[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference April 27, 2015.]
In this general session of stake conference we have tried to focus on the Savior and on better understanding Him and our relationship to Him. I would like to add some of my thoughts. While the message of my talk is both important and serious, I admit that I smile a little bit at the protestant-sounding nature of what I’m going to say.
Some of you have heard me talk about my experience in eighth grade having my faith challenged by two teachers at my school. They were evangelical Christians and they believed that Mormons are not Christians at all—for a number of reasons, one important one of which is our belief in the importance of obedience and keeping the commandments as those concepts relate to salvation. They insisted that I believe in earning my way to heaven whereas they, in contrast (in their minds), rely solely on the Savior. They refused to believe that I worship and actually rely—wholly—on the same Jesus Christ that they do.
I have a dear evangelical Christian friend today who sometimes tells me that that I’ll be going to hell due to my lack of reliance on the Biblical Jesus. She tells me this with much genuine love and sincere concern for me. She prays for me and wants to help save me. I assure her that I love her, too; that I’ve already met all her requirements for salvation; and that the Mormon view of the alternatives to the Celestial Kingdom are much more attractive than her views of hell, so she needn’t worry about herself quite as much as she thinks I need to worry about myself.
Thankfully, my discussions with my protestant friends over the years have helped me clarify my own understanding of the Savior’s role and of my dependence on him. I understand better because I have listened to my teachers, including my parents and the scriptures and others and because I have tried to sincerely understand the position of others with contrary views.
If my talk today had a title, it would be taken from 2 Nephi 2:4 in which father Lehi says three very important words: “salvation is free.” I was delighted to hear President Uchtdorf’s conference talk three weeks ago titled “The Gift of Grace.” He said many of the things I’ve wanted to say in this conference—but with more eloquence and skill than I have. I will refer to some of his words as I go.
Let me begin by clarifying four important points…
First, the word “salvation” can have many different meanings, particularly within LDS doctrine. Most members will quickly agree with me that some forms of salvation, such as salvation from physical death through the resurrection, are, in fact, free. But some will just as quickly argue that other forms of salvation, such as exaltation, are not free. I believe, however, along with Bruce R. McConkie, who, referring to Lehi’s three words, posed an important question and then answered it, himself. He asked, “What salvation is free? What salvation comes by the grace of God?” And then he answered in typical Elder McConkie style, “With all the emphasis of the rolling thunders of Sinai, we answer: All salvation is free; all comes by the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah; there is no salvation of any kind, nature, or degree that is not bound to Christ and his atonement.” [Emphasis added by me.] Consistent with that message, President Uchtdorf, in his talk about “saving grace,” connected exaltation and becoming like our Heavenly Father to this grace.
Second, salvation is not earned. We do not and cannot earn salvation. President Uchtdorf said, “Even if we were to serve God with our whole souls, it is not enough. We cannot earn our way into heaven; the demands of justice stand as a barrier, which we are powerless to overcome on our own.” He continues, “Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth.” In my own mind I liken the concept of salvation being earned to thinking that if I just try hard enough, I will be able to leap across the Grand Canyon on the strength of my own legs. No matter how good at leaping I may be or become, the result will be the same.
Third, just as salvation is free, so, too, are we free to choose as “agents unto ourselves.” We are not only free to “act for [ourselves],” but we are also free to “choose the way of everlasting death” or, “through the great Mediator of all men,” choose “the way of eternal life.” As the hymn says, “God will force no man to heaven.” So it is not true that all will be saved in every way, because even though I will not and cannot earn my salvation, even a free gift must be received, unwrapped, appreciated, and used if it is to have any value for the recipient. As the Savior asked in the D&C, “What doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” My job, as it is your job, is to accept “the grace that so fully he proffers me.”
Fourth, though salvation is free in every form, because we have our agency, not all will take the necessary steps to receive it. Those who don’t will not qualify for all the blessings the Savior offers us and will therefore ultimately not have all those blessings available to them. The fullness of God’s grace will not be realized by all people.
When I say that salvation is free and that it comes solely from the grace of God, I am saying that no amount of righteousness on my part will get me across the Grand Canyon when I try to leap across it. My one and only way across the Grand Canyon is through the Savior, who, after I jump, will reach out and carry me across. Some members, I believe, need to quit beating themselves up because they’re only able to leap seven or eight feet of the way across the Grand Canyon when they feel like they should be leaping much further—perhaps even the whole way across. Many members would do better to accept the covenants that God makes with them—and His promises that He will get us across that divide.
So, why is it important that we understand that salvation is free and that it is not earned?
