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Grace vs. Works

Also see the article on Grace by Elder Bruce C. Hafen

Do the Latter-day Saints believe that salvation comes through their own works rather than by the grace of Christ? Are they "saved" Christians?

This page contains comments from the following authors:

W. John Walsh
Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Robert L. Millet
Joseph Fielding McConkie

by W. John Walsh

Latter-day Saints believe men cannot earn salvation through good works.  The Book of Mormon teaches:

"I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another--I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants." (Mosiah 2:21)

Instead, we are redeemed by the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the atoning sacrifice that he made.  The Book of Mormon teaches:

"....Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he [Jesus Christ] cometh to bring salvation unto men."  (2 Nephi 2:3)

Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, offered his life, including his innocent body, blood, and spiritual anguish as a redeeming ransom from sin, death, and hell for the children of men. Without receiving the redeeming ransom offered by the atonement, every single person will be damned to Hell forever -- regardless of their good works. Here are a few relevant Book of Mormon verses on the subject:

"And [the people] viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

"And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them." (Mosiah 4:2-3, emphasis added)

"O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world." (Helaman 5:9, emphasis added)

"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." (Mormon 9:6, emphasis added)

"And if ye believe on [the name of Jesus Christ] ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his [Jesus Christ] merits." (Helaman 14:13, emphasis added)

It is now abundantly clear that Latter-day Saints believe we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ and not by our works.  The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that we are saved through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, not through our own personal works.  Now let's get to the real point of this issue.

To whom does Jesus' redeeming ransom apply? By performing the atonement, Jesus bought our souls and earned the right to act as the final judge of our eternal destiny. It is very important to note that Jesus determines who and who does not have claim upon the atonement that he made. People should not make the mistake of believing that they can somehow steal redemption from the Lord. If a person wants Jesus to save him, then he must be willing to do what Jesus asks of him. Jesus only offers redemption to those who are willing to become his disciples and keep his commandments. If someone is unwilling to become his disciple, why would he imagine that Jesus will save him? Jesus taught:

"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." (John 15:10)

Does this mean we have to keep every commandment to be saved? No, it is impossible for any man or woman,  regardless of his or her intentions, to keep every commandment perfectly (See Perfection). We are imperfect beings and this is why we needed a Savior in the first place.  We needed someone to save us from, and in spite of, our imperfections.  And that person is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

However, the Lord does require us to give our best efforts in following him and keeping his commandments (See Discipleship). If we will do so, the Lord will save us through his grace and love. However, if we are unwilling to give our best efforts, we obviously don't value what Jesus did for us. So why would we imagine that the Lord will save us?

The Doctrine and Covenants teaches:

"If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation." (D&C 6:13)

"And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God." (D&C 14:7)

(See The Atonement of Jesus Christ home page)

by Elder Dallin H. Oaks

As I understand what is meant by the good Christians who speak in these terms, we are "saved" when we sincerely declare or confess that we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. This meaning relies on words the Apostle Paul taught the Christians of his day:

"If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

"For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:910).

To Latter-day Saints, the words saved and salvation in this teaching signify a present covenant relationship with Jesus Christ in which we are assured salvation from the consequences of sin if we are obedient. Every sincere Latter-day Saint is "saved" according to this meaning. We have been converted to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we have experienced repentance and baptism, and we are renewing our covenants of baptism by partaking of the sacrament.

For Elder Oaks full comments on this issue, please see Have You Been Saved?

by Robert L. Millet

The theological debate over whether we are saved by grace or by works is a fruitless argument that generates more heat than light, much "like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary." Latter-day Saints have often been critical of those who stress salvation by grace alone, while we have often been criticized for a type of works-righteousness.

The gospel is in fact a gospel covenant-a two-way promise. The Lord agrees to do for us what we could never do for ourselves-to forgive our sins, to lift our burdens, to renew our souls and re-create our nature, to raise us from the dead and qualify us for glory hereafter. At the same time, we promise to do what we can do: receive the ordinances of salvation, love and serve one another (Mosiah 18:8-10), and do all in our power to put off the natural man and deny ourselves of ungodliness (Mosiah 3:19; Moroni 10:32).

We believe that more is required of men and women than a verbal expression of faith in the Lord, more than a confession with the lips that we have received Christ into our hearts.

The scriptures of the Restoration add perspective and balance to the majestic teachings of the Apostle Paul on the matter of salvation by grace. We know, without question, that the power to save us, to change us, to renew our souls, is in Christ. True faith, however, always manifests itself in faithfulness. Good works evidence our faith, our desire to remain in covenant with Christ, but they are not sufficient. The real question is not whether I am saved by grace or by works but rather, In whom do I trust? On whom do I rely? (See 1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 2:8; 31:19; Moroni 6:4.)

