It’s true: The Bible does teach two ways to heaven
Before you charge me with heresy, let me quickly add the word “theoretically”. In theory, the Bible teaches two ways to heaven: through Jesus’ perfection or through a person’s own perfection. The Bible, however, repeatedly shows that the second option is impossible because everybody sins. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
The only real option is trusting in Jesus’ perfection. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6, my emphasis).
As I stated above, the Bible, on occasion, does theoretically talk about salvation based on a person’s own perfection. This is important to remember especially when witnessing to Mormons. Sometimes Mormonism uses those verses in an attempt to support its emphasis that people must contribute to their salvation.
One of their favorite passages is the story of the rich young ruler. A good example of how they refer to it is seen in a talk given by the LDS leader, Elder Larry R. Lawrence, at last fall’s general conference. He first quotes Matthew 5:48 (“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”). He then proceeds to expand on perfection by referring to the rich young ruler. He first escribes him like this; “He was a righteous young man who was already keeping the Ten Commandments but he wanted to become better. His goal was eternal life.” He then goes on to relate how the young man asked Jesus what he still lacked. Jesus told him if he wanted to be perfect, he had to go and sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Elder Lawrence then quotes a former president of the LDS Church, Harold B. Lee. “Every one of us, if we would reach perfection, must (at) one time ask ourselves this question, ‘What lack I yet?’”
What a twisting of Scripture! Lawrence has taken Jesus’ words as proof that the young man could attain perfection on his own. If that were the case, if people could attain their own perfection, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to come and be our Savior.
Jesus said this, not because he thought the rich young ruler could attain perfection, but to show him the impossibility of doing that! He used a commandment for its God-given purpose: to show this man his sin (Romans 3:20). It’s important to see that the young man asked Jesus what he had to do. In effect, Jesus said: OK, if your question is what you have to do, then the answer is: everything. By answering like this, Jesus hoped the young man would come to his senses and realize the impossibility of that.
It’s similar to a father whose son has a big head because he is a decent basketball player. To take him down a notch, he has his good friend, NBA star Steph Curry, come over, play him, and put him in his place. He would do this, not because he thought his son was as good as Curry, but to show him his short-comings. Contrary to what Elder Lawrence said above, the rich young man hadn’t kept the Ten Commandments. He only thought he had. Therefore Jesus tried to bring him to his knees in repentance.
Elder Lawrence is not the only Mormon who likes this story. LDS missionaries often refer to it as well. Whenever a Mormon refers to it, they do so to try and prove that both faith and works are necessary for salvation.
When they bring it up, I respond that it does not teach that receiving eternal life is based on faith and works. Jesus never mentions faith! He doesn’t tell the young man to believe and sell everything. If this story proves anything, it is that theoretically a person can attain eternal life through works. The fact that Jesus doesn’t ever mention faith is something most Mormons had never thought about.
Here’s the punch line. The Bible does teach two ways to heaven – theoretically. But it doesn’t teach a third way – the LDS way. It doesn’t teach a combination of trusting in both Jesus’ perfection and personal perfection. Either a person has to trust they can do it all or they must trust Jesus did it all. In either case, it is all or nothing and not a combination of the two.
I’m so thankful Jesus did it all for me. And for you. And for all people. May this message be proclaimed to all.