Spencer W. Kimball was the twelfth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and was perhaps most famous for his book The Miracle of Forgiveness. This work outlines the traditional LDS teaching on how to acquire forgiveness from God, and it is very different from what the Bible presents. Consider one of Kimball’s teachings.) on this subject:
“It is unthinkable that God forgives sins which are serious after just a few prayers. He is likely to wait until there has been a long, sustained repentance as shown by a willingness to live all his commandments.”
This explanation generates more questions than answers. Why is God’s extreme forgiveness “unthinkable”? What is a “serious” sin? How much obedience is necessary before a person has sufficiently “shown” that he is willing to live all of God’s commandments?
However, these obscurities are not the most harmful aspect of this teaching. What is most disappointing about Kimball’s message is that a sinner in need of mercy is left without any hope or assurance that God will show him any. Forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and redemption all feel out of reach at best—impossible at worst.
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells an amazing parable about forgiveness. Two characters are set in stark contrast to one another: a religious, outwardly-righteous Pharisee and a despised tax collector. One man was looked upon favorably by society, while the other took their money. One was considered to be close to God, while the other… Well, he took their money.
The Pharisee prays to God in this story, thanking Him that he is not like sinners and that he fasts and tithes. The tax collector prays to God also, “unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’”
Jesus’ commentary on this situation is absolutely jarring: “I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
How could it be that the tax collector could be declared forever-innocent by God? After all, it’s almost certain that he never fasted or paid tithes; he would have been involved in the serious sins of deceit, theft, and hating his neighbor. Yet, after a five-word prayer (in Greek), he received forgiveness from God.
The tax collector was forgiven because he appealed to God for mercy with humble faith. The religious man didn’t ask for forgiveness—or even acknowledge sin. He didn’t appeal to God’s mercy or humble himself at all; therefore, justification and exaltation were withheld from him. The sinner, however, not appealing to his own efforts but to God who shows mercy (Romans 9:16), received forgiveness.
Assurance of Pardon
Because of the realities taught in this simple parable, Christians enjoy what can be called the “assurance of pardon.” The apostle John taught that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us on the basis of what Christ has done for us (1 John 1:9). Faith in the biblical gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection results in absolute assurance of God’s eternal forgiveness.
Latter-day Saints need to hear about the biblical gospel and its glorious effect. Assurance is a foreign concept in the works-righteousness system of running up a never-ending descending escalator. There should be no doubt that what makes the good news particularly good to the Latter-day Saint is the offer of true, genuine, eternal rest for their souls because of what Jesus has done.
Christians must be faithful to stress this critical element of the gospel when proclaiming Christ to their LDS neighbors. All sin is serious and results in separation from God with His judgment resting upon sinners in their natural state. However, the Bible teaches that genuine, humble faith, even when expressed in a seemingly small way, is enough for total assurance of pardon. God knows our hearts, and He always blesses the one who has faith in Jesus.