The majority of thinking Christians of all stripes have recognized the tension between the saving grace of the Savior Jesus Christ and the necessity of good works and have made their peace with the issue. It is quite obvious that both grace and works play an important role in salvation. Two key scriptures from the New Testament are cited:
1. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
2. James 2:14, 17 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
To me it is very apparent from the New Testament scriptures that there are at least two essential components of salvation. We learn that sin has caused a situation where mankind will be eternally separated from God. No amount of working on the part of the human can change this. But through the atonement of Christ, humans are offered an opportunity to return to the presence of God and have eternal life. If we would like to accept this opportunity, we must first believe that Christ's atonement can save us. Then we must try our best to follow the commandments that he asks of us. Faith comes as a response to the grace of God and must have content. If one has faith, there will be evidence of it in deeds of obedience. Or in other words, "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:21)
If seekers for salvation will read the New Testament scriptures which proclaim this glorious doctrine, they will see that interspersed with the promise of grace is the exhortation to works. Let us return to Ephesians 2. Following the assurance that we are saved through faith, verse 10 states: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." 2 Timothy teaches of the importance of the scriptures in teaching us the relationship between faith and works. Says Paul, they are "able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Hebrews 5:5-10shows the relationship of the obedience that Christ learned through his submission to the Father's plan for him to the obedience he asks of us: "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him."
Addressing a different but related issue, the Bible teaches that the outward "works" or performances of the Law of Moses are not effective in gaining salvation. In Hebrews 10, the believer is told that sacrifice and burnt offerings of the Mosaic law are done away in Christ. These sacrifices can never take away sins, and we are "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." In our day the law shall be put in our hearts, and we should perform good works (vv. 24-26), "for if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins."
The Book of Mormon makes it even more clear that the performances of the Mosaic law were for the purpose of pointing Israel's minds toward the coming Messiah, and that salvation can not be achieved by obedience to this law. The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi explained that a time would come when the people would no longer be expected to keep the law of Moses.
"And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses. And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God; Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him. But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come. And now, did they understand the law? I say unto you, Nay, they did not all understand the law; and this because of the hardness of their hearts; for they understood not that there could not any man be saved bexcept it were through the redemption of God."
Alma 25 speaks of a people who had learned the proper relationship between the law of Moses and the atonement of Christ:
...they began to be a righteous people; and they did walk in the ways of the Lord, and did observe to keep his commandments and his statutes. Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them. Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come. (Alma 25:14-16)
This is the same doctrine that Paul endeavored to teach throughout the entire book of Romans. We see it especially in chapter 3. "For all have sinned," Paul explains, "and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law [of Moses]." But Paul concludes the chapter with the same thoughts as the prophets of the Book of Mormon: "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."
In this vein, we encounter one of the better-known Book of Mormon scriptures on faith and works. It is found in 2 Nephi 25:23, and reads: "...for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." The passage is found in the middle of Nephi's sermon on the scattering and gathering of Israel and the law of Moses. "There is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved," Nephi proclaims. The law of Moses was given to help the people look forward to Christ. But for Nephi's people, this event is still in the future. So they are instructed to continue to keep the law of Moses while recognizing its purpose: to lead them to Christ. They know that when Christ comes, the law will be fulfilled and done away with. Thus, after all the ordinances and burnt sacrifices of the law of Moses which they do, they know that in the end it is by grace that they are saved.
Over and over, the Book of Mormon preaches the necessity of being saved through grace and faith in the Savior, meshing perfectly with the teachings of the New Testament. A quick glance at the following representative scriptures is enough to demonstrate this:
- And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 9:23)
- And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. (Mosiah 3:17)
- And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else. (Alma 11:40)
- And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. (Alma 34:15)
- ...remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world. (Helaman 5:9)
- ...nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely shall come into the world, and shall suffer many things and shall be slain for his people. (Helaman 13:6)
- ...men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. (Moroni 7:26)
- And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise. (Moroni 7:41)
The Savior invites us to come unto him and partake of his atonement. This we do by making a sincere effort to obey his commandments and follow him. We do not rely on our good works for salvation. Neither the Book of Mormon nor the Bible teaches this. If we seek to repent of our sins, the Savior forgives us, cleanses us, heals us, and gives us power to return to the presence of the Father. "Yea, come unto Christ, Moroni urges, "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." (Moroni 10:32)
Christ's atonement and our faith make it possible for God and man to be reconciled. As we engage in the sanctification process that makes us holy and prepares us to enter his presence, good works will become more and more manifest in our lives. Ether 12:4 puts it like this:
"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God."