The Jesus of the MormonsPastor Lutzer | December 14, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
Is the Jesus the Mormons believe in the same Jesus as Christians believe in? No. Mormons believe that Jesus is a created being and the brother of Satan, and though He may provide a means to the Father, it’s our obedience that pays for sin.
This frail and weak version of Jesus crumbles in the face of the biblical Jesus. The Christian Bible shows us that Jesus is God of very God, an eternal member of the Trinity. He holds the universe together, and has secured our redemption through His blood.
“I talked to this Mormon and he believes exactly as we do.” Those are the words of an Evangelical Christian who knows the Christian faith, and who was witnessing. Is God our heavenly Father? The answer is yes. Was Jesus Christ God? Yes. Is Jesus our Savior? Yes, again. In recent years Mormons have been repositioning themselves to appear Evangelical. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has blessed homes for many decades, and Bibles are being given away.
So the question is, “Who are the Mormons or the Church of the Latter Day Saints, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints,” as they like to point out. Their church, they say, is built upon Jesus Christ. In Independence, Missouri, the Mormons have renamed themselves. They are called The Community of Jesus Christ.
So how big is the divide between what we call Mormonism, or as they prefer, The Church of the Latter Day Saints? How big is the divide between their teaching and our teaching?
Now those who attend here regularly know that I am in a series of messages entitled Rumors About Jesus, and we’re talking about different understandings of Jesus, such as the Jesus of the Da Vinci Code, or the Jesus of The Jesus Seminar, so today we come and we ask this question. Let no one leave here saying, “Well, you know, he attacked Mormonism.” It’s not my desire to attack anybody. All that we are doing is making a comparison of teaching and saying, “Is this the same Jesus that we are talking about?” That’s fair enough.
And furthermore, it is important to understand that as we go through this I’m going to be doing some reading, particularly because of the quotations. But I’ll let you know where this is going, and then at the end of the message I will surprise you by quoting someone who agrees with the thesis that indeed it is a different Jesus, because I think that what we’re going to discover is that Mormons use our vocabulary but not our dictionary. They use our words but they do not use our definitions.
For example, let’s just begin with a very basic question. The question is, “How many gods are there?” That’s a good question, isn’t it? I was going to talk to you about Helmut Thielicke, the great German theologian, who was bicycling through Europe one day and was ravenously hungry because he had had no breakfast. And he came to a shop that said, “Hog Rolls,” so he got off his bike, very excited to go inside, and he discovered that it was not a café. It was a print shop. What was on the window was simply an example of the kind of lettering that the print shop was able to do.
So I need to tell you today that what we’re going to do is to go behind the words, and we’re going to go into the print shop and see if this is what we’re talking about, and is it compatible with what we believe? But let’s begin with a question of how many gods are there? Well, the Mormon doctrine, originally in the Book of Mormon, said that there was one God. But Joseph Smith evolved in his understanding, and in 1842 he said that the true translation of Genesis reads, “The head of one of the gods brought forth the gods, and after that the heads of the gods appointed one god for us, Elohim, and thus Elohim became the god of this world.
How many gods are there then for The Latter Day Saints? Well, Brigham Young was asked the same question, and he said, “I do not know how many gods there are, but there never was a time when there were not gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are passing through.”
In 1844, Joseph Smith gave what is known as the famous King Follett Discourse. It was given at a church in conjunction with a funeral. And he revealed a great secret, and the secret is this: “God Himself was once as we are now, and that is an exalted man and He sits enthroned in yonder heavens. In fact,” he said, “if we could pull back the veil we’d discover that there was a man in heaven who was a man just like Jesus Christ became a man.” He continues. “We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil that you may see. It is the first principle of the Gospel,” he says, “to know for certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with Him as a man converses with another, and that He (God) was once a man like us.”
Now think this through. If God was like us, you can see that the difference between us and God is really not one in kind but one in degree. This is very important to understand, that in this theology there is a continuum of beings, and all beings are basically on that continuum.
