A Case for Grace
By Norton R. Nowlin
An Introduction to the Holy Spirit
It is, indeed, hard to imagine something so very incredibly wonderful and totally matchless in splendor given freely to you without any strings attached, by someone you don't personally know, but who knows you intimately; and that someone has given it to you simply because of an infinite eternal love that he has for you. My dear mother spent most of her sixty-seven years of life believing that the works produced by a person's actions and behaviors, done with arms, hands, and feet meant infinitely more than what that person thought, believed, or said. Her entire life was built upon the good tangible effects wrought through hard physical labor for others according to her fundamental belief that such works were the essence of love and ultimately much more important than simply saying “I love you.” They were to her the purifying essence of Christianity. “Love is doing,” was her credo.
I was brought-up under the caring and loving attention of my mother from childhood to adulthood thinking in rational concrete terms about Jesus, that what he demanded from me was much greater than what he had given to me as a gift from almighty God. Though she had never mentioned it specifically by name, the protestant work ethic was her guiding theme in her earthly existence. Born to an illiterate father, a simple dirt farmer, and a basically literate mother in 1910 in rural southeast Texas, my mom learned from her earthy parents what she held dear about Christianity throughout her life; which was the belief that the statement of James the Apostle, in James 2: 19-20, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” meant that working, and the good works of the flesh, produced salvation from sin.
Though my mom wasn't acquainted with the history and dynamics of the Protestant Reformation, specifically the doctrines espoused by John Calvin, she had unknowingly adopted through my grandparents the Calvinist doctrine of works with the application of Alexander Campbell's requirement for water baptism as a saving ordinance. As formerly lukewarm Methodists, my grandparents had migrated in religious thought after their late-19th Century marriage to eventually accept the Calvinist/Campbellite doctrines of works sometime in the late-1890s over that of the Methodism of John and Charles Wesley, which stressed what they called justifying grace, for salvation, and prevenient grace, for Christian living.
I, therefore, was taught limitedly from the Holy Bible, by my mother, the preeminence of works as a means of justification from sin and nothing, at all, about the grace offered by the Lord Jesus Christ. The word grace was actually foreign to me and meant nothing as I entered my intuitive, teenage, public school years in Smith County, Texas. Though my mother and father had, both, been actively attending the congregationally autonomous Church of Christ before I turned ten, my dad subsequently lost his taste for, and faith in, organized religion when he had witnessed the open hypocrisy of certain of the elders and deacons of the particular congregation where they worshiped, as those men had surreptitiously stolen money from the offering plate with apparent impunity. At least, that's what mom had told me was the reason for dad's refusal to go to church.
So, as one thing led to another in my cognitive and emotional development as an individual thinker and a rational person, I established in my own mind what constituted proper religion based upon a very scanty knowledge of the Bible and what I'd learned from my mother. In a nutshell, a very long-story made short, I was, at nineteen years of age, prime-pickings for a cult like Mormonism, and at that pivotal and impressionable time in my life I accepted from two Mormon missionaries from Utah, who had knocked on my door, the pagan gospel of Joseph Smith, Jr., along with his extra-biblical scriptures, theology, and doctrines; and it took thirty years for the Holy Spirit to teach me differently about the verities of the grace offered by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nonetheless, the errant and pagan Mormon path that I had followed, from 1970 to the year 2000, was a diverse learning experience provided to me by God, out of which came the very bad and the very good, such as a good and decent wife, to whom I was married for eighteen years, and three wonderful children who were born to me through her. When I say learning experience in this particular context, what I really mean to convey are the incredible and awesome mysteries and miracles of God unfolded through his mighty omnipotent hand and his omniscient mind, to which I, or any other mortal person, are hardly privy to a precise understanding.
The less-than-understandable purposes of God for the many struggles that I had in providing for my wife and three children from 1973 until the late 1990s were completely known to him and revealed to me in periodic glimpses, and many of those struggles were miracles disguised as pain and hardship. Looking back, I can say that regardless of how mundane and routine modern life and medical science make things in a fast-moving technological age seem, the birth and development of children through the trials of parenting are profound miracles wrought through the hand of God, which are frequently, and wrongly, regarded by human beings as their own grievous mistakes. I discovered that what I had encountered during those years of learning was a veritable school of hard knocks from which I emerged later as a much different soul than when I began it; and that there is no release from the position of fatherhood, which it is a life-long endeavor and a continual proving-ground for the man who wants to be a godly person and eventually an effective parent pleasing in the eyes of God.
