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)
I can’t help but laugh when I see that Ephesians 2:8-9 is directly referenced in the LDS Bible Dictionary definition of grace.
This past weekend I had a discussion with my pastor about the Mormon idea of grace, and he talked about what happens when you start with the wrong idea about it (lopping off one side or the other of the duplex gratia that Calvin wrote about). I wish I could articulate it better, but basically, when you get rid of the idea of unmerited favor, your works are essential to getting you into heaven – which of course leads either to moralism and/or legalism. This is what we see in Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, etc, etc.
Then on Sunday he preached a sermon on the proper behavior of elders; how they are to lead the congregants – not drive them, pressure them, or abuse them in any way – after all, they have to answer to God for what they do. And it seemed to me to be a sermon as much about discernment as it was about the obligations of elders and congregants to each other.
After church I ended up watching some videos on youtube posted by ex-mormons. It was painful to see. Most of them had such a warped view of organized religion that at this point they’d given up on it entirely. I kept thinking how I wished I could let them experience what a normal, biblically sound church is like. It might help them be open to what God has to say to us through Jesus.
Goodness, it’s like saying you don’t have to qualify for a loan, but you do need to qualify for the loan paperwork.
Or, hey, you don’t have to purchase the car, but you do need to purchase the rights to receive the car.
You don’t have to earn the gift, but you do need to earn the means by which to receive the gift.
There are so many ways to smuggle in merit.
I was just thinking this morning how ironic it is that Christians are accused of “easy-believism” because they insist on GRACE being the way, and not WORKS.
It’s MUCH HARDER to turn your soul and future eternal stake over to a man who claimed to be God, and rest entirely on that, than to go around trying to earn heaven by doing works that you think are good.
In other words, it’s MUCH EASIER to trust in yourself and your own good deeds, because that’s more obvious and easy to view. It’s EASY TO BELIEVE that you must earn heaven. Not the other way around.
“GRACE ONLY? SURELY NOT!”
I posted this on the WMF board where they ask you to ‘explain’ yourself, and thought it worth posting here:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, – Romans 5:1
I don’t think I ever really understood this until I read the Bible and gave my life to Jesus alone… I loved your ‘explanation’ to that poster who made that thread:
“if someone is forgiven, fruits will follow. If they don’t, then it is likely evidence a person was never forgiven to begin with.”
It is such an easy and simple thing…really. Justified through faith means YOU GOT THE LOAN. Just MY thoughts…
AMEN, brother. And the debt is cancelled!
Oh boy, Mormons and grace! It’s a different religion that’s where we have to start. Different from Christianity. That’s why discussions about grace are fruitless with a Mormon unless of course we are explaining who God and Jesus are and what God’s plan of salvation is all about. In the Mormon system, of course you have to work to become a god. Nobody’s going to grant you that because they think you’re cute and would make a good looking god.
Here’s a question, with universal salvation where everyone is saved regardless of their faith or works status, is it all about grace? In-other-words, Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood for the sin of mankind therefore everyone is covered. Is that grace? Unfortunately in that system we may as well forget Ephesians 2:8-9, right?
But in the Mormon dual salvation system we get a general salvation and then god-track salvation. The second one of course depends on a person doing enough to merit becoming a god. Mormonism starts out wrong and then deteriorates from there. They may as well forget about the Bible and the BoM for that matter and stick with revelation which is basically if a thought passes through your mind and makes you feel good go with it. Mormonism is the great “whatever” religion.
In my experience, I think it was easier to believe that its free. When I heard of that, I was so envious of nonlds christians who have it so easy. But I was told over and over again that was false. So, what got in the way was the repeated lds teachings.
I have a question for you, and everyone. What is the extent of this grace? If its really god who is providing it, then wouldn’t it cover mistakes and errors made in this life? Couldn’t one see the effects of grace before one is dead?
Its difficult to explain, but I feel so peaceful this evening, but I feel like I have no reason to be. Everything was so topsy turvy today. I was actually the most level headed person in the household today. Perhaps the only person with a sense of peace. I also got kicked off of a neopagan forum today. Apparently I have too much of a christian vibe, that was the complaint. I was totally unaware of that. I don’t know what I believe, but I felt this the best after reading an email from a christian. Is it real?
