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. 33) And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.Moroni 10:32-33
My love for the Book of Mormon didn’t occur overnight, in fact, I needed to experience Protestantism to do so. I know, that may sound strange, but it was through joining in the collective singing of Amazing Grace and Forever Reign that I first found grace. It was in the tearful profession of passages such as Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:23-24 by youth pastors holding all in their congregation in silent captivation. It was in the prayerful contemplation of the question posed to me often: are you saved, and if so, how? As someone raised in an interfaith family during high school, with a Latter-day Saint father and a former-Mormon-turned-Evangelical mother, I actively took part in the worlds of Mormon Christianity and Evangelical Christianity.
My experience and understanding of the Restored Gospel during my early years was one in which the qualifier “restored” often seemed prioritized over its subject, “the Gospel.” I was taught of Christ’s suffering in the Garden and on the Cross, His death and Atonement for sin, and his subsequent Resurrection three days later. I knew the principles of prayer, repentance, and of my own sinfulness. However, contrary to the “good news” that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to entail, all these things often felt to be more of a burden than a joyful liberation. An experience common outside of my tradition as well, I often struggled to really feel the love of God as I instead put greater emphasis on establishing my own righteousness, refining the exactness of my own obedience, and lamenting over my personal failure to keep God’s commandments time and time again. The focus was often on the strength of my own resolve, the development of my own discipline, and proving to God that I deserved forgiveness and sacred communion.
While these struggles do manifest themselves within the greater Mormon community, I would come to understand them to not be uniquely endemic or even inherent within the faith tradition. Much of my own stumbling-blocks were the products of imperfect instructional metaphors, institutional or communal emphases, selective prooftexts of certain passages of scripture over others, and my own teenage angst and developing sense of purpose; none of which have been static over time. By experiencing another faith tradition however, I was able to acquire a new set of lenses than the ones I had been raised with. This allowed me to return to my natal faith tradition with fresh perspective and a desire to know whether the “Gospel” I had come to love and swim deeply in, could be found in the “Restoration”. Given the way in which Mormonism was often depicted as representing a “false gospel of works” by the Evangelicals I attended church with, it was to my surprise and blessed relief when I realized that the Grace of Christ was inherent in, rather than foreign to, the Restored Gospel: and the Book of Mormon was integral to my conclusion.
I would come to see Second Nephi to the Book of Mormon as Romans is to the New Testament. The Book of Mormon became more to me than just the keystone of the Restoration, it became my most powerful key to unlocking the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It truly became another testament to me of His divinity, sacrifice, and freely-given grace. I was converted to Him anew and my life has been changed ever since. Still though, my realizations weren’t unequivocally shared by my fellow Latter-day Saints, past and present. The hermeneutic through which I experienced the Book of Mormon in this way wasn’t standard, though I wasn’t the only one in my tradition approaching the text in such a way. This approach required me to approach scripture more critically, thoughtfully, holistically, and faithfully than I had before, and my spirituality and closeness to Christ flourished as a result. Among the passages that I needed to deconstruct included Moroni 10:32-33, which has been read by some (both inside and outside the faith) to depict an understanding of grace, perfection, and sanctification that was less than hopeful and realistically unattainable. Among some Evangelicals I knew, such was even nicknamed “The Impossible Gospel” in their outreach to Mormons; emphasizing to them the opposite message the Book of Mormon taught in contrast to that of the Bible. Regardless of the source of these problematic interpretations, I came to fundamentally disagree with them upon my own careful treatments of the passage.
Below, I hope to outline and articulate my own reading of the passage which I consider to be fairly straightforward once thoughtfully examined. I have broken-up and formatted verses 32-33 in what I understand to be three parts, beginning with a general summary comprised of three exhortations, followed by a careful logical progression and explanation of the necessary conditions requisite for such to be accomplished. I’d love to hear your thoughts as to whether you find my reading a reasonable one.
