It’s almost laughable to attempt a short column about the doctrine of grace, a topic which has caused debate in Christian circles for over 500 years since Martin Luther published his 95 Theses. The pendulum, even among Latter-day Saints, has swayed back and forth between emphasizing faith and works as many seek to find a balance. I believe the issue lies in a poor interpretation of what “works” is.
Most Latter-day Saint seminary students are aware of the scripture in the epistle of James:
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 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 faith by my works. (James 2: 17-18)
In our Come, Follow Me studies this week, we read the common Christian counter-point written by Paul in the Book of Romans:
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:27-28)
The lesson manual rightly cites the three verses immediately following:
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Romans 3:29-31)
From the manual: When Paul wrote of “the law,” he was referring to the law of Moses. Similarly, the word “works” in Paul’s writings often referred to the ceremonies and rituals of the law of Moses.
Obviously, we don’t practice the Law of Moses as it was fulfilled in Christ. Nephi understood this around 600 years before the Atonement: “the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith.” (2 Nephi 25:25) The scripture widely cited and often misunderstood is also found in 2 Nephi 25:
“See? We believe in grace too!” are the refrains cried by Latter-day Saints to their Evangelical friends. “After all you can do,” they will point out, mistakenly thinking that we believe in some sort of point system for each good work done in this life. A passage written by Jacob in his powerful sermon offers additional clarity:
Notice the common phraseology in both verses? Be reconciled to God. Reconcile yourselves to the will of God. After ye are reconciled to God. What does this mean? Is not repentance literally changing to align yourself to the will of God? Once the Law of Moses was fulfilled, the Doctrine of Christ took effect.
Peter taught: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38) Christ taught the Nephites: “I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” (3 Nephi 11:38)
The Law of Moses is no more and has been replaced with the Doctrine of Christ, better known among Latter-day Saints as the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel. Gone are animal sacrifices and other rituals, in are faith, repentance, and baptism by water and the Spirit. We renew our covenants each week by partaking of the Sacrament, with the promise of the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost.
There are some who state even baptism is denying the grace of Christ. They deny the words of the apostles and Christ himself. Christ’s apostles practiced the works of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Sacrament. (Examples linked) We believe in a universal grace: all will be resurrected and granted a degree of glory. We also believe in the grace of Christ that allows the wretched sinner to obtain the highest degree of glory after reconciling themselves through the works of repentance and baptism. Other works commanded of us aren’t a point system, but rather a way for us to achieve a mighty change of heart and become one with Christ as He has commanded us. This is true reconciliation for which grace is activated.
“Have You Been Saved?” – Elder Dallin H. Oaks, April 1998
“The Gift of Grace” – President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2015
“Be Ye Therefore Perfect – Eventually” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2017