4/15/17

Amazing Grace

A Latter-day Saint (LDS) Returned Missionary (RM) wrote to the Samoa Observer to respond to a letter titled "Grace of God not Good Works"  and some snippets of the responses to the RM are given below.  In the letter, the writer makes the points that the LDS Church is not a Christian Church and that people are saved by grace and not by any works.  These are not new claims, at least outside Samoa, though they may be new to part of the local readership. 

"Grace is free. Unmerited favour. You don't earn it, just believe, receive and you are saved. You cannot add to it, or take away from it. Just believe like Abraham did and it was counted to him for Righteousness."

"That's Salvation, now what about reward. Salvation we don't earned [sic] its free ...."

I then wrote the following response (edited/updated), in part, for support of the Returned Missionary:

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are mine and are not made on behalf, or be viewed necessarily as official doctrines and teachings, of the LDS Church.

Grace (of God) is a broad subject since it encompasses the many gifts, blessings and endowments of God to/for man. Some of those have been stated by Elder Vui. Grace in this discussion may be referred to as the "saving/redeeming grace" and its role in the teleological and eschatological goals of man. My comments will focus on this saving/redeeming aspect of grace.

Many of the ambiguities and differences between LDS doctrines and most of mainstream Christianity are often found in semantics (as part of the usual exegesis/hermeneutics) and the different meanings assigned by both camps to the same or similar terminology or concept. The word "saved", for example, can be interpreted differently depending on context. LDS doctrine teaches that everyone will be "saved" (except for the sons of Perdition), and will be assigned to different degrees of glory (re: "many mansions" reference by Christ and “three glories” 1 Cor 15:40-42). But the highest of the three degrees (re: "third heaven" 2 Cor 12:2) is the ultimate goal of the faithful and it's where the word "saved" has the most import, emphasis and relevance. Hence “saved” for Latter-day Saints, for the most part, refers to a future post-mortal and teleological event, mainly after the Final Judgment.

For mainstream Christians, on the other hand, “saved” refers to a life-changing event/episode in one’s life where he/she finds and accepts Jesus Christ.  Therefore "saved' refers to something that has already happened, let alone here in mortality. Oftentimes, it is described in expressions like “being born again” or “saved by the grace of God”.  The downside of this interpretation, however, is that it's possible therefore for a person to be "unsaved" when falling back again into a life of sin. "Saved" carries with it the connotation of a one-time event.  If someone saves you from drowning, it means you're out of such a predicament and never again to end up back in it.  LDS doctrine does allow for something similar where a person is "saved" while still in mortality.  This is referred to in the Bible as making one's calling and election sure, and/or being sealed with the holy Spirit of promise (emphases mine):

2 Peter 1:
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


Ephesians 1:
13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise....

But this is an exception rather than the rule; and the rule is to "work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12)

( NOTE: New Living Translation: "Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.This translation reflects (re:underlined) what is discussed above with "saved/salvation" as something that happens in this mortal life.)

So with all that in mind, let me attempt to present my comments with the hopes that each reader can interpret and reconcile such semantic variances accordingly, and at the same time, with the help of the Spirit, can open his/her eyes of spiritual understanding to a much broader nuance and meaning of the overall subject.

First, the claim that grace is literally the unearned, free, and unmerited favor of God is at best too simple and naive, and at worst, misleading and dishonest. The resulting conclusions, therefore, that simple lip confessions and simple belief in Christ are all that's needed for one to be saved (in the kingdom) - without any effort on the part of the individual- are unreliable and dubious. These claims are often taken out of context of the more complete gospel of Jesus Christ. They are also contradictory to the basic tenets and fundamentals of the gospel, as taught and demonstrated by Christ himself. These include - but not limited to - faith, repentance, baptism, bestowal of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.

The literal, absolute, unconditional and free-for-all interpretation and application of grace need to be considered with proper meaning, nuance and context. This most extreme and liberal interpretation means that everyone regardless of the kind of life they've lived, will be pardoned and therefore "saved" in the end, again without any worthy deed by the individual. This will in essence negate any measure or necessity of morality and will also mean that the scriptures, the commandments and the Bible have no purpose, because everyone will ultimately be "saved" by God's grace anyway. It’s free and it’s a gift. Moreover, therefore, the final judgment and hell of Christian dogma are nothing but just myths because they are meaningless, voided and annulled by the unconditional granting of grace.

NOTE: Everyone will be resurrected, which resurrection represents our temporal salvation, brought about by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, and that’s, yes, free and a gift, and in a sense we are “saved”. Our spiritual salvation, on the other hand, in which we stand before the bar of God to be judged, is conditional on faith, repentance, keeping the commandments, good works/deeds, enduring to the end, etc., etc.

