Why do Mormons believe in Works?

by Rusty Lindquist on January 25, 2011 · 20 comments

Daniel, in the post “Do Mormons have more than one God?” (page 3 of the comments), asked a very important question pertaining to the mercy, the atonement of Christ, and the role of works in achieving exaltation.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I encounter.  He accurately notes that there are scriptures that tell us that it is by grace that we are saved, not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9), and therefore asks about Mormonism’s apparent focus on works.

The answer to this is simple, and scriptural, but is hard for many accept because so many denominations have chosen to latch on to the scriptures about mercy, while disregarding those about works (which are actually greater in number).

Here are a couple passages that adequately encapsulate this doctrine:

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

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.”

On my post “What do Mormons believe about works?“, I list over 20 of such scriptural (biblical) passages that teach the necessity of works in salvation, and on which we base our beliefs.  (Please check it out, and see for yourself).

Indeed, there is an abundance of evidence supporting this doctrine as true (and Christian).  But it requires that we consider all scripture, which is somehow something many denominations choose not to do.  It’s a topic I cover in the post “The grand panorama of scripture“, discussing the importance of considering the whole of all scripture, and not basing beliefs off extractions of convenience. 

It’d be simple to build a religion based on only those passages that create the most convenient to accept doctrines.  The ones that require us to do the least. 

Indeed, I think this is predominantly the reason why this notion of works has become so unorthodox, in spite of its clear biblical backing.  It’s a doctrine that sells well.  And for religions that have paid clergy, this is important.  So over time, the natural focus of orthodox Christianity has shifted from those scriptures that teach about works, to those that focus on mercy.  (which I cover in the post “the commercialization of religion“).

This “evolution” of doctrine is extremely important to understanding Mormonism, for it was precisely because of this apostasy, or “falling away” from Christ’s original doctrine, that necessitated the restoration of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith.  Enough of the pure and simple principles of the gospel of Christ (such as this) have changed over time, that our ability to reach God based on Christianity’s teaching of scripture became impossible.

There came a time when the Lord had to step in and again call a prophet (a pattern also set forth in the Bible, but strangely absent from orthodox Christianity, which I cover and we discuss here).

So, you see, in truth, the notion of works, and the role they play in our salvation is not unique to Mormonism, but hails back to early Christianity… even the very teachings of Christ and his Prophets from ancient times, but is a doctrine that is disappointingly absent from orthodox Christianity today.

Rusty

P.S.  For additional study, see also the post and discussion on “The sufficiency paradox, understanding the atonement“, which covers the paradox created by Christianities current definition of “mercy” and sufficiency.  Also “Picking the lock of salvation“, in which I cover, and then we discuss, the role of Mercy and the unavoidable doctrine of works.

Also, and most importantly, www.josephsmith.com, to learn more about the prophet Joseph Smith, and the pivotal role he played in the restoration of the gospel of Christ, and the organizing of His church on earth in these latter days.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kathryn Skaggs May 15, 2009 at 10:21 AM

Thank you for such a simple and obvious explanation as to why Mormons teach the doctrine of “works”, along side of mercy and grace.
tDMg

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2 Margaret May 15, 2009 at 8:36 PM

Beautifully written. This is what I believe and know to be true. It’s so logical that it would be that way.

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3 uncle bill May 18, 2009 at 8:25 AM

Why do mormons believe if the physycial literal ressurection of the body. Where is your scriptural reasoning. Thanks

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4 Jared May 18, 2009 at 3:53 PM

Uncle Bill,

Was not Christ resurrected with a physical body? Luke 24:36-43

“And as they [Christ’s apostles] thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them…Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet…. And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them.”

A Book of Mormon prophet explained also about resurrection: “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.” (Alma 40:23).

We will rise from the dead just as Christ did. I hope that helps. 🙂

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5 Rusty Lindquist May 19, 2009 at 12:16 AM

Thanks Jared.

Additionally, Job found hope and assurance that in his body he would see God:

Job 19:25-27: For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another…”

And also Ezekiel saw this physical resurrection:

Ezekiel 37:7, 12-14: “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above, but there was no breath in them…

Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel… And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live…”

Also, of course, there was the empty tomb, demonstrating his physical resurrection and departure.

