Indeed, from the very beginning, Satan attempted to ruin what God had created. And ever since the fall of Adam, the Devil has continually sought to bring man under his control and influence, striving diligently to persuade all of mankind to follow his ways of wickedness. So successful has he been that the scriptures refer to him as "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
However, all Christians also believe that through the atonement of Jesus Christ, man can be redeemed from his fallen condition, have his sins removed and be received into a glorious fellowship with God. But when we begin to discuss the specifics of how we receive salvation, that's when disagreements between Christians begin.
Although there are many ideas on this subject, the most widely accepted doctrine of salvation is that we are saved through grace alone, without the need to perform any good works. If this is true, then would not Satan actively seek to keep people from learning of God's grace? The answer is obvious. Of course he would. And what better way to do that than to create confusion about the true nature of God's grace?
In the very beginning, it was Satan who deceived Adam and Eve into disobeying God's commandment by misapplying what God said to them. In the wilderness, as Jesus fasted, Satan misapplied scriptures in an effort to deceive the Savior and thereby prevent Him from successfully completing the Atonement. If this is the way Satan has operated in the past, why wouldn't he continue to deceive mankind by still misapplying scriptures? There's no good reason for him not to. For example, if works don't save us, then why not set up a church that preached the necessity of works in order to become saved? By misapplying scripture, people could be deceived into thinking that God is pleased when man tries to save himself, when just the opposite is true. In that way, the Devil would keep people from attaining God's gift of salvation.
In fact, that is exactly what many Christians say about those who believe in "good works." Rather than saving them, their good works damn them, because they deny the atoning grace of God by thinking that they merit God's grace through their own efforts. At least, this is the understanding of people who believe in salvation through grace alone.
But what if we do need to perform good works to gain full salvation? Wouldn't it stand to reason that Satan would seek to convince people that works aren't important? Wouldn't the doctrine of "grace without works" rob people of their salvation by deceiving them into believing that we are incapable of doing anything that would merit God's grace? And if that was the case, wouldn't Satan misapply scriptures to misguide the honest seeker of truth? Of course he would.
So the question is, which doctrine is the correct one? Is grace alone sufficient to save us, or is grace dependent upon our works? What makes this argument so difficult to settle is that everyone can quote their own favorite passage of scripture to defend their own special beliefs. Then how are we to find the truth?
Perhaps it might be helpful if we take a different approach to this subject. Rather than quoting a verse from here and another verse from there, and get into a see-saw debate over who's scripture is more valid than the others, it might be more instructive to see, through Biblical example, how God and man have become reconciled to one another.
To do this means that we must look at historical events of such occurrences as they are recorded in the Bible. Unfortunately, for the most part, the New Testament is not an historical narrative, except for the four gospels and the book of Acts. But even here, there is no example illustrating God and man coming together. The remaining nineteen books of the New Testament are primarily sermons, designed to explain doctrine through preaching, rather than through the telling of factual incidents.
On the other hand, the Old Testament is mainly a compilation of true stories meant to illustrate the doctrines of God rather than just explaining them. Therefore, to see examples of how God and man were able to become reconciled to one another, we must rely mainly on accounts found in the Old Testament.
But is this a reliable method? There are some who feel that the Old Testament isn't relevant anymore because Christ's death changed the way man comes into harmony with God. It is felt that in the Old Testament days, God's grace wasn't extended to man. Instead, man was required to obey a long list of commandments. Yet these same people acknowledge that through the law no man was justified (Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16).
However, Jesus often quoted the Old Testament to verify His remarks about salvation. When He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, the Savior quoted Old Testament scriptures to counter the Devil's arguments. During one debate with the Pharisees He rebuked them, saying, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures" (Matthew 22:29). The only scriptures the Pharisees believed in are those contained in the Old Testament, therefore those were the scriptures Jesus was referring to.
The apostle Matthew, in his gospel, extensively quotes the Old Testament to establish the fact that the prophets of old had indeed prophesied about Jesus and that Jesus not only fulfill those prophesies but was also the long anticipated and promised Messiah as recorded in ancient scripture. The apostle Paul in many of his writings, quotes often from the Old Testament as did the apostles Peter, James and John.
