A recent visitor to Mormon Coffee asked if the Mormons here could help him/her understand the LDS doctrine of grace. The visitor wondered, “Where [in Mormonism] is the idea of grace being unmerited favor?”
This got me to thinking about yet another foundational difference between Mormonism and biblical Christianity: the definition of grace.
Quoting a few Christian sources:
Charles Stanley: “God’s kindness and graciousness toward humanity without regard to the worth or merit of those who receive it and without their deserving it.”
John Piper: “Grace not only means God is for you, it also means you did not earn or deserve what you got. It is free. That’s what grace means. Romans 11:6 says, ‘If it is by grace, it is no longer by works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.’ Grace by definition means you didn’t earn it and therefore can’t boast.”
R.C. Sproul: “Grace is the undeserved favor or mercy of God toward us.”
Donald K. McKim: “Unmerited favor. God’s grace is extended to sinful humanity in providing salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ that is not deserved, and withholding the judgment that is deserved (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Titus 2:11).”
Quoting a few LDS sources:
LDS Bible Dictionary: “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. Hence the explanation, ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).”
Sterling M. McMurrin: “The meaning of the grace of God given through the atonement of Christ is that man by his freedom can now merit salvation.”
Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet: “Indeed, it is only after a person has so performed a lifetime of works and faithfulness — only after he has come to deny himself of all ungodliness and every worldly lust — that the grace of God, that spiritual increment of power, is efficacious.”
Anthony Sweat: “Grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23) …We can’t qualify ourselves for salvation—we can only qualify ourselves for Christ’s grace, and then Christ will bring us to the celestial kingdom through His grace.” (emphasis in the original)
So in Christianity grace is God’s unmerited favor freely given to undeserving people. In Mormonism grace is an enabling power granted only to those who, because of their lifetime of works and total effort, are entitled to receive it.
Wherever you are in your own understanding of God’s grace, I leave you with some Christian words of hope from Charles Spurgeon.
“…salvation is all of grace, which means, free, gratis, for nothing….
“I think it well to turn a little to one side that I may ask my reader to observe adoringly the fountain-head of our salvation, which is the grace of God. ‘By grace are ye saved.’ Because God is gracious, therefore sinful men are forgiven, converted, purified, and saved. It is not because of anything in them, or that ever can be in them, that they are saved; but because of the boundless love, goodness, pity, compassion, mercy, and grace of God. Tarry a moment, then, at the well-head. Behold the pure river of water of life, as it proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb!
“What an abyss is the grace of God! Who can measure its breadth? Who can fathom its depth? Like all the rest of the divine attributes, it is infinite…
“Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved ‘through faith,’ but salvation is ‘by grace.’ Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: ‘By grace are ye saved.’ What glad tidings for the undeserving!” (excerpted from By Grace Through Faith, chapters 2 and 7)