Must "Graduated" Salvation Necessarily Mean "Earned" Salvation?
On a new discussion board I’ve joined to help me sort through some of my questions regarding the gospel, the issue of being comfortable with imperfection came up.
We were discussing the fact that we Mormons have a tendency to “grade” sins on their level of severity: you know, with murder and sex being really bad, drinking and smoking kinda middle-of-the-road bad, and gossiping or judging being not so bad at all.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The preceding paragraph was intended [almost] entirely tongue-in-cheek, so please read with an appropriate dash of humor and don’t hate. Love you guys.)
As I thought about it, I realized that our assigning “wickedness values” to various indiscretions is probably a counter-productive practice. Because when we call one thing “better” or “worse” than another, aren’t we really just either a)–justifying our own sins (“Well, at least I didn’t do that”)…or b)–making it harder for those who have strayed to return (“What I did was so bad, there’s no hope for me”)? I mean, when are we going to realize we’ve ALL strayed? Does it really matter to what “degree”?
So I was pondering why these “wickedness values” exist. And I realized it probably stems, at least in part, from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of a “graduated” salvation (i.e. the three degrees of glory). If we’re not careful to give this issue the thought and care it requires, it’s easy to mistakenly extrapolate merit-based salvation from it. After all, it seems so logical: those who are extra good go to the Celestial Kingdom; those who are pretty good go to the Terrestrial Kingdom; and those who are bad go to the Telestial Kingdom. Oh, and don’t even talk about the ones who are REALLY, REALLY bad…because they go straight to hell (outer darkness).
But what do the scriptures REALLY teach on this subject? As far as I can tell from D&C 76…
- Those who are sanctified by Christ and have received of His grace will inherit Celestial glory (D&C 88:21, D&C 76:92). NOT those who have committed the fewest or “least serious” sins. NOT those who have been the “best” or the “most faithful.” But those whose garments have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, those who have accepted Christ. And there is NOTHING we can do to merit this. It is God’s gift to us.
- Those who will inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom are they who had the opportunity to accept Christ in mortality, but did not. However, in the afterlife, they did accept Him (D&C 76:74). I have no idea what God constitutes an “opportunity” and who should theoretically fit into this category, so please let’s not to go there. It is only God’s to judge. However, I’d point out that there is NOTHING in these verses about the overall “goodness” of these people. It is ALL about the status of their hearts, and when they accepted Jesus.
- Those who will inherit the Telestial Kingdom are they who will never accept Christ, neither in mortality nor the life beyond (D&C 76:82). Interestingly, this is the ONLY GROUP about which the scriptures outline the specifics of their sins: liars, sorcerers, adulterers, warmongers. I believe this is NOT because “only Telestial Kingdom people would commit these ‘kinds’ of sins,” but because the atoning blood of Christ was never applied in their behalf to blot them out, so their works stand to condemn them. And that is simply because they never believed on Jesus’s name.
Please notice that in every instance, the “qualification” for entrance into the various Kingdoms has virtually NOTHING to do with some arbitrary level of “righteousness” or works, but EVERYTHING to do with our acceptance or non-acceptance of Jesus Christ.
What are your thoughts? Am I wrong here? Why is it so easy for us to assume that a model of graduated salvation must necessarily lead to a merit, or works-based, salvation? How can we keep ourselves from falling into this intellectual and spiritual trap? And what can we do to stop discussing sin like it’s a sliding scale of severity and simply love each other into giving our hearts more fully to Christ?