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More on grace and works

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One of the frustrating parts of any Mormon's attempts to engage in interfaith conversations is the unwillingness of many sectarian Christians to actually look at the whole Bible they profess to believe. In the previous article, It's What You Do That Makes the Difference, we discussed the relationship between grace and works. This is a point of contention between latter-day saints and other Christian sects, but it is unnecessarily so. After all, it's not a matter of interpreting the Bible. It's a matter of simply reading what the Bible says.

The Bible clearly teaches that God gives grace to those who have faith in Jesus Christ, who repent of their sins, and forsake them. His grace is the power of forgiveness. It is a gift of supreme love offered by Jesus who literally suffered, bled, and died to make it available to us. Mormons do no dispute these biblical teachings. Indeed the Book of Mormon echoes and reinforces the necessity of faith in Christ and the efficacy of his grace.

Nevertheless, we find that our evangelical brethren are willing to completely ignore the numerous passage of the Bible that teach that obedience to God's commandments and good works are necessary. Good works are the fruits of faith. These passages are so numerous, one single article can't even begin to cover them, but we will discuss a number of them in this article. Lists of scriptures can be boring reading, but it is necessary to include them that a sincere seeker will understand that the latter-day saint doctrines are biblical. Anti-Mormons won't even be bothered to read the scriptural evidence.

One of the commentators in the last article, Dana Robertson, brought up the typical arguments and scriptures to support his position. It should be mentioned that, with great regularity, the commentators on these articles are written by dedicated anti-Mormons, not just average Christian believers. Dana Robertson is very active on the anti-Mormon “Life After Mormonism” forum and operates an anti-Mormon group on Facebook called “The Exmormon Research Institute.” It's important to mention this because he is not just an typical Christian reader, but instead, he has a personal vendetta against Mormonism. On Life After Mormonism, he wrote, “I've been out since 1995, but I would gladly go on camera to say what I have to say about Mormonism. I wouldn't care if you gave my address and phone number. I hide from nobody on this subject."

Mr. Robertson admitted in his comments that he is a disaffected member. For many former members of the Church, it is like a bad marriage that breaks up. Instead of going on and enjoying his newfound faith in Christ, building up the kingdom as he sees fit, he is determined to tear down the Church he left behind. It's a counterproductive way to live, but we recognize his right to do it. It is apparent that he harbors significant hostility. Now that you, the reader, know the animus that this particular commentator has against Mormon beliefs, you should be able to exercise a greater degree of discernment and recognize bias where it is prevalent. Dana cited several Bible verses:

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 11:6 – But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

Galatians 2:16 – “...nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

Galatians 3:24 – Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

Mormons accept and believe every single one of these verses. Dana implies that we don't. That is deceptive and dishonest. You won't find anything in the Bible that we don't believe. Mormons believe the WHOLE Bible.

What do we mean by that? To defend his doctrinal position, the evangelical (and the anti-Mormons among them) must ignore a large number of passages to downplay the necessity of obedience and good works that are plainly taught in the Bible's text. They must choose Paul over James and John. They must ignore passages where Jesus tells someone that baptism and obeying the commandments are necessary.

Is there a conflict between the apostles of Jesus? Did some preach obedience and others preach grace? Or does a more complete reading of the Bible show that God expects the believer to have faith AND do good works? Let's look at some of these Bible passages which are intentionally downplayed by many of our critics.

The prophet Jeremiah stated:

For many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of them also: and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the works of their own hands (Jeremiah 25:14).

Paul, the “Apostle of Grace” wrote:

Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:15).

The apostle John saw the last judgment and wrote in the Book of Revelation:

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. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works (Revelation 20:12-13).

Paul also said:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:12-15)

That phrase, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” is significant. Many evangelicals boast their salvation is assured, even though they make no effort to reform their lives and repent of sins. The latter-day saint throws himself upon the mercy of God and understands that, even when we do our very best, it will never be enough. God's grace will rescue us because we have faith in him. How does God know we have faith in him? We show him we have faith by our obedience and good works.

Dana Robertson threw out the classic “grace argument” scripture in Ephesians chapter 2.

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. (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If you were to just read ONE MORE VERSE, you'd see that Paul connects faith and works:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

This is what we mean by believing the WHOLE Bible. The Mormon belief includes both verses in harmony. Dana Robertson and his fellows are just giving you half the story!

Let us not forget also the repeated admonitions of Jesus that one must be baptized to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5, Mark 16:16). Is baptism a “work” that is unnecessary? Other Christians often tell us this, and in so doing, contradict Jesus' own words!

Another often quoted verse is in Romans:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)

The evangelical assertion is that just saying out loud that one believes in Jesus is enough to save a person, without repentance, baptism, or doing good works. This is another half-truth. Let's look at what James said:

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26).

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).

“Pure religion,” as James calls it required doing something. Does James contradict Paul? Which one is right? Do you have to choose between two apostle of Jesus? Or can the teachings of these two apostles be harmonized? James was the brother of Jesus. Mary was his mother. He and Jesus grew up together. Don't you think that he might have had some really personal insights into what Jesus taught? James wrote:

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

Read that again and see how emphatic he is. James said that even devils believe in Jesus, but it does not save them! It's the works that are the evidence of faith.

Our anti-Mormon critics try to twist things to say that Mormons believe in “working our way to heaven.” That is a flat-out lie. We believe in humbly working out our salvation in fear and trembling like Paul said, relying upon grace to save us. However, we believe, like James said, that obedience and works are required of us. James reminded believers:

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (James 4:17)

Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that if they loved him, they'd keep his commandments (John 14:15). John, who was there with the Savior at the Last Supper echoed those words:

And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us (1 John 3:23-24).

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:2-3).

Isn't it ironic that anti-Mormons are, in effect, teaching people that it's OK to break God's commandments? They're telling you to just believe and that you don't have to worry about anything? Seeing the verses we've listed here so far, is that what the Bible is REALLY teaching?

Again, I apologize for the list of scriptures, but it just goes on and on. I've only really selected a small number of the total. Again from Paul:

That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10)

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:17)

They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:16)

If a person says he believes in Christ, but he doesn't keep God's commandments, does he really know God? John said:

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).

So let us ask Dana Robertson: who believes more of the Bible? Does the Bible teach that only faith is necessary? Or are works a part of the equation? Any reasonable person will see that the Bible teaches both. Mormons believe the Bible and we don't pick and choose what we will believe from its pages. We don't set Paul against James and John. We believe all that the Bible teaches, not just the parts that fit our creeds.

One of the wonderful things about the Book of Mormon is how it harmonizes these two seemingly opposing principles. Here are two examples:

And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive. And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works. (Alma 7:23-24)

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. (2 Nephi 25:23)

We rely wholly upon the merits of Christ to save us. All of us are sinners. Faith in God is intended to change who and what we are. It turns us from sinners into saints over the course of time. Sanctification is a biblical principle. Faith, repentance, and obedience work in us throughout our lives. Where we fall short, grace is extended to forgive us if our efforts are sincere. Heaven is not going to be filled with people who said they believed and disobeyed God's commands. We show sincerity by doing good works. It's really the only measure of our faith. Anyone who tells you we believe otherwise is misrepresenting our doctrine and trying to lead you astray.

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