Additionally, Christ taught a Physical Resurrection. When challenged by rulers demanding some sign of his authorization to clear the temple of profane vendors and money changers, Jesus declared, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

“Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?

“But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:19-21).

He said “I lay down my life, that I might take it up again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. (John 10:17-18).

He said, speaking of himself “And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.” (Luke 18:33)

There are many others, but this should suffice to get you started.

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6 ethan June 8, 2009 at 3:39 PM

Mormons do believe Christ was divine. Also, Don’t confuse the LDS doctrines of salvation vs. exaltation.

Actually, Mormons believe all mankind is SAVED by the GRACE of God, even Hitler will be end up in a degree of glory (for Mormons hell is a lesser glory relative to the higher state where God dwells and family units are eternal). Conversely, Evangelicals believe a person must perform the WORK of physically “accepting Jesus” vocally to be saved. For them, not all will be “saved.”

Therefore, mormons believe in being saved by grace and Evangelicals believe in salvation by works (act of being born again).

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7 autumn June 20, 2009 at 9:20 AM

But what I don’t understand is why the LDS believe that what they do can get them into heaven/help them obtain salvation. That concludes to me that God would be in debt to us. It’s like saying, “Look, God, I clothed the naked, fed the poor, and other good things. Now because of what I have done, I deserve salvation/heaven.”.

Does that not sound silly? No one deserves heaven or salvation. In fact, we all deserve hell. We deserve eternal separation from God. Plus, in Isaiah 64:6 it says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

All of our “righteous” acts are as filthy rags in front of God. We can try and try and try to do good things, but unless we’re covered with the blood of Christ, they’re nothing.

James said that faith without works is dead. . yes. But that doesn’t mean that your works save you. James is saying, “Don’t point to your works and say, ‘Look! There is my faith!’, but point to your works and say, ‘Because of my faith, look at these works that God’s been doing through me!’.” Your faith in Jesus should inspire you to clothe the naked and feed the poor. Because once you’re in Christ, you are a new creature. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”. Your old nature has passed. Your want-to to do sin is gone, and since you’re living for God now, you should want to work to SHOW others the love of Christ.

In all that you do, it should be to show the love of Christ– not because it earns you anything.

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8 Sean M. Cox June 21, 2009 at 3:00 PM

Autumn,
A citation (Alma 11:32-37):
( http://scriptures.lds.org/en/alma/11/32-37#32 )
32 And Zeezrom said again: Who is he that shall come? Is it the Son of God?
33 And he said unto him, Yea.
34 And Zeezrom said again: Shall he save his people in their sins? And Amulek answered and said unto him: I say unto you he shall not, for it is impossible for him to deny his word.
35 Now Zeezrom said unto the people: See that ye remember these things; for he said there is but one God; yet he saith that the Son of God shall come, but he shall not save his people—as though he had authority to command God.
36 Now Amulek saith again unto him: Behold thou hast lied, for thou sayest that I spake as though I had authority to command God because I said he shall not save his people in their sins.
37 And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.

Such reasoning falls on its face. If God has promised a reward to those who obey his commandments, and we obey, we have not forced his hand in anything. To presume so is to presume that God had know foreknowledge when he made his promise. To make such a supposition is to manifest an inherent lack of trust in God. We can not force God to let us into heaven against his will. We can, however, conform to his will and be the kind of person that God will willingly invite in to meet him.

God has promised a reward for the obedient, and we shall not suppose to deny his word.

(Obviously, it’s not a matter of what we deserve, but a matter of what God wills, and he has not been silent as to neglect to tell us what he wills. Furthermore, I will note, that your representation of the LDS doctrine, for the sake of your argument, is not really very accurate.)

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9 autumn June 24, 2009 at 7:02 PM

what part of my lds doctrine is not accurate? it’s right from the BOM – “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, AFTER all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). [emphasis added]

this verse says that Christ’s work was not enough. what Jesus did isn’t good enough for us to believe in. . we have to do other things to be saved. in Ephesians it says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.

We cannot earn the kingdom of God- – the Bible makes it clear that we’re wretched dirty creatures, and everything we do will be thrown into the fire, to be tested, only to be burned up. That includes our ‘righteous acts’. it’s a gift of God that we’re saved from our sins, and become children of God “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” – John 1:12. the Bible says “believed in his name”, His name being Jesus. That’s how we inherit the Kingdom of God.