So Smith continues: “Here then is eternal life, to know the only wise God and true God, and you have to learn how to be gods yourselves, and kings and priests to God, the same as all the gods have done before you.”
One more quote! I’ve got too many here, and I must rush but, “The head God called together the gods, and sat in the Grand Counsel to bring forth the world. The Grand Counselors sat at the head in yonder heavens and contemplated the creation of the worlds. In the beginning the head of the gods called the council of the gods. They came together and concocted a plan to create the world and the people in it.”
Could I hurry along? But I need to give you a very famous quote that is found throughout their literature. I think it was originally given by Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president and prophet of the Mormon Church. “As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may be.” Salvation is really a quest for divinity, the same kind of divinity that Jesus has. Even Dr. Stephen Robinson of Brigham Young University, who wants to prove that Mormonism is Christian, said, “It is indisputable that Latter Day Saints believe God was once a human being, and that human beings can become gods.”
Well, if we can’t agree on the number of gods there are and the nature of God, so far it’s not going well if we think in terms of compatibility at these points. But the focus of my message is the Mormon teachings about Jesus Christ. In fact, in a pamphlet entitled What the Mormon Church Thinks of Christ, there is this quote: “Christ is our redeemer and our savior. Except for Him there would be no salvation and no redemption, and unless men come to Him and accept Him as their Savior, they cannot have eternal life in His presence.” The booklet goes on to say that He, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of the world and the divine Son of God. But remember, folks, we’re talking about the same words but different definitions – the same vocabulary but a different dictionary.
So what do Mormons teach about Jesus Christ? First of all, Christ was a created being. In fact, all human beings lived prior to this life in what is called pre-existence. And in the book, The Doctrine and the Covenants, which is the highest form of authority, we read that from the time of their spirit birth the Father’s pre-existent offspring were endowed with agency and subject to certain provisions. The pre-existent life was thus a long period, undoubtedly an infinitely long one of probation, progression and schooling. Christ, the firstborn, was the mightiest of all the spirit children of the Father.
James Talmage says in The Articles of Faith, “Among the spiritual children of Elohim, the first-born was and is Jesus Christ.” And how did Christ come about? “Christ came about through a sexual relationship between Elohim, who was an earth god, and his celestial wife. Later, in order to produce the body for this special spirit child, the Father God again had relations, this time with the virgin Mary, who then became Jesus’ earthly mother.” I’m going to comment on that in just a moment.
Secondly, Mormonism teaches that Christ is Satan’s brother. Since Satan and his demons were also pre-existent spirit creations of Elohim, and so forth, let me just hurry to the quote. I can’t give you everything that I have here. Jess L. Christiansen, director of the LDS Institute of Religion at Utah State University, writing in A Sure Foundation publication says, “Both Scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our heavenly father, and therefore spirit brothers. Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother.”
Now remember that the difference between Jesus and Lucifer is not one in kind. It’s a matter of degree. They are all on the same continuum. Will Jesus Christ reign as King of kings and God of gods? Yes, but so will millions of other people reign in the same way. As Brigham Young said, “All men are king of kings and lord of lords in embryo.” Mormons deny the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Mormonism denies that Mary was pregnant as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit. It proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which he performed his mission in the flesh was sired by the same holy being that we worship as God, our eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was he begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the son of the eternal father.
Let me quote again Stephen Robinson, who wants to make Mormonism appealing to Christians and show that they are one and the same. “Thus God the Father became the literal father of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father. The official doctrine of the church is that Jesus is the literal offspring of God. He’s got 46 chromosomes. Twenty-three came from Mary and 23 came from God, the eternal Father.
Brigham Young, speaking under divine inspiration, said that when the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten Him in His own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family, Adam.
And let me go on to the tenth Mormon president and prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, who said, “Christ was begotten of God. He was not born without the aid of a man, and that man was God.”
(Sigh) It may be a little difficult to take, and I’m reading far too quickly because I am trying to summarize, but I think it’s time to take a breath of fresh air and think about this now for a moment. If God had an intimate relationship with Mary and the result was Jesus, and if Mary was also married to Joseph, it would mean that Mary actually had two husbands because the Father would not enter into that intimate sexual union unless the Father were married to Mary. But then she’s also married to Joseph so she ends up with two husbands (Does she not?), which is exactly what Brigham Young said. He stated that Joseph had only one wife, but Mary had two husbands – Joseph and God.
