One of the readers, Mike, made some good comments on the last post. I decided one of the issues he raised should be its own post rather than a comment. He raised the concern that if sinners believe they will get a second chance in the Little Season, what is the disincentive to eat, drink, and be merry in this life and procrastinate repentance. That’s a valid concern that is addressed in the scriptures. Before we dive in to see what the scriptures say, let’s look at how the traditional three degrees of glory addresses this:
God: Forsake your sins and obey my commandments, and you will be saved in the kingdom of God.
Sinner: Hmm….that sounds nice, but I really like to eat, drink, and be merry. What happens if I just keep doing that?
God: You’ll be punished for a little while, and then you’ll be saved in the kingdom of God.
Sinner: You mean the same place I’d go if I stopped eating, drinking, and being merry right now?
God: Not quite. You wouldn’t get the best place, but you will get a better place than you currently have.
Sinner: Better than eating, drinking, and being merry?
Sinner: How much better?
God: Better than you can comprehend.
Sinner: Waiter, another round of drinks! And bring the dessert menu!
There’s plenty of incentive in the traditional three degrees of glory to procrastinate repentance.
First of all, let’s read what Nephi actually wrote about this situation.
2 Nephi 28
8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
9 Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.
10 And the blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them.
This vain and foolish doctrine is that if we are guilty, God will punish us with a few stripes and we’ll be saved in the kingdom of God. No repentance required! No baptism required! No spiritual birth required! In that traditional theory, we can rape, murder, pillage, and steal, and still be saved in the kingdom of God without having to repent, be baptized, and come unto Christ. As long as we don’t get righteous enough to risk becoming a son of Perdition, we are GUARANTEED a seat in the kingdom of God. Talk about encouraging sin! No wonder it’s a vain and foolish doctrine.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that this vain and foolish doctrine is immediately followed by the next verses:
2 Nephi 28
11 Yea, they have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted.
12 Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up.
13 They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.
14 They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.
What church teaches that we can commit all these sins, never repent or be baptized, and be saved in the kingdom of God? I only know of one Christian denomination that teaches that. And that very same church has over $100 Billion in one stock market fund, yet insists the poor continue to pay 10% of their income. That church doesn’t use the money to alleviate poverty among its members but to build no-expense-spared temples and conference centers, shopping malls and luxury condominiums. Just a few verses later Nephi says this same people will say “All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospers, all is well.” There is one church today that sings “All is well” and calls itself “Zion”, and teaches that those who don’t repent will be beaten with a few stripes and then be saved in the kingdom of God. Can we denounce these other errors yet continue to embrace this vain and foolish doctrine?
So how do the scriptures address this concern about people thinking they’ve gamed the system and can procrastinate their repentance?
33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold…
The first thing to notice is that if you believe the traditional three degrees doctrine is true, then people thinking they can procrastinate repentance is still a problem. Alma has to teach against it. The traditional three degrees doctrine does not prevent people from procrastinating their repentance. Continuing on.
…if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
This night of darkness, this eternal world, is spirit prison and hell during the Millennium. The wicked can’t repent at the beginning of the Millennium and get out of suffering. What did Jesus teach about getting out of prison?
25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Now the next verse in Alma 34 is problematic, I will admit. But if we take it at face value it’s a deal breaker for both my theory and the three degrees doctrine.
35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.
In three degrees doctrine, the Telestials are delivered from the devil and allowed to enter in the lowest level of the kingdom of God. That violates this scripture that says the final state of the wicked is under the power of the devil. So you can’t condemn my theory without also condemning the three degrees of glory theory.
This is where I refer back to the fact that the Nephites had the fullness of the gospel. They had enough knowledge that if they refused to repent, they were willfully rebelling against God. If they delayed their repentance until they died, it was too late. They were a son of Perdition, and they would always be subject to the devil, and that would be their final state. That is the audience he is addressing, so there is no point in telling them about a second chance they don’t qualify for.
For those of us who do not have the fullness, who have not received the Holy Ghost and been spiritually born of God, there is a second chance. But, the same spirit we exit this life with will be the same spirit that is restored to us.
3 And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.
4 And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other—
5 The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.
6 And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness.
Keep in mind Alma is talking to his son, who had the fullness. For him, dying in his sins was final, not so for the Lamanites (or most of humanity). The key message for us is that if we have sought evil all our days in this life, even if we somehow did immediately have a desire for righteousness upon reaching the spirit world, we can’t get out until we have paid the utmost farthing. Our works in this life will follow us into the next.
I believe this is what Joseph was referring to when he said, “If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” I don’t think he was talking about after the final judgement, but in the Millennium and the time of the restoration. If we have feasted on the words of Christ now and sought to do righteousness, when we are restored to life we’ll have an advantage over those that didn’t feast on the words of Christ and did works of darkness. We will recognize the truth faster, accept it sooner, and suffer less. Of course, if we have already received the fullness and then rebel against God, it would have been better than we had never been born and nothing we do after we die will get us out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves.
And the final disincentive to procrastinating our repentance?
15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken.
That doesn’t sound like being beaten with a few stripes. If that isn’t going to convince someone that sinning isn’t worth it, what would? And how does telling him if he doesn’t repent he’s guaranteed to end up in a better place convince someone to give up sin?