Enabling Grace

What is “grace”, really? We know we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8; 2 Nephi 25:23). Of course, lots of people (including some Mormons) think Mormons don’t believe in salvation by grace. What I think is that lots of people think grace is X, and they can see that (many) Mormons don’t believe in salvation by X, and so they think Mormons don’t believe in grace. That is natural enough, but wrong, because grace is not X. In fact, grace is Y, and Mormons believe in Y. So, what is Y? I’m not going to claim that most Mormons would say what I’m going to say about grace, but I think they would accept it, and I think it is what fits best with what we know from our scriptures.

I’ve been thinkng this for a long time, but I finally found a scripture that says it, using the word “grace.” If you search for “grace” on scriptures.lds.org, there are lots of occurrences of the word, and it clearly has something to do with salvation, and countering sin or the effects of sin in some way, but pretty much nowhere does anyone actually say what grace is. But yesterday I read this passage:

“And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity.” Ether 12:36

What does grace do here? Something quite specific. It doesn’t just hide sin; it enables righteousness! It enables the Gentiles to have charity. Grace enables us to do what God would have us do.

Lots of people think that we need grace because we can’t measure up to God’s expectations. Grace somehow covers over our shortfall, so that even though the shortfall is very much still a shortfall, God treats us as though it wasn’t. God judges us by the merits of Christ (who is righteous), rather than by our merits (we keep right on sinning). Grace makes up for our sin, without changing it. They say.

But this idea does not fit the Book of Mormon. As Amulek teaches, God “shall not save his people in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.” Further, God does not give commandments that we cannot keep. Rather, as Nephi says, he “prepare[s] a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Grace is not a cloak for sin; it is a correction for sin, a refining and purifying and quickening fire.

Christ does not save us in our sins; he saves us from our sins. Grace is what empowers us to do good.

106 comments for “Enabling Grace

  1. Amen brother,
    I have always felt that the most astounding and beautiful part of the atonement was how it delivers us from the despair and despondency we can feel from our mistakes. Now, we don’t have to give up. We aren’t stuck, but can move on with life and progression.

  2. Amen to that!

    I would add that I understand that grace is not what empowers us to do natural good, it is what empowers us to do divine good, or in other words to do lasting and supernal good in the Lord’s way, not the evanescent good of the natural man.

    I understand this to be the case because without the inspiration of the spirit to coordinate our actions, we are yet still in a state of nature, that though we seek good, we are still in a Hobbesian war of all against all, due to the conflict of wills, that our different ideas and schemes for the law of right ultimately come into conflict with each other, a conflict that can only be resolved through the spirit of grace working within us, such that we all come together in the unity of the faith, and in formation of the Church and Kingdom of God, the ultimate organization and order of all that is good and true.

  3. First thing Re: #2 ROFL
    I really like this post, but I wonder one thing. Nephi tells us that we are “saved by grace after all we can do”. I believe this as truth. However, by the definition laid out in your post, which I also seem to agree with “all that we can do” would not occur until after we receive grace.

    So grace is what enables us to serve beyond our natural ability and also what saves us from our sins in the end. In other words we are saved by grace after all that grace enables us to do?

    It seems then that grace is something we continuously need and not something that bails us out in the end.

  4. John,
    I think all we can do is turn toward God rather than rebel, to stop fighting against God and let our hearts soften, Grace then enables the rest, you are right. We have to open our hearts so we can change, and THAT is all we can do.

  5. Hello Ben,

    It has been almost a year since our last discussion about grace here at T& S. As you know, I am always looking for a better understanding grace.

    I believe if we did not have 2Nephi 25:23 to contend with, we as LDS, would not be so inclined to see grace much differently than other christians. So I think the best thing to do here, is to see if any kind of consensus can be reached about that one scripture. If everyone can agree that it is not interpreted correctly, and does not mean that one must live a life time doing good works to be saved, then grace really can have meaningful purpose in the Church. Other wise, grace in not really grace if it has to be earned.

    I first came across Either 12:36 in “The Broken Heart.” It is a very good scripture that is hardly ever quoted in the Church, which is too bad.

  6. John #4 and Doc #5: Blake Ostler advocates a fairly interesting view of prevenient grace where our agency itslef is a gift of grace. There is some further discussion and links regarding this in light of the “after all we can do” verse here.

  7. Robert,
    That makes a world of sense and was exactly what I was fumbling around to find words to express.


  8. My experience has been that when Mormons discuss grace, we usually do it in the context of sin. But I’m interested also in the (generally Catholic) discussion of grace as it relates to nature, the idea being that grace not only repairs the damage of sin, it also enables us to transcend our natural end.

