The LDS View
You need to be aware of two points concerning Mormonism’s view of eternal life.
- Mormonism equates eternal life with exaltation. Exaltation is the LDS teaching that people can become gods. Doctrine and Covenants explains that immortality is to live forever as a resurrected being. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone will receive the gift of resurrection. Eternal life, or exaltation, is to live in God’s presence and to continue as families (see D&C 131:1–4). Like immortality, this gift is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, to inherit eternal life, ‘obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel’ is required (Articles of Faith 1:3, Eternal life on churchofjesuschrist.org).
- As the above quote states, Mormonism views eternal life as something people need to earn through their obedience. It sees eternal life as a reward that one may receive in the future. “But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23 emphasis added). An LDS leader explained it this way, “This is the exchange the Savior is asking of us: we are to give up all our sins, big or small, for the Father’s reward of eternal life. . . There are sins of commission and sins of omission, and we are to rise above both” (Robert C. Gay, General Conference, October 2012). Gaining eternal life involves rising above and giving up all sin! Talk about setting the bar incredibly high!
The Biblical View
In stark contrast, the Bible teaches that eternal life is God’s gift. The apostle Paul explains, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, emphasis added).
Jesus further emphasized that eternal life is a believer’s present possession. “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47).
“Hath” is present tense. The person who believes in Jesus already has eternal life. (We prefer using John 6:47 rather than John 5:24 because the LDS Bible footnotes eternal life at 6:47 but doesn’t at 5:24. Using John 6:47 forestalls the missionaries arguing that everlasting life is different from eternal life.)
Mormonism: eternal life is a future reward based on a person’s obedience to the commandments and giving up all sin.
Bible: eternal life is a present gift based on faith (trust) in Jesus’ obedience to the commandments and his payment for all sin.
How to Talk to Mormons About This
Concentrate on the contrast between the teachings of Mormonism and the Bible, not on the fact Mormonism makes eternal life synonymous with exaltation. Ask, “What are the differences between a gift and a reward?” Refer to the quote from Robert Gay above; possibly even print it out. Ask them if they will ever be able to rise above all sin. Show them how “reward” highlights what the receiver does, while ‘gift” highlights the giver and his generosity.
Point to Jesus’ words in Luke 17:7-10. Jesus’ point is that, even if we did all we could, we don’t deserve a reward because we had just done our duty. Unfortunately, the KJV is difficult to understand. Depending on where you are in your relationship with your Mormon friends, use a modern translation if it won’t be an obstacle.
After discussing the difference between eternal life being a gift and a reward, emphasize the present nature of the gift by “bearing your testimony” about the joy and comfort you have right now because you enjoy eternal life right now. This is something many Christians have never really thought through. Therefore, many are reluctant to talk about it, but it’s well worth the effort. Expressing how having eternal life now has positively affected you will often impress them.
We offer the following to aid you as you craft your testimony. In John 5:24, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” Those words demonstrate that eternal life is nothing else than our new life of faith in Jesus. And what a new life it is!
It is entirely a gift from God. We didn’t do a single thing to earn it. In John 5, Jesus describes a person’s conversion to the saving faith as nothing less than a spiritual resurrection. “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). Here, Jesus is not referring to the physical resurrection on judgment day. He says the time “has now come.” (Jesus refers to the final resurrection in verses 28-30.)
Picturing conversion as resurrection is instructive. Just as Lazarus did nothing to be raised physically from the dead – he couldn’t because he was dead – so we didn’t do anything to be raised spiritually from the dead – because we were spiritually dead. Paul put it like this, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
We were dead – we couldn’t do anything. God made us alive. Eternal life is God’s gift to us from beginning to end.
Paul not only said God made us alive but also that God has seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms. Note it is a past, not a future action. This coincides with Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven. (Unfortunately, the KJV uses the old English word “conversation” instead of “citizenship.”) Right now, believers are citizens of heaven, seated with Christ.
As stated above, many Christians haven’t thought this through. Instead, we automatically think of eternal life as something which awaits us in heaven. Although it is true we won’t experience eternal life fully until heaven, this doesn’t negate the fact that we have eternal life right now. The more we live in the light of the fact that we have eternal life right now, the easier it will be for us to journey through our sin-wrecked world.
One of the greatest benefits of focusing on eternal life now is the assurance it gives. We don’t have to worry and wonder if we will receive eternal life. In contrast, Mormons can’t have such assurance because their having eternal life depends on what they do. In our experience, many are intrigued when we talk about our assurance.
In close connection to our having eternal life right now is the fact that right now we have a wonderful relationship with God – again, all because of Jesus. God has reconciled us to himself in Christ. This results in tremendous blessings for us – right now. Many believers fail to realize that, although God loved the world, he loves believers in a special way. The Bible lists quite a few blessings which apply only to believers. Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 John 4:7, and Hebrews 1:14 lists many of those blessings.
The more you think about these things and apply them to yourself, the more confident you will be and the more joy you will experience. Your confidence and joy can then act as magnets attracting and intriguing many Mormons.