Now if you ask a Mormon, “Do you believe in the virgin birth?” it’s possible that they will say yes. But I need to tell you what they mean is this, that Jesus Christ came about as the result of an immortal father, not a mortal one, and so in that sense they say they do believe in the virgin birth, but not in our sense. And they deny that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit.
Well, Mormonism also denies that Christ’s work on the cross actually is able to forgive us our sins and give us the assurance of eternal salvation. Mormonism repeatedly claims that it believes in the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ. Mormons gladly affirm that Christ died for our sins. There are all kinds of quotes that will tell you that we cannot be saved apart from Christ. But in Mormon theology Christ’s death achieved two things. First, it guaranteed the physical resurrection of all men. In that sense He purchased immortality for us. And second, His atonement defeated spiritual death in the sense that we now have the right to come back to the Father through obedience to the Law.
For example, in The Doctrine and the Covenants, again the highest authority in the church, we read, “This is the testimony of the Gospel of Christ, concerning them who shall come forward in the resurrection of the just, that by keeping the commandments, they might be washed and cleansed from all of their sins.” Thus, Mormons say, “Without the atonement of Christ we could not be saved, but this does not mean that forgiveness is available to everyone or assurance.” One is saved through keeping the commandments, and a celestial marriage also becomes a part of this.
Now, I’ve given you this background to simply ask the question, are we on the same page? I want you to take your Bibles and turn, if you would, to Colossians 1 where the Apostle Paul talks about Jesus Christ. And we’ll be aided in our study if we keep what we have heard in the background of our minds.
Paul says in Colossians 1:15: “He (speaking of Christ) is the image of the invisible God.” Number one, what we want to do is to affirm that Jesus Christ is God, and that there is only one God (Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God is one.), and that there is a Trinity, yes, because Jesus Christ is called God, the Father is called God, and the Spirit is called God. But only one Spirit pervades the whole universe, and that one Spirit is God. And Jesus is the image of God.
Now, you way, “Well, Adam was created in God’s image too,” which is correct so there were similarities between Adam and God, but you’ll notice that the Bible says, “God created Adam in His own image.” You don’t have the word creation used here for Jesus Christ. He IS the image of the invisible God. Nobody created Him that way. He IS the image of the invisible God.
And then he goes on to say “the firstborn of all creation.” Does that mean that Jesus was born first? Does it mean that Jesus is first in relationship to time? No, because the word firstborn, as it is used in the Bible, has entirely to do with rank. It has to do with position.
Let me give you an example. In the Old Testament David had many sons, and yet Solomon was born to him, and in the Psalms it says that Solomon was declared to be the first-born. And you see this also when it comes to Jacob and Esau. Jacob, of course, was the younger of the twins, and yet Jacob, because he had the rights of the first-born, eventually was known as the first-born.
What he’s talking about is the preeminence of Jesus Christ over all other options. Historic theology, traditional theology, if I might use that word, always has affirmed that Christ is God, a very God. I can’t take time out today to give you all of the passages upon which this is built, but it’s a coherent view of Christ that can be affirmed in dozens and dozens of passages, both in the Old Testament and the New – a God – a very God.
Now once you say that Jesus Christ is God, there are several things that follow. It says in the Psalms, “From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God.” So there was no time when Jesus had a beginning. He had a beginning in Bethlehem, but not in eternity. In Bethlehem He assumed human nature and a human body, but He was the one whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting.
So first of all, let me say that He is from everlasting to everlasting, and there is only one God. A council of the gods did not get together and decide what to do, and then one god was appointed for earth, where there may be other gods appointed to other earths. No, no, no! There is one God, and Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And don’t let folks who come to your door in twos make you read that to say that there was “a god,” because, you see, if there was “a god” (In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was a God.) what is the Bible teaching? Is it teaching a plurality of gods? Of course not! There is one God, Jesus, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation!
