Last spring I participated in a program between Brigham Young University students (even though I go to Utah State University — go Aggies!) and some Evangelical Christian students from Wheaton College in Illinois. The Evangelical students came to Utah during their spring break and toured Utah to get a feel for the culture and religion here, and to give us Mormons the same opportunity with them. I came away from each discussion enlightened. During their stay, they even arranged a private visit with Elder D. Todd Christofferson, one of the twelve Apostles. I was so jealous.
One of the questions that often came up during their visit was whether Mormons believed our works saved us or the grace of Jesus Christ did. They made an interesting observation: when challenged with this question, each latter-day Saint (even General Authorities) responded with one of two answers. 1) We are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. 2) Works are necessary for salvation.
On the face of it, we seem confused. To many Christians, statements 1 and 2 are mutually exclusive; for us they fold nicely into each other.
Consider a toaster. It has two slots, a mechanical tab, some knobs to control heat levels, heating coils, and a plug connected to the outlet. The toaster was a wedding gift you gladly accepted from your brother; your dad’s present was to pay your first month of rent, including utilities. You use your toaster every morning. Drop in two limp, damp pieces of bread, push the lever down, and wait 35 seconds; then, crispy, deliciously crunchy toast pops out as if by magic! Spread the butter on thick and enjoy.
As you feast, you make two statements to your new spouse, who does not notice any contradiction:
1) This toast was made through the generous gift of loving relatives.
2) It took some effort on my part (albeit not much) to make the toast.
We certainly can’t take the credit for the toast. The same effort applied to an empty counter top, or to an unplugged toaster would result in disappointment. (Maybe the bread would become “crunchy” in the sense of getting stale, but I don’t think that’s what we want). In the same vein, we fully recognize that living by the law of Moses, or adhering to empty ritualistic tradition without a Messiah will never work. This is why we respond with number 1.
We also know that we can’t expect the toaster to do everything for us, either. Much of the joy of eating breakfast comes from taking the time to handcraft it. Your brother knows that while designing and building a fully-automated toast-producing machine is possible, it isn’t what you need or want. Besides, there’s still the matter of lifting it to your mouth and chewing. Surely, you wouldn’t eat pre-chewed toast! Our purpose on earth is growth, and that requires us to step up to the plate and show our willingness. Our faith in Christ is manifest to Him by our (imperfect and small) effort. This is why we give response number 2.
The toaster and its connection to the wall outlet represent the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ. He offers it to all of us. Please receive His help gratefully and often. He loves you, so He will not force your hand. Insert the bread of faith, and press down the mechanical tab of repentance to unlock the power of forgiveness and blessing that awaits you. Repentance and righteous living may seem tough at first, but He has made it much easier. In fact, he has made it possible.
“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” (Book of Mormon, Helaman 14:13).