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.

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on February 26, 2009, in Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. So… If grace is all encompassing, and works and grace go hand in hand and can’t be distinguished apart from one another…

    Then why are there varying degrees of exaltation?

    That’s like a teacher promising that if every single one of her/his students has a heart in their chest, and that heart pumps blood through their body, that they will be granted an A+ in the class, no if/and or but. But then to go onto to say that there will be varying degrees of that A+… So why does it vary if they all have hearts?

  2. .. To continue my thought from last night.

    I’m not trying to prove anything, I’m not trying to say I’m right or your wrong, but I can’t help but think that in Mormonism, at the base of everything, it IS a works based religion. Works and Grace might run together to an extent but I believe that one is greater than the other.

    It could be argued that the varying degrees of exaltation are for “different classes” of people outside religion, but what about people within religious societies?

    Am I to understand that if I’m Mormon and have accepted Jesus and been have Baptized that I will undoubtedly end up in the Celestial Kingdom? Are the lower degrees for other denominations and non-believers? What about the “actions” (work) I have to do in this life to (within the realm of Mormon doctrine) end up in the CK? (i.e Temple marriage)

    Say I was born into a Mormon family, I was baptized at the age of eight, but then went on to never get married because I either never had the opportunity and/or just wasn’t interested in marriage? Say I loved Jesus with every fiber of my being my whole life and he was the one thing that truly held me together and kept me on the “straight and narrow”… Technically I don’t qualify for the CK because I haven’t completed MY work here on earth (I wasn’t married in the Temple). So is the Grace of God going to turn it’s head, and I will be saved and exalted regardless?

    Another example that comes to mind; If I don’t hold the right “keys” at the end of my life, then that will also be a predetermining factor of where I end up when I die. If I don’t complete the correct amount of works before I die (i.e Obtaining the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood) then am I left shorthanded?

    If I didn’t have to work on obtaining my place in heaven then things like repentance/sacrament/ordinances wouldn’t have their place in our religion, I would, JUST BE, saved/exalted.. At least they wouldn’t exist within the public realm (i.e Bishops, Temples etc.) If there wasn’t prerequisite “works” to accomplish here on earth then the act of getting married in the temple seems frivolous, the act of going to your bishop to repent seems pointless.

    **side note** I realize too that those acts are done out of love for Jesus Christ and I’m not belittling them. But in the books, they seem like WORKS to me.

    So to go full-circle here. Why are there varying degrees of exaltation if everyone is promised salvation? (Keep this thought/question within religion) I am forced to believe that it will require SOME amount of work to take my place in heaven. Grace doesn’t seem to have rank over works to me… Works then Grace just makes sense to me.

    I feel like I’m starting to ramble, but there you go.. That’s my two cents.

  3. Todd,

    I strongly disagree. The Mormon faith is definitely NOT a works-based faith. It is very clear that without Christ’s grace, none of us would ever have anything to do with God again, no matter how great our “works”. Our “works” are to help us grow, and allow us to take advantage of Christ’s grace. They do not entitle us to anything. We talk of Christ, preach of Christ, etc., etc..

    We do believe that action is required on our parts (eg., ordinances and covenants), but Christ’s grace is so great that most people won’t be doing all of them in this life. A person who has never had a legitimate opportunity in this life to accept Christ, but converts to Christ on his deathbed, will be saved just as much as the person who has been faithful in the church all his life. He’ll just have to accept his ordinances in the spirit world.

    I’d really recommend reading the Book of Mormon again. It’s Grace, then works. Not vice-versa.

  4. … That still doesn’t answer my question.

    And why do you “strongly disagree”?
    Is there something wrong with having to work for something?

  5. P.s. You said that:

    “A person who has never had a legitimate opportunity in this life to accept Christ, but converts to Christ on his deathbed, will be saved just as much as the person who has been faithful in the church all his life. He’ll just have to accept his ordinances in the spirit world.”

    What classifies a “legitimate opportunity” I don’t think most Mormons have had a legitimate opportunity, we’ve all been spoon-fed since birth and don’t dare step outside the box or question anything. When people do question they feel so guilty that they suppose they have done something wrong. To get answers about anything they have to find them OUTSIDE Mormon theology.

