By Eric Johnson
According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, grace is provided to all people leading to a kingdom of glory. According to 2 Nephi 25:23 in the Book of Mormon, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” This teaching of grace is different from what Paul said in the book of Ephesians.
“If” and “Then”
According to Mormonism, grace is available to those who keep God’s commandments. This is made very clear by what the leaders and correlated curriculum have said throughout the years. Referencing the verse in 2 Nephi cited above, one church manual states, “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” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 77). Referring to 2 Nephi 25:23 listed above, Apostle Boyd K. Packer told a general conference audience, “Even that grace of God promised in the scriptures comes only ‘after all we can do’” (“The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, November 1995 (Conference Edition), p. 19). A manual commented on this verse:
According to this verse, what must we do to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him”? (“Deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness, and love God with all [our] might, mind and strength.”) Explain that “deny yourselves of all ungodliness” means “give up your sins.” We must strive to give up our sins and demonstrate that we love God with all our might, mind, and strength. If we do this throughout our lives, then Jesus Christ, through his Atonement, will help us become perfect (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 1998, p. 123. Brackets in original).
In other words, grace is only efficacious when a person is able to complete the “if” and “then” is God’s grace sufficient. Authored by Paul, the book of Ephesians addresses the issue of grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The idea that a person can be saved by grace through faith alone has often been mocked by the LDS leadership. Consider two examples:
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie: “The heart and core and center of revealed religion is that the Son of God atoned for the sins of the world, that he abolished death so that all shall rise in the resurrection, and that he made salvation available on conditions of obedience. The second greatest heresy in Christendom is that men are saved by grace alone without works, merely by confessing the Lord Jesus with their lips” (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, p. 77).
12th President Spencer W. Kimball: “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” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 206. See also The Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 36).
What about works?
Many Latter-day Saints bristle when told that salvation comes by grace through faith alone and not by works. One church manual lays out the argumentation often used,
Some people believe that when Paul said we are saved by grace through faith he meant that nothing we do has any effect on whether or not we are saved—that it is completely a gift from God. This view is in opposition to James’ teaching that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:10–26). The revelations of the Lord to Book of Mormon prophets help clarify this important doctrine. While it is true that no one can live the law well enough to be saved by his or her own obedience (see Romans 3:20–23; 2 Nephi 2:5), that does not mean that obedience is not important. If we do not strive to keep the commandments, believing alone will not be enough (see Matthew 7:21; James 2:17–19) (New Testament Student Study Guide, 1999, p. 135).
Notice that Paul is not saying good works are not important. One only needs to read the next verse (v. 10) to show how important they are. It says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” It makes no sense for Paul to say that “we” (i.e. believers) were created from the very beginning to do good works if he was somehow contradicting the “not by works” phrase he gave in verse 9. In context, Paul is addressing an Ephesian audience that was attempting to earn God’s favor through their good works. Meanwhile, James was dealing with the opposite situation; his audience was using their “saved” status through grace as a reason why they didn’t do good works. Hence, “faith without works is dead,” he stated. A believer who has become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) where old things have passed away and all thing become new should have evidence, which the Bible calls “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-24).
In other works, grace is how a person is justified (through faith and not by works of the law, Rom. 3:28) and works declare the faith to be authentic. Unlike other religions that are all about what a person does, Christianity is not about what you do but who you are. Therefore, justification comes by grace through faith, not works, yet good works are what believers were created to do. Otherwise, Christians would have room to boast.