It was sometime after his conversion on the road to Damascus, that the Apostle Paul called himself an apostle of Jesus born out of due season. What I personally think he meant by saying this is that he had wished that he'd been born much earlier to have actually known Jesus, but had no earthly idea why he, Saul of Tarsus, had been born much later to be a Jewish Pharisee and to become a member of the ruling Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, without having known the Christ; and why he was allowed to persecute and actually murder Christians before his conversion, when he was probably over thirty years of age. Undoubtedly, over that particular period of time in his life, Saul of Tarsus had been prepared by God to assume the name Paul, an Apostle of Jesus, and to be a witness of the resurrected and ascended Savior to the Jewish and gentile world. That's about all I can say for myself, that I was prepared and humbled through my experiences in Mormonism to be blessed with a loving wife and children, and to eventually learn,through the Holy Spirit, the truth about Jesus and the glorious grace and freedom from sin, which he freely offers to all mankind through faith in his precious blood shed over two thousand years ago on a cross at Calvary.
With pervasive Mormon influences bearing down on Christians who have recently converted to the LDS Church, the seemingly simple scriptures of the Holy Bible can be made to appear as meaning totally opposite to what they were intended to mean. Let's take a look at John 3:5-7, where Jesus is stating that “unless a person is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Mormon rendering of this scripture is that “water” can only mean water baptism. By imposing this private interpretation on converted Christians, those impressionable people are made to believe that without baptism by water done by an authorized Mormon priest they cannot, and will not, get to heaven.
With the Holy Spirit as a guide, I read this scripture 30 years after first reading it to mean water baptism, to mean something entirely different. In the context of the nighttime conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus, the old master Jew was perplexed about the Savior's first statement to him; “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” So Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born.” Then Jesus responded to Nicodemus to answer his question. “. . .no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of the water and the Spirit.” Jesus had already said that “a second birth, or a rebirth, is necessary.” In verse six he cogently continues to explain the first and the second birth, or the rebirth. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, and Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The natural child birth by flesh (in placental water) is defined as the first birth. The second birth, or the rebirth, is by the Holy Spirit, which gives new meaning to the spirit inside of the person.
So, unless a person is born of water inside of the mother, as all human beings are born, and then born again by the Holy Spirit, after natural birth, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus went out of his way to explain the nature of being born again after being born of the flesh. In effect, Jesus had said to Nicodemus, “You’ve already been born of water through natural birth. Now you, and every other person, need to be born of the Spirit to be born again.” Without explanation, Mormon doctrine prevails upon new Mormon converts through the control of the authoritarian Mormon hierarchy to accept, without question, the interpretation of John 3: 5-7 as meaning the necessity of water baptism for salvation, just like it does for all of the other doctrines of Mormonism created by private interpretation of the scriptures of the Holy Bible.
For a Christian to immediately attach the ritual of baptism to the meaning of “water” in John 3:5-7, is a mental exercise that’s usually predicated upon a definite preconception as to the importance of water baptism. In most cases, a person who has been nurtured by the Holy Spirit through the scriptures of the New Testament to recognize the use of the Spirit by Jesus in these two very important verses in the Gospel of John will immediately defer to the prevalent doctrine of grace. Yet, by not knowing the Old and New Testament scriptures concerning the ritual use of water, a sincere Christian can be led to ignorantly believe things about baptism that are not correct.
In more than one instance in the Old Testament, water, in and of itself, carries with it a symbolic purifying significance, such as the flood water that destroyed all of creation except for the eight souls, and the animals, on the ark built by Noah, while the ritual of baptism is not specifically mentioned. In fact, the word water is used numerous times, from Genesis to Malachi, in order to symbolize the pervasive cleansing power of the Spirit of God. Though an equivalent word for baptism is not found anywhere in the Hebrew Old Testament, the Greek word “baptizo,” meaning immersion, is used frequently in the New Testament, and is a connotative transliteration into English as “baptism,” but could very well mean something other than “immersion into water.” Baptizo has over twenty different possible Greek connotations, and could mean immersing oneself, or being immersed, into a belief or a relationship.
