I stupidly said judgment would be fair

November 28, 2006    By: Jacob J @ 1:09 pm   Category: Atonement & Soteriology

I walked right into it by using the word fair in the same sentence as judgment. It was a rookie mistake. That led eventually to the following assessment from LXXLuthor:

Like Mogs, it scares the hell out of me to think that I and everyone else will get exactly what they deserve, I don’t deserve anything. And ultimately, I’m not convinced that anyone else does either. In the Book of Mormon, there is definitely a consistent thought that God will judge, maybe has to judge people by their works (1 Ne. 15:32, etc) but there is also the idea that absolutely no one can merit anything but only through Christ’s merits are we able to be reconciled to God (Moro 6:4). …The Mormon obssession with works and fairness is real, and if it appears I may have flipflopped from my previous position in the post, I probably have. In a lot of ways I hope that Paul/Mogget are right.

Almost nothing tires me more than the unending debate over the role of faith and works. Honestly, it makes me want to stack arms. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion, or that I don’t think it is important, but I feel like those debates almost always get lost in semantic equivocation. Thus, I broach the subject with some trepidation.

Most of the time, the argument has to do with what we are “saved” by. Are we saved by faith, or saved by works? Let me sidestep all the usual arguments for a moment and suggest one distinction that is helpful to me. Maybe it will be helpful to you, or (more likely) you can tell me where I am going wrong.

I believe there is a significant difference in what is required of us here in this life and what is required of us at some point in the future eons after this life. Thus, there is a constant tension between the high expectations God has for us eventually as compared to the low standards we are actually able to conform to here on earth. On one hand, we are told that we are less than the dust of the earth (Mosiah 2:25-26), and we know from introspection that there is a lot of truth to that. On the other hand, we are told that heaven has some pretty high standards. For instance, D&C 88 tells us we must be able to live the law of the celestial kingdom if we are to live in celestial glory (D&C 88:22).

So, which is it? Do we have to become celestial (saved by works) or can we be make it to the celestial kingdom based our love and trust of Jesus, relying on his goodness despite our relatively terrible performance in this life (saved by faith)? For me, the answer is a big “yes” to both questions. Yes, we must rely on Jesus to save us because we are all unworthy and sinful. Yes we must eventually become genuinely celestial in order to be like God and live the kind of existence he lives.

Ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel. (Mosiah 4:11)

36 All kingdoms have a law given;
37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.
38 And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.
39 All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified. (D&C 88)

Some see an intractable conflict between these scriptures—two competing views of how we are saved and what is expected of us. To me, it seems quite easy to reconcile them. I expect to do a mediocre job in this life, trying my best at times, but mostly tripping and falling on my face. God, knowing my current weakness, is not going to judge me at the end of this life based on whether or not I achieved celestial status, but on the desires of my heart (D&C 137:8-9). And yet, it remains true that to live in celestial glory I must become a celestial being, capable of abiding by a celestial law. There must be some opportunity for continued progress after life. And behold, I find that such opportunities are nicely accounted for by a millennial reign and then various degrees of glory where we can be “sanctified by law” (D&C 88:21,34-35) and ministered to by angels of a higher order (D&C 76:86-88). Despite my current weakness, I have confidence that if I will stick with it, he will eventually help me become celestial.

So, is that distinction useful? Is it obvious? Is it worn out from over-use? What do you think?


  1. My first reaction to this is strait out of the Gospel Principles Manual:

    The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel–you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 348).

    Now I’ll go back and actually finish reading your whole post :)

    Comment by Matt W. — November 28, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

  2. Jacob,

    I don’t know if you read my last post over fpr but I believe that this life is mostly to gain a body and experience mortality. Some of us even get the opportunity to enter into the covenants and start living them in this life. I think a hard concept for all of us to try to comprehend is that this life right now is a Telestial life in the Telestial kingdom.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — November 28, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

  3. “And now, my brethren, I would that, after ye have received so many witnesses, seeing that the holy scriptures testify of these things, ye come forth and bring fruit unto repentance. Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.” – Alma 34:30-35

    “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” – Book of Abraham 3:25-26

    Comment by Aaron Shafovaloff — November 28, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

  4. Yes.

    I think you are quite right Jacob.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 28, 2006 @ 3:29 pm

  5. “Faith” is “Works.”

    But “Works” are not “Faith.”

    Sorry, this is, at its heart an issue of semantics. No way around it.

    Comment by Seth R. — November 28, 2006 @ 3:34 pm

  6. It’s not a semantics issue. It arises from a misunderstanding of the Pauline concept of faith and a failure to pay attention to the limits of the metaphors. It will also go more smoothly if you’re careful to use the Pauline definition of “salvation.”

