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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mormons and Grace

Grace is an integral part of Christian theology. Believers in Christ come together in agreement that all men are in a fallen state and can only be made whole by the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In my interaction with people of various faiths I am often confronted with a common concern that Mormons do not join with the Christian community in the need for grace. In fact, The Church of Jesus Christ does focus so much on works, that at times it is easy for even members of the faith to be confused about the doctrine of grace. I wish to dispel that misconception and explain some thoughts on Mormons and grace.

Mormons believe there are two obstacles that inhibit man from returning to live with our Heavenly Father again. The first being physical death that occurs at the end of our mortal life and the second being spiritual death that occurs each time we choose to distance ourselves from God through sin. Christ’s atoning sacrifice in Gethsemane and later on the cross are what make it possible for man to overcome both.

Because Christ suffered the atonement and was resurrected, all mankind are given the gift of freely overcoming physical death. Mormons believe that regardless of the life one leads on this earth, the grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ makes it possible for all men to live again. This is a global belief in grace, a free gift all men receive by virtue of being born and being a son or daughter of our Heavenly Father.

To overcome the second death, spiritual death, Mormons believe as James taught in the New Testament that works must accompany faith (James 2:14-20). We believe in both the laws of justice and mercy. Justice has hold on us until we allow Christ’s mercy to work on our behalf (Mosiah 2:36-37). It is here that many of my friends of other faiths have trouble with Mormons and grace. Some accuse Mormon doctrine of teaching that man must earn his way to heaven. That only through works man can be saved. It is also here that some Mormons get confused and believe they can earn their way to heaven! Both are very mistaken.

Once someone has accepted Christ in their life as their Savior, it is then up to that person to follow Christ’s teachings. One cannot truly accept Christ without following Him. However, man will still slip up. No matter how many good works one does, it will never be enough to justify him at the last day. Always, man must rely on the grace of God to be forgiven and enter into His presence.

Elder Marion G. Romney, an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, explained this doctrine well when he said:

“ …[T]he Savior by his suffering paid the debt for my personal sins. He paid the debt for your personal sins and for the personal sins of every living soul that ever dwelt upon the earth or that ever will dwell in mortality upon the earth. But this he did conditionally. The benefits of this suffering for our individual transgressions will not come to us unconditionally in the same sense that the resurrection will come regardless of what we do… We cannot of ourselves, no matter how we may try, rid ourselves of the stain which is upon us as a result of our own transgressions. That stain must be washed away by the blood of the Redeemer, and he has set up the way by which that stain may be removed. That way is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel requires us to believe in the Redeemer, accept his atonement, repent of our sins, be baptized by immersion for the remission of our sins, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and continue faithfully to observe, or do the best we can to observe, the principles of the gospel all the days of our lives” (Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 35–36).

Truly, Mormons believe in and cherish the great gift of the atonement and the amazing grace provided us by our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ. We stand in awe at the wonderful blessing to have the opportunity to live with God again. We know that believing in Christ and partaking of His grace means accepting His terms and doing good works as He taught. We know that we must show our faith through our works, but that in the end only God’s grace will save us. 


  1. Hi Robert interesting post, as an evangelical who has spent a lot of time discussing this issue with LDS members I find myself sighing a little as we are back to the issue of terminology. I accept yes that the LDS church teaches that all will be raised in the next life and that this is considered a universal benefit of the atonement, however this is not salvation. Even within LDS theology this is one of many tiers of salvation the highest one exaltation being anything but by grace alone as you in a roundabout way have admitted yourself.

    The bible teaches that to be saved is something that means you are then one with Christ and made righteous by Him so that you become acceptable to God and eternally secure in salvation in its fullest sense, and this is purely by grace and comes into effect on the basis of a genuine step of faith toward Christ.

    We see this at work in Luke 7:50 when the sinful woman annointed Jesus feet with perfume, Jesus did not respond to the work He responded to the faith and said "Your faith has saved you go in peace" this is very rightly where James 2:20 comes in as her faith was demonstrated by her works however it was her faith that saved her.

    This is taught so clearly in the bible

    Ephesians 2:8-10
    8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    This is not talking about some universal raising in the next life it is talking about the saving grace that comes from faith in Christ.

  2. Romans 11:6 shows us even more clearly the relationship between grace and works when it comes to salvation.

    And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

    So moving onto the LDS view from what I have seen of many aspects of Mormon teaching that this is totally foreign to the LDS view.

    2 Nephi 25:23 says we are saved by grace after all we can do, which biblically means we are saved by works.

    And the most harsh statement but which as far as I am aware is correct within LDS theology comes from Spencer W Kimball in the miracle of forgiveness.

