Question: Is it impossible to receive salvation because the conditions we must meet are too high for any man to obtain?

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Question: Is it impossible to receive salvation because the conditions we must meet are too high for any man to obtain?

When critics twist Moroni 10:32 to make it mean that salvation is logically unavailable for man they are giving it a spin that Moroni himself would have been horrified at

Critics interpret Moroni 10:32 to suggest that the conditions we must meet in order to receive salvation are too high for any man to obtain (perfect righteousness), and therefore salvation is impossible.

When critics twist Moroni 10:32 to make it mean that salvation is logically unavailable for man they are giving it a spin that Moroni himself would have been horrified at. It is quite obvious to even the casual reader that Moroni believes that the grace of Christ is logically available for man. Latter-day Saints have a number of approaches they can take in interpreting this text, including recognizing that "deny yourselves of all ungodliness" mean to deny that ungodliness is a justifiable presence in one's life, that "all ungodliness" may refer to only a majority or great portion of ungodliness, and that the passage may be considered as aspirational and not a formal recipe for salvation.

Moroni 10:32 reads:

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

The critics twist this passage to mean something that Moroni would have been horrified at. Their argument can be summed up with the following syllogism:

(1) We must deny all ungodliness before we can receive grace (Moroni 10:32)
(2) To sin is to fail to deny all ungodliness
(3) We all sin
(4) Therefore, we can't receive grace.

The conclusion that critics draw is that Moroni teaches a gospel in which no man can be saved. However, even a casual reading of Moroni makes it quite obvious that Moroni believes just the opposite. Moroni instructs us to become “perfect in Christ”, an instruction that would make no sense if Moroni actually believed that it were impossible. So, no matter how hard critics may try to show otherwise, it is extremely obvious that Moroni believes that it is possible for men to receive the grace of Christ. That is the message all throughout the Book of Mormon. It is horrible exegesis to remove this passage from that wider context.

There are a variety of ways that Latter-day Saints can approach this passage:

Denying the validity, power, and appropriateness of ungodliness

If this passage is read as a formal recipe for receiving grace, then Latter-day Saints take issue with point #2 in the critic's syllogism above. The phrase "deny yourselves all ungodliness" does not mean to completely stop sinning. This becomes clear as we look at the meaning of "deny", which appears both at the beginning and the end of the verse.

At the end of the verse Moroni states that once we have been perfected in Christ, "ye can in nowise deny the power of God". It is as if prior to this perfection we were unsure about the validity of God's power, but after receiving Christ's perfecting grace we now are convinced of it. We no longer deny that God's power is efficacious. Webster's 1828 dictionary (from the time of the translation of the Book of Mormon) defines the word "deny" this way:

1. To contradict; to gainsay; to declare a statement or position not to be true.

And a modern dictionary defines "deny" like this:

to state that (something declared or believed to be true) is not true

These definitions match precisely what Moroni has in mind at the end of the verse when he states that we can no longer "deny the power of God" once we have experienced it. We are obliged to accept God's power as valid and efficacious.

This use of the word "deny" may be the key to interpreting the same word, "deny", that appears at the beginning of the verse. It isn't likely that Moroni changed the sense of the word "deny" midway through the verse. Moroni asks us to "deny yourselves all ungodliness." To "deny" ungodliness therefore means to reject it as a valid, efficacious, or true lifestyle. It is to mentally acknowledge and recognize that ungodliness is inappropriate. It is clearly possible to recognize that ungodliness is not appropriate, or efficacious, while still engaging in ungodly thought and action. But that recognition is the first step in repentance.

Another way of stating this is to recognize, after you've sinned, that you have sinned and to not try to justify that sin or rationalize it as appropriate. When we sin we are tempted to excuse or justify our sin (e.g., "Everyone does it" or "It isn't so bad."). To deny all ungodliness means that, even though you still sin, you do not approve of any sin. You wish you were not sinning.

Critics wish to force a different definition, one in which denying ungodliness means to totally stop all ungodliness in one's life. They argue that since in practice this is impossible, nobody can qualify for Christ's grace. But, read in context, denying ungodliness means rather to reject ungodliness as an efficacious power (in contrast to God's power). This accords with Moroni's obvious belief that grace is within the reach of man, and that salvation is possible. This recognition is the first step towards repentance, and the first step to accepting the grace of Christ in our lives.

"All" as a majority, or a significant portion

Critics suggest that "deny yourselves of all ungodliness" means that we must totally eradicate all forms of ungodliness from our lives before we can receive Christ's grace. However, Webster's 1828 dictionary (from the time of the translation of the Book of Mormon) provides this as one definition for "all":

"This word, not only in popular language, but in the scriptures, often signifies, indefinitely, a large portion or number, or a great part. Thus, all the cattle in Egypt died; all Judea and all the region round about Jordan; all men held John as a prophet; are not to be understood in a literal sense, but as including a large part or very great numbers."

Thus the phrase "deny yourselves of all ungodliness" could refer to denying "a large portion or number, or a great part" of ungodliness. It doesn't mean you have to be totally without sin in order to receive grace. That would of course negate the need for grace.

As an "aspirational" instruction

Moroni 10:32 and similar passages in the Bible can also be read as aspirational, with a mark one aims to; not a statement of soteriology (theology of salvation). Jesus' words to love God with all one's heart, mind, and strength and other-like passages in the Bible are of the same character; God does not literally expect perfect obedience to the law (whether the Universal law or the Law of Moses [moral and/or ceremonial divisions]), but expects us to aspire to such in this life.

In the Bible, Christ says "follow me", "be ye therefore perfect", “sell all and give”, and "keep my commandments". Like Moroni 10:32,these commands seem quite absolute, but they are just as easily understood to be aspirational in nature.

Evangelical Christian scholar Millard Erickson says something similar;

"Certain difficulties attach to assuming [we can achieve freedom from sin], however. One is that it seems contradictory to repeatedly exhort Christians to a victorious spotless life unless it is a real possibility. But does this necessarily follow? We may have a standard, an ideal, toward which we press, but which we do not expect to reach within a finite period of time. It has been observed that no one has ever reached the North Star by sailing or flying toward it. That does not change the fact that it is still the mark toward which we press, our measure of “northerliness.” Similarly, although we may never be perfectly sanctified within this life, we shall be in eternity beyond and hence should presently aim to arrive as close to complete sanctification as we can." --- Christian Theology, 2nd Edition, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 986

Moroni 10:32 in the Book of Mormon can be read similar to biblical admonishments. They reflect God’s standard/requirement. Consider that when God admonishes us, He really can’t make any allowance for sin (Alma 45:16, Doctrine and Covenants 1:31). So He tells us to be perfect. While it is theoretically possible for us to keep every commandment all of the time, in practice it is impossible. God has set a goal for us, and the goal is perfection. We aspire to reach it so that we can become what we are meant to become.