Serving February 2013-2015

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Grace, Faith, and Works

...If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
Matthew 19:17
Too much on my mission, people have told me how we as a people focus too much on works...
I've put a lot of thought, prayer, and study in this and hope the things I share will help you see my understanding with 'works'.
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
Articles of Faith 1:3
No effort required? Consider the words of Christ
Luke 9:23-24
     And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
     For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

God's will to save only a few?

Paul taught that God "will have [wants] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4).
Further, 2 Peter 3:9 teaches that God wants none to perish but wants all  men to repent (Acts 17:30 and 2 Cor. 7:10). And Christ taught that "it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14).

The Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Grace He offers is the most important thing we can know while on earth. It is the core of the Gospel (our religion) and should be at the core of our lives. We must likewise know how He offers us the riches of His Grace, and what we must do to accept and partake of that Grace.
My intent is to use the scriptures to clarify the relationship between works, grace and salvation. I intend to show that the teachings of the Bible agree precisely with the teachings of the Book of Mormon and with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will also bring to light the two major misconceptions that have lead to much bewilderment and inaccuracy. The first untruth, is that we earn our way to heaven by keeping commandments. That is absolutely false. As we will see in a moment, it is definitely inconsistent with the scriptures and with all that is taught by the Church.
Without the Grace of Christ, nothing we did in this life would have any eternal value. All the obedience in the world cannot cleanse one of sin or conquer death - only the Grace of Christ gives us such hope.
The second untruth, one that has become surprisingly common among Christian churches, is that we are saved by grace without any effort on our part, that once we are saved we are insured salvation without the need to keep the commandments of Christ. Now the meaning of this phrase, "keep the commandments," is that we seek to obey and follow Christ, but not that we must fulfill every letter totally, for none can do that. But Christ asks us to follow Him with all our heart, and we do that by striving to obey and honor Him. Our failure to be perfect is made up by His grace, for His grace is sufficient to cover our weaknesses and imperfections if we truly strive to accept Him.
The truth is that we are saved by the grace of Christ which is offered to us through a covenant, a two-way contract: if we accept Christ and do our part, following and obeying Him, then Christ does everything else, forgiving us, cleansing us, healing us, and giving us power to return to the presence of the Father - not because we earned it, but because we accepted the terms upon which he offers his infinite grace and mercy. Even in the days of Moses, the Lord proclaimed that God "shows mercy to those that keep his commandments" (Deut. 5:10), a principle that will not change. The mercy or grace offered through a two-way covenant with Christ is implied in the Third Article of Faith.
Nephi also taught this 2 Nephi 25:23:
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.

The Book of Mormon actually makes it clear that humans are incapable of doing good on their own, due to our fallen nature, and that we must be changed by the power of Christ to be able to follow Him. This means that salvation comes through "the merits of Christ," not our own, but we still must choose Him and seek to repent of our sins with faith in Him. When we turn toward Christ, He can perfect us and make us complete.
Samuel the Lamanite, a prophet before the birth of Christ, said
(Helaman 14:13):
And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits.
Moroni makes a similar statement
Moroni 10:32:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ....



The prophet Alma explains the basics of salvation:
Alma 12:33-34
But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;
Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.
The missionary Aaron teaches a convert that we cannot earn our way to heaven:
And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth. . . .

Mercy and forgiveness from God is a gift, but we must meet the conditions God has given to receive that gift. We must repent and humbly follow Christ.  A Book of Mormon prophet, Lehi, explained the nature of grace and mercy in one of the most deep and powerful chapters in all of scripture. 2 Nephi 2: 5-8
...And by the law no flesh is justified....
Wherefore redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah, for he is full of grace and truth.
Behold 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; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. flesh...can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit...

Later, Lehi's son, Nephi, also a prophet, gives more specific instructions on what we must do to partake of this Grace of Christ

2 Nephi 31: 19,20
...after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path [referring to faith in Christ, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost], I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forwards, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
A related passage of great clarity is in Mosiah 4:2-12,
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.  
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. 
 And king Benjamin again opened his mouth and began to speak unto them, saying: My friends and my brethren...  
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body--  
 I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.  
And this is the means whereby salvation cometh....  
And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.  
... I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.  
And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.

