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Mormon Beliefs: Grace and Works

From the beginning of time, God gave men commandments they were to follow. Prophets emphasized the importance of these commandments for those who want to follow God and Jesus Christ.

However, commandments were only one portion of God’s plan for us. He always intended for each of us to have the opportunity to return home to Him, but justice and mercy had to be balanced in order for this to happen.

Mormon beliefs, sacramentIn order for a person to return to God without mercy, he or she would have to live a sinless life. That would prove to be impossible for anyone but Jesus Christ, who could do so only because His Father was God. For the rest of us, mistakes and bad choices were inevitable. If it were impossible for us to return to God, there would be no purpose in having us come to Earth. In fact, it would be a great unkindness and unfairness, and God is neither unkind nor unfair.

For this reason, God provided a balance of mercy. While mercy does not take away the need for obedience, it tempers it so that we can choose to repent and return to God someday. This mercy came through the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He offered to come to Earth, live here to adulthood, and then to atone for our sins. In order to atone for us, He had to live a sinless life, so He came as the son of Mary and of God the Father. Mary’s heritage gave Him a mortal body that could suffer and die. God’s heritage allowed Him to overcome death and to live a perfect life.

As His ministry drew to a close, He took our sins onto Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane. This experience was very painful and very much an individual and personal gift to every person who ever lived or would live on Earth. He took on each sin individually, suffering so much He sweated blood.

He then died on the cross, and three days later, was resurrected, overcoming death. These actions brought to the world grace and salvation.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who are sometimes referred to as Mormons, believe in grace. However, they assign a different meaning to it than do some other Christians, making the argument about whether or not Mormons believe in grace one of semantics, in most cases.

Mormons believe that grace and the atonement allow everyone to be resurrected and to live forever. It also gives us the right to repent of our sins and align ourselves with God—but that is a choice. Mormons, at baptism, take the name of Jesus Christ onto the themselves and accept Him as their Savior. However, they believe that true salvation involves more than just living forever—it is living forever with God. To that end, baptism is the first step, not the last.

In the Book of Mormon, which is used with the Bible as official scripture, says this about grace:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved. (2 Nephi 10:24)

This means that we cannot save ourselves. Had Jesus Christ not come to earth and atoned for our sins, we would be forever kept away from God’s presence. Nothing we could do ourselves could allow us to overcome death and sin alone.

Paul talked about this in Romans 10:9-10:

9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Taken alone, this verse might seem to suggest that accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior is all that is required and that once done, we can do anything we want with the rest of our lives. Of course, we must read the entire Bible in order to understand the complete teachings on the subject of grace and salvation. The teachings must be examined in context of the whole book, and not through isolated verses.

The Book of Mormon says, “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. (See 2 Nephi 25:23)

Suggesting that we are saved by grace after all we can do leads some to ignore the section about grace and to suggest Mormons believe they are saved by their works. Clearly, when the entire scripture is read, this is not true. Faith without works is dead, the Bible tells us, and the reverse is also true.

Grace and works go together to provide a complete understanding of how God’s compassionate gospel functions. Let’s look at several Bible verses which elaborate on the things we are required to do in order to be able to return to God’s presence.

First, the Bible says we must have faith and to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. We encountered this in the above-discussed verse in Romans. These are both actions, and therefore, we see that Christians who believe in grace alone actually do believe in works—it comes down to a discussion of how many works are required, not whether they are required. Stating our faith in Christ is most certainly an act.

It is not, however, the only act outlined in the Bible as being required in order to be saved. Acts 2:38 says: Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Repentance, then, is another act required for salvation.

Mark 16:16 adds still another requirement in order to be saved: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Baptism is an act required of those who want to be saved.

When we turn to the Sermon on the Mount, we discover Jesus Christ personally taught that obedience to the commandments was not an optional part of the gospel: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (See Matthew 7:21.) This verse leaves no question that merely saying the words is not enough—one must also obey the commandments. This teaching is repeated throughout the Bible.

Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches: “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.” This verse is often used to justify a faith-only doctrine, but the teaching was not offered to suggest people can live any way they choose. It teaches, as we discussed earlier, that we cannot save ourselves without Jesus Christ. If Jesus had not atoned for our sins, no amount of good works would save us. However, Jesus did say we are required to keep the commandments in order to be saved.

How do we reconcile these verses and the others that emphasize the need for obedience to commandments?

Our righteous decisions are a manifestation of our love for God, and of our willingness to put His teachings first before our own selfish desires. Our actions result from our choices. If we do a thousand good works, but do them for selfish reasons or only to get a reward, we are not demonstrating faith in God. If, however, we do these good works for no reason other than love for God, they are a manifestation of our faith.

Someone who verbally accepts Jesus Christ as His Savior and then heads out to rob and murder someone was never really converted. His actions contradict his profession of faith. While no one is perfect, our continued efforts to align our lives and our hearts with the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ are an outward manifestation of our faith.

Understanding this we see that the issue of faith and works is really not controversial at all. Atonement is a gift of Jesus Christ and cannot be bought or earned. Salvation, however—the right to live not just forever, but with God, is conditional on righteousness. Faith and works must come together in complete unity within our hearts in order for us to receive everything God wants us to have.

Additional Resources:

Myths and Misperceptions about Mormons.

Learn more about grace and works by reading, “Have You Been Saved?”

Learn more about Jesus Christ and Mormonism.