    One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.” (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 206-207).

    Also Mckonkie said this of the untrue doctrines found in modern Christendom is the concept that man can gain salvation (meaning in the kingdom of God) by grace alone and without obedience. This soul-destroying doctrine has the obvious effect of lessening the determination of an individual to conform to all of the laws and ordinances of the gospel, such conformity being essential if the sought reward is in reality to be gained.” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine p. 671)

    And there are more, however in my view this idea that LDS members and missionaries are talking today saying that they believe in salvation by grace is dishonest spin.

    Sorry for the long post, I am bobby from England by the way good to meet you :)

  3. Bobby from England, very nice to meet you as well. I very much appreciate your post as it is exactly what I hope to accomplish by sharing my thoughts on Mormonism; that is to further a civil and constructive dialogue with those within and outside my faith.

    I actually think we are saying the same thing in two different ways. The quotes from Elders from the LDS church you have are accurate, and say exactly what I was explaining. It is probably my fault for not being as clear. I did not intend to say that we believe grace works the same way other religions believe it to. I will break it down into 3 ways the LDS faith believes in universal grace and then expound a bit on the quotes you posted.

    1. We believe all men will be resurrected as a result of Christ's atonement regardless of works. (I don't think this statement was in dispute.)

    2. We believe that all men will receive a degree of glory. As you alluded to, LDS theology believes in several degrees of glory in the afterlife. This doctrine will be discussed in further posts as it deserves more explanation than I could give here. But, the basic tenant is that although there are differences in the state of a soul in the afterlife, all are considered a degree of glory.

    3. Even though Mormons believe that works (following Christ's teaching and example) are required for the highest degree of glory, we absolutely do not believe one can 'earn' salvation. As you quoted from The Book of Mormon, after all we can do, we are then saved by grace. This meaning that perhaps I find Christ later in life. My collective "works" would be less than someone's who had followed Christ their whole life; however, grace would make up for the rest regardless. So, we believe all men need grace to ultimately reach salvation.

    The men you quoted are explaining that we don't believe that man is saved, in the highest form of the word, by virtue of being man. We believe there is a difference between people who purposely and willing rebel against God and those that follow his teachings.

    I don't know enough about the Evangelical doctrine of grace to fully explain it, but I understand it to be that once someone accepts Christ they will be saved regardless of any actions.

    It is this specific doctrine the men in those quotes are rejecting. We believe that when Christ says all men must be baptized to enter the kingdom of God that he meant it. We believe as Christ taught, that by their fruits you should know them. We believe that when Christ and the apostles describe a great judgment at the last days, that judgment is about our works. We believe that accepting and following Christ means we must do and we must act.

    We do not believe that one needs to be perfect to receive salvation. We know that grace is required regardless of our works on earth, but that good works are required to accept this grace.

    I hope this clarifies what I meant by saying that Mormons believe in grace.

  4. There are so many great analogies for the atonement and how mercy (grace) and justice (works) work together.

    I like the parable of the debtor about a man that takes a large debt that he thinks he can pay off. When he gets behind and the debt comes due he has no way of paying it and will go to jail. A friend steps in and offers to pay the debt so the debtor gets his justice and then through mercy keeps the man out of jail but requires him to continue to make his payments to the friend.
    That to me is how grace and works work together.

    Another good analogy is the parable of the bicycle. A little girl wants to buy a bike but cannot afford it. Her father says that if she saves all her money (works)he will make up the difference (grace). She does so and saves a paltry 60 cents. The father then pays the remaining $99.40 for the bicycle.

    Take those for what you will but they make sense to me.

  5. Hi there Robert(s) thanks for your responses and sorry for my slow reply, I can appreciate we are coming at this from different views and that is fine, however I would not want you to make the mistake of thinking that we are saying the same thing, nothing could be further from the truth.

    The biblical doctrine of grace which I would love to discuss a bit here is the teaching that we can do absolutely nothing to contribute to any element of recieving our eternal salvation.

    Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

    Ephesians 2:3 says we are all by nature worthy of recieving wrath.

    In our fallen not knowing Jesus position we are totally lost, this LDS idea of the universal salvation of all being raised is no salvation at all as those that do not know Christ will at that point be brought to eternal destruction, i cant imagine they will be too thankful for that.

    Biblically salvation is eternity with Christ coming from being made righteous in the sight of God through justification by faith.

    Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    We are His workmanship saved by Grace so that no one can boast. That boasting comment is important as that means that no one can boast about their salvation as they have done nothing towards it.