And now we get very explicit in verse 16. It says, “For by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.” Now just think this through. If Jesus created all things, He Himself is not a created being. It is unthinkable that He would have created Himself, Ex nihilo. No, no, no, no! Jesus created everything - whether it be visible or invisible. The things that you can see – the demonic spirits were at one time angels. Angels themselves, of course, are a creation of God. We are a creation of God, and ultimately He created the matter that we use and we rearrange in this world to make all kinds of things like houses and technology. He is the creator of all things so there is no one who is participating with Him in the creation. Everything is subject to Him.
You’ll notice it says, “Whether they be visible or invisible, thrones or powers or authorities.” Think this through now. If Jesus is the creator of everything, everything has to be subject to Him because He could choose to annihilate anything. I mean, ultimately it is in His hands.
I want you to know that the circumstances that you face in life, the difficulties that you face that seem to be out of your hands, are very securely in His hands, because that person who is giving you so much hassle, who is making life so difficult for you, the very breath that they breathe is God-given, and God chooses moment by moment to keep them alive. And if Jesus withheld His hand, they would be no more. All things are subject to Him.
Now, here again, you know we are very much contrary to Mormon theology. Bruce McConkie, who is a spokesman and prophet, says that when Jesus created the world He was aided by many of the noble and the great spirit children of the Father, such as Adam, Noah and Joseph Smith. We’re talking there about a different Jesus, it seems to me. We’re not on the same page regarding Jesus.
And then Jesus is the sustainer of the universe. You’ll notice it says in verse 17, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” This is true scientifically. The experts tell us that even matter that we think is so solid is basically hollow. It’s all those little protons and neutrons that are fiddling around there in some interesting predictable patterns.
And there are those who say that if it were not for gravity holding all these things together, why then indeed things would fly apart. Well, who created gravity anyway, this thing that operates with such terrifying consistency, which if it stopped operating, our world would be in total complete chaos? It is Jesus who holds everything together physically.
He also holds everything together historically. History makes no sense to us, but He’s holding it together, and the Bible says in the book of Ephesians that He is moving it toward a predetermined end. History is actually going somewhere.
So this Jesus is the sustainer. And you and I look at history and we think it is chaos, but God has a plan, and it’s the old story, isn’t it, of looking at a rug from the underside and seeing all of the threads that are in such haphazard positions and crossing one another? And yet, if you were to look at the top you’d discover a beautiful pattern. And we believe that Jesus is holding things together, and invisible to us most assuredly. There is a beautiful pattern that He Himself is weaving in this world.
Notice also that He is the Redeemer. The Bible says that He is the head of all things. Verse 18: “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” The word firstborn again is used not in relation to time because He is not the first one to be raised from the dead. Lazarus was raised from the dead before Jesus was raised from the dead. What it means is the preeminent one, and He’s the first to be raised with a glorified body, and the Bible says that someday we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like Him. And as a result of that you’ll notice that He is the one who is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, that in everything – in everything - He might have supremacy.
Could I say this from my heart to yours now? I want you to know today that if you understand Jesus, this universe has no room for another God. It has no room for another God. (applause)
In Mormon theology Jesus has to save Himself. To quote McConkie again, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth to work out His own salvation by obedience and devotion to the truth. He attained the pinnacle of intelligence which ranked Him as a god.” I actually found quotes where they said Jesus had to save Himself. Is this the same Jesus?
I told you at the beginning of this message that I would have a surprise for you, and it does come possibly as a surprise that number one, of course, the answer is no. No rational thinking person can think we believe in the same Jesus. But with that I pay tribute to Gordon Hinkley, the LDS president, who in 1998 said in Europe when he was responding to a question as to whether or not he believed in the traditional Christ, “No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak.” And so it is. He is very, very right.
