For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. ~Matthew 5:20The Pharisees and scribes got one thing right: they kept the Torah with incredible dedication. They kept the Talmud with equal zeal. The Torah is the written word of God. The Talmud is the collection of the teachings and instructions of their rabbis, added alongside the Torah over the centuries.
But even that wasn't enough, and still isn't enough, to gain entrance into heaven.
On June 28th, as Vern and I sat in a disciplinary council and answered the questions asked of us, an answer we frequently gave was that we followed Jesus Christ, both through scripture and His words directly to us. (Remember--the words of God don't contradict scripture. God doesn't contradict Himself, as He is unchangeable.) The consistent response to our declared fealty to our Lord from several High Council members at different points in the meeting faithfully followed this principle: "Following the prophet (or leaders) is the only thing we need to do to be saved."
Whoever the current president of the LDS Church may be, he is but a man. The instructions of a man will never get you into heaven. The loyal obedience to instructions from man and God wouldn't get the Pharisees into heaven . . . why do we think that a more limited form of that obedience--to the word of men alone--will get us more than the Pharisees? I was taught, in the LDS Church, that if a leader instructed me to do something against my conscience, not only should I do it anyway, but that God would still bless me for it because I was obeying my leaders, "His anointed". So, if I lived obedient to that teaching, I could have a life lived in varying depth of sin (turning away from God and ignoring communications from the Holy Ghost), and yet was told that God would still not only save, but exalt me.
Amulek said to Zeezrom, speaking of Jesus:
And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins. ~Alma 11:37A life strewn with sin--conscious turning away from what God is asking--will never produce a soul that can be saved.
I've been faced with leaders advising me against my conscience three times over a period twelve years. The first two times, I capitulated.
I learned, from those first two capitulations, that God would most definitely NOT bless me anyway. When presented with the third leader, pressuring me to obey him over scripture and my conscience, I chose differently. Faced with the repercussions I could see would affect myself and my family, and seeing behind me the consequences of the last two times I had done the "right" thing according to the church's teachings, the cost I was asked to bear in obeying my leader was simply too high. I was unwilling to enter into sin--to turn away from Jesus Christ's words in scripture as well as His word to me through the Holy Ghost--in order to please anyone. Not even my leaders.
The first two times, I had the approval of my leaders, but no approval from heaven. This last time, the consequences in my relationship with my ward leadership were heartbreaking. But the peace and blessing from heaven was unmistakable, and filled to overflowing the hurting space left behind by the disapproval of that leadership.
Those first two times, my righteousness was that of the Pharisees and scribes. I was following the rule of the hierarchy above me, but disregarding the rule of Jesus Christ in my own heart and His word in scripture. This last time, the fruit that has been borne out by my choice has shown me there is definitely more to be gained, more promised blessings to be poured out and received, when the voice of God is heeded over all others.