    The idea of enabling grace as you’ve described it makes sense to me. If we look at grace as being something essentially relational, I think it’s easy to find parallels to this in our everyday experience of interpersonal relationships, in that being in relation with those who love us can actually transform us into better people.

  9. Thanks all for the responses! I look forward to reading what was provided by Robert and Kevin.

    CEF #6: I’m not sure that 2 Nephi 25:23 under any interpretation lessens the concept of grace. All are sinners and fall short of the glory of god, so all we can do will never be enough. However, I undestand the point that many construe this to mean that salvation is earned.

  10. Thank you John, that is my point exactly. Without that one scripture, I believe we LDS would not be so castigated by other Christians saying that we believe we have to work our way to heaven. The way it stands now, I think they are right. Too many members do indeed believe we have to earn heaven. I have been fighting against that for a good number of years now, mostly to my own dismissal as a heretic.

  11. john scherer, your points are sensible. In fact I believe grace is involved all the way. In the words of an early LDS hymn, “It’s all free grace, and all free will.” I don’t believe that grace is earned, exactly. Earning is not the only way grace could be related to works, and people who jump from any sort of relationship with what we do to the idea of “earning” are being hasty and often unfair. But I do believe that how much we receive depends on our actions, on how well we respond to it, “from grace to grace.” So yes, “all we can do” is also after grace in a way. It is after receiving some grace–grace is received from the beginning, and more all along the way. Grace received enables us to receive more.

    So Doc, I agree that agency itself is a gift of grace (as seems to be the natural reading of 2 Nephi 2:26).

    CEF, I don’t know whether I think 2 Nephi 25:23 is usually misread or not, but I definitely think Mormons have a different conception of grace from most evangelicals, and I think we are right and they are wrong. This is not only because of 2 Nephi 25:23. It is also because of the other scriptures I mentioned, and just as importantly, because I think the philosophical assumptions behind typical protestant discussions of grace are incoherent. The conception of free will, of divine justice, of salvation . . . it all makes no sense if you look at it carefully, and all of these conceptions are tightly interrelated with each other and with their account of grace. The very assumption that grace is either earned or has nothing to do with our actions embodies at least one of these fundamental errors, and that one naturally leads to the rest. Again, obviously the claim that “It’s all free grace, and all free will” presupposes a very different notion of free will than the one usually present in Protestant discussion, and very different, by the way, from Blake Ostler’s.

    Obviously I don’t pretend to have shown this just by saying it, but that is what I think: there are lots of reasons, both scriptural and philosophical, not to go with typical Protestant thinking on grace. And there is much, much more that is distinctive in the Book of Mormon account of salvation than I’ve said here. There is, I will argue when I get the chance, a complete alternative, mutually reinforcing set of these concepts of justice, free will, salvation, etc. (okay, it helps to supplement with the D&C and PoGP). Funny thing is, I have a hunch Parley Pratt and some other of the early LDSaints who knew Joseph intimately had it all worked out already, long ago, and I think it is a crying shame how little we hear from them nowadays in the church. If we read more of our own theological treasures, we would be less tempted by the baubles of others.

  12. I think many Protestants make the mistake of thinking that by “works” or “dead works” Paul is referring to anything that we can do whatsoever, with or without God’s help. To do that he would have to contradict the whole Old Testament, among other things.

    Several scriptures belie that notion, notably the passages where Paul discusses the necessity of Christian suffering (e.g. Rom 8:17) and sacrifice. Now on any contemporary Protestant account, such suffering and sacrifice are to no effect, something perhaps evidence of grace, but certainly not contributory to the goodness of the world.

    Here is a typical example of Paul’s:

    I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
    (Rom 8:17)

    And from Peter:

    If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,

    Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

    Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.
    (1 Pet 2:4-6)

  13. That first scripture quoted was Rom 12:1. Rom 8:17 is as follows:

    The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
    And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together
    (Rom 8:16-17)

    It also seems worthwhile to consider what “gracious” means, when applied to an ordinary person.

  14. Ben, I guess there is just something about me that tends to irritate you. For that, please forgive me. I do not intend to irritate anyone.

    Have you read any books about grace by someone outside of the Church? I ask that question only to try and better understand your position, not for any other reason. I have found that “they” really are not that far off about grace. IMO, where we get into trouble with them and they with us, is that we try and conflate grace and works and they keep the two separate.

