What do Mormons believe about works?

by Rusty Lindquist on January 25, 2011 · 0 comments

Many have asked me what Mormons believe about “works”, and how we reconcile those beliefs with the notion of being saved by grace, through the mercy of Christ and His atonement.

Indeed, Mormons believe that our salvation is made possible by the mercy of Christ, and were it not for his everlasting Atonement, we could not be saved.  For man is carnal, mortal, and imperfect, and as such, will inevitably sin.  But the atonement of Christ makes it possible for us to be forgiven for our sins by paying the demands of justice if we will repent.

For as the scriptures tell us, God is Just, and it is always required that the laws of justice be satisfied, for there are consequences for sin (as we read throughout the scriptures).  But if man will repent, the Lord will intercede with the demands of justice, having paid the price already himself.  Such is mercy. 

But if man will not repent, he cannot be saved, for no unclean thing can dwell with god.  And not only must we repent of our sins, but we must strive to live the gospel and keep the commandments, and there are certain things we must do in order to earn our salvation.

Baptism, for instance, is required for salvation.  So is obedience.  For why would God give men commandments if he did not expect them to be obeyed?  And why would he require men to repent, or why would his servants, the prophets, so continually preach repentance, if repentance were not necessary for salvation, or if obedience were optional and there were no consequence for disobedience?

Hence we believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel (1st article of faith).

The following are just a very few verses I’ve selected from the Bible that help provide the scriptural basis for these beliefs.  But the burden of proof of this doctrine of works is not upon Mormons, for the scriptures I reference here (among many others) are clear and present.  Rather the burden is upon those who believe contrary to this scripture, to come up with some alternative explanation for these and other verses.

Revelation 20:12-15 “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.”

Hebrews 5:5-10 “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”

Romans 2:13-16 “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”

2 Thessalonians 1:1-10 “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James 1:22-25 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

Romans 2:5-11 “And revelation of the righteous judgment of God: Who will render to every man according to his deeds…”

Matthew 7:21-23 “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.”

Matthew 16:27 and Revelation 22:12-15 “For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father, with His angels, and then He shall reward every man according to his works.”

Luke 6:46-49 “And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”

John 7:16-17 “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine…”

John 14:15-21 “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

Acts 1-:34-36 “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”

Titus 3:8 “That they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.”

1 John 1:6 “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.”

Revelation 22:14-15 “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.”

1 Samuel 15:22 “To obey is better than to sacrifice”

Matthew 7:15-20 “Ye shall no them by their fruits”

Matthew 24:13 “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved”.

Galations 5:20-23 “Now the works of the flesh are manifest…of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

James 2:14-26 “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have no works? Can faith save him?… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

Rusty

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 S.Faux June 18, 2008 at 4:32 AM

Rusty, you have made great points.

I would add that GRACE is an overwhelming factor. That is, we ALL receive help along the way, because we cannot do it all on our own. We need the enabling powers of prayer, Church, scriptures, priesthood authority, ordinances, temples, and wide variety of other blessings. Grace does not make works unnecessary. Instead, grace makes our works (as an expression of faith) possible.

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2 Justin June 18, 2008 at 9:15 AM

Incorrect. Read Ephesians 2:8-9.

From Rusty,

I’m so glad you brought this up. The answer is perhaps clearest in this little parable…

Once upon a time there was a man who was given a map, and was told that if he followed the instructions on this map, he would find treasure untold. Excited by the prospect of this treasure map, he set out one day to find the buried treasure.

The instructions on the map were many, and some were very difficult. One of the instructions conveniently directed him to a tree under which there was much shade. He was happy to see this instruction, for the day was hot, and he sat under the tree expectantly. After a while, another man came to the tree, enjoyed the shade momentarily, and then made to move off.

“Where are you going” said the first man? “I’m following the instructions in a treasure map” said the second. “But I’ve got the same map said the first, and the instructions say to come to this tree, under which there is nice shade”. “Ah”, said the second man, “Indeed this is nice, but unfortunately, there are more instructions on the map than just this one, and to reach the treasure, I must follow them all.”

The scriptures of God contain many instructions. But the words of God cannot be cherry picked. This man can sit under the tree as long as he wishes, but he would get no closer to his desired treasure than this. And because of the convenience of this particular instruction, it is easy to cling to it alone, justifying to himself that this was sufficient, for indeed it was instructed on the map.

This is why I say that the burden of proof is not on Mormons to justify our belief, for our teachings are harmonious with this scripture. We believe that regardless of our works, were it not for the grace of God and the Atonement of Christ, we COULD NOT be saved. Man cannot be saved by his works alone, no matter how good they are.

