Monday, May 19, 2008

A "Works Based Gospel"? You're badly mistaken.

There seems to be a huge misunderstanding. Actually, there are many misunderstandings, but this post highlights a major one; that we believe in a works based gospel, based right off of 2nd Nephi 25:23. My response is:

"You're misinterpreting how "we" interpret 2nd Nephi 25:23. The heart of it is saying that we are saved by grace NOTWITHSTANDING all we can do. Or in other words, "after all is said and done, or after all we can do (which isn't much)--we are saved by the grace of Christ." This is much more in line with LDS teaching and with all the other scriptures in the Book of Mormon, which eloquently states the doctrine of salvation by grace.

I would guess that there are some Church members who perhaps misunderstood our own doctrine/scriptures and think of the gospel as a gospel of works. They are wrong to do so and have not understood our own doctrine. When through our faith in Him we enter into a covenant relationship with Him through baptism, we turn ourselves over to Him. However, just like a husband and wife who enter into a marriage covenant are expected to be faithful to each other, He expects us to be faithful to Him and love Him more than we love anything or anyone else. Hence the scriptural analogy with Christ as the groom and the Church (and its members) as the bride.

Paul's definition of faith I believe includes "faithfulness". James' definition of faith is more like "belief"--hence the need to add "faith without works is dead". They're just defining faith differently. It's two sides of the same coin. Both were apostles. Both were right. Both taught that Christ expects us to give him our all--but no matter how much or how little that "all" is--it's insufficient to save us without the Savior Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon clearly teaches, “Since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself” (Alma 22:14). “There can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world” (Alma 34:12; see also 2 Ne. 9:7; Alma 34:8–16). “Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; … he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law” (2 Ne. 2:6–7). Consequently, “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne. 2:8). And so we “rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ … that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:26).

I quote from Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles:
“These teachings obviously stand in opposition to the belief or assumption of some mortals (perhaps even some members of our Church) that they have no need of Christ because they can think they can save themselves by their own works.

“As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we testify with the Book of Mormon prophet-king Benjamin that “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

“For behold … salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ” (Mosiah 3:17–18).

And so we say to all, in the words the prophet Moroni wrote as a conclusion to the Book of Mormon:

“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. …

“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:32–33).”

This is fundamental! This is our doctrine! I've personally felt the power The Book of Mormon has to bring us to Christ and rely wholly on His merits, mercy, and grace (and not our own.) By continuing to perpetuate the myth that we believe in salvation by works would be disingenuous and dishonest--the very thing you have accused us of in times past."

When you think about it, it is "all we can do" to repent of our sins and trust in Jesus.


Eric Nielson said...

Nicely done.

I might ask your take on the three degrees of glory and how they fit into this. It seems important to note that there is a difference between salvation and exaltation.

So if we believe in three degrees of glory, and a difference between salvation and exaltation, is there not some merit involved in our degree of salvation?

Also, is repentance a 'work' by some definition? If it requires choice and effort does it qualify as a 'work'?

Eric Nielson said...

No reply?

I might also add ordinances. For many, things like baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, temple ordinances, etc., would qualify as 'works' to in an old-testament kind of way. If we believe that we are saved through obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel (3rd article of faith), then these might qualify as works also.

Then there is the whole bit about obeying commandments, enduring to the end, becoming christlike in acts of charity. All of which might be considered works as well.

Clean Cut said...

Eric--I appreciate the though provoking questions. I was actually thinking of dedicating another post to it. I just haven't got around to it yet. I agree with you. I don't think I ever said we don't have to do any works--that's obviously false. My whole premise was who's works should we rely on for salvation? That's obviously Christ. It's His merits (works), mercy, and grace that we rely on--not our own. A "works based gospel" that our critics accuse us of seems to denote that we can practically save ourselves once we've finished checking off all the "boxes" of obedience. Again--blatantly false.

Granted, he has still made it very clear that we must enter into covenants and ordinances with Him--that covenant relationship with the Savior is fundamental. And he expects much more than belief in Him--He expects faithfulness to Him.