    They can talk about grace and not have to mention works at all. They can and do talk about works and not mention grace at all. I think that is a good thing. To do other wise, you create a problem in that if you have to work to earn heaven, then it negates anything good about grace. If we are saved by grace after we have done all we can do, then you find yourself with the LDS concept of having to “earn” eternal life, which of course is a gift. Somehow, that just does not work for me.

    In the parable of the labors in the field taught by Christ, just how do you put the amount one works with the reward one receives? There seems to be an atrocious inequity there. The only way it works is by grace, there is nothing fair about grace. I think that is what makes grace difficult to accept, even for evangelicals. After all, most of the books written about grace are by evangelicals for evangelicals.

    In Millet’s book “Grace Works” he quotes from my favorite christian author five times, and it is not a very big book. I have to ask myself, why would he have to quote a non-Mormon about grace. My answer – because he says it better than any Mormon has.

    I am glad to discuss this with anyone and hope we can come to a mutual agreement, but I will not get into any kind of dialog that is not friendly. So if I am irritating anyone, I will be glad to drop out of this discussion.

    But I do agree that grace is the enabling prower of the gospel. :)

  15. CEF, sorry if I seemed irritated with you. I am frustrated about what I see as a fairly broad neglect of early Mormon thought among contemporary Mormons, among other things, but it is mostly a reaction to a broad trend, and not to any particular person, including you. And hey, if I’m going to make my case against those who think Mormons misunderstand grace, I need someone like you to press yours.

    I don’t think my problem with Protestant views of grace is lack of familiarity. Since you ask, I’ve read Aquinas, Augustine, Kierkegaard, and I have some familiarity with Bob Millet’s views, and Steve Robinson’s book with evangelical Craig Blomberg. I disagree with Millet and Robinson on what grace is. I read Kant’s Religion, which deals with grace and free will in a rather typical way. I also have read lots of non-Mormons on free will, which is integrally involved in the traditional Protestant accounts of grace. I’ve had a number of conversations about it with well-read protestants, etc. and I don’t get the sense there is some key point I’m missing. Rather, it seems pretty clear why they are forced into their view, and the Restoration gives us the basis for another perspective. Why are they forced into their view? I’ll have to write another post.

  16. I wrote on this elsewhere in the ‘nacle a week or two ago…still mulling over it all. (I also haven’t had a chance to internalize and read everything above, so please forgive repetition or something I may have missed.)

    My husband attended a religion class where the connection was made between 2 Ne 25:23 and Alma 24:11-12. Perhaps all we can really do is repent. We don’t need the Savior’s grace for unbroken law (because then mercy has her claim). We need it when we goof (because otherwise we are in the claim of justice). To open up the possibility of mercy, we repent. He, in turn, changes our natures so we have less inclination to sin (which is what I feel your post addresses). But there still has to be something to fill that gap between where we are and perfection, as that process of changing is never complete (we simply can’t keep the law perfectly). Mercy is tied to grace, and that comes to those who are repenting. We have to repent in order to have grace come into our lives at all.

    Alma 42: 23-24
    But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
    For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.

    To me, that covers both aspects of this. We can’t be saved in our sins — sitting still just letting Him save us. We have to be doing our all to change and turn to Him (which is what repenting is).

    I like the insights in this post; however, I’m still apt to think that in considering grace as enabling power to do what we cannot do ourselves (BD defiinition, paraphrased) then being perfect is something we cannot do on our own. Hence the scripture about being “perfect in Christ” at the end of Moroni, for example. I think grace is multifaceted. And I like the facet that has been addressed in this post. But I don’t think it is a complete view of what grace is, because even with grace-enabled righteousness, we will still sin and fall short of the glory of God. We still need the fact that “He paid for our sins.” Only sinless, spotless, pure and white people can get back to God. None of us will be grace-enabled enough to be able to do that. Our merits still don’t really count unless they are coupled with His. I

    Rom. 3: 9, 23-25
    What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
    For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
    Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
    Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past [there is that removing sins aspect of grace — that is the definition of justification — perfect in Christ!], through the forbearance of God;

    Because of “the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice,â€? Jesus Christ can satisfy or “answer the ends of the lawâ€? on our behalf. Pardon comes by the grace of Him who has satisfied the demands of justice by His own suffering, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to Godâ€? (1 Pet. 3:18). He removes our condemnation without removing the law. We are pardoned and placed in a condition of righteousness with Him. [There are two elements in this description…sin is pardoned and we become “righteous” in Him — but that is not our own righteousness per se, but a loan on His perfect righteousness, as we are still becoming.] We become, like Him, without sin [not because WE don’t sin, but because He covers our sin through His side of the covenant]. We are sustained and protected by the law, by justice. We are, in a word, justified.
    (D. Todd Christofferson, “Justification and Sanctification,� Ensign, June 2001, 18 )

