For many people, going to a church is something they do out of fear. They think that, if they don't, God is going to send them to hell. It is often the case that a person gets “saved” and becomes a Christian. However, after a few weeks of trying not to cuss, not to have lustful thought, not to be envious, or covetous, and so forth, the new convert just gives up. He just decides that it's too much work being a Christian.
The sects of Christianity have responded to this typical pattern by twisting two biblical precepts and making them into something they were never intended to teach. The first is the doctrine that we are saved by grace and the second is that good works don't matter. If sectarian interpretations are accepted, what happens is the believer passively rides along through life thinking he's got a “get out of hell free” card to play at the day of judgment, simply because he says he believes in Jesus.
Mormons believe the Bible and harmonize the seemingly contradictory teachings of Paul and the other apostles regarding faith and works. We believe that our only hope of eternal life depends on receiving the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. However, we also understand that faith requires us to become “doers of the word, not hearers only” (James 1:22). God expects believers to DO good works.
Good works are not the price of salvation. They are the evidence of it. James said that faith is dead if it is not accompanied by works (James 2:26). Even Martin Luther, who is widely credited with inventing the doctrine sola fide (by faith alone), said this:
Faith is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith. (Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York: New American Library, 1950; 1978. p.259)
Luther understood that faith in God's grace and mercy brings about a change of heart. That change of heart brings the Spirit of God into our lives and that Spirit prompts us to do good works. Nevertheless, anti-Mormon critics always want to misrepresent our views and tell others that Mormons believe that they must work their way to heaven.
The Bible is replete with passages that tell us that God will judge us according to our works. The dead, great and small, will be judged from what is written in the book of life, according to their works (Revelation 20:12-13). Even the most famous verse in the New Testament, John 3:16, is followed by an exhortation to good works (deeds).
16 ¶For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 ¶He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
How many times has your pastor quote verses 16 and 17 to you? How many times have you read the verses that follow them? Can you not see it? People whose deeds are evil love darkness rather than light—even if they say they believe. They avoid coming to the light because their deeds—their works—are unrighteous. Those who dwell in faith—who show their faith through their works—come into the light because they don't fear.
Heaven is going to be filled with forgiven people who tried their best to leave behind their sinful ways and keep God's commandments. They won't be perfect; nobody ever will be in this life. But their good deeds will show that they have come into God's light. Those who say they believe, but really continue to do evil deeds, will never have the courage to come out of the shadows that hide their evil works.
There is a pall of sorrow that overlays this mortal existence. There is so much sin that is carried silently by so many. It dampens joy. It prevents peace. It leads people to drown that sorrow with alcohol, drugs, and various distractions. People find that they are most ill-at-ease when they must be alone with their own thoughts, where that still, small voice whispers to their hearts that there is a better way.
The better way is to believe and obey God's commandments. When Jesus was asked by a sincere young man who wanted to know what he could do to have eternal life, Jesus told him to “keep the commandments” (Luke 18:20). If you really want to be happy, you need to stop doing what's wrong and do what's right.
How do you know what's right? Follow your heart. Your conscience will tell you what you should do. You know you should not lie, or steal, or cheat. It will warn you when you consider doing something wrong. Follow that little “angel” that tells you to do good. You'll never regret doing the right thing. It always pays off in the end. Giving in to the “bad angel” leads you to regret. Most of all, just do what your parents taught you: don't be mean! The easiest way to tell the good people from the evil ones is that the evil ones are mean! They harangue and harass the ones that try to do right. The demean and ridicule goodness and call it naïve or unsophisticated. They call evil good and deride the good, calling it evil. Just look at all the hateful anti-Mormon critics who claim to be followers of Christ, but spend their time repeating the dishonest things they've heard other dishonest people say.
If Mormons do good works, they will find harmony with Christians, Muslims, or any other person who is trying to do good. Setting aside doctrinal differences and meanness, we can all work together to feed the hungry, house the homeless, protect children from exploitation by pornographers and sex traffickers. We can transform our neighborhoods and cities into places where racism and poverty disappear. When we do good works, God's blessings will shower down upon us and the world around us. It's why Jesus told us to let our lights shine before the world.
Faith is important because it's the first step. Just because it is the first step, it doesn't mean that it's more important than following through with good deeds. Now, let's go and do the right thing today.
Check out Greg's new book "What It Looks Like: Intentional Living for Latter-day Saints" on Amazon.com