Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do"

2nd Nephi 25:23 is generally misunderstood by evangelicals, and unfortunately, too often by Latter-day Saints. It 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".

Robert Millet explains that “this does not mean that we must do everything we can do BEFORE Christ can assist us. This is not about chronology. Further, who do you know who has or will ever do ALL they can do? Grace is not just that final boost into heaven that God provides at the end of a well-lived life, although we obviously will need all the help we can get. Rather, the Almighty assists us all along the way, every second of every minute of every hour of every day, all through our lives. It does not mean that we will carry the bulk of the load to salvation and Jesus will fill in the gaps; he is not the God of the gaps. Our contribution to glory hereafter, when compared to his, is infinitesimal and minuscule. If I might be permitted a paraphrase of what the passage stated, “We are saved by grace, above and beyond all we can do, notwithstanding all we can do, in spite of all we can do” ("Claiming Christ", p. 188).

Misinterpreting this means that people could be guilty of practically attempting to save themselves—“a works-righteousness that discounts, understates, underappreciates, and even sets at naught the mighty work performed by our Savior and Redeemer” (Millet, p. 189). Yet by having full faith in Christ, even "faith unto repentance", we are encircled "in the arms of safety" (Alma 34:16).

Personally, when I compare this verse with all the other teachings of Nephi and the rest of the Book of Mormon, it is clear that "even after all we can do, it is still by grace that we are saved." We cannot save ourselves. There is a reason why the Savior is called the Savior. In other words, "after all is said and done, or after all we can do (which comparatively isn't much)--we are saved by the grace of Christ." And that's why we rejoice!

This is much more in line with LDS teaching on this aspect of grace, as well as with all the other scriptures in the Book of Mormon which eloquently state the doctrine of salvation by grace; and that we need grace here and now, not only after or at the end of our lives. After all, Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer, not just a “wise consultant” or “celestial cheerleader”.

It is so critical to understand this, and to not misunderstand this. Stephen E. Robinson has even stated that in that passage, “all we can do” is have faith in Christ. This is made clear in the following verses, particularly 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ, and we write according to our prophesies that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” Moreover, the Book of Mormon elsewhere states that “all we can do” is to repent and turn to Christ. (Alma 24:10-11).

As fellow blogger, Papa D, has written: "Of course, we are to try to do all that we can do, but exactly what we can do pales in comparison to what He has done - saved us by His grace regardless of what we can do. It takes the pressure off of us and puts the focus where it should be - on His incomprehensible grace that so fully he proffers us."

Finally, another possible interpretation is that the "we" in "all we can do" might actually be referring to just Nephi and his fellow prophets, not an "impossible standard that is required” of humankind before God grants forgiveness and salvation, but of the "efforts he and his brethren have put forth to write and persuade".

Katie writes: "To rephrase it, might he be saying, “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 after all we can do [to write and persuade], it is [ultimately] by the grace [of Christ] that we are saved.”

"Framed this way, Nephi is NOT making a sweeping statement about the necessity of each man and woman to turn to Christ only AFTER you’ve done the best you can; but instead is acknowledging that the work he does is insufficient, for it is by GRACE that he is saved, even after all he does."


Thomas Parkin said...

Perfect, CC.

This demonstrates the problems that occur when we view the scriptures of a long collection on disconnected aphorisms. ~

S.Faux said...

To me, the Book of Mormon is the greatest book on grace ever written. The entire book is about grace, if we would ever read it in that context.

For example, think about Alma the younger. What did he ever do to deserve the strong witness he received from an Angel of God. Nothing. Yet, he was carried by God to become one of the greatest missionaries ever recorded.

My favorite scripture in all books of scripture is 2 Nephi 2:8, which states: "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." Our only job is to plug into the true source of power -- Jesus. Of course, spiritual power literally MOVES people toward righteousness and keeping commandments, attending Church, reading scriptures, saying prayers, etc. etc. The power of God is the power to transform. God gets the credit, not us.

Nathan Coffey said...

I'm certain that if the 'born again' world would understand that THIS is exactly what the LDS faith believes on this topic, we would have far less critics. At least on this topic.

