Thursday, November 26, 2009

Do Mormons Believe We Are Saved by Grace, or by Works?

In the centuries that have passed between the death of the Apostles and our modern age there has been much debate and disputation over the precise nature and means of our individual and collective salvation. Since the Reformation, this debate has largely taken the form of a question of whether faith (or grace) alone will bring salvation, or if works are necessary as well (or instead), and if so, to what degree? Most often, this has been couched in a sort of Faith VERSUS Works argument in which opposing camps put forward one or the other as competing and opposing routes to salvation.

This argument often centers on the idea that we are saved by the grace of God regardless of our personal actions, and that any notion that we must complete a checklist of works in order to gain admittance to heaven is the worst kind of human arrogance, and a relic of the long-abandoned Law of Moses. This doctrine was a natural reaction by the Protestants of the Reformation to the Catholic assertion that one must receive certain rites, and complete certain performances under the exclusive auspices of the Church in order to gain salvation. The Protestants referred to Paul’s writings as they denounced the notion that salvation depends on empty performances (or as Paul puts it, dead works). Some even went so far as to say that it does not matter what we as individuals do, salvation through the grace of Christ is a free gift to all, saints and sinners alike, regardless of any action or lack thereof on our part. They claimed that, due to our mortal weakness, we are incapable of keeping the commandments, and that keeping them is no longer necessary in any case, because we are all saved through the atonement of Christ. In another view, John Calvin, in his doctrine of predestination and total election, claimed that God has already determined who is saved, and who is not, and that we have no choice in the matter.

As a missionary I talked to many people who tried to draw me into an argument over whether salvation is through faith or through our own works. These people often proceeded from the false assumption that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a “works church” (as opposed to a church that teaches that salvation comes only through the grace of Christ), and that it was their task to instruct me and my companion on the non-biblical fallacy of our doctrine.

The fact is that the LDS Church is not a “works church,” nor is it entirely a “grace church” in the sense that many evangelical Protestants define both terms today. My answer to the question of which of the competing doctrines of Salvation by Faith alone and Salvation by Works alone (as the world understands them) is the true one is a resounding “neither!"
Salvation comes through Christ alone

Salvation comes through Christ, and Christ alone. Allow me to quote a few scriptures from the Book of Mormon that support this doctrine:
Mosiah 3:17 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.

2 Nephi 2: 6-8 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
So we have established the following points:

1)  Salvation comes only in and through Jesus Christ and not by any other way, means, or person.

2) No one is able to return to live in the presence of God, except through the merits, and mercy, and grace of Christ.

3) Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law.
a)  James points out (in James 2:10) that: “…whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” It IS possible to be justified by keeping the whole law (every single commandment), but there is only one man who has actually done it. Jesus Christ earned eternal life through his own merits, namely through his own personal righteousness. The rest of us have sinned (or broken the law, see 1 John 3:4) and thus fallen short of the glory of God (see Romans 3:10 and 23). We therefore depend entirely upon Christ’s grace in extending his right to salvation through his own merits to the rest of us, who of ourselves merit no salvation. We cannot claim to be justified through our own personal righteousness because we have all offended in at least one point of the law, and thus become guilty of the whole of it. The law requires that a punishment be affixed as a consequence of sin, and somebody has to suffer that punishment. Christ has offered to sacrifice himself, and suffer the consequence of our sins for us, because he loves us.
4) Certain aspects of Christ’s atoning sacrifice are conditionally offered, and while His suffering was universally offered for all, the gift of his grace is subject to certain conditions. Christ offers the gracious gift of redemption only to those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
a)  This demonstrates that salvation through Christ requires some action and active choices on our part in order for us to be justified through Christ.

b)  Just because we have not kept the whole law does not mean that sin is natural or even inevitable. Paul wrote (in Galatians 2:17): “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.” Or to put it another way: “…the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins” (Helaman 5:10).

"We are not saved in our sins, as by being unconditionally saved through confessing Christ and then, inevitably, committing sins in our remaining lives (see Alma 11:36–37). We are saved from our sins (see Hel. 5:10) by a weekly renewal of our repentance and cleansing through the grace of God and His blessed plan of salvation (see 3 Ne. 9:20–22)” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Have You Been Saved?” Ensign, May 1998, 55).
c)  We are called upon to repent with a broken heart and a contrite spirit in order to receive the gift of redemption. We make this offering to God under the new law of Christ in place of a blood or burnt offering as was prescribed under the old Law of Moses. As Christ himself instructs us in 3 Nephi 9:19-22:  “And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost…Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin. Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.”
We are required to repent because God will not force anyone into heaven against his or her will. As sinners, we each must repent and forsake our sins if we hope to return to live with God, but God allows us to choose whether or not we will do so. He sends his angels to declare the tidings and conditions of repentance so that we can know what is necessary for salvation, but no one will force us to accept Christ and forsake our sins. Helaman 5:11 explains that Christ’s sacrifice for each of us is conditioned upon our own individual repentance:

And he (Christ) hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls. 

“Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace, our failures to live the celestial law perfectly and consistently in mortality can be erased and we are enabled to develop a Christlike character. Justice demands, however, that none of this happen without our willing agreement and participation. It has ever been so. Our very presence on earth as physical beings is the consequence of a choice each of us made to participate in our Father’s plan. Thus, salvation is certainly not the result of divine whim, but neither does it happen by divine will alone.” (D. Todd Christofferson, “Free Forever, to Act for Themselves,” General Conference Address, October 4, 2014).

The Old Law and the New Covenant

Thanks to the atonement of Jesus Christ we are no longer slaves to the old law (the so-called law of Moses). We are in fact saved through the grace of Christ and not by dead works. The Old Law was part of a covenant that God made with his children. As a matter of fact the books that we commonly refer to as the old and new “testaments” are better translated as The Old COVENANT and The New COVENANT respectively.  Paul explains in JST Galatians 3:19-20 that Moses was a mediator of this Old Covenant, which was the covenant made by God to Abraham (see Genesis 12:2-3,7; Abraham 2:9-11).