Part 1: Moroni’s Final Exhortations
- Come unto Christ
- Be perfected in him
- Deny yourselves of all ungodliness
As Moroni closes his personal record—and by implication the surviving records of his since-destroyed people—he takes the time to offer a final series of exhortations directed primarily to his brethren, the Lamanites (v. 1), as well as to “all the ends of the earth.” (v. 24) This tripartite command includes the invitation for the readers of the text to ultimately find sanctification and perfection in Jesus Christ. These three exhortations serve as a general summary of the commentary which follows, detailing the mechanics necessary for this process to occur.
Part 2: Perfection as the Ultimate Result of Grace
Next comes a if-then conditional outlining the prerequisites necessary for grace to be considered ultimately “sufficient” saying that:
If: Ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness
And: love God with all your might, mind and strength
Then: is his grace is sufficient for you.
This begs the question, what exactly is this grace “sufficient” for? What is it that one would need grace to accomplish?
Answer: That by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ
We see that it is by the grace of God that one can be made perfect in Christ, thus answering the “how” of the second facet of Moroni’s tripartite exhortation. If any questions remain as to what Moroni means by his use of the word “sufficient” in the context of grace, one can look to his commentary provided earlier during his abridgment of the Jaredite records in the Book of Ether. While speaking on the subject of faith in a “greatest hits” style reminiscent of Hebrews 11, the Lord says to Moroni that “my grace is sufficient for the meek” and “my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me.” The Lord continues by stating that “if [men] humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:26-27) In this passage, it can be seen that the qualities “humility” and “meekness” are requisite for whether God’s grace is sufficient unto the children of men so that others will “take no advantage of [their] weakness”. Humility and meekness are what makes God’s grace sufficient, or fully capable, of strengthening those who need it.
Grace, in both this passage and in Moroni 10, is depicted as an enabling power giving the necessary help for individuals to accomplish or reach desired ends that would otherwise be completely outside their own abilities. Moving forward, Moroni continues by stating the necessary fruit of acquiring perfection in Christ saying:
If: ye are perfect in Christ
Then: ye can in nowise deny the power of God
Due to being made perfect in Christ coming about by the grace of God, those who are perfected cannot, in any respect, deny the power of God in making such attainable. Perfection, according to Moroni, is made possible ultimately by God’s grace and power, qualified by one 1) denying themselves of all ungodliness and 2) loving God with all their might, mind, and strength.
Part 3: Sanctification as the Ultimate Result of Perfection
As Moroni finishes his commentary here, he concludes that:
If: ye, by the grace of God, are perfect in Christ
And: deny not his power
Then: ye are sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of YOUR sins
So that: ye become holy, without spot.
After reiterating that perfection comes by the grace of God and that those of are perfected cannot deny God’s power, Moroni speaks to the ultimate significance of why such perfection is even meaningful: it means that one has become holy and spotless through the blood of Christ. Total sanctification is the necessary result of perfection, with such sanctification occurring “by the grace of God”. Those who are sanctified and perfected experience the remission of their sins through the covenant the Father made by the means of the shedding of the blood of Christ. According to Moroni, one is made perfect and is sanctified both, by the grace of God.
In my own words:
If: Perfection is qualified by one both denying themselves of all ungodliness and loving God with all their might, mind, and strength.
And if: Perfection is only attainable by the grace and power of God.
Then: One both denying themselves of all ungodliness and loving God with all their might, mind, and strength is only attainable by the grace and power of God.
Seen also: A = B and if A = C then B = C.
I don’t believe that I could imagine a more appropriate note for the foundational text of the Restoration to end on. Moroni finishes his record testifying of the role of his Redeemer, exhorting those who would read the prophetic writings contained in the Book of Mormon to turn to Him themselves so that they too can return to God, enter into full communion with Him, and be forgiven of their sins. Moroni implores future readers to turn to the same Christ which once spoke to his brethren, the Nephites, centuries prior to their total destruction, informing them that “your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.” (3rd Nephi 17:8) Logically, we can see that Moroni’s final words make the coherent case that two of his final three exhortations are possible only by the grace and power of God. Sanctification as well, he writes, takes place by the grace and power of God. By process of elimination, we can see that of the commands remaining which Moroni leaves his readers, only one views humans as the primary active agents. For us to experience the grace of Christ unto our own perfection and sanctification, our chief requirement is to answer the invitation which the Book of Mormon extends to all who read its final words: come unto Christ.