Paul Derengowski, ThM
Jesus said, “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” If there were one statement in the Book of John, that perhaps summarizes the mission of Jesus and the reason why John wrote his Gospel it is so that sinner’s might be free from their sin. That does not discount other emphases such as believing and Jesus’ deity, nevertheless, even those themes ultimately contribute to the idea of freedom through the truth.
Mormons, on the other hand, do not ascribe to the notion that one must be made free via the truth. Instead, a doctrine known as “Free Agency” is espoused, asserting that each individual is already free to make choices, even to the point of placing God and his plans on hold until the sinner makes his or her choice concerning him. That whereas there is an acknowledgment of sin in each person’s life, sin is equally the product of a free will, and not that inherited from a posterity of sinner’s initiated by the first human, Adam. In fact, sin, though often spoken of for its deleterious consequences, temporally speaking, is a beneficent necessity for future glorification and propagation of the human species. 1
This paper, therefore, will examine the Mormon doctrine of Free Agency in light of John’s Gospel. It will follow a four-point outline derived from the late Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, in which he describes, in detail, in his most noteworthy publication, Mormon Doctrine, what he believed were the four great principles necessary for Free Agency to exist. 2 Each point will allow the Mormon view to be expressed followed by a rebuttal from passages relative to the Gospel of John. In the first section, the importance of the ordination of laws will be examined. Here, not only an understanding of what laws means to a Mormon will be sought, but also why it conflicts with John’s statements of grace, as well as what he has to say about the person of God that are equally inconsistent with Mormon theology. Second, the idea that opposites, particularly good and evil, are necessary in order to validate right choices commensurate with freedom will be discussed. In other words, according to McConkie, in order for one to be truly free, evil must exist. According to John, that is not true. Third, the significance of knowing the difference between good and evil will follow. Since temporal experiences are integral to understanding truth in Mormonism, the freedom to experience evil is integral to distinguishing the difference between it and goodness. John asserts otherwise. Finally, the “unfettered power of choice must prevail,” or, in other words, the outside restraint of the individual is an imperative divinely granted to all. Yet, as will be seen, this is contradictory given the Mormon exaltation of laws, as well as John’s assertions concerning human sin, the enslavement to it, and the element of truth necessary to set one free.
It is hoped that this paper will serve as a response to a doctrine that is not only becoming more and more accepted among Evangelicals who later become Mormons, but as a tool to show the sinner, and Christian alike, his absolute dependence upon God to realize freedom. Indeed, freedom is a choice, but one that came with a very high price. A price that very few are willing to pay. A price that was paid by only one which God was willing to accept. So, without further introduction lets look at the first point of Mormon Free Agency in the light of John’s Gospel: The Necessity of Laws Ordained by an Omnipotent Power.
The Necessity of Laws Ordained by an Omnipotent Power
There is probably nothing more important in a Mormon’s understanding of being accepted by God than his acknowledgment of the need to be obedient to His commandments. In fact, obedience is the key to eventually receiving eternal life (Doctrine & Covenants 14:7) and “conditional salvation,” 3 whereby it is thought that one may progress to the status of becoming a god or goddess one day. To perpetuate the urgency to obey, attention to Law or laws becomes paramount especially as it applies to the concept of free agency. Bruce McConkie states, “Laws must exist, laws ordained by an Omnipotent power, laws which can be obeyed or disobeyed,” 4 in order for agency to exist. Some of these laws include Celestial Law (Consecration / Property), the Law of Moses (Carnal Commandments), Laws of the Land, Telestial Law (Wickedness and Carnality), Terrestrial Law, Adoption, Marriage, Witnesses, Creation, Liberty, Christ, Circumcision, Common Consent, Tithing, Strict Virtue and Chastity, Expiation, Fasting, Forgiveness, Confession, Mercy and Justice, Justification, Gravitation, Faith, Restrictions and Ordinances, Performances, the Mourner, Mediation, Theocracy, Righteousness, Atonement, Honesty, Uprightness, and Integrity, Sacrifice, Heaven, Repentance, Propitiation, Health, Baptism, God, and the Gospel. Given the all-encompassing use of the plural “laws,” one must assume that in order for an individual to experience true free agency as a human being, then one must faithfully obey each of these, plus those not mentioned, fully. In fact, McConkie goes on to assert,
Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands.[/ref]Ibid., 539.[/ref]
In conjunction with the necessity of the obedience to laws is the idea that these laws be “ordained by an Omnipotent power.” Given the explanation of how God came to be God in Mormonism, the concept of omnipotence obviously does not possess the same meaning as it is normally understood in traditional Christian circles, namely “all-powerful” 5 or almighty. For the “God” whom Mormons recognize was not always God, but suffered as a man, and is part of an infinitely contingent line of gods, 6 each of which are familiarly related. Founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, once lectured that,
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret…I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man…I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see…God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. 7
The difference in meaning may be understood more in line with what Mormons believe that God possesses, “unlimited power,” 8 —something that all humans may possess one day depending on their obedience—rather than what God is. All of this adds up to a being who is anything but omnipotent, much less existent.
In the Gospel of John there are 15 references to Law, each of which is directly related to that which was given to Moses (1:17; 7:19). Yet, there are indications cited about the Law which specify that humans are inherently disobedient and sinful, and furthermore, not free agents to choose anything of a divine origin, much less their own salvation. Probably the most explicit example of human lawlessness is found in 7:19 when Jesus asks the Jews, “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law?” The point here being that if God gave the Law to His own people, the Jews, and they failed miserably in keeping it,—“there is a difference between receiving and keeping the Law” 9 —then why should it be expected that anyone else, let alone the Mormons, could keep it? The fact is, Law was never given as a salvific tool, but was rather “an ad interim” 10 exposing and defining that which was contrary to the nature and being of a Holy God. 11 For if, indeed, the Law was given as the means by which humans could attain salvation, then grace would cease to be grace 12 (Rom. 11:6) as God’s method of saving humans in their sin, and the death of Christ was a useless act of self-masochistic cruelty (cf. Gal. 2:21). Furthermore, given the contrasting style in which John wrote, an earlier reference to the Law is seen in distinction to the coming of Jesus, of who revealed grace and truth (1:17). This is not to say that the Law necessarily lacked grace or truth, 13 but that “Christ displaces the law of Moses as the focus of divine revelation and the way to life.” Therefore, despite whether or not a Mormon possesses or keeps the law(s), since Jesus has been revealed, and is the “end of the law” 14 (Rom. 10:4), then for one to conceive that they are somehow already free, especially through law-keeping, would naturally result in the opposite. 15 In other words, based upon the grace and truth revealed by Jesus, and in which he performed his work of redemption on the cross, any effort at keeping the law is more indicative of one who is enslaved, rather than one who supposedly possesses free agency.
