Last week I wrote about “Trevor,” a man who took issue with a comment I left at a news web site (see Searching for Salvation: The Bible or TV Guide? My comment set Ephesians 2:8-10 (“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves…”) against a Book of Mormon passage, (2 Nephi 25:23: “…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”). Trevor accused me of deliberately distorting what Mormons believe.
I can only guess at what Mormon beliefs Trevor thought I was distorting, because he gave no particulars. So let’s assume for the sake of argument that he thought I distorted the meaning of the Book of Mormon passage.
My proposition was this: In the Bible God offers sinful people eternal life as a free gift through Jesus Christ; the Book of Mormon promises salvation only after all we can do. There is no dispute regarding the wording of the respective passages; one does say we are saved by grace through faith, the other that we are saved by grace after all we can do. The question, then, would be in the interpretation. Therefore, take a look at what some LDS authorities and authors have said about the 2 Nephi passage and the LDS doctrine of salvation:
“What is meant by ‘after all we can do’? ‘After all we can do’ includes extending our best effort. ‘After all we can do’ includes living His commandments. ‘After all we can do’ includes loving our fellowmen and praying for those who regard us as their adversary. ‘After all we can do’ means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and giving ‘succor [to] those who stand in need of [our] succor’ (Mosiah 4:15)—remembering that what we do unto one of the least of God’s children, we do unto Him. (See Matt. 25:34-40; D&C 42:38.) ‘After all we can do’ means leading chaste, clean, pure lives, being scrupulously honest in all our dealings and treating others the way we would want to be treated. (“After All We Can Do,” Christmas Devotional, Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 9, 1982; quoted in Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson.)” (“Savior accomplished atoning sacrifice through His grace,” LDS Church News, 02/03/96, page 14.)“President Harold B. Lee treated the topic of working out one’s salvation in one of his books, Stand Ye in Holy Places: ‘We hear much from some persons of limited understanding about the possibility of one’s being saved by grace alone. But it requires the explanation of another prophet to understand the true doctrine of grace as he explained in these meaningful words: “For,” said this prophet, “we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Ne. 25:23.) Truly we are redeemed by the atoning blood of the Savior of the world, but only after each has done all he can to work out his own salvation.'”(“Work out salvation with fear and trembling,” LDS Church News, 09/14/91, page 14.)
“As is the case with all gospel principles, the doctrine of individual accountability grows out of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Teaching these principles, Nephi testified that we are saved by grace, but only “after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23.) It is by the grace of Christ that we have granted to us the materials of life with which we can build, but God does not do the building for us. The responsibility of building with those materials is ours. The plan of salvation is in a large measure a do-it-yourself project” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Seeking the Spirit, page 99.)
“In the plan of salvation God does for human beings only what they cannot do for themselves. Man must do all he can for himself. The doctrine is that we are saved by grace, ‘after all we can do’ (2 Ne. 25:23)” (Robert J. Matthews, A Bible! A Bible!, page 186.)
“To explain how much confidence we should have in God, were I using a term to suit myself, I should say implicit confidence. I have faith in my God, and that faith corresponds with the works I produce. I have no confidence in faith without works. My faith is, when we have done all we can, then the Lord is under obligation, and will not disappoint the faithful; he will perform the rest” (President Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, page 155.)
It’s clear from these teachings that the LDS doctrine on salvation is that it is given through grace only after all we can do—which is how I presented it in the Willamette Week comment. It’s pretty hard to see how that could be compatible with Ephesians 2:4-9:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Since I did not “deliberately distort” this point of “what Mormons believe,” perhaps Trevor was referring to the comment that Arthur Kane “decided to jettison the Bible in favor of the Book of Mormon.” I’ll blog about that later this week.
I have previously blogged about the LDS doctrinal claim which states Jesus makes up the difference between our innate or self-achieved righteousness and the righteousness God requires. To read about this take a look at Insurmountable Debt.
I’ve always understood “after all we can do” to mean that there is nothing we can do of ourselves that can in any way add to or detract from God’s gift of grace. Another way of offering what I believe is the intended meaning of the verse would be to say “all of your best efforts, works, etc. will not save you, but God’s grace will.” I think this verse is being misinterpreted by both the LDS and those who oppose them.
Joe B., that interpretation is fairly new in Mormon history, and Mormon leaders have taken the word “after” at face value.
“The truth is that we are saved by grace only after all we ourselves can do. (See 2 Ne. 25:23.) There will be no government dole which can get us through the pearly gates. Nor will anybody go into the celestial kingdom who wants to go there on the works of someone else. Every man must go through on his own merits. We might just as well learn this here and now.” – Marion G. Romney, “In Mine Own Way,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, 123