Grace unto Works

Note: The following was originally printed in the January/February 2017 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here

By Bill McKeever 

When speaking to individuals who place a strong emphasis on personal performance when it comes to being justified before God, one can unwittingly fail to emphasize that the New Testament has much to say about how we should live our lives as Christians. When we focus solely on what it takes to justify (make right) a person in the sight of God, a Mormon can easily walk away from the conversation thinking that Christians believe in what has been called “cheap grace.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 are excellent verses to use in order to demonstrate the role of salvation by grace through faith in the life of the believer. These verses become particularly useful given the fact that Mormon doctrine makes a distinction between general salvation, or resurrection from the dead (which all humans will experience regardless of personal faith or good works), and personal salvation (exaltation or godhood), which must be earned by commandment keeping and a life of good works. If Paul really believed like a modern Mormon, which type of salvation did he mean when he used the word “saved?” This can be perplexing to Mormons, for if he had been referring to general salvation, why did he include the need for faith? If he had been discussing personal salvation, why did he exclude works?

When believers experience justification by trusting completely in the finished work of Christ on their behalf, they are also set apart, or sanctified, as God’s own (see Rom. 8:9; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Thess. 2:13). Still, there is also a personal sanctification that will be a lifelong endeavor in the life of the Christian.

Though it is important to explain why the Mormon definition of “salvation” fails to make sense in light of Ephesians 2:8-9, I think it is also important to explain verse ten when Paul teaches that believers are “God’s workmanship” who were created in Christ Jesus for, or unto, good works. Genuine Christianity does not overlook the importance of doing good works, but it does place them in their proper role.

As Christians we should strive to perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1), crucify our flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24), and walk worthy of the calling with which we’ve been called (Eph. 4:1). If we have, in fact, been “raised with Christ,” we must seek the things that are above where Christ is (Col. 3:1) and “make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7).

Not only should we clearly explain to our Mormon acquaintances that we take godly living very seriously, but we must also explain that none of those works that we perform make us any more “right with God.” In other words, the Mormon needs to understand accurately the roles justification and sanctification play in a believer’s life. Because we are justified by Christ’s works and not by our own, Christians can anticipate with confidence the coming glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.