It was Paul who told Timothy, "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). The holy scriptures he was referring to is the Old Testament, because the New Testament hadn't been written yet. And Timothy certainly didn't have the writings of the apostles from the time he was a child. Thus, Paul states that it was the Old Testament that made Timothy "wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
Furthermore, we know that God does not change (Malachi 3:6). We also know that there is only one God. There is not one God of the Old Testament and a different God of the New Testament. As Christians, part of our common belief in God is that He is consistent, unwavering and eternal in all that He says and does. To think that God changes His requirements for salvation from one generation to another, or from one period of time to another would undermine the very basis for our belief in Him.
Therefore, it is abundantly clear that the Old Testament is a authoritative source for determining much about God and His ways. With that understanding, let's see what it has to tell us about the relationship between God and man.
In the beginning, God formed man out of the dust of the earth. "And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:15-17).
Much is made of the fact that Adam disobeyed God's commandment, but what would have happened if he had done as God asked? The answer is simple: he would have remained sinless and lived forever. In other words, all that was required of Adam to remain in God's good graces was to keep the commandments! That means if Adam wanted to remain pure and innocent and free from sin, he had to do something. He had to refrain from eating a particular fruit, according to the commandment which God had given him. There is no indication in the Bible that Adam was saved in his blessed condition, simply by the grace of God, through no work of his own. In fact the Bible specifically states just the opposite.
But some will argue that Adam's situation was somehow different, thereby making his condition for salvation different as well. But once Adam transgressed God's law, that sinful nature then became part of everyone born through the loins of Adam. In this way, all mankind became carnal and sensual, and an enemy of God (James 4:4). At this point, "There [was] none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10).
Of necessity, that would also include Cain and his brother, Abel. They had inherited a sinful nature from their father, Adam, and were in a fallen state from the time of their conception, just like all of us are today. But the Lord issued a commandment for them to offer up sacrifices. Abel offered up an acceptable sacrifice, but Cain didn't properly comply with God's commandment. What happened next?
"And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." (Genesis 4:4-7).
Able did what God told him to do and the Lord respected him because of that. Cain, on the other hand, did not receive any respect from the Lord, precisely because he failed to perform the work that God had assigned him. And notice that God explained to Cain, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." This certainly doesn't sound like the doctrine of grace without works. There's no indication in this story that God views our works as irrelevant and unimportant to stay in His good graces. Rather, just the opposite seems to be the case. It was the performance of works, or the lack of them, that determined Cain and Abel's standing with God.
Those who believe that we are saved through grace alone do believe that works are important but that they are a natural result of God working His will through us (Philippians 2:13). In other words, it is God, not us, who is actually performing the good works. That means no matter what we do, we can't boast or take pride in our accomplishments. All the credit and glory for any good that we might perform belongs entirely to God.
The underlying concept behind this is, that we, even as saved sinners, are incapable of doing any good on our own that is acceptable in God's eyes. It is only because of God's Spirit dwelling within us that gives us the ability to do anything worthy of pleasing Him. It's true that such a belief includes the concept that men have the free will to choose for themselves whether to do right or wrong, yet, it also teaches that men never, ever choose to do what's right. Hence, the only way we can be saved is exclusively through God's unmerited grace and not because of the proper exercise of our own free will. To those who accept this understanding, they feel that the only proper use of our free will is to accept God and freely allow Him to work His will through us.
If this is a true statement, then we would expect to see this happening in the examples we have just examined. It is not disputed that when Adam was first created, he was innocent and sinless. Because of this, he was capable of living in the full presence of God. But we see that God gave Adam his choice to obey or not obey a particular commandment. There is nothing in this story which implies in the slightest sense Adam's standing with God was based entirely on grace. Instead, God gave Adam the full and complete freedom to make his own choice, not merely to accept and worship his creator, but to determine whether he would faithfully keep the commandments he was given. Therefore, we could accurately paraphrase this commandment thusly. "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it. Nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Adam had the full responsibility to make his own decision whether to obey God or not. If this wasn't true, then Adam could take no credit for his obedience, nor could he be blamed for his disobedience. Without the freedom to exercise his own will, there could be neither any reward or punishment given to him.
However, many believe that Adam's situation was totally different from ours, primarily because he was born without sin. Then what about Cain and Abel? Was it God working through Abel that allowed him to offer up an acceptable sacrifice? If that's what we believe, then the same must be true for Cain. But God didn't say, "Use your free will to accept Me and then I will work through you to make your offering acceptable." Instead the Lord explicitly stated, "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door." The clear implication is that the decision for offering an acceptable sacrifice rested squarely and solely with Cain. Thus, again, we see that one's relationship and standing with God is based on our actions, and not only because of God's unmerited grace.
If this is so, then we should see the same pattern followed in other stories of God's relationship with men.