From the time I was eight years old and formally accountable for my sins, my mother had prodded me to “obey the gospel,” which had meant to her, and to the congregational church of Christ, being baptized in water by immersion by an ordained church of Christ preacher. It had long been the doctrine of that church started by Alexander Campbell that water baptism was necessary for a person to be eligible for salvation, or for getting to heaven. After a person is baptized in water by immersion according to church of Christ doctrine, the works done subsequently by that person will determine whether he, or she, will be admitted into heaven through the final judgment of Christ. So, it’s no small wonder that the doctrine stressing the necessity of water baptism for salvation had already attached itself to me long before I met the Mormon missionaries, and that the Mormon doctrine of water baptism, necessary for the remission of sins, was totally acceptable to me.
With such a preconception about the nature of salvation, my mind was totally shut to the concept of grace. I had no real idea what the term, grace, meant as I went about as an LDS missionary proclaiming the doctrines of Mormonism, of works, especially how grace was used in one particular line from the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23, “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.”
As I had read for clarification what, supposedly, inspired men, such as Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, had written in Mormon doctrinal literature about the grace of Jesus Christ, I discovered that McConkie’s explication of grace seemed a great deal like double-talk. In one place in his tome, “Mormon Doctrine,” he stated that the grace of Jesus Christ covered all sins, but in another he seemed to contradict himself by stating that a person’s works were just as important as the grace of Christ in getting to Mormon heaven, or what they call exaltation. Nowhere in McConkie’s explanation of grace did he mention, or defer to, the Apostle Paul’s delineation of grace in Ephesians 2: 1-10, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
It was quite apparent that the Apostle Paul’s explanation of grace did not square with the passage in the Book of Mormon or with McConkie’s contradictory explanation; for it had seemed to me that Joseph Smith, Jr. had actually placed a greater priority on “what a person could do to save himself,” than on the grace of Jesus. It was very plain that Smith was saying that, what works of the flesh could not save, the grace of Jesus could step in and cover the deficit.
Yet, while these apparent doctrinal contradictions of Mormonism seemed real, I continued as a Mormon missionary to vociferously propound and parrot Mormon doctrine. I stubbornly clung to the Mormon nomenclature for salvation (grace and works) even though I really couldn’t convince myself, or anyone else, that what I was saying to defend the Book of Mormon and the other Mormon scriptures wasn’t senseless double-talk.
One sunny Sunday in 1976, an elderly Baptist minister in El Toro, California, now known as Lake Forest Park, was very patient with me when I was clamorously offering my nonsensical double-talk to him in defense of the Mormon doctrine of works. He had gently laid his hand on my shoulder and softly said, “You can’t have it both ways, son. If what Paul said about grace and works is true, you can’t be saved by any amount of works.” And it was there, at that moment, that I heard in my mind a voice telling me that something was very wrong with Mormon doctrine. Nonetheless, since I had endearingly proffered myself to Mormonism six years earlier, I had continued to tell myself that I wasn’t sufficiently capable of understanding LDS doctrine in the way that more intelligent people, like Bruce R. McConkie, understood it. So the struggle continued between the devil pulling me toward Mormonism and the Holy Spirit trying to pull me away from it.
Listening Closely to the Holy Spirit
It wasn’t until much later, in early 2000, that I fully realized that God continually works in mysteriously spiritual, but tangible, ways, his will to implement over the lives of his wayward children. There is certainly a time and a place for everything under heaven, and Jesus, to whom the Father has given all power in heaven and on earth, will act at those designated times to reveal to the hearts and minds of his servants what he wants them to know. Sometimes this information involves a minor course re-direction, and sometimes it involves a drastic 360 degree turnaround. In my case, it was the latter; for it is, indeed, difficult to describe the effect of a sudden powerful message from God telling you in no uncertain words to change your ways and to do exactly what he wants you to do. This was how the Lord Jesus revealed from heaven his will to his persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus. As a great light shined down from heaven, his words to a blinded Saul were, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” In the Book of Acts, chapter 9, Saul’s recorded response was, “Who are you, Lord?” And Jesus responded, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the pricks. Now, get up and go into Damascus you will be told what you must do.” So, Saul, who was later renamed Paul, did what he was told to do, and the rest is Bible history.
