Question Box: faith or works

Q:  Are we saved by works or faith in Jesus Christ?

Thanks for your question.  I will preface by saying that this is a common question that we receive on this website.   I understand that there are different opinions and beliefs about this topic  and we needn’t proceed to a large debate about how Mormon beliefs don’t fit in perfectly with other Christian denominations beliefs.

Mormons believe that all people can be  saved  through the Atonement of Jesus Christ by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Article of Faith 3 ).  And the basic laws  and ordinances that bring about salvation through Jesus Christ are:  first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, repentance of our sins.  Third, baptism by immersion in water.  Fourth, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Article of Faith 4).

So, we are saved by the Atonement of Jesus Christ and we gain access to it by faith in Him and by obedience to his commandments.

Here are some other articles dealing with this topic.

The Saved Little Toaster

Works and Grace

Salvation (There is a pretty in-depth conversation on this post  in the comments)

The Saved Little Toaster

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.

A toaster: a modern kitchen marvel.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).

To Sing a Song of Redeeming Love

There are times in my life when feelings are particularly poignant towards my Savior.  I read the scriptures, I pray and and I try the best I can to do His will and I ask myself, as Alma once asked, “if [I] have experienced a change of heart, and if have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can [I] feel so now?.” (Alma 5:26)  The answer at times may be yes or no.  I certainly try to keep that feeling to sing a song of redeeming love concerning my Savior.  It is difficult, yes, but the rewards are infinite in scope and value.

The price to pay for these rewards is ourselves.  Our Heavenly Father asks us to be humble and penitent toward Him and to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.  When we give ourselves, our will and our lives, to Christ, He gives them right back to us in a purer condition and also with His blessings.  These might be spiritual blessings such as peace in one’s heart or also blessings of prosperity and success.  It is important to realize that He allows us to retain our freedom even when we give ourselves to Him.

This is diametrically opposed to the manner the world sees it and how the world operates.  Many things petition us for our time, energy and will that will enslave us and will never set us free willingly.  I have seen families destroyed by abuse of alcohol and individuals reduced to nothing because of all kinds of destructive habits.  There is no real freedom there.

The power to free us remains in Christ.  We must choose Him to become free spiritually.  “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.” (Alma 12:33)  That mercy will allow us to break the chains that hold us down and to destroy habits that enslave.

All can be free through Christ.  It truly is a glorious prospect, and not one that comes easy.  It takes a sincere desire to change one’s being, from thought to action, and, more importantly, the humility to understand the powerlessness one has in a current situation.  But where there is a lack of power and ability, Christ makes up the difference.  “But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” (2 Nephi 1:15)  From binding chains to arms that embrace is a reality that does happen.  I know it does.  I have seen it, I have felt it and I can’t imagine a better way to show my appreciation for it than by sharing it.

Do Mormons ever have questions about what they believe?

In the course of my journey as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there have been numerous times where I have questions come up that challenge my faith.   I can’t speak for all Mormons, but I would assume that we all go through these cycles from time to time.  I picked this topic to write about, because I want others who are not of our faith to know that I do have questions and from time to time finding answers to these questions causes spiritual turmoil.  However, it is during these times that I grow the most spiritually.

The foundation of my belief is rooted in Joseph Smith’s testimony that he was in fact visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ.  This visit came in response to Joseph’s prayer to know which church he should join.  They gave him specific instructions — he was to join none of the churches, because none of them were right (Joseph Smith History 1:1-20).  What followed next in Joseph’s life is phenomenal:  through him Jesus Christ re-established his Church, the Book of Mormon was translated, the authority to act and perform ordinances in God’s name was given to man again, and the list could go on.  I will always remember the day that the truthfulness of this man’s testimony was written upon my heart by the Holy Ghost.  I feel much the same as Joseph did:  I know it and I know that God knows it and I cannot deny it (JS-H 1:25).

However, even though I know Joseph Smith’s story to be true, from time to time, something will come up that causes me to wonder.  For example, polygamy, or how the priesthood was distributed prior to 1978.  These challenges of faith, no matter how big or small, cause me to reflect and evaluate.  Sometimes, they cause me to think, “how could God’s prophet do this, or say that?”  I learned a long time ago that there is a reason; however, in these times I have yet to discover the puzzle piece that makes the picture complete.  Often I have to go back to the basics that I know to be undeniably true–that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he did in fact translate the Book of Mormon.  In other instances, I have to sit down and think about other confirmations that I have received from the Holy Ghost about a particular piece of doctrine, whether it is prayer, fasting, scripture study, marriage, or the priesthood for a few examples.  As I do this and ponder my question throughout the day or weeks, eventually someone will say something, or I will have a thought that comes to me, always accompanied by another confirmation through the Holy Ghost.  Then I can clearly see what I was missing.

These experiences strengthen my faith and further buttress my basic testimony of God.  In this way I have been able to move from truth to truth and from grace to grace, learning about God and the grand plan that He has designed for our eternal happiness.  I am grateful that there is a God and that He loves me perfectly (as He does all of us), even if that means that from time to time I have to struggle in my faith, because it helps me to grow stronger.

What Do Mormons Believe? – Choices

Q. Do Mormons believe in making their own choices?

After a recent conversation on this blog under the “Salvation” post, I came to understand that Mormons and other Christian faiths don’t always share the same views on the topic of making choices.

I have thought about this question for the last few days and I realize that it merits more explaining; however, I want to keep my answer to this specific question concise, so I have decided to write another post that will be posted shortly. It will explain more in depth our doctrine of making choices. I do this, because from our perspective the ability to freely make choices is crucial to our salvation. I don’t think many understand how important the ability to freely choose is. It’s fundamental to the very purpose of life.

To answer the above question, yes Mormons believe in making their own choices. The Doctrine and Covenants (part of our open canon of scripture) is a collection of revelations that Joseph Smith received. I quote from Section 58, verses 26-28 (italics added):

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

We believe that we are free to make any choice. God may encourage us, just as Satan may tempt us; nevertheless, the choice is ultimately ours and we must take personal responsibility for our actions.  We are never forced.  “The devil made me do it” is never a valid excuse for wrong-doing.  It should be stated that there are consequences with every choice. As stated in the above scripture, choosing to do the right will bring good results. Conversely, choosing that which is not right will bring undesirable consequences.

Furthermore, we believe that our choices are what God will judge us by. We believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is what will save us. Nevertheless, we must consistently make choices that are in alignment with the commandments of God and choose to repent and change when we make mistakes. In essence, we have to do our part by denying ourselves of all ungodliness while relying on the mercies and grace of God. By so doing, we believe that when we are judged by God, we will be found worthy of his kingdom. Not because we were perfect ourselves, but perfect in Christ (Moroni 10:32-33).