In relation to the expression concerning the “Omnipotent power,” probably referring to God by McConkie, John’s Gospel only makes implicit statements, none of which use the typical Greek noun pantokratōr for “Omnipotent.” Nevertheless, within those statements, there is no indication as that found in Mormonism of a being who at one time was anything, or anyone, less than God; that He is one of only many in a long list of contingent gods who came into existence as God through the assistance of familial “parents.” That God is a corporeal being that is limited or confined in any way.
One passage that implicitly speaks of God’s omnipotence, however, is 1:3: “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” This is a declaration of God’s creative power, particularly as seen in the unified effort that exists between God and His Word, Jesus Christ, as they bring into being (ἐγένετο) that which formerly did not exist. 16 This is further echoed in verse 10 in the creative power of the Word as he brought into being (ἐγένετο) the cosmos (κόσμος), or inhabited “world” of human beings(cf. Col 1:16; Heb. 1:2). 17 Turner makes an interesting observation due to the punctuation variations between verses three and four that further contributes to the idea of omnipotence. 18 He states,
“There is no doubt that, in the Word (Logos) of God, St. John finds the instrument of creation, if not the author of all life. All things were made by the Logos, or through him. Doubt arises in connection with the next words in the Prologue. One way of interpreting them is: ‘Without him was not anything made that has been made. In him was life.’ All depends on the punctuation, and the earliest manuscripts seldom give any guidance on this point. There is a more likely alternative, following the punctuation adopted by the earliest fathers, which would read like this: ‘Nothing was made without him. As to that which has been made, he was its life.’” 19
The point here is that the absolute omnipotence of God is clearly implied in His act of creating, not only the material aspects of creation, but in having the omnipotent ability to give it life. Furthermore, there is nothing contingent about what God has done, for everything relies strictly upon him for its existence, and without his almighty power to conduct such, nothing would exist. This is completely contrary to the Mormon view of “creation,” which asserts that God did nothing more than reshape that which already existed, and is himself a G/god who is the byproduct of someone else who brought him into existence through a previous creative process.
Yet, God’s omnipotence is not only reserved for what he has done in creation. In John 5:27 it is seen in his delegation of judgment to the Son. Judgment is relative to his life-giving capacity (v. 26), already discussed above, in the sense that it is the antithesis of life. 20 Only one who possesses the omnipotent authority to create life has the same to judge it. In 10:18 another aspect of God’s omnipotence is seen in respect to life and death. Jesus asserts that, “No one has taken it [life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority (ἐξουσίαν) to lay it down, and I have authority (ἐξουσίαν) to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” In other words, the life and death of Jesus is under the orchestration of no one other than himself, demonstrating perhaps the epitome of omnipotence through unity of plan. 21 Then in 17:2, God’s attribute of omnipotent authority over humankind, particularly in the giving of eternal life, is seen as being given to the Son. Not only does Jesus have complete control over the laying down of, and the retaking of, his own life, he further controls who receives the life that is only in him. “The giving by the Father of certain men to the Son precedes their reception of eternal life,” according to Carson, “and governs the purpose of the Son’s mission. There is no way to escape the implicit election.” 22 Put another way, God chooses those who will receive eternal life, and then has the wherewithal to give it; humanity does not choose God, who then gives the gift of eternal life based on its choice. 23 Finally, though not comprehensively, God’s omnipotence may be seen in his bestowal of authority in the human decision-making process, particularly that of Pontius Pilate in 19:11a. To Pilate’s boastful rhetoric regarding authority, Jesus responds by saying, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.” Although Pilate received his marching orders from Caesar, ultimately, if it were not for God, he would have no power at all. In addition, as Guthrie remarks, “Jesus reminds Pilate that his so-called power is only delegated. It is not absolute. It can never be. The really powerful person in this drama is Jesus. He makes the arrogant and intensely cruel governor afraid. It is a tragedy that Pilate paid no attention to his conscience. He finds his prisoner disturbing.” 24
The conclusion to the discussion concerning God’s omnipotence ought to be clear. What Mormonism presents as an “Omnipotent power” is nothing in comparison to that found in John’s Gospel. Therefore, whatever Free Agency is discussed leading to grace and peace through salvation must equally amount to the same: nothing. Nevertheless, omnipotence is not the only element necessary to establish the doctrine of Free Agency. So is the equivocation of exact opposites, to which attention is now turned.
The Necessity of Good and Evil
Consistent with the redefining of what it means for one to be omnipotent is the introduction of a moral dualism that supposedly exists between good and evil to explain the Free Agency of Mormonism. 25 In fact, the philosophical construct of the dualism is so important to Mormons that their very salvation depends on it. According to McConkie, “Agency is the philosophy of opposites, and because these opposites exist, men can reap either salvation or damnation by the use they make of their agency. If it were not for the law of agency, there could be no judgment according to works and consequently no rewards or punishments.” 26 The Book of Mormon further illustrates the necessity of the dualistic battle between good and evil by stating, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11). In other words, not only is salvation unattainable without the presence of evil, so are righteousness, holiness, and goodness, let alone God’s ability to judge them!
Adding to the confusion over the necessity of the presence of evil in order that one may be free to choose the good, Mormonism assumes that when the traditional Christian advocates when salvation occurs, it is strictly based upon the providential drawing of God, that that implies that God “forced” the sinner to do that which he would otherwise reject. According to James Talmage, “The Father of souls has endowed His children with the divine birth-right of free agency; He does not and will not control them by arbitrary force; He impels no man toward sin; He compels none to righteousness. Unto man has been given freedom to act for himself; and, associated with this independence, is the fact of strict responsibility and the assurance of individual accountability.” 27 Had God “forced” humans to receive salvation, then somehow they would have been left in a state of unhappiness, and that is not commensurate with what real freedom is all about. 28 Yet, as in the implication of the necessity of moral dualism to insure absolute freedom, the idea that God “forces” people into unhappiness (i.e., salvation) is equally fallacious.