In my particular case, there was no bright light from heaven, but, rather, a soft firm male voice came into my mind as I was standing in a Mormon book store in Lynnwood, Washington, which told me that what I was doing to serve Mormonism was wrong and evil, that I would see and understand the scriptures much differently from that moment on, and that I must follow the instructions from the Holy Spirit that would come into my mind. I immediately left that book store and got on a bus where I sat with my eyes closed riding home listening to the Holy Spirit whispering to my mind.
Suddenly, all of the plaguing doubts that had come to me about Mormonism, from 1970 until 2000, were no longer doubts, but clear assurances that the theology and doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were as opposed to true New Testament Christianity as heaven was opposed to hell. During the time that I served Mormonism, I had persecuted the Lord Jesus by persuading, in various and devious ways, sixty-five of his impressionable children to accept and practice Mormon doctrine, the doctrine of devils, which was, in a way, tantamount to seriously harming the souls of those individuals.
Hence, the scriptures of the New Testament regarding the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ were subsequently opened up to me in their fullness to allow me to see in detail what I had never before seen, and it was absolutely amazing how those profound verses seemed so abruptly simple and understandable to me. What was, however, hardly understandable was how Joseph Smith, Jr. could have lumped works and grace together in that one despicable Book of Mormon verse, 2 Nephi 25:23, expecting Christians, who knew, and understood, that grace, and not works, saves a person from sin, to put their faith in a highly flawed and plagiarized 19th Century writing as ancient Christian scripture. The Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in Romans 4:1-3, says it all about faith and works, which he reiterates in the Ephesian epistle. Abraham, according to Paul, was justified because he believed, or had faith in, what God told him, and the belief, or faith, was credited to him for righteousness. No works were mentioned in this scripture as a reason for Abraham’s justification. Then in verse 16, it says, “Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring.” Then, in Romans, Chapter 5:20, Paul continues, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness, to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Then Paul uses the word baptism symbolically in Chapter 6:1-4. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Not into water). We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” The word baptism here means immersion, but not into water; for Paul clearly states that “we were therefore buried with him into death (not water). This burial is an immersion into the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that Jesus was referring to in his dialogue with Nicodemus. Mormons would like to believe that Paul is referring to water baptism here, but he is not.
Works, of any sort, done by a person to produce righteousness was only under the law, but Paul states very firmly, in Chapter 6:13-14, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” So, is not water baptism done with hands and arms? If it is done as a human work to produce righteousness unto salvation, it is of no effect. Yet, if, by grace, we are saved through faith, as Abraham was saved through faith, then if water baptism is done for the saved Christian, not for the purpose of obtaining salvation, but as an outward evidence of an inward saving faith, and the joy that accompanies it, then that water baptism is an acceptable work that follows remission of sin through grace. This is what James the Apostle meant when he said that, if saving faith is not followed by good works, it is essentially dead. For why should a Christian not rejoice in salvation by grace through the production of good works?
As the Apostle Paul traveled about in the ancient gentile world, according to the will of God, establishing churches of believers and preaching salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ, he implored the repentant believers in Christ in those churches to remain immersed in the grace of Jesus throughout their lives, and to never accept a counterfeit version of the gospel of Christ. Human beings who spend most of their lives never knowing about the grace of Jesus, and, later, learn through the Holy Spirit about the wonderful unconditional gift the Savior of the world gave through the sacrificial shedding of his blood on the cross, find, at first, such a wonderful gift hard to believe. Perhaps this is why they would rather be willing to believe in another, more tangible, gospel predicated upon a condition that human beings earn their salvation through their works.
