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LDS Teachings Regarding Faith and Works

By Eric Johnson

The following are resources in the notes to be used in a discussion with Scott Adams. These are just notes and not an actual article:

  1. The Miracle of Forgiveness (See TheMiracleofForgiveness.com)

Gaining forgiveness of sins

What is frightening is what Kimball says on page 325 regarding forgiveness:

It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility, your sincerity, your works, your attitudes.

How can a person know that forgiveness has been obtained? It’s quite simple, as chapter 15 announces that “keeping God’s commandments brings forgiveness.” Based on D&C 1:31-32 (“he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven”), Kimball said this involves the following process:

First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must then live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness. (Also quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 43.)

It seems straightforward and simple. Repent. Keep the commandments (continually, as D&C 25:15 says). Receive forgiveness.

Glad that is cleared up. So we see, the price of admission to the forgiveness party is complete (not partial) obedience. But there’s more, as Kimball said that even the urge to sin must be purged. Quoting Alma 13:11-12, Kimball explained on pages 354-55 that

repentance which merits forgiveness . . . is that the former transgressor must have reached a “point of no return” to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin—where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life.

Perfection is an achievable goal

In chapter 15 (“Keeping God’s Commandments Brings Forgiveness”), Kimball said that a “repentant life seeks perfection,” writing on pages 208-9,

Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.

“Perfection,” he added on page 210, “really comes through overcoming” and

only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality.

Trying and Doing Your Best

Under the subheading “Trying is Not Sufficient,” he wrote,

Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. To try with a weakness of attitude and effort is to assure failure in the face of Satan’s strong counteracting efforts. What is needed is resolute action. (p. 164)

He explained on pages 164-65:

It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults, who have gone through these learning periods, must determine what they will do, then proceed to do it. To “try” is weak. To “do the best I can” is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life.

On page 165 Kimball referred to the adulterous woman in John 7:53-8:11, questioning whether or not Jesus could bestow forgiveness on the woman. According to Kimball,

But did the Lord forgive the woman? Could he forgive her? There seems to be no evidence of forgiveness. His command to her was, ‘Go and sin no more.’ He was directing the sinful woman to go her way, abandon her evil life, commit no more sin, transform her life. He was saying, Go, woman, and start your repentance; and he was indicating to her the beginning step—to abandon her transgressions.

No works outside this life

Kimball then quotes all of Alma 34:21-34 to support the case that no works can be accomplished outside this life. In summary, these verses show how:

  • “now is the time and the day of your salvation”
  • “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God”
  • “the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors”
  • “after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed”

Kimball doesn’t continue to verse 35, but perhaps he should have. It says,

35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

2. 2 Nephi 25:23: “We’re saved by grace after all  we can do.” (Could this mean “in spite of all we can do.”) (See full article.)

Many LDS leaders have consistently held to the “preposition of time” view

Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson explained his interpretation of “after all we can do” when he said,

What is meant by “after all we can do”? “After all we can do” includes extending our best effort. “After all we can do” includes living His commandments. “After all we can do” includes loving our fellowmen and praying for those who regard us as their adversary. “After all we can do” means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and giving “succor [to] those who stand in need of [our] succor” (Mosiah 4:15)—remembering that what we do unto one of the least of God’s children, we do unto Him (see Matthew 25:34-40; D&C 42:38). “After all we can do” means leading chaste, clean, pure lives, being scrupulously honest in all our dealings and treating others the way we would want to be treated (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 354. Brackets in original).

Another general authority, Seventy Theodore M. Burton, cited 2 Nephi 25:23 and explained,

The true value of the sacrifice of Christ means much more than this general salvation which comes to all mankind. There is an additional salvation that God has planned for his children. This additional salvation is an individual salvation and is conditioned not only upon grace, but also upon obedience to gospel law (“Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 78).

In traditional Mormonism, grace is provided to all humanity because of obedience accomplished in Mormonism’s preexistence (i.e., all human chose Jesus rather than Lucifer to be the savior of the world). Based on what Burton said, the phrase “after all we can do” as described in 2 Nephi 25:23 is a direct reference to “individual salvation,” also known as exaltation, eternal life, and godhood. Exaltation only occurs when a person has “obedience to gospel law.”

Apostle Boyd K. Packer agreed with “after” as referencing a preposition of time, saying, “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). And a 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).

Not once have I found a general authority agreeing with the notion that “after all we can do” is the same as “in spite of all we can do,” as this missionary was telling me. Certainly there have been leaders who have minimized the works, such as former general authority Tad R. Callister, who cited the verse and then wrote the following in his popular book The Infinite Atonement:

In other words, we contribute to our salvation, but we do not earn it. That was also the spirit of Paul’s message: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thus works alone cannot save us; grace is an absolute prerequisite. But a certain amount of works (i.e., the best we have to offer) are necessary to trigger God’s grace and mercy. No matter how hard we work, how diligently we serve, or how righteously we live, we will never deserve more than we receive (p. 311).

Confusing words. He cites from Ephesians that salvation is a “gift of God: not of works,” yet he still says “we will never deserve more than we receive.” Works “alone” can’t save us, he says, as “grace is an absolute prerequisite.” So, in other words, it is not by grace alone but grace and works (“saved by grace after all we can do”). Such a stand, while sounding “almost biblical,” is still in opposition to both Ephesians 2:8-9 that was conveniently cited as well as interpretation of 2 Nephi 25:23 given by the missionary. Callister’s explanation correlates with the traditional interpretation of 2 Nephi 25:23, which is works are definitely needed and salvation does not come by grace alone.