I was going to say, that the families car went out, the steamvac has something broken, for awhile the computer had major problems. Medical problems with several members of the family, etc…etc… for awhile I felt really stressed, but now I feel ok with everything.
You really had a bad day!
I don’t know how to answer your question without just giving some platitudes.
Here’s the deal for me. I’m a sinner and without Christ, I’m lost. God extended to me the gift of salvation, by His grace. I received this gift of eternal life by faith. I know I’ve changed since I became born again. However my human nature will not always cooperate with my desire to walk by the Spirit. However, as Christians, we do develop “fruit” by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
This my sound strange but I always figure that anything God extends to me beyond eternal life, is just a bonus.
I for one, miss you when you are not around, and enjoy your comments. You certainly have a unique perspective on the world much noted by me. Praying for you…and all who post here. My world would be far less interesting without people like you in it.
I fully agree with grindael, falcon and setfree’s responses to you.
Thanks for sharing the above. I’ve had a really crappy day at work (culminating from a really crappy week), and your comments about the neo-pagan forum really put a smile on my face. It’s not that I have a particular grudge against neo-pagans, rather it’s their reaction to you that made me smile. It seems your presence teased out their agenda.
You also asked
Heck, how long have you got? The short answer is YES, YES, YES.
I get frustrated when “grace” is only considered in a “pie in the sky when you die” context. God’s amazing grace will get me to heaven eventually (like the song), but what of the journey today?
It seems to me that the Bible is much more concerned about the here and now than what may or may not happen in the future. Consider the present tense of Jesus’ concluding statement in Matt 28:20
God is with us now. The fact that He is with us now is entirely due to His grace, and we can have confidence that He will remain with us for exactly the same reason. Why? Because
The Catholic religion talks about the difference between “sanctifying” and “actual” grace. To my understanding the former deals with salvation where the latter deals with leading the Christian life. I knew a guy once (not Catholic) who saw grace as something people earned (in a sense) through what I’d call “works”. This would include fasting, acts of kindness etc. So, in his view, the Christian had this container. When certain activities are performed, that container got more grace poured into it. The grace was like an account that then could be drawn on in the course of leading the Christian life. For example, praying for a sick person to recover, the person recovers, there’s a draw down on the grace.
This would, I guess, be in contrast to the idea that we have unlimited grace in Jesus’ account that we can write checks on in the course of leading our daily lives as Christians. It has nothing to do with salvation.
Just something to ponder.
Grace is normally thought of as being “unmerited favor”. So in that definition, a person wouldn’t be able to earn grace. I think it goes without saying, that God provides us the means of living the Christian life. I guess it would be a matter of how we cooperated with God’s benevolence in extending his favor towards us.
By doing certain activities with the right attitude we will improve our daily walk with the Lord. Those things might be prayer, Bible study, fasting, reaching out to the needy and so forth.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul tells us that those of us who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. He says further that if we live by the Spirit we are to walk by the Spirit.
Enki, read Psalms 30-34. All of us will face trials in this life, but those who love God turn to him for comfort knowing that all things are according to his purposes, and in the end everything will work out for those who worship him. God’s grace is manifested on earth to all mankind, because all of us have sinned we all deserve God’s wrath and punishment. In Matthew 5:45 Jesus tells us that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. Worldly trials and blessings are often just the course of life because it seems that all are affected by them. In fact, some of the most wicked people on the planet appear to receive the most temporal blessings, while the most humble often appear to struggle in life. That is not to say that God is not using your trials to turn your eyes to him when faced with adversity, and is not using us to teach you the truth in love. One thing the Psalmist points out is that God will never leave or forsake those who trust in him. There is the promise of peace and everlasting life to those who submit themselves to him in humility. Yes, it is real. Praying for you and all who are following along.
So the topic is “What is grace?” I would say that I agree with the definition of grace being unmerited favor. To echo what’s been said previously, we don’t deserve grace and we can’t earn it in regards to our salvation. The Bible is quite clear that it is by grace we are saved, salvation has nothing to do with our own efforts and that it’s through faith that we receive the gift of eternal life. That’s really the process of “justification” in a nut-shell.
