Mormons are frequently accused of believing that they are saved by works. To make matters worse, many Mormons believe that Mormons believe that we are saved by works – or at least partially so. To be fair, it is a tricky matter—both in substance and semantics. I will explain how I see it.
First, it is clear that we are saved by the grace of Christ and through no other way. Period. An appeal to the Book of Mormon may be of even more value and less ambiguity than an appeal to the Bible. 2 Nephi includes these teachings: “Salvation is free.” “…it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” And, “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (I interpret “after” to mean “in spite of,” the whole point of that verse being to emphasize that grace is what saves and not the things “we can do.”) Paul said to the Ephesians, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
It is said that Mormons believe they earn their way to heaven on their own merits – at least in part. But this is not at all what Mormons believe. Jesus taught (in the Bible; Mormons believe in the Bible), “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Similarly, King Benjamin taught, “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” And Nephi taught that we succeed by “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save,” speaking of Christ. He does not say “partially” nor make reference to our contributions.
But, of course, if salvation is a free gift from Him who loves all and love them perfectly and has the power to give or retain His grace… why, then, are not all saved?
I like to think of the answer to that question beginning with this verse from more recent scripture:
“For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”
The free gift of the Savior’s grace must be received.
How does one receive this gift? It is by giving ourselves “wholly” to Him who “purchased” us. “I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.” In fact, he requires “all thy heart,… all thy soul, and… all thy mind.” Everything. If we give Him everything and thereby meet the conditions of free but not unconditional salvation, He gives us the full weight of His grace. It is an exchange entirely in our favor.
But, again, what does it mean to give him everything and how do we do that? More on that in my next post. For now, here are a few great references on the topic of grace and LDS reliance on the Savior…
“Salvation: By Grace or by Works?” by Gerald Lund
“The Way” by Lawrence Corbridge
“Grace Works” by Robert L. Millet