It seems to be such a simple concept to explain to friends, but they don't care to listen to our explanations.

Too bad for them I guess.

NM said...

It seems I know more than all Latter-Day Saints I have spoken to in the past regarding Mormonism.

It was only 4/5 years ago, when I spoke to an old friend who moved to Utah about this same subject of "It is by grace that we are saved, AFTER all we can do"... In fact it was this same verse he shared with me to show that grace-is-given-to-us: only-when-we-have-done-as-much-as-we-can-do.

My friend then involved the rest of his family to oppose everything that I had said about grace as a gift; that it is not earnt, but given freely.

Clean Cut, I can't help but think that either LDS are trying to make a U-turn [which is a great thing!], or I have known more about Mormonism than my LDS friends all along. =)

Clean Cut said...

Yes, NM, Mormons who understand grace have their work cut out for them with those among us who still don't quite understand it properly.

Ever since reading "Believing Christ", I've had a much better understanding of grace and I've also been better able to recognize it all throughout the scriptures. In fact, I sometimes feel hesitant to answer a question in the temple recommend interview concerning personal worthiness, because I know that I, alone, am not worthy. But in a covenant relationship with Christ, where I get to rely on His worthiness, and I'm judged as one with Him, I trust that I'm worthy enough, and that's "good news" indeed.

The book version of "Believing Christ" was published in 1995. There were a couple of concerns expressed, along with much commendation, by Evangelical scholar Craig Blomberg about some interpretations/understandings of Robinson's "Parable of the Bicycle". Four years later, when Stephen Robinson (the author) met Craig Blomberg at Fuller seminary in a group of a dozen scholars, Robinson said: "I'm now prepared to accept the story the way Craig retold it"

This tells me that Latter-day Saints can learn a thing or two about grace from Evangelical Christians, just as perhaps evangelicals can learn a thing or two about works from LDS Christians. There's nothing wrong with learning "truth" no matter where it comes from.

At that conference, when the Evangelicals debriefed they asked each other "Are we conceding something we shouldn't?" Nobody could ever come up with anything, so Craig was left wondering if the movement was all on the LDS part.

I prefer to think that instead of "moving" or shifting doctrinally, we're merely improving the way we articulate our own doctrine that's always been there (in our own Standard Works). As S. Faux mentioned above, the Book of Mormon is one of the greatest books on grace ever written.

Whether or not we have or can give relatively much or little, or we've done "all that we can do", it doesn't change the equation that we are saved only through Christ's merits, not our own. Our works, if anything, should be perceived as the cherry on top of the salvation sundae, not the sundae itself. Those who think that Christ's grace is just "topping it off" after they've put forth their best efforts mistakenly think of their works as the ice cream, rather than a cherry on top of Christ's "merits, mercy, and grace" (2nd Nephi 2:8)

Clean Cut said...

I thought about how there can be other explanations for the confusion.
When some LDS in the past have engaged evangelicals who were perceived to be emphasizing Paul while disregarding James, some of those same LDS would then take the other extreme and emphasize James to the exclusion of Paul. Yet both were apostles and both were right.

This has given rise to many stereotypes between (and even within) both of our camps. Once people get past the stereotypes (such as that evangelicals believe in "cheap grace" and that Mormons don't believe in grace but rather salvation by works) we come to see that there isn't really that much disagreement between us on this principle.

Craig Blomberg teaches that "works do flow from saving faith. James says that faith without works is dead...It's not that works contribute to the salvation, it's that they demonstrate it."

In LDS language, we would also say that our works demonstrate our faith, and also faithfulness to our covenants. We can't be breaking our covenants and expect to be worthy. They're our lifeline--lifeline to Christ and salvation.

And here's another piece of confusion. Sometimes LDS use the term "salvation" when they're actually referring to "exaltation", which is something different than simply being saved as most Christians use the term. We Mormons should probably be less sloppy in how we use our own vocabulary so as to be clear amongst each other as well as with other Christians.