    The best place to start is with Paul. Learn what Paul actually said and what he meant by it. Skip the secondary theology literature until you’ve got that down. TRust me. Learn Paul in the primary literature. You’ll never regret the time or the effort.

    Comment by Mogget — November 28, 2006 @ 4:04 pm

  7. Matt W, I love that quote, glad it came to mind for you too.

    Rob, We have discussed D&C 76 before and I don’t really buy into your interpretation of it, but I don’t want to get bogged down arguing about D&C 76 on this thread.

    Aaron, Feel free to elaborate if there is a specific point I am supposed to be learning from those to verses. I can only assume those quotes are intended to show that there is no progression after this life, but I can’t be sure that is what you intend to argue.

    Eric, thanks.

    Seth, I thought you were an “every sin is just as bad as every other” kind of guy, so I was surprised you would say faith is works. Usually those don’t go together in my experience.

    Mogget, I thought a big part of the problem was a lack of consensus on “what Paul actually said” and “what he meant by it.” How will I know when I have discovered his true meaning? Also, I’m curious if you think the distinction I am proposing in the post shipwrecks on anything Paul said.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 28, 2006 @ 6:03 pm

  8. It’s not nearly as ambiguous as folks like to make it out to be. There are points where things are not clear, but you’d be both surprised and delighted when you got around them and could articulate the issues. Lots of the smoke and flames comes from the Reformation and folks who don’t want to let go. In many ways, Pauline scholarship is just now getting over it.

    Trust me. You’ll love actually being able to reason from Romans itself! And you CAN do it.

    I bought an interesting book at SBL on the Joint Agreement between the Lutherans and the RC. I think they agreed that the Reformation was just an unfortunate misunderstanding. But we shall see. I am tired and that’s probably hyperbole.

    I don’t think Paul distinguished so clearly between what happens in this life and in the next in terms of our progression. When Paul pooh-poohs “works,” he’s not deriding the commandments.

    Look here.

    Comment by Mogget — November 28, 2006 @ 6:39 pm

  9. Or, more to the point, Faith encompases Works (being without them it “is dead”). But Works do not always entail Faith.

    My point has always been that it is not the Works that effect the exhalting transformation.

    Comment by Seth R. — November 28, 2006 @ 7:52 pm

  10. Seth,

    I understand the relationship you are suggesting exists between faith and works. I have no idea how you can conclude that our choices/actions don’t determine what we become. Do you think God waves a magic wand over us some day and makes us celestial?

    Comment by Jacob — November 28, 2006 @ 11:24 pm

  11. Mogget,

    I always find that there is a consensus on Paul when I study alone [grin]. I’m good with the New Perspective on Paul. I agree that Paul didn’t distinguish so clearly between what is expected of us in this life vs. the next. I make the distinction in an effort to show that there is no reason to see a conflict between Paul’s doctrine of justification and what you referred to as “all that crap about worthiness” over at FPR. That is, if “that crap about worthiness” was a reference to what I said about people’s glory in the next life being related to their state of progression, which it seemed to be.

    When I stupidly used the words fair and judgement together, I had in mind the idea that our eventual state has to do with what kind of people we become. Obviously, people are different, so there must be different states in the afterlife. This same reasoning was [allegedly] expressed by Joseph Smith as the reasoning that preceded the revelation we know as D&C 76. If glory is tied to our ability to abide by law (as D&C 88 states explicitely), then this seems pretty unavoidable.

    You seem to see a conflict between my view and Paul’s. I can’t see it yet.

    Comment by Jacob — November 28, 2006 @ 11:30 pm

  12. Jacob, there’s a much larger challenge here and it’s not going to be solved by blog posts.

    How do JS and Paul intersect? That will be a life’s work for some budding LDS theologian.

    When JS talks about bodies and kingdoms of glory, is he talking about the same thing Paul is talking about in 1 Cor 15:35-58?

    You’ll need the historical-critical study of both passages to answer that question.

    When JS uses the word “salvation,” is he using it the way Paul does? Once again, you’ll need some heavy historical-critical study to answer that questions.

    If you like this stuff, get some serious schooling and go at it with solid tools and methods.

    And as for the JS anecdote about kingdoms being necessary to account for variety among people…

    It’s not as obvious as it sounds. In fact, most of the world has managed to get by without kingdoms of glory.

    Comment by Mogget — November 29, 2006 @ 5:12 am

  13. Your sins are expiated through the Grace of Christ, not by your repentance or good works.

    Your sanctification is through the Spirit and your repentance and good works.