Too often we are prone to view grace as that increment of goodness, that final gift of God that will make up the difference and thereby boost us into the celestial kingdom, "after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). To be sure, we will need a full measure of divine assistance to become celestial material. But the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, is available to us every hour of every day of our lives. "True grace," as one non-LDS writer has suggested, "is more than just a giant freebie, opening the door to heaven in the sweet by and by, but leaving us to wallow in sin in the bitter here and now. Grace is God presently at work in our lives."

The grace of God is a precious gift, an enabling power to face life with quiet courage, to do things we could never do on our own. The Great Physician does more than forgive sins. He ministers relief to the disconsolate, comfort to the bereaved, confidence to those who wrestle with infirmities and feelings of inadequacy, strength and peace to those who have been battered and scarred by the ironies of this life (Isaiah 61:1-2; Alma 7:11-13).

Few things would be more serious than encouraging lip service to God but discouraging obedience and faithful discipleship. On the other hand, surely nothing could be more offensive to God than a smug self-assurance that comes from trusting in one's own works or relying upon one's own strength.

Understanding this sacred principle-the relationship between the grace of an infinite Being and the works of finite man-is not easy, but it is immensely rewarding. The more we learn to trust the Lord and rely upon his merits and mercy, the less anxious we become about life here and hereafter. "Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him," C. S. Lewis wisely remarked, "it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way."

Are we then "saved Christians"? Whereas the ultimate blessings of salvation do not come until the next life, there is a sense in which people in this life may enjoy the assurance of salvation and the peace that accompanies that knowledge (D&C 59:23).

True faith in Christ produces hope in Christ-not worldly wishing but expectation, anticipation, assurance.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, the Holy Spirit provides the "earnest of our inheritance," the promise or evidence that we are on course, in covenant, and thus in line for full salvation in the world to come (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). That is, the Spirit of God operating in our lives is like the Lord's "earnest money" on us-his sweet certification that he seriously intends to save us with an everlasting salvation. Thus if we are striving to cultivate the gift of the Holy Ghost, we are living in what might be called a "saved" condition.

One of the most respected Evangelical theologians, John Stott, has written: "Salvation is a big and comprehensive word. It embraces the totality of God's saving work, from beginning to end. In fact, salvation has three tenses, past, present, and future. . . . I have been saved (in the past) from the penalty of sin by a crucified Saviour. I am being saved (in the present) from the power of sin by a living Saviour. And I shall be saved (in the future) from the very presence of sin by a coming Saviour. . . .

"If therefore you were to ask me, 'Are you saved?' there is only one correct biblical answer which I could give you: 'yes and no.' Yes, in the sense that by the sheer grace and mercy of God through the death of Jesus Christ my Saviour he has forgiven my sins, justified me and reconciled me to himself. But no, in the sense that I still have a fallen nature and live in a fallen world and have a corruptible body, and I am longing for my salvation to be brought to its triumphant completion."

President David O. McKay taught that "The gospel of Jesus Christ, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, is in very deed, in every way, the power of God unto salvation. It is salvation here-here and now. It gives to every man the perfect life, here and now, as well as hereafter." Too many of us wrestle with feelings of inadequacy, struggle with hopelessness, and in general are much too anxious about our standing before God. It is important to keep the ultimate goal of exaltation ever before us, but it seems so much more profitable to focus on fundamentals and on the here and now-staying in covenant, being dependable and true to our promises, cultivating the gift of the Holy Ghost.

President Brigham Young taught that our work "is a work of the present. The salvation we are seeking is for the present, and sought correctly, it can be obtained, and be continually enjoyed. If it continues today, it is upon the same principle that it will continue tomorrow, the next day, the next week, or the next year, and, we might say, the next eternity."

In short, salvation is in Christ, and our covenant with Christ, our trust in his power to redeem us, should be demonstrated in how we live. The influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives is a sign to us that we are on course, "in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17), and thus in line for salvation.

