Saved by grace

I was reading in 2 Nephi this week and came across the much-abused scripture: “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”. I can’t help but notice how happy mainstream Christians are that believe they are saved by grace. Conversely, many LDS seem weighed down by believing they have to work for their salvation, and they use this fragment of the verse as the foundation for that belief.

Many say this means that we have to do everything within our power, down to the  last calorie, and then and only then will Christ step in to help us make up the difference. Analogies have been made comparing our salvation to a child wanting to buy a bicycle he can’t afford to show us how Christ will help us, but only after we have completely emptied our personal piggy-bank. So much for his yoke being easy and his burden being light!

One technique I was taught to understand scripture is to avoid using my own definitions and interpretations, but to use the definitions the writers used. If you look around the scriptures, usually you will find that the definition or interpretation is in there. It’s best when the definition is provided by the same author. If it’s a different author, chances are the second author will use the terms consistently, but is isn’t always guaranteed.

Let’s take a look at our “after all we can do” verse in context:

2 Nephi 25:23
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.

The primary point of the verse is that they labor diligently to persuade people to believe in Christ and be reconciled to God. Why are they laboring so hard to persuade people to be reconciled to God? Notice that Nephi doesn’t labor diligently to persuade people to perform a checklist of righteous activities. Being reconciled to God doesn’t give you a list of things to do, but it does give you grace. And grace is what saves us. Let’s look at other places that Nephi talks about grace.

2 Nephi 2:6-8
Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know 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, being the first that should rise.

Notice Nephi again states the importance of teaching people to believe in Christ and that it is through his merits, mercy, and grace that anyone is saved. Without that, no matter how much we work, we’re doomed. Christ offers his sacrifice to those with a broken heart and contrite spirit, not those who do a lot of good works. But what about that “after all we can do” phrase?

2 Nephi 10:24
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

Whoa! Nephi says after we are reconciled to God, it is only in and through grace that we are saved. No other works after we are reconciled to God will save us. “All we can do” is to reconcile ourselves to the will of God. We are saved by grace, after we have reconciled ourselves to God.

Nephi repeats this later on:

2 Nephi 33:9
I have charity for my people, and great faith in Christ that I shall meet many souls spotless at his judgment-seat. I have charity for the Jew—I say Jew, because I mean them from whence I came. I also have charity for the Gentiles. But behold, for none of these can I hope except they shall be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate, and walk in the strait path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation.

Why can’t he hope for them except they be reconciled unto Christ? If we don’t reconcile ourselves to Christ, nothing else matters. All we can do is reconcile ourselves to Christ and have faith in him.

This doesn’t mean that once we reconcile ourselves to God that we can do whatever we want with no consequences. What it does mean is that we don’t have to worry about someone else’s lists of tasks that we must do for salvation, nor should we worry if we are doing enough, or if we will ever be good enough.

Now some will accuse me of glossing over the rest of verse 9 in 2 Nephi 33. They may even argue that walking in the strait path does indeed require lists of things we should be doing and if we don’t exert all our energy on all those activities we won’t have done everything we can and we won’t be saved. But that isn’t how Nephi viewed walking in the strait path.

2 Nephi 31:18-20
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

What are the things Nephi says we must do after we enter the strait and narrow path? Have hope, love God and all men, feast upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end. That’s it! Those things are the foundation of our daily walk with God.

Notice what Nephi doesn’t write? He doesn’t write a checklist of activities we must do to be acceptable to God. He doesn’t talk about attending meetings, home teaching, family history, gardening, emergency preparedness, or anything else. If Nephi the prophet won’t tell us what we are supposed to do after we have reconciled ourselves to God, who will?

2 Nephi 32:3,5,6
Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do. Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark. For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do. Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ.

If God wants us to do something, he’ll tell us. He will likely tell you do to something different than what he tells me, so comparing your answers to my answers is pointless. His yoke is easy and his burden is light…if we really accept it. If you instead put on the yoke of man and rely on the arm of flesh, your mileage will vary. Jesus didn’t think highly of men who “bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” God does not require that we run faster than we have strength – and he knows perfectly how much strength we each have personally. He will tell each of us personally what we wants us to do – we just need to ask and listen.

When we revert to a checklist of things to, and compare our activities to the activities of others, we aren’t relying upon the merits of Christ. We aren’t putting our faith in him. We’re putting our faith in our own works and the arm of flesh that created the checklist.