    If what you said above is your answer to Theological questions, then I recommend that YOU re-read the B.O.M. That just cracks me up. Why the hell should I devote my life to God when I can just be saved on my death bed??? LOL

    This is where Grace starts to sound like a cop-out to me.

    P.P.S Sorry Katie, I don’t mean to stir things up but I couldn’t restrain myself.

  6. there is an analogy in the bible about a “laborer”. A man owns a field and wants to hire people to work in his field (I am going to paraphrase a lot here and take liberty to paraphrase) so he goes to the market in the morning and hires a man for $5.00 to come and work. The man agrees to the terms and goes off to work. A few hours later, the same field owner goes back to the market to hire another individual. The second man is offered $5.00 to come and work in the field for the remainder of the day also, and he accepts.

    Every few hours, the field owner goes back to the market and offers a man to go and work in his field for $5.00, and each man accepts until he arrives to just having a couple hours of light left to have work done before dark. He finds a man and offers him $5.00 to work for those remaining 2 hours, and the man accepts.

    At the end of the day, the field owner approaches all of the men he has hired that day to pay them their salaries. One by one, he hands each of them $5.00, the salary that was agreed upon individually by each person and the field owner. The men become aware that some of the people who were not there as long as themselves and confront the land owner. They claim that he is paying these individuals an unfair wage. How is it that they worked all day and receive $5.00 and the field owner pays the man who only worked 2 hours the same $5.00.

    The field owner asks a question in reply to the question. He asks if he has not held up their end of the bargain that both parties agreed upon? Has he cheated them any amount of money? The answer is no, but the unfairness of the situation still seems evident to the workers who were there the longest.

    This analogy represents the Mercy and Justice of God at the same time. All too often, I think people forget one universal truth about the differences between God the Father and Jesus Christ. God is “Alpha and Omega” his precepts are eternal and unchanging. If God were to change, he would cease to be God….so here is where I am going with this.

    God is Justice. He is holding up His agreement to let mankind keep their “first estate”, meaning that every person who was born on the earth will resurrect. This Justice of God is what both of you are talking about when you talk about the “grace” of God. His Grace allows everyone to overcome physical death, nothing more, nothing less. It is not biased based on any religious affiliation, belief, works, or anything else.

    Now here is the other important part: Jesus Christ = Mercy

    Without an infinite atonement we would not be able to overcome the second obstacle to our Eternal Salvation, Spiritual Death. The Justice of God demands that ALL individuals who enter into his presence are clean and without spot. This would be impossible were it not for the Mercy of Jesus Christ. This Mercy is not to be confused with the grace discussed in the Book of Mormon or the Bible. This Mercy is only given contingent upon our Works…

    Let me say that again…in order to fully receive the mercy of of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we need to have Works.

    Then the choice becomes simple. If we deny Jesus Christ, or deny that we need to do any work on in this mortal existence, or just deny God then we are denying the Mercy of Jesus Christ. This denial basically takes us off the list of “People Atoned for” in a sense…

    If we deny the Mercy or Jesus Christ, then we are opting to represent ourselves in front of God at the last day when we account for our sins. Again, God is unchangable, so God is Pure Justice. Without Christ’s mercy, then we are subject to the judgement associated with this our life’s decisions and the justice of God.

    This is not to say that it’s all “fire and brimstone, hell and damnation”, it’s just saying that when people accept Jesus and his Mercy that the reality is that we really don’t understand completely the entire Atonement. The love of God is eternal, and I do believe that there is HUGE amounts of things the Atonement will cover for us.

    If I accept Jesus Christ, and I trust in the power of the Atonement, then I no longer need to live my life in fear of messing up. I do not need to “earn” my way into heaven either. I think it is important to constantly learn and question why we do the things that we do. I also think it is essential that we learn to understand how the Atonement works in our individual lives…

    As for the man who ownes the field, it does not matter when people “find” Jesus, they are still entitled to the full reward that comes with the mercy of Jesus Christ. I can not judge if anyone has ever has a legitimate opportunity to accept Jesus or not in their own lives, even if they are members of the LDS church.

    I say these things…

    love Andrew

  7. AMEN

    .. Thank you. That answers my question.

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