This is perhaps the most quoted verse in the Bible by Protestant Christianity because it is at the heart of what they believe about salvation. The Catholic Church teaches that in order for a person to be saved they have to perform certain acts and behave a certain way but because of the ideas of a reformer named Martin Luther that concept of salvation began to change until today the generally held belief is that all a person has to do to become saved is simply accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and their entrance into heaven after death is guaranteed.
Because of this belief, many in the Protestant community criticize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claiming they teach that a person can only be saved if they perform certain ordinances and behave a certain way. However, that is not an accurate description because the LDS Church teaches that nearly every person who has ever lived on the earth will go to heaven regardless of how they lived or whether they believed in Jesus or not.
The reason for this erroneous understanding of LDS beliefs is because the LDS Church has a different understanding of heaven than that held by both Protestants and Catholics.
Most Christians believe that heaven is the place where God lives and where sin doesn't exist. Since we are sinful creatures, it is obvious that we can't exist in that kind of environment, but because of God's grace, He forgives us of our sins, thereby allowing us to live with Him. And to be worthy of His act of grace, there is nothing we have to do nor is there anything we can do. God freely and completely takes away our sins simply because of His good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5). This act of pardoning sin is what most Christians call "grace" or "God's unmerited favor." In other words, it is a gift that is given freely with no strings or conditions attached.
They also believe that in heaven there are many mansions (John 14:2). Although there are different interpretations of what this means, it is believed by some that in heaven not everyone will have the same glory or reward. Those who have been more valiant in their walk with Christ will receive a greater reward than those who were less faithful.
As one pastor put it, "When it is said, ["In my father's house are many mansions"], it is meant that there are seats of various dignity and different degrees and circumstances of honor and happiness. There are many mansions in God's house because heaven is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness. Some are designed to sit in higher places there than others; some are designed to be advanced to higher degrees of honor and glory than others are; and, therefore, there are various mansions, and some more honorable mansions and seats, in heaven than others. Though they are all seats of exceeding honor and blessedness yet some are more so than others."
Furthermore, Christians believe that the sinner will live forever but will do so with Satan and his followers outside the realm of heaven. Thus, to a Christian the term "eternal life" refers to living in heaven eternally.
The LDS Church also believes all of these things. They believe that God's grace is an act of unmerited favor that will save all men without them needing to do anything in return. As such, it is truly a free gift from God. They likewise believe there are many mansions or rewards in heaven, depending upon the kind of life a person has lived. And they also believe that all who go to heaven will live there eternally.
However, where they disagree with Christians is in the definition of the word "grace." To a traditional Christian, God's grace, or the pardoning of sin, comes only after a person accepts Christ as their Savior but those who belong to the LDS Church believe that God's unmerited favor comes to everyone as the result of Christ's atoning sacrifice.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming he declared, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) and the apostle John said that Jesus "is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). Christ didn't just die for the righteous but for the sinner as well (Romans 5:8). Paul further explained, "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men" (Romans 5:18, ASB).
Christ took upon Himself the sins of everyone in the world, both the righteous and the wicked, then, upon the cross, He atoned for each sin that every person has or would commit. That means He paid the penalty for everyone's sins. This atonement left no one out. Jesus didn't pay the penalty for the sins of only those who believe in Him but rather His atonement was universal; it included everyone. No matter what sin anyone had committed, the atonement of Jesus paid for those sins in full.
And what did we have to do to receive this act of unmerited favor? Nothing! It was a free gift, given to all men. Whenever the scriptures talk about "grace" it is always in relationship to the atonement of Christ therefore when we talk about God's grace we are talking about the atonement, not something that happens to us based on our acceptance of Christ. God's grace came first and was given before we turned to Christ. It is as a result of God's grace that we are drawn to embrace Christ as our Savior, not something we get after we accept Him.
If that is true then it is just as true that no matter what kind of sin we commit, the penalty for our sins has already been paid in full and that includes those who don't believe in Christ. They are just as much redeemed from their sins as is the most faithful Christian. If that is not true then it cannot be said that Jesus died for the sins of the world and we must therefore believe that Jesus only died for those who believe in Him, not for the sins of the unbeliever.
But if all men are redeemed from their sins then all men must be allowed into heaven. Notice that Paul told the Romans that the act of one righteous man (Jesus) "resulted [in the] justification of all men." The doctrine of justification states that our sins have been pardoned. Thus, according to the Bible, all men have been pardoned of their sins and are therefore qualified to live in heaven for eternity, and, according to the teachings of the LDS Church, that is exactly what will happen. However, if there are many mansions or many degrees of glory or honor in heaven then it is obvious that not everyone will receive the same reward.
The word "mansion" as used in the King James Version is often translated as "rooms" in most newer translations but a mansion is a complete building containing many rooms. Then which meaning is more correct?
