"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (New Testament, Ephesians, Ephesians 2:8-9)
I have a friend at work that was raised Christian Evangelical. We were having a gospel-centered conversation and he told me that he had known several ex-Mormons who had left him with a bad impression of the LDS Church. These several ex-Mormons had grown up LDS, and they criticized the LDS Church for its rigid standards. According to the ex-Mormon's, the LDS Church's rigid standards were too hard to live up to, and alienated them from their faith community. According to them, the Church's rigid legalistic standards divided the Church instead of unifying it.
According to my friend's view of Christianity, the Church of Christ should be unifying and not exclusive. When it comes to sin, my friend quoted Eph 2:8-9 and expressed the opinion that no one of us is without sin, salvation is by the grace of Christ and not works, and that all of us are beset by the natural man and cannot escape it in this life.
I hear Eph 2:8-9 quoted a lot here in the South. But I am so facinated in the rest of the epistle of Ephesians. While it is absolutely 100% true that we are only saved by the grace of Christ, I was wondering if Paul's "grace" excluded righteousness. My friend also said that he didn't like the LDS use of the words "worthy" and "merit" and "righteousness". According to him, no one without Christ is worthy or righteous or merits anything (true). And becoming sanctified and perfected is something that doesn't happen in this life in our corrupt bodies because of the natural man. So, should the true Church of Christ forget preaching against sin and for repentance at all? Should the true gospel only carry a positive and inclusive message?
We also talked about the Old Testament temple and the Law of Moses and how the purpose of the Law of Moses was that it was, by design, impossible to live. In this way, the Law pointed us to Christ and underline our need for a Savior. He saw the OT Temple as divisive where only 1 person, once a year could enter into the Holy of Holies while the women and Gentiles were allowed to observe but still segregated and excluded from full participation. Although, my friend believes in the restoration of the Temple in the Last Days, the Latter-day Temple wouldn't be as divisive.
So, with Eph 2:8-9 in mind, I wanted to list some of the other things Paul had to say to the Ephesians about righteoussness, worthiness, and holiness.
"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:" (New Testament, Ephesians, Ephesians 1:4)
We should be holy. But what is holiness? Is holiness just the attitude of humility before God and recognition of our sinfulness and unworthiness?
"And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:" (New Testament, Ephesians, Ephesians 2:6)
How do you "sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus?" Is sitting together in heavenly places mean we only recognize our sinful nature but still helplessly continue in sin?
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (New Testament, Ephesians 2:10)
What does Paul mean and how do we "walk [in/unto] good works".
"For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall (veil) of partition between us;... Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God." (New Testament, Ephesians 2:14;19)
How does the gospel of Christ unify all peoples (Jew and Gentile) and end the segregation that even existed in the Holy Temple?
"And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God," (New Testament, Ephesians 3:9-10)
How are the mysteries of heaven revealed and how is the fellowship with the principlalities and powers in heavenly places obtained?
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love," (New Testament, Ephesians 3:17)
After we accept Christ and His spirit dwells in our hearts, will the believer manifest this by having an attitude of universal love, acceptance and tolerance of not just all people but also their behavior; whatever it is? Isn't this the doctrine of the LGBT community? How do you accept the sinner but not condone the sin? Should the Church of Christ even talk about sin and repentance at all and just stick with a positive message of grace, charity for the poor, and universal inclusiveness.
"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called," (New Testament, Ephesians, Ephesians 4:1)
How do we walk worthy of our vocation to be disciples of Jesus Christ? Does that involve repentance, righteousness, or just humility, charitable giving, inclusiveness, and tolerance of sin?
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, (New Testament, Ephesians, Ephesians 4:3-5)
How do we achieve a spirit of unity and peace and ultimately a unity of the faith? Do we achieve unity through a positive-only doctrine of humility, grace, charitable giving, unconditional inclusiveness and tolerance?
"This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness." (New Testament, Ephesians 4:17-19)
The unsaved Gentiles are blind, ignorant and alienated from God because of their vanity and pride. The proud and blind Gentiles are without Christ and as a consequence have fallen victim to lascivious behavior. What is lasciviousness? Paul doesn't seem to have a problem talking about sin. Is it okay to feel convicted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, or godly sorrow or even guilt at church? In addition to encouragement, should Christ's church just carry an exclusively positive, popular, and entertaining message? Can you preach repentance and still be encouraging and positive. [This was the beef the wiked priests of Noah had with the ancient American prophet Abinadi's message before burning him alive]
"And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." (New Testament, Ephesians, Ephesians 4:24)
After we accept Christ and put on the new man, what does Paul mean by being righteous and holy?
1. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour:
2. let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.
3. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands
4. give to him that needeth.
5. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth,
6. grieve not the holy Spirit of God,
7. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
8. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (New Testament, Ephesians 4:25-32)
So, Paul finally begins to define what he means by worthiness and holiness and righteousness with this admonition against negative behavior and for positive behavior. Paul continues in Chapter 5:
"But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks." (New Testament, Ephesians, Ephesians 5:3-4)
Some may say this is just a list of good and bad behavior that the believer in Christ will strive towards. But our success in complying with these stipulations will make zero impact on our eventual assured salvation. But then Paul says:
"For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." (New Testament, Ephesians 5:5)
Well, not having an inheritance in the Kindom of Christ and of God is not the kind of salvation I want. But does it matter if I am actually successful in avoiding sin or is it enough to just wish to avoid sin but continue fornicating, abusing drugs, and cheating on my taxes? Where is the unity here? Is there unity if I tell my spouse that I didn't mean to spend all my paycheck on illicit drugs or that I couldnt resist an affair with a co-worker because of the weakness of the flesh, but that I still maintain a hope in Christ? Is there unity when I get cast into prision for tax evasion?
Maybe if the sins involve direct harm to others, that is a problem but the church shouldn't guilt us over drinking alcohol or fornication with another consenting adult because these indulgences don't harm anyone else. Oh wait, Paul already mentioned fornication.
"Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. ... And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." (New Testament, Ephesians 5:6-7;11)
Paul not only warns of the wrath of God that will come upon the disobedient but also says thay the Saints should specifically "reprove" these "unfruitful works of darkness".
"And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;" (New Testament, Ephesians 5)
Okay, these words of Paul should cover the prohibition against alcohol and drug abuse. Paul suggests taking these substances detracts from being filled with the Spirit of God.
Paul ends his epistle to the Ephesians by telling them to love their wives and children and a beautiful teaching for the Saints to put on the whole armor of God. The whole armor in addition to the helmet of salvation, shield of faith and sword of the spirit also includes the loins girt with truth and the breastplate of righteousness. When it comes to what it means to be honest and righteous, I think Paul has sufficiently defined what he means by thise terms in the preceding chapters.
As far as my work colleague goes and his ex-Mormon friends who criticized the LDS Church for maintaining the same standards that Paul sets forth in Ephesians and in his other epistles like Rom 1, 1 Cor 5:11, Gal 5, etc. The great mystery is that it is personal righteousness, purity and holiness that brings the promise of peace, safety and unity in this life and exaltation in the next. There can be no unity in a family or a community or a nation without virtuous living, honesty, integrity, and fidelity.
The LDS Church doesn't seek to ostracize any of its members or anyone else who may be struggling with sin. When you go attend an LDS Church, no one has any idea about your personal life unless it made the 6 o'clock news. But LDS Church members don't just come to Church and sit in the back row and leave early before the closing prayer. LDS Churches have no professional clergy and rely on its membership to accept callings to play the organ, or teach Sunday School. As part of these callings, the Bishop may ask if the person is worthy to hold the calling. These personal and private worthiness interviews come up from time to time and provide a wonderful oportunity to make confession and receive needed guidance, assurance, and encouragement. For some who are unrepentant, and have chosen not to live up to God's standard, they are not shunned by our community, but in most cases, simply stop attending because they feel convicted in their heart for their sins and are not ready to give up whatever vice it is that they are holding on to. If there is anyone who has left for feeling unfairly judged by another member, that is unfortunate, and not what the Church of Jesus Christ is about.
All Christians look forward to the promised Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the usuring in of His great millennial kingdom. We are told that Christ's kingdom will be accompanied by the restoration of the Holy Temple. But the new temple will not be like the OT Temple which was built up to only one nation, one kingdom, one tongue and one people. The Latter-day temple which has already been restored to the Earth has been established to every kingdom, nation, tongue and people and sets up a standard of virtue which God and His apostles have defined very clearly in scripture. The Holy Temple as an institution upholds the standards of virtue, righteousness, and holiness that will one day become the light by which all men will live and be judged. Through the Holy Temple a moral and virtuous people will be enabled to select moral and virtuous leaders that will honestly seek the betterment of society. Our leaders will not be chosen based on merit, genetics, family relationship, or secret association.
Only by living these standards of holiness, worthiness, and righteousness will be be enabled to choose righteous leaders, raise healthy families and establish productive and equitable communities which will ultimately bring about the paradisiacal heaven on Earth that all Christians hope for. On the flip-side, just as Paul and the LDS Proclaimation in the Family has warned that disobedience to these commandments will bring upon individuals, families, communities and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
Only a true return to Christ, which is a return to virtue, can save us. Only preaching the gospel of Christ which is the conditions of repentance and the standards of virtuous and righteousness living will end poverty. Only the gospel of repentance will bring peace, safety and prosperity.
There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked. (Old Testament, Isaiah 48:22)