Mormon Beliefs About Faith and Works
The Bible seems to teach conflicting information about the subject of grace vs. works and their role in salvation. This is, of course, one reason Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) understand the need for the Book of Mormon and for modern revelation. However, even when we use just the Bible, we soon understand the Bible does not conflict if we take the verses in context and use them all, not isolated selections that back up our hopes for the explanation.
The Bible says,
“ And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (Acts 16:30-31).
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house (Acts 16:30-31).
Taken all alone, and without combining it with the rest of the teachings of the Bible, we could hope that merely believing and nothing more would be enough. This would leave us free to live any way we wanted to live without any further responsibility to God. However, a reading of the entire New Testament demonstrates there is a great deal said about the importance of “works” and its role in salvation.
To begin with, of course, most people who say no works are required don’t really mean it. They say you have to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and that is a work. Then many also list specific doctrines you must believe, which is also a work, since you have to learn them to believe them. Then many also want you to be baptized…another work. The question really is, “How many works and which ones are required?”
The apostles, in their warnings about works, were addressing Jewish ideas about the law of Moses. They were not outlining the plan of salvation. Some of the people they spoke to thought the Law of Moses could save them all alone, without anything else. This was not true. Without the atonement, there is nothing a mortal person could do that would save him. It is through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we are saved.
However, Jesus said that believing was good, but even the devils believed in God. Simply believing is the first step, not the last in the process of salvation. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone is resurrected and lives forever, and everyone has the opportunity to repent and to be forgiven. However, we must take that opportunity—it is not forced upon us. And if we have been commanded to repent, then clearly whether or not we keep the commandments matters.
Jesus warned us that words are not enough:
21 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).
One young man came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to be saved. How did Jesus answer him? Jesus gave him a list of commandments to keep. The young man answered that he already did those things—those works—so Jesus said, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19)
It is obvious Jesus meant to teach that faith wasn’t enough. This young man was taught to keep first the basic commandments, and then, when he said he did all that, he was given a higher commandment. This tested his faith to see just how far it went.
This is the key to understanding the role of works in the gospel. Works do not save us. We are saved through the atonement. Works, however, demonstrate the depth of our faith if they are done for the right reasons. If a person builds a list of good works and does them only to receive a reward, they are meaningless. If, however, he does these works because he loves God and Jesus Christ, and wants to be like his Lord, then the works help to serve as a demonstration of his faith.
The Book of Mormon, which Mormons use with the Bible, teaches the following about the role of faith and works in salvation:
Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. (2 Nephi 2:8.)
32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:32-33.)