God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Why would God make such a request of someone who had remained faithful to Him for approximately a hundred years? The scriptures tell us, "And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said: Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" (Genesis 22:10-12).
The reason why God gave this commandment was to see if Abraham, of his own free will, would faithfully perform any work which the Lord required of him, no matter how great the personal sacrifice involved. It was only after Abraham demonstrated his willingness to choose to obey the commandments given him, that the Lord declared, "for now I know that thou fearest God." The scriptures further state that it was because of such faithfulness on his part that Abraham was considered to be "the friend of God" (James 2:23). Again, this doesn't sound anything like grace without works.
When we look at the lives of such great men as Moses, kings Saul, David, and Solomon, we find that it was their faithfulness to God commandments or lack of it that determined their standing with Him. As we study the lives of the ancient prophets, we can see the same pattern being followed. But perhaps the clearest example of how man becomes acceptable to God is the story of Job.
"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil... And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. " (Job 1:1,8-12).
Job was "a perfect and an upright man" in the sight of God. And why was he this way? Was it because God was working His will through Job? Was it just because of God's good grace toward him through nothing that Job had done to merit it? According to Satan's observation, Job had every reason to be faithful because God had "blessed the work of his hands and his substance [was] increased in the land." In other words, Satan argued that the only reason Job was a perfect and upright man wasn't because God was dwelling within him, but because God had given him many great blessings. Satan then taunted God by saying, "If thou wilt withhold thy blessings from Job, I'll bet he wouldn't be so perfect and upright."
Notice that God never corrected Satan's assertion. He doesn't answer by saying, "Job is perfect and upright because of what I am doing through him." In fact, God seems to verify Satan's observation by agreeing to let the Devil tempt Job. The contest was specifically based upon the premise that God would withhold His blessings from Job. If Job was a perfect and upright man because God was dwelling in him, then withholding blessings would have little or no effect upon Job's behavior. In that case, such a contest would be meaningless.
But whether the contest was meaningless or not, the fact is that nowhere in this story does it indicate that Job's good standing before the Lord was based on grace alone. Indeed, the whole point of the story is to show how Job, through the decisions he himself made, exercising his own free will, still remained a perfect and upright man in the sight of the Lord.
Thus we see that the Biblical examples don't fit the concept that man is saved by grace alone. On the other hand, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches "that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). We believe the Lord when He said, "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). "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" (Matthew 7:21).
As part of our doctrinal tenants we also believe that "the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying--Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me--Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice" (Moses 4:1-4).
Before the earth was formed, God chose Jesus to be the Savior. Nevertheless, Satan came forth and proposed that he be made the redeemer of all mankind instead. However, his plan was different from the Father's in three significant ways. The first was that he proposed "to destroy the agency of man." That is, man would not be free to make his own decisions. This was necessary to bring about the second change, which was that Satan would make sure "that not one soul shall be lost, and surely I will do it." And how would he assure that not one soul would be lost? Because he, not man, would do all the work.
This then is the third change. Since man wouldn't be allowed to have the agency to exercise his free will, that means Satan would have to make all the decisions and do all the work. Because of that, man would get no honor because he didn't do anything to merit it, and Satan would get all the glory, not sharing it with man, as God's plan called for (Revelation 3:21).
This is the very basis upon which being "saved by grace alone" is built. According to this doctrine, man is incapable of doing anything good or righteous in and of himself. The only freedom man has to properly exercise his will is to let our "God" take over and do everything for him. And what is our reward for allowing our "God" to do this for us? Is it to sit down with Christ on His Father's throne and become kings and priest, thereby sharing in Their glory? (Revelation 3:21) No! According to most Christian faiths, our reward is to become like the angels, spending all eternity singing praises to our "God" and just being thankful to be in his presence.
As stated earlier, Satan considers himself to be the "god of this world." His goal is to deceive mankind into follow his ways, and lead them away from our Father's path. His way is to convince man that salvation is easy and requires no effort on our part. His way is meant to deny man the freedom to choose to obey or not obey God's commandments under the guise of our inability to do what's right. His way is designed to insure that he alone gets all the glory, and if he can't get it, then no one will get it.
It doesn't matter to Satan if he can deceive people into believing they are following God's word by misapplying the scriptures. The fact is he's very happy to lead mankind to the wrong destination while deceiving them into thinking they are going to heaven. And the reason he is happy to do this is because he will have successfully prevented those people from truly receiving God's gift of salvation.