We do works BECAUSE of our faith in Christ and BECAUSE of our love for Him--he has already blessed us with grace beyond measure--not in order to merit his grace to ultimately be "saved". Nobody merits or deserves his grace--that's what is so marvelous about the gospel, or good news, of Christ.

Then there's the whole perspective that only Latter-day Saints understand, that being "saved" is not the ultimate goal. Exaltation--the kind of life God lives--is the ultimate goal. But even that wouldn't be possible except through Christ.

It's seems to be enough for some Christians to just get on the train--to be "saved"--but we want to ride the train all the way to the end of the tracks. As the "offspring" of God, we want to be "joint heirs" and become like Him. He wants us to become like Him too--we are his work and glory! (Moses 1:39).

I didn't yet bring that up lest someone accuse me of believing that we will become God. No one will ever replace Him. I do, however, believe that we can become "gods" to a degree--but not in the realm of being worshiped. It just makes sense that God's children would grow up to be like Him. Like President Packer said in his "The Pattern of our Parentage" talk--little chickens don't grow up to become watchdogs. Each grows up after the order of its own kind--following the pattern of our parentage.

So we also do works in order to become like Him--to posses the same attributes of goodness and godliness and love.

As for how that all fits into the Three Degrees of Glory--I don't really have anything to add to that just yet. I'm not particularly concerned about it either, because I've already been promised the Celestial Kingdom because of my covenant relationship with Christ--on the conditions that I continue to have faith in Him, repent, and use the Holy Ghost to help me endure to the end.

2nd Nephi 31:20
"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life"


Eric Nielson said...

Now THAT'S a reply!

So when you say that nobody deserve's his grace, does that mean that his grace is universal - regardless of our behavior or choices? Thus all will be saved?

I guess my point is to say that things are really not so simple sometimes. When we Mormons are asked:

Are we saved by grace?
Are we saved by works?

that simple yes or no answers do not give the whole story. The plan of salvation as we understand it is a lot more complex than how others understand it.

Thanks for your efforts. You seem to have a good thing going here.

Clean Cut said...

I understand what you're saying about not having simple yes or no answers. Of course, to be able to answer the question you have to first understand if we're talking about universal salvation from physical death, which would be "yes", or universal salvation from spiritual death, which would be conditional.

I would imagine that this isn't a clearly understood point by a majority of Christians today--and perhaps even among many of our own.

Clean Cut said...

This little exchange prompted a larger post and subsequent conversation at

Anonymous said...

What many ignore about the Bible is that there are differences between saved beings. Just because you are saved doesnt mean you will be exalted. What am I talking about? I am talking about the Parable of the 10 virgins, the profitable servants, and the sheep and the goats. Remember that the 10 virgins are all believers. But 5 are more valiant than the other 5. The servants are also believers, but 2 come back with what God had given them and added to it, while the 3rd buried his talent and didnt return to God what was given him with "usury," "fruit" or "works." And in the last example, the sheep and goats; both are the possessions of the Shepherd but the sheep will be on the right hand of God while the goats will be divided on Gods left hand.

Paul continues to talk about the fate of the sheep and the goats. Paul talks in Heb 1 and Gal 4 about the difference between being a child of the bondwoman Hagar (Ishmael) or the child of Sarah or a Child of the promise (Isaac). Both will be saved, but only children of the promise will be exalted. Paul goes on to explain that the children of the bondwoman will be ministering servants, who will be made like unto the angels. These will circle Gods throne forever but they will have no increase and no progression.

On the right hand are the children of the promise. These are the sheep. These are they who are the souls of just men made perfect. Or those who are not only justified by Christ but also sanctified by the power of His infinite atonement. The children of the promise are like Christ, to be made "higher than the angels." These are they who will be glorified together with Christ, and will be made heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ to not just circle Gods throne but it in it with Him and become heirs of all things to have eternal increase, to continue to progress eternally and participate with God in the work of creation.