Delivered at the weekly BYU Devotional in the Marriott Center February 3, 1998

Copyright 1998 Robert L. Millet

Entrance into God's kingdom comes through covenant--a two-way promise between God and man. The follower of Christ promises to do what he can do--have faith, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, endure faithfully to the end, and undertake deeds of Christian service. God on his part agrees to do for us what we could not do for ourselves--forgive our sins, transform our souls and purify our hearts, resurrect us from the dead, and save us hereafter in a kingdom of glory. LDS scriptures are very clear and consistent in stating that salvation or eternal life is a gift, in fact, the greatest of all the gifts of God. (D&C 6:13; 14:7.) Salvation is not something that can be purchased, bartered for, or, in the strictest sense, earned. Over and over again, the Book of Mormon, for example, affirms that men and women are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ and that there is no other way whereby salvation can be acquired. (2 Nephi 10:24; 25:23; Alma 22:14.) On the other hand, good works are expected of those who claim to have taken upon them the name of Christ. In fact, it is only as they strive to do their best to keep their part of the Christian covenant that the grace or divine enabling power can be extended and received as the free gift that it is. (Moroni 10:32.) In short, good works are necessary but not sufficient for salvation. The theological issue is thus not whether people are saved by grace or by works. Instead, the greater questions are: In whom do I trust? Upon whom do I rely? The Book of Mormon prophets attest that the people of God must always rely wholly (alone) upon the merits and mercy of the Holy Messiah. (1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 31:19; Moroni 6:4.)

The Mormon Faith: A New Look at Christianity
Copyright by Deseret Book

by Joseph Fielding McConkie

Through the scriptures of the Restoration, we as Latter-day Saints have been given a wealth of understanding not yet known to those not of our faith. For instance, in seeking to understand the doctrine of grace, we understand that God does not do for us what we can do for ourselves. That understanding is simply a manifestation of the verity that we were created in the image and likeness of God. Body, mind, and spirit were all given us by a divine Creator, and thus it is expected that they be used for both divine and eternal purposes. We are expected to do all the wholesome and good things that are within our capacity to do. To suppose that we have the capacity to labor in our own behalf, to advance "from grace to grace" (D&C 93:13), and then to suppose that the atoning sacrifice of Christ excuses us from the responsibility to do so is to argue that the purpose of the gospel is to excuse us from being godlike.

Indeed, the gospel of Jesus Christ comes to us in the form of a covenant. "My blood," Christ said, "shall not cleanse them if they hear me not" (D&C 29:17). The promise is that he will bring "all men unto him, on conditions of repentance" (D&C 18:12; 138:19). Teaching this principle, King Benjamin explained that through the Atonement, salvation would come "to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life" (Mosiah 4:6). Similarly, Alma explained that "only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption" (Alma 34:16).

The priesthood could be cited as a second illustration. The gospel embraces ordinances of salvation, which must be performed by legal administrators, meaning those who hold the appropriate priesthood and act under the direction of those called to preside over it. For instance, baptism is called the gate to the kingdom of heaven (see 2 Nephi 31:17; D&C 43:7). If we do not enter in through the gate, we cannot obtain entrance. In like manner, we are told that without eternal marriage, we cannot enter into the highest degree within the celestial kingdom (see D&C 131:1-4). The revelations also tell us that the higher, or holy, priesthood "administereth the gospel" (D&C 84:19). So it is that the ordinances of salvation-baptism and eternal marriage being our illustrations-are necessary on our part. The grace of Christ does not excuse us from entering into these sacred covenants and from the necessity of living up to the covenants we have made.

There are also many other ways in which the Latter-day Saint perception of the doctrine of salvation by grace vastly exceeds that of the sectarian world. When we address God as our "Father in Heaven," we do so because we understand him to be exactly that. Life did not begin with our birth into mortality, nor were we created out of nothing. We are the spirit offspring of eternal parents. We were born in a premortal estate, as was our elder brother, Christ. He was known to us then as he is now, as the Firstborn, meaning the firstborn of all the Father's spirit children. It was by the grace of the Father that we were born into that spirit realm. In and through his grace, laws were ordained whereby we might become like him. That required the creation of this earth so that we might be born into a physical world where we might obtain a physical body, like our heavenly parents', and where we might prove our willingness to be obedient to God's commandments. Thus when we speak of the grace of God, we speak both of the grace of the Father and of the grace of the Son, for it was by the grace of the Father that we were created, by his grace that we were granted the gift of agency, and by his grace that we were given and instructed in the plan of salvation, that is, the plan whereby we could become as he is. These singular truths are the exclusive province of Latter-day Saints. We alone embrace the faith that we are actually and literally the spirit offspring of divine parents and that we can, through the plan provided by our divine parents, obtain an exalted state like unto theirs. The theology of no other Christian faith dares offer such hope. Indeed, to them such promises are derided as blasphemous.

The divine plan required the creation of the earth so that we could be granted the privilege of coming here to obtain a physical body and be able to prove ourselves worthy to return to God's presence. The testing experience required the existence of opposites, so that we might use our agency and learn to make wise choices. Thus the earth, after its creation in a state pronounced good, or glorious, by God, was to become a telestial, or fallen, world through the transgression of Adam.