And so I need to tell you today that, if I may quote his words in a different context… Just so you understand. You may be visiting and thinking this is kind of a strange message. And it is a little strange, but we have to figure out what Christ we believe in, so let me simply say this without any ambiguity (I don’t like ambiguity.) that the Christ in whom I believe is not the Christ in which they believe. (applause)
I’d like to come to two conclusions. If you want to be saved, it is not enough to believe in Jesus. You must believe in the right Jesus. (applause) The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11 to the people at Corinth: “I am so surprised that you are being moved away and believing in another Jesus.”
And I’ve done some historical work to find out what kind of a Jesus they were being led away to believe in, and I won’t go into that except to say that that Jesus was so much like the real Jesus that Paul feared that the average person may not know the difference. There are many Jesuses out there – many different Jesuses. It’s not simply enough to say, “Well, you know, I believe in Jesus.” Well, do you believe in Jesus who is qualified to save somebody? Do you believe in Jesus who was fully God, because if Jesus wasn’t quite God, He would be like a bridge broken at the farthest end. If there isn’t one God, and Jesus Christ is the revelation of that God, as the second member of the Trinity, coming to earth on this rescue effort that we learned about last week, if that’s not the case, then what Jesus is it that you are believing in? I could list probably 20 different Jesuses in philosophies and other religions. There’s a whole host of them out there. The question is which one do you believe in?
Secondly, we must believe the right things about this Jesus. Is this the Jesus who is actually able to bring us into God’s presence, to forgive our sins, and to give us the free gift of eternal life? Is this the Jesus about whom it is said, “For as many who believed in Him, to those He gives the authority to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name?” Is this the Jesus who actually grants assurance of eternal life, that you shall know the Father? Is this the Jesus in which we believe? I have to ask you that. Which Jesus?
Many years ago in Portugal, I read a story about a monastery that was 300 feet up, perched at the edge of a cliff. And the only way to get from the bottom to the top was to have this wild ride in a basket. You’d get in a basket, and then there were some monks up there who would pull you up. A visitor from America got into the basket and as he looked at the rope he noticed it was very, very frayed. And he said to the monk who was there helping him get into the basket, “How often do you change this rope?” and the monk said, “Oh, well, whenever it breaks.” (laughter)
If you get skittish about entrusting your body to a rope that might break, you’d better make sure that you’re not entrusting your soul to a Christ who can’t save anybody. You had better make sure that the Jesus in which you believe is (quote) the traditional Jesus. I love this Jesus. I hope that you love Him too. One of the ways in which you can know that you are saved (it isn’t the only way) is that you have a genuine love for Jesus. The Bible says, “Whom, having not seen, you love.”
One day Jesus said to the disciples, “Everybody is leaving Me because I have given some hard sayings. Will you also go away?” And you remember Peter’s remark. He said, “Lord, we’d love to, but where in the world would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And you’ve heard me preach on this before. There is nobody else out there like our Jesus! Nobody! (applause)
To the baker, He’s the bread of life.
To the banker, He’s the hidden treasure.
To the gardener, He’s the lily of the valley.
To the astronomer, Jesus is the bright and the morning star.
To the therapist, He’s the wonderful counselor.
To the builder, He is the chief cornerstone.
To the philosopher, He’s the wisdom of God.
To the scientist, He’s the creator.
To the sinner, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
And to the politician, He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
God, a very God! (applause)
May I commend Him to you? Would you open your heart if you’ve never received Him as Savior and say, “This is the Jesus in whom I believe – the biblical traditional Jesus who didn’t have to save Himself, but was capable of saving sinners.” Stake your eternity on a Jesus qualified to save.
Let’s bow together in prayer.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for Jesus. We thank You today that He is indeed the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the God of all gods, qualified to save us, to give us the assurance of eternal life. For those who are present who have never believed on Him, help them at this moment to embrace Him and say, “Yes, He shall be my Savior.”
In fact, before I close this prayer, if you are here today, no matter what your background, you’ve never received Christ as Savior, even where you are seated you can say, “Jesus, I receive You as my Savior. I am a sinner, and I accept Your death on the cross as payment for my sin. Birth in me both the faith and the assurance by which I will know that I am Your child.
And this prayer we pray in His worthy and wonderful name, Amen.