And your passage in Alma should not be used to bring an argument. . unless you wish to discourage unbelievers. If you can’t be saved in your sins. . then there is no hope for you! We’re born with sin (i know you don’t believe that. .but let’s look at some passages from the Bible) 1 Corinthians 15:46 – “The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.” That means that our sinful nature comes before our spiritual nature. Also, Romans 5:19 – “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners. . ” Because of Adam’s disobedience, we were all born with sin– think about it, were you taught how to lie, cheat or steal? No, if you have children, you probably don’t have to teach them to lie about things, we naturally do it- it’s our sinful nature.
Jesus even tells us that we’re children of the devil – John 8:44-47 “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. ” So we’re born sinners. . and we can’t be saved in our sins? Well, so much for the new hope you guys bring! But the Bible says in Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
God, while we were still sinners, gave us His Son.
So let’s recap – we’re born sinners, who don’t deserve grace, but while we were still sinners, God sent His son for us. . that’s all according to the Bible. but according to Alma 11, we can’t be saved while we’re in our sins.
goodness. . seems like there’s not a lot of hope in the BOM, but a lot of working for nothing if we can’t be saved from by our works or by Jesus’ work. Sad.

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10 kim February 18, 2011 at 4:30 PM

Oh, I totally believe we need to keep the commandments to be saved, but that it is though Jesus Christ that we are saved from Death….All man will live again, because he atoned for our sins, so we can live again after we die…But achieveing Heaven or Hell, or Eternal Life as Mormon’s call it…..We have to be good and do good works….
But, I don’t think we need to spend all our time working for the church and doing everything they want us to do in Christ name thinking we will earn our reward in Heaven…

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11 Sunde March 2, 2011 at 8:38 AM

Why did Joseph Smith have to return the
gold plates to MORONi? If the Book of
Mormon is true, wouldn’t the continued
availability of the gold plates help the cause
of “truth.”

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12 Rusty Lindquist March 2, 2011 at 11:48 AM

Thanks for asking!

Joseph Smith had to return the plates because God asked him to.

I assume he was asked to return them because God’s approach is seldom one of providing irrefutable proof for “sign seekers”. He has nothing to prove, so proof is not his goal. Instead, his goal is to try our faith, to distinguish the believers.

Consequently, he continues to architect means whereby man is given the opportunity to encounter truth and choose to believe or not.

So, throughout time, he has sent prophets to teach his word (Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing save he reveal his secrets unto his servants the prophets”).

The same is true in our day, from Joseph Smith down to the current prophet. Whether men choose to believe them, is what he wants to see.

And so, with His goal being to try our faith, it seems to make sense that he would ask for the plates return. They’d served their purpose, bringing to our knowledge the scriptural record of the ancient inhabitants of America (the “Other sheep” who “must hear my voice”).

Having served their purpose, it fits within the template of precedence to leave the rest to faith.

It would likely convince many if the tablet containing the ten commandments were on display in some Museum, having been verified of their authenticity. But that too would destroy the purpose – to try our faith.

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13 Sunde March 2, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Thanks for the reply. I must say that a thoughtful,
inquiring skeptic can better understand the missing
Ten Commandments from thousands of years
ago. Rational thinkers do, and ought to, have a harder
time accepting the “missing” gold plates right after the
publication of their supposed contents to the world in 1830.
Especially, since so much of what Mr. Smith claimed the gold
plates revealed would seem to fly in the face of Scripture.
Is my thinking somehow logically flawed on this point?

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14 Rusty Lindquist March 3, 2011 at 10:01 AM

Just in the way I’ve already described. Logic (if you accept the Bible to be the word of God), would still suggest God choosing a path to try our faith, rather than one of irrefutable proof.

The recency of the record has little bearing on what God is capable of doing. Should he desire a path of proof, it’s quite reasonable to expect he could have found a way to preserve any record, regardless it’s age.

It seems there’s a deeper issue here though. What is it about the Book of Mormon that flies in the face of scripture (I’m presuming you mean the Bible, but correct me if I’m wrong)?

Thanks for carrying this important conversation. It’s valuable for many readers.

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15 Rusty Lindquist March 3, 2011 at 10:29 AM

I’ve decided this is an important enough conversation to warrant it’s own post, so it gets attention at a higher level. There are likely many who are looking at Mormonism and would wonder the same thing.

