It’s always a challenge for Mormons when someone asks them if they are saved. The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, because Mormons don’t believe you can be saved by saying the right words and being done with it. It is a life-long event for Mormons, and so they might more correctly answer, “I’ve taken the first steps and now I’m working on continuing faithfully to the end.”
In 1998, Dallin H. Oaks, a Mormon apostle, wrote a response to this question that effectively outlines how Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) use the word saved. In order to understand another faith accurately, you have to “speak their language.” I’ll be referring to Elder Oaks’ talk as I discuss this topic. You can read the complete talk here:
Elder Oaks explains that people who ask that question usually want to know if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior. A baptized, practicing, and believing Mormon can comfortably answer yes to this question, since it is a requirement of baptism. Mormons baptize at age eight, considered the age of reason, and the child (or converts older than eight) is required to gain a testimony of Jesus Christ before getting baptized.
“To Latter-day Saints, the words saved and salvation in this teaching signify a present covenant relationship with Jesus Christ in which we are assured salvation from the consequences of sin if we are obedient. Every sincere Latter-day Saint is “saved” according to this meaning. We have been converted to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we have experienced repentance and baptism, and we are renewing our covenants of baptism by partaking of the sacrament,” Elder Oaks explains.
Mormons don’t believe that having said the words means you have a free pass for the rest of your life, free to do anything you want, even if it involves sinning—or doing nothing but waiting for death. God left us on the earth for a reason, and those reasons involve living a life according to the requirements of the Savior.
To begin with, the Bible includes a requirement for baptism. That demonstrates that words aren’t going to complete the process. Actions must follow, starting with baptism by immersion. Even Jesus Christ, who was sinless, insisted that John baptize Him.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, KJV of the Bible)
Mormons use the word saved in at least six ways, following the usage found in the Bible. Most of these ways involve some choices and actions on our part. The Book of Mormon says:
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. …
26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins (2 Nephi 25).
In other words, we can be saved only through the atonement of Jesus Christ, but that atonement is not a license to sin. It allows us to be saved because we could not be saved of our own efforts. We do our part—accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, repent, get baptized, strive to live a life of love and obedience, and make covenants with God. Jesus does what we cannot do for ourselves, and this is the purpose of the atonement.
Let’s look at the six ways Elder Oaks defines the word “saved.”
We have been saved from eternal death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). This is one form of being saved.
When Jesus Christ was resurrected, He broke the bonds of death so we all could live again after death. This gift is given to everyone equally, no matter how worthy or unworthy he or she is. There are no conditions beyond being born.
We can be saved from (but not in) our sins. This means we can be cleansed from our sins. This requires some action on our part, because we must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and repent of our sins. Most Christians agree this is true, so they do believe we must perform certain acts in order to be saved. Elder Oaks explains:
“Many Bible verses declare that Jesus came to take away the sins of the world (e.g., John 1:29; Matt. 26:28). The New Testament frequently refers to the grace of God and to salvation by grace (e.g., John 1:17; Acts 15:11; Eph. 2:8). But it also has many specific commandments on personal behavior, and many references to the importance of works (e.g., Matt. 5:16; Eph. 2:10; James 2:14–17). In addition, the Savior taught that we must endure to the end in order to be saved (see Matt. 10:22; Mark 13:13).
Relying upon the totality of Bible teachings and upon clarifications received through modern revelation, we testify that being cleansed from sin through Christ’s Atonement is conditioned upon the individual sinner’s faith, which must be manifested by obedience to the Lord’s command to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37–38). “Verily, verily, I say unto thee,” Jesus taught, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5; see also Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37–38). Believers who have had this required rebirth at the hands of those having authority have already been saved from sin conditionally, but they will not be saved finally until they have completed their mortal probation with the required continuing repentance, faithfulness, service, and enduring to the end.”
In other words, you can’t accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and then head out to rob a bank. Doing so makes it clear you have not really accepted Him as your Savior. You have been given your entire life to demonstrate the sincerity of your conversion.
It’s important to note that mere obedience is not enough. The Pharisees and Scribes loved to obey commandments (at least in public), but Jesus didn’t have much respect for most of them. He said they were hypocrites. They sinned privately while punishing others for doing what they themselves did privately. More importantly, their obedience had nothing to do with love for God and a desire to please Him. They were obedient because they loved the titles and power and rewards that came with their jobs. That sort of obedience is meaningless to God. Obedience has to be the result of the pure love of Jesus Christ. It has to spring from our faith and our love. The greater our love and our testimony, the more cheerfully we will obey.
Parents know that it is extremely bad parenting to let children do anything they want. There must be clear guidelines, rewards, and punishments. This is how God set up His kingdom, He being a wise and loving Father. The guidelines are commandments and they are not optional. Children often obey their parents initially in order to get a reward or to avoid a punishment, but the goal is always for them to obey simply because they know those family rules are wise and true. God also wants us to work toward obedience done for love, rather than for the promised rewards or to avoid the Biblically-pronounced punishments. When we reach that stage, we are true Christians.
Although we can’t cover all six ways the Bible uses the term saved, there is one other important aspect of salvation that needs to be mentioned, and in this, Mormons are fairly unique. Mormons do not believe you are condemned eternally if you never hear of Jesus Christ and never have an opportunity to accept Him as your Savior or to be baptized. Jesus Christ’s ministry depends on light, or knowledge. God created us and decides when and where we will born, the conditions of our initial life, whether or not we will be taught the gospel, and when we will die. It would not be characteristic of a loving father to place a child on earth, end his life, and then punish him for dying before someone else chose to baptize him. God loves every one of His children equally and wants us all to return home to Him. He planned for the atonement to cover those who die in spiritual darkness with no knowledge of the gospel and no opportunity to accept or reject it. Mormons believe that children who die younger than eight go straight to God. Older people who die without having been given a fair chance will have that opportunity after death.
Without question, Mormons are saved because they have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, been baptized, received the Holy Ghost, and made sacred covenants with Him that they are working to keep. In the end, it is Jesus Christ, not mankind, who will decide if we have been true Christians.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.