Maybe This Is Why They Say We’re Works-Centered
Last night, I participated in an Enrichment Night for another ward in our stake. Apparently someone let it slip that I’ve been known to sing on occasion, so they asked me to perform a song as one of the 10 virgins in a simple musical presentation.
I don’t love Mormon pop music, but the song wasn’t so bad, and of course I’m happy to share my talents when I get the chance.
When I walked in and saw the purpose of the meeting, however, I became somewhat conflicted. The theme was “Walk in the Light.” They had set up 7 tables all decorated around different topics:
Then they handed out a packet with this statement in the introduction:
Sometimes it is difficult and overwhelming to think about all of the things we could be doing like: preparing our food storage, giving service etc. So the Xth Ward Relief Society is hoping to help and support by focusing on our light in one area a month. … The lesson for the first Sunday of each month will focus on one of these areas and an enrichment activity will follow. Setting attainable and realistic goals for each area can help us improve.
Match: Complete 2 goals in each [of the 7] area[s]
Candle: Complete the match plus 2 additional goals in each area
Lamp: Complete the candle plus 2 additional goals in each area
Here’s where I’m conflicted: each of these areas are worthwhile. It’s nice to be spiritually-minded, prepared for emergencies, engaged in loving family activities, physically fit, service-oriented, personally fulfilled, and mentally strong. And it’s nice to have support as you attempt self-improvement.
But I can’t help thinking we’re missing the forest for the trees here. Far more important than any of these attributes is being Christ-centered. And by focusing so much time, effort, and energy on peripheral goals, we are neglecting the core of the matter: a saving relationship with Jesus…and all the fruits that come out of it.
Call me touchy-feely, but it seems to me that the more we focus on the practical to-dos–and less on the core principles of the gospel, which are faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus Christ–the more we we become a religion about DOING SCHTUFF and less a place to worship our God and Savior.
What do you guys think? Am I being over-sensitive here (we all know I have a hang-up about this issue to begin with)? Or is there a solid reason for my conflicted response?
Do You See Her?
I gave a lesson in Relief Society today on Luke 7:36-51, the story of the sinful woman who anoints Christ and washes His feet in her tears. I titled the lesson “Do You See Her?”
I started out by asking the sisters to imagine a woman whom Christ approves of, a woman who is acceptable to Him. Then I asked them for the characteristics of such a woman, and I listed them on the board. I got answers like:
We turned to the scriptures. I took the story slowly, bit by bit, including the parable of the forgiving creditor, and the culmination when the Savior tells the woman that her faith has saved her.
I asked the sisters: “What do you think it means to have saving faith?”
Massive Teaching Fail
WARNING: Brief sexual content. Rated PG-13.
I’m extremely disturbed by a thread over at fMh. A single 30-year-old woman named “Am” wrote in, agonizing over the fact that she recently experienced an inadvertent orgasm while exercising. Dear fMh, do I need to see the bishop for this? she asks.
I’m sorry. But what the hell?
First of all, if it were me, I’d be like, “Yessssss! Freebie!” 😉
But beyond my initial tongue-in-cheek reaction, I’ve got to say…my heart broke for her.
The idea that a grown woman should wonder if she has to drag herself to the bishop’s office to confess something so personal (not to mention trivial!) in order to gain a sense of “absolution” is nothing short of tragic. I’m actually sitting here with tears in my eyes because I think it reflects so poorly on our faith community that she feels the need to ask this question at all!
In a later comment, “Am” explains why the question is so important to her:
Thoughts on the LDS "Worthiness" Culture…
It’s a word that still sends spasms of guilt shooting through my stomach.
(Hell, I think I just shuddered.)
As a kid, I remember sitting through countless Sunday School lessons about standards, commandments, worthiness, and expectations, trying to quiet the little voice in the back of my mind that had this unpleasant habit of repeating: “Katie, you’re never gonna be good enough” over and over and over again.
At the time, I let it get me down.
Today, I use it to remember how grateful I am for a Savior who loves me and forgives me anyway–despite my deep flaws.
That’s because I’ve come to realize that no one is worthy (Rom 3:10); that’s why we need Christ.
