What does it mean to follow Jesus? Mormonism and Christianity answer it so differently. “Following Jesus” is another one of those many phrases used by both but defined so differently. The result is a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
“Follow me.” This was a common way Jesus called people to be his disciples. But what exactly did he mean? Disciples are students who attach themselves to a specific teacher or leader. Both Mormonism and Christianity agree so far.
Their paths split, however, when each gets into the specifics of what Jesus taught. Biblical Christianity says Jesus’ main teaching was that he came to do everything for our salvation. The essence of being a disciple, therefore, is believing and trusting this. That is what Jesus himself said. “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10: 25-27). Following Jesus then becomes a joyous dance. The heavy burden of our sins and guilt is completely lifted off us. We are filled with love for the Lord—love which makes us giddy like Zacchaeus in Luke 19.
Jesus’ substitutionary death is not emphasized in Mormonism. In fact, even though sometimes it talks about Jesus dying for us, it effectively nullifies it. One of Mormonism’s top leaders, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, did that at the 2017 Fall General Conference. In his talk, he talked about being Christ’s disciples and following Jesus. His whole talk, however, was about keeping the commandments. Here is just one example: “No one else is responsible for your personal journey. The Savior will help you and prepare the way before you, but the commitment to follow Him and keep His commandments must come from you. That is your sole burden, your sole privilege. This is your great adventure. Please heed the call of your Savior. Follow Him” (Ensign, November 2017, p. 24). Not once, in his entire talk, did he mention Jesus’ atoning work! Rather it was all about their work—their keeping the commandments.
Stop for a moment, and imagine thinking that, in order to live with God for eternity in heaven, you had to follow Jesus’ example and keep the commandments. Think of how depressing this would be! Why even try? You know you are going to fail. This won’t make you dance. Instead, this will make you trudge.
There are many Mormons who have given up trying. There are others who are still trying but are plodding along, heavily burdened. Be warned: many won’t let you see their struggle as they will put on a happy face. Don’t be misled. Many are truly hurting. Share with them the wonderful truth of Jesus, the Savior, who did it all for them. And let the Holy Spirit do the rest.