I find one answer to that question back in my experience with my born-again Christian friends. I was always struck by how happy they seemed. I used to think it was a happiness born out of ignorance or perhaps only an apparent happiness. But I have come to respect it as a genuine fruit of their sincere faith. They believe that Jesus has saved them and so they are happy. Which makes me wonder… Many latter-day saints seem quite happy to me. But many also seem too burdened by the weight of their own imperfections—which weight they seem to insist on carrying because they believe they must carry it and do not comprehend or accept that the Savior will carry it. They are reluctant to believe that God will accept them, let alone sanctify and save them, if their level of worthiness does not satisfy the Savior’s invitation to us to become perfected in Him.
I wonder if there aren’t more among us who are over-burdened by their short-comings than there are those rejoicing over the fact that the Savior has paid the price for their shortcomings. We sing the hymn, “How Gentle God’s Commands” over and over and it tells us to “cast your burdens on the Lord and trust his constant care.” It also tells us to find “sweet refreshment” and to “drop [our] burden at his feet and bear a song away.” I propose that we all do that.
Life is serious and there are serious things at stake and there is much to worry and stress about—no doubt about it. But I believe that too many of us hold on to too much of our burdens and are reluctant to accept the Savior’s offer to carry them for us and so are missing opportunities to be a little lighter in our step, a little less furrowed in our brows, a little less bent at our backs, and a little more inclined toward hope and optimism and faith and trust. Part of accepting the gift is just accepting the gift!
Now let’s return to the ideas that salvation being free doesn’t mean I don’t need to receive it—and to the idea that all the blessings of salvation are not ultimately extended to all. There are, in fact, things I must do. However, I would like to invite you today to adopt a little more of a New Testament view of what you must do and to have a little less of an Old Testament view of what you must do, so to speak.
In President Uchtdorf’s talk, he used the example of the Savior’s dinner with Simon the Pharisee to make this point. Simon tried to take comfort in his own righteousness, his own worthiness, his own strict adherence to the rules and the laws of the gospel. He seemed to think that those things were getting him across the Grand Canyon. And so he had a view of others that discounted them if they did not meet his false standards. He was indignant when a woman, a sinner in his view, came in and wept over the Savior’s feet, kissed his feet, and rubbed them with ointment.
The Savior said, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee” and then he told this parable and taught its lesson:
“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”
The Savior taught repeatedly and clearly that love is the higher law. The first commandment is to love God. The second is to love our fellow man. It is our hearts that matter. Hence, Lehi said the Savior “offereth himself a sacrifice for sin… unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else….”
Receiving the gift means having and maintaining a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The scriptures also teach repeatedly and clearly that it is our hearts that matter. “The Lord looketh on the heart.” “I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.” Those who fail to receive all of God’s gifts will do so by having hard hearts and therefore failing to yield their hearts in submissiveness to God. It will be their hearts, not their imperfections, that will damn them.
Why did the Savior tell the rich young ruler to go and sell all that he had and to distribute it to the poor? Is it because that so doing is a strict requirement for getting into heaven—or it is because the Lord wanted that young man to see clearly where his own heart was? Why did the Savior decry hypocrisy so much? Because hypocrisy comes from a false heart.
What is it like to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit? What does such a person do?
One thing is truly necessary if God is going to extend all forms of his grace to us: we must bind ourselves to the Lord in humility and submissiveness through ordinances and covenants and then strive with all sincerity to keep those covenants.
People with broken hearts and contrite spirits do not recoil at the notion of being obedient, nor at the notion of being submissive. They are humble and submissive.
People with broken hearts and contrite spirits see more clearly. They see more clearly who God is and why He loves them. They see more clearly who they are and why they are lovable. They see more clearly that in one sense they are lower than the dust of the earth and in another sense they are priceless—and they can accommodate both ideas at the same time.
People with broken hearts and contrite spirits see those things so clearly that they extend them to others. They see why God loves others, too, and why those others are lovable. They see why those people, too, are priceless—and so their hearts are soft and forgiving toward others, even those who annoy or frustrate or offend them.
People with broken hearts and contrite spirits earnestly strive to keep the commandments. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” and so people with broken hearts and contrite spirits humbly strive to do all that God wants them to do.
Did the Savior teach that we should be perfect? Yes. But the scriptures teach that we are to come unto Him and be perfected in Him. We are to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit—and then let Him perfect us. You will no more be able to perfect yourself than you will be able to earn your own salvation—and the sooner you accept the Savior’s offer to perfect you instead of you insisting on doing it all, yourself, the happier you’ll be. Go to the Church’s online scriptures and search for the phrase “perfect yourself” and you will get this message: “Sorry, your search returned no results.” That is telling!