    Going back to the after all you can do thinking there is room for boasting, someone could know they have been more righteous than someone else and so there is not as much slack for Christ to make up for in them so they could boast about it. I am sure your first thought is that I would not do that, however the problem is you could.

    In biblical salvation their is no room for boasting we are all lost, worthy of wrath and when we come to Christ as lost as anyone else he does 100% of the work needed for salvation, if we even contributed .000000001% to our salvation then its a gospel of works, as I said before Romans 11:6 says its one or the other, as if its works then its not grace.

    I think in times past in Mormonism this was not a problem, Spencer Kimball would have looked at what I am saying and said right on absolutely salvation requires works, however the Mormonism of today tries so hard to look and sound Christian that it preaches a message it does not even understand or believe and that is grace.

    Please let me know your thoughts on what I have said about biblical grace, I am sure you will have some objections, James 2:20 comes to mind and if you like I would love to explain how that works.

  6. As a Christian, I have to agree with Bobby. I have had this conversation so many times over and it always seems to turn into a battle of words. I believe that salvation comes by grace- ONLY grace. Nothing I could possibly ever do would even come close to making me worthy of salvation. Now, that is not to say that one who is saved should not do good works. But I think that is the result of grace...not something that precedes it. Doing good works for the purpose of salvation is absolutely fruitless,and I think that this point reveals one of the major chasms between Mormonism and Christianity. The elevation of man and the lowering of God- almost an attempt to equalize the importance of each (which, on a side note, goes back to my previous post about our major differences revolving around our beliefs about God) In Mormonism, man has to do all that he can do, and then receive grace in order to be saved- as if man has any power whatsoever over being saved. I think that this belief gives humans a level of power that absolutely does not exist in Christianity.

  7. Thank you for the responses. Again, I don’t wish to equate the Mormon doctrine of grace to the exact doctrine of Evangelicals. There are obvious differences, and therefore the reason we have different churches. However, I do think it is important for each religion to understand where the other is coming from to further dialogue.

    One of the main misconceptions I have hoped to overcome in this discussion is the idea that Mormons believe in ‘earning’ salvation. We wholeheartedly agree that it is only through the merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that one can ultimately return to the presence of God and live with Him eternally. The works we talk about are not to earn this reward, but to show our acceptance of Christ as our Savior. We reject the idea that someone could truly accept Christ through word only, but in deeds not follow His teachings and be saved. We believe that once someone accepts Christ they voluntarily follow His teachings to show their acceptance.

    The idea of works is found in nearly every verse of scripture. Every prophet; Enoch, Moses, Noah, Abraham (James 2:21), David, etc., did work for the Lord. They did not idly accept Him, but actively followed His commands. Works are further demonstrated just before Christ’s ministry when John the Baptist went about teaching repentance and baptism. Baptism is an outward sign of our inward commitment we make to Christ. Even Christ himself was baptized by John. He was doing the work of His Father. During His ministry and after His death he commanded His apostles to continue this practice and receive those that were baptized into the church.

    Finally, Christ clearly spoke of works throughout His ministry. I will quote a few items from one of his more known sermons, the Sermon on the Mount. He begins by telling those listening to “Let [their] light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Note that these good works were not for others to see or for the individual to boast, as He later explains in Matt 6:1-6, but to glorify the Father.

    Christ differentiates those that follow Him and those that don’t a few verses later when He says, “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments… 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” (Matt 5:19). He further clarifies that one’s righteousness needs to “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt 5:20).

    So, Mormons don’t do works to earn salvation, we do works because we want to follow the Lord. We believe that without works, our faith means nothing (James 2:17). We believe that one cannot claim to believe in Christ then choose not to follow Him and still be saved. We believe as Christ taught that, “Not every one that saith unto [Him], Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt 7:21).

    I don't bring up these points as points of contention, but as clarification of the doctrines Mormons espouse. Thanks for the great responses, I look forward to a continued dialogue here and on other posts.

  8. Ok Robert so if you died now would you be 100% sure of your exaltation and confident that you wil go and be with God?

  9. Yes! Joseph Smith taught that to truly show faith in God one needs to have "An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to [God's] will." (Lectures on Faith pg 36)

    I also believe that although that is the course of my life today, if I do not continue with faith and endure to the end this assurance could change.

  10. I see what you are saying but I am not sure you have answered my question,

    My question is on the basis of your faith in Christ alone, according to His grace in accepting you as a sinner as you are, can you confidently say that you will be spending eternity in the presence of God. And you can say this so confidently that if you died now you would be 100% sure of that?