Throughout John’s gospel, there are numerous allusions to contrasting of opposites. Some of those are the contrasts between light and darkness (1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46); life and death (5:21, 24-26); flesh and spirit (3:6; 6:63); Law and grace (1:16-17); slavery and freedom (8:33-36); blindness and sight (9:1-41; 10:21; 11:37); belief and unbelief (20:27). Nevertheless, there is not one instance where there is an equation between counterparts. One is always seen as the preferred condition over the other, or as God intended that the utmost satisfaction may be enjoyed both physically and spiritually by the one experiencing a particular existence. Furthermore, there is not one instance in John where one who was alleviated from a particularly deleterious condition ever complained that their freedom was violated when Jesus acted in their behalf. In fact, when Jesus addressed the “Jews” in chapter eight on the subject of knowing the truth in relation to enslavement to sin, that knowledge led to absolute freedom. This is indicated by the use of the adverb in the emphatic position, and could be translated “really, truly, you will be free,” carrying with it an absolute assurance of liberty for those abiding in Jesus. And as Carson comments, “True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please [including evil acts], but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.” 29
In respect to the idea that God “forces” people into salvific decisions, and that that somehow interferes with their right to free choice, let it be noted from the previous paragraph that allegiance to the truth is what sets the sinner free, and that by implication, not one person is free otherwise. John tells his readers “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (v. 34), and the apostle Paul would later record the sorrowful fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Hence, before one is free to make a choice consistent with that found in the person of Jesus Christ as the truth, biblical revelation characterizes that person as bound in the slavery of sin, not a free agent with the capability to do whatever is pleased, much less the inclination to accept or rejection an offer of forgiveness and salvation. 30
Instead, God manages to “draw” (̔ʹελκω) or “compel” the sinner into accepting his offer of redemption and reconciliation (6:44), where “force…may be discounted, but not the supernatural element.” 31 This is not to mitigate the sinner’s responsibility of responding to God’s calling. Rather, the idea is that John is explicitly clear about the fact until God takes the initiative to work in the hearts of those whom he has chosen to redeem, then the sinner will remain in his natural state of rebellion, which he chose in the person of Adam when he rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. The late Swiss scholar Adolf Schlatter once wrote concerning this drawing, “God does his works, gives the Son to the world, and possesses in him a presence that pervades his temporal existence. Likewise, he works in the believer, draws him to himself, gives Jesus to him, and brings him to life, so that God’s love, directed toward the believer, is completed in what the believer experiences and does.” 32 He continues, “Through God man is led to Jesus; for this reason he is received by him, and, because he has been accepted by the Christ, for this reason God bestows on him his love and presence.” 33 From this it may be concluded that God’s act of drawing the sinner unto himself is not an act of coercion intended to prohibit the free choice of the person being drawn. Rather, it is the act of God motivated by his love for the sinner, whereby he is freed to be that which God intended prior to humanity’s rebellious choice to be otherwise.
The whole idea that evil must exist in a dualistic relationship with good, in order that a person may be truly free, is absurd when one understands what true freedom is all about, and when one realizes the motivation behind God’s drawing of the sinner unto salvation. In addition, there are serious theological implications involved should one accept the premise that evil must exist alongside good. Commensurate with the absurdity that good and evil relate together on an even par is the imperative of knowing the differences that exist between them in order that a person experience true freedom, which attention is now turned.
The Necessity of Knowing the Differences Between Good and Evil
“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The final phrase of this verse marks the pinnacle of the challenge by the serpent toward Eve to rebel against God’s command to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The strategy was to eventually get humanity to rely upon itself rather than God for its livelihood, and the independence lay in the knowledge (Heb. יֹדְעֵי) of distinguishing between good and evil, just as God (יֹדֵעַ) knew the difference. 34 Ideally, both Adam and Eve would supposedly enjoy that which was “good” apart from God’s provision, and to the exclusion of the possibility of experiencing evil. Unfortunately, as John Sailhamer points out,
The possibility that they would know only the “evil” and not the “good” is not raised in the narrative prior to their eating the fruit. Yet when they ate of the fruit and their eyes were opened, it was not the “good” that they saw and enjoyed. Their new knowledge was that of their own nakedness…Their knowledge of “good and evil” that was to make them “like God” resulted in the knowledge that they were no longer even like each other: they were ashamed of their nakedness, and they sewed leaves together to hide their differences from each other. Like the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, they sought wisdom but found only vanity and toil. As the next segment of the narrative shows, not only did the man and his wife attempt to cover their shame from each other in their making clothing from the trees of the garden, they also tried to hide themselves from God at the first sound of his coming. 35
The reason why the Genesis story of the Fall of Man is pertinent at this juncture is that: (1) Mormonism teaches that what the serpent told Eve in the Garden leading to Adam’s transgression was not necessarily a total lie 36 ; and (2) In order for any person to experience absolute Free Agency in lieu of the acceptance of salvation, then knowing the difference between good and evil, along with the freedom to act accordingly upon that knowledge, is imperative. For according to McConkie, “A knowledge of good and evil must be had by those who are to enjoy the agency, that is, they must know the difference between the opposites,” 37 which is an indirect reference to what took place in the Garden, further perpetuating the perceived non-distinction between God and his creation.
A specific “knowledge” as it relates to freedom is what Mormons have in mind when discussing good and evil. More specifically, knowledge as it relates to salvation, and ultimately, godhood. Founder and first president, Joseph Smith, once wrote, “The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent; and every one that does not obtain knowledge sufficient to be saved will be condemned.” 38 The knowledge he is addressing, though, is not relative to that found in everyday living, but “it is the knowledge of God and his laws that leads to high reward in the hereafter.” 39 Knowledge that enables only those ascribing to Mormonism’s tenets—for there is no salvation outside the Mormon Church 40 —“to become lords of lords, and kings of kings” 41 in a dress rehearsal toward family members in preparation for “the celestial kingdom with glory, immortality, and eternal lives.” 42 In other words, free agency allows each member of the Mormon family the absolute right and opportunity to pursue the loftier heights of deity, otherwise known as “conditional salvation,” 43 and “knowledge” of the Holy—which, once again, can only be attained through association with the institution that has translated the Bible correctly (Articles of Faith, 8)—is the vehicle that provides the transportation. 44
It is a given that knowledge is an integral part of John’s Gospel. Two Greek words translated “to know,” “know,” “known,” etc., (γινώσκω and ὀ̑ιδα), are used over 140 times in John. Not once, however, is knowledge associated with that of good or evil, even though mention is made of them 16 times throughout his document. Furthermore, knowledge is not associated with the Law as it relates to salvation. Yet, knowledge is related to salvation through allusions to knowing the truth (8:32), knowing the voice of the shepherd (10:5), knowing God (8:55), knowing Christ (14:7), and knowing the Spirit (14:17). What is probably most important about knowledge in John, is its relation to believing. For in every instance, except one (2:24), where the roots for “believing” (πιστεύω) and “knowing” (γινώσκω and ὀ̑ιδα) are used in the same verse, there is a direct connection to salvation as found in Christ (cf. 4:42, 53; 6:69; 10:38; 16:30; 17:8; 19:35). This is in stark contrast to the importance of knowledge in Mormonism, which points to Law as the saving principle by which the sinner must adhere to through obedient living.