    There will still be a gap. He still has to pay for sin, too. Justice and mercy. I don’t feel this post addresses these issues. (That may be because I misunderstood, though…I went back and re-read and now I’m not sure where you stand…esp. with your last comment.) I’ll post this anyway even if I did misunderstand and you can choose to ignore or clarify. :)

    BTW, Robinson’s book was praised by Elder Oaks, as were Millet’s and Hafen’s. He called them “brilliant and inspired books” worthy of our time and pondering. I was there when the talk was given, and that has always stuck with me. I am not so willing to dismiss these interpretations of the Atonement as ‘baubles’ in part because of Elder Oaks’ recommendation (how often does THAT happen?) but also for reasons stated above.

    Individual Latter-day Saint scholars, principally in religious instruction at BYU, have published brilliant and inspired books that have made important additions to our literature on the Savior and his atonement (e.g., Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ [Deseret Book Company, 1992]; Robert L. Millet, Life in Christ [Bookcraft, 1990]; Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart [Deseret Book Company, 1989]). I hope such books are read and pondered, not just purchased and possessed.

    p.s. I do have to say that I loved when I first found that scripture in Ether 12 that you quoted. It really does help us understand another aspect of grace that is so important. The BD also gives a good one.

  17. Lots of people think that we need grace because we can’t measure up to God’s expectations. Grace somehow covers over our shortfall, so that even though the shortfall is very much still a shortfall, God treats us as though it wasn’t. God judges us by the merits of Christ (who is righteous), rather than by our merits (we keep right on sinning). Grace makes up for our sin, without changing it.

    p.s.s. This is mostly what I was responding to…. This is still right, even if God enables us to be more righteous. The way I understand it, we will still sin, but the condemnation of the law is removed when we are “in Christ” through covenants and repentance. I agree, though, that the deliberate “keep right on sinning” can’t work. Repenting, however, takes that into consideration, as we are constantly trying to move forward beyond the sin. We still need something for that shortfall, however, when we don’t quite do it right all of the time. Perhaps it’s possible for some to get to the point where they are no longer battling the natural man (city of Enoch, perhaps?) but then that gets to more than just individual “righteousness” (in quotes because it’s only possible through Christ anyway).

    Hard concept to pin down, really.

  18. m&m,

    Just because a book is brilliant and inspired, that if we follow its precepts our lives will be improved, does not mean it is accurate in metaphysical detail. Compared to anything available at the time there have been many religious scholars who were brilliant and inspired, who advanced the state of knowledge from what it was. I count Aquinas, Ockham, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley among them.

    The world was a better place because people took their ideas seriously in the most serious manner, and sought to conform their lives to what was suggested, as it was superior to the ideas prevailing at the time, and the Holy Ghost testified of that reality.

    By disagreeing with them, or with some other LDS scholar, one cannot be said to think that their ideas are of no value, on the contrary, but simply that there are greater and more accurate ideas to be had, which will lead to a deeper understanding of the plan of salvation.

    Now I am not deeply familiar with Robinson’s work, having read only one of his books, so I cannot critique it. However from what I do understand, Ben’s ideas sound like they address the metaphysics of grace one level deeper then what appears to be the case with the former. I would be very much favored to learn more, and I hope Ben will post on the subject. In fact if Robinson is out there somewhere, I would very much like him to post on his understanding as well. Or any other of the BYU religious education headliners.

  19. I think we should build on the truths they have taught, however, not dismiss them, which is what I felt Ben was doing. I personally LOVE the scripture in Ether 12 that was quoted in this post, but that, too, is an insufficient view of grace alone. Grace is also about covering our sins that we may never be able to righteousnessize away. I still agree with the concept that we cannot truly merit anything on our merits alone, so I’m confused as to why Ben seems to dismiss that concept. But, again, maybe I’m just missing something.

    I, too, love to hear what people have to say about this as well.

  20. I think what Ben may be getting at is the transformative nature of grace. We become something greater through the atonement. Our sins are not merely covered up, but we ourselves are changed, sanctified and purified. Nephi described as being filled with his love unto the consuming of his flesh. Alma called it singing the song of redeeming love. However you describe it, it is the very heart of the gospel and the plan of salvation. It is a true miracle that I know has changed my life. I don’t think you need to dismiss Robinson at all to point this out. This is the heart of being spiritually born of God, and yes, we may continue to fall short, but as we let the mighty change work within us we become something more grand entirely. We do not earn salvation, but we are transformed by the grace of God into something greater. As we let that light in, line upon line, we become as he is, receiving his image in our countenance.