But to summarize, I don't think it's accurate to say that we're doing a U-turn on grace. From the evangelical perspective, many evangelicals are really only recently starting to hear Latter-day Saints explain their own beliefs without the filter of the counter-cultists who thrive on stereotypes.

And from the Mormon perspective, we are doing a better job in understanding our own doctrine, particularly ever since President Ezra Taft Benson emphasized teaching and reading from the Book of Mormon back when I was a kid. I'll borrow the words of a friend (and fellow blogger), Seth R.:

"I think it's more accurate to state that the Restored Gospel has always been there for whoever wanted to investigate it, but our understanding of it has not always been the same, and has evolved. In short, the Restored Gospel has not changed, but "Mormonism" has."

Clean Cut said...

One particular sentence from Craig Blomberg's contribution to the landmark book "How Wide the Divide?" for example, teaches a profound truth whether or not one is Evangelical or Latter-day Saint: "Salvation is absolutely free, but it will cost us our very lives."

NM said...

I'm really glad the LDS church seem to be concentrating efforts on rectifying the general membership's (mis)understandings of 'grace alone, faith alone, in Jesus alone'...

I for one, having grown up breathing the Evangelicalism air, it has only been these past 8/9 years that I have come to understand and appreciate 'grace'. Sad, isn’t it? A book that really helped, written by Philip Yancey is "What's So Amazing About Grace?"

As with anything, it is one thing to have an intellectual understanding of 'grace', but another to have experience of it. It was in my early 20’s when I stumbled across 'grace' and my life began to turn upside down. I remember being horrified that after all this time: I related to God AS IF he was my debtor, i.e. if I am good/if I do/if I abstain from then God will be good to me... Paul’s letter to Rome in chapter 9 vs. 31-32 sheds light into a similar experience I had: ”But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they sought it not by faith, but as though it were by the works of the law…” If you read the whole chapter, it is clear how distraught Paul is because even after their Messiah arrives, they are not all saved. Why? Because it isn’t about keeping the law as though it were by works, but by faith. Israel still preferred to work at it, which of course, makes a mockery of God’s free gift through the slaughter of his Son.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is that even within Evangelicalism: confusion abounds. Grace is absurd – and truly offensive. When I first came across it, I remember thinking it absurd because it went against the grain of what I had always thought life to be about; and offensive because it made a mockery of all my ‘good’ deeds. People, in general, are stumped by ‘grace’; it goes against the law of cause and effect!

The ‘cheap grace’ that you speak about, I think, relates to those who have successfully understood and applied ‘grace’ into their lives, but have made the fatal mistake of misunderstanding ‘sin’ and its effects in our lives - in relation to what Jesus achieved by dying.

The appreciation of ‘grace’ goes hand-in-hand with realising that we, in of ourselves, are utterly depraved and in desperate need of help…


Clean Cut said...

I am concerned with those who are missing out of grace in their lives here and now by trying to do it on their own and then AFTER that, expecting the Savior to sweep in. I've heard that likened unto waiting until you are healthy before going to the doctor or taking the medication.

But just as I am concerned with that group, I'm very concerned with the large number of Christians who feel that all they need to do to be saved is make a confession, pay a little lip service, and then viola! I'm concerned that many Christians have been taught or believe that they are saved with very little to no effort on their part. But salvation requires true repentance.

Latter-day Saints emphasize a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ, made by having faith in Christ, continual repentance, and entered entering into a new life in Christ through baptism by immersion by one having authority. Then we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands--the "earnest money" of our salvation.
Our priority in life then is to be faithful in this saving covenant relationship by continuing to exercise faith in Christ--faith unto repentance.

We are to constantly turn to Him and trust in His redeeming blood as we strive to do His works--extending grace for grace.

Thus, the real important question is not whether we are saved by grace or works, but rather: In whom do I trust? On whom do I rely?

Rich Alger said...

I appreciate this post. More needs to be said about these central issues and less on what can become distractions in our belief. As I strengthen my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and depend on him to make and keep my covenants with Him, I will have a deeply satisfying life. I will return to live with Him again and have everlasting joy and growth.

pilgergufy said...