A second observation worth noting in regard to the importance of knowledge in John is the absolute ignorance of just how salvation occurs. Jesus told Nicodemas, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know [emphasis added] where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:7-8). The point here being is that if knowledge of good and evil were such an important part of being free to either accept or reject God’s offer of salvation, then Jesus must have been lying when he explained what happens when someone makes the free choice to be born again. For surely they could explain the Spirit’s work as attributable to obedience to the laws of God, making Jesus a liar, just as one can explain the workings of the wind through the laws of nature. Yet, since spiritual regeneration is not a natural work, “and just as people cannot comprehend the Spirit neither can they comprehend anyone that is born of the Spirit,” 45 then Jesus was not lying, and obedience to the laws of God are not a part of the salvation of anyone. This is why John would shortly emphasize the necessity of belief (3:15, 16, 18, 36), which is equally not governed by natural law, but proportionate with the working and giving of the Spirit (7:39), and as mysterious as the moving of the wind. 46
The necessity of law, the necessity of good and evil, and the necessity of knowledge, though, are only three of the principles inherent in understanding the doctrine of Free Agency in Mormonism. The fourth is the unfettered power of choice, which will now be addressed.
The Necessity of the Unfettered Power of Choice
Mormonism believes and teaches that each individual has the capacity within their self to make right choices, and when speaking of the “unfettered power of choice” prevailing 47 as evidence of free agency, it is alluding to a doctrine which Mormons vehemently deny: the doctrine of original sin. In other words, Mormons do not believe that humans are born with a sin nature, but are essentially good, 48 and simply have the freedom to make bad decisions. 49 That Christ actually has redeemed everyone from the effects of Adam’s sin, universally, apart from their choice, yet it is still contingent upon each person to make their own choices as to whether they desire to repent and do the necessary requirements to receive “conditional” salvation. 50 The only way this is possible is if absolute free agency has been absolved (“unfettered”) of any association with the indiscretion of Adam. Anything short of this is an attribute of Luciferian scheming—as found in churches that are not Mormon—and communistic dictatorships. 51
Before progressing to what John’s Gospel has to say about unfettered free agency, a couple of observations about the Mormon concept of freedom are in order. First, according to McConkie, “…no man is perfectly free unless [emphasis added] he has knowledge of and abides in the truth.” 52 This conditional statement appears to be an allusion to the merited state of celestial bliss that all true Mormons are striving, as well as a statement that seems to undermine the very idea of free agency claimed above. For as McConkie continues, “As long as man’s beliefs, or any part of them [emphasis added], are based on error, he is not completely free, for the chains of error bind his mind.” 53 One would have to assume, then, that any erroneous belief, no matter how miniscule, would be the fetter that would bind, and prevent, any person from being in a supposed state of free agency. Second, in discussing the condition of those who have come to this life under the pretense of being tested, McConkie states, “The purpose of this life is to test men, to see if they will take the bodies which have been given them, and by the righteous exercise of agency makes those bodies fit [emphasis added] abodes for the Spirit of God.” 54 Apparently, not only is the conscience bound due to an erroneous belief, there is something unfit about the human bodies inherited which needs correction before “perfect” freedom may be attained, meaning that it, too, is bound. That correction is to be conducted by the owner of the body so that God’s Spirit may have an abode in which to visit. Until then, Mormons are free, just not truly free, if that makes any sense.
John the Beloved has absolutely nothing positive to say about the human condition prior to believing in the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, John depicts humanity as being in a state of darkness (3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46), unbelief (3:18, 36; 4:48; 5:38, 47; 6:36, 64; 7:5; 8:45, 46; 9:18; 10:25, 26), slavery (8:34; 15:15), evil (3:19, 20; 5:29; 7:7), hatred (7:7), judgment (3:18, 36), disobedience (3:36), death (5:24), misguidedness (5:44), hunger (6:35), thirst (6:35), betrayal (6:64), foreign ownership (10:26), unfriendliness (15:15), and hostility (15:20), to name just a few. Carson adds that the sin condition of humanity as seen in its unbelief resulted in,
Profanation of the Temple (2.13ff.), wicked deeds (3.19f.), adultery (4.16-18), sin which brings illness (5.14), self-complacency in the matter of pleasing God (5.44), gross materialism (6.26), fickleness (6.66), treachery (6.71, etc.), hypocritical ‘justice’ (7.23f.), murderous intent (7.30; 8.59; 11.48ff.), tyrannous bondage (8.21, 24, 32-60, lying and murder (8.44), rejection of the light (9.41), theft (12.6), corruption (12.10f; 19.12f.), religious hypocrisy (18.28), physical violence (18:22; 19.1-3). 55
Perhaps the definitive statement on the character of humanity is found in 3:19, which states, “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.” Nowhere does John insinuate or explicitly state that humans are in any sense “free” to choose good, but rather are enslaved as sinners due to their natural propensity to sin (8:34). F. F. Bruce provides commentary on the binding nature of sin in 8:34, but perhaps also on the Mormon mindset in its depiction of humans and their apparent “freedom,” when he states, “Sin is a slave-master, and it is possible for people who think of themselves as free to be enslaved to sin.” 56 L. S. Chafer reiterates this sentiment when he commented; “In their vanity men are ever prone to imagine that their estate before God may yet prove to be to some degree acceptable. However, God declares that they are already condemned, which fact must take its course leading on to eternal woe unless, through grace, they are saved.” 57 In other words, it is the deceptive nature of sin that often leads people either to ignore what sin has done to them as persons individually or to believe in doctrines that mitigates the effects of sin and exalts the human psyche to positions inconsistent with the truth. In the case of Mormonism, the meaning of “free” and “freedom” have been perverted, due in part to its perverse understanding of both sin and humanity. And these simply because it has ignored what persons like John have described human nature to be like apart from redemption in Christ.