  21. 21
    Like I said, I may have gotten distracted by a couple of the comments I pointed out. If this is truly what Ben is saying, then I wholeheartedly agree. It’s not about either-or (sin or transformation, etc.); grace is about both.
    Thanks for the clarification.

  22. m&m,

    No one here is suggesting that any of the scriptures regarding grace are wrong. The question is underlying all the symbolism and all the metaphors what is really going on. That is what philosophical theology is all about – getting at the core issues. This is as much an art as well as a science, where success is measured in part by the simplicity – the simplest, most elegant, and yes, graceful theory that accounts for all the facts.

    In the LDS world, we have a considerably larger number of facts, or key precepts to account for in any theory of grace, and first among them is the doctrine of exaltation, something that is completely foreign to Protestantism, despite its relatively frequent appearance in the New Testament. The second is the LDS sense of natural or eternal law, the only principles that can make the necessity for a suffering atonement explainable at all. There are others.

    Now of course one should build upon what others have discovered, to the degree that their work is worth building on. Unfortuantely there are lots of things that have extreme devotional value that have reached their limits in terms of explanatory power. Calvinism was such a doctrine that reached its limits, so far as our tradition is concerned, about three hundred years ago. Arminianism reached its limits, so far as we are concerned about 1835.

    Now some people seem to think that certain aspects of LDS theology has been far off course wandering in strange roads ever since, at least until certain scholars started interpreting the New Testament roughly the way the Protestants do. I think precisely the opposite – the LDS neo-absolutism has an admirable amount of devotional value, but as a consistent theology it has all of the classic weaknesses of the pre-Protestant theology of the fifteenth century, except worse, bordering on complete and total metaphysical incoherence.

    There are only two ways out – be resigned to a God whom we cannot think about or understand in the most trivial aspects, a God of incomprehensible mystery, the notion of God that our LDS forebears regularly ridiculed in others, or to approach classical LDS thought once again and seek to resolve those aspects which we do not yet understand. As for myself, I am a classicist, and have no water to carry for the metaphysical value of a warmed over Protestantism, no matter what devotional value as a elementary introduction to the gospel it may have.

  23. As for myself, I am a classicist, and have no water to carry for the metaphysical value of a warmed over Protestantism, no matter what devotional value as a elementary introduction to the gospel it may have.

    I think you may have just insulted me, although I can’t tell for sure…. Frankly, Mark, I can’t keep all the different philosophies, beliefs, etc. straight by name (I have no idea what neo-classicism…or was it abolutism…means, just to give you an example.) If you want to explain things to me, you may have to take them down a notch or two. :)

  24. Thanks, Doc (#21); that’s exactly what I have in mind. Yes, I see Robinson still talking about grace making up for what we lack, not correcting our lack. I think God corrects our lack. Not all at once, and usually not completely in this life, but it is by correcting our lack that he saves us, makes us worthy to enter and brings us into his presence. For many/most of us the transformation will not be complete until some time around resurrection/judgment. But of course it is not until then that we have to be ready to endure God’s presence. At that point the experience may be, shall we say, exhilarating! or more soberly, gruelling. But I trust that we will be transformed into something fit for heaven, not merely passed over lightly.

  25. m&m,

    No I didn’t insult you, but I did seriously question the theological (as opposed to the devotional value) of an explication of grace that cannot account for the leading doctrines of the Restoration, or even some of the main themes of the New Testament, such as theosis, joint-heirship with Christ, and suffering in his name.

    The thing is, if these inconsistencies do not bother you personally, I fail to understand why you have to criticize those who seek a better understanding, simply for having the temerity to express a simple disagreement with the opinion of another.

    In principle, the Holy Spirit should lead a sincere seeker in the way of truth, teaching according to his (or her) understanding no matter what his background. Perhaps there is a shorter route to a theosis (divinization) consistent doctrine of grace from our pre-Restoration Arminian heritage.

    However, all I can see is a route that leads straight through Nauvoo and the Utah period, and am frankly puzzled at why any LDS scholar would think otherwise.

  26. m&m,

    By the way, I mean no personal criticism. This happens to be a pretty hotly disputed issue in LDS theology, for whatever reason, and I tend to be sensitive to the suggestion that the particular understanding of grace Ben is presenting an alternative to is the one true way.

    It has had its day in the sun for somewhere between twenty and forty years now, and I think it is about time for those in the tradition of classical Mormonism (theology as taught by LDS leaders roughly from 1835 to the turn of the century) have a chance to present a superior explanation, if possible.