Unfortunately, there were numerous other “gospels” promulgated by devious men claiming to be disciples of Jesus during the time the Apostles Paul, Peter, James, and John were preaching the gospel of grace. I believe that Paul dedicated his epistle to the Galatians as an earnest appeal to all Christians to keep the gospel of grace through faith sacred and fulfilled. This is why the Apostle spoke reprovingly to those Christians of the churches of Galatia in Galatians 1:6-9. He said, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the “grace” of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
Paul then addresses, in Galatians 2:16, the gospel, or good news, that he, and the other apostles have preached unto those Christians. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we (all mankind) might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” How much plainer could he be? In Galatians 1:6, Paul stated that he had called the Galatians into the gospel of grace, and in Galatians 2:16, he said that no flesh will be justified by the works of the law. Then, later, in his epistle to the Ephesians, in Ephesians 2:4-5,8,9, Paul said, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Again, how much plainer could Paul be about how a person is saved, or justified? Salvation is purely through a gospel of grace by faith in Jesus Christ. As one preacher once said, “the holy magic of grace wrought through Jesus Christ.”
Every mention of everlasting life by Jesus in the four Gospels, especially in John 3:16, only includes a requirement of belief for all human beings. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Saved Without Baptism?
Are there examples of believers in Christ Jesus being saved, or justified, without baptism? You bet there are! There was the woman who washed Jesus' feet in Simon the Pharisee's house, when Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7: 48-50). The Mormon version of this would have been Jesus commanding the woman to be baptized in water for the “remission of her sins, after she had washed his feet in her tears.” Then there was the paralytic man that Jesus healed and said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Matthew 9:2). The Mormons, again, would have you believe that the man, after he was healed, was commanded by Jesus to be baptized for remission of his sins; but this did not happen. Further, how about the thief on the cross crucified to the right of Jesus? Did not Jesus say to him when the thief had acknowledged the Savior, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus confirmed that the man would be with him after death, so his sins must have been forgiven. The Mormons would have you believe that the believing thief went with Jesus to the LDS spirit world, where Jesus organized the preaching of the Mormon gospel to all the dead of the human race and instituted the vicarious ordinance of baptism for the dead, which is totally extra-biblical and heretical to the grace of Jesus Christ.
As is shown in countless scripture in the New Testament, belief in Jesus as the Savior of the world and the Son of God is the active element, or ingredient, of God's grace. The cleansing of the human soul from sin is that mysterious process done only by God that, which while inexplicable in human terms, is comparably tantamount to the instantaneous cleansing of the dirtiest filthiest living human body that has been inundated for a lifetime in a pit of indescribably putrid slime into a perfectly clean human body. A great deal of soap, water, and scrubbing would be involved in such an endeavor to remove from that person all evidence of impurity.
Someone involved in that arduous cleaning process could scrub more diligently than another person in that effort to remove from that person the dirt and smell of impurity, or the person, himself, could, perhaps, claim the extra effort of becoming totally clean, and boastfully claim preeminence over the other scrubbers' efforts. There could, therefore, ensue a contest between human effort, where several of the scrubbers could end-up disagreeing and arguing about who did the most, and to whom the dirty person owes the greatest debt of gratitude. This is why Paul the Apostle stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that none of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Another profound scripture that does away with the notion that baptism is necessary for salvation is one, in Mark 16:15-16, that is disputed by 20th Century Bible scholars, but one that was agreed upon in 1611 by the King James translators. In fact, the New International Version (NIV) has verses 9-20 in italics, indicating that “the earliest manuscripts and 'some' other witnesses do not have verses 9-20.” I believe, however, that the Spirit of God was in active force aiding the King James translators, overseen by Richard Bancroft, of the Church of England, as they diligently sought to produce an authorized version of the Holy Bible. According to this scripture, Jesus spoke to his eleven Apostles just before he ascended into heaven, and said, in Mark 16-15-16, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel (of grace) to all the world to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” You'll notice that the word baptism is used as an addendum to belief. Belief precedes baptism, and the Greek word “bapizo,” used in contextual accordance with the other uses of the transliterated word 'baptism” in the New Testament, does not necessarily mean water baptism. It's meaning is essentially an immersion. If Jesus meant, in these two particular verses, what he meant when he was speaking to Nicodemus, in John 3:5, the “immersion” is the rebirth of the person by the Spirit of God; and that immersion cannot occur unless the person believes, and has faith, in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I sincerely believe that is pretty plain that Jesus was saying, 'go into all the world and preach the gospel of grace to all living human beings. He who believes and seeks immersion in the Holy Spirit shall be saved, but he who does not believe in me cannot be immersed in the Holy Spirit, and will be damned.' Even if Jesus had been speaking of immersion by water baptism in this context, the belief, or faith, in Jesus by the individual was, and is, the active part of the saving process; for human beings can feign belief in Jesus, and still be baptized by water by other human beings.
