these studies, I find myself challenged with establishing the immediate relevance of the issues and questions contained in The New Testament for a group of students made up largely of LDS people who are under 30. On the surface, it may seem like many of the letters written by the New Testament Apostles deal with concerns that are almost entirely specific and unique to the time in which they were written, and in some cases to the culture of the people to which the epistle was addressed. And this raises the question, why should a modern-day Christian (or anyone else for that matter) care about such questions as whether or not Gentiles needed to be circumcised, or what role (if any) the Mosaic Law will play in our lives under the Law of Christ (The Gospel)? In an effort to address this question, I plan to write a series of articles ( beginning with this one) about why you should care, using various episodes from the scriptures as basic examples of things that you should care about, even if you don’t.

Those of you with a short attention span may want to skip to the end where it says: "Here's why you should care."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Historical facts (and speculation) about The General Epistle of James

1. It is possible that James was not originally a letter, but rather that it contains a grouping of collected (and edited) discourses by James. Some scholars have claimed that the Greek in James is too fluent for James himself to have written it. It is possible that the epistle of James that we have was compiled and edited by someone much more fluent in Greek than James, but I feel that the words still belong to James.

2. James is one of the seven Biblical epistles that are referred to as “Catholic Epistles” (The KJV Bible refers to these letters as “General” Epistles). No, this doesn’t mean that they were only written for Catholics. The word Catholic is based on the Greek word “katholikos” which means “universal”, and refers to the fact that these letters were intended for the entire church (and anyone else who might read them).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Historical meditation on Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

1) Opinions vary as to the date, origin, and destination of this letter, but I will restrict my commentary to the scholarly opinion to which I subscribe. (For those of you who are keeping track, I subscribe to the south Galatian theory.) It is my opinion that Paul wrote this letter from Syrian Antioch to the saints in the central Asian province of Galatia (in what is now Turkey). The Epistle to the Galatians is one of a body of letters that Paul wrote to some of the churches that he had established during his first missionary journey. As for when he wrote this letter, I believe that he wrote it prior to the Jerusalem Conference, which took place in A.D. 49 and is recorded in Acts 15. Galatians is notable because it deals directly with the question of what role (if any) the Mosaic Law should play in the salvation of a gentile convert (or any convert for that matter), and yet Paul neglects to mention the Jerusalem Conference even once. This is telling, because Paul was personally involved in the events immediately leading to the Conference and helped to draft and distribute the ultimate decision of the Apostles and elders of the Church concerning what would be expected of gentile converts in a ritual sense. Here are the basics of the text of the Official Declaration published by the Apostles as a result of the conference (see Acts 15:24-29):

Friday, November 27, 2009

...Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -------1 Cor. 15:57

Yesterday being Thanksgiving, I thought it would be appropriate to express my gratitude to the Savior, who loved me enough to die for me. I am humbled by his willingness to undergo all things for me, but I am also inspired by the incredible life he led. When I read the scriptures, I marvel at the brilliance of his teachings, and I thank God that he loved us enough to send his Son to Earth to save each of us.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Do Mormons Believe We Are Saved by Grace, or by Works?

In the centuries that have passed between the death of the Apostles and our modern age there has been much debate and disputation over the precise nature and means of our individual and collective salvation. Since the Reformation, this debate has largely taken the form of a question of whether faith (or grace) alone will bring salvation, or if works are necessary as well (or instead), and if so, to what degree? Most often, this has been couched in a sort of Faith VERSUS Works argument in which opposing camps put forward one or the other as competing and opposing routes to salvation.

This argument often centers on the idea that we are saved by the grace of God regardless of our personal actions, and that any notion that we must complete a checklist of works in order to gain admittance to heaven is the worst kind of human arrogance, and a relic of the long-abandoned Law of Moses. This doctrine was a natural reaction by the Protestants of the Reformation to the Catholic assertion that one must receive certain rites, and complete certain performances under the exclusive auspices of the Church in order to gain salvation. The Protestants referred to Paul’s writings as they denounced the notion that salvation depends on empty performances (or as Paul puts it, dead works). Some even went so far as to say that it does not matter what we as individuals do, salvation through the grace of Christ is a free gift to all, saints and sinners alike, regardless of any action or lack thereof on our part. They claimed that, due to our mortal weakness, we are incapable of keeping the commandments, and that keeping them is no longer necessary in any case, because we are all saved through the atonement of Christ. In another view, John Calvin, in his doctrine of predestination and total election, claimed that God has already determined who is saved, and who is not, and that we have no choice in the matter.

As a missionary I talked to many people who tried to draw me into an argument over whether salvation is through faith or through our own works. These people often proceeded from the false assumption that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a “works church” (as opposed to a church that teaches that salvation comes only through the grace of Christ), and that it was their task to instruct me and my companion on the non-biblical fallacy of our doctrine.

The fact is that the LDS Church is not a “works church,” nor is it entirely a “grace church” in the sense that many evangelical Protestants define both terms today. My answer to the question of which of the competing doctrines of Salvation by Faith alone and Salvation by Works alone (as the world understands them) is the true one is a resounding “neither!"


I have established this blog in order to promote understanding and dialogue where religion is concerned. I also want to encourage people under 30 to stop being afraid of the scriptures and help them to start using them (and loving them) in a way that will help to make their lives better. I will draw from the standard works (canon) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which consists of The KJV Bible, The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price). I also make references to various books of history, doctrine, and commentary by authors from across the christian world, as well as addresses given by the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed in this blog are wholly those of the author, and do not represent the official opinions or position of the Church on any matter. In expressing my opinions, I will strive to keep in line with the official doctrine of the Church as much as I can, however I am not perfect in my understanding, and that should not be allowed to reflect on the church in any way.
Web Statistics