Striving for perfection and the true gospel

by mormon templeMatt Slick

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that its members are to strive to be perfect.  This perfection, hopefully, results in exaltation--in becoming a god.  Very often Mormons will quote the Bible to support their position: "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48). Note it says to be perfect--not become perfect.  Mormons teach that to be perfect means to become a god, which is a future occurrence; yet the verse says to be perfect in the present tense, not the future.

In addition, the book of Mormon says:

"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," (2 Nephi 25:23).

Note that it says they are saved by grace after all they can do.  This confirms the Mormon teaching of working very hard to be good, to do good works, and to attain to the highest level of exaltation.

The inclination to be perfect in Mormonism is repeatedly taught to its members.  This perfection is not merely trying; it means to triumph over sin:

Spencer W. Kimball 1 said: "Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal."2

As you can see, the Mormon is taught that he must triumph over sin, that he is saved by grace after all he can do, and that he must be perfect.  In fact, many Mormons have told me that the gospel is the Law and Ordinances of the Mormon Church--further verifying that forgiveness of sins in the LDS church is dependent upon the persistent and necessary effort of the Mormon to keep the Laws of God.

My sympathy to the Mormon

I sincerely sympathize with the Mormon who is seeking to please God, honor Him, and bring glory to Him by trying to obey His commandments.  However, when all is said and done and in the quiet of his own heart when he faces the reality of God and his lack of holiness and perfection, can anyone say he has done all he can do, has triumphed over sin, and is perfect? Of course not.

Mormonism teaches that salvation/exaltation is based upon keeping the Law.  But, isn't this a great burden upon the Mormon?  Isn't keeping the Law of God and seeking to be perfect (in order to become a god) a great strain?  How do Mormons deal with their persistent sins and failures that reveal that they are not being perfect--that they are not triumphing over sin?  If they are not triumphing and not doing all they can do, then will they not be cast into outer darkness?

Please understand that I am not in any way mocking the situation of the Mormons or their sincerity to do what they feel is right.  But, we must ask whether or not anyone can achieve perfection through his own efforts of keeping the Law or any part of it.

  • "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." (James 2:10).
  • "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them. (Gal. 3:10).

The Bible teaches us that if you want to be made right before God based on your efforts, then you better not make any mistakes.  If you do, then you are guilty of all of the Law!  This is not good news.  If anything, this is what condemns us since the Bible says "through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Rom. 3:20).  The Law, the commandments are those things that when we break them, and we all do, condemns us by revealing our sinfulness.  And since anyone who keeps the Law must keep all of the Law and since he cannot, he is only fit to be cast out into outer darkness for not being perfect!

What is the Gospel?

Does the gospel of the Bible really teach that forgiveness of sins is based, even in part, upon our obedience to the Law's and Ordinances of any church, and that we are to be perfect?  I'm happy to say, no, it doesn't.

  • Rom. 3:28-30, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one."
  • Rom. 4:5, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,"
  • Rom. 5:1, "therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,"
  • Gal. 2:16, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."

Justification is the legal declaration by God where God declares the sinner righteous in His sight.  Notice that this justification is by faith and not by keeping the Law in any way--that is, not by doing all you can do, not by triumphing over sin, and not by being perfect.  The reason for this is that no one (except Jesus) can keep the whole Law, triumph over sin, and be perfect.  Anyone who breaks the Law is condemned.  Therefore, unless you are absolutely perfect in all things pertaining to the Law, you will be cast into outer darkness.  But, praise be to God that " . . . while we were sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8).  You see, Jesus became sin on our behalf so that we, by faith, might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21).  This leads us to precisely what the gospel is.

The real gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus--not the Laws and Ordinances of the Mormon Church:

"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures," (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

I would like to add here, that if anyone says that the gospel is anything other than what it is stated in 1 Cor. 15:1-4, they are blinded by the devil:

"and even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God . . . " (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

Real Christians know what the real gospel is; and they know that they cannot keep the Law, can't do all they can do, can't be perfect, and can't triumph over sin.  They can only trust in the righteousness of Jesus and receive Him by faith (John 1:12).

It is truly good news to know that we do not have to keep the Law--don't have to do all we can do, etc. All we need to do is accept that Jesus alone is our only hope, and that we must, by faith, accept His work on the cross for the complete forgiveness of our sins.  We must receive the righteousness of Jesus and not seek to achieve our own because we simply can't do it:  "What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;" (Rom. 9:30).  This is the true gospel--that righteousness is received by faith in Christ, and that we are not obligated to keep the law in order to be saved . . . (or exalted, if you are a Mormon).

Then what?

But, lest anyone say that such forgiveness is "too easy," let me remind them that it is not easy, at least not for Jesus.  It was He who suffered and died for our sins.  This was very costly.  But, for us, it is easy to become Christians because we are justified by faith:

"nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified," (Gal. 2:16).

After we are then made right before God, we are changed in our hearts and then desire to do that which is right before God from within because we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  We then are able to freely serve God, love Him, and keep His commandments out of appreciation and gratitude to God--not to please God so we can be saved.

After salvation/justification, God works in us to bring us more into the image of His Son Jesus. This is called sanctification, and this process of sanctification is very difficult because it involves our repentance and submission to God's will.  But, whether or not we do well or not in sanctification, it does not affect our justification. We are made right in God's eyes by faith in Christ (justification) and made more like Jesus in our lives afterwards (sanctification).

So, the good news is that we do not have to keep the Law in any way to be right with God.  The good news is that Jesus has done all that needs to be done; and we can, by faith, trust in Him and be made righteous in His sight.

Lord Jesus, I trust you and you alone for the forgiveness of my sins.  I put all my faith and hope in what you did on the cross and not in any way in my own efforts of being perfect, of triumphing over sin, or of keeping the Laws and Ordinances of any church.  I am made righteous by faith, and in you alone I trust.


  • 1. Spencer W. Kimball (3/28/1895 - 11/5/1985) was the LDS Church's 12th President.  He became president on December 26, 1973, after the death of President Lee.
  • 2. Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979, p. 386, emphasis added.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.