2007: What is Grace to a Mormon? / Dr. James Faulconer

The very insightful original of this post is at a new blog called “MormonChurch.com” at this link.
Dr. James Faulconer is a widely-read and published Professor of Philosophy at BYU. Thanks for the outstanding thoughts.
Thanks much,
Steve St.Clair
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What is grace to a Mormon?

Personal Response by James Faulconer
One of the scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (”the Mormon church”) is the Book of Mormon, from which the Church’s nickname is derived. In that book of scripture we are taught “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and of the flesh; and remember that after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Nephi 10:24). The same scriptural writer later says more briefly, “We know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).

As do other Christians, Mormons believe that grace is central to the Christian message. Indeed, the Book of Mormon teaches the necessity of grace more often and more openly than does the New Testament (also accepted as scripture by Mormons).

Grace, the free gift of Jesus Christ, unconditionally assures all human beings that they will be redeemed from the effects of the Fall: they will be resurrected. However, if we are to receive the freedom from personal sin that Christ offers in grace, we must repent of those sins with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We must be reconciled to the will of God. As the Book of Mormon puts it, “He offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (2 Nephi 2:7). This is a grace, a gift, offered to every human being if he or she will receive it.

And what does it take to receive that gift? That we be reconciled to the will of God through repentance and submission to his will: “He commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 9:23). We find a similar understanding in the New Testament, where Peter tells those listening to his preaching on the Day of Pentecost: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). We must exercise the faith and will to accept the grace which Christ offers through his Atonement, namely reconciliation with God. We must reconcile our will to his, both in obedience to his commandments and through the ordinances (the sacraments) of the Church.

Thus, with other Christians, Mormons believe that each person must be “born again.” However, being born again is the beginning of life in Christ, not its fulfilment, just as earthly birth is the beginning of our life, not its fulfilment. The person who has received new life through the Atonement of Jesus Christ must continue in the life that he or she has been given, and to continue in that life means doing that which Christ expects of us. “To whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness” (Romans 6:16). If we have been reconciled to the Father through Christ’s Atonement, then we will become his servants. Like him, we will obey the will of the Father, continuing to live the kind of life he commands.

We cannot be saved without faith, faith in Jesus Christ and trust in his grace, and once having entered into that grace through our faith, we must continue in it. We must endure to the end. As the New Testament teaches: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). In other words, to profess faith without showing that faith in works is not to have faith. The Book of Mormon urges us to live a faithful life: “Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” And the verse continues by telling us what we happens to those who live a faithful life: “Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20). Those who endure to the end will continue in the life that they were given at their rebirth, even after death; they will live with God after death, in the fruition and fulness of that life they lived before. Reconciliation with God is on-going, even eternal, as our faith is on-going.

The Apostle Paul has described our relation to the Father in terms of adoption (Romans 8:17): Those who obtain the Holy Spirit are adopted into the family of God. With Christ, they become the sons and daughters of God. We begin our reconciliation as servants of God, recognizing him as our Lord and doing what he commands. However, we end by becoming his children. Both servants and children obey, the former because they must, the latter because they love. To disobey is to reject the Lordship of Jesus and the Fatherhood of the Father, so salvation requires our obedience, not because it earns us something more than what Christ has offered in his grace, but because it signifies who we are. Grace is not incompatible with works. Rather, works are required by grace.

No eternal blessings are available to human beings except through the grace of Jesus Christ, by which we will be resurrected and through which we may receive forgiveness and salvation. Obedience is not work we do to earn a reward. It is part of the way we receive-accept-forgiveness and salvation. It is the way we continue to live in Christ’s grace by imitating him, by submitting will to the Father as his children, as members of his family. It is how we continue to be reconciled to him.

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