The short but incomplete answer to the question above is: It depends on what you mean by the words “believe” and “Jesus”. No doubt many Mormons believe in the same way that many in Jesus’ day believed in His name when they saw the miracles He did, and like Simon the sorcerer did when the preaching of the kingdom of God in Samaria was accompanied by miracles and signs.¹ However, a fleshly belief in an intellectual or religious construct, no matter that you might be impressed by the supernatural power of the divine Person that provides the building blocks for your construct, cannot save your soul from hell and the wrath of God.
Thomas Monson, long-time “apostle” and president of the Mormon Church (“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”), died this week at age 90. In a brief commentary on Monson’s life and death, Christian apologist James White wrote this just yesterday: “It should bring deep sadness to our hearts to consider how many times he uttered the name ‘Jesus Christ’ and in each and every instance he was referring to a fictional character who does not and never did exist. Oh the impact of false religion!” It is not now necessary to go into the depths of the false doctrine that Mormons hold as to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, but suffice it to say that they do not view Him as the uncreated Creator of all things, eternally “the same”.²
But the very character and meaning of faith, or believing, is at issue here as well. I was perplexed to find this on the website http://www.mormon.org, where even official Mormon teaching tries to distinguish between various forms of belief or confidence in Jesus Christ: “Millions of people know about Jesus Christ. Is it enough to know who Jesus is and His role in our Heavenly Father’s plan? That knowledge is really only the beginning. Understanding and embracing Jesus Christ’s role as Savior is key to every Christian faith. And it requires more than having a theoretical belief that He lived and accomplished great things. It requires having confidence that He was indeed resurrected and that He suffered not only death but also spiritual pain for our sins.” An unsettling aspect of this quote is that it almost reads like it could have been spoken by a preacher of the gospel. Is there something lacking in this statement that would preclude the salvation of one who apprehends it? Let’s dig a little deeper into what it means to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life.
Without question, and first of all, the Jesus that one must trust for eternal life has to be the One revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and cannot be a counterfeit, or an intellectual construct. But as to the essence of the faith that has Christ as its object, there are Christian teachers who have a rather reductionist view of the gospel, pointing to John 3:16 (“whosoever believeth in Him”) as almost like an evangelical “theory of everything”. Certainly, every single soul could be saved by hearing that verse alone in a gospel message, but to understand the gospel of the grace of God and the nature of “sincere faith”,³ more teaching is needed from both the Gospel of John and the book of Romans.
For example, Paul writes in Romans that justification requires “faith in His blood” as well as “believing in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26). He adds to that in chapter 4:24 the necessity of “believing on Him (God) that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead”. And then in Romans 10:9, Paul stipulates that salvation comes by confessing with your mouth and believing “in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead”. John 1:12 speaks of “receiving” the One who is the Light, and in John 5:24, the Lord adds another factor prerequisite to having eternal life: “He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life”. Also, in Ephesians 2:8, the required faith is declared to be not from oneself, but is the gift of God. Now it soon becomes evident that that wonderful and multi-faceted scheme of redemption accomplished by Christ and offered to man cannot be reduced doctrinally to one verse or phrase, even though a verse like John 3:16 (I repeat) is able to save any soul who hears it by faith. We cannot here cover all the facets of redemption and how believers enter into the enjoyment of all their spiritual blessings in Christ by faith.
However, one aspect of faith is too often missed, and even rejected by many, and that is that genuine faith is much more than (and different in character from) the kind of faith one might have in the laws of gravity or astronomy. It must be the result of a quickened or born again soul, that is, of a “new heart” given sovereignly by God (Ezekiel 36:26). When many believed in Jesus’ name after seeing the miracles, we are promptly instructed by John how that the Lord Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to them, because He knew what was needed first: new birth, a quickening work in the souls of men. Only then, only after insisting to Nicodemus that new birth was necessary to address “what was in man”, does Jesus reveal eternal life to be the result of God-given faith in Him. Read John 2:23 through 3:16 (especially connecting 3:2 with 2:23) to gain an understanding of what the Lord Jesus knew, and what He mandated as the requirement for faith to be effectual, that a man might even be able “to see (by faith) the kingdom of God”. Effectual faith must have the born-again soul as its spring, and any “faith” because of miracles, or any “belief” arising from the will of man, is still rejected by God as the fruit of the flesh, which cannot please Him. See John 1:12-13 and Romans 8:7-8.
No matter what a morally upright Mormon might believe, if he sees no need for a “new creation” order of faith and divine life, then his knowledge of Christ and his faith in Christ will be strictly “according to the flesh”.* And when once a Mormon soul is quickened by God’s sovereign grace, his or her faith will come to rest on the One who “is the true God, and eternal life”,° and will no doubt soon turn away from the counterfeit construct the LDS system has set forth for fleshly belief. And many have already done so, praise God!
¹ John 2:23; Acts 8:5-24
² “Thou art the same” (atta hu) is a Hebrew designation for Jehovah found in Psalm 102:27; also Hebrews 1 and 13:8
³ I Timothy 1:5 and II Timothy 1:5, ESV
* II Corinthians 5:16-17, Darby’s New Translation
° I John 5:20