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Unrepentant Sinners and Mormon Grace

May 31, 2012

Over at LDS & Evangelical Conversations, Eric asks, “Have you been changed by grace?” In this post, he links to and discusses a talk by Brad Wilcox that expresses a particularly Mormon understanding of grace. I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff in the talk (I could probably make a couple of posts writing about different parts of it, since I’ll just put it out there that I don’t really get grace), but one part that Wilcox emphasized was the way that grace changes an individual.

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to…

Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly.

In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.

Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”

Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it.

But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.

I’ve written about this indirectly in many articles with respect to many contentious issues.

I think my post about the role that faith would still play even in a universe where God revealed himself to everyone summarizes the key points. Basically, knowing that God exists doesn’t necessarily mean that one will want to follow God — even if one knows that there are eternal stakes of heaven and hell. An individual must become personally persuaded that heaven is an eternal good and hell is an eternal bad…if not, then a person won’t believe God, even if he believes in God.

What is the process by which an individual is personally persuaded of such? I think that Brad’s post gives the Mormon answer for this.

It is through practice. Much like practicing a piano, the Mormon focus on covenants, repentance, obedience, callings, etc., are designed to prime people to “become comfortable” with God and heaven.

I say this is the Mormon answer to such a question because it seems to me that other religious traditions answer things differently. If we cue the origins of this entire blog’s title and turn to Calvinism, then we have a different solution.

The problem is something the same: humans wouldn’t make it to heaven on our own. But even worse, most of us “are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God.” Rather, God is repugnant to us. His ways seem tyrannical or irrelevant (not sure which is worse there.)

But we don’t just choose to start practicing to get better at seeing God and heaven in a better light. No, God has to reach out with us first. To those — the elect — that he does this to, the reaching out will be irresistible. But ultimately, it is up to God.

Of course…that’s just Calvinism.


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