A scripture often quoted by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes from the Book of Mormon where the prophet Nephi says, "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" (2 Nephi 25:23).
Members of other faiths, particularly evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant denominations, find this statement to be unbiblical because they feel it minimizes the atonement of Christ. To them, this verse of scripture says that we earn our way into heaven by working hard to keep all the commandments of God. In fact, in the LDS prayer given over the emblems of Christ's body and blood it says that we promise to keep all the commandments that Christ has given us.
As most Protestants understand the teachings of the Bible, we are saved strictly and solely through the grace of God, which is a gift that He freely bestows upon those who believe in Jesus Christ and not because of anything we have done to merit or deserve (see Ephesians 2:8,9). Therefore, when the LDS Church teaches that we are saved by grace, but only "after all we can do," this sounds too many Christians as though we have to prove to God that we deserve to be saved, and if that is the case then we can boast that we got ourselves into heaven because of our good works.
Yet, it was Nephi's brother, Jacob, who also taught, "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, 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).
Here Jacob states the after we are reconciled to God (which other churches would understand to be the same as accepting Christ as our Savior) that salvation comes " only in and through the grace of Christ." In this sermon Jacob says nothing about us having to work for our salvation. Then, does what Jacob say contradict the words of his brother Nephi, or are they both saying the same thing, and if so, how are they giving the same message?
Just like a coin has two sides, so also the doctrine of salvation can be viewed from different perspectives while still accurately describing the same subject. In other words, there are many different facets or components to what it means to be saved so we have to be more precise in what we mean when we talk about this topic.
First of all, the Bible teaches that "as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation (meaning the transgression of Adam); even so by the righteousness of one (Jesus Christ) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (Romans 5:18,19).
This clearly teaches that the free gift of salvation has come upon all men because of what Jesus Christ did, in the same way that condemnation came upon all men because of what Adam did. The Bible also teaches in many places that death is the consequence of sin, therefore, when the Bible says, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall " all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22, emphasis added), it clearly teaches that all men shall be brought back to life, thereby overcoming the effects of sin for everyone. And it is in this way that Christ has won the victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:54,55).
If it wasn't for the atonement of Christ, no one would ever be saved, but because of the atonement, " all " men may become saved. However, we didn't have to do anything to merit God sacrificing His only begotten Son. This is why Paul exclaimed, "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). So, when Paul talks about salvation being a free gift of grace from God, it is the atonement of Christ that he is speaking about.
However, even though all men will be resurrected, and thereby be made alive again, not everyone will receive the same reward. There will be two resurrections - the first and the second - and those who are made alive in the first resurrection will have a much greater reward than those who come forth in the second resurrection (Revelation 20:5.6).
Under this definition of what it means to be saved, we are talking about a universal kind of salvation brought about by the atonement of Christ, but that is not the kind of salvation that Protestants think of. To them, salvation means more than mankind overcoming the effects of sin by being made alive again. To them it means living with God in heaven and being in His presence forever. The LDS Church refers to this as being resurrected to the celestial kingdom and becoming exalted. But is this definition of salvation a free "gift" or must we work to be worthy of it?
A gift, especially one that is "free" is by definition something we receive without having to work for. Yet the scriptures repeatedly speak of us keeping the commandments, of being obedient to Christ, of fleeing all forms of unrighteousness and living righteously. If these things are all necessary to obtain salvation, then quite obviously, not doing these things will prevent us from being saved, otherwise there is no need to be obedient to God's commandments. Therefore, it is just as obvious that salvation is a free gift while, at the same time, we are required to put forth our own individual efforts to secure it. But how do we reconcile these two seemingly different and contradictory ideas? Perhaps we can understand this dilemma by way of a few illustrations.
Every boxer, no matter how professional they may be, has a trainer whose job it is to teach their man how to improve his boxing style. Even championship boxers rely on their trainer in order to keep their title and that's because the trainer is seeing what the boxer doesn't see and gives him guidance and direction on what he needs to do to win the next fight. Even during the fight, after each round, when the boxer returns to his corner, the trainer is there to give him added instructions based on what he has observed during the fight. And this same situation is true in almost all sports.
The apostle Paul used the sport of running a race as a way to illustrate our efforts to achieve salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1). When preparing to run a race, a runner will need the assistance of a good trainer whose job it will be to help him learn how to run faster and farther than his opponents. During this training period the coach will have the runner practice running over and over again, clocking his performing and watching to see what he is doing right as well as instructing him on what he can do to improve his running technique.
A runner who tries to do all of this by himself is not going to be nearly as effective at improving his running time as will someone who has a trainer. And the same is true in the race we call life. For us to successfully make it all the way to eternal life, we need someone to instruct us and help us to improve. But instead of calling that trainer a coach we refer to Him as the Holy Ghost.
When we decide to accept Christ as our Savior and repent of our sins, then we are baptized which is the ceremony that washes away all of our prior sins. That act of cleansing is a free gift from our Father in heaven, without which a person cannot be saved. This is why Jesus said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Thus, in order to be saved, we must have the gift of baptism that is given freely by the grace of God.
Then, after we are baptized we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost. At this point we have done nothing to be worthy of either gift except to accept Jesus as our Savior. As such, the gift of the Holy Ghost is something we are freely given without any conditions.