Paul goes on to explain (see also Galatians 3:16-17) that it was promised to Abraham (and recorded in the Law) that (among other things) his seed (Christ) would come and redeem us from the curse of the Law that comes from our mortal failure to keep the whole Law. (See [JST Romans 7:7]; Galatians 3:10,13; James 2:10; Romans 3:10,23; 5:12-13)). Because the Law exists solely to point us toward Christ, and to help to teach and prepare us to live his Gospel, Paul refers to the Mosaic Law as a schoolmaster that was given to God’s children (instead of the Gospel) as a consequence of transgression (See Galatians 3:24; 1 Timothy 1:9-10). This is not to say that the Law itself is bad, but rather that its one and only purpose was to make God’s children aware of (and accountable for) the commandments of God, or as Lehi puts it (in 2 Nephi 2:5): that they might be “… instructed sufficiently that [they might] know good from evil”. This is so that they could grow closer to Him in every aspect of their lives and, in effect, “grow into” living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Due to its limited nature the Law has no power to save or “give life” (as Paul puts it in Galatians 3:21). As Paul declares, if there was a Law that could give life, justification (or “righteousness”) would come through that Law. This is not possible, because as Paul states in Hebrews 7:19, the Law can only point us to “a better hope”:
For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
The law required the repeated shedding of blood to atone for the sins of the people, as Paul explains in Hebrews 8:18,22 (see also11-23):
Whereupon neither the first testament [or covenant] was dedicated without blood. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
We are taught in Psalms 49:6-9 that the ability to effect a permanent redemption on behalf of our fellowmen is entirely beyond our reach and entirely outside of man's capacity to achieve:
They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
Amulek taught (in Alma 34:11-12) that this is because no mortal man can adequately sacrifice his own blood to atone for the sins of another:
Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay. But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.
Amulek explains that there must be an “infinite and eternal sacrifice”, “a great and last sacrifice” that goes beyond the capacity of the sacrifices that can be made by men under the Law, in order to truly pay the price for the sins of mankind. Paul helps to clarify the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice in Hebrews 9:13-14:
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Christ’s sacrifice not only surpasses the power and effectiveness of the old law of sacrifice, but it is also in perfect harmony with (and in fact fulfills the requirements of) that same Law, as Paul explains in Hebrews. Paul goes on to explain that the demands of the Law required Christ to make that final redeeming sacrifice by “ the offering of [his] body…once for all” (see Hebrews 10:10) and he declares further that “… by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)

As a part of bringing about this matchless sacrifice, it became necessary for God to make a new covenant with His children (see Hebrews 9:13-14,23). This so-called “new” covenant was in fact part of God’s plan for his children from the beginning, as evidenced by this prophecy made through the Prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-33:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts [or 'mind' as it is quoted by Paul in Hebrews 8:10] and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The Atonement made by Jesus Christ is both the fulfillment and the culmination of the Mosaic Law (Alma 34:14). It also represents the solemnization of the New Covenant, and marks the watershed point in which the Old Covenant and the Law are superseded by the more efficacious New Covenant and The New Law of the Gospel. Paul remarked in Hebrews 8:13, that Christ, in making the new covenant, caused the old covenant to decay and “vanish away.” This is because the whole point of the Law was to bring us to Christ so that we could learn to obey out of faith from the heart instead of fear, and so live the Gospel in its fullness, and ultimately be justified by Christ through our faith in Him. Once we have “grown into” and received the Gospel, there is no longer any need for the “schoolmaster” that brought us up to that point because we have grown out of our need for the Law. Paul explains this wonderfully in Galatians 3:23-25 when he says:
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
It is important to understand that just because there is no Law, that does not mean that we are now living in “lawlessness”, but rather we are now under the Law of the Gospel (or grace) as part of the terms of the New Covenant. I refer you once again to Romans 6:18, 14-15 where Paul makes it perfectly clear that once we “be made free from sin” we should “[become] the servants of righteousness”:
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
Christ, in the performance of His atonement, acts as both the fulfillment of the old covenant and as the mediator of the new covenant (See Matthew 5:17-19; and Hebrews 9:14-15, 12:24). In his capacity as arbiter of both covenants he instructs us, in 3 Nephi 9, to no longer offer up blood or burnt offerings as sacrifices because he has already fulfilled the old covenant by offering himself as that great and last sacrifice (see Alma 34:13-16). As Amulek points out in Alma 34, this is the whole meaning of the Law. Christ instead asks us to make an offering to him of our “broken hearts and contrite spirits” as part of the terms and conditions of this New Covenant.

I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill

So we have established that Christ fulfilled the terms of the old law. We understand that we are saved through Christ and his grace, and not through or upon our own merits or any of the dead works of the law. So now what? Do we throw the commandments out the window? Are they of no value because we are imperfect beings? What role does our personal righteousness play in our salvation, if any? Paul explains In Ephesians 2:8-10:
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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Paul taught that while works in and of themselves do not save us, God has ordained that we “walk in them” or in other words, devote our lives to good works.
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable unto men. (Titus 3:4-8)
So what’s the difference between the Dead works of the Law and Good works? The Lord refers to the Law of Moses as “the law of carnal commandments” in D&C 84:27 (see also Hebrews 7:16). He also reminds us (in D&C 29:35) that the commandments that are a natural part of living his Gospel are spiritual and “not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.” In Galatians 5:18-25, Paul enlightens us concerning the difference between “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the spirit”, and instructs us that “if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”  No longer must we be compelled, as disobedient children, in every small aspect of God's law; for if we are truly led by the Spirit, obedience should come naturally to us, and this heartfelt obedience will bear the splendid fruit of "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance," against which there is no law.

