The Book of Mormon is a great place to go to find the LDS doctrine of grace. However, we often butcher it beyond recognition. The notion that we are saved by grace “after all we can do” is often translated into “we must do all that we can do first in order to be saved by grace.” Of course, such a reading eviscerates the text of any notion of grace at all. What it really means, it seems to me, is that by the grace of God, through Christ’s atonement, we are made free to choose for ourselves. Herein lies the difference between LDS and at least Calvinist evangelicals (and we shouldn’t lump together Arminians with Calvinists since they are two very different way of elucidating grace).
Here is the issue. The Book of Mormon teaches that we are free by grace to choose for ourselves. We are made free to repent of our sins and to turn to Christ in the act of repentance (which I think is based on the Hebrew term for “repent,” shuv, which means merely to turn around). However, if we must do something to receive the grace, then Calvinist evangelicals will reject it as a gospel of works (just as they reject Arminianism for the same reason). However, the Calvinist view of grace faces insuperable problems. According to them, because of original sin we are utterly incapable of choosing or repenting for ourselves. Therefore, if we are saved, it must be God who makes the choice as to whom is saved and who is damned. We arrive that easily at the doctrine of predestination which is entailed the Calvinist notion of grace. If we have no say in accepting grace, then it must be all up to God and predestination follows. If we have some say, then it won’t count as grace for many evangelicals.
In my view, I love the re-orietation of the doctrine of grace in LDS scripture. I view justification, the act of being born again, converted or “saved by grace” as the equivalent of entering into relationship with the Father through Christ. He accepts us into relationship without any conditions attached in pure love (we could call it ‘unconditional love’ except for the apostate and misbegotten view that uncondtional love is not a part of the gospel of Christ that has infiltrated our doctrine). We are thus accepted into relationship with God through sheer grace alone without works of any kind. All that we can do is accept the gift of love, the gift of the Son, that the Father offers to us unconditionally. However, once in the covenant relationship (entered through baptism), we must abide by the commandments to remain in the relationship and grow in in the process of sanctification toward glorification and exaltation. However, these commandments are not heavy burdens but merely ways we are taught that loving people treat each other. “Works” are always “works of love,” the works that follow from abiding the law of love that summarizes all of the commandments.
To those who complain that repenting as a condition of salvation reinstates a gospel of works, I reply that repentance merely means giving up those behaviors and ways of being that alienate us and keep us from accepting of the gift of love that is offered to us. When a person holds out his hands to accept a gift it is not a “work” in the sense that earns the gift, but merely the willing acceptance of a gift. Here is the key difference in my view: the gift offered is a loving relationship — and a person who loves another always leaves the other free to choose whether to enter into relationship and whether to maintain it. Love, by its very nature, is freely chosen. That is why the evangelical (Calvinist) view of grace is actually the opposite of grace, for it doesn’t leave the beloved free to accept or reject the loving relationship that is offered.
One final comment. Whereas salvation or being freed from sin is a matter of grace, the reward that we receive is always a matter of judgment of the works done while in this mortal life. If we confuse these two, then we will confuse the scheme of grace and works. We will be judged and receive according to our deeds. Works relate to the life we live after we learn to love and accept the loving relationship which saves us in Christ. However, these works are not done because commanded (although they are part of the love commandment), they are done because we love one another. And by these works of love we know who the true Christians are.
-Comment #10 on God’s Plan of Grace (/of Love/of Happiness/of Salvation)