The Mormon doctrine of water baptism for remission of sins is a very flawed human process; for no one, other than God, knows the hearts and minds of mankind. All men and women are very capable of deceiving other men and women about their true intentions. I recall an instance of this type of deception when I was a missionary for the Mormon Church in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania in 1973. There was a young man there from Georgia, my age, with whom I began associating for the express purpose of introducing him to Mormonism. After presenting him to other young Mormon men and women in the ward, or congregation, that I attended, he seemed like the perfect candidate for Mormon baptism, as he seemed to lap-up the Mormon discussions with vigor.
When he had abruptly announced that he wanted to be baptized, he, whom I shall call Sam, had to have an interview with the senior full-time missionary, someone as young or younger than I was, in charge of interviewing candidates for Mormon baptism. This Mormon missionary, called a district leader, asked Sam the formatted questions prescribed by the Utah Mormon hierarchy, and announced that he had passed with flying colors. Then Sam had to be interviewed by the local ward bishop, who, by virtue of his ordination, is regarded as a “righteous judge in Israel, who can discern the hearts of the people of his ward.” The ward bishop met with Sam and gave him a passing grade as “the ideal baptismal candidate.” Then Sam was baptized, and was accorded by the baptizing missionary with the 'most graceful baptism in years.' What I, or anyone else, hadn't known was that Sam had really been sexually aroused by one of the young women in the ward, and had wanted to get closer to her by becoming a Mormon. Yet, when the young woman had realized his true intentions, she had stopped association with Sam. So, a month after his baptism, Sam totally stopped his affiliation with the Mormon Church and had boldly told me that he hadn't believed in any aspect of Mormonism, but had pretended to do so just to get the young woman into bed with him.
This true scenario is just one of the the many prime examples of the uselessness of water baptism when a human being does not believe in Jesus. This is precisely why repentance of sins and faith in Jesus are the active ingredients to salvation by grace. Those questions asked by the senior Mormon full-time missionary and by the Mormon bishop focused not on a faith in Jesus Christ, but, rather, a faith in Joseph Smith, Jr. as a Mormon prophet, the Book of Mormon as scripture, and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the one true church upon the earth. For the Mormons believe that faith in Joseph Smith, Jr. is more more important than faith in Jesus. This is why the word baptized, in Mark 16:16, was not meant to be construed as water baptism, but, rather, immersion into the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can only immerse a person if that man or women believes, or has faith, in Jesus holy gospel of grace. If there is no belief, or faith, on the part of the person, that person is damned. Of course, a person may claim to have been saved by grace, and be only pretending by doing so. Again, that is why the Apostle James said that 'faith without works is dead.' If a person has been really saved by grace, works will follow that saving faith. For its very difficult to work for, and follow, someone in whom you have no faith.
Natural human competition, boastfulness, and pride make a false gospel of works obviously ineffective as saving in the eyes of God. Jesus is quite enough for salvation and justification from sin and his grace has nothing to due with this world in which we live. Mormonism thrives on human competition, boastfulness, and pride, because their entire motif for getting to Mormon exaltation is based upon human works, for this is how the Mormon father-god, with a capital G, became a father-god. The Mormon hierarchy uses another biblical scripture wrongly, and non-contextually, to try to prove its gospel of works. This is the sum of Paul's words in Philippians 2:12, without reading verse 13. Here Paul says, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” To properly understand these words, the reader must realize that Paul is writing to Christians who have already been justified, or saved, by grace through faith in Jesus, and he is saying basically what James said to the saved Jewish Christians, the scattered twelve tribes, in James 2, that if works don't follow faith, then your faith is dead. Paul, in Philippians 2:13, states that God works within the justified Christian to his, “God's,” good will and pleasure, and this has nothing at all to do with works done by human beings for the purpose of gaining salvation from sin.