One leader who did not mince his words was the eleventh president of the church, Harold B. Lee. Before citing 2 Nephi 25:23, Lee explained, “But all of these blessings are ours on one condition, and this is spoken of by Nephi” (Conference Reports, April 1956, p. 111). In a later general conference talk, Lee also said, “Truly we are redeemed by the atoning blood of the Savior of the world, but only after each has done all he can to work out his own salvation” (Conference Reports, October 1970, p. 116).

Consider the other citations where Lee referenced this verse:

“‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ (2 Nephi 25:23.) The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments. All of the principles of the gospel are principles of promise by which the plans of the Almighty are unfolded to us” “All we have to do in order to be prepared to enter the presence of the Lord is to forsake our sins, come unto Him, call on His name, obey His voice, and keep His commandments; then we shall be able to see His face and to know that He is” (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee, p. 246) See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 24).

“When you think about it, there is so much promised in the gospel for so little required on our part. For example, the ordinance of baptism is given us for the remission of sins, for entrance into the kingdom–a new birth; the gift of the Holy Ghost gives us the right to companionship with one of the Godhead; administration to the sick qualified the individual with faith for a special blessing; by paying our tithing, the windows of heaven may be opened unto us; by fasting and by praying our fast offerings, we are told that then we might call on the Lord and He will hear our cry and our call; celestial marriage promises us that family life will exist beyond the grave. But all of these blessings are ours on one condition, and this is spoken of by Nephi, when he said: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ (2 Nephi 25:23.) (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee, pp. 366-367).

“The simple essence of all you need to know about the Atonement is to be found in the teachings of the great prophet Nephi when he said, ‘We labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). Don’t you let anyone try to persuade you to any other doctrine than that. Except for the atoning power, the redeeming power, of the Master, redeeming the world from the Fall, bringing us back into relationship with one of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost—were it not for His sacrifice for us, none of us would be worthy to enter in His presence, except we were bathed in His blood through repentance of all our sins and our faithfulness to the end (see 3 Nephi 27:19). That [is] the pure doctrine of the scriptures” (Harold  B. Lee, “Viewpoint of a Giant,” Summer School Devotional Address, Department of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, Brigham Young University, July 18, 1968. Cited in The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, pp. 7-8).

“ULTIMATE SALVATION COMES TO THOSE WHO OBEY. The ancient prophets of this western continent have clearly set forth in understandable language the obligation of each individual to obtain the highest of these eternal privileges in mortality and in the world to come, for here we find written: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ . . . for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). In other words, each must do all he can to save himself form sin; then he may lay claim to the blessings of redemption by the Holy One of Israel, that all mankind may be saved by obedience to the law and ordinances of the gospel. Jesus also atoned not only for Adam’s transgressions but for the sins of all mankind. But redemption from individual sins depends upon individual effort, with each being judged according to his or her works. The scriptures make it clear that while a resurrection will come to all, only those who obey the Christ will receive the expanded blessing of eternal salvation” (Harold B. Lee, “To Ease the Aching Heart,” Ensign, April 1973, p. 5. Cited in The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, pp. 17-18. Ellipsis in original).

“THE LORD BLESSES US TO THE DEGREE WE KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS. The Lord will bless us to the degree to which we keep His commandments. Nephi put this principle in a tremendous orbit when he said, ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments” (Harold B. Lee, Address at MIA Conference, 17 June 1966. Cited in The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 186).

Other leaders have agreed with Lee’s interpretation of the verse, including:

Apostle David A. Bednar (after citing 2 Nephi 25:23):

“Certainly, ‘we believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel’ (Articles of Faith 1:3)” (David A. Bednar, “Therefore They Hushed Their Fears,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2015, p. 49).

Seventy Jorge F. Zeballos:

“Salvation and eternal life would not be possible if it were not for the Atonement, brought about by our Savior, to whom we owe everything. But in order for these supreme blessings to be effective in our lives, we should first do our part, ‘for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ Let us with faith, enthusiasm, dedication, responsibility, and love do all that is within our reach, and we will be doing all that is possible to achieve the impossible—that is, to achieve what for the human mind is impossible but with the divine intervention of our loving Father and the infinite sacrifice brought about by our Savior becomes the greatest gift, the most glorious of realities, to live forever with God and with our families” (“Attempting the Impossible,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2009, p. 34).

BYU Professor Clyde J. Williams:

“Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy (1857-1933) explained how the unconditional nature of the Atonement in regard to Adam’s transgression and its conditional nature regarding men’s personal sins is a doctrine ‘peculiar to ‘Mormonism’…and is derived almost wholly from the teachings of the Book of Mormon. In that distinction the beauty and glory of the Atonement, the balanced claims of justice and mercy shine forth as no where else, even in holy writ, — much less in the uninspired writings of men. It may be regarded as the ‘Mormon’ contribution to views of the Atonement of Christ, for it is to be found no where else except in Mormon literature.’ The perfect relationship between the atoning grace of Christ and the obedient efforts of mankind is powerfully stated by Nephi: ‘We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). Furthermore, we are invited to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.’ When we deny ourselves ‘of all ungodliness,’ then and only ‘then is his grace sufficient’ for us (Moroni 10:32)” (“Plain and Precious Truths Restored,” Ensign, October 2006, p. 53. Ellipsis in original).

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