Now as to how we are to live our lives once we have received God’s gift, again the Bible is very clear. Paul asks a question that goes something like this; “Are we to continue in sin so that God’s grace will increase?” That would be some really strange logic, wouldn’t it? He answers it by saying, “May it never be!”
Christians and Mormons could never have a meaningful discussion as to what grace is because the fundamental concepts of the religions are totally different. If we were to explain God’s plan of salvation to a Mormon and they were to acknowledge who God is, what His plan of salvation entails and then receive it through faith, we could say that they have responded to God’s call/grace.
It’s always amazed me that some people, upon hearing the Gospel, respond to God’s call but others don’t. Do the people that respond do so because they got more of God’s grace then someone who doesn’t respond? There’s nothing of ourselves in the response to God’s call. He chooses us, we don’t choose Him. I don’t know how it works, but I’m just glad that I responded when God sent me the invitation.
Thank you for your article.
I really enjoyed the quotation you cited at the end. It is from a book called “All of Grace” by Charles Spurgeon. (The entire book may be accessed from the link in the final sentence.) This book (I’m pretty sure, but not positive) holds an important place in America’s history, as it was the first paperback book published in our nation.
I would like to extend an invitation to any who may be visiting this forum and are reading this message. My invitation is this: try reading “All of Grace.” Wherever you may be in life, take some time to read this modest length book.
Are you a Christian? Has some of the wonder and joy you knew when you first believed faded? Faded with time or challenging circumstance? Then you need to read this book. You will find much encouragement in its pages.
Are you someone who was interested in the title of Sharon’s article, and have wondered at the question it asks? Do you agree with some of the things said about grace, but still find that your stability in life pretty much comes down to your circumstances, your strength, and your determination? Then do yourself a favor, dear friend, and read this book.
Blessings to all.
Thanks Brian, I’ll definitely do so.
Issue 29 of Christian History is titled: “Long before the Megachurch, Nearly 6,000 People Crowded Every Service to Hear Charles Haddon Spurgeon”.
A couple of fun facts about Spurgeon listed in the issue is that at least three of his works have sold more than 1,000,000 copies. One of these, “All of Grace”, was the first book ever published by Moody Press and is still its all time best seller.
Some sayings of Spurgeon.
*The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound of which makes all hell shake.
*The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also.
*As well might a gnat seek to drink in the ocean, as a finite creature to comprehend the Eternal God.
*Few preachers of religion do believe thoroughly the doctrine of the Fall, or else they think that when Adam fell down he broke his little finger, and did not break his neck and ruin his race.
*I am certain that I never did grow in grace one-half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain.
*The heart of Christ became like a reservoir in the midst of the mountains. All the tributary streams of iniquity, and every drop of the sins of his people, ran down and gathered into one vast lake, deep as hell and shoreless as eternity. All these met, as it were, in Christ’s heart, and He endured them all.
Spurgeon also said:
“T am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.”
He also commented on Acts 26:28.
“Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like the man who was almost pardoned, but he was hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but he was burned in the house. A man that is almost saved is damned.”
The first thing a Mormon has to come to grips with is that the God they call “god” is not God! Their glorified man has no grace to extend to them by which they can be saved. The Mormon Jesus is not “Jesus”; the qualified Savior that took upon Himself the penalty for our sin. The Mormon plan of Salvation is not that of fallen man reaching out in faith to accept the free gift of salvation that God offers.
The Mormon “man who morphed to god” and the promise of the LDS church that their male members can also become gods if they do the right kind and amount of works is a story with a very unhappy ending. That is, it’s an empty promise promoted by a false prophet who wanted to become a god.
So, God extends His grace to Mormons, but in order to receive what God is offering, they need to acknowledge Him as the giver of life and His Christ as the means of obtaining salvation.
Thanks so much for all you have shared with us about Charles Spurgeon. His thoughts on Acts 26:28 are most vivid (“The man who was almost pardoned, but he was hanged”).
