Sometimes Mormons are accused of believing we are saved by our works. This is not true and is actually an extreme over-simplification of what really happens when we are judged. Mormons believe we are saved through the atonement of Jesus Christ. No amount of good works would save us from our sins. Only the atonement of Jesus Christ can overcome our sins.
However, how we live our life does matter. The Bible makes that very clear. Jesus spoke repeatedly of how we were supposed to act. He taught us to love one another, to treat people with kindness, and to obey the commandments. He and His apostles taught that faith without works is dead and that it is not enough to merely say the words. We have to actually live the gospel of Jesus Christ. To say we now have a testimony, but to have that testimony leave us unchanged is not possible. True faith is life-changing. Jesus taught that if we love Him, we are to keep His commandments. Obedience, then, is a measure of our love for the Savior.
Dallin H. Oaks, a Mormon apostle, gave a sermon that takes an interesting approach to the subject of works and how they impact our final judgment before the Lord. Mormon is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. An apostle today fulfills the same role he did in Jesus’ time—a special witness of Jesus Christ.
Elder Oaks said that our final judgment is not an accounting merely of each individual act. In other words, there won’t be a balance sheet that lists all the obedience on one side and the disobedience on the other and the longer side wins. That is how non-Mormons often think Mormons believe it will work. However, what the judgment will really do is measure who we have become.
“From such teachings [in the scriptures] we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.”
Elder Oaks explains that Jesus first taught his apostles about testimony. Testimony is the first step. We need to believe that God is our Father and that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior. But we can’t stop there. The gospel is meaningless if it just sits in our heads and never enters our hearts and changes our lives.
He reminded listeners of the day Jesus placed a child amidst the people and told them to become converted and to become as a little child. He didn’t talk about believing like one—but becoming like one. Conversion is more than testimony—it is becoming. Becoming denotes action.
Isn’t it wonderful that God won’t look to our earlier life to make our final judgment? Through repentance, made possible by the atonement, we can be forgiven our sins. This is not automatic, however, We have to repent to make this happen, as the Bible teaches. Repentance requires us to feel true sorrow for our sin, to make restitution, to apologize to God and to others involved, and to completely forsake the sin. Once we have done this, God removes the sin and we start over in that area.
Over the course of our lifetimes, we will have the opportunity to learn and to grow. It is why we are here. We have been given a great deal of potential by God and it is our responsibility to come as close to that full potential as possible. For this reason, we are not given a final judgment until after we die. This is demonstrated in the New Testament, when Jesus rescues the woman who was to be stoned for adultery. He said he did not judge her. By this, He meant He did not judge her yet. Her life wasn’t over and she still had time to repent—to become what God wanted her to be. When her life ended, it would be time for Him to evaluate the total of what her life’s choices made of her. He would look into her heart to know who she had become and to see how she had been living her life at the end. The mistakes she was making when she met the Savior did not have to define her mortality. This is why He said He did not judge her but then warned her not to sin again. The end of her life would come someday and she didn’t know when it would happen. Certainly, if she continued in adultery, it could come very soon since death was then the penalty for women who committed that sin. He wanted her to make the necessary changes while she still had time.
“The Apostle Paul said that persons who have received the Spirit of God “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). I understand this to mean that persons who are proceeding toward the needed conversion are beginning to see things as our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see them. They are hearing His voice instead of the voice of the world, and they are doing things in His way instead of by the ways of the world.”
This is the focus of the final judgment: to evaluate whether or not we had tried to do things the Lord’s way—not the world’s way.