I've been working on a scripture reading challenge to read all the standard works in one year, and let me say, it has been amazing! The enlightenment that comes is so astounding, things you didn't even know you were confused about or even wondered about, suddenly seem so clear. I truly have a deeper and stronger testimony in the power of the scriptures in my life.
Anyway, I just finished writing this short article (mainly for my own benefit) about the mechanics of grace and salvation. This article is the result of a truly wonderful epiphany I recently had while studying the scriptures. Really, it was like - LIGHT BULB!!! LIGHT BULB!!! I was sitting in McDonalds reading while the kids were playing, and I had to quickly dig through my purse and tear up an old grocery list, just so I could have some paper to write down a few notes on everything that was flooding into my mind. (Didn't want to totally copy J.K. and use napkins, LOL!)
Later I took my time to really compose my thoughts, and this article is the result. I'm so happy and amazed with what I've figured out, I want to share it with everyone! :)
The Question Of Grace And The Mechanics Of Salvation
Are we saved by grace or works? It can be a confusing question for Mormons, and most will say we're saved by both. The fact of the matter is we are saved through the redemptive power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. We are saved by his grace offered to us through his great and eternal sacrifice. The real question is - how do we receive that grace?
2 Nephi 25:23
"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."
The phrase "after all we can do" is, unfortunately, the main cause of confusion for many Mormons regarding the question of grace and salvation. The prophet Nephi states very clearly that we are saved by the grace of God, but it comes after our works. How is that? Do we earn grace by how great our works are, or how many good works we do? The answer is no.
"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."
This verse clarifies the actual mechanics of salvation through grace. We are saved by grace through faith, not through our works. We must have faith in Jesus Christ to receive salvation through his grace. So how do you account for the necessary works mentioned in 2 Nephi 25? Do you receive grace solely by a faithful belief in Christ?
"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
This verse brings together the importance of both our faith and our works. We cannot receive grace unless we have faith in God, but our faith has to compel us to diligently seek God (works) in addition to believe in Him. The reward (grace) comes from diligently seeking (works), and the diligently seeking (works) comes from our faith. So how are we actually being saved by grace, through our faith or our works? The answer is...both!
" But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do."
The parable of the unprofitable servant teaches that our works alone profit God nothing and do not give us any advantage in God's eyes. It is solely our duty to serve God. Works alone do not bring salvation.
"Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone."
Faith alone does not bring salvation either. It is good for nothing unless we do something with it.
So let's recap - we receive salvation through the grace of God, because of the redeeming atonement of Jesus Christ. But this grace cannot be received through faith alone, and it cannot be received through works alone. It must be received through a combination of our faith and works together. As Hebrews 11:6 states, we must be believing and diligently seeking. But then the parable of the unprofitable servant shows that no matter how great, wonderful, and plenteous our works are, it doesn't really matter either. Just the fact that our faith produces good works is the essential point.
The next question is, Why does our faith need to produce works?
"And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; and they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever."
The purpose of our earthly life is to prove ourselves faithful, by giving actual physical evidence, or proof, of our faith. God does not send us to earth to see if we will believe his commandments, but if we will do them. If God didn't want physical proof of our faith in Him, he wouldn't give us physical bodies. We could express our faith in him through our spirits alone, which I'm sure we did abundantly in our pre-earth life. Also, remember Hebrews 11:6 – it won't matter if we keep the commandments in this life, or show forth good works, if we don't do it in faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please him."
So, the question we were trying to answer at the beginning is - How do we receive grace? And the answer is through faith and works. Neither faith alone nor works alone save us. They must occur together in order for us to qualify for spiritual redemption. We are here on earth to prove to God that we will follow him in faith, and we prove our faith to him by bringing forth good works. The greatness or quantity of the good works is completely immaterial. The only good works that really matter is that we keep the commandments given us by God. Keeping the commandments is the physical proof of faith necessary to receive the grace of God, which is given to us through the redeeming atonement of Jesus Christ.