This idea is echoed in (the aforementioned) D&C 29:35 where the Lord declares that he gave spiritual commandments (and not temporal) to Adam as a natural part of making him an agent unto himself. Under the Gospel we are afforded the full exercise of our agency in making decisions from day to day, but we are expected to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we do so. As we follow the promptings of The Holy Ghost in the righteous exercise of our personal agency, we will be granted more freedom to act for ourselves instead of being acted upon.

Through the Atonement, we will be freed from the restrictions laid on us by the network of commandments contained within the Law. As we learn to make the right choices under the guidance of the Lord we will gain freedom, through the redemption of Christ, from the punishments associated with the Law that come as a consequence of our own bad choices (see 2 Nephi 2:26). Given the fact that we are afforded a higher degree of individual liberty through the atonement of Jesus Christ than we had under the Law, we will also be judged according to that higher standard. Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles understood this when he taught:

“We all possess the God-given gift of moral agency—the right to make choices and the obligation to account for those choices (see D&C 101:78)…for positive outcomes, moral agency must be accompanied by moral discipline” (D. Todd Christofferson, “Moral Discipline,” Ensign, Nov. 2009, 105-106).

The most crucial difference between “the works of the flesh,” and “the fruit of the spirit” lies in our own hearts and the motives that drive our choice to follow the commandments in the first place. Allow me to expound upon that idea further:

Firstly, Christ, in fulfilling the law, did not destroy it, as he explains in Matthew 5:17-19:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Christ makes it clear that we are still expected to keep the commandments. I have already explained that everyone (aside from Christ himself) has broken the Law at one point or another, and cannot hope to earn their way into heaven based on total obedience as Christ did. So what’s the point of following the commandments if we can’t use them to achieve salvation? Christ explains further in verse 20:
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Christ was not encouraging us to compete over status for a spot in heaven, rather he was making the point that while the scribes and Pharisees were extremely observant of the letter of the law in the tiniest detail, their reasons for doing so were not pure. The Scribes and Pharisees kept the law (or at least claimed to keep it) because:

1) They thought that in so doing they would earn a place in heaven based wholly upon their own merits, and

2) out of fear of hellfire if they didn’t keep the commandments. If a commandment wasn’t spelled out in the law, they didn’t feel that they had to keep it.

3) They also kept the appearance of piously upholding the Law because they sought the approval and praise of Man, rather than that of the God who issued the Law in the first place (see Matthew 6:1-5).

Christ wants us to understand that obedience for the sake of mere compliance (or for the “glory of men”) isn’t enough, but that we need to obey out of a sincere desire to honor the Lord. Christ is trying to get us to see that our reasons for keeping the commandments are what matters, and that keeping the commandments should be a natural byproduct of our faith and that this faith-driven righteousness is the mark of a true follower, or disciple, of Christ.  This is what the great Christian writer and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as the “better righteousness” of discipleship in his analysis of Matthew 5:17-20:

“Discipleship means adherence to Jesus Christ alone, and immediately.  But now comes the surprise—the disciples are [still] bound to the Old Testament law.  This has a double significance.  First, it means that adherence to the law is something quite different from the following of Christ, and, secondly, it means that any adherence to his person that disregards the law is equally removed from the following of him.  It is, however, Jesus himself who points to the law those to whom he has granted his whole promise and his whole fellowship.  Because it is the Lord who does this, they are bound to acknowledge the law.  The question inevitably arises, Which is our final authority, Christ or the Law?  To which are we bound?  Christ had said that no law was to be allowed to come between him and his disciples.  Now he tells us that to abandon the law would be to separate ourselves from him.  What exactly does he mean?

“The law Jesus refers to is the law of the old covenant, not a new law, but the same law which he quoted the rich young man and the lawyer when they wanted to know the revealed will of God.  It becomes the new law only because it is Christ who binds his followers to it.  For Christians, therefore, the law is not a “better law” than that of the Pharisees, but one and the same; every letter of it, every jot and tittle, must remain in force and be observed until the end of the world.  But there is a “better righteousness” which is expected of Christians.  Without it none can enter into the kingdom of heaven, for it is the indispensable condition of discipleship.  None can have this better righteousness but those…whom he has called.  The call of Christ, in fact Christ himself, is the sine qua non [an essential and indispensable condition] of this better righteousness.

“Now we can see why up to now Jesus has said nothing about himself in the Sermon on the Mount.  Between the discipleship and the better righteousness demanded of them stands the Person of Christ, who came to fulfil [sic] the law of the old covenant”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 121-122).

Yes the disciples of Christ are still bound to the old law, but they are to obey God's law through a better righteousness which comes through "the law of faith," or the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This new, better, righteousness of faith does not make void the old law, but rather it establishes it, and fulfills it.  This is what Paul meant when he told the Romans "Where is boasting then?  It is excluded.  By what law?  of works?  Nay: but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law...Do we then make void the law through faith?  God forbid: yea, we establish the law (Romans 3:27-28, 31).

Obedience is About Learning Heaven, Not Earning Heaven

Rather than letting us off the hook, this better discipleship actually requires more of us than did the old law.  Under the old law we didn't have to do too much thinking of our own.  Under the old law we only had to worry about obeying those things that were explicitly spelled out for us, but under the new law we are expected to discern for ourselves what the right path might be.  This places added responsibility upon us to exercise the discipline and discernment we need to qualify for the guidance of the Holy Ghost to help us to discern the subtle differences between right and wrong, and more often, between right and almost right.  No longer are we allowed to content ourselves with the limited and external obedience (or, as I like to call it, mere compliance) countenanced under the old law.  Now we are expected to obey with our whole "might, mind, and soul."

Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained that this type of discipleship, this “better righteousness,” requires and represents a certain specific level of moral discipline which produces a change in individual nature and character:

“By “moral discipline,” I mean self-discipline based on moral standards. Moral discipline is the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right, even when it is hard. It rejects the self-absorbed life in favor of developing character worthy of respect and true greatness through Christlike service (see Mark 10:42–45). The root of the word discipline is shared by the word disciple, suggesting to the mind the fact that conformity to the example and teachings of Jesus Christ is the ideal discipline that, coupled with His grace, forms a virtuous and morally excellent person” (November 2009 Ensign volume 39, number 11; General Conference Report, “Moral Discipline”).

Sometimes when I discuss the principle of grace with my fellow Mormons I mention the truth that obedience without internal discipline, sincere intent, and heartfelt devotion is not obedience at all.  It is usually at this point that I start hearing protests along the lines of: “Isn’t enough to simply obey?  Why does it matter where our head is at when we observe a commandment, as long as we are keeping that commandment?”

My response is that complying with God’s laws grudgingly, under compulsion, or out of no more than a sense of obligation, is not obedience at all.  I am not alone in this assessment either:
For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.  For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.  For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.  And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.  Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.  For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil (Moroni 7:6-11).
Your intent in doing the commandments matters in determining the quality of your obedience (i.e. “better righteousness”), and more particularly, in helping you to develop the quality of character which God desires, or as Elder Christofferson puts it, to develop the attributes of “a virtuous and morally excellent person.” As C. S. Lewis explained, the quality of character which you develop matters more per se than the particular actions one takes in obeying God’s commandments.

“There is a difference between doing some particular just or temperate action and being a just or temperate man. Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is a man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on. They have a certain tone or quality which is there even when he is not playing, just as a mathematician's mind has a certain habit and outlook which is there even when he is not doing mathematics. In the same way a man who perseveres in doing just actions gets in the end a certain quality of character. Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions which we mean when we talk of a 'Virtue'.

This distinction is important for the following reason. If we thought only of the particular actions we might encourage three wrong ideas.

(1) We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it - whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake.

But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a 'Virtue', and it is this quality or character that really matters. (If the bad tennis player hits very hard, not because he sees that a very hard stroke is required, but because he has lost his temper, his stroke might possibly, by luck, help him to win that particular game; but it will not be helping him to become a reliable player.)

(2) We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.

(3) We might think that the Virtues' were necessary only for this present life - that in the other world we could stop being just because there is nothing to quarrel about and stop being brave because there is no danger. Now it is quite true that there will probably be no occasion for just or courageous acts in the next world, but there will be every occasion for being the sort of people that we can become only as the result of doing such acts here. The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a 'Heaven' for them - that is, could make them happy with the deep, strong, unshakable kind of happiness God intends for us” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 79-81).

Who you are inside matters as much as what you do on the outside, because, as Brad Wilcox is fond of saying, “We are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven” (Brad Wilcox, “His Grace Is Sufficient,” BYU Devotional, July 12, 2011).

"Those who do not learn to value God's way, speak His language, or acquire His tastes are not going to be happy where He is.  His plan is called "the great plan of happiness" (Alma 42:8), and happiness is found not merely by making the grade so we can be advanced from one estate to another.  It is found by gaining an education all along the way.

Scriptures make it clear that we will be judged for our works (see Revelation 20:12; D&C 128:7), but these works are not fruitless attempts to make just the right number of deposits in some heavenly bank account or ticks on a celestial to-do list.  We will be judged by our works because of how those works have shaped us" (Brad Wilcox, The Continuous Conversion, 44).

When we keep the commandments, make covenants, and observe ordinances, we are not merely trying to fill in the boxes on some kind of cosmic or ecclesiastical checklist, rather we (as disciples) are striving to be transformed (or converted) into something that more closely resembles Christ, something which emulates his actions and shares His heavenly attributes, such as the pure love which Christ has (and embodies) for each of us, in order that we might be more suited for life in His kingdom.

“The word disciple comes from the Latin [meaning] a learner. A disciple of Christ is one who is learning to be like Christ—learning to think, to feel, and to act [like] he does. To be a true disciple, to fulfill that learning task, is the most demanding regimen known to man. No other discipline compares … in either requirements or rewards. It involves the total transformation of a person from the state of the natural man to that of [a] saint, one who loves the Lord and serves with all of his heart, might, mind, and strength” (Chauncey C. Riddle, “Becoming a Disciple,” Ensign, Sept. 1974, 81).

"'Confessing Jesus' is not just believing in Him or experiencing a brief flirtation with spirituality.  It is allowing our lives to be reshaped by Him" (Brad Wilcox, The Continuous Conversion, 51).

When we talk about grace and works we often talk mostly about the hereafter, but grace is as much about transformation in the here and now as it is about salvation in the hereafter.  Obedience becomes a natural byproduct of our conversion, rather than something done only in order to gain merit or earn "brownie points" in the hereafter.

"I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.

I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it."

They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?"

I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”

Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to" (Brad Wilcox, “His Grace Is Sufficient,” BYU Devotional, July 12, 2011).

“Because God’s new world is free from every stain or hint of sin, it’s hard to imagine how we could enjoy heaven without holiness. As J. C. Ryle reminds us, heaven is a holy place. The Lord of heaven is a holy God. The angels are holy creatures. The inhabitants are holy saints. Holiness is written on everything in heaven. And nothing unholy can enter into this heaven (Rev. 21:27; Heb. 12:14). Even if you could enter heaven without holiness, what would you do? What joy would you feel there? What holy man or woman of God would you sit down with for fellowship? Their pleasures are not your pleasures. Their character is not your character. What they love, you do not love. If you dislike a holy God now, why would you want to be with him forever? If worship does not capture your attention at present, what makes you think it will thrill you in some heavenly future? If ungodliness is your delight here on earth, what will please you in heaven, where all is clean and pure? You would not be happy there if you are not holy here. Or as Spurgeon put it, “Sooner could a fish live upon a tree than the wicked in Paradise.””  (Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness)

As we become converted into a new creature in and through Christ, the commandments cease to be a burden, and begin to be a blessing in and of themselves.  We will no longer need to be "compelled in all things," and our motivations will change.  No longer will we obey "out of a desire for a reward or fear of punishment" or some sense of obligation or guilt, but rather we will seek to do and to be all that God would have us do and become because that is who we are now, and it is what we genuinely desire for ourselves.