This doctrine is powerful, clear, and beautiful, and is the core doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. False doctrines teach that once we accept Christ into our heart, we are saved - guaranteed, with no risk of ever falling. Some teach that we don't really need to strive to obey God's commandments or to make our calling and election sure. Some of these false prophets, who have twisted and mangled the word of God, teach the questionable doctrine of "once saved, always saved," even if we commit murder and fight against Christ. They lull people into false security, telling them that they are saved and that no further effort on their part is needed. This is far from the plain teachings of Christ.
Our entrance into Heaven is not "earned" by keeping the commandments, but through obedience we do our part in the two-way covenant of mercy and gain access to the full Grace of Christ, or thereby "have the right to the tree of life."
As God said in Exodus 20:6, he shows mercy (grace, kindness) to those that keep his commandments. That hasn't changed.
Many stumble at the idea that we must "keep commandments," often misunderstanding the teachings of Paul. But the words of Christ are clear on the matter: though we are no longer under the Law of Moses, there are commandments that we must keep. He spoke of commandments frequently.
In Revelation 22:14, Christ said "Blessed are they that do his commandments, . . . that they may enter in through the gates of the [heavenly] city." In John 13:34,35, Christ gave his disciples "a new commandment" to love another. In John 14:15, he said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." We need to show our love for him by keeping his commandments. In John 15:13, he said, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."

In John 14:21,23, Christ said,
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him....
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

To those that disagree, I, Elder Falslev ask: Is there any hint of the doctrine of "once saved, always saved"? Is there any solid evidence for what some call a "cheap grace" that requires no effort, no obedience, no sincere repentance, no discipleship, no patience? No. Instead, we see a God who urges men to sacrifice, to take up their cross, to come and follow Him. His Sermon on the Mount is entirely focused on the works that we need to do to become his children. He warns that trees without good fruit will be cut down. He warns that the path to life is straight and narrow, not broad and easy. He commands us to become perfect in obeying Him. He teaches us that we need to forgive others to be forgiven, that we need to love others and remove hate and anger from our hearts. And he warns that even Christians who are publicly active and vocal in religion will not be saved if they do evil and do not truly follow Christ.

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.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Big News! Christians can and do fall from grace! That is why we must endure to the end to be saved, as Christ says in Matthew 10:22, 24:13, and Mark 13:13. That's why Christ in Revelation 2:10 said "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." That's why Paul says there are people professing faith who deny God through their sins, their disobedience, and lack of good works (Titus 1:16). There are numerous other passages in the New Testament in which members of Christian congregations are warned of the sins that can keep them out of heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:16-26; Eph. 5:3-7; 1 Thess. 4:1-7; Col. 3:5-25; Jude 1:14-25). They are told that they must be cautious and diligent and not fall. Heb. 12:15 urges us to "look diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God." Heb. 3: 12-14 is especially clear:

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.
Can anyone read that and still believe in the lazy doctrine of "once saved, always saved" or in instant, guaranteed salvation? Christ taught that "in your patience, possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19; Matthew 24:13). A related passage is Matthew 16:24-27, which teaches that Christ wants us to take up His cross, to live our lives for Him and to be ready to sacrifice our lives for Him, and in so doing, we will find our lives (eternal life) when Christ comes to "reward every man according to His works." Therefore, we should not be surprised that Christ counsels us to "take heed" to avoid sin and temptation and to maintain our worthiness (Luke 21:34-36; Luke 22:31,32,40,46; 1 Tim. 4:16). In other words, we must strive to enter into and stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to life (Luke 13:23-28), which is what Christ taught in response to being asked if only few should be saved.

Does commandment keeping save us? Absolutely not, though Christ tells us that we must keep (strive) His commandments if we would have eternal life. But it is by His grace that we are saved - and how we need that grace! How we need to be saved from our sins and our fallen nature.
How desperately we need a Savior! We need a Savior, a Savior to free us from our sins, our destruction of ourselves and other, to free us from death and fear and hate. We need divine strength to guide us and change our hearts, to fill us with peace and love. We need the cleansing and transforming power of the Atonement of Christ in our lives - that ultimate and infinite miracle of Grace.  This world needs a Savior, we need a Savior, I need a Savior, and there is only one: the Lord Jesus Christ. Through His Divine grace, we can overcome, we can become partakers in the divine nature, we can become strong and ultimately glorious and filled with joy, while those who reject His Grace and do not keep His commandments will find themselves weak and terrified at the weight of their own sins.

May we follow the Savior with all our heart, might, might, and strength, and feast on His word, enduring in His Grace to the end, and making His Grace and His Gospel known to others.
In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.
Elder Falslev
Quick summary if that ^ made no sense to you.
works = following the commandments of God
Faith, Repentance, Baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End.

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