In turn this meant that all of Adam's posterity would be subject to two deaths: physical and spiritual. Physical death is simply the separation of body and spirit. Spiritual death is to be cast out of the presence of God on account of contamination by that which is unclean. Jacob, the son of Lehi, describes the role of Christ in redeeming us from the effects of these two deaths: "O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and become the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself" (2 Nephi 9:8-9). Thus it was that our spirits, being tainted with sin and having no way to cleanse themselves of its effects, would be subject to the author of sin. We would become citizens of his kingdom, required to worship him without agency, knowing neither freedom nor light. Ours would be a state of perdition, for we would be hopelessly lost.

The role of Christ in redeeming us from the state described by Jacob is, like the grace of the Father, unknown to our friends in the sectarian world. That is so because they do not understand the necessity of a corporeal resurrection. Only in the inseparable union of body and spirit can we receive a fulness of joy, which is the fulness of our Father's kingdom.

Without a proper understanding of the Fall, we cannot have a proper understanding of the Atonement and Christ's grace as it is represented in that supernal event. In turn, to understand the Fall, we must understand the nature of the original creation. The knowledge of each of these principles-the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement-are again the exclusive province of those who have embraced in faith the revelations of the Restoration.

Consider briefly how an understanding of the Creation expands our understanding of the Fall and through it our understanding of the Atonement. In the Creation all things-plants, animals, the earth, and the man, Adam, and his wife, Eve-were created in an incorruptible state. They were not subject to death, aging, pain, sorrow, or corruption in any form. They had been pronounced by their creator to be godlike. Thus when Adam fell, all things fell with him. The earth, which is a living thing, became subject to corruption and evil in all its forms as a result of Adam's fall. It was not in a fallen state when it was created by God. All plant and animal life-that which is in the heavens, and on the earth, and in the seas-became corrupted. Each was now subject to death. Each was interrupted in the pursuit of its eternal felicity. Such is the state of our fallen world, and such is the state that is rectified in and through the atonement of Christ. Because of his atonement, the earth, which is subject to death, will be resurrected and become an exalted sphere to be inhabited by those whose bodies are celestial. And as the earth will come forth into a newness of life, so will all living creatures that have inhabited it. Each in turn will enjoy the blessings of an exalted state. Thus the eternal world will be graced by the beauty of plants and trees, by the singing of birds, and by the companionship of animals.

The atonement of Christ extends the blessings of Christ's grace not only to all of God's children but to all of his creations. Once again we are invited to stretch our minds far beyond the bounds of traditional Christianity. Christ created worlds without number, and as such he is their Creator, and so he is their Redeemer. The declaration of this singular truth is recorded in holy writ in these words: "That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God" (D&C 76:24). Expressing these same truths in poetic form, the Prophet wrote:

And I heard a great voice, bearing record from heav'n,
He's the Saviour, and only begotten of God-
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad.
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav'd by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God's daughters and sons,
By the very same truths, and the very same pow'rs.
("A Vision," 82-83)

As all of Adam's children are natural heirs to the Fall, so all are rightful heirs to the grace of Christ in overcoming its temporal effects. In the language of scripture, the corruptible will become incorruptible, meaning that death, aging, and pain will end for all. The promise is without limit or qualification. The full blessings of Christ's mercy and grace, however, become ours only through the exercise of agency. Salvation must be a matter of choice. It grows out of a covenant relationship. In making covenants, we choose to take upon ourselves the name of Christ and to keep his commandments. Conditioned upon our doing so, we are adopted his sons and daughters and become heirs, as he is an heir, to the fulness of the Father. No one can force salvation upon us, nor can blessings of such matchless worth be given to us without the consecration of our efforts in return. Thus the Lord says: "I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end" (D&C 76:5). The full measure of his mercy and grace become ours as we seek to serve him "in righteousness and in truth." Again, we have been commanded to "reconcile" ourselves "to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved" (2 Nephi 10:24). Nephi stated the principle in these words: "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" (2 Nephi 25:23).

In so saying, I am aware that it has been argued that the word after in the preceding text can be interpreted as a preposition of separation rather than one of sequence-that is, that it carries the meaning "apart from" rather than "as a result of." The purpose of such an interpretation is to emphasize that the grace of God is not the crown upon our labors but rather the heart and soul of our hope of salvation. That such is the case is beyond dispute. Yet it is equally true that only those who do all that they can do can receive the fulness of God's grace. And the fulness of God's grace comes only to those who are exalted. It was never supposed that Christ atoned for the sins of the world so that we might have the option of finding some measure of happiness in the lower kingdoms. The atonement of Christ was first and foremost to bring us back into the presence of God in a glorified and exalted state. Christ atoned for our sins so that we might become as God is. We become so by advancing from grace to grace, or from one labor to a greater labor, until we have received the fulness of the Father (see D&C 93:6-20). As we comply with the laws and ordinances of the gospel, we obtain the full effects of Christ's grace in a sequential manner, for that is the manner in which we receive the ordinances of salvation.

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