Yet, without this gift, it would be impossible for us to become saved, no matter what we do. It would be like a boxer or a runner trying to become a world-class winner without the aid of a trainer. However, the difference between these two examples is that running the race for the crown of eternal life is much more challenging and difficult a task than running a race on a flat track or beating an opponent in the boxing ring.
Imagine someone who is in a very long-distance marathon race, perhaps covering two hundred miles over very rugged terrain that includes overcoming a number of different and difficult obstacles. This would be extremely taxing, even for someone who is in good physical condition, but imagine how much more difficult the race would be for them if that runner was sickly?
Now suppose if a runner had his coach running alongside of them, giving them encouragement when they wanted to give up, giving them instruction of how to improve their running technique, giving them counsel of how to overcome certain obstacles, and giving them advice of when, where, and for how long to stop for a rest?
A long distance runner who had that kind of help would do much better than someone who had no such trainer. Now imagine that the trainer had water and high energy food that they were able to give to their runner along the way when they needed it? Such a runner would have even a greater advantage in winning the race.
The Holy Ghost is more than just our trainer. He is our companion. He is there with us through all the ups and downs we experience in life, and all the rough times we encounter, and all the challenges that come across our path. He is there giving us counsel, inspiration, encouragement, comfort, and helping to sustain us both in the good times and especially more so in the bad times.
If it wasn't for the free gift of the Holy Ghost no one could be worthy enough by their own efforts to become saved. It is only because of this gift that we have any hope of becoming saved. Therefore, salvation is a result of God's free gift to us.
But notice in these illustrations that the trainee must put forth a lot of personal effort of their own. The boxing trainer may instruct but it is the boxer who must put into practice what their trainer has taught them. As good as a trainer may be, it is the trainee who must fight the fight and run the race, and they will only become a winner if they consistently and diligently follow the instructions and do the practicing that their trainer has given them. No matter how good a trainer may be, he can only be as successful in his job as the trainee is in doing theirs.
But the Holy Ghost is able to do more than just train. The Lord has revealed that "whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies" (D&C 84:33).
There are two things mentioned in this verse of scripture that often go unnoticed. One is, "sanctified by the spirit" and the other is "the renewing of their bodies." These are two other things that the Holy Ghost does that are so essential to our salvation that without them no one can live with God. To understand why let's look at some other illustrations.
There are many people who are constantly seeking ways to improve their health. For this reason many people advocate not eating any processed foods because they contain chemicals that are toxic to the human body. These include preservatives, food flavoring, and stabilizers that make the product last longer and taste better. However, when ingested, these man-made chemicals do damage to the organs of the body, making a person less healthy and more prone to becoming sick.
There are a number of recipes and regimens offered to health conscious people of how to detoxify one's body of all these impurities and harmful chemicals. The idea behind this is that once our bodies have been properly cleansed of all impurities then it will function more efficiently as nature originally intended, which will therefore give a person more energy, health, stamina, and well-being. Such a person will be able to work harder, for longer periods of times, while needing less sleep.
The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death, and death is something that is very toxic. However, even before death, sin is a toxin that weakens and sickens our spirituality, making it harder for us to become more Christ-like. However, the Holy Ghost is like a detoxifying agent who is able to cleanse our soul from the impurities and debilitating effects of sin. His aim is to restore our bodies back to a spiritually healthy condition so it can more easily overcome the temptations that life throws at us rather than having us catch every satanic virus that comes our way. And the more sin that is purged from our soul the healthier we become spiritually until we have literally become perfect as is our Father in heaven. We refer to this process of purification from sin as sanctification.
But being free of sin isn't enough by itself to make us healthy. We must also take in the right amount of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, and vitamins which are all essential to making our bodies healthy and strong. That means eating natural, healthy foods instead of filling our stomachs with cheap, sugary, processed, junk food.
Going back to our illustration of a long-distance runner, imagine that the coach is not only traveling with us, giving us instruction, comfort, and encouragement, but is feeding us not only water but healthy foods and drinks which helps renew our body's health and stamina. In this way, our body is able to endure the rigors of the race much more easily than someone whose body is wearing down due to fatigue.
We have often been told to "feast on the words of God" which is like high-energy food for the soul. By comparison, the things of the world are like the cheap, sugary processed foods that taste good but do nothing to give us health. That's why when we indulge in the things of the world they make us spiritually unhealthy and make us more prone to spiritual sickness.
However, the Holy Ghost has His own recipe for spiritual health and as we partake of His food, it literally renews our body and spirit. Through the power that the Holy Ghost can exert on our body and spirit we are able to become spiritually healthier, thereby being stronger in resisting Satan and more easily living the principles of righteousness.
Just as vitamin A aids in improving our eyesight, so also the power of the Holy Ghost can help improve our spiritual eyesight so that we can see more clearly the things of God. Just as reducing the amount of sugar we eat helps our brain become more alert and think more clearly, so also the Holy Ghost helps our spirit become more receptive to the things of God so that we understand and comprehend them with greater clarity.
All of these benefits come to us because of the gift of the Holy Ghost that we receive, not because of anything we have done to deserve it, but because of the grace of God which He abundantly showers upon us. Without this gift no one would be able to return back to God to live with Him forever. Therefore, it can truly be said that we are saved by grace alone.
Return to main menu