"Scriptures do speak of God's future blessings and even the celestial kingdom as rewards we receive or prizes we win..., but as we grow spiritually, these rewards and prizes are no longer seen as motivations preceding our choices  but as natural consequences following them.  What we may have done out of desire for reward or fear of punishment, or even out of a sense of guilt or duty, we can learn to do out of a love-filled and grateful heart.

One girl wrote, "When I think about keeping rules and standards as something I have to do to get to heaven or should do as an example to others, I feel empty; but when I think of them as a way of showing appreciation for Christ's atonement, I love them" (Brad Wilcox, The Continuous Conversion, 45).

"President Ezra Taft Benson put it most poignantly when he said, 'When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power'" (Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge,” Conference Report, April 1998,

This power includes the power to act for oneself without being acted upon, and the freedom to make correct choices.  Another name for that power and freedom is "Christian Liberty," as this liberty was purchased for us by Christ himself, and it comes at the price of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

"Freedom thus obtained—that is, by obedience to the law of Christ—is freedom of the soul, the highest form of liberty. And the most glorious thing about it is that it is within the reach of every one of us, regardless of what people about us, or even nations, do. All we have to do is learn the law of Christ and obey it. To learn it and obey it is the primary purpose of every soul’s mortal life" (Marion G. Romney, "The Perfect Law of Liberty," Conference Report, Oct 1981).
Romans 12:1-2  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Love is the fulfilling of the law

Why is it that we must "learn to [obey God] out of a love-filled and grateful heart" as Brad Wilcox states? How is it that love should be our primary motivation in keeping the commandments of God?  Paul points out, in Romans 13:10, that “love is the fulfilling of the law.” My central argument in all of this is that the saving difference between the so-called “dead works” of the Law of Moses, and the good works, or “better righteousness,” that attend a true disciple of Christ (or a true saint) is that good works proceed out of a heart filled with love, i.e. the pure love of Christ, or Charity.  Paul referred to this better righteousness through the emulation of and animation by the pure love of Christ (Charity) as “a more excellent way” (see 1 Cor. 12:31).

As Paul puts it in 1 Timothy 1:5 “Now the end of the commandment [i.e. The Law] is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” Pure Christ-like Love for God and our brothers and sisters needs to proceed from the heart, and indeed must be our central motive in all that we do. If we are filled with this love, then keeping the commandments will be a natural part of all of our actions. Truly this is the end, or purpose, of The Law.  As the Lord said through Jeremiah, under the New Covenant of the Gospel “…I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.”  Let’s review Matthew 22:36-40 (see also Deuteronomy 6:5):
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
The Apostle James refers to this great aphorism in James 1:25, and 2:12 as “the perfect Law of Liberty” and in 2:8 as “the royal law.” Thus we see that if we truly love God and all others then keeping all of the other commandments is merely an expression of that love, and proceeds from it. Truly, this is THE Great commandment, upon which hang all others. The verses from Matthew quoted above also make it clear that under the New Covenant, God is more concerned with the total devotion of our hearts, souls and mind, and that he will no longer accept mere compliance, or half-hearted obedience. I refer again to Paul in Romans 6:16-18:
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
Paul demonstrates that while obedience is crucial, only obedience that truly comes from the heart will allow us to be freed from sin. Once freed, we are to become servants of righteousness. This means that we are to be diligent in following the will of the Father, and that we must devote our whole souls to doing righteousness of our own free will without waiting to be commanded before we obey. A disobedient, or a slothful and half-hearted servant is worse than worthless; in fact you might even call such a servant a traitor after a fashion. Christ makes it clear what is the Gospel standard for true discipleship in D&C 58:27-28:
For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned. Who am I that made man, saith the Lord, that will hold him guiltless that obeys not my commandments?
Faith and obedience essential characteristics of true disciples

We’ve established that while works don’t save us, they are a necessary expression of our true conversion to the Gospel of Christ. As James puts it, “by works was faith made perfect.” Obedience is a requirement made of all of God’s children, and is also an important step in our personal conversion and in someday reaching our eternal destiny.

"Obedience does not produce or maintain salvation, but it is the inevitable characteristic of those who are saved."  (John F. MacArthur, Jr., Faith Works, 121).

Christ himself said in John 7:16-17: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

Or in other words, if we want to become converted to the truth of any doctrine, we first need to demonstrate our faith through obedience to that same doctrine. (See D&C 130:20-21) Christ promises us that in so doing we will gain a testimony of the divine origin of said doctrine. If we truly have faith, we will diligently seek to obey God to the best of our ability, out of love for him. We will do good to and for our brothers and sisters on this earth out of a sincere love for others, and a desire to please God.

My answer then to the question of whether salvation is through Faith and not Works, or vice versa, is this: That the idea that these doctrines are at somehow separate and/or at odds is a false one, which distracts from the whole point of the Gospel in the first place. C.S. Lewis said it well when he said: "Regarding the debate about faith and works: It’s like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most important" (C. S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian, 135). You can’t have one without the other (when it comes to salvation).