The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that in heaven there are three main degrees of glory - Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial - and within each of these there are varying degrees of reward or glory. Thus, we can think of each of these three main categories as "mansions" which have many rooms or degrees of glory in them. The Lord also refers to these three main degrees of glory as kingdoms. And in this same revelation the Lord showed that all men will inherit one of these three main kingdoms of heaven. The only exception to this are those who commit the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
However, although the atonement makes it possible for all men to inherit heaven, it is left up to each of us to decide which mansion of heaven we desire to inherit because each degree has its own requirements and to live in any of them we must meet their requirements.
To obtain the Telestial kingdom a person must be wicked. They must have committed murder or been highly dishonest, selfish, greedy, and unconcerned about the needs of others. These are they who are liars, whoremongers, adulterers, and idolaters. These are the only people who are qualified to live in this kingdom and none other are allowed to enter into it. And here they will live in their resurrected bodies for all eternity. For all practical purposes, as glorious as this part of heaven will be, we can think of it as the slums of heaven.
To obtain the Terrestial kingdom a person is required to have lived a descent life. That means they have treated their fellowman with decency and some degree of compassion and caring. These candidates must have, for the most part, been honest in their dealings with others and honorable in the way they conducted their life. We can think of this mansion as being the middle-class section of heaven.
Then there is the Celestial kingdom and in order to inherit this degree of heaven a person must not only accept Christ as their Savior but demonstrate that acceptance by their commitment to His ways by keeping His commandments. The Lord describes this as being "valiant" in the gospel and those who inherit this mansion can be thought of as living in the exclusive or wealthy section of heaven. This is where God and Christ live.
Those who say they accept Christ but then don't live according to His commandments have not really accepted Christ. As the Apostle John said, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4). Obviously, liars don't belong in this part of heaven. Those who don't qualify to live in the Celestial kingdom become candidates for one of the other two mansions of heaven.
The question has often been asked among members of the LDS Church, what does the Lord mean when He talks about being valiant in the gospel? Does that mean we have to keep all the commandments all the time?
The answer to this question is found in the LDS sacramental prayer which reads, in part, "that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son… and keep his commandments which he has given them" (Moroni 4:3). The word "willing" means to be "eager, enthusiastic, ready, and disposed" to do what God expects of us. Although we may not always do what we know we should, being "willing" means that we have a desire to do what God wants of us even though we may not always do that as well as we would like.
There are two things in this statement that God expects us to be willing to do. The first is to take upon ourselves the name of His Son. To do that is to be willing to be known as a Christian. That means we have a desire to strive to become like Christ, and to show by word and deed that we are His disciples, that He is our Master whom we proudly serve. It means remembering Him in everything we do and say both in public and private so that His countenance shines in us for all to see. If this is our sincere desire then we are being valiant.
The second thing that God expects of us is to be willing to keep His commandments. That is often the part that most people worry about because there are so many commandments that it's hard to know them all let alone live all of them. But the Lord doesn't expect us to keep every commandment perfectly at all times. Instead all He expects is that we are disposed to keeping them. It is something we desire and want to do, even when we fail at it.
However, there is a difference between being willing to keep the commandments yet failing to do so and failing to keep the commandments because we have no real desire to want to do what God asks of us. Although we may sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we have a willing attitude when we don't, God knows the intent of our heart and will judge us accordingly.
But there is more to getting into heaven than just the way we live. Although Christ has paid the penalty of our sins and has satisfied the demands of justice, that doesn't mean we are no longer responsible for our behavior. Although the atonement has freed us from the law, it has indebted us to Christ because He has purchased us with His blood (Acts 20:29). He owns us and it is only through his blood that our sins can be forgiven (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14).
Jesus has said, "I, the Lord, forgive sins, and am merciful unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts… [but] I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive" (D&C 61:2,10). Since Christ has purchased us with His blood He now has the right of deciding who to forgive, who must pay a price for their sins, and what that price will be. If people will accept Him as their Savior, confess their sins and repent of them He is willing to fully forgive them the debt they owe him. But those who don't confess their sins with a humble heart and repent will be required to suffer for their sins. (D&C 19:15).
Even though the atonement insures that all men will inherit some degree of heaven, there is a price that each of us must pay to get there. Those who do not accept Christ and are not willing to repent of their sins will have to repay the debt they owe Him. The only way to avoid this unpleasant and painful experience is to call upon the name of Christ, confess our sins, repent of them, and show a willingness to keep His commandments. Those who do this will enter heaven as though they had never sinned and be crowned with glory and honor. All others will enter heaven after having been beaten with many strips (Luke 12:47-48) and receive a far lesser reward.
Jesus said, "And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matthew 21:22) and the apostle John said, "And whatsoever we ask we receive of him because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (1 John 3:22). Those who want mercy and forgiveness can receive it if they come unto Christ and ask for it. That's what we call repentance. But those who don't repent and ask for forgiveness shall receive neither mercy nor forgiveness.
But Christ didn't die just to get us into heaven. He lived and died to get us into the highest degree of heaven so that we could inherit all that He has. His mission wasn't to die so we could live anyway we wanted. Instead, He came to teach us how to become more like Him. Because of His great love for us, He suffered so that we might not if we called upon His mercy.
But, regardless of how we live, because of the atonement of Christ, which is God's gift of grace to us, in the end everyone will go to heaven.
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