    It is worth recognizing that these are not doctrinal issues, so much as theological issues. Doctrinally, we can often go by faith, and worry about the theology later. On the other hand Joseph Smith often extolled the benefits of a more precise understanding of the gospel.

  27. Mark,
    If you look back at my statements, I didn’t say anything about “one true way,” nor do I think I criticized anyone. In fact, I believe I said I agree with how Doc summed things up (his summary accounted for both aspects of grace (covering sin and helping us become better), and now after Ben’s clarification I understand the beef re: Robinson et. al….and I fully believe in the whole changing-our-natures thing, so I agree there as well. So, once again, I don’t know that you need to direct your comments at me, however incapably I seem to be expressing myself; I often think my comments are misunderstood. Forgive me if my ways of thinking or expressing myself seem elementary or simplistic.

    Also, I have never implied that we shouldn’t seek to understand the gospel more. Just for the record.

    Thanks also for including some definitions/clarifications for me. I can’t explain why, but my brain doesn’t seem to retain some things well. Theoretical definitions are one class of such things. :)

    I’m clearly out of my league, but I do like being able to participate anyway once in a while. Your patience is appreciated.

  28. My reading of the post gave me many of the same feelings as M&M. I liked Ben’s insight that grace empowers us, but I was uncomfortable with his discounting of the need for grace to “cover the gap” of sins that we commit while reaching that desired state.

    I don’t think Ben’s statement “Grace somehow covers over our shortfall, so that even though the shortfall is very much still a shortfall, God treats us as though it wasn’t.” is a fair explanation of how the average Mormon views grace.

    I did read the articles by Ostler in Dialogue (thus the lateness of the hour). In one article he states: “Discussions of grace in Mormon thought are too often carried out in almost complete ignorance of the evolution of Christian thought on this topic.” I wonder if Ben’s dislike of Robinson, Millet, et al, stems from their disregard (ignorance?) of the work of the great Christian writers on the subject, or perhaps their oversimplification of the mechanism of grace.

    In the same vein as Ben’s speculations is Jacob Morgan’s recent article “The Divine-Infusion Theory: Rethinking the Atonement,” in the Spring 2006 Dialogue. Morgan addresses some of the issues in this post in a very creative manner. His “divine-infusion theory” is explained thus:

    “The atonement saved us from the fall by giving us the light of Christ, manifest as conscience. If we respond to the prodding of conscience by rejecting temptation and choosing the right, we receive more light. Our potential is realized through this process of becoming, which finds its fullest expression in eternal progression. With the addition of the light of Christ, mortal probation became an essential testing ground where we could progress through choice and accountability.”

    Morgan further explains: “The atonement ‘bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.’ (Alma 34:15) Thus, the atonement satisfies the demands of justice by making it possible for us to become celestial. A dual emphasis on grace and works follows naturally. Our works make us who we are and determine our final destiny, but every good work we do is enabled and influenced by the light of Christ in us.”

    My reaction to Morgan’s article is somewhat similar to the one I have to this post–great insights, but missing a vital part of what the atonement does. That is, cleanse us from the sins we have committed so that we are enabled to enter into the presence of divinity. God’s grace allows us to be forgiven of our sins through the atonement of another if we will associate ourselves with him.

    Morgan calls this “penal substitution theory,” i.e. justice demands suffering for sin, and Christ stood in as a substitute for us to satisfy the demand of suffering. Morgan rejects this theory, as well as Origen’s “ransom theory,” Anselm’s “satisfaction theory,” Abelard’s “moral-influence theory” and the more recent “empathy theory” championed by R. Dennis Potter. (Dialogue, 1999, “Did Christ Pay For Our Sins?) He gives some well-articulated reasons for his rejection of these theories.


    I’m beginning to think that grace involves several mechanisms, including
    1. the idea that the covenant relationship is freely offered to those who will associate themselves with Christ,
    2. a way to bridge the gap caused by our sins,
    3. Ben’s enabling power
    and perhaps others we haven’t mentioned yet.

  29. m&m,

    As I said, my comments were not primarily directed at you, they were just a convenient excuse to explain what I believe is problematic about what appears to be a completely Arminian understanding of grace – one where the gap between divine persons and mortal persons is so severe that it can never be closed, that eternal life is nothing more than basking in the borrowed light of a small handful of persons that are infinitely different from us and always will be, rather than a transformative process where the kingdom of heaven the exalted shine equally brightly, reflecting the glory of divine society off of each other.

