One-Minute Answers by Stephen R. Gibson

Contents of One-Minute Answers

Is Man Saved By Grace or Works?

Question: Christians believe they are saved by grace alone. Why do Latter-day Saints think works save them? 
The "grace vs. works" controversy has been raging since Martin Luther's time and perhaps since the era of Peter and Paul. Roman Catholics today tend to believe that salvation requires certain works, while the Protestants' most often-quoted scripture is,
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 (Eph. 2:8-9).
Where do Latter-day Saints fit in? To correctly understand the answer, we must understand how the word "saved" is used by those who believe they are already saved through grace. As many Protestants have explained to the author, salvation to them means they are saved from hell and automatically guaranteed a spot in heaven, based only on their confession of a belief in Jesus Christ. One of their most popular justifications for such a belief is the alleged "conversion" of the thief on the cross. They believe that if they die at any given moment after they have accepted Jesus Christ, they will be guaranteed everlasting life with Christ in heaven.

Latter-day Saints believe that through Christ's atonement and his resurrection, all will live again, be resurrected and have immortality. As stated in 1 Cor. 15:22, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Let us look at the question again. Do Latter-Day Saints believe we are saved by grace alone? If being saved means being resurrected and thus having immortality, the answer is yes. Immortality comes entirely through the grace of God and His son, Jesus Christ. Such immortality or "saved" condition is automatically received by all mankind, regardless of how we live or whether we profess a belief in Christ.

However, we also believe what the Lord taught in Matt. 19:16-25. In this scripture we have the account of the rich man asking the Lord what he must do to have eternal life. The Lord responded by listing commandments to obey, then told him to sell all he had and follow the Savior. He did not tell him that he need only confess a belief in the Savior. The Lord plainly taught in the Sermon on the Mount that, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven" (Matt. 7:21, 22). Therefore, in order to enter Heaven, one must obtain the grace of God and also do the will of the Father.

The Lord also told Nicodemus (John 3:3-7) two other requirements for salvation: the birth of water (baptism) and of the Spirit (receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost). In Matthew 24:13, the Lord declares that in order to be saved one must also endure to the end. For Latter-day Saints, obtaining salvation is therefore both an event and a process. Most Protestants believe it to be only an event.

If we equate the term "salvation" with the term "eternal life," then we are saved by grace (a gift from God) if we have done God's will, which means being obedient to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. When the ordinances are changed or dismissed as unnecessary by some of our critics, such as in the case of baptism and bestowal of the Gift of the Holy Ghost, eternal life isn't available to such until these ordinances are properly performed, either in person or vicariously. A basic tenet of our faith states, "We believe that through the Atonement [grace] of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience [works] to the laws and ordinances of the gospel."

Perhaps the single best LDS scripture that illustrates our belief in the role of grace as part of the process of being saved is found in 2 Nephi 25:23, where Nephi wrote,

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.
Latter-day Saints should never leave the atonement of Jesus Christ out of any discussion on how we get to heaven. We don't exalt ourselves. We don't save ourselves. We don't pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Even repentance would have no saving power if Christ had not paid for our sins. As King Benjamin an important Book of Mormon prophet taught, we must "Believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent" (Mosiah 3:18).

However, once we accept Jesus Christ's atonement, we are under obligation to do his will, which is different from doing the dead works of the Mosaic Law that Paul warned about in Ephesians. If we do Christ's will, we will have eternal life in heaven (the Celestial Kingdom) through his grace.

Although most think that Paul wrote only about being "saved by grace," which he mentions 21 times, he also stressed the importance of good works and deeds over eighty times.