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What do Mormons believe about works?

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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What do Mormons really believe, part 3

See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

(Disclaimer: These views are all based on my knowledge and interpretation as an active Latter Day Saint, or “Mormon”, only the actual article of faith I list should be considered “official”.  Still, I try to be accurate and do my homework 😉

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

3rd Article of Faith

Surely one of the most beautiful of beliefs and refreshing of realizations is the reality of the Atonement.  The third Article of Faith is meant to address the efficacy of the Atonement, and the profound role it plays in our lives.

We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved…  ALL mankind!  What more encouraging words could you possibly encounter?

That tells me that no matter where I am in life, no matter how far astray I may have gone, no matter what I’ve done, the atonement of Christ can save me from my sins.

How often Satan – ever our adversary – seeks to engulf us in the belief that we’ve gone too far, or done too much.  Enveloped with despair he tries to overwhelm us with our past, and blind us to the hope to which we are entitled because of the atonement.  But such is not the case.  Hope is ever ours to have.

Through the crucifixion of Christ and his unimaginable suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, He took upon himself the sins of the world, the sins of you and me.   All this that we might not have to pay the price for those sins – for indeed a price there must be, for mercy cannot rob justice.

But herein enters an important principle, the second part of this article of faith.  While the resurrection of Christ makes it possible for all mankind to be resurrected, a free gift with no prerequisite price to pay from us, the atonement of Christ is ours to have also, but is conditional.

For us to benefit from the Atonement, for us to “be saved”, we must first acknowledge and accept the Savior and His sacrifice.  He has cast us the lifeline, but we must exert ourselves to grab hold.  Said so simply, it sounds easy, but it requires genuine humility, which proves ever difficult for all.

And it doesn’t stop there… a portion of this principle that creates an unmistakable and compelling distinction between Mormonism and most other Christian beliefs.  The notion that after we have accepted Christ, and been baptized in His name, we must continue in the faith, abounding in good works, keeping the commandments of God, and continually repenting along the way.

But a life so led, where one struggles to stay on the path as he is frequently beset by the inevitable mistakes of mortality, is one that is acceptable in the eyes of God, and is one that leads to salvation.  We must first grab hold, and then endure to the end.

Rusty

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The sufficiency paradox, understanding the atonement

The atonement is the single greatest event in history, nothing else even compares, and as the single most important and relevant event in each of our own individual lives, it deserves our attention.

Unfortunately, amongst the various Christian denominations, there are lots of differences and views about the atonement, and many inaccurate understandings of how, exactly, it works.

As I have endeavored to teach the doctrine of the atonement, and how it pertains to mercy and justice, and the role of works in achieving exaltation, there has understandably been a lot of “firm” disputations voiced here by followers of other Christian faiths (those outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS, or Mormons).

Their (and the traditional) view of the atonement is one of what they call “sufficiency”.  In short, Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, and we do nothing to deserve or earn it, and that the atonement in and of itself is sufficient for our salvation – nothing need be done by us.

We seem to agree right up to that last qualifier.  Mormons too agree that Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, and that we do nothing to deserve or earn it.  But we do believe that we must accept it, for it to have efficacy in our life.  And in that regard, the notion of “works” enters the picture.  The idea that we must “do” something in order for the atonement to take effect (not mentioning the myriad biblical references to works as a requirement to salvation which I explore here:  What do Mormons believe about works?).

But this is where I always get met with opposition, for it flies in the face of the view that Mercy and the atonement is sufficient, and there is nothing we must do for it to take effect.  As these discussions continue, I inevitably ask the unavoidable question “If the Atonement is sufficient, and there is nothing we must do, then I am already saved, as are all Mormons (in truth, all humanity), correct?”  But that is always met with a “No”, and the statement that Mormons are not saved (as in the discussion on this post: How to tell if it’s the spirit or yourself). 

