Grace vs Works and What Mormons Believe

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Jesus Reaching Down for Us

Short Answer:

Both grace and works are important. Both Paul and James knew that. Mormonism teaches that salvation — the blessing of inheriting a kingdom of heaven — will be extended to nearly all of Heavenly Father’s children, but that “exaltation” — spending eternity in God’s full presence — is reserved for those who overcome the world and become co-heirs with Christ. Thus it’s not a question of grace vs works, but how ‘grace and works’ work together.

Long Answer:

What is Required for Salvation?

There are many out there that would say that it is by grace and only by grace that we are saved. That salvation is a “free gift” from our Savior. In response to that I would have to say that they are correct.

The Resurrection and Atonement of my (our) Savior brought about the “free gift” of salvation for everyone who lived, are currently living, and whoever will live (for the Atonement is Infinite).

I also agree with the many who say that there is no work, great or small, that could grant us salvation without the Savior. I agree with the many when they say we do not need works to accept the “free gift” of salvation. They are all correct in those declarations.

What’s the Difference Between Exaltation and Salvation?

mormon prayer
Salvation will come to many of God’s children. Latter-day Saints, however, are more focused on exaltation.

The one concept that is void in their thesis of the power and opportunity the Savior’s Atonement made available to all of Heavenly Father’s children is exaltation in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom (living eternally in the presence of God and Jesus Christ).

The Atonement’s divine power also encompasses that “gift” of exaltation to all those who allow Christ’s grace to be coupled with that individual’s works while in this mortal probation (i.e. showing our Savior our love and appreciation for Him by keeping His commandments).

Our placement in our individual glory is in fact determined by our “works.”  1 Corinthians 2:9 states how God has prepared a “special” place for “those that love Him”. The only way He knows we love Him is found in St. John 14:15 when Christ declares profoundly, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

Christ demonstrates this principle through His perfect example when He said,

“But that the World may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (St. John 14:31).

Keeping the commandments is “works,” and “works” grant us a special place in Heaven, meaning exaltation. Without Christ’s grace, we cannot realize His selfless gift of salvation. Without our works and His grace, we cannot realize our placement in the presence of our Savior and our Eternal Father in Heaven.

It is an interesting thing; I believe that 99.9% of all of God’s children will be “saved” (or in other words, be placed in one of the three degrees of glory). For even the Telestial kingdom (the lowest kingdom of heaven) is being saved.

At the same time, anyone placed in the Terrestrial Kingdom (the middle kingdom in heaven) is also “damned” (for “damned” simply means halting one’s progress). I find that interesting.  (Note that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon’s vision of the three degrees of glory manifested that even the lowest kingdom of heaven is glorious beyond description.)

Something that I also find interesting is that Jesus never once mentioned the word grace in regards to our salvation. But Paul was inspired by God to say what he did, so grace must be an important principle.

Do Mormons Believe in Grace?

I don’t know how people got the idea that Mormons do not believe in the importance of grace in salvation. Our own Book of Mormon scriptures say:

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. (2 Nephi 10: 24-25).

and:

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 that we can do (2 Nephi 25:23).

Nephi explains that apart from all we can do (works), we still need the grace of God to be saved. So we agree with the scriptures that say that it is by the grace of God that we are saved, but we also believe in the following scriptures:

  • (Philippians 2: 12) “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”
  • (St. Matthew 10:22) “he that endureth to the end shall be saved”
  • (St. Matthew 7:16-21) Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father”
  • (James 2:14-26) “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (verse 24)
  • (1 Peter 1:17) “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear”
  • and lastly,  (Revelation 20:12-13) “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. “

The only way we can make sense of all these scriptures that say we are saved by grace and those that say works are involved, is to conclude that both our works and the grace of God are required for our salvation.

How Can I Guarantee a Reward in Heaven?

Sowing and reaping
The principle of the harvest, that we reap what we sow, is important to understanding the relationship between grace and works.

Many believe that salvation is an all or nothing thing; we either go to Heaven or Hell; and since no one deserves Heaven, we must rely on the grace of God to save us.

However, the LDS Church believes that just about everyone who has ever lived will receive some level of reward in Heaven. This is where our works come into play.

Jesus said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (St. John 14:2).

And in Corinthians Paul taught:

“There are also celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars (1 Corinthians 15:40-42).

Paul also taught that what a man sows is what he will reap, and not to be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap (Galatians 6:7, 9).

In St. Matthew 6:20 Jesus said, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:”

How else can we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven if not by our good works and deeds that we do for others here on earth? Our treasures in Heaven will determine the level of salvation or mansion (glory) that we will receive.

Latter-day Saints believe as Paul said, that one will reap as one sows, that man will be saved by grace, through faith, but God will render to every man according to his deeds (Romans 2:6; Revelation 20:13).

In other words we shall obtain that level of Heaven equal to what we have become while on Earth, based on what we have done — our deeds, thoughts, and intentions.

How do Grace and Works Function Together?

grace vs works concept portrayed with kid counting money
We are like a child trying to earn money for a bike. We must do our best, but we still fall far short of our goal.

God wants us all to succeed and return to Him in heaven, but He also wants us to use our agency and prove ourselves worthy of salvation. If we do that, He will make up the difference, and through his grace we may be exalted.

This modern day parable helps make sense of the concept of Grace and Works:

A father tells his child to work hard and save his money so he can buy a new bike. So the child works hard and earns and saves his money.

The time comes to buy the bike but the child learns it costs $85.00 and he only has $10.00. The child is worried until his father says, “That’s OK, because I love you so much, I will pay the difference for you”.

By the grace of his father the child gets the bike plus the growth and experience of working for the money he earned.

The following Book of Mormon scripture explains this concept:

“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.” (Moroni 10: 32).

In order for God’s grace to be sufficient, we must first deny all ungodliness and love God. How do we show our love for God? “If ye love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

But more important than what we do in this life, is who we have become because of what we have done and believed in. LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks said:

“From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.

It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become” (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” New Era, Aug. 2002, 12).

Finally, you must understand that we believe in latter-day revelation and that through our prophets we have learned more about God’s plan of salvation, which might seem strange to other Christians.

We have had a view of the kingdoms of heaven through our modern prophets. We have temple worship and covenants oriented toward exaltation. We yearn for more than salvation, but for exaltation, where God’s full presence shines.

Read the account of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon’s vision of the kingdoms of glory in heaven.

“Born Again,” by Apostle  D. Todd Christopherson.

“The Supernal Gift of the Atonement” by late apostle James E. Faust.

FairMormon Answers: Mormonism and Traditional Christianity on Grace and Works.

Cody L. Anderson is the Advertising Manager and an apologist for the FairMormon Organization. He currently lives in Provo, Utah with his daughter, Adilyn.