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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

Mormon Misconceptions: Faith, Works and Grace

One of the more common claims against the LDS faith is that our doctrine teaches that we can EARN our salvation through our good works. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. There certainly are members who think and behave as in such a way that implies this and there are members who indeed believe this but the doctrine is fairly plain in both the Bible and the LDS teachings of both the Book of Mormon and modern apostolic leadership.

The Context

In the world of the new testament, the Jews were followers of the law of Moses. They believe that being justified and made right before God was the product of an individuals ability to follow the law of God. The Christians rejected this notion as they believed no person could fully live up the perfect law of God. They rightly realized that only through the atonement of Jesus Christ could a man be made right before God. Therefore, Christians rightly believed that our works were not the path to salvation. Instead, it was only through our faith in Jesus Christ that we could find salvation. For this reason, Paul said:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9

Faith= Trust that moves us to action.

Saved by faith? YES, but what does that mean. Is faith merely a passive belief? Let's look at what the Bible itself says about the subject.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone... For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.- James 2: 14-26 (NASB)

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10: 34,35)

Jesus put the notion above very simply.

 "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."- Matt 7:21

"Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."- Matt 19:17

If we have faith...what then? 

At the day of Pentecost in the New Testament, the spirit of Christ was poured out upon the believers. Upon hearing the words of the Apostles they were filled with faith and wondered what works they should do...

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.- Acts 2: 37-38

Christ also taught...

"If ye love me, keep my commandments."- John 14:15-31 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" - Mark 16:15-16 "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit"- John 3:5

The LDS church teaches that if we really trust and love our Savior (have Faith) we will strive to follow him to the best of our ability. We will be baptized as a sign that we have accepted his sacrifice for us and will strive for the rest of our lives to live according to his commandments, not because these works will save us, but because of our actions show our love for him as an outward manifestation of our inward commitment. Saved by Grace Through Faith. 

The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that it is only through Christ's grace that we are saved after our best (but flawed) efforts to show our faith by following him.

And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance...- Alma 22:14

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

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.... Moroni 10:32 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 12:23

We are saved by his grace after all we can do, not BECAUSE of all we did or can do. The idea is that it does not matter how far along the path we are so long as we are pointed in the right direction- and that direction is Christ. The call to the LDS member is to STRIVE to show the reality of their faith and love for Christ by living as he has asked us. This is how we accept the gift freely offered by Christ to all. We do not earn this gift by achieving some level of righteousness, we accept it by giving ourselves to Christ through faith. In the end, you will fail again and again at following Gods commandments but by never giving up you will know that this all you can do and the "good news" from him is that this is good enough.

On the other hand if we just "go through the motions" we will be wasting our time.

"For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing."- Moroni 7:6

The Modern Teachings of the LDS Church. 

The doctrine that we are saved by Grace through faith has always been the LDS doctrine though perhaps some members have misunderstood this or not communicated it effectively.

When faith springs up in the heart, good works will follow, and good works will increase that pure faith within them- Brigham Young. 

“After all our obedience and good works, we cannot be saved from the effect of our sins without the grace extended by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” —Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “What Think Ye of Christ?” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 67. “No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we obey, no matter how many good things we do in this life, it would not be enough were it not for Jesus Christ and His loving grace. On our own we cannot earn the kingdom of God, no matter what we do. Unfortunately, there are some within the Church who have become so preoccupied with performing good works that they forget that those works—as good as they may be—are hollow unless they are accompanied by a complete dependence on Christ.” 2- Elder M Russell Ballard. In Sum

Fact 1: We cannot live up to Gods perfect law because we all sin

Fact 2: Sin separates us from God.

Fact 3:  We are saved from sin by the Grace of Jesus Christ through our faith in him.

Fact 4: If our faith does not produce works it is merely a passive belief, it is not really faith. (Faith without works is dead)

Fact 5: Not all who believe in Christ will be saved, but rather only those who show their faith in him by doing his will.

Conclusion: Salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ, not of works. Our works should be merely an outward manifestation of that faith. They are a sign, and token of our deep and abiding love for and trust in Christ. Just "going through the motions" or doing works for reasons other than our desire to show our love and trust in Christ (works without faith) will also cause us to fall short of the grace of God.

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