A gift of grace?

By Bill McKeever

Editor’s Note: The following was originally printed in the May/June 2015 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.

At general conference in April 2015, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the LDS First Presidency, gave a message called “The Gift of Grace.” In it he said “salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience.” How is one to understand this in light of all the many comments made by other leaders and manuals that emphasize the need for complete obedience by members? After all, it was only two years ago when President Thomas S. Monson, citing Gordon B. Hinckley, said, “eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience” to the counsels of God (“Obedience Brings Blessings,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2013, p. 90).

Mormonism indeed includes a doctrine of grace in its theology; however, this concept of grace does not at all resemble the New Testament grace that is unmerited and undeserved. If God’s best must be gained by works, it is not a gift in the true sense of the word. If it is not a true gift, it is not biblical grace. In Uchtdorf’s conference talk,  he said Mormons do good works “out of love” for God. No doubt, many Mormons have that motivation, but this does not erase all of the many times Mormons have been told that the grace that forgives the Mormon of sins comes after meeting a long list of performance requirements.

In making a reference to 2 Nephi 25:23, Uchtdorf said, “I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase ‘after all we can do.’ We must understand that ‘after’ does not equal ‘because.’ We are not saved ‘because’ of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before He will intervene in our lives with His saving grace?” Uchtdorf may trifle with the word “all” in this passage, but he never denied the fact that in Mormonism, grace enables the Mormon to keep the commandments, and as stated by Doctrine and Covenants 76:52, it is by “keeping the commandments,” a Mormon “might be washed and cleansed from all their sins.”

While general salvation (resurrection) is not dependent on works of any kind, exaltation or eternal life most certainly is. Personal performance and commandment keeping is essential to complete a Mormon’s journey to exaltation. According to the manual True to the Faith, “The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fulness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him” (p.77).

In the March, 2013 issue of Ensign magazine, members were told, “What do Latter-day Saints believe about grace? We believe that God’s grace is what ultimately saves us; yet it does not save us without our doing all that we can to live God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ’s teachings. We do not believe salvation comes by simply confessing belief in Christ as our Savior. Faith, works, ordinances, and grace are all necessary” (Ensign, March 2013, p. 21).

The day after Uchtdorf gave the above message, Kevin W. Pearson, a seventy, told members, “Once we enter into covenants with God, there is no going back.” Covenants are promises made by members to keep all of the commandments. Mormons are told that God is not bound to keep his end of the agreement if a member fails to live up to the covenants made (D&C 82:9-10).

Mormons who have participated in the temple are also fully aware of the threat made by the character portraying Lucifer. In the endowment ceremony Lucifer addresses the crowd and tells “Peter,” “if they do not walk up to every covenant they make at these altars in this temple this day, they will be in my power!” Since it is highly unlikely that Dieter F. Uchtdorf was implying that members need not live up to every covenant to achieve exaltation, it’s highly unlikely that the LDS Church is moving toward a biblical view of grace.