Grace is a five-letter word that means so much. It is the dividing line between many sects of Christianity ― holding different meanings and influences depending on that sect’s biblical interpretation. In the LDS church, grace is something powerful, personal, and sacred. Do we ever take the time to learn more about it from those who may believe differently?
In December 2014, a BYU evangelical group called CrossSeekers hosted a symposium on grace. The purpose was for students and other visitors to learn about grace from different perspectives: LDS, Evangelical, and Catholic. Eula Monroe, a well-loved non-LDS professor, and Brad Wilcox, the LDS-famous professor, and author of “His Grace is Sufficient” conducted the event.
The point of the symposium was to open people’s minds up to others’ perspective on what grace is.
What is the LDS Perspective?
Grace That Came Before.
We all sin. That inevitable truth was spoken of by Dr. Robert Millet. In our imperfections, we come short of the glory of God and desperately need grace to gain salvation. That’s where prevenient grace comes into the picture. It was given to us before we even came to this earth. That means that we were also given
- The ability to choose (between Jesus Christ or Satan)
- The light of Christ (this also gives us a conscience)
- The ability to work out our salvation (but the power of salvation still completely rests in the hands of God)
The 2-way Promise of Faith and Works
Grace is God giving us unearned divine assistance. In return for this, we are
expected to have faith; to trust in Christ, and to have complete confidence and reliance on Him. However, faith alone and belief in Christ cannot save. Dr. Millet referred to Orson Pratt, who said “Faith alone will not save men, neither will faith and works save them unless they are of the right kind.”
Faith alone and belief in Christ cannot save.
Of faith, Pratt also said
“There are some who believe that faith alone, unaccompanied by works, is sufficient for justification, sanctification, and salvation. But what would it benefit a hungry man, in a field, who believes that in the house there is a table spread for him, with an abundance of food, if he makes no effort to approach the house and obtain the blessing.
Jesus said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that lovest me not keepeth not my sayings.” As a man’s love manifested by his works so is his faith. Salvation depends on loving God and loving God is the keeping of his commandments.”
Note that Elder Pratt used the word “salvation,” when referring to “exaltation,” which is salvation into the very presence of God. Salvation (entering heaven) can be attained by those who don’t keep the commandments. They inherit a lesser kingdom of heaven. Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants explains that the lowest kingdom of glory, the Telestial, is glorious beyond description, but is reserved for sinners who refuse the atonement and have suffered for their own sins:
These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.
Our Worth is Because of Him
The Book of Mormon tells us that salvation is free. We have been bought with the Savior’s blood, and there is nothing that we could ever do to repay Him.
We are worth so much because we came at a great cost.
Doctrine and Covenants 18:10 says “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” Our Father in Heaven does not look upon us with such favor simply because he is our Father.
Verse 11 lets us realize that we are worth so much because we came at a great cost. After all, Christ “suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.”
Not to be Treated Cheaply
Repentance, being a work of sorts, is a requisite of grace. Without it or other such works, grace would then be what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Bonhoeffer, as told by Dr. Millet, was a German Lutheran pastor and martyr, tried and hung by the Nazi regime. In his book “The Cost of Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer pinpointed several things about cheap grace:
- It is “sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares”.
- Ordinances “are thrown away at cut prices”.
- It is the “Church’s inexhaustible treasury” with no fixed limits.
- Because it has been paid in advance, “everything can be had for nothing”.
Grace is something for which we live our lives. It may be free, but we shouldn’t treat it cheaply. We are grateful for our Savior and His sacrifice on our behalf. One way for us to view works is that it is a way to show our gratitude for His Atonement and to confess to Him and the whole world that we truly believe in Him and what He teaches.
What Mormons Can Learn From the Evangelical Perspective
Gratitude for Grace
At the symposium, Dr. Travis Kerns presented this perspective. Several of the things that he discussed were compatible with LDS doctrine. On gratitude and grace, Kerns quoted Ignatius of Antioch (student of John the Apostle) who said,
“Therefore, let us not be ungrateful for His kindness. For if He were to reward us according to our works, we would cease to be.”
Kerns pointed out that to Evangelicals, grace is not simply important; it is everything. It saves us from our carnal nature or the idea that not a single person on this earth is completely good but that we are all sinful by nature. It allows us to to stand before God and to be declared “not guilty” and covered by Christ’s righteousness.
Grace of No Works
Many Evangelicals follow the teachings of John Calvin, one of the Christian reformers. He taught grace to be 4 things:
- Limited (predestined or the idea that whether or not we would be saved was decided before we began our lives)
- Irresistible (when the human body cannot resist the Holy Ghost which pours God’s grace over those chosen to be saved, the elect)
- Unconditional (there is absolutely nothing that we need to do to receive grace)
- Irrevocable (the status of election could never be taken away once it is given)
Overall, evangelical grace omits the idea of works contributing to salvation and is entirely faith-based It is free, and it alone is what saves us.