Many evangelical protestant churches teach that anyone who teaches or believes anything other than the doctrine of salvation by faith alone (or Sola Fide) is in fact not a Christian.  Relying upon this doctrine of Sola Fide, as one of the criteria that defines what it means to be a true Christian, is a dangerous proposition for the following reason. I’d like to quote an Evangelical Christian author who discovered that many modern Christian beliefs about salvation are quite different from those held by the early Christians:

 “If there's any single doctrine that we would expect to find the faithful associates of the apostles teaching, it's the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. After all, that is the cornerstone doctrine of the Reformation. In fact, we frequently say that persons who don't hold to this doctrine aren't really Christians… Our problem is that Augustine, Luther, and other Western theologians have convinced us that there's an irreconcilable conflict between salvation based on grace and salvation conditioned on works or obedience. They have used a fallacious form of argumentation known as the "false dilemma," by asserting that there are only two possibilities regarding salvation: it's either (1) a gift from God or (2) it's something we earn by our works. The early Christians would have replied that a gift is no less a gift simply because it's conditioned on obedience.... The early Christians believed that salvation is a gift from God but that God gives His gift to whomever He chooses. And He chooses to give it to those who love and obey him.” (David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, 3rd edition, (Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing Company, 1999[1989]), 57, 61–62. ISBN 0924722002.)

Many question or reject the idea of a salvation that is conditioned upon obedience, because they feel that a loving God could not bear to part with any of his children, no matter how far any of us may stray or how stubbornly we may rebel. This cannot be, because as Elder Dallin H. Oaks explains:

"The love of God does not supersede His laws and His commandments, and the effect of God’s laws and commandments does not diminish the purpose and effect of His love... God’s choicest blessings are clearly contingent upon obedience to God’s laws and commandments. The key teaching is from modern revelation:

"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21).

"This great principle helps us understand the why of many things, like justice and mercy balanced by the Atonement. It also explains why God will not forestall the exercise of agency by His children. Agency—our power to choose—is fundamental to the gospel plan that brings us to earth. God does not intervene to forestall the consequences of some persons’ choices in order to protect the well-being of other persons—even when they kill, injure, or oppress one another—for this would destroy His plan for our eternal progress” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Love and Law,” Ensign, Nov. 2009, 27-28).

Grace offered on anything less than these terms would amount to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace."  Grace which comes to us on our own terms, and which requires nothing on our part, is meaningless and ultimately has no power to save us, and yet there are some who find the concept of a God who indulgently extends His grace and blessings to us without requiring us to depart from sin to be an attractive and alluring one.  Easy or cheap grace which does not require us to follow the source of that grace is not really grace at all, but rather it is a dangerous, damning, lie.

"Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace!  That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs.  Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin.  Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 44-45).

Contrast this with what Bonhoeffer calls "costly grace," which is the grace which requires lifelong repentance and transformation and devotion on our parts.  Costly grace is what enables and ennobles us, and grants us the power to live up to the high standards which God has set.

"Instead of believing--as some Christians do--that Christ requires nothing of us, we can discover the reason He requires so much and develop the strength to do all He asks (see Philippians 4:13).  Grace is not the absence of God's high expectations.  Grace is the presence of God's power" (Brad Wilcox, The Continuous Conversion, 50).

This grace is the pearl of great price, the redeeming power which enables us to become more than we are, and to do more than we alone are capable of doing.  This incredible treasure must come at a great price, the price of our whole life and soul, for nothing of such worth could ever come so cheaply as to require only half-hearted or self-serving devotion, which makes no requirements of us, and engenders no conversion on our part.

"Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought with a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us

"...Costly grace confronts us with the gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 45).

As the Hymn says, “God will force no man to Heav’n” (see Hymn 240 "Know This, That Every Soul is Free" in the LDS Hymnbook). Our individual salvation therefore depends upon our individual choice, made through the exercise of our own God-given agency, to come unto Christ and repent of our sins and devote ourselves mind, body, and soul to living God’s Laws and Commandments. Not because doing so will somehow earn a place for us in heaven, but rather because God wishes it, and we love him and sincerely desire to please him (see John 14:15). What we do and become while we are here matters greatly in the hereafter. That is why Christ warns us in Matthew 7:21 that:
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.
After all we can do?

The Apostle James is therefore perfectly correct in asserting in his epistle that faith without works is dead. James wrote his letter to Christians throughout the church that had already accepted Christ, through baptism. The purpose of this letter is to teach them (and us) what it means to be truly converted, to help us recognize what it takes to be truly changed. James wants us to know that it is not enough merely to be a nominal “Christian” (or a “Mormon” for that matter), but that in order to be saved one must become a true follower, or disciple, of Christ. In fact, it falls to each of us to become nothing less than a true saint with our whole heart, mind, and soul.

“If your friends ask, “Does your church believe you are saved by grace or works?” you could say, “We believe that we are saved by grace after all we can do (see 2 Ne. 25:23). We don’t earn salvation. Heavenly Father and the Savior will bless us with eternal life, through Their grace, if we do our part. They have asked us to have faith in Jesus Christ, repent throughout our lives, be baptized and receive other ordinances, and faithfully endure to the end. If we do that, we are promised eternal life through the grace of God” ("Tough Topics: Are You Saved by Grace or Works?" New Era, March 2005).

“Some Christians accuse Latter-day Saints who give this answer of denying the grace of God through claiming they can earn their own salvation. We answer this accusation with the words of two Book of Mormon prophets. Nephi taught, “For we labor diligently … to persuade our children … 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” (2 Ne. 25:23). And what is “all we can do”? It surely includes repentance (see Alma 24:11) and baptism, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end (Dallin H. Oaks, “Have You Been Saved?” Ensign, May 1998, 55).

"Besides repentance, our works also include receiving ordinances, keeping covenants, and serving others. While these works are necessary for salvation, they aren’t sufficient. They are not enough because we can’t live perfect lives, but we can do our best to live righteously. By doing so, we invite the Lord’s grace into our lives and qualify for the gift of salvation" ("Tough Topics: Are You Saved by Grace or Works?" New Era, March 2005).