Let’s carry on the conversation here: http://mormonconversations.com/why-did-joseph-smith-have-to-return-the-plates/

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16 Toyn February 21, 2014 at 11:14 AM

The primary premise of JS writing the Book of mormon was due to his understanding that the church and more specifically the Bible had been misinterpreted over the centuries. However, he had no access to historical information that we have today. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found well after his death. And what these docs alone give us are critical proof that we have copies of the original texts within 30 to 100 years after they were written… And the amazing aspect of this find, is that when translations of these early texts happened they revealed that they were still inline with the exact same understanding as current translations today. There is no way to deny this evidence except to stay blind to it by choice. So if you cannot claim the New Testament was mistranslated as JS claimed… what does that say about Joseph Smith and the validity of the Book of Mormon. Were all sheep the Bible states… why?… because we tend to follow blindly. SEEK and you shall find. You owe it to your children and your children’s children. If nothing else, it will make your own faith stronger… or you will find true salvation. I think your eternity and the eternity of your children is worth a little effort, don’t you?

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17 Rusty Lindquist February 21, 2014 at 11:46 AM

Actually you’re mixing the story up and I can’t yet tell if it’s intentional, or if you’re just ill-informed.

Joseph Smith was concerned about the vastly differing views held by the many Christian denominations fighting for membership during the revival around New York at the time of his youth.

He decided he should take it upon himself to ask God which one of them was true, being inspired to do so by James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God”.

He sought solace amongst a grove of trees one spring morning in 1820, and proceeded to ask God which of the various sects was right. It was in the process of this prayer that God the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph, manifesting themselves to him as they have to critical prophets in biblical times. During the course of events, they revealed to Joseph that none of the sects were true. That they held many truths, but that many truths amongst each of them had been lost over time, partially through mistranslations of the bible (to which you refer) and partially through the compromise of beliefs in core tenets of their faith, as declared in the various creeds.

Joseph was commanded to join none of those churches, and was instructed instead, to create a new church, based entirely on revelation, and patterned after the original church Christ established when he was on earth.

He was told that the bible is true, as far as it is translated correctly, and was informed that there was another ancient record deposited. A record of the visit of the Savior to the ancient people on the American continent, revealing his teachings and the teachings of his prophets here on this continent. In time, Joseph was commanded to retrieve that record, and translate it, the Book of Mormon, that it should be had hand-in-hand with the bible, to help establish clarity of doctrine and to re-establish the fullness of the Lords gospel on the earth.

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18 Toyn February 21, 2014 at 11:20 AM

I’m amazed at how the responders of your posts blindly believe what you post. We are nothing but sheep (as the Bible states). We will follow anyone… a news program, a friend, our parents, or even some guy we don’t know on a blog. Amazing! The Bible says “seek and you will find”. This doesn’t say just believe or just believe some guy… it says seek. That means from many sources. We are constantly being lied to by every group with an agenda on the planet and know one denies this… so why blindly believe when it comes to your faith. Your salvation is personal between you and God and your finding Him should be as well. You just have to make sure you are speaking to God and not a created misconception of God based on one “man”.

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19 Rusty Lindquist February 21, 2014 at 11:25 AM

First of all, you’re trolling. I’ve allowed three posts, but further trolling won’t be tolerated. I find value in discussing doctrine, and beliefs that may vary from my own, and am happy to host those discussions, but simple trolling… not so much.

I’ll reply to your posts momentarily.

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20 Rusty Lindquist February 21, 2014 at 11:34 AM

Thank you for the reminder about why it’s important that we each take individual responsibility for what we choose to believe. There is more intellectual and spiritual rigor that needs to be applied than most are willing to, and so I applaud every encouragement to do so, regardless who it comes from.

Unless you’re not really reading the comments, most of them are dissenting views, not supportive ones (looking across the spectrum of responses and posts). So you’re choosing to target those who do express support, calling it “blindness”, which is disparaging and unfortunate, but gives us an idea that you have an agenda, and not a sincere desire to discuss eternal principles.

Instead of casting fault, see the beam in your own eye, and stick to a discussion of principles and doctrine, rather than seeking yourself to “lead people astray” using by emotional persuasion.

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