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Romans 11:6; known as the “definition of grace”)
The LDS Connection to Evangelicalism
Clearly, there are several differences between our doctrines concerning grace. As for Ignatius, we would say that he points out that Christ’s work (the Atonement) is
the greatest work there ever was or will be and that our works, especially without His, could never save us.
The Atonement is the greatest work there ever was or will be
As for their definition of grace, we would take Romans 11:6 in the context of the chapter to mean that the works could not interject with the foreordination of the House of Israel being God’s elect people who will be preserved and saved.
What we learn from the evangelical perspective, however, is the importance that faith plays in grace. Our faith is at the root of how grace impacts us. We must have faith that a perfect God can look past our imperfections and bring us to the point of salvation.
Their perception of grace also emphasizes the importance of praise and gratitude. Without Jesus Christ, we are nothing and we truly have no hope without Him.
What Mormons Can Learn From the Catholic Perspective
Grace With Works
Catholics traditionally hold works in high regard when it comes to grace. Father Peter Hannah (the father of St. Catharine’s in Salt Lake City) shared his perspective on grace.
He said that “grace is easy to receive and hard to explain,” referring to the way that God saves us and everything that he does for us. It stems from the love of Christ of which, without, we are nothing. That love is a very key part of grace and because we love Him back, we perform works. James 2:20 says
“Faith without works is dead”
The Justification of Grace
Concerning grace, there is an idea of justification. In other words, this means the way that we act upon grace which involves the human will. It is present in the beginning roots of our faith and then the works that we carry out for the rest of our lives.
Father Hannah’s closing points were that grace allows us to become new creatures and for God to work through us in ways that we cannot imagine.
Catholics believe that how we respond to our faith (by using our free will to do so) will increase our faith and good works which will lead to justification and salvation. James 2:24 says
“By works a man is justified, and not by his faith only.”
LDS and Catholic beliefs on grace differ very little here. Catholic emphasis on works teaches us that if we truly have faith, then our good works will be evident of that. Thus, works are a necessary part of our road towards salvation.
My Perspective on What Grace Does for Us
I served my mission in Oklahoma. Everybody there remembers May 20, 2013: the day of the big Moore tornado. It cut through the city, destroying everything in its path and leaving the biggest mess that I ever saw.
One day, at the direction of our mission president, we were told to crawl on our hands and knees through a giant field to clean up the debris: wood, glass, metal, and other trash. We put the debris in ice fishing sleds and lugged them back and forth across this ginormous field. The president made sure that we moved in straight lines, missing nothing and moving in a timely manner to our reward: a water break.
The Atonement Allows Understanding
I remember comparing the situation to life. We have a ton of debris that we have to crawl through daily. Yet, we are never alone. Jesus Christ’s Atonement didn’t just make it so that we could be cleansed of our sins. One of my favorite things about the Atonement is that it made it so that He understands what we are going through, all the debris that is in our own lives.
His understanding is a very important part of grace and salvation. As Dr. Kerns pointed out, grace saves us from our carnal nature. Christ understands us so deeply. Why we do the things that we do. Why others do the things that they do. Why we hurt, fear and, even, sin. His understanding is beyond our own because when He was on the cross he felt it all.
The Atonement [makes] it so that Christ understands what we are going through
Grace Pulls Us Through
Towards the end of my mission I had the opportunity to go back to that same field where we had picked up debris. The big Oklahoma sky seemed to be all around and above me. An endless beautiful blue and a zillion clouds. The most amazing thing about it all, though, was that field. It was green and healthy with a few dozen gigantic round bales of hay. That scene made me appreciate crawling through the debris.
When we look back on this life, I hope that we’ll be able to remember all the debris that we crawled through. I hope that we will be able to see our lives in an appreciative way. To see that the grace of Jesus Christ is what pulled us through it all. That the hope that the gospel brings allowed us to endure to the end. And that the promises of a loving Heavenly Father and our brother Jesus Christ were fulfilled.
When we look back on this life, I hope that we’ll be able to remember all the debris that we crawled through
I know on that day when I have that perspective, I will truly understand grace and all that it has done for me. I don’t think that there’s a person on this earth who completely understands grace. What we know is probably a small percentage of what it is. Until that day of realization, I will continue to learn about it, have faith, and strive to build my relationship with my brother, Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ.
What will you do today to learn more about your Savior and the gift of grace that He has given us?