But, we don’t cherry pick scripture. We also read these others and learn that we too are judged according to our works (Rev 20:12-15), that the doers receive salvation (Romans 2:13-16), and that we are rendered according to our deeds (Romans 2:5-11), for what doth it profit a man if he has faith and has no works, for faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26) etc. (see all the scriptures listed in my post).

So unfortunately, the belief in works cannot be refuted by quoting a scripture about mercy, but rather he who denies the role of works in salvation must find a way to explain these many references to the contrary.

But the truth can be manifest to all, if they will but humbly ask, with genuine intent to understand, and a willingnes to accept the anwer (James 1:5).

Rusty

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3 ftmmyers June 18, 2008 at 6:50 PM

That’s a good set of scriptures! Too many people don’t read what’s there and learn from it…the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only church I know of that does not ignore, underplay, or cut out pieces of the Bible. Just look at the “17 Point of the True Church”…one is that they true church of Christ will accept the Bible in it’s entirety…and most churches, when you get right down to it, don’t. Thanks for all you do, Rusty, recently discovered this blog, and I’ve already learned a lot. Good insights!

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4 Raymond June 18, 2008 at 9:59 PM

Rusty, I think what Justin was eluding to was that “faith” is a gift of God. Faith is not an easy believism that a man gives and takes at his own will. Such as the self-generating carnal faith you have described in earlier commentaries. That’s not biblical faith. Jesus said to Peter, verse 17 of Matthew 16.

In John 6:44, “No one can come to Me,” implying in faith, “unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Verse 47, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” Those two verses come together to say the Father gives you faith. The Father draws you by eliciting your faith. It’s a gift of God, it can be no less than that for fallen nature cannot generate faith in God.

If Saving Faith is from God, then it’s evidence through works are also obedience. So now you can read your 15 or so quoted scripture verses above and be confident that you are indeed saved by biblical faith.

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5 Jesse July 23, 2008 at 3:24 AM

Very true, faith is a gift from God. However, He will not give it to one who does not desire and ‘hunger’ for it.

Raymond, I’m not sure I understand your last paragraph. Could you rephrase?

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6 Jim B. August 22, 2008 at 11:58 AM

Rusty said,

“Indeed, Mormons believe that our salvation is MADE POSSIBLE by the mercy of Christ…”

“And not only must we repent of our sins, but we must strive to live the gospel and keep the commandments, and THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS WE MUST DO IN ORDER TO EARN OUR SALVATION.”

I just highlight these to denote the stark contrast between Christianity and Mormonism. God’s grace does not MAKE POSSIBLE salvation – it purchases and secures it.

“Baptism, for instance, is required for salvation. So is obedience. For why would God give men commandments if he did not expect them to be obeyed?”

If for no other reason than to understand the orthodox Christian understanding of God’s commandments (and to understand the Christian conception of law/works and grace), you should read Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will –

http://books.google.com/books?id=mZvlSRhrB3wC&printsec=frontcover&lr=&sig=ACfU3U2Vt_l2vm6_KP098AO0h3Lmnn-h5g

Luther considered it his most important work and it deals directly with this question – Why would God give commands He does not expect us to obey?

And for an old book, it’s actually a fairly quick and easy read!

Two quotes that summarize the argument:

“…’if thou art willing’ is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing…a conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively.” “if thou art willing”, “if thou hear”, “if thou do” declare, not man’s ability, but his duty.”

“…the commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded.”

And regarding baptism: What about the Mormon who professes faith and dies before baptism is possible? (This is a minor issue for me, but I was curious.)

I’ll tackle your scripture citations later. I would briefly say that your parable (I’ve seen you refer to this before, no?) doesn’t solve the questions raised. It is an illustration with ZERO persuasive content – it simply portrays the situation with the Christian and Mormon (the Mormon with a “fuller revelation”) as you see it. I could claim to believe in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price… and then an even NEWER revelation outside Christianity and Mormonism. I could then throw this illustration back at you. YOU would be the one stopping under the tree. What would that prove or demonstrate? Nothing.

We have to ask ourselves, “Selves, does the Bible, God’s Word, speak authoritatively, coherently and accurately?” If it does, then we can’t say that verse A means one thing, and verse B means the opposite. Yet, this is what you, Rusty, seem content to do. You seem to be saying, “Sure, the Bible seems to teach salvation by grace, apart from works, but other places it teaches salvation by works, so… I think salvation is by both (because this is what Mormonism teaches).”

I think this is a cop-out. If the Bible speaks coherently, there must be a coherent way to understand these verses, other than to say, “Salvation is obtained by grace and faith alone, apart from works, and… salvation is obtained by works.” This is a blatant contradiction, and God is not the author of confusion and contradiction.