Once you look at the totality of what Nephi wrote about grace, you realize he and Paul were preaching the same gospel.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

10 thoughts on “Saved by grace

  1. I would also add that “all we can do” is repent. Alma 24:11: “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 and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to atake them away from our hearts, for it was *all we could do to repent sufficiently before God* that he would take away our stain.”

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    1. Great addition! After doing a quick search of both the scriptures and Websters 1828 dictionary, repenting and being reconciled with God seem quite synonymous. I don’t know how one would reconcile oneself to God without repenting.

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  2. Wonderful… And I would certainly add that if we aren’t feeling that God is telling us his will, as in 2 Nephi 32, that is a good indicator that maybe we aren’t yet reconciled to God, and maybe haven’t yet entered the gate with a baptism of fire / change of heart… We likely have not yet been converted, despite our supposed righteousness, and are in need further repentance, humility, and true conversion and healing (that only the Lord can offer) as stated in 3 Nephi 9:13,19-20.

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    1. Too true. If we believe the Book of Mormon we have to come to terms with this:

      … it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.

      So if we are not experiencing miracles and seeing angels then it is because we don’t have faith and everything else we are doing (“our supposed righteousness” as you put it) is a waste of time. Pretty scary.

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      1. Yes, and Moroni of course adds that if we don’t have the faith to have those miracles commonplace among us, we aren’t even worthy to call ourselves members of His church…. Despite the recent counsel of a certain church leader to call ourselves after His name (in vain, it appears)…

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  3. Anthony,

    And so:

    Wherefore, let all men beware how they take my name in their lips—

    For behold, verily I say, that many there be who are under this condemnation, who use
    the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority.

    Wherefore, let the church repent of their sins, and I, the Lord, will own them;
    otherwise they shall be cut off

    And then this:

    And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord;

    First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name
    and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house,
    saith the Lord.

    It is apparently a dangerous thing to claim to know Him if you don’t.

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  4. Brother Craig,

    Very well said… Yes, if we are to believe the Lord at His word, then we are in deep trouble…

    Nephi also said it well when he said that there is no hope for the Gentile Latter Day church “except they shall be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate” (3 Nephi 33)… As has been stated, the evidence that we have not done this is abundant… We don’t speak of ministering of angels or gift of tongues (Moroni 7), we don’t have any new translated records or understanding of John’s Revelation (Ether 4), we don’t understand Isaiah – nor any of the Old Testament as evidenced by this year’s pathetic stab at it in Gospel Doctrine class (2 Nephi 25), we’re naive to the secret combination(s) in our land that have gotten above us (Ether 8), we deny the need to be born again (Mosiah 27), we praise and follow men and their precepts and priestcrafts (2 Nephi 28), we love our expensive sanctuaries more than we love the poor (Mormon 8), and we are absent the fruits that should follow the believers (Mormon 9)…

    But hey, let’s look on the bright side!!! At least we’re not dishonoring Mormon’s name anymore calling ourselves Mormons (as we clearly haven’t ever NOT taken the words of his book lightly). I’m sure he’s happy to finally disown us!

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  5. I think you’re forgetting a few scriptures that are very problematic for your position.

    What do you make of these verses in JST James 2?

    14 What profit is it, my brethren, for a man to say he hath faith, and hath not works? can faith save him?
    15 Yea, a man may say, I will show thee I have faith without works; but I say, Show me thy faith without works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.
    16 For if a brother or sister be naked and destitute, and one of you say, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled; notwithstanding he give not those things which are needful to the body; what profit is your faith unto such?
    17 Even so faith, if it have not works is dead, being alone.
    18 Therefore wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead and cannot save you?
    19 Thou believest there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believe, and tremble; thou hast made thyself like unto them, not being justified.
    20 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
    21 Seest thou how works wrought with his faith, and by works was faith made perfect?

    Or how about these words from the savior?

    15 ¶ If ye love me, keep my commandments.

    Or…

    21 ¶ 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.
    22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
    24 ¶ Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
    25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
    26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
    27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

    Or these from the prophet Moroni?

    32 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.
    33 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.

    There are dozens of not hundreds of scriptures that shoe that faith is not a true faith if one doesn’t also keep the commandments.

    Not a set of individual directives given to each person which vary from person to person, but rather the ones contained in all of the standard works.

    Why have these commandments if we aren’t expected to follow them?

    There’s a lot more we are asked to do than gave faith, hope, and charity. Christ said we are to live by every word that proceeded from the mouth of God.

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    1. I think you are confusing cause and effect.

      Look at the scripture you quoted. “22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” These men were doing good works, and not a few, but many. Yet they were not admitted into the kingdom of heaven because the Lord did not know them.

