Oh, hello there. Welcome to another segment of Faith and Beliefs. Today we’re going to talk about something that reeeally gets people riled up sometimes — Passing lanes. For the love of Pete, if you’re not passing someone, get out of the passing lane. It should not be your default driving lane. Stop it. …K, well now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk about being saved by grace versus works.
Many faiths believe that in order to be “saved” all we have to do is rely on Christ’s grace. Why do they believe that? Well, I imagine because that’s what the Bible teaches. So that makes sense. There’s a lot of confusion, though, about what Latter-day Saints believe when it comes to this topic, so I’ll try to be as clear as possible.
Here’s the deal. As Latter-day Saints, we do not believe we can save ourselves through our works. Only Christ can do that. We are saved by His grace. But our belief that Christ alone satisfies the demands of justice does not absolve us from satisfying the demands of Christ, and we’re going to come back to what those things are in a moment.
But before we get to that, when we talk about salvation, what do we mean? What exactly is Christ saving us from? Well, it can mean several different things. I’m using that term in the context of being saved from physical and spiritual death (or sin). Because Christ was resurrected, we believe that everyone, regardless of beliefs or behavior, will be resurrected. Salvation over physical death is a free gift from Christ to humanity. No matter how many old ladies I help cross the street, I’ll never have the power to resurrect myself. That comes from Christ.
Salvation from spiritual death, or sin, is also only possible through the grace of Christ. However, Christ has put conditions on accessing that gift, namely things like faith, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and receiving the Holy Ghost.
Now, that’s confusing to a lot of people, even members, because baptism is still a work … right? Sure it is, but Latter-day Saints believe the purpose of that work is different. It is not to satisfy the demands of justice, it’s not to earn “salvation,” it is simply to meet a condition upon which the reception of Christ’s gift is predicated. Do you see the difference?
Also, that’s not to say that anyone who doesn’t get baptized is going to an eternal Hell. Check out our video on the difference between SALVATION and EXALTATION for more on this.
A lot of what I’ve been saying parallels a great speech given by a professor named Brad Wilcox, there’s a link to it in the description below. It is excellent and delves into this topic much more than I’m going to, but I love an example he uses to illustrate why we tend to emphasize works quite a bit in our faith:
Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. … Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice. Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is not found in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice. … I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, ‘You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.’ I say, ‘No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it. We are practicing for it.
So, do Latter-day Saints believe we are saved from death and sin by grace or by works? Dingdingdingding! The answer is GRACE. Do works have their place? Of course, they do, but their purpose is not to replace Christ, but rather to honor, appreciate, and use His sacrifice. Now, there are probably some people watching this, shaking your heads, thinking we’re way off base. That’s totally fine! You don’t have to believe any of this, but at the very least, hopefully, you understand what we believe a little bit more clearly. Some of you are probably sitting there with a million more questions about grace and works. If that’s you, I’d suggest you start looking for answers by clicking the third link below that will take you to a more expansive article associated with this video. And if you’ve still got questions after that, shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.
This episode is a pretty good description of how Latter-day Saints believe we are saved by grace. Some of our critics point to this phrase in the Book of Mormon to prove that we are a “works-based” gospel:
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).
It seems obvious to our critics from this scripture that we have to work to the point of exhaustion and then grace kicks in, but the operative phrase here is “for we know…after all we can do.” After all we can do, it’s still not enough for us to be saved. Only God’s grace can save us.
It’s also pretty cool that this is an Old Testament era scripture. The Book of Mormon peoples taught of Christ by name before Christ was born, having been taught about Him through their prophets.
Another scripture from the Book of Mormon enlightens us:
And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh; for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free (2 Nephi 2:4).
If salvation is free, then we aren’t striving with our works to obtain it. Our episode on the difference between salvation and exaltation can help enlighten you about this.
Grace is About More than Being Saved
It is by the grace of Christ that we are here in mortality, that we exist, that we live and breathe. Every breath is ours through His grace. His grace helps us solve our problems, figure out our relationships, discover and amplify our talents, overcome doubt, find faith. Calling upon His grace daily can sustain us in all that we do and all that we face.
I marvel to think that the Son of God would condescend to save us, as imperfect, impure, mistake-prone, and ungrateful as we often are. I have tried to understand the Savior’s Atonement with my finite mind, and the only explanation I can come up with is this: God loves us deeply, perfectly, and everlastingly. I cannot even begin to estimate “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height … [of] the love of Christ.”7
A powerful expression of that love is what the scriptures often call the grace of God—the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now into exalted beings of “truth and light, until [we are] glorified in truth and [know] all things.”8
…Another element of God’s grace is the opening of the windows of heaven, through which God pours out blessings of power and strength, enabling us to achieve things that otherwise would be far beyond our reach. It is by God’s amazing grace that His children can overcome the undercurrents and quicksands of the deceiver, rise above sin, and “be perfect[ed] in Christ.”
Where does Judgment Come In?
All Christians believe that the time will come when we will face God to be judged. In the Book of Revelation, it says four times that we will be judged by our works. It says this many times also in the Book of Mormon. We believe that all things about us will be taken into account — our physical and genetic makeup, our cultural influences, our mortal opportunities, our upbringing, our unique challenges, desires, intent, everything. Elder Bruce Hafen gave a talk to an audience focused on the challenges of same-sex attraction. In it, he talked about how the “difficulty of our dive” during mortality will be taken into account.
Elder Maxwell once taught a group of people who lived with really hard daily challenges. He had been watching the Olympic diving competition, where he had learned that the judges grade a dive not just by how graceful it looks to the public, but by how difficult the dive is—which only the judges can understand enough to measure. Elder Maxwell told this group that the Lord will judge their lives by the difficulty of their dive, which He understands in every detail. And your own difficult dives are being made much harder these days by the increasing cultural confusion that now swirls around the topic of homosexuality.
Judgment is a necessary part of the Plan of Salvation, and we all must face it. Salvation means to inherit a place in heaven after you are resurrected. But which place in heaven is determined at judgment. It is through Christ’s grace that nearly everyone you know will be saved to a kingdom in heaven.