Let me close just reminding you of one other brief story from the Savior’s life and one of his teachings…
In Luke 10, we read of the Savior visiting Mary and Martha, two sisters of Lazarus. Martha was busy – and stressed—trying to do all the right things. She was “cumbered” and became annoyed with Mary who sat with the Savior, listening to him. She became so annoyed that she asked the Savior to ask Mary to quit sitting around and get to work. The Savior responds,
“Martha, thou art careful [which could also be translated as worried or anxious] and troubled about many things:” Notice he does not condemn her for this, but he points it out and then he continues, “But one thing is needful: And Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
It’s interesting to me that the Savior says “one thing is needful” but he doesn’t say exactly that that is. I think it is about hearts and the love that is expressed from them.
Lastly, a reminder that the Savior, in trying to teach us what our Father is like, asked, “What man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him.”
I testify that salvation, including exaltation, is a gift—a free gift, which we cannot earn. It is a gift that our Father in Heaven offers to us through the grace of his perfect son and through his own grace if we will but receive the gift. I testify that the gift is received within a broken heart and a contrite spirit that leads us to make and keep covenants, to love, to be submissive to God, and to be as obedient as we can be. I testify that happiness accompanies a willingness to receive the gift and to accept the Savior’s offer to let us yoke ourselves together with him that our burdens may be light and that we may find rest unto our souls.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
A week ago, we discussed salvation being a free gift available to us through the grace of Christ—but one that must be received and, hence, does not come without condition. He requires us to be completely committed—“all in,” as they say. He requires our whole hearts and all that we have and are. Consider:
“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
“And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
“And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
For what it’s worth, here’s my translation of the original Greek text in plain Juchau English…
“A random man comes up to the Savior and says to Him, ‘I’m committed to you. I will go anywhere you want me to go and do anything you want me to do.’ To which the Savior replies, That’s great, really great—but you must understand what it’s like to be sincere about being with me. It will not be the least bit easy and there will be little if any rest. You’re going to have to buckle up, big time.’
“Then the Savior says to a different man, ‘Follow me.’ And the man says, ‘Yes, of course, but first I must tend to my father’s funeral.’ And the Savior replies, ‘There are no ‘buts’ in following me. Following me comes first—ahead of the otherwise most important things in your life, including your family. Come now, right now, and help my cause.’
Then a third man says to the Savior, ‘I’m committed. I’m in. But before I really get started, I need to run tell my family good-bye.’ The Savior shakes his head sadly and says, ‘You must not have heard the previous conversation. There are no ‘buts.’ There are no false starts. You’re in or you’re out and if you’re in you’re all in—in which case you’re going to be with me for a long time—otherwise…not so much.’”
The Savior expects this kind of commitment from us. And he expects us to publicize and formalize our commitment through actual covenants made with him in sacred and symbolic rites, such as baptism and others in LDS temples. Through these covenants we promise to follow the Savior, keep His commandments, remember Him always, and steadfastly strive to be like Him. They’re not casual promises—at least they shouldn’t be, which He made clear, Himself, in Luke 9.
Of course, promises made must be promises kept. Or… hmm… how true is that, really? I fell short of perfection well before I promised the Savior that I would strive to be like Him and making those promises didn’t fix all my imperfections, unfortunately. I’m still impatient, rude, lazy, and myriad other bad things much too often. What if I don’t really keep completely my promise to follow His commandments and be like Him?
Well, this is where we come back to the heart. “I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.” He wants our promises to be sincere. He wants our commitment to represent true dedication. He wants us to give our all in frank and honest effort to show that our whole hearts, minds, and souls are with Him. But He knows we will fall short and so He agrees to forgive our follies if we strive with sincerity—and even to forgive our more significant sins if we return our hearts to Him and reset ourselves on the path of honest striving after we have erred. It is the best deal ever offered to anyone at any time.
I cannot earn my salvation. If I had to, it would be utterly hopeless. Only the Lord can give it to me. He will do that if I receive HIm: if I commit to Him and if I am truly sincere and devoted in my efforts to follow Him. If my commitments are real and my efforts sincere, I can enjoy knowing that, in fact, I don’t have to be perfect today (or even tomorrow) and I, along with the Lord, can tolerate with patience the time it takes before He, ultimately, makes me complete. THIS is what living after the manner of happiness is all about. I’m going to swing for the fences, miss, and still circle the bases. He’s going to lead me around them.
[A topic for another day is the formality of those commitments and the authentic authority under which they are required to be made.]
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