Hi ! Sorry for my bad english but i wannted to give my 2 cents on the topic of garce. Im a former LDS church member. I understood the church allways that i ahd to stop my sin inorder to be completly to repant form my sin. Thats is importend to you can gain forgivness. Well just to give an example. In order to get baptised you have to go through a baptism inteview. They ask you if you keep the word of wisdom. When you not keep it you have to repeant, that means you have to stop breaking it otherwise you cant get baptised. So 100% repantance means 100% keep the word of wisdom. Well when you break it you sinned. So inorder to be forgiven of breaking the word of wisdom you have to keep it. Otherwise there is no forgivness, no baptism, no templeworthyness. Sin is sin. There is no diffrence in breaking the word of wisdom or being pride, dihonest or whatever. Why you think you have to repant from some sin's 100% , just do it and keep it and in other cases not? I dont get it. Either you living by the law than you will judge by the law or you living by grace than the law is fullfilled by the perfection of jesus. Hope i could express myself ok. Sorry agian for my bad english. have a great day.

Clean Cut said...

Pilgergufy, it seems that I have forgotten about your comment. I can't say that I understand exactly what it is you're trying to express, but I do think that there would be some fruitful dialogue about focussing on the "law" versus the "gospel". Sometimes Latter-day Saints are guilty of the former, unfortunately.

Clean Cut said...

In conjunction with this post, I thought I'd recommend another book that deals with this scripture in a responsible way. Brad Wilcox has written a short book called "The Continuous Atonement", and the chapter entitled "After All We Can Do" is solid. (Evaluates how emphasizing different words can give you different meanings, and also tries to put to rest the false interpretation of grace that is still believed by some LDS).

Anonymous said...

I looked up the word "after" in the dictionary and one of the meanings is "in spite of" which makes perfect sense to me. It puts everything in context. Our works can't save us without the grace of Jesus Christ. And, while we are "working" Christ is with us helping us along the way.

Clean Cut said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Ditto.

Kelark said...

Hi Cleancut it's been a while.

"Our works can't save us without the grace of Jesus Christ"

Our works don't save us at all. An apple tree is not an apple, an apple is the fruit of the apple tree.

Salvation is not through or by works, works are the fruit of salvation.


This is the exact opposite of what I believe.
"But just as I am concerned with that group, I'm very concerned with the large number of Christians who feel that all they need to do to be saved is make a confession, pay a little lip service, and then viola!"
This is not espoused by anyone I have ever know, however, Paul said it this way "believe in your heart that Jesus is the Christ and that God has raised him from the dead, confess with your mouth and you shall be saved.")

"I'm concerned that many Christians have been taught or believe that they are saved with very little to no effort on their part."

Clean cut I am concerned that anyone has been taught that they are saved with any effort of their own.

By grace we are saved not of works lest any man should boast. Does the apple produce itself? Does the apple do anything to become an apple? Apples are the product of the tree (us) the tree is fed and sustained by the minerals and oxegen in it's environment (the Spirit of God) Trees are programmed with DNA to produce fruit when fed the proper nutrients and conditions for life. Our DNA has been changed we are new creatures programmed(in dwelt by the Spirit) to produce good fruit.

"I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me".

If I could somehow make my own apples without the God they would be worthless. When I became saved I became a fruit bearing tree ("by their fruit you shall know them").

In reading this post I can't help but shake the feeling that some have been beguiled as Paul warned about. "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"

I see Grace is this way. A relationship is established between God and man when a man is saved by faith. This is an adoption of us by God. God takes the responsibility to raise us, to discipline us, provide for us, bless us and to proctect us even from ourselves for all eternity.

He picks me when I am unworthy and then imputes Christ's righteousness to me. I was not chosen because I was good or worthy but only because he loves me. I became placed in his hand not because I am worthy and I do not stay in his hand because I am worthy but because he is.

The covenant is made when God adopts me. I become his child and his responsibility. "He who began a good work in me is faithful to complete it."

Sorry for the long post.


Clean Cut said...

Kelark, no need to apologize for the length of the post. Nice to see you again.