Man doesn't contribute to any of it without Christ. But Christ empowers us to righteousness and our ability to be sanctified and exalted. Also many misunderstand the LDS definition of salvation. It is not just resurrection. There will be those who are resurrected and not saved. But there will also be the wise and unwise virgins, the profitable and unprofitable servants, the sheep and the goats, and those who are considered children of the bond woman Hagar and children of the promise. Those who are saved but not sanctified will be made like the angels, ministering servants. But children of the promise will be like Christ made higher than the angels, will be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ and will be made by the grace of Christ to be exalted like our Heavenly Father.

An easy way to explain the different states of glory is to consider the stages of existence the Earth will go through. Right now the Earth is in a fallen or Telestial state. Earth as it is now is not Outer Darkness because the Holy Ghost has influence on this Earth. During the Millennium the Earth will become paradisiacal and Terrestial in nature. During this stage Christ will reign personally upon the Earth. But this state is also temporary. At the end of the 1000 years, the Earth will become transformed according to John in Revelations and become like a "sea of glass mingled with fire." In this Celestial state, the Earth will nter into the presence of the Father and become part of the Celestial Kingdom and will be the Celestial Home unto the righteous in Christ forever. So to is the resurrection of the dead.

LDS do not believe that Man can contribute one iota to his own salvation without Christ. However by the grace of Christ we can be empowered to become sanctified and repent and saved from our sins and not just saved in our sins. We do not meet God halfway or even partway, but we are empowered by Christs grace to become better, be changed, transformed, and turned away from sin beginning in this world and to be completed in the Millennium.

Some take Nephi out of context when he says, "we are saved by grace after all we can do." After all we can do was in reference to keeping the law of Moses until Christs coming knowing that it was through Christs grace alone that we are saved. But by Christs grace we are empowered to become sanctified, receive sanctifying ordinances, and become saved from our sins and not just in our sins.

Further The Kingdom said...

President Spencer W. Kimball said,

“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” (12th Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.206; also cited in The Book of Mormon Student Manual, religion 121 and 122, 1996, p.36).

Though Christians are saved “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10), the good works of a Christians do not justify (or make right) the believer before God. The apostle Paul made this very clear when he wrote, “For by grace are you 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).

Clean Cut said...

Hi Ty. It wasn't until I read the watershed book "How Wide the Divide?" that I began to understand how Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints often talk past each other because we attach different vocabularies to similar terminology. When Latter-day Saints downplay the “grace alone” doctrine, it is in the assumption that merely saying the words “Lord, Lord” will save you. (See Matthew 7:21).

Salvation by “belief” alone is not biblical. (By the way, the phrase “by grace alone” doesn’t appear in the Bible either). However, both Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals can agree that we are saved by “faith alone”, if we have true faith. True faith is, of course, evidenced by our works—our new life in Christ. But our works don’t save us. Christ is called the Savior for a reason. So it’s a mischaracterization of Latter-day Saints to say that we don’t believe in salvation by the grace of Christ, or that our works save us.

I’ve been made aware that most Evangelicals would say it is a mischaracterization if Latter-day Saints assume, as I once did, that Evangelicals believe that salvation comes without any effort, obedience, commitment, or response on our part. That’s what many Latter-day Saints probably think you mean when you say “by grace alone"--that merely because you said the words you now have a license to sin, no need to follow Christ, cause no matter what you'll still be saved.

So the middle of the road explanation that we can both live with is that both Paul and James were apostles and both were right. I talk about their different definition of “faith” here. Latter-day Saints believe that Christ extends his saving grace to all those who respond appropriately to the gospel message. We respond appropriately to the gospel by having faith in Christ, repenting of our sins, and being baptized in order to enter the covenant relationship. Then He confirms that covenant through the reception of the Holy Ghost.

So truly it is by faith that we are saved. But we believe it is possible to fall from His grace, especially if we deny Christ as Lord by denying him our total commitment, and choose instead to follow the evil one. Thus after we’re saved (or after we enter the covenant and are converted) we believe we must demonstrate our faithfulness to our Lord—and our desire to remain in the saving covenant—by enduring to the end. “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24: 13). As part of our “enduring to the end” while in the gospel covenant, we continue to exercise faith in Christ, repenting of our sins, and renewing our covenant with him as we partake of the sacrament each week.

