Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Thoughts on Grace Vs. Works

With a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints currently running for president, Mitt Romney, there have been many articles and questions I have heard regarding what does my religion teach on various subjects. I will strive to answer some of these questions to the best of my ability. Please note, the following are my views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church), but they do reflect my opinions as a member of that church, and my understanding of the scriptures.

One issue I have often heard is that that we are not Christian because we do not believe that we are saved by grace. The argument seems to go that we believe that we are saved by our works. Let me preface my thoughts with, I do not know a single Mormon that understands his/her religion that believes we are saved by our works. The church is very clear in its teachings that we are saved by the grace of Christ. I will provide ample passages of scripture to support that view in a bit.

First, let me start with what I believe are some passages in the Bible that create confusion for some.

In Ephesians 2:7-9 it states, “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast. (King James Version)

This passage is often used by those that espouse an “all I have to do is say that I believe in Jesus Christ, and I am saved,” mentality. Have you ever seen those bumper stickers that read, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” ? I have a friend that follows this philosophy. He professed that he knew he would be saved, despite fornicating with his girlfriend on a regular basis. He knew that it was a sin, but he believed that since he “accepted Jesus as his personal Savior,” that whatever sin he committed, was acceptable to God, since he was a believer.

My response: I absolutely believe that I will be saved by grace, my works, in and of themselves, can not save me. However, the passage above in Ephesians needs to be kept in context with other scriptures. So where I believe Ephesians 2:7-9 to be true, I also believe 1 John 2:4 to be true when it states, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Christ taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15

In the 2nd Chapter of James we read: (emphasis added by me)

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
And verse 24 where it states,
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Verse 24 clearly shows that, “faith only,” isn’t sufficient. If a person has honestly “accepted” Jesus as his personal Savior, then that belief will manifest itself in the works performed by the individual.

What’s more, even though I hope to eventually be saved by grace, I will be judged according to my works.

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

(New Testament Revelation 20:12)

Additionally, Paul himself warned the Hebrews to remain steadfast/endure to the end, lest they fall. See Heb. 2:1-3, Heb. 3:12-14, and Heb. 4:1 & 11.

Christ Himself taught that not everyone espousing His name would be saved:
21 ¶ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Q: If I am to be judged according to my works, then what is grace about?

A: Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.

That means, it doesn’t matter how good my works are, I will sin and therefore fall short. Sin makes me unclean. Christ however, suffered for my sins, so I can repent of them. As I repent of my sins and, “endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Mark 13:13

The Book of Mormon states:
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

(Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 25:23)

One final thought on belief in Christ not being sufficient to inherit heaven (though there are plenty more) can be found in Matthew 19:16-22

16 ¶ And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

(New Testament Matthew 19:16 - 22)

Here, a rich young man, “believes” that Christ is the Master, but that wasn’t sufficient. In fact, when he asks what he needs to do to earn eternal life, Christ doesn’t say, “profess my name, and accept me as your Savior.” The young man already did that by calling Him Good Master. Rather Christ tells him to keep the commandments (works). The young man said he did keep the commandments, but he wasn’t completely pure, and Christ knew what his weakness was and told him. Unfortunately, the young man wasn’t ready to do everything that was required to inherit eternal life.

Another passage of scripture that can be confusing is found in Luke 23 where Christ is being crucified between two thieves.

39 ¶ And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

(New Testament Luke 23:39 - 43)

I can see where a well intentioned person could interpret that passage to suggest that the thief was in heaven with Christ that day. However, will a little more research; we can see that is not what Christ meant. Christ said, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” However, three days later when he was resurrected he told Mary:

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

(New Testament John 20:17)

So on the day he was crucified he was with the thief in paradise, but three days later he still hadn’t ascended to His Father. Clearly, heaven and paradise, as used by Christ in Luke 23:43, is not the same place. Perhaps I will expound that subject in greater detail in another post, but for now, we can see that they are not the same place. Therefore it would be inaccurate to state that the thief obviously made it into heaven by merely claiming a belief in Jesus as he was being put to death.

Salvation only comes through the Lord. Consider these passages:

And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

(Book of Mormon Mosiah 3:17)

And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

(Book of Mormon Mosiah 5:8)

Therefore in summary, I am saved by grace, because I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I can repent of my sins however, and if I do, and then keep the commandments, I can be saved at the last day.

Please feel free to comment on what I have posted whether you agree or disagree. Many of the anti-Mormon posts I have read recently state how we try to hide our beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have over 50,000 missionaries world-wide trying to answer any question they can about the church. On the side of my blog, I have links to the Church’s official web site, and other sites by the church devoted to answering questions about our beliefs. Finally, I will answer as many questions as time allows, but if you want to know more about the church, find two of those well dressed young men, frequently on bikes, with white shirts and ties on. Tell them I sent you. ;-)

Dan Olsen


Anonymous said...

Well written, concise. Really lets you know what the LDS people believe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post! Your comments and references helped out one of my friends who is struggling with the church right now.

If you don't mind, I'm going to highlight your post for others to view on my website.

Thanks for visiting my site and sharing your good insights.