      Our works will reflect the desires of our heart. If we love God, we will strive to obey his commandments because that is his will. But obeying commandment because we believe we can earn our way into heaven or we will get a reward is doing a work with the wrong intent.
      Moroni 7:6-7 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.

      Let’s look at another verse you quoted:
      32 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. 33 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.

      In those two verses, Moroni uses the word grace five times, including “by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ”, “ye are sanctified in Christ by the grace of God”. Not once does he allude to us being perfected or sanctified by our works. That doesn’t mean we can run around murdering, raping, and stealing and still get into heaven. But merely abstaining from murdering, raping, and stealing doesn’t earn us a spot in heaven. Nor does doing many good works without faith, like the men casting out devils.

      Moroni 7:26 “And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God.” Works are not mentioned. It is faith that saves.

      He follows this up in verse 28 by saying: “they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing”. So once they have been saved by faith, they will do good works. But their works are never mentioned as contributing to their initial state of being born of God. We cannot work our way into heaven, but we can work our way out. After we have been redeemed, if we don’t walk rightly before God we will lose what we had. This isn’t an either/or conversation between works and faith, it’s a cause and effect relationship.

      Let’s look at two examples from the Book of Mormon.

      King Lamoni had killed his servants who had had their flocks scattered at the waters of Sebus. When Ammon taught him the truth, Lamoni cried to the Lord for mercy and fell to the earth as if he were dead. He remained in that spiritual coma for three days. When he awoke, he said “I have seen my Redeemer…and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name.” His wife then fell into a spiritual coma herself. When she awoke a short while later, she said “O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell!”

      Question 1: What works did king Lamoni and his wife do while in their spiritual comas to merit seeing the Lord and being saved?

      Alma the Younger was running around seeking to destroy the church of God and lead astray the people of the Lord when an angel appeared to him and knocked him into a spiritual coma for three days. When he awoke, he said: (Mosiah 27:24) “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold, I am born of the Spirit.”
      When he recounted this event to his son Helaman, he said “if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself.” Why not any worthiness of himself? Because “I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction.” His works were evil before his spiritual coma.

      Question 2: What works did Alma perform while he was in his spiritual coma that saved him?

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      1. If the point to your post and your last comment is that works alone do not save us, you are absolutely correct.

        However, it seemed that your point was more that works are not necessary, only faith because Christ’s grace will save us based on our faith in Him.

        The scriptures are clear that one must have faith and works to be saved. That’s the point of James 2 and many other scriptures. I could quote you dozens and dozens of scriptures that prove that one must keep the commandments to be saved.

        Without keeping the commandments and doing the works that God expects of us we can profess all the faith we want, but it’s not a true faith. I can say I have faith and Christ and believe that his grace will save me, but if I don’t keep his commandments then I don’t really have faith in Him do I?

        That’s Moroni’s point, when he says that we must deny ourselves of all ungodliness and then is His grace sufficient to save us. Professing to have faith is not denying ourselves of all ungodliness.

        In Mormon 9 Moroni also says that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord.

        As for your question about Alma and Lamoni, the answer is simple.

        The work they did while in their sin induced coma was to repent with a broke heart and a contrite spirit. Repentance is a work. It’s a commandment.

        Once they had repented they were clean and holy before the Lord. However, from this point on the had to keep the commandments, including to repent of future sins, if they wanted to retain their forgiveness and God’s grace.

        Christ taught clearly that if a person repents and then returns to the sin, that the person’s sins return to them and they are no longer saved. He referred to it as a dog returning to its vomit or a pig to its wallowing in the mud.

        Look you can believe what ever you want.

        But if you truly believe in measuring all doctrine against the word of God in the scriptures, then you need to be willing to accept what the scriptures collectively say. Faith without works is dead and we are saved by grace after all that we can do. The dozens , if not hundreds, of scriptural passages warning against sin and commanding us to keep God’s commandments (and even listing many of those for us) make it clear what Mosiah was talking about.

        We must love and serve God, by keeping his commandments, one of which is faith, another is repentance, another is being baptized, another is keeping the Sabbath day holy, another is not committing fornication, adultery or a host of other sexual sins, another is not murdering, another being honest, another praying, another caring for the poor and the needy, and so on.

        According to the prophet Jacob, there are diverse ways to sin and so many ways that he couldn’t tell us all of them. Moroni says that we must deny ourselves of ALL ungodliness, then Christ grace is sufficient to save us. That’s the doctrine when measured against the scriptures.

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