John, furthermore, addresses the concept of choice, and it is not the bound sinner who initiates the process. Rather it is God who draws (6:44) and Jesus who chooses (13:18; 15:16) 58 that thereby the sinner makes his choice, through the intervening conviction of the Spirit (16:8), to follow and obey God, and until this Trinitarian miracle takes place, the sinner remains in his decrepit condition, as a child of the devil (8:44), committing acts consistent with his leading. To become a child of God is a gift, yet it is up to the giver of the gift to choose whom he decides to receive it, and he is of absolutely no obligation to give it to everyone, much less anyone. It is strictly an act of grace that anyone elects to follow God, for left in his present condition, the sinner will never seek God (5:44 cf. Rom. 3:11), much less choose to become his child. Carson asserts,
Men must seek the praise that comes from God (5.44), and work for the food that endures to eternal life (6.27); but it is also a gift from the Son of man (cf. 4.10). And when the crowd replies with a question which shows they expect to perform works (plural) in a way which will earn merits (6.28), Jesus replies that the work (singular) of God is to believe in the one God has sent (6.29). The passage thus becomes equivalent to the demand for faith. 59
Finally, John’s gospel does not allude to multiple levels of freedom, especially in regard to freedom from sin, or in respect to the freedom that was purchased through Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. When Jesus stated that, “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed,” (8:36), and that, “It is finished,” (19:30), he was making final, declarative statements which left no room for human addition. In other words, He did not merely make a “down payment” in order to enable the sinner to “work out his salvation,” and then whatever shortcomings the sinner might incur in the process, add the necessary grace to make up for the shortage. 60 His work of redemption was complete, and totally propitiated God and his holiness, allowing the sinner access into his presence through the blood of Christ, as man could never do before.
Furthermore, John makes no distinctions in levels of eternal life gifted to those who believe. Instead, it is reassured,
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (3:16). 61
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life…” (3:36). 62
“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (4:14). 63
“He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life…” (5:24). 64
Therefore, any reference to human works that in someway increases the possibility of inheriting eternal life beyond that given through trusting in Christ is faulty. Since there is only one God, there is only one life, and only one way in which life may be attained (14:6). Whatever works are performed have a direct correlation with belief (6:29), yet offer nothing by way of establishing a salvific standing with God. One believes and then works, not one works that one might believe. The conclusion to the matter, therefore, on unfettered free agency in contrast to John’s gospel is a comparison of the differences between night and day, with free agency suffering from a lack of scriptural illumination.
The idea that one is a moral or spiritual free agent is appealing to many people. To think that it is purely up to them to decide their destiny, and then take personal strides to pass whatever “tests” a holy God might have for them, culminating in a future where the successful may become like God himself, seems like the logical plan God intended all along for the redemption of humankind. In fact, the doctrine of Mormon Free Agency helps to attract over 310,000 65 converts to its brand of “Christianity” annually, many of who come from Evangelical backgrounds. Unfortunately, though, for those basing their eternal well being upon such a doctrine, their hope is vain in the light of biblical revelation, particularly the Gospel of John. For humanity is not inherently free, it is hopelessly bound; bound by the sin nature that has been passed along to it as it originated in the first man, Adam. And it is only when personal trust is placed in the person of Christ that that hopeless condition is changed, yet even that is orchestrated as a part of God’s choice, not the sinner’s.
Some in Mormonism may object to the idea that the use of John as the only work to invalidate the claims of free agency is misleading or lacking comprehensive understanding of the totality of Scripture. That if one were to look beyond John’s gospel, comparing Scripture with Scripture, then a more accurate portrait would be painted in favor of free agency. Nevertheless, such claims are as vacuous as the claims for free agency. For to contend such is to invalidate what John has recorded as the way (14:6) one comes to true freedom, and that is through believing (trusting or having faith in), and believing is the prerequisite to freedom from sin in every book of the Bible. On the contrary, if one were to do a comprehensive biblical study on whether or not free agency may be found elsewhere in Scripture, only a further indictment of the heresy would be found; not a rosy picture.
Jesus said, “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Implicit in his declaration is the condition of all human beings prior to coming to know the truth, and it is not a state of freedom. It is a state of bondage. In addition, Jesus makes the explicit declaration of what sets a man free, and that is truth; truth that is found only in the person of Jesus; truth that cannot be found in the Mormon doctrine of Free Agency.
- According to Gospel Principles, a Mormon publication “written both as a personal study guide and as a teacher’s manual” regarding Mormon belief and doctrine, “Some people believe Adam and Eve committed a serious sin when they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, latter-day scriptures help us understand that their fall was a necessary step in the plan of life and a great blessing to all of us. Because of the Fall, we are blessed with physical bodies, the right to choose between good and evil, and the opportunity to gain eternal life. None of these privileges would have been ours had Adam and Eve remained in the garden.” (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, 1995), 33. Also, from the Book of Moses, an ex-canonical book recognized by Mormons, one reads, “And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, 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” (5:11). And finally, from the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:22-23, “And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. 23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.” ↩
- Of course, other Mormon authorities will be cited. Nevertheless, McConkie does a better job of dealing with the subject from a more systematic point-of-view than do most any other Mormon authority. ↩
- Salvation in Mormonism is a two-tiered proposition consisting of General and Conditional aspects. The former is extended to all humans “after all [they] can do” (2 Neph. 25:23), while the latter is reserved for the more austere and obedient. Mormons explain this arrangement in the following way: “”Unconditional or general salvation, that which comes by grace alone without obedience to gospel law, consists in the mere fact of being resurrected. In this sense salvation is synonymous with immortality; it is the inseparable connection of body and spirit so that the resurrected personage lives forever…Conditional or individual salvation, that which comes by grace coupled with gospel obedience, consists in receiving an inheritance in the celestial kingdom of God. This kind of salvation follows faith, repentance, baptism, receipt of the Holy Ghost, and continued righteousness to the end of one’s mortal probation.” Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet, and Brent L. Top, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992), 1:192. ↩
- Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 26. ↩