    You see in the Protestant view, all mankind is totally depraved by nature, or has no ability to do any sort of good, even a natural good, i.e. has no light, however weak of his or her own. Then Christ comes along and empowers everyone to do this or do that, but the persons provide no contribution to the flame, they are mirrors at best. Now, for various reasons, that is a very good first order approximation of the gospel.

    However, it is a bad second order approximation, because it is incapable of explaining how we can become like Christ, a doctrine which is one of the leading themes of the New Testament, indeed a doctrine that Jesus Christ came here to establish, first by example, and second through the teachings of his apostles.

    The Protestants, unfortuantely, miss this theme entirely because of the faulty traditions of their fathers, a system of interpretation which never could explicate a coherent Christology in the first place – the Christological debates of Christianities’ first few centuries largely missed the point. The intended parallel between Christ and the Saints (the body of Christ) was lost in the woodwork or explained away.

    Joseph Smith, on the other hand, with divine assistance, was a careful enough reader of the Bible, that all these questions were made manifest, and he obtained revelation elaborating many of the doctrines that the early apostles described only in general terms.

    Unfortunately, the metaphysics of grace, was not a subject he treated in detail, so we have to patch together our own understanding from the scriptures, and there has been some significant controversy about that – a controversy that often finds its root in whether Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse was generally inspired or not. The correlation could hardly be more exact.

  30. Ben, In post #25 you say: “Yes, I see Robinson still talking about grace making up for what we lack, not correcting our lack. I think God corrects our lack. Not all at once, and usually not completely in this life, but it is by correcting our lack that he saves us, makes us worthy to enter and brings us into his presence.”

    Here’s my analogy as to why we need grace to make up for what we lack _as well_ as correcting our lack:
    Let’s say our goal in high school is to graduate with a 4.0. And sophomore year we get a B in calculus. Now we may thereafter have a wonderful teacher who helps us to understand all the higher concepts of mathematics, and we may through our efforts and his added help be able to acheive all A’s junior and senior year. We have now become the quintessential 4.0 student, but the fact remains that we got a B sophomore year and we can never make up for that on our final transcript. Unless, of course, someone else got an A in calculus and is willing to let us take the credit for it. And the grace of the administration allows us to use that person’s A as our own.

  31. Bored in Vernal,

    The way I see it is that everything God does on our behalf, either directly, or through the agency of others, is grace. That encompasses the whole plan of salvation.

    One of the modes of grace is justification, which is a blessing we receive by faith, where God holds us harmless from the standard operations of the law of justice, so long as we are sincerely striving to keep all of his commandments with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. This, like all the operations of grace, requires sacrifice on his part, as he sustains us in spite of our sins and shortcomings.

    However, the scripture says that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of god, or in other words we must be sanctified, made holy, without spot, in order to be saved. Not just in order to be exalted, but in order to be *saved*.

    So therefore, once we have entered in by the way, we must, through whatever ups and downs, endure to the end, gradually becoming sanctified. And as justification comes by faith, sanctification comes by obedience. Grace plays a role in sanctification as well, because the Lord pours out his holy Spirit upon us, on condition of obedience. That is a gift that obedience alone, without grace, does not result in, just as faith alone, without grace, cannot justify.

    When we fall short, as a rule Christ suffers the consequences either way, due to his acquaintance with us and those that we injure. The only question is whether his suffering on our behalf is going to be efficacious. And that is only lastingly the case when we turn, permanently, from our sins. If we remain in our sins at the last day, his suffering on our behalf will have been in vain.

    The ongoing divine judicial process operates for many reasons, including the minimization of suffering on the part of all concerned, i.e. when God chastens us when we sin, particularly when we sin knowing full well what we are doing, he minimizes the harm that we cause to others, and not incidentally his own burden as well, according to his own economy.

    More importantly however, if we have been taught the principles of the gospel, we will understand that divine judgment is not just some sort of Karmic restoration, but rather something intended to turn us from our sins, and enter into the path of right, so that someday we can be saved in the kingdom of God.

    As long as we do that, if we ultimately repent of their sins and become sanctified through obedience to the law of some degree of glory, Christ’s suffering will not have been in vain. It won’t matter, as a rule, what sins we have committed in the past, that is all water under the bridge, Christ will long have paid the price for them, and we and others will long since have suffered the natural consequences of our errors.

    The only thing that matters is that we repent, permanently, and are willing to abide, and be sanctified through obedience to some degree of divine law, that we may indeed be fit for heaven, and worthy of inheriting a degree of glory surpassing all understanding, a glory which indeed is one of the greatest gifts of God.