That’s the gospel in a nutshell according to Latter-day Saints. I’d be happy to clarify or answer your questions if something was not made clear.

stmatt007 said...

Mr. Clean Cut said, "Salvation by “belief” alone is not biblical. (By the way, the phrase “by grace alone” doesn’t appear in the Bible either)."

What Bible are you reading? My KJV Bible says “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,” Romans 4:1-4.

Now, let's see how James looks at a dead faith without works:

"What doth it profit, my brethren [target audience=church], though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? [that faith is a false or a DEAD faith]15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my [true] faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only [a false faith]," James 2:14-24.

James is saying that a person with dead faith will walk by the hungry because he or she is not really saved. When a Christian feeds the hungry that is how he or she shows others that he has a real faith. On the other hand, the Apostle Paul says that Abraham was not justified by his works because his work do not justify him "before God," Romans 4:2. This passage is a true faith which God sees apart from works.

Paul’s writing states that “works of righteous” are not part of salvation, “But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…,” (Titus 3:5-6). The Apostle Paul explicitly states that salvation does not come by “works of righteousness” which would include the many good deeds that Jesus taught. Moreover, Paul explicitly expresses the idea that when one tries to combine works and grace, then it is no longer grace (Rom. 11:6)

I pray that you will see grace without works in salvation.

Matt Paulson

Clean Cut said...

Matt, thank you for providing more impetus to seek mutual understanding rather than merely argue or debate over who is right or wrong concerning various points of doctrine.

I'm curious what gave you the impression that I believe my salvation comes by my works? That is the opposite conclusion of this post I made. As previously mentioned, I agree with both Paul and James. There is a difference in defining faith as mere belief, or defining true faith as more than just belief--faith which is evidenced by our works.

I believe that justification comes only through faith in Christ. I also agree, and believe, that true faith moves us to follow Christ and trust in Him. Beyond justification is sanctification, which comes through the Holy Spirit.

Ty's Evangelical mission statement says, in part: "We believe and preach that the Bible is the Word of God, and that Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh, crucified for the sin of the world, and that He rose again on the third day. We believe and teach that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of works."

I believe this is a true statement. But that doesn't mean that works aren't important. It just means that we're saved by Christ's works--not our own. Nevertheless, we can't set aside works altogether.

The Evangelical focus, at least based on the above mission statement, seems to be on coming to Christ before being saved. So I'm naturally curious how you would teach what we must do with our lives after we're saved. In other words, how should this knowledge translate into behavior after coming unto Christ? That's where our works come in.

You've clearly stated that works do not contribute to our salvation--which I too believe--but what is the role (according to you) that works should then play in our lives?

I wonder if such a de-emphasis on works before our conversion to Christ, although soteriologically sound, might give people the false impression that good works aren't important at all after our conversion to Christ. In other words, once we've accepted Christ as Savior, shouldn't we also align our works to testify that we're also making Christ the Lord of our lives? And what do vassals do? They do the works of their Lord.

I just have a hunch that all this misunderstanding might just boil down to the simple fact that Evangelicals might be emphasizing the "before being saved" part a little more than Latter-day Saints, while Latter-day Saints might be emphasizing the "after" being saved part a little bit more than Evangelicals. This must be what is giving off the impression that we must therefore believe that works are a part of the actual salvation equation.

It also doesn't help that we judge each other based on how we understand certain words and meanings, rather than by how the other" understands certain words and attaches meaning. Take "saved" for instance--Latter-day Saints can properly understand that word in six different ways. (See "Are you Saved?" and Grace vs. Works)

This makes it easy to get the wrong impression. This often happens at CARM and MRM. I think it is extremely important to try to get at the heart of what others actually believe, and how they understand their beliefs, rather than making a judgement on what they believe by applying your understanding to our vocabulary.

As shown in ""How Wide the Divide?", those who take the time to become "theologically bilingual" begin to see that we don't have as many differences on matters of Salvation as it superficially seems.