    And if you endure to the end, you dont give up, then you will be lifted up, or in other words, exalted. See D&C 20:29:31.

    Smith and Paul agree 100%.

    To avoid the semantical problems, please see this.

    Comment by Kurt — November 29, 2006 @ 7:40 am

  14. Mogget,

    Note for Mogget: Please do not read this response as it is likely to make you feel bad again today and I will not have you writing grouchy things about Revelation on account of me.

    I finally get it. The beef you have is not with what I have said, but with my unscholarliness, lack of credentials, and lack of historical-critical analysis in making my point. It is all about methodology, presentation, and credentials. Finally I get it; sorry I was so slow. I made reference to a quote from History of the Church without first demonstrating its authenticity–sloppy and unpersuasive! If I want to say something worth listening to, I should get some “serious schooling,” and use “solid tools and methods.” Obviously, what I am attempting is best left to some budding LDS theologian who actually has a degree in something and can make it their life’s work.

    All this time I thought you had an issue with what I was saying, but the truth was that I have not yet risen to the level of needing refutation. I’m glad that is cleared up. At least I can now see why all my points can be so glibly dismissed without being engaged.

    It’s not as obvious as it sounds. In fact, most of the world has managed to get by without kingdoms of glory.

    If the rest of the world has gotten by without degrees of glory, then they must not be necessary. That’s rich.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 29, 2006 @ 10:55 am

  15. Wow, Jacob calling a spade a spade. Not your normal style but it seems like the appropriate response to Mog’s #12.

    Mogget: With all due respect to the efforts of trained Bible scholars… we Mormons don’t worship scriptures; we worship a living and communicative God. Clearly there has to be a balance between personal revelation and accurate comprehension of the former revelations and opinions of acknowledged prophets. But I suspect that you might be drinking a bit too deeply from the the “historical-critical study of the canon” trough to the exclusion of any other sources for knowledge about theology. (Not surprising considering how immersed in that paradigm you must be as a grad student in the stuff.) But as I said, we Mormons don’t worship scriptures. (Incidentally, I have long been of the opinion that many Christians do worship the Bible whether they recognize it or not). So while canon is an extremely important resource for us to understand proper theology, it can never be the only source of a proper understand of theology as you sometimes imply.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 29, 2006 @ 1:42 pm

  16. “Do you think God waves a magic wand over us some day and makes us celestial?”


    The question is whether we will have created a relationship with Him such that we will allow Him to do it.

    Comment by Seth R. — November 29, 2006 @ 3:48 pm

  17. Seth,

    Thank you for the directness of your response. I always appreciate that from you.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 29, 2006 @ 4:35 pm

  18. Geeze, you are going me make me dust off my BOM and actually look up some scriptures?

    Alma 12:14 For our words will condemn us, Yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this aweful state we shall not dare to look up to our God…

    Mosiah 4:30 But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not awatch yourselves, and your bthoughts, and your cwords, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and dcontinue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish…

    If thoughts words and deeds have the power to condemn you, they most certainly have the power to exhalt you as well. I see them as inseperable in the sense, that you can not have true faith without works… I am also under the belief that you can have works, that have nothing to do with faith.

    Comment by Jake — November 30, 2006 @ 11:56 am

  19. Jake,

    That is a very interesting point about “that which condemns us must have power to exhalt us.” If we can make ourselves into worse people by acting badly, then it seems obvious we can make ourselves into better people by acting goodly. And if becoming better through the exercise of free will is truly unrelated to the transformation we must make in becoming celestial, that would be strange indeed.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 30, 2006 @ 12:35 pm

  20. *caveat: No amount of “goodly” acts can assure us exhaltation, however most of the verses sited would suggest that a lack of them would most certainly delay an arrival to our much sought after destination. It is that whole 2nd Nephi thing… 10:24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved. and 25:23 For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

    It is a common and easy trap for the majority of members to jump on the defensive when approached with the works vs. grace argument. I think it is one of the most oft screwed up concepts. I mean, really.. who bothers to argue or justify polygamy anymore? This one…this one gets my priests all the time.

    Comment by Jake — November 30, 2006 @ 1:13 pm

  21. Are you suggesting Death bed repentance? Surely you jest?

    Of course “Eternal Damnation” is only a “Type” ;)

    Shall we play some Risk?

    Comment by Jake — November 30, 2006 @ 9:31 pm

  22. Goodness gracious!

    Mogs was away for a day entertaining a guest and things got all exciting!