    Exaltation, of course, requires rather more than that, and that is where the particular controversy about grace begins – the relationship between grace, suffering, sacrifice, and joint-heirship in particular.

    That is my understanding of the role of grace in salvation, and as you may see I see justification as operating primarily in time, and not in eternity. At some point in between we have to be sanctified to be saved. All our past misdeeds will be forgiven, but until we are fit for heaven, we are unfit for heaven.

    The process of sanctification is to close that gap. Justification requires that Christ must suffer and at some point his work shall be complete, and we shall have to carry the full burden of our transgressions, sooner or later (cf. Hebrews 10:26).

  32. Mark #32: The only thing that matters is that we repent, permanently, and are willing to abide, and be sanctified through obedience to some degree of divine law, that we may indeed be fit for heaven, and worthy of inheriting a degree of glory surpassing all understanding, a glory which indeed is one of the greatest gifts of God. Exaltation, of course, requires rather more than that, and that is where the particular controversy about grace begins.

    So would you say that exaltation is being sanctified through obedience to celestial law, or is it also more than that?

    Also, to roughly restate in an effort to check my understanding, would you (Mark) agree that justification is the temporary suspension of just punishment (consequences) for our actions, whereas sanctification is the process of making us become better?

  33. We recently had this discussion in EQ (grace vs works). Part of what makes this a great discussion topic is that our theology is at odds with conventional Prostestant beliefs. The notion that we can work or earn our way to Heaven is eschewed as a pernicious and false doctrine which Protestant beliefs probably over emphasized to make a clean break with Catholism and it’s heavy reliance on “works.”

    I like Elder Oaks 1998 Talk “Have you been Saved?” that provides somewhat of a reconciliation to this question from an evangelical to LDS belief and Robinson’s book “How Wide the Divide?”

    As both above sources point out, the problem with this discussion is two fold: 1) the terms we use (saved, and grace) are loaded and packed with different meanings and definitions, and 2) we are framing the question differently because our vision of the after-life (3 degrees of glory and notion of exaltation) is much different from the bi-nomial construct of Christianity’s Heaven and Hell.

    A shortcoming that many LDS fall into is not emphasizing the importance of grace enough. For example, assume someone was baptized with priesthood authority, received both priesthoods, went to the temple and received washings, annoitings, endowment, married in the temple, received the second comforter and annointing, and lived obediently, repented of all their sins, attended Church every week, served and magnified all callings and endured to the end (until death)….this is A LOT OF WORKS! Assume all of this, but then assume Christ’s atonement never happened or it failed….then all of these works come crashing down like a house of cards, and the sinner will fall short of the glory of God and be unworthy to live with God (or Christ).

    In effect, we cannot earn our way to Heaven through our works alone.

    The flipside is not as clean either. Assume we have complete faith and trust in the reality of the atonement and pray fervently that the blood of Christ might purge us from our sins and make us worthy to live with God again. This alone will only get us to either the Terrestrial or lower tier of the Celestial kingdom. To merit exaltation and become as the Gods, one must receive all the above noted temple ordinances and honor those covenants (ie works, works, works).

    In effect, we may not be able to earn our way to Heaven, but our lack of works (ordinances) may prevent us from receiving all the glory and eternal increase (all that Heaven has to offer) that we are eligible for.

    Both point and counterpoint of works and grace are summarized neatly by Nephi that “we are saved by grace after all we can do.” (ie works and grace are needed for exaltation).

  34. #34,
    But there are those (prabable majority of God’s children) who lack the opportunity in this life to perform the ordinances and will have them performed for them. this seems further evidence of grace,. For them is it salvation by grace and grace, without works?

  35. Ben, great post, thanks.

    Bored in Vernal (great name by the way),

    In #29 you mentioned that what this post is missing is that the atonement \”cleanse[s] us from the sins we have committed so that we are enabled to enter into the presence of divinity.\” In #31 you offered the analogy of the student who becomes a 4.0 student but previously got a B.

    Sometimes I feel like our tendency to speak in analogy obscures more than it clears up and this might be one of those times. Can you give me an idea what these analogies map to in real life? For example, what is the \”dirt\” left from previous sins which the atonement must \”cleanse\”? Similarly, is getting to heaven really like a grade point average? In what sense are previous sins scored against us?

  36. 35
    no, they will still be judged by their works…their hearts will still be evident through the choices they made with the light they had. God knows our hearts. It’s not a checklist of works that really matters as much as WHY we do the things we do.

  37. #35

    We will be judged my our thoughts, actions, deeds (works), and vicarious ordinances will still have to be performed.


    I understand the general spirit of your comment (and to