- Extending back into the Old Testament where one of Yahweh’s designations is אֵל שַׁדַּי(’ēl shadday), along with a future rendering in the Greek as παντοκράτωρ(pantokratōr), the basic idea behind omnipotence is the all-powerful, almighty, self-sufficiency of the person of God. According to Davis, “The name Shaddai appears some forty-eight times in the Old Testament. The greater majority of these texts regard Shaddai or El Shaddai in the primary aspect of power and might. Power and might are many times demonstrated in special blessings and acts. In the book of Genesis the name appears only six times (Genesis 17:1, 28:3 , 35:11 , 43:14 , 48:3 , 49:25 ) and in almost every case the name is used in connection with some blessing. A careful study of the nature of these blessings will reveal the fact that only an all powerful God could fulfill these promises. The name occurs in Exodus only once (Exod 6:3), and Numbers twice (Num 24:4, 24:16 ). This name really displays its significance in the books of Ruth and Job. In Ruth it occurs only twice (Ruth 1:20, 21) but the basic idea connected with it is that of chastisement and affliction. In Job it occurs thirty-one times and has the same idea basically as that in Ruth. In many of the passages the idea connected with this name is decidedly power and majestic glory. (cf. Job 5:17, 6:4, 14 , 8:3 , 15:25 , 21:20 , 22:25 , 23:16 , 27:2 , 34:12 ) In Job 37:23 Shaddai is clearly characterized as “excellent in power.” In use of the name Shaddai in the Psalms (Ps 68:14, 91:1 ) seems to support this meaning also. El-Shaddai is spoken of as “scattering kings,” (Psalm 68:14), which is an open display of sovereign power. The other uses of this name, Isa 13:6, Ezek 1:24, 10:5 and Joel 1:15 also indicate the some basic idea of power and might.” John J. Davis, “The Patriarchs’ Knowledge of Jehovah: A Critical Monograph on Exodus 6:3,” Grace Theological Journal 4 (Winter 1963): 32. ↩
- Paul Copan and William Lane Craig astutely observe that, “The idea that there has been an infinite progression of humanoid deities consorting with one another from eternity is worse than scientific poppycock—it is a fairy tale of Olympian proportions.” Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, The New Mormon Challenge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 147. Indeed, this author has argued that very point with many Mormons, with only the most die-hard Mormon willing to challenge that infinite contingency is everything but an absolute oxymoron and totally destructive to the claims that Joseph Smith made regarding God’s existence. ↩
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), 345-46. It must be noted that Joseph Smith did not “show it from the Bible,” God’s temporality, for he never again returned to the Bible for the remainder of his King Follett discourse. ↩
- McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 544. ↩
- Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 360. Carson states, “This passage insists that mere possession of the law cannot guarantee sanctity. Ironically, it guarantees condemnation: not one of you keeps the law.” D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 314. ↩
- Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-48; reprint, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), 7:226. ↩
- “The righteousness of God means, first of all, that the law of God, being a true expression of his nature, is as perfect as he is… The righteousness of God also means that his actions are in accord with the law which he himself has established. He conducts himself in conformity with what he expects of others. He is the expression in action of what he requires. Thus, God in his actions is described as doing right.” Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 286. ↩
- “This rules out the idea that God foreknows what people will do and chooses the elect on the basis of this foreknowledge of their works. If works of any kind, retrospective or prospective, come into it, then we no longer have grace. It is important to take grace seriously and not to let works creep in by some back door.” Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 402. ↩
- F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 43. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Moo makes two theological points worth noting in reference to Paul’s expression, “Christ is the end of the law,” which help to clarify what he is saying. He states that, “Paul is thinking in this verse in his usual category of salvation history. He is picturing the Mosaic law as the center of an epoch in God’s dealing with human beings that has now come to an end. The believer’s relationship to god is mediated in and through Christ, and the Mosaic law is no longer basic to that relationship. But Paul is not saying that Christ has ended all “law”; the believer remains bound to God’s law as it now is mediated in and through Christ (see Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:19-21). Nor is he saying that the Mosaic law is no longer part of God’s revelation or of no more use to the believer (2 Tim. 3:16), but must continue to be read, pondered, and responded to by the faithful believer.
Second, we find in Paul’s teaching about Christ as the culmination of the law another evidence of the beautiful unity of the NT message. For what Paul says here is almost exactly what Jesus claims in one of his most famous theological pronouncements: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Each text pictures Christ as the promised culmination of the OT law. And together they sound a note of balance in the Christian’s approach to the OT and its law that is vital to maintain. On the one hand, both Jesus and Paul warn us about undervaluing the degree to which Christ now embodies and mediates to us what the OT law was teaching and doing. Our relationship with God is now found in Christ, not through the law; and our day-to-day behavior is to be guided primarily by the teaching of Christ and his apostles rather than by the law. On the other hand, Jesus and Paul also caution us against severing Christ from the law. For he is its fulfillment and consummation and he cannot be understood or appreciated unless he is seen in light of the preparatory period of which the law was the center. Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 643-44. ↩
- Beasley-Murray observes that, “The creative activity of the Logos is the activity of God through him.” David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, eds., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1987), vol. 36, John, by George R. Beasley-Murray, 11. Tenney adds that, “‘All things’ relates to the universe, its elements and its systems of law. ‘Came into being’ implies a crisis, a transition from what was not to what is. The tense of the verb (aorist) implies occurrence without relation to elapsed time, an event, not a process.” Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 65. ↩
- Tenney, John, 67. ↩
- There are currently four variant readings that exist in the rendering of John 1:3-4. The current οὐδὲ ʹ̔εν. ̔ʹο γέγονεν: ἐν P75c C L Wsupp// οὐδε ἑν. ́̔ο γέονεν. ἐν Θ 28 700 892 1195 etc.// οὐδὲ ἐν ̔ʹο γέϡονεν. ἐν אc K X Π Ψ 050c // οὐδὲ ἑν ὁο γέγονεν ἐν p75* A B Δ 063. ↩
- Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights Into the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1965), 138-39. Bruce Metzger, however, more or less rejects this insight, stating: “It is more consistent with Johannine repetitive style, as well as with Johannine doctrine (cf. 5.26, 39; 6.53), to say nothing concerning the sense of the passage, to punctuate with a full stop after ʹο γέγονεν.” A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed., (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2000), 168. ↩
- Bruce, The Gospel of John, 132. ↩
- Morris says, “Nowhere is John’s view of Jesus as in complete command of every situation brought out more strongly than here. The Lord’s death does not take place as the result of misadventure or the might of his foes or the like. No one takes his life from him. Far from this being the case, he himself lays it down, and does so completely of his own volition. He claims authority both to lay down his life and to take it again.” NIC, 456. ↩
- D. A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 187. ↩
- “The glory of the Father and the Son is expressed in the bestowal of eternal life upon humankind. The authority of the Son to convey this gift is inherent in his position as Mediator of the saving sovereignty (cf. 5:21-27), and by his exaltation as Lord of the kingdom it extends to ‘all flesh.’…This intimates that kingdom and judgment go together, and both accord with the electing purpose of God. Divine election and human responsibility are variously expressed in the Gospel and they are to be held together as truly as God’s sovereignty and human freedom must be so held.” Beasley-Murray, John, 296. ↩
- Donald Guthrie, Exploring God’s Word: A Guide to John’s Gospel (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids: 1986), 206. ↩
- Although moral dualism typically calls for two uncreated beings in eternal warfare with each other, typically representing that which is morally “good” and morally “evil” [See James Leo Garrett, Systematic Theology, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 1:336]when applied to Mormonism, all of the important characters in the struggle for human allegiance are created! God, Jesus, and Satan, are all created beings engaged in mortal battle for the immortality of the soul, which, once again, makes about as much sense as the theory regarding the infinite contingency of God previously mentioned. ↩
- McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 27. ↩
- James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy (Deseret: Salt Lake City, 1964), 21. ↩
- Gospel Principles illustrates this when it asserts that, “If we were forced to choose the right, we would not be able to show what we would choose for ourselves. Also, we are happier doings things when we have made our own choices” (21). ↩
- The Gospel According to John, 350. ↩
- W. Robert Cook adds on the universality of sin, “That sin pervades the whole of human experience, both quantitatively and qualitatively, is seen in that all have committed acts of sin (1 John 1:10); all, including believers, have a sin nature (1 John 1:8); all who are outside of Christ have God’s judicial wrath resting upon them (John 3:16; 3:36); and all men need a Savior (John 1:29; 3:16-17; 4:42; 1 John 4:14). The Theology of John (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 68. ↩
- Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964),ἑλκω by Albrecht Oepke, 2:503. ↩
- Adolf Schlatter, translated by Andreas J. Köstenberger, The Theology of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 133. ↩
- Ibid., 144. ↩
- R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:366. ↩
- Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), vol. 2, “Genesis” by John H. Sailhamer, 52. ↩
- George Q. Cannon once wrote, “The devil in tempting Eve told a truth when he said unto her that when she should eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they should become as Gods… They had a knowledge of good and evil just as the Gods have. They became as Gods; for that is one of the features, one of the peculiar attributes of those who attain unto that glory-they understand the difference between good and evil.” Gospel Truth, compiled by Jerreld L. Newquist (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret, 1974) on Infobases Library CD-ROM [hereafter ILCD-ROM]. Orson Pratt, in elaborating on the results of the Fall once added, “Adam saw this, that the woman was overcome by the devil speaking through the serpent; and when he saw it, he was satisfied that the woman would have to be banished from his presence: he saw, also, that unless he partook of the forbidden fruit, he could never raise up posterity; therefore the truth of that saying in the Book of Mormon is apparent, that “Adam fell that man might be.” He saw that it was necessary that he should with her partake of sorrow and death, and the varied effects of the fall, that he and she might be redeemed from these effects, and be restored back again to the presence of God.” Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 1:285, on ILCD-ROM. Brigham Young once claimed in behalf of the devil, “Our doctrine and practice is, and I have made it mine through life–to receive truth no matter where it comes from… Is there truth in the words of a good man? Yes. In the words of a wicked man? Yes, sometimes; and there is truth in the words of an angel, and in the words of the devil, and when the devil speaks the truth I should have the spirit to discriminate between the truth and the error, and should receive the former and reject the latter. For example, you read in Genesis about the formation of the earth and the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden. By and by the devil comes along and tempts Eve, by offering her the fruit of a certain tree, assuring her at the same time that the very day she ate of it her eyes would be open and she would see like the Gods. Did the devil tell the truth? He did.” Journal of Discourses, 14:160. “God sent Adam first and Eve. He placed them in the garden, then he gave Adam a commandment to people this earth, to multiply and replenish and told him not to eat of the tree of forbidden fruit. But the devil being one of the organizations of the heavenly body, third in power, prince of the air, he had a spirit like Cain. He saw that Jesus was the most acceptable before the Father; he loved righteousness and hated iniquity. This gave a jealousy to him and he began to accuse the brethren which soon hurled him. Adam and Eve then being sent to this earth, Satan then went forth and told Eve that she should know good and evil if she eat of it. And she did so, for he told her many truth [sic] and some lies.” Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Keith W. Perkins, ed. Writings of Early Latter-day Saints and Their Contemporaries, A Database Collection. Excerpts. 2nd ed., rev. and enlarged. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 1996, on ILCD-ROM. See also Keith Marston’s Missionary Pal: Reference Guide for Missionaries & Teachers (Salt Lake City: Quality Press, 1987), 102, where he discusses Genesis 3:5 under the heading of “Man, A God in Embryo,” as an indication of the “truth” stated by the serpent in the Garden. ↩
- McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 26. ↩
- Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 297. ↩
- McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 426. ↩
- Ibid., 138. ↩
- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 86. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 669-70. ↩
- It is at this point that Mormonism shares many common traits with those of Gnosticism. For Gnosticism was/is a dualistic philosophy which postulated a distant “G/god” who created souls which became involved in the material world, and through a process of aligning with correct knowledge, which only the Gnostics possessed, the souls would eventually be reunited with the heavenly principle, or G/god. Finegan points out that, “In soteriology, therefore, that which is fundamentally necessary is “knowledge” (γνῶσις) of the true nature of the self, that is, of its heavenly origin and proper heavenly home, to which, given this knowledge, it can hope to return. The “knowledge” can also include information needed about the spheres between earth and heaven, the powers that control these spheres, and the procedures and passwords necessary for passing there in the final ascent of the soul after death.” Myth & Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 256. When one considers the numerous heavenly luminaries that supposedly exist as “gods” in the universe, the secret rites and rituals that are practiced in the Mormon Temples as acts intended to exalt the human to godhood, as well as the Mormon view of life after death, including spirit prison hell, and the various abodes of heavenly glory, one has many of the ingredients that are consistent with the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. ↩
- Morris, NIC, 195. ↩
- Bruce remarks, “The parable of the operation of the wind is a parable of the work of the Spirit. As the coming or going of the wind cannot be controlled by human power or wisdom [or knowledge stemming from alleged human free agency], so the new birth of the Spirit is independent of human volition—coming neither ‘from the will of flesh nor from the will of a man’…The hidden work of the Spirit in the human heart cannot be controlled or seen, but its effects are unmistakably evident.” The Gospel of John, 85. ↩
- McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 26. ↩
- The condemned heretic Pelagius believed in a similar understanding of human nature. Henry Bettenson records Pelagius as stating, “Everything good and everything evil, in respect of which we are either worthy of praise or of blame, is done by us, not born with us. We are not born in our full development, but with a capacity for good and evil; we are begotten as well without virtue as without vice, and before the activity of our own personal will there is nothing in man but what God has stored in him.” Documents of the Christian Church (London: Oxford, 1967), 53. Harold O. J. Brown said of Pelagianism, “Pelagius looked on Adam’s disobedience as a transitory bad decision that could be reversed; Augustine saw it as a breach of fellowship with disastrous complications.” Heresies (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988), 202. ↩
- Pelagius taught that Adam’s sin nature was not passed on from human to human as a result of his action. Instead, humans were born as blank slates, without a propensity, necessarily, for either good or evil, yet with an aptitude for both, and sin was merely the result of making a decision consistent with the influences that surround them, while in an innocent state. To say that original sin was an inherent part of mankind was to equate evil with God, since God is the one responsible for creating humanity in the first place, and Pelagius would have no part in such thinking. Robert F. Evans, Pelagius: Inquiries and Reappraisals (New York: The Seabury Press, 1968), 97.