One of the charges made by our critics against Latter-day Saints that is often the most difficult for the rank and file members to refute is that we deny the grace of God because we believe that we must make certain performances and observe certain works in order to be saved.  While this includes ordinances such as baptism, this accusation is usually leveled at our performances of what we often refer to as "saving ordinances" in the temple.  This accusation (and any difficulty in answering it) is often based on misunderstanding concerning the role of covenants and ordinances in God's plan for our happiness and salvation.

"We accept the Atonement by faith, which includes repentance, covenants, and ordinances.  Baptism and temple ordinances are not attempts to add to the finished work of Christ's sacrifice.  These and other righteous works are extensions of our faith, by-products of our acceptance of Christ, and evidence of Christ working with, in, and through us.  Faithfulness manifests our faith and strengthens it.  Keeping covenants is not a way to prove ourselves worthy of grace, but rather a way to "grow in grace" (2 Peter 3:18).

Some see the efforts of Latter-day Saints to live the gospel and endure to the end as vain attempts to make up for our sins and save ourselves.  They accuse us of attempting to replace faith with works.  But we "know that [we are] redeemed, because of the righteousness of [our] Redeemer (2 Nephi 2:3).  Faith is the pure fountain from which our works flow" (Brad Wilcox, The Continuous Conversion, 51).

This teaching is in harmony with Biblical teachings on grace, as exemplified by this passage from Paul's letter to Titus:
Titus 3:4-8 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
An examination of this passage makes it clear that Paul considers baptism (the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost) to be the apparatus by which Christ saves us through His mercy. Paul rather clearly classes these (and presumably other) ordinances differently than he does the "works of righteousness" which he mentioned immediately before as having no power to save.  Baptism and other ordinances are not dead works because their observance constitutes a part of  the terms of the new covenant of the gospel, and as such they are ordained by God.  As Paul points out to the Galatians, even though we are no longer under the old law, and are instead under the law of faith, we are still required to be baptized as an expression of that faith, and as a sign that we have taken Christ upon us (both His name and His nature).  Further, under the New Covenant we can still have access to the blessings promised to Abraham in the old covenant, "for as many...[as] have been baptized" have been made heirs of God through adoption into God's family, "according to the promise" of both the old and new covenants.
Galatians 3:21-29  Is the law then against the promises of God?  God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.  But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.  But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.  Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Nevertheless, as members of the Church we must be careful about using language which suggests that we can somehow "qualify" for the gift of salvation through our own works.  In order to avoid misunderstandings, it is important to reiterate that none of us can hope to attain perfection without the divine grace of the Savior. It is crucial that we become truly converted to Christ, and as we do so, our good works will naturally proceed out of that process of conversion. Nevertheless, as hard as we may work and strive, we cannot gain entry into heaven based on any merit or accomplishment of our own.

“After all our obedience and good works, we cannot be saved from the effect of our sins without the grace extended by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “What Think Ye of Christ?” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 67).

As we do all that we can do we need to remember that our actions do not in any way repay the debt which Christ has paid for all men.  We are saved by grace, and while works are required of us, we do not (and cannot) earn salvation for ourselves in any way. After all we can do, after all our efforts have been exhausted and expended, it is only in and through Jesus Christ, and his merits, mercy, and grace that we can be saved. No amount of effort on our part can ever pay the debt.  Without the grace of God, which as a grace must be freely given (rather than merited on our part), our efforts can never make up the difference required to bring about our personal salvation. 

"Even though there are some conditional aspects of the Atonement that require our adherence to gospel principles for the full realization of eternal blessings, the Book of Mormon makes clear that neither the conditional nor unconditional blessings of the Atonement would be available to mankind except through the grace and goodness of Christ. Obviously the unconditional blessings of the Atonement are unearned, but the conditional ones also are not fully merited. By living faithfully and keeping the commandments of God, we can receive a fuller measure of blessings from Christ, but even these greater blessings are freely given of him and are not technically "earned" by us. In short, good works are necessary for salvation, but they are not sufficient. And God is not obliged to make up the insufficiency. As Jacob taught, 'Remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.'"  (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 236).

“Jesus Christ possessed merits that no other being could possibly have. He was a God, Jehovah, before His birth in Bethlehem. His beloved Father not only gave Him His spirit body, but Jesus was His Only Begotten Son in the flesh. Our Master lived a perfect, sinless life and therefore was free from the demands of justice. He is perfect in every attribute, including love, compassion, patience, obedience, forgiveness, and humility. His mercy pays our debt to justice when we repent and obey Him. Since with even our best efforts to obey His teachings we will still fall short, because of His grace we will be “saved, after all we can do."  (Richard G. Scott, “The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 40-42).

I often find that Mormons (and some others) do not always understand this concept very well.  When they read 2 Nephi 25:23 they tend to place too much focus on the "after all we can do part," and not enough on the first (and most important) part, which is that "we know that it is by grace that we are saved."  Too often I meet people who think that grace is just there to plug the leaks, or give a little push when our efforts don't quite measure up.  Rather, they need to understand that our efforts cannot possibly register, let alone measure up to the debt and the weight of our sins.  The divine mandate to keep the commandments is not about repaying God or Christ for our sins, but rather it is about shaping us into something that can bear to enter God's presence and then stay there.  Brad Wilcox explained it rather well in an exchange which he related during a devotional at BYU:

"A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”

She said, “I just don’t get grace.”

I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”

She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”

She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.

She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn’t be doing because she’s a Mormon, but she was doing them anyway.

Finally I said, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”

Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, “Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”

She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.

I said, “Wrong.”

She said, “I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”

I said, “No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.” " (Brad Wilcox, "His Grace Is Sufficient," BYU Devotional, July 12, 2011).