But to say in one breath that Christ’s atonement is sufficient without anything being required by us, and then in the next to say that it doesn’t work for one particular group of people, creates a belief paradox.  An irreconcilable contradiction.  For if one believes in “sufficiency”, but that a particular group of people isn’t saved, then it begs the question “Then why are they not saved?”

The answer must be because that particular group has not “done” something that they needed, that there is some unmet requirement, in short, that the necessary “works” have not been fulfilled.  So that in the process of attempting to refute the notion of works in salvation, they simultaneously validate the notion themselves.

There is one other possible explanation, which was presented in the comments of that last link (How to tell if it’s the spirit or yourself).   Jim B. who regularly posts very thorough doctrinal analysis about this topic, claims that we “can’t embrace the gospel without divine enablement”.

This implies, of course, that I because haven’t accepted their beliefs, I haven’t been divinely enabled.  Which would be to say that God plays favorites, and he loves some more than others, or seeks some, and not others, as opposed to loving all man equally, as one would expect from our understanding of the Character of God. 

Jim goes on in another comment to say “I am saved by grace, through faith, and it is all a gift of God’s grace.  I have merited nothing from God.  I did not desire God until he desired me.”  But then states that I am not saved.  Why?  Does God does not desire me?

But again, this creates a paradox, for in order to validate the belief in this doctrine of “sufficiency” (at least as it has been explained), you have to claim that all are saved.  But when they try to say that all are NOT saved, they’re left in contradiction to the first statement, which they attempt to explain by saying that either one hasn’t done the right things, or that God plays favorites – in either case defeating the belief of sufficiency.

But a true understanding of the atonement and its actual sufficiency doesn’t necessitate a rejection of the notion of works.  The two principles are perfectly harmonious.  Many mistakenly believe that this reconciliation between the atonement and works means that Mormons think that they earn their salvation.  But this is not true.

We too believe that no matter what works we do, no matter how hard we try, without the atonement salvation is impossible.  Only in and through the atonement of Christ can man be saved.  The Book of Mormon teaches this point repeatedly: “…remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come” (Helaman 5:9).  There is “no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood” (Alma 21:9), and many others.

But what then of works?  What about all these scriptures (listed here) that say “the dead were judged … according to their works (Revelation 20:12-15), and that salvation is “unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:5-10), and that only “doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13-16), and that God shall “render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:5-11), and that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26), and many others.  After all, they were “commandments”, not “recommendations”.

As I explain in detail here (“Picking the lock of salvation?“), the atonement of Christ made a gateway into the kingdom of God, but at those gates, we are required to present a key (symbolically speaking), we are required to have done certain things (e.g. baptism).  Without the gate, it wouldn’t matter what keys you have, and therefore, only “through” the atonement (or gate) can we enter the Kingdom of God.  But nowhere does it imply that the gate is sufficient in and of itself, to the contrary, the bible teaches that we must be baptized, keep the commandments, and do other things that qualify us, or give us the keys necessary to open that gate and enter the kingdom of God.

So you see, a true understanding of the Atonement of Christ need not create such a paradox.  We needn’t assume that these scriptures about works are somehow incongruous with the scriptures about Mercy.  As I explain here “The grand panorama of scripture” all scripture must be considered together (we cannot cherry pick only those doctrines that are most convenient).  And the principles and doctrines of Mormonism are sufficient to encompass the full breadth and depth of all scriptures, without such contradictions and paradoxes.  That’s the miracle of Mormonism.  That God, working today as he did in times of old, gave us prophets and apostles, inspired men of God who receive direct revelation to clarify such points of doctrine as this – even the most important.  To correct those beliefs that have mutated and changed over the years based on the philosophies of man and their committee-based cannon.

My invitation is to all people, to consider these things, to learn about the prophet Joseph Smith, to read the Book of Mormon, and to pray for yourself, if they are not true, that we all might glory in the beauty of clear doctrine, and avoid such confusing paradoxes, particularly as they pertain to the most important event ever to occur, even the very atonement of Christ.

Rusty

Why do Mormons believe in Works?

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.