I'm guessing you're a Calvinist, aren't you? At least, based on my knowledge of TULIP, it sounds like you believe in irresistible grace.

I think Mormons line up more with Arminianism, believing that grace is resistible and that one must CHOOSE to accept Christ's grace and exercise faith in Jesus Christ. Is it just semantics to say that exercising faith in Christ shows "effort" or "work"--especially "faith unto repentance"? Is choosing to accept Christ a "work"?

By any means, let's all keep our part in perspective here, as it is Christ who actually saves us. One way of looking at this is the parable of the pie. That's the latest idea I've found helpful.

PS: Another question that might relate and that I've heard asked is at what point is a fish actually "caught" (ie: at what point are we "saved" if Christ is reeling us in), when the fish bites the line and is hooked, or when it's actually taken off the hook after being reeled in? Then again, perhaps people in general worry too much about the logistics instead of just putting full faith and trust in Christ and acting accordingly.

Eric said...

I thought the following BYU devotional provided a good perspective on this verse:

His Grace Is Sufficient

An excerpt: "So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch (see Hebrews 12:2)."

Clean Cut said...

GREAT quote. Thanks for sharing that link, Eric.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I also think many LDS people have this crucial misunderstanding.

I like to compare with 2 Nephi 10:24, because after all, Jacob and Nephi basically are talking about the same thing to the same group of people.
And I'd like to see people use 2 Nephi 25:23 with the emphasis on what I think Nephi was trying to teach, "to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God." The "after all you can do" gets undeserved attention and that is not what the chapter is talking about. If people want to teach that doctrine, I think they should find a better scripture.

I also like the real world examples Nephi gives in chapter 25. In verse 20, he gives the example of Israelites and the poisonous serpents, and getting water from the rock. In neither of those situations were they given help/grace after all they could do. In fact, what they did was sin and complain. And that's the whole reason for having a Savior. Even though its probably not what Nephi meant, I sometimes like to think, "Believe, even after all the sins you can do." Nephi isn't trying to teach that people need to do all kinds of work before they get grace. He's teaching them to believe and repent.

rebecca hornok said...

How really do you reconcile 2 Nephi 25:23 with Eph. 2:8-10? Saved by grace through faith, and NOT OF WORKS."

THIS is a definitive statment. Grace and no works, or earning with works. Salvation is the former.

rebecca hornok said...

How really do you reconcile 2 Nephi 25:23 with Eph. 2:8-10? Saved by grace through faith, and NOT OF WORKS."

THIS is a definitive statment. Grace and no works, or earning with works. Salvation is the former.

Wedge said...

Sometimes you can't fault evangelicals "misunderstandings" of Mormon doctrine because former LDS leaders had taught them. Case in point Harold B. Lee, 11th President of the LDS Church.

"Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places, p.236, 246

"For," said this prophet, "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.) 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.

* * *

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."

Roc of the Island said...

I think of the relationship between works and grace to be similar to some aspects of turning on the light. There are works that need to be performed by me. I have to flip the switch. But the power that lights the bulb comes from the electric company, not my efforts. Despite the fact that none of the power comes from me, I still am required to perform my acts, and get the switch into proper alignment.

While this isn't a perfect analogy, I think it illustrates that while our works are important in that they bring our lives into alignment with the Savior, ultimately they aren't what powers our salvation. Baptism is a work that is required, like flipping the switch to turn on the light. But it's not the power by which we are saved. Without it, though, we can't access that power. Hence, the Savior can tell Nicodemus that you must be baptized to be saved, and yet salvation is still entirely due to Christ's grace and sacrifice.

Clean Cut said...

*Wedge, that's a fair point. Various Mormons leaders have taught things that are all over the map. That's the only thing that's truly been consistent. :)

Of course, the same can be said for scriptural interpretation and doctrinal development among the larger Christian tradition. Doctrinal understandings (including within Mormonism) have evolved and developed gradually over time, and I've definitely sensed a slow but sure shift towards a better appreciation of grace within Mormonism during my lifetime.

*Roc of the Island, I think that's a very helpful analogy with turning on electricity. Thanks for sharing!