The Ideal Starting Place
It’s been said that grace vs. works is the great tightrope/pretzel (love the pretzel image) of Christianity. Much like the chicken vs. egg debate, some argue that works lead to grace, while others insist grace leads to works.
When all is said and done, I believe they are both crucial. And an emphasis of one over the other is damaging indeed. Is one more important than the other? It can be argued not. But is there a better place to start? I think there is.
I have come to embrace another view; that is, the kind of works that God will use to sanctify us are the works that spring from a converted heart.
Just as faith without works is dead, works without faith are dead.
There are any number of reasons to do good works. Fear. Habit. Compulsion. Duty. And yes, even pride.
But do the works of the gospel profit anyone who doesn’t do them for love?
There was a time I’d have said yes, because all my works were wrought from fear, and I knew it. And it would have destroyed me to say that I was doing it all for nothing.
But looking back on it now, I can honestly say I was doing it all for nothing! It didn’t bring me closer to God; it drove me further from Him. It didn’t create compassion for my fellow man; instead, it inspired suspicion, judgment, and pride. In my desire to be “righteous or else, dammit,” I was turning further and further from the humble, submissive, charitable, open, and caring person God really wants me to become.
My “good works” were turning me into a Pharisee.
This touches on an aspect of LDS theology I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, this so-called distinction between exaltation and salvation, where salvation is grace and exaltation is works. I think it’s important to remember that the sanctifying process, which might otherwise be called the path to exaltation, is inextricably tied to God’s grace.
Because our BECOMING doesn’t happen on its own; it doesn’t happen through sheer willpower, grit, and determination; it happens through our surrendering to God. It’s an act of opening up, of turning to Him, of allowing Him to work THROUGH us (receiving His image in our countenances, as Alma so beautifully puts it). This, like the gift of salvation itself, is not something we earn; it’s something God has already given us, if we will only allow Him to work in our lives.
Does that mean we don’t have a say in it? Of course not. We use our freedom to choose God each and every day. But I think it’s important to remember that it is God who is changing us.
Because grace *is* the mechanism through which we DO and BECOME. It is the enabling power that makes it happen.
That makes it the ideal starting place.