Some find the doctrines relating to works and grace to be an intimidating topic in the world of religion, particularly as it relates to the LDS faith. It needn’t be. It is a simple doctrine.
We do not believe, as some do, that Christ’s grace will save us independently of our actions. His sacrifice on the cross did not eliminate our personal responsibility. That is not to say that His grace is not sufficient for all, because it is. However, were we saved by grace alone, what would be the point in living a lifestyle of obedience and sacrifice? We could do whatever we desired and still obtain salvation by accepting Christ. Yet God requires that His followers obey Him, whether or not we know (or understand) His reasoning.
The problem here is that we simply cannot be perfectly obedient. Only the Savior could fulfill the demands of justice and be perfectly compliant with the Father’s will. That is why works alone will not suffice. None of us would be able to achieve the expectations placed before us by only our own efforts. We are all dependent on Christ for our salvation. Thus, we need His grace. And we need repentance. We must do our part, which consists of both continuous efforts for improvement and proper repentance.
Let me share part of the explanation from the Bible dictionary:
“It is . . . through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.
Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient.”
Christ invites all men to “Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest . . . For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28,30) But we must first come; He will not simply bestow His lighter burden on all. We must first knock in order to enter in to His rest. We need both to act and accept His divine grace.
Suggested readings on this topic:
The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope
by President James E. Faust (Liahona, Jan. 2002, 19-22)
Words of the Early Apostles: Grace
by Elder Christoffel Golden Jr. (Ensign, Oct. 2003, 48-52)
Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ
by Elder Bruce C. Hafen (Liahona, Apr. 1997, 39)