The gospel of grace preached by the Apostles of Jesus was distorted and mutated by false prophets, false apostles, and false teachers during, and after, the deaths of the Apostles, as prophesied by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1-3. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul also prophesied and said, “This know, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient, to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
I have dealt extensively with Mormon apologists who desperately want to believe more of what is not in the Holy Bible than of the sacred scripture it contains. These sophistic and pragmatic men and women cannot possibly prove their case for the gospel of works from the twenty-seven books of the New Testament and the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, but, instead, use spurious, esoteric, and extra-biblical 2nd , 3rd , and 4th Century sources, such as ancient and questionably-Christian writers like Eusebius, Athanasius, Irenaseus, and Augustine, and their statements about such apocryphal writings as the 2nd Century “Sheppard of Hermas,” which fulfill the last few words of the Apostle Paul's prophecy in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “. . .having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” Mormon apologists find delight in appealing intellectually to extra-biblical sources, as Mormonism began with the claim of Joseph Smith, Jr. of a greatly flawed extra-biblical source of scripture, which he called the “Book of Mormon.”
For after the death of the last Apostle of Jesus, around 90 A.D., there was no longer any of the authoritative men of God, chosen directly by Jesus, on the earth to stress the gospel of grace and its meaning found in the letters and epistles written by them to the First Century Christians. There were only the many copies of those original letters and epistles produced by Christian scribes in the seven churches of Asia and Asia Minor, and the few men of God who, according to the Holy Spirit, had understood from them the gospel of grace and had propounded it until their deaths. The few stalwart Christians who maintained and taught the gospel of grace from the Second Century to the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, and, then, to the Protestant Reformation, comprised that church that Jesus had established, against which the gates of hell would never prevail. Yet, the prophecies of the Old and New Testament prophets and Apostles had to be fulfilled, and a falling away from the truth, by many Christians, as predicted by the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 had to come to pass. In that scripture, Paul stated,
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”
Jesus didn't build his church on a particular living person, Peter, or upon the mystical powers he gave to his original twelve apostles. The Savior of the world, Jesus, built his holy church on the sacred knowledge received and believed by those Apostles, from the Father, that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Their belief and faith in Christ gave those apostles the powers that they used to publish his gospel, which God set in the Church to last until his return to the earth. Jesus proved the power of his gospel of grace while he ministered unto the Jews, and some gentiles, before his death, burial, and resurrection; and after his resurrection, before he ascended to his Father in heaven, he told his apostles to preach his gospel to all of creation and to immerse, or baptize, all those who believed that gospel of grace in the Holy Spirit for their salvation.
Yet, it is only natural, or human nature, for the “natural man” to look at the gospel of grace and say that there must be more that's required by God than simple and pure belief and faith in Jesus. Aided by devils and demons, who rely on the convolutions and philosophies of the natural man for their power to deceive the human mind, men and women who choose to accept the way of the natural man will have their consciences seared, as my conscience was seared for thirty long years. The Apostle Paul said it well in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned.”
I recall how the hundreds of Mormon full-time missionaries, with whom I dealt for thirty years, ridiculed, and made fun of, the Christians who had ardently contended against them, and me, in defense of the gospel of grace. The utterly pejorative name that they gave these devout Christians in derision, behind their backs, “gracers,” caused me great concern, which I hadn't the audacity to vocalize to those missionaries at those times. I had sadly just gone along with them, and for that I am very ashamed. As I admitted previously in this writing, I, much like the Apostle Paul, was, and am, a chief sinner, and will remain so until I am breathing my final breaths, and hopefully can say, as Paul did when his death was at hand, “I have fought a good, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
Again, by deferring to the edifying averments of the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Galatians, the only true gospel that he, and the other Apostles, preached unto the Jews and the gentiles was one of divine grace, through faith and belief in the precious cleansing blood of Jesus. Observing the details of the law, or by human effort, in order to obtain sanctification, or salvation, is described as meaningless by Paul in Galatians 3:1-5. Paul asks the Christians of Galatia four important questions in these verses that show exactly the one and only gospel that was given to them. First he asks them how they received the Holy Spirit. Was it by human effort or through believing what they heard. Then he calls the Galatians foolish for their apparent contrariness and asks them, “After beginning with the Holy Spirit, are you trying to attain your goal through human effort?” Another question immediately followed. “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because of your effort in observing the law, or because you believe?” What particular goal is Paul referring to? Is it an earthly goal obtained by human effort, or is it justification or salvation obtained through belief and faith in what was originally believed?
