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.