But more on this later as we discuss these verses.

God Bless

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7 Jim B. August 27, 2008 at 8:02 AM

Revelation 20:12-15

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then ANOTHER BOOK was opened, which is the BOOK OF LIFE. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the BOOK OF LIFE, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Rusty, no Christian should deny that all men will be judged by their works. However, what is that which we (and our works) will be judged? Is it not God’s perfect Law? And who then will be able to stand this judgment by works? Have you, Rusty, perfectly obeyed God’s Law? Is perfect obedience not what God requires of us? Can you cite one scripture that teaches anything less than perfect obedience to God’s Law – even with the “assistance” of grace – is required of man?

So yes, all men will be judged by their works, and all men will be found wanting. This is the beauty and crucial importance of understanding the Book of Life in Revelation (and Daniel). All those whose names are written in the Book of Life are God’s elect – those to whom Christ’s perfect righteousness (perfect obedience to and fulfillment of God’s Law) has been applied.

If God simply judged men by their own works then (1) all would be justly damned, and (2) their would be no need for a second book – the Book of Life.

So, Rusty, this text does not support a Mormon Works + Grace paradigm, but instead the orthodox Christian view: only those trusting in Christ’s righteousness alone – God’s elect, whose names were written in the Book of Life before the foundations of the world – will escape the Final Judgment unscathed.

Again, this is not to say that works are unimportant or unnecessary. They are. God created us to be zealous for good works. Genuine faith evidences itself in good works. It is, however, to say that in no way do we earn or merit anything from God by our good works. This may seem like splitting hairs to some, but is a crucial distinction in orthodox Christianity. Paul, in particular, spends a great deal of time and energy warning his hearers against adding anything to grace.

I’ll try to get at these other verses as I have time.

God Bless

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8 Terry G August 27, 2008 at 8:48 PM

The most serious problem these verses Rusty has posed is the question of what James 2:24 means: “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” Some imagine that this contradicts Paul in Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

It appears certain that [James] is speaking of the manifestation, not of the imputation of righteousness, as if he had said, Those who are justified by faith prove their justification by obedience and good works, not by a bare and imaginary semblance of faith. In one word, he is not discussing the mode of justification, but requiring that the justification of all believers shall be operative. And as Paul contends that men are justified without the aid of works, so James will not allow any to be regarded as Justified who are destitute of good works .

James is not at odds with Paul. They are not antagonists facing each other with crossed swords rather they stand back to back, confronting different foes of the gospel. James affirmed that salvation is a gift bestowed according to the sovereign will of God. Now he is stressing the importance of faith’s fruit—the righteous behavior that genuine faith always produces. Paul, too, saw righteous works as the necessary proof of faith.

Those who imagine a discrepancy between James and Paul rarely observe that it was Paul who wrote, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Rom. 6:15); and “Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (v. 18). Thus Paul condemns the same error James is exposing here. Paul never advocated any concept of dormant faith.

When Paul writes, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight,” (Rom. 3:20), he is combating a Jewish legalism which insisted upon the need for works to be justified; James insists upon the need for works in the lives of those who have been justified by faith. Paul insists that no man can ever win justification through his own efforts … James demands that a man who already claims to stand in right relationship with God through faith must by a life of good works demonstrate that he has become a new creature in Christ. With this Paul thoroughly agreed. Paul was rooting out ‘works’ that excluded and destroyed saving faith; James was stimulating a sluggish faith that minimized the results of saving faith in daily life.

James and Paul both echo Jesus’ preaching. Paul’s emphasis is an echo of Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jame s’s teaching has the ring of Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” Paul represents the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount; James the end of it. Paul declares that we are saved by faith without the deeds of the law. James declares that we are saved by faith, which shows itself in works. Both James and Paul view good works as the proof of faith—not the path to salvation.

James could not be more explicit. He is confronting the concept of a passive, false “faith,” which is devoid of the fruits of salvation. He is not arguing for works in addition to or apart from faith. He is showing why and how, true, living faith always works. He is fighting against dead orthodoxy and its tendency to abuse grace. The error James assails is faith without works; justification without sanctification; salvation without new life.

Again, James echoes the Master Himself, who insisted on a theology of lordship that involved obedience, not lip-service. Jesus chided the disobedient ones who had attached themselves to Him in name only: “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Verbal allegiance, He said, will get no one to heaven: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

That is in perfect harmony with James: “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (1:22); for “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (2:17).

Finally Rusty, many have responded to your repeated requests to explain the meaning of the verses at the top of this post. Some here and some in other posts. We will continue answering them, but then please do not claim that your questions have never been answered!

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