Second, in the Bible, "faith" and "belief" are often used interchangeably with little or no major difference in meaning. Both are rooted in two words, "aman" (Hebrew) as used in Abraham's case (Gen 15:6), and from which the word "amen" originates, and "pisteuo" (Greek) as used in most references in the New Testament. Incidentally, both do not mean simple and/or passive belief, or lip confession, as interpreted by most of the respondents. Instead ‘believe/belief" still has its root and gospel connotation in "faith" and/or "trust" which are active, not passive principles.  A person can believe something or someone and yet does not have faith in that thing or person.  For example, there are many who believe in Christ and yet do not honor and keep his commandments, hence lack faith in him.  Matthew 7:21 (below) speaks of these kinds of people, the so-called "simple believers":

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."

Again the idea that we should just believe and we're saved is ridiculous and idiotic.  Gospel truth is we are saved by grace THROUGH FAITH.  And so we ask, "What is "faith?" Faith is believing something not seen, and yet true. More importantly, faith (hence belief) without works is dead (James 2:17-18). Paul reminds the Ephesians this same principle of faith and good works in  Ephesians 2:8-10:

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (emphasis mine)

Now let's pause for a moment, because this is the favorite scripture used by many to justify and support the insignificance and worthless nature of "works" in the whole salvation equation. The truth is that "works" as used in verse 9, is neither inclusive nor exhaustive. In fact, whenever Paul makes reference to "works" (as in the above reference), most of the time he is referring to the "works of the law" (i.e. the "law of Moses") like the animal sacrifices which the people in the Old Testament often depend and resort to for their redemptive powers. Again, the "works" in verse 9 does not mean any or all works. There are certain works that are still “acceptable” for one’s salvation. These are "good works" motivated by faith in Christ as in verse 10. (Most omit this verse because it negates verse 9, hence their whole argument against the relevance of works.)

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (emphasis mine)

So to summarize the above verses: We are SAVED BY GRACE through FAITH in CHRIST JESUS unto GOOD WORKS. Again faith and good works go together (faith without [good] works is dead). In other words, all works motivated by faith in Christ are good (and needed), but not all good works are motivated by faith. Consider an atheist who can perform works that are deemed “good” yet not motivated by faith in Christ.

Latter-day Saints, therefore, according to their doctrine, do GOOD WORKS because of FAITH IN CHRIST which is in line and in complete harmony with the Bible/scriptures.  Mainstream Christians, on the other hand, do "good" works because they are already "saved" - whatever that means.

Here's Paul on the relationship between grace and good works

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (2 Cor. 9: 8)

Paul is not necessarily saying that grace leads to good works, as some may think this reference means.  It's quite the opposite, it means that good works are rewarded with grace, as in this verse:

Matthew 16:27:
“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

And so the real equation is, simply, that faith in Christ leads to good works and then, in turn, God shall make grace abound toward us.

Third, grace cannot be exclusively and/or independently considered and explained without the other two components of the triad, namely Mercy and Justice. Briefly, “mercy cannot rob justice” (Alma 42 - BoM), and therefore mercy and grace are extended only on condition of repentance and penitence in order to satisfy the demands of justice.

A simple illustration:

I get a traffic ticket for no insurance and expired license. My court date is set to appear in front of the judge. If by that day, I still don’t have insurance and license is still expired, I will be subject to the full extent of the law and pay all the necessary fines. However, if by that day I have shown some remorse and penitence by reinstating both, the judge will certainly be merciful/graceful and lower my fines. Mercy/grace therefore was extended after all I could do to reconcile and recompense thereby satisfying both mercy and justice.

"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 Ne. 25:23. BoM)

Now - in extending the metaphor to fit Christ and the role of the Atonement - someone can intervene and offer to pay the fines for me if I can’t pay them myself. Therefore a new contractual arrangement (covenant) is made between me and my “savior” and benefactor in return for his atoning act.  I am now expected to have faith in him and keep his commandments, repent of my sins, etc., to merit his grace. Simply, I still have “works” to do. I just cannot merit the same grace - the whole of it at least - by violating the above conditions.

Lastly, someone in this thread asked “Why is there a book of Mormon?” My answer was: “To compliment and complement the Bible.” For example, in the following Book of Mormon verses, we find inspired counsel and wisdom on both the redeeming and enabling power of Grace. Notice also the conditionality of grace in the “if” parts/conditionals.

“Yea, 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 if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

"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."
(Moro.10:32–33.)

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me;" (Ether 12:27)

Sincerely and Gracefully .......................HAPPY EASTER!!
LV

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