    Here’ a bit of background. Before Mogs was grad student Mogs, Mogs was into scripture. I loved it and I studied it and I read everything I could find. And I knew far more than the rest of the folks in my ward.

    And then I went to grad school and I found out just how little I knew precisely because I had no experience with the behind-the-scenes details like methodologies and formal assumptions. It was heaven and hell in that first year! It was wonderful and awful. I think I aged about a decade and grew younger by two.

    So now, I am sorry I sound like a credential-loving bad doggie. What I want you to know is this: There is wonderful, exciting stuff to be had by formally taking up the study of this stuff.

    It is exhilarating to sit at the feet of an expert and learn the history of the disciple and the methods and the assumptions and the conditions. And it is humbling to learn the details and the pitfalls, the mistakes and the triumphs. And if you are honest, the thing you’ll actually learn most about is yourself.

    When I babble on about methods and rigor and definitions, I wish I were less pedantic. But I have seen great things and I wish others to see them as well. So if you love the subject, why not take a few classes? If time and finances don’t permit it now, make it a long term goal. You’ll not regret it, I think.

    Anyway…nice, chaste, Mogget-kisses all around. Perhaps we should leave off this topic for the moment and let things relax. If there’s anything you can count on around the Naccle, it’s that the subject will come up again. I know I’ll prolly be better off with more thought and less talk for a bit.


    Comment by Mogget — December 1, 2006 @ 6:38 am

  23. Mogget: good for you, if you could recommend a good starting point book on methodologies and formal assumptions, I’d be willing to check it out. Anyway, I nderstand your point of view, but it seems you are saying “You can’t understand”, without addressing the issue. It is somewhat a frustrating response, and I can see Jacob’s POV. (Although hilariously overblown it may be.)

    I’m not allowed kisses from anyone but my mom, wife, daughter, and hershey. Sorry.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 1, 2006 @ 9:05 am

  24. Mogs (#29),

    Well said. I can definitely appreciate the benefits of your study in the excellent posts you write.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 1, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

  25. Edification, Rejoicing? Whats next, Broadway showtunes?

    Comment by Jake — December 1, 2006 @ 2:10 pm

  26. Jake,

    Are you Mormon?

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

  27. Geoff,

    For some reason, I have not yet been banned from the church. In fact, out of desperation (vs. Inspiration) they have seen fit to charge me with the education of pre-mission boys (heaven help us all). I am, in fact an old mission buddy of your dear Jacob. We snuck off on a P-day leaving our companions at the house, ran off to a skate park, and got heatstroke after skating around all day.

    We spent some fun times playing Risk together and driving our companions nuts with the stuff we came up with to toss back and forth. This is not a mere hobby for him, he has been letting these ideas stew for YEARS… You aught to here my “Amway” theory for eternal progression…I just can’t believe it has been 10 years!

    Comment by Jake — December 1, 2006 @ 2:47 pm

  28. Jake – Thanks for the background info. I was just confused by your #36. I wasn’t sure if you hadn’t seen those verses before or if you were just joking around.

    Welcome to the Thang.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 1, 2006 @ 3:33 pm

  29. Pure sarcasm…BTW, anyone bother to count how many times the word “Soterilogy” has been used in this article? I will have to go to Babelfish and see what the English translation is…

    Comment by Jake — December 1, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

  30. I hate to poke the coals since things are dying down but as I seem to have started this slightly heated discussion I think maybe I should say something.

    I like your distinction very much, Jacob. I find it very interesting and helpful, another mouthful to chew on a while. I don’t think it is overused (not for me at any rate). I’ve had the same thoughts as you but I’ve never seen them so well posited. The argument, in fact, was well developed. So developed that I needed to read it carefully twice before your conclusion sunk in fully. I have just one plea, don’t be so quick to anger over us who haven’t worked out faith and works just yet. Anger makes a terrible convictor.

    Comment by LXX Luthor — December 2, 2006 @ 12:01 am

  31. Is it jsut me or have like a third of the comments that were here this afternoon been deleted?

    Comment by LXX Luthor — December 2, 2006 @ 12:02 am

  32. LXX Luthor,

    Thanks for your kind comment, it is very much appreciated. In response to your one plea, I can only offer my apologies. I was not actually angry, but it did seem to me (at the time) that Mogs was becoming annoyed with the speculative nature of the discussion on your thread. Since that’s what we do here ;) and I wanted to say more about it, I thought I’d make my comments over here. In truth, I enjoyed your post very much, and I am looking forward to hearing more of what you have to say.

    Comment by Jacob — December 2, 2006 @ 11:37 am