Obviously, Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians because some the Christians there had been receiving and practicing false teachings that were not in conformity with the true gospel, or good news, of Jesus that Paul had originally brought to Galatia. The false gospel that might have been taught by devious and persuasive men who had claimed to have had the true Word of God might have been something like the following. “Surely, the grace of Jesus alone is not enough to satisfy the requirements of the law for forgiveness of sin, 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.” Here we have an example of a false gospel contained in forty-four words based upon a combination of human effort, or works, and grace. In fact, this particular doctrine relegates grace to a lesser status than human effort, in essentially saying that a person, to be saved, must do all that he can possibly do in order for grace to have an end effect. Such a false gospel might have been popular among some of the more prominent Galatians, whereby a cult within the church had been formed.
This very heretical gospel is popular today among the Mormons, and is used by them to promote a very different gospel of works than the gospel taught by the Apostle Paul. Using Mormonism as an example, the LDS Church defines the grace of Jesus very differently than it was defined by Paul. Salvation in Mormonism is not a condition of grace through remission of sins by belief and faith in Jesus precious cleansing blood, which guarantees a person a Christian a place in heaven. Salvation is instead only freedom from death through the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection, to Mormons, is the only free gift provided through Jesus, and while the resurrection will be free to all mankind through Jesus, the Mormons believe that good works will ensure a latter-day saint's place in heaven, not the grace of Jesus. Moreover, Mormon's believe that Jesus' death upon the cross as the perfect sacrifice did not cover many of the sins of man. They believe that mortal restitution for sin means more than the true grace of Jesus. This is what is meant by that Mormon scripture that “mankind is saved by grace after all that can be done mortally by those human beings.”
Let’s examine, therefore, the gospel of grace as compared to this false gospel of works, or a combination of works and grace. When Paul first came among the Galatians, he preached Jesus Christ and the same gospel of grace to them that he preached later to the Church at Ephesus, as recorded in Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV), “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” These Greeks heard the words that Paul preached and believed what he was saying about Jesus. Their belief led them to repent of their sins and to turn from those sins to Jesus. Their belief in Christ Jesus, therefore, incorporated a godly sorrow, or repentance, for the sins that they had committed. Then the Holy Spirit came upon those Galatians following their belief in Christ and immersed them in the Spirit without them having to expend any human effort to receive the immersion.
Their belief and repentance were purely mental processes that didn’t require them to do any work to receive the Spirit. They didn’t have to be baptized in water or have hands laid upon them in order to receive the gift of God. No human effort, whatsoever, was required for this spiritual immersion and sanctification to occur. The men who were teaching this false gospel might have stipulated that belief in Jesus was not enough, and that the belief had to be followed by a questioning as to whether the people had really repented of their sins before they were required to be baptized in water. But, as Paul succinctly stated, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith (a totally mental process)—and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” For instance, some of those Galatians might have bragged that their baptisms in water in had meant more to God than the baptisms of others. But salvation by grace through faith, as specifically a gift of God, meant that salvation received by all of mankind was equal in the sight of God, for God is no respecter of persons. As far as a gospel of salvation being a product of, both, grace and works, the notion is totally foreign to biblical scripture.
Human effort is only required by the person who has been saved by grace and has total faith in Jesus' cleansing and redeeming blood. This enduring faith will, as the Apostle James so succinctly stated, cause a Christian to do good works, not for salvation, but in order to make God smile. As James stated, “Faith without works is dead.” The Christian will work after being saved out of love for God and for all of mankind.
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