I have often enjoyed reading a daily devotional written by Spurgeon. In one, he illustrates an amazing picture of what happens when God draws one who is spiritually dead to himself, imparting life. The picture is that of a battle. I’d like to share it here for your and this forum’s consideration, as it is something I have been unable to forget. (It still stuns me.) Here is the quote:
“What a battle he had in us before we would be won! How long he laid siege to our hearts! How often he sent us terms of capitulation! but we barred our gates, and fenced our walls against him. Do we not remember that glorious hour when he carried our hearts by storm? When he placed his cross against the wall, and scaled our ramparts, planting on our strongholds the blood red flag of his omnipotent mercy? Yes, we are, indeed, the conquered captives of his omnipotent love.”
(From “Morning by Morning,” November 15)
Grace does, in part, mean “unmerited favor”. But only in part. The context of “unmerited favor” is ignored by the “faith only” crowd. According to the very best Biblical Greek lexicons, the idea of “unmerited favor” is that while there is no obligation by the giver to give the gift, receipt of the gift demanded reciprocation, i.e., a gift/favor in response. The concept of “Grace” current during NT times was that which flowed from the Emperor or other high officials to groups or individuals with the implicit promise of reciprocation by the recipient. In other words, it was not just a “free gift”, but it was a conditioned gift, conditioned upon obeying the understood terms.
See BDAG entry #2 for Xaris (page 1079) or L&S(p 1979)
A “free gift” or “unmerited favor”? To be sure. In the sense that Jesus had no obligation to be sacrificed. But not free of obligations of performance in return. Every “grace” given by a high official to others came with strings. The receipt of the gift created an obligation on the part of the recipient. It truly is “by grace we are saved through faith”. Created unto good works. Failure to return good works invalidates the gift of grace.
Gal 5:4 perfectly illustrates the point: The Grace was received, it was effective, has now become ineffective because they then failed to perform the requirements to retain the grace, and they are fallen away, apostatized.
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”
They were under grace, and they are fallen from grace. So a carte blanche “unmerited favor” in receipt of the grace providing eternal security is clearly not sustainable from the New Testament. Something cannot “become of no effect unto you” that was not previously ‘effective’. So something in their action caused them “to change for the worse from a favorable condition” (fall= gr. Ekpipto, BDAG def #3).
So the Biblical concept of Grace is in fact the LDS view.
Ah yes, the arguments against grace. I just want to praise the LORD for revealing to me the truth about His grace. I never could taste it as a Mormon. Grace is not just an addendum to what we do–our life is the addendum to grace. Grace is experienced throughout our entire lives–even when we don’t realize it; but, when we do become aware, we fall to our knees in utter awe and amazement at the love God has for us as expressed through His grace. This is what the Mormon experience lacks. This is why a poor soul like Vook can write what he writes and actually think that he is bringing enlightenment rather than the darkness his message brings. I have been raised from out of the darkness of Mormonism’s fallacious teaching about grace, and echo the sentiments of Paul: “…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
I will do my best to help you understand the problem with your reasoning. The context has to do with circumcision. Judaizers were teaching that followers of Christ needed to be circumcised. Paul is teaching that they don’t. Yes, he makes the statement that their grace will be forfeited–but it is through their own actions not because God is taking it away from them. What Paul is saying is, “Hey, you are not bound by the law. You are saved by grace. If you insist on heeding the law, then it’s just as if grace was never even given. Why do something to satisfy the law when the law has been satisfied in Christ Jesus?”
I hope you can see that the biblical view of grace is not the Mormon view of grace. There is a life of freedom from bondage awaiting you, Vook. I pray you accept the free gift of grace God is offering you even at this very moment.
With all due respect, “the arguments against grace” are not my arguments. They are the correct understanding of grace as taught in the Bible. I am personally hugely dependent upon grace. But if you read the Bible with a completely false understanding of some word, let’s say the word “grace”, and you think it means you are absolved of the demand and requirement to return good deeds for the initial unmerited gift, then you are going to evolve many false concepts around the requirements of salvation, the lasting influence or persistence of salvational faith, and whether God chose you and damned another purely because of what he ate or some other completely unknowable and unmerited reason.