Wilcox uses this example to illustrate that Christ paid the whole price for our sins, and not just part or some of it.  That is why in 2 Nephi 2:8 it says that "there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah."  Merits means that Christ is the one that earned salvation, because he is the only one who kept the whole law, and we depend wholly upon his merits to be saved.  Through His grace and because of His mercy, He freely chooses to extend the merits of His righteousness to cover our sins.
Romans 3:20-26  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

D&C 45:3-5  Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.
Man, of himself does not, and cannot earn any saving merit in the eyes of God.

"Men and women unquestionably have impressive powers (given by God) and can bring to pass great things...But after all our obedience and good works, we cannot be saved from death or the effects of our individual sins without the grace extended by the atonement of Jesus Christ....In other words, salvation does not come simply by keeping the commandments (alone) ... Man cannot earn his own salvation" (Dallin H. Oaks, With Full Purpose of Heart, SLC: Deseret Book, 2002 Page 75).

Of ourselves we cannot earn or merit  any kind of credit with God through our actions, so where does "all we can do" come in?  In 2 Nephi 2:6 it says that Christ has offered "himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered."

Christ is the only one that earned salvation, and nobody can force Him to extend his righteousness to cover anyone else.  However, because Jesus is merciful, He graciously chooses to cover our sins with the merits of His righteousness because He loves us.  He has placed some conditions on who can receive this saving grace, however, and we call those conditions the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"As we strive to place Christ at the center of our lives by learning His words, by following His teachings, and by walking in His path, He has promised to share with us the eternal life that He died to gain. There is no higher end than this, that we should choose to accept His discipline and become His disciples and do His work throughout our lives. Nothing else, no other choice we make, can make of us what He can" (Thomas S. Monson, "Ponder the Path of Thy Feet," Ensign, November 2014, 88).

If we will come to Him in faith, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, get baptized as a sign of our repentance, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost to wash away our sins (there's that grace thing again, we can be baptized by water over and over again, but unless God chooses to send the Holy Ghost as a gift to cleanse us, no amount of our own works can wash away those sins.), and endure to the end in becoming converted and born again as a covenant son or daughter of God we will be capable of fully realizing the grace of Christ, which ultimately is the only thing that will make us suited to not just enter God's presence (all men do that, as resurrection is a free gift to all, and thus all are brought to stand before God to be judged through the atonement of Christ) but grace makes it so that we can (and will want to) dwell in God's presence for all eternity.  Without Christ's grace we will not be able to withstand God's presence, and so we will withdraw to a place where we are comfortable, which means we will be forever cut off from the presence of God (spiritual death).
Mormon 9:3-6  Then will ye longer deny the Christ, or can ye behold the Lamb of God?  Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with him under a consciousness of your guilt?  Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws?  Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.  For behold, when ye shall be brought to see your nakedness before God, and also the glory of God, and the holiness of Jesus Christ, it will kindle a flame of unquenchable fire upon you.  O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, pure, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day.

Alma 12:14-18  For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.  But this cannot be; we must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every man that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance.And now behold, I say unto you then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.  Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will.  Then, I say unto you, they shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God's justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption.
Grace is not given so we can do most of the saving work, and then let Christ give us a little push over the edge.  He isn't just here to make up a small difference between our own efforts and what God requires, as Brad Wilcox said it, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us” (Brad Wilcox, "His Grace Is Sufficient," BYU Devotional, July 12, 2011). Christ has already paid the whole debt, and He has done all of the saving work, so that He might bring all men to stand in the presence of God.  Now He asks that we come to him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit so that we might be converted and transformed to be made acceptable to God through the grace of Christ and able to enter into God's kingdom and abide there in joy forever.

After all that we can do, ultimately we must rely entirely upon the Savior’s merits, and mercy, and grace if we hope to return to live in the glory of God, and if we hope additionally to be transformed and converted, “…that, when [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is”, as John says in 1 John 3:2. John also declares (in verse 3), that “every man that hath this hope in him [Christ] purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

In Moroni’s powerful closing testimony in his record in the Book of Mormon, he makes plain exactly what part we must play to do “all we can do,” and what we must become in order to be purified even as Christ is pure and obtain salvation and exaltation through the divine grace of God (see Moroni 10:32-33).  Only the grace of Christ is sufficient to redeem us from our sins, to help us to overcome our weaknesses and faults, and to bring us back into the presence of God.
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. 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.
Through Christ, perfection (while daunting) is not out of our reach.  Through the power of His grace we can become the best version of ourselves, as we are shaped and changed by the workings and power of His divine love.  Moreover, we can be washed clean of our sins through the shedding of Christ's blood, the merits of which he graciously extends to all those who come to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and who accept Him through the exercise of faith, which includes repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost.  Through the power of His grace we will be enabled to endure to the end, as we strive to "put off all ungodliness," and to "love God with all [our] might, mind and strength."

Christ's grace is more than sufficient to help each of us to overcome all of the heartaches, trials, temptations, mistakes, and sins which we must face in this life; and through His grace we can become better for having overcome these things and having learned to rely upon the Savior.  The grace of Christ comes at a terrible price, and yet is freely given to all those who humbly seek the Savior.  What comfort it is to me to know that Christ's grace is so freely offered to me, when I also know what price the Savior paid so that I might enjoy the blessings of that grace!  Christ knows how to succor me and comfort me because His capacity for grace has been fired in the furnaces of incalculable affliction and suffering.  How great and wonderful and terrible is the price of His mercy!  How potent and efficacious is His grace!  I thank Him with my whole soul that He freely chooses to extend His merits and His grace to me, that the ends of the law might be answered on my behalf, that my paltry offering of my broken heart and my contrite spirit might be made acceptable to God!


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on grace, I also have had some thoughts on grace :) ~MM

  2. I haven't read whole post, but thank you for addressing the topic.


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