  11. Your second question is different than the first. Yes, I believe that based on the way I am living my life now I would be confident in my salvation. I am also confident that if I don't continue living a life as Christ has asked (enduring to the end) then I would not receive that same salvation.

    I don't boast in my works, but I know I have received necessary ordinances like baptism (patterned after Christ's example) and I am striving to live the way Christ instructed in the Bible. I am not perfect, far from it, that is where I need God's grace. But it does not excuse me from trying to live the commandments as outlined by Christ.

  12. Well i had the same idea behind both which is ultimately when you die what are you relying on, Christs saving grace for you or your works.

    Your answer there saying based on the way you are living your life you can be confident of your salvation shows my point all along, its grace or works not both as Romans 11:6 says.

    This is one of the key reasons that the LDS church will never be considered Christian or true by Christians as it denies the grace of Christ and makes it about what we do, this is a mockery of how significant who Christ is and what He did.

    I appreciate you will disagree and maybe even say that I am twisting what you are saying but this is far from the case, Mormonism in its purest form is a works based religion full of people seeking to earn their way to their own future divinity and kingdom and it is proud of it. Its only Mormonism of today that seems to sweep this part under the table and say look we believe in grace too we are Christians which is deceptive and dangerous in my view.

  13. I of course respectfully disagree. At no time, past or present, has Mormonism preached that man could earn their way into heaven. We believe in faith and works working in harmony and the need for both.

    I invite you to reconcile your thoughts with the New Testament passages I quoted earlier; to ponder why Christ was baptized and why he invited others to do the same. Why did the rich man need to sell all he had? Why did the apostles preach repentance unto baptism? Why did Christ give us commandments to follow? Why did 5 of the 10 virgins get left behind? Why are Paul's letters sent to correct the saints found at different churches? Why is Christ's invitation to "COME unto Him"?

    I think the reason you continue to comment is because you have a deep belief and love for our Savior. Through that belief you feel a desire to share with others. If you denied that prompting, you would know you weren't doing what Christ wants you to do. But you haven't ignored that, you've followed that prompting. You chose to act because of your belief.

    I really do appreciate your perspective. I hope to have similar conversations on future posts.

  14. Hi Robert I agree I think this discussion has reached its course too, I think you have an excellent attitude about you and I love opportunities like this to discuss this stuff openly.

    My parting comment would be that you have done what every LDS person tends to do that I discuss these things with which is to ignore the verses on the bible about grace which I talk about but then quickly move on to the verses that talk about doing works and remind me of those.

    The thing to realize is that I do not see the bible at odds with itself at all, there are not verses that I do not like and verses that I do like, its a consistent message.

    In Luke 7:50 Jesus says to the peasant woman your faith has saved you go in peace, this womnan annointed His feet with perfume yet it was her faith that saved her, and not her works.

    The message of James is not that works save you but rather that genuine faith that is displayed by its works is what saves you.

    Before you say ha theres my point remember that its the faith that saves and not the works.

    Romans 4 first few verses says this: 1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

    2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.

    3For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

    4Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

    5But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

    So verse 5 says hey there is a reward for not working but trusting in God, that reward is righteousness.

    I know beyond the shodow of a doubt that when I die I am going to be with God, not because of one work I ever did but because I trust in Him that justifies the unGodly, which is just as well as I was pretty unGodly and still can be but by His grace there is no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1)

    So why did Jesus get baptized? As He said to fulful all righteousness and so should we, but our salvation and eternal destiny is secure when we trust in Him for it, as soon as we trust in ourselves our salvation is so insecure it might as well not be there.

    I would ask you to consider what I am saying as if what I am saying is true you are in trouble as you are trusting in your works for your eternal security as you said earlier.

    And there we go, I am happy to carry this on if you are mate but please believe me when I say that I am saying this out of love and concern, I am not interested in winning arguments, if thats all I wanted I would just talk to Jehovahs Witnesses (just a joke)

  15. I think it is a little of both. As pointed out God gave us comandments to follow not just for literature. We are to follow what he says. That does not mean he will love us any less or abondon us.I am far from perfect. Every time i break a comandment i know i hurt my father in heaven, but i also know that he will still love and forgive me. Knowing that i will not go out and break all the rules i can. I will not take advantage of his forgiving heart. I want to make him proud. I want to show my appreciation for all i have. So i try to do good works for him, not for me. But i still know that out of his grace he will love me. He understands our trials and knows that we are doing what we can to be right by him. And i also believe that he knows when we shrug off his comandments in hopes that he will look past it all. I dont know the Bible or Book of Mormon by heart but i know what i feel in my heart and soul.