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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Works v. Grace

Since I've been in the "Bible Belt," a life "philosophy" continues to become a recurring issue. Many people approach my companion and me to accuse us of working to get into heaven. Some even bring up a scripture we use in the Book of Mormon:
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


Then, using that misunderstanding as an excuse to "condemn" us, and to tell us that, "you and everyone in your church are going to hell!" These people, quite often, bring forth a scripture written by Paul to the Ephesians.
"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


The perception I receive by them when they approach us to yell, argue, and "Bible Bash" with us is their interpretation of this scripture is, "if you do any good works, you are going to hell." With an un-necessary imaginary debate of Grace versus Works as an ongoing excuse to reject additional light, I desire to act as the second body and fulfill the "Spiritual Third Law" and expound upon the teachings of Christ and his disciples to abolish a non-existent issue within this, the Church of Jesus Christ.

The first step in accessing the Atonement is "Faith." This is often perceived to be the easiest step. It is simple to "confess with thy lips that Jesus Christ is your Savior." Then, when someone called of God invites someone to act on that faith, and to repent, they accuse them of being from the devil, and "un-saving people" who heed their message. This past General Conference, Elder Jeffery R. Holland stated, "Unfortunately, messengers of divinely mandated commandments are often no more popular today than they were anciently... Hate is an ugly word, yet there are those today who would say with the corrupt Ahab, "I hate [the prophet Micaiah]; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always [prophesied] evil." (2 Chronicles 18: 7) That kind of hate for a prophet's honesty cost Abinadi his life. As he said to King Noah: "Because I have told you the truth ye are angry with me. … Because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad" (Mosiah 13: 4) or, we might add, provincial, patriarchal, bigoted, unkind, narrow, outmoded, and elderly. It is as the Lord Himself lamented to the prophet Isaiah:
"[These] children … will not hear the law of the Lord: [They] say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us." (Isaiah 30: 9-11)


Sadly enough... it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don't rock the boat but don't even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds." When people approach me with this particular concern, I have to wonder, "so does that mean we have to just sit and do nothing to enter the kingdom of Heaven? Does that mean if I see a brother or sister in need of some help and help them, I am going to hell? Does that mean if the Love I have felt from God compels me to invite others to feel the same thing I do by the same means, I am going to hell?" When they tell me I am wrong for doing good works I perceive they imagine that heaven is full of people who insist on doing absolutely nothing. "Talk about man creating God in his own image!" Elder Holland exclaimed, "Sometimes--and this seems the greatest irony of all--these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of "comfortable" God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. (See Matthew 5: 28) Does that sound like "comfortable" doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in? And what of those who just want to look at sin or touch it from a distance? Jesus said with a flash, if your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off. (See Matthew 5: 29-30) "I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword,"(Matthew 10: 34) He warned those who thought He spoke only soothing platitudes. No wonder that, sermon after sermon, the local communities "pray[ed] him to depart out of their coasts." (Mark 5: 17) No wonder, miracle after miracle, His power was attributed not to God but to the devil. (Matthew 9: 34) It is obvious that the bumper sticker question "What would Jesus do?" will not always bring a popular response. At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, "Love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15: 12) To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14: 15) and "whosoever … shall break one of [the] least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be … the least in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5: 19)" Doesn't that sound like the "once saved always saved" mentality? "Once you have been saved, there is nothing you can do to keep you from getting into heaven. So, 'eat drink and be merry!'" Doesn't that sound like the philosophies of Sodom and Gomorra? Unfortunately, there are some in the Church who have this same philosophy. "Once sealed, always sealed. Once you are sealed, there is nothing you can do to keep you from exaltation. If we do sin, God will beat us with a few stripes and let us in."

There is not a single event we did, do, or will do which will get us into heaven, so we need not say, "I was saved on -----." Christ's grace is not about jumping gaps, nor is it about filling gaps. Brad Wilcox put it simply when he said, "[Christ's grace] is about filling us." Grace is not a one time event, it is, rather, an eternal process. Many so-called "born-again" Christians have the philosophy that we, Latter-day Saints, are trying to earn our way to heaven. "No," as Brad Wilcox stated, "we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see Doctrine and Covenants 78: 7). We are practicing for it." And the only reason we even have this privilege is by the Grace of God. Christ's grace will not save us IN our sins, but FROM our sins. Rather than being in heaven with strong dispositions to hate and lust; we can be on earth with the strong dispositions to love and cherish. The grace provided to us is accessible, not after this life, but during. We can become changed beings from "sons and daughters of man" to "sons and daughters of God." "The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die," Brad Wilcox observed, "but that we can live more abundantly (John 10: 10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (Romans 8)." Brett Sanders said simply, "A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ's life." We, "Mormons," work not to get into heaven, but because it is a natural result of our love for God. Elder Holland noted, "Christ-like love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it."

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "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. 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: 8-10)


We are His workmanship, created unto or, in other words, do to good works. Therefore, we should walk in them, and do them. We are also obligated to invite others to do the same. As unpopular as it may seem. Elder Holland explained, "So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others." Which is the total purpose of us missionaries, "to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith [in the Lord Jesus Christ], repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. [AKA: The Doctrine of Christ]" (Preach My Gospel pg. 1). A mis-understanding with this duty to preach the gospel is that we comdemn those to whom we do declare repentance, to get into a position in the church, or to earn heaven. I testify those statements do not come close to the reason of Christ's mandate to preach His Gospel. "Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once)."

"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... And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25: 23, 26) So look to Christ in every thought, action, and deed, and I testify when you do, you shall be filled unto everlasting life.

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