I was very careful, by the way, to only use scholarly non-LDS works. The problem with Gal 5:4 is not about Judaizers. That is irrelevant. Everyone has false doctrines which lead them away from practicing “true” faith. It just happens to be their problem. But IF one can FALL from grace, as Paul says these people did, then salvation IS conditioned in part on our actions and faith AFTER we have exercised real saving faith in Christ. That is the Biblical doctrine of grace and works, faith and deeds. It is likewise the LDS belief, and as you note, it is not yours. So I will stand by the correct exegesis of the Bible here, especially since it is very obviously in line with LDS beliefs.
Thanks for the response though. I think your analogy of what Paul is saying is right on. He is saying they can do something to negate the Grace they had received. That means something more than faith, and certainly something other than Calvinism, is in view in your response and Paul’s answer.
Welcome to the forum. I’ve read your two posts, in which you shared your thoughts about grace. Three points you made caught my interest. I have summarized them below (hopefully conveying them with accuracy). I have also written a question or two about each, as you may clarify them further for us, should you wish. Thanks, Vook.
1. The grace offered by Rome’s high officials came with strings attached. If one receives grace, an obligation (a debt) is created for the recipient.
Does the grace offered by God operate in the same way? If so, what is the nature of the obligation (debt) God imputes to one who becomes a Christian?
2. Initially, the receipt of grace is an unmerited gift. Yet it may not be retained by an individual unless certain requirements are performed.
At what point after its unmerited receipt does grace become something to keep by performing certain requirements? Would you like to enumerate as many of these requirements as you can for us?
3. You have told us you are “hugely dependent upon grace.”
Would you like to share with us what you depend on grace for? For instance, is there a blessing you received from God that you have not earned or deserved?
Vook, Galatians is teaching the exact opposite of what you are saying. The whole point Paul was making was that by adding law-keeping to the gospel, they had cut themselves off from the free grace of God. That’s why Christ is of no benefit to them. In other words, Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross (bearing the penalty of our sin) will only be a benefit to those who no longer seek to be justified by the law, but are instead justified by faith alone.
In a sense you are right – there *is* a condition to receiving the gift that God bestows upon us. That condition is faith. That faith looks outward, toward the Savior. It has to look to the Savior, because all humanity is dead in trespasses and sins. Our salvation is all God’s doing – He planned it, He promised it, and He brought it to completion in Jesus Christ. All you have to do is stop trying to earn what he is freely giving. Meet His only condition – BELIEVE.
There is also, I believe, another dimension of this issue about grace that has been obscured and nullified by the Mormon Gospel. It’s the connection between “being saved” and “being alive”.
The two ideas are closely associated in scripture, as illustrated by Paul’s comment in Col 2:13
See also 1 Cor 5:21 and Eph 2:1. The association between “being brought into new life” and “salvation” is such an abundant Biblical theme, there’s not enough space to explore it fully here. See Jesus’ command to Nicodemus to be “born again” in John 3:1-21.
Where the Mormon Prophets fall off the rails is in their underlying premise that we have a life that is not wholly dependent upon God. Though this might not be taught as an explicit doctrine, it’s presence is manifest in the doctrines that describe God as an exalted man, denial of ex-Nihilo creation, and the explicit doctrines that God is subject to the ordinances and principles that govern us all. In other words, God is NOT the one who sustains all things (Col 1:17), from whom all life proceeds (Rev 22:1), in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)
So, if we have a life that is NOT wholly dependent upon God for its continued existence, we can also have a salvation on the same terms. All we have to do is to generate enough merit, and God will be compelled to accept us into His heaven.
The Biblical perspective of earning salvation, then, is rather like the idea of earning life. Can you earn enough merit to be born? Of course you can’t because, well, you haven’t been born yet. Does your righteousness sustain your life? Of course not; even the most righteous amongst us die, and sometimes the wicked live.
Our lives are sustained by God alone. Our salvation is a work of God alone. Only when we see our total dependence on God for life and salvation can we begin to grasp what Grace means