Finding forgiveness in Mormonism is not only uncertain; it depends on you. This is vastly different from the generous forgiveness of God that empowers our forgiveness.
“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men”D&C 64:9-10
Isn’t that striking? According to this Mormon scripture, the Lord chooses whom he forgives while he commands people to forgive everyone.
And his forgiveness is based on our forgiveness. This is how one LDS leader put it. After quoting D&C 64 at the 2017 Fall General Conference, Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk then proceeded to say:
“The teachings of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, are clear: the sinner must be willing to forgive others if he or she hopes to obtain forgiveness.”LDS Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk
In this connection, many often point to the way Jesus concluded his parable about the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. If you recall, after the servant refused to forgive the debt owed him by a fellow servant, the king had him thrown into prison. Then Jesus says,
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”Matthew 18:35
It sure sounds like God won’t forgive us unless we forgive others.
What people often forget is that in the parable it is the king who first forgives the unmerciful servant of his massive debt! He didn’t wait to see if he would be forgiving. He just forgives him.
That is the biblical message.
“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.”2 Corinthians 5:19
First God forgives.
His forgiveness then creates a forgiving spirit in us. If a person doesn’t have a forgiving spirit, like the unmerciful servant, it is evidence they don’t have genuine faith. Having a forgiving spirit is one of the “works” indicating a person’s faith is not dead.
Mormonism, however, flips it.
In Mormonism, first, we must be forgiving. Then we hope God will forgive us. As Echo Hawk said:
“The teachings of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, are clear: the sinner must be willing to forgive others if he or she hopes to obtain forgiveness.”
Mormonism puts the cart before the horse. It changes the effect into the cause.
Instead of forgiveness being a release, it becomes a burden. Mormon forgiveness is drastically different from biblical forgiveness.
May we always appreciate God’s unconditional forgiveness.
Celebrate your forgiveness in Jesus. Joyfully proclaim it to others. Let God’s full forgiveness empower you to forgive others.
2 thoughts on “What do Mormons believe about forgiveness?”
I’m an active Latter-day Saint. I have enjoyed reading these articles. I agree that there is a heavy emphasis on works in the Church (or at least in the culture of the Church in the mid-West). I appreciate that these articles are trying to help people have a better relationship with Christ. While we do have a great responsibility as disciples, our relationship with God shouldn’t be stressful. Discipleship should feel uncomfortable (growth entails discomfort, like when I practice a challenging song on the piano), but it should be an enjoyable experience, not a stressful, anxiety-inducing burden.
What Echo Hawk said is almost right, if the word ‘obtain’ was ‘retain’ I think there would be no fault with the quote. Looking at Matthew 18 parable. It looks like the servant was humbled in his realization that He had an impossible debt and would lose everything. He begged for forgiveness and received it, but didn’t retain it because of the grudges he held onto.
For me, what use is being forgiven if I don’t retain it? If I ask for forgiveness from alcoholism but don’t maintain sobriety what good does it do me? There is a balance of perspective to consider here. On the one hand, my belief in Christ can bring me peace and strength to keep trying each time I relapse. It can free me from the cycle of self-loathing. On the other hand, if I think that retaining my forgiveness is unconditional, in the extreme case, I could feel like there’s no problem with my alcoholism and deceive myself into thinking I’m right with God when I’m actually separating myself from Him and from those around me.
Thank you for your encouragement – and for recognizing our sincere desire to help more discover the relief found when we trust in Christ alone.
“Retain” v. “obtain” is actually even more of a burden. For example, it’s one thing to get recertified for CPR every year. It would be quite another to have to re-obtain it every day, hour or minute. When it comes to abandoning sin (part of the LDS definition for repentance), forgiveness would now seem completely out of reach. It doesn’t just apply to sins like alcoholism, but also to other commands like “Be content,” “Do not worry” or any unclean thought or unkind word. Now, because forgiveness would depend at least in part on our actions, whether speaking of “obtain” or “retain,” we could never be sure we had it.
What a difference it makes to know that because of Christ’s complete work for us, we have the full assurance of forgiveness right now.