Former president of the Mormon Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, once echoed these sentiments, when he stated, “We are taught that every spirit was innocent in the beginning in the spirit world. It is equally true that every spirit comes into this world innocent as far as sin in this world is concerned. It is one of the most abominable, cruel and unreasonable doctrines that Satan ever introduced into this world to lay at the door of innocent, helpless babies, a sin which they never committed. Jesus Christ paid the debt for “original sin,” or the bringing of death into the world. No other soul ever born, or that may yet be born, will be charged with any taint because of Adam’s Fall.” Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Deseret: Salt Lake City, 1958), 2:178. ↩
- Redemption from the Fall Universal and Unconditional — “We believe that through the sufferings, death, and atonement of Jesus Christ all mankind, without one exception, are to be completely and fully redeemed, both body and spirit, from the endless banishment and curse to which they were consigned by Adam’s transgression; and that this universal salvation and redemption of the whole human family from the endless penalty of the original sin, is effected without any conditions whatever on their part, that is, they are not required to believe or repent, or be baptized, or do anything else, in order to be redeemed from that penalty; for whether they believe or disbelieve, whether they repent or remain impenitent, whether they are baptized or unbaptized, whether they keep the commandments or break them, whether they are righteous or unrighteous, it will make no difference in relation to their redemption, both soul and body, from the penalty of Adam’s transgression. The most righteous man that ever lived on the earth, and the most wicked wretch of the whole human family, were both placed under the same curse without any transgression or agency of their own, and they both alike will be redeemed from that curse, without any agency or conditions on their part.” — Apostle Orson Pratt in Remarkable Visions, in James A. Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith. 12th ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), on Infobases CD-ROM. ↩
- McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 27. ↩
- Ibid., 299. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., 28. ↩
- Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, 163. ↩
- Bruce, The Gospel of John, 197. ↩
- Chafer, Systematic Theology, 2:318. ↩
- Guthrie comments that, “Many are worried about the thought of the divine choice. They are scared of losing their freedom. But Jesus himself claims the freedom to choose…Jesus’ mission was such an enigma to [the disciples] that if the choice had been left to them probably none would have followed…The mission of Jesus was not the result of a committee decision. His choice of companions is mystifying, particularly the choice of Judas. But even there Jesus is in control.” Exploring God’s Word, 167. ↩
- Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, 169. ↩
- Mormons are fond of quoting 2 Nephi 25:23, which states: “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.” Bruce McConkie elaborates that, “This is the sum and substance of the whole matter. Salvation, eternal life, rewards in all their degrees and varieties — all come by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Salvation must be won; it is not a free gift… Grace is the love, mercy, and condescension of God in making salvation available to men. “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Ne. 25:23.) Eternal life is freely available; salvation is free in that all may drink of the waters of life; all may come and partake; but none gains so high a reward as eternal life until he is tried and tested and found worthy, as were the ancients.” The Mortal Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1978-82), 302, on ILCD-ROM.
Mormon author Robert J. Matthews wrote, “In the plan of salvation God does for human beings only what they cannot do for themselves. Man must do all he can for himself.” A Bible! A Bible! (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1990), on ILCD-ROM. Cheesman, Nyman, and Tate comment on 2 Nephi 25:23, “Immortality comes to all by God’s grace-it is unearned “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). Full salvation, however, eternal life, is God’s greatest gift (D&C 6:13; D&C 14:7). Unlike the blessing of immortality, eternal life is conditional.” Book of Mormon Symposium Series (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988-1995), 13, on ILCD-ROM. ↩
- Edwin Blum defines eternal life as, “…a new quality of life, which a believer has now as a present possession and will possess forever (cf. 10:28; 17:3).” John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (USA: Victor, 1983), “John” by Edwin Blum, 282. Tenney concurs and adds further, “‘Eternal,’ the new life God gives, refers not solely to the duration of existence but also to the quality of life as contrasted with futility. It is a deepening and growing experience. It can never be exhausted in any measurable span of time, but it introduces a totally new quality of life. The believer becomes imperishable; he is free from all condemnation; he is approved by God.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “The Gospel of John,” 9:50. ↩
- “When people put their trust in Christ they are reborn from above, they enter a new life. The decisive thing has happened. They will in due course pass through the portal of death, but that does not alter the fact that abiding eternal life is theirs already. In the things that matter they are alive eternally. The present participle indicates a continuing trust.” Morris, NIC, 219. ↩
- “The life that Jesus gives is not tame and stagnant thing. It is much more than merely the entrance into a new state, that of being saved instead of lost. It is the abundant life (10:10), and the living Spirit within people is evidence of this. It is more than possible that the words are also an indication that the life within believers goes into action (cf. 7:38; Isa. 58:11). Life has a way of begetting life.” Ibid., 233. ↩
- Tenney says, “Eternal life becomes the possession of the believer at the moment of acceptance; the future judgment will only confirm what has already taken place. The assurance of salvation does not begin at death or at a future judgment.” (EBC, 9:65). Morris remarks, “To have eternal life now is to be secure throughout eternity.” NIC, 280. Carson asserts that, “This is perhaps the strongest affirmation of inaugurated eschatology in the Fourth Gospel.” The Gospel According to John, 256. ↩
- The New Mormon Challenge, 68. ↩