Look, I’m not arguing against the importance of keeping God’s commandments. Certainly there’s no better way to show Him our love. But I’ve become concerned lately that our “worthiness culture” may be driving some of us Mormons further from Christ, instead of deeper into His arms.
Consider the following dangers…
First, the idea of “worthiness” sometimes lulls people into a false sense of security and complacency, a la, “well, I can get a temple recommend, so I’m okay.”
Second, it can potentially lead to pride: “At least I didn’t do that, like so-and-so did. That makes me more righteous/better.”
Third, it can drive people (like me) into depression and anxiety when they realize how perfect God’s standard is and how they will never be able to attain it on their own–yet because of the “worthiness” culture there is this underlying expectation that they should be able to.
When we focus on achieving arbitrary levels of “worthiness,” I fear we may be in danger of denying what our Savior has done for us. There is nothing we can do to be right in the eyes of God, save relying on the mercy and merits of Jesus (2 Ne 2:8). Trying to work our way into God’s favor is “looking beyond the mark,” to borrow a term from Jacob in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 4:14). It’s impossible.
Just some food for thought as we consider our motives for living righteously–or judge others who may, on the surface, seem “less worthy” than we are.
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.
On Ordinances, Covenants, and Grace
QUICK NOTE AND DISCLAIMER: This post is pretty long. I was going to cut it down or post it in several segments, but my husband told me not to. And because I’m the ideal woman, I always do what my husband says. *wicked grin*
This post is written for mainstream, believing Mormons. The purpose of this post is NOT to argue whether or not ordinances and covenants are necessary for salvation. I am open to that discussion, but not here. The believing Mormon already accepts that they are. I am attempting to reconcile the belief in essential ordinances with the belief in a grace-based salvation–positions which, I believe, pose no inherent conflict.
I acknowledge that what follows is merely my own opinion and does not represent the Church in any way.
Whenever I discuss the doctrine of grace with my fellow Mormon brothers and sisters, there is a question that often arises:
But what about the ordinances?
In this post, I hope to…
- Dispel the notion that embracing a grace-based salvation means rejecting the role and importance of works
- Demonstrate how the ordinances are, in themselves, powerful examples of God’s grace
- Address common misconceptions related to ordinances that tend to skew the interpretation in favor of works
Definitions and Distinctions
Before I continue, I want to clarify a few things so you understand what I mean when I use certain terms or phrases.
Salvation. For the purposes of this post, when I speak of salvation, I am referring to being saved in the Celestial Kingdom.
Exaltation. Exaltation is “higher” than salvation, and involves inheriting all that the Father hath. I’m not sure it’s been fully revealed what exaltation truly means, and so I will refrain from speculation here.
Ordinances. Symbolic, physical rituals performed through priesthood power with specific promises and covenants associated with them.
Ordinances of Salvation, Ordinances of Exaltation, and Non-Essential Ordinances
Within Mormonism, there are varying levels of ordinances. Some are required for salvation. Some are required for exaltation. Others are simply given as blessings and benefits for us.
The ordinances of salvation are baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The ordinances of exaltation are temple ordinances and ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood for men.
Examples of non-essential ordinances include patriarchal blessings, blessings for the sick or afflicted, grave dedications, blessings of infants, and more.
Sacraments of the Church vs. Good Works
The Sacraments of the Church are the ordinances of the gospel.
Good works are the good things we do in this life, such as acts of service, prayer, scripture study, being kind, honest, chaste, tolerant, avoiding sin, etc.
Both are works, but they are different varieties.
Accepting Grace AND Works
It is important to note that grace and works are not mutually exclusive, despite the somewhat dichotomous tone many such conversations seem to take. They are two sides of the same coin; or, as C.S. Lewis said, two shears on a single pair of scissors. They cannot be divorced one from the other, and any attempt to do so is flawed theology.
Having said that, there is nothing we can “do” to earn or merit salvation.
This simply means we are forever in Christ’s debt. Even if we were to serve Him night and day, we would still be unprofitable servants (Mosiah 2:21). There is nothing we can do to merit salvation on our own, because on our own, we merit hell-as we are all sinners (Romans 3:23).
When I express this concept to my fellow LDS, I am often met with this response: “So you’re saying I can do whatever I want and still be saved?”
Once we have accepted Christ, we will necessarily do His works. It is the sign of a converted heart–for “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20, Ne 14:20).
A true disciple of Christ would never ask, “What is the minimum I must do and still be right in the eyes of God?” That’s like saying, “Jesus, how much can I hurt you and still be okay?” It is a flawed premise.
PLEASE NOTE: I could devote an entire post to this concept–and will in the future. But for now a quick summary: Good works cannot be divorced from grace. But we do not “earn” grace through our good works. Good works flow from grace as a mighty river flows from its fountainhead.
The Role of Covenants and Ordinances
So where do ordinances and covenants fit in to our salvation?
Ordinances and covenants are the vehicles God has given us to formalize our commitment to Him and signal our acceptance of His salvation.
The ordinances of salvation are highly symbolic, with baptism by immersion signaling that we are willing to follow Christ down into His grave and rise again with Him, walking in a newness of life (Romans 6:4).
The Laying on of Hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost symbolizes the very transference of God’s power to our lives.
And yet, it goes beyond just signaling our submission to Christ.
Performed through the priesthood, these ordinances literally “bind” us to Him (see Matt 16:19) in an unbreakable covenantal relationship.
This, I believe, is the primary role of all the essential ordinances of the gospel (ordinances of salvation and exaltation). They provide us a physical, tangible signal that we are progressing in His path, while binding our souls to Him.
So why do people use the existence of ordinances to conclude that salvation is by works? Here are some of the most common assertions I’ve heard…
1)-You must receive the ordinances in order to be saved. Ordinances are works. Therefore, we are saved by works.
This is true, and so in the strictest sense of the word, I suppose ordinances could be considered necessary “works.” Yet they are different from the “good works” we often speak of, such as serving others, abstaining from sin, and so on. Instead, they are prescribed rituals Christ has given us that bind us to Him.
But even at that, do the ordinances themselves that save us? Or is it the fact that Christ, in His great wisdom and mercy, has declared them efficacious and honors His promises by bestowing upon us His saving power?
That God has designated the ordinances as the vehicles through which He blesses us is, to me, simply another example of his limitless mercy and grace.
2)-When we receive the ordinances of salvation and exaltation, we make covenants. And when it comes to making and keeping covenants, you must first do your part before God does His.
This is a prime example of the “you do what you can, then God ‘makes up the difference'” language that I’ve heard quite often in church. And while I appreciate the sentiment, I wonder if the phrasing isn’t a little imprecise.
The ancient Israelites, God’s covenant people, turned their back on God time and time again. And yet-they RETAINED their status as His covenant people through it all. In fact, to this day, they STILL retain that status, and He has stretched forth His hand again to gather them in (Isaiah 11:11), despite the fact that somewhere along they way they stopped believing in Him and followed their own path instead of His.
But Christ says: “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not” (3 Ne 10:5, Matt 23:37, emphasis mine).
The point is that God doesn’t “wait” for us to do our part before He honors His “side of the deal.” On the contrary, God is ALWAYS doing His part. We, however, don’t always let Him.
This may seem like a fine distinction, but it has been an incredibly powerful insight in my life. Instead of feeling as though I must always stretch and strain and work for Divine approval or Divine blessings (which discouraged me and wore me down to the breaking point), I realized that God has ALREADY given me these blessings, if I would simply open my heart to receive them.
3)-Certain worthiness standards are required before you can receive essential ordinances. These ordinances are required for salvation or exaltation. Therefore, you must do certain things in order to be saved or exalted.
God’s commandments are wonderful, and the desire to live a clean and righteous life, in harmony with the teachings of the Savior, is of God. In fact, it is necessary for true happiness and to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit.
However, we all fall short of God’s standards (Romans 3:23). Even after we have been converted, we will sin. This is part of mortality.
In his book Believing Christ, Stephen Robinson tells a powerful story of a woman who came to Christ despite her checkered past.
“For a long time after her baptism, this sister swore like a trooper, even in church, and never quite lived the Word of Wisdom 100%. On one occasion during her first year in the Church, she lost her temper during a Relief Society meeting and punched out one of the sisters.”
Finally, after several years, she stopped smoking, drinking coffee, got her temper “somewhat” under control, and was ready to attend the temple.
Then Robinson asks this crucial question: ” At what point did this sister become a candidate for the kingdom?”
Was it when she mastered her temper? Or when she finally stopped smoking? Was it when she received her temple recommend?
No, Robinson says, it was when she accepted Christ through baptism.
When she turned her heart to Him, became His through the covenant, THAT was the turning point. She made mistakes afterwards, to be sure–don’t we all?–but at her core, she had offered up her sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit.
Therefore, she was made whole in Christ-though she hadn’t yet arrived at a place where she could receive a temple recommend.
Isn’t it possible that God is much, much kinder to us than we are to ourselves?
I submit that the status of our hearts is more important to God than the level of “righteousness” we’ve attained–worthiness standards or otherwise. If we have offered up to God the broken heart and contrite spirit He requires, He will guide us along the path and help us overcome the thorns in our flesh to enjoy greater and greater fellowship with Him.
In the meantime, as we continue to progress with His help-recognizing that all of us are a constant “work in progress”-we are covered by His grace.
I hope the preceding post has provided some food for thought. The ordinances and covenants of the gospel are important and necessary for salvation. But the fact that they exist does not diminish our utter dependence on Christ in any way. Were it not for Him, we would all be lost. It is His grace that makes the difference-His grace that brings us home again.
Please feel free to comment, ask questions, provide alternative interpretations, share experiences, etc. All comments are welcome, whether you agree or disagree with me. The only requirement is that the comments be respectful. Please see this post for the standards this blog adheres to in terms of quality of discourse.
Must "Graduated" Salvation Necessarily Mean "Earned" Salvation?
On a new discussion board I’ve joined to help me sort through some of my questions regarding the gospel, the issue of being comfortable with imperfection came up.
We were discussing the fact that we Mormons have a tendency to “grade” sins on their level of severity: you know, with murder and sex being really bad, drinking and smoking kinda middle-of-the-road bad, and gossiping or judging being not so bad at all.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The preceding paragraph was intended [almost] entirely tongue-in-cheek, so please read with an appropriate dash of humor and don’t hate. Love you guys.)
As I thought about it, I realized that our assigning “wickedness values” to various indiscretions is probably a counter-productive practice. Because when we call one thing “better” or “worse” than another, aren’t we really just either a)–justifying our own sins (“Well, at least I didn’t do that”)…or b)–making it harder for those who have strayed to return (“What I did was so bad, there’s no hope for me”)? I mean, when are we going to realize we’ve ALL strayed? Does it really matter to what “degree”?
So I was pondering why these “wickedness values” exist. And I realized it probably stems, at least in part, from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of a “graduated” salvation (i.e. the three degrees of glory). If we’re not careful to give this issue the thought and care it requires, it’s easy to mistakenly extrapolate merit-based salvation from it. After all, it seems so logical: those who are extra good go to the Celestial Kingdom; those who are pretty good go to the Terrestrial Kingdom; and those who are bad go to the Telestial Kingdom. Oh, and don’t even talk about the ones who are REALLY, REALLY bad…because they go straight to hell (outer darkness).
But what do the scriptures REALLY teach on this subject? As far as I can tell from D&C 76…
- Those who are sanctified by Christ and have received of His grace will inherit Celestial glory (D&C 88:21, D&C 76:92). NOT those who have committed the fewest or “least serious” sins. NOT those who have been the “best” or the “most faithful.” But those whose garments have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, those who have accepted Christ. And there is NOTHING we can do to merit this. It is God’s gift to us.
- Those who will inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom are they who had the opportunity to accept Christ in mortality, but did not. However, in the afterlife, they did accept Him (D&C 76:74). I have no idea what God constitutes an “opportunity” and who should theoretically fit into this category, so please let’s not to go there. It is only God’s to judge. However, I’d point out that there is NOTHING in these verses about the overall “goodness” of these people. It is ALL about the status of their hearts, and when they accepted Jesus.
- Those who will inherit the Telestial Kingdom are they who will never accept Christ, neither in mortality nor the life beyond (D&C 76:82). Interestingly, this is the ONLY GROUP about which the scriptures outline the specifics of their sins: liars, sorcerers, adulterers, warmongers. I believe this is NOT because “only Telestial Kingdom people would commit these ‘kinds’ of sins,” but because the atoning blood of Christ was never applied in their behalf to blot them out, so their works stand to condemn them. And that is simply because they never believed on Jesus’s name.
Please notice that in every instance, the “qualification” for entrance into the various Kingdoms has virtually NOTHING to do with some arbitrary level of “righteousness” or works, but EVERYTHING to do with our acceptance or non-acceptance of Jesus Christ.
What are your thoughts? Am I wrong here? Why is it so easy for us to assume that a model of graduated salvation must necessarily lead to a merit, or works-based, salvation? How can we keep ourselves from falling into this intellectual and spiritual trap? And what can we do to stop discussing sin like it’s a sliding scale of severity and simply love each other into giving our hearts more fully to Christ?
"After All We Can Do…"
“…For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do…”
I remember staring at the page for hours on end, my stomach in knots. I ran a quick check in my head to see how I’d fared that day, and felt my stomach tighten even more as I replayed my little crimes over and over again. Every unkind word. Every flash of anger. Every dirty thought.
Why isn’t it possible, ever possible, I wondered, to do ALL I can do?
For several years, I struggled with the meaning of this verse–and with similar teachings prevalent in Mormonism–that forgiveness or salvation is granted only AFTER you have expended your energy doing the best you can on your own.
I mean, remember Stephen Robinson’s parable of the little girl who wants to buy a bicycle? She works so hard and saves her pennies for weeks–but when she gets to the bicycle store, she realizes she’s still a hundred dollars short.
So the father in the story gets down on his knees and holds her close. “You give me everything you have,” he says, “and a big hug and a kiss, and I’ll buy you that bike.”
In seminary, the same message. “This is grace,” the teacher explained. “When you do the best you can, and leave the rest up to God. So one person might be a 10 on a scale of 1 to 1,000. And another a 50. But wherever you are, so long as you’ve done your best, Jesus forgives.”
It might sound nice on the surface, but when you’re a perfectionist, I can assure you…
It’s a panic attack waiting to happen.
After all, as a perfectionist, you’re never satisfied you’ve done “the best you can” anyway; as a result, you constantly feel as though you’ll never be right in the eyes of God.
So might I suggest an alternate reading to this verse in 2 Nephi, which seems to be one of the most frequently-cited scriptural supports for the Mormon concept of a works-based salvation?
Let’s go back and examine it in context. In the verses prior, Nephi is bearing strong testimony of Christ; and even declares that there is no other name given under heaven besides Christ whereby man can be saved (see 2 Nephi 25: 20).
Then he goes on to say that BECAUSE of the cause of Christ, he (Nephi) has been commanded to write the teachings of God so His word can go forth from generation to generation.
And after all that, he says, “For 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.”
Might Nephi be speaking, not of some vague, impossible standard that is “required” of humankind before God grants forgiveness and salvation, but of the efforts he and his brethren have put forth to write and persuade?
To rephrase it, might he be saying, “For 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 after all we can do [to write and persuade], it is [ultimately] by the grace [of Christ] that we are saved.”
Framed this way, Nephi is NOT making a sweeping statement about the necessity of each man and woman to turn to Christ only AFTER you’ve done the best you can; but instead is acknowledging that the work he does is insufficient, for it is by GRACE that he is saved, even after all he does.
Though somewhat unorthodox from an LDS perspective, I believe this reading is much more in line with the rest of the scriptues when it comes to teachings on grace.
What do you think? Am I up in the night? Or am I on to something here?
Are You a Good Person? Win a Dollar
I went to the Cache County Fair three weeks ago and saw an intriguing booth:
Are You a Good Person? a large banner asked. Win a dollar.
And never one to turn down a dollar–nor back away from a challenge–I marched straight over.
Come to find out, it was a proselytizing booth for Evangelical Christians. And they had a questionnaire for me to find out just how “good” I really am. Eagerly, I asked if I could take the questionnaire for my chance at glory.
A nervous, pimply teenager grabbed a clipboard and cleared his throat. “Have you ever loved anything more than God?” he asked.
I thought about it for a moment. “Ummm…probably,” I admitted.
“Have you ever worshipped an idol?”
“I–uh, I don’t think so.”
“Well, you probably have,” he said.
“Very possible,” I agreed.
“Have you ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?”
“Have you ever broken the Sabbath Day?”
“Have you ever dishonored your father or mother?”
“Have you ever murdered?”
I felt much better here. “No, I have never murdered,” I said proudly.
“But have you ever hated someone?”
“Well, actually,” I replied, “I really try not to hate–”
“Even for a second?” he grilled me.
“Well…yes,” I admitted.
“Then you’ve murdered them in your heart.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.”
“Have you ever committed adultery?”
“But have you ever lusted?”
I kind of smiled. “Absolutely,” I said.
“Then you’ve committed adultery in your heart,” he reminded me.
“Oh, yes, of course,” I replied.
“Have you ever stolen?”
“Have you ever lied?”
“Have you ever coveted?”
“All the time.”
He turned his questionnaire around to reveal the ten commandments–and by my own admission, I was guilty of ten out of ten of ’em.
“Does this look like a good person to you?” he asked.
I looked it over for a second. “Not really,” I said.
“Then how do you think God will judge you?”
“Well,” I began slowly, “I think if I were to stand on my own merits, I would be damned. But if I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, and rely on His grace and His merits instead of my own works–well, then, I believe I’m saved.”
He stared at me, dumbfounded. “And–and HAVE you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
“I have,” I replied confidently.
“And–are you MORMON?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“I am,” I replied confidently.
There was a pause while we just stared at each other.
“Betcha you never heard that one before, eh?” I asked.
“Not really,” he replied.
“So what do you think?” I asked. “Can I be saved, even though I’m Mormon?”
Then he said something I never thought I’d hear an Evangelical say: “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe.”
I smiled at him. “You’re doing a wonderful thing,” I told him. “Thank you. And God bless.”
But my question remains: Is there hope for us Mormons yet?
Grace: Not Just a Small Town in Idaho
Today was our first Sunday in our Moscow (Idaho) ward. The people were so warm, welcoming, and friendly, I felt right at home almost immediately.
I also felt right at home because of what I would call the standard Mormon over-emphasis on works.
I guess it’s alive and well everywhere.
A woman spoke in Sacrament Meeting today. She was beautiful, intelligent–and you could tell deeply committed to the gospel. The topic of her talk?
It was an excellent discourse; well thought out, well spoken. But underneath it all, I saw the old stirrings of perfectionism. I could see myself in her; the person striving desperately to earn salvation, to live up to an impossible standard.
Then in Relief Society, I heard it again: “Satan works to make us women feel so worthless and unworthy,” another sister said. “But it’s so hard. I mean, it’s not like you can just do it once and be saved.”
My heart kind of broke hearing that. I wished I could shout: “But that’s where you’re wrong! You CAN do it once! Once you’ve accepted the Lord Jesus Christ through faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands, you’ve already done it! You’re ALREADY saved!”
But I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to cause on scene on my first Sunday. 🙂 Not only that, this is a very delicate topic, and if I am to say anything, I want to make sure I’m meeting people where they are so I don’t alienate or offend.
But if I could have spoken up, this is what I’d say:
Because we’ve related the concept of salvation so closely with the concept of an eventual perfection, I believe that many of us Mormons, when asked if we’ve been saved, would say, “No, but I’m working on it.” What I believe we don’t recognize is that we CAN be perfected IN CHRIST NOW–today–just as we are–and, in fact, if we have partaken of the grace of Christ through the covenants and ordinances of the gospel, and have a broken heart and a contrite spirit, we are considered clean and whole and pure and SAVED–perfected–this moment, as we speak.
Does this mean we are perfect in the “objective” sense of the word? Of course not. But it means that because of the relationship we have with our Savior and advocate, we are clean before God–something we could NEVER do on our own, regardless of how well we behave.
The faster we can shift our focus away from what we have to “do” in order to become more like Christ, and start focusing just on Christ and the miracle of His atonement, the faster we’ll find we’re meeting all the “goals” we’ve set for ourselves spiritually. And we’ll acknowledge, in that moment, that it’s not us doing it–but Him changing us; His image being reflected in our countenance, as the scripture says.
And that’s a powerful place to be.