Why do Mormons believe in works as well as grace unto salvation?
The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is expressed in two of the Articles of Faith:
3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
These beliefs, though based on teachings found in the New Testament, are often challenged by those Christian groups who believe that grace alone brings salvation. The following is quoted from FairLDS.org :
“The Book of Mormon is unequivocal on the issue of salvation by the grace of Christ. Nephi wrote that ‘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, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead.’ His brother Jacob admonished, ‘remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.’ The last of the Nephite scribes, Moroni, wrote, ‘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…then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ.’ Moroni, like Nephi before him, wrote of the importance of ‘relying alone upon the merits of Christ.’
“A famous Nephite missionary, Aaron, noted that ‘since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth.’ That works, without the grace of Christ, cannot save us is indicated by the words of Aaron’s grandfather, King Benjamin, who told his people, ‘I say, if ye should serve him [God] with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.’ Nevertheless, while the Book of Mormon stresses that only Christ brings salvation, like the New Testament, it also clearly affirms the responsibility of individuals to repent and come unto Christ and afterwards endure unto the end in keeping the commandments of God.
“When Nephi taught that ‘it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do,’ he had a specific meaning in mind for the words ‘all we can do.’ Lamoni’s brother, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, described the situation well:
“’And I also thank my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things…which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son. And now behold my brethren, since it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins…which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain.’
“So when Nephi spoke of ‘all we can do,’ he was not referring to individual perfection on our own, which is impossible in mortality, but rather of being reconciled to Christ by exercising our faith unto repentance and by entering into a covenant with God through baptism to keep his commandments and being faithful to that covenant. When we fall short, we can repent. The important thing is that we keep trying within the grace that Christ gives us. Mormon also taught this principle, saying, ‘And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works.’”
The apostle Paul is often quoted to defend the idea that it matters not what we do, because we are saved wholly by grace. But Paul admonished the congregations he taught to forsake their sinful ways; repentance takes work. Paul told his flock that certain sins (if not repented for) could keep us out of the presence of God. He taught that Christ is the Savior of all men, but especially those who believe (meaning that there are conditions placed on salvation and exaltation). He said that godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation. The epistle to the Hebrews says that Jesus was “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him?”
A huge part of the Bible is made up of commandments and council to keep the commandments. Obedience is a large part of what God requires of us. James said that faith without works is dead. We manifest our faith through our works. And yet, Mormon doctrine teaches that no amount of good works can save us, because we will always fall short of the purity required to enter God’s kingdom. We manifest our faith through our works, but we can only be saved by and through the grace of Christ.
During His ministry, Christ emphasized works and repentance. He admonished the rich young man to keep the Ten Commandments, give his riches to the poor, and follow Him in His ministry. He declared that “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 (Matthew 7:21),” suggesting that confession of his name, while necessary, is insufficient for salvation.
“For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also” (Moroni 7:5).
Because of this admonition and others, Mormons work hard to serve their fellow men. There is no paid clergy in the Mormon Church. Except for the General Authorities of the Church, who receive modest support for their more-than-full-time efforts, lay members serve in all callings and receive no remuneration. (Utah is the U.S. state with the highest rate of volunteerism.) The Church supports an extensive, worldwide humanitarian aid effort, supplied through donations of time and money of church members. As far as disaster relief is concerned, Mormons are often the first to arrive and the last to leave. Church relief efforts are still going on in Indonesia, years after the devastating tidal wave. Missionaries pay their own way and serve for two years, often living in difficult circumstances and learning foreign languages. Retired couples also serve, supporting themselves, and many serve multiple missions, including humanitarian aid missions. The Church has an efficient welfare system with an emphasis on education and work, again based on efforts supplied freely by members. The Church also provides education for disadvantaged returned missionaries in a Perpetual Education Fund.
Will we all be judged by Joseph Smith?
At the Last Supper Jesus said to His apostles: “Ye [the apostles] are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30; see also Matthew 19:28.) The same indication was given to the apostles Jesus called from among the Book of Mormon peoples, namely, that they would participate in judging those whom they served. Therefore, apostles and prophets have a role in heaven to participate in the judgment of those among whom they ministered. However, judgment belongs to God, and His mediator, Jesus Christ: No mortal’s role in the judgment supersedes the role given to Jesus, as the Book of Mormon bears witness:
“…the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name” (2_Nephi. 9:41.)
Mormons believe in the Biblical Christ, the Creator, the Redeemer, our Mediator with God the Father. We worship God in His name. His is the only name through which mankind can be saved. Our doctrine expands our understanding of His majesty and emphasizes His great love for us. At the same time, it empowers men and women to partake of the spiritual gifts He so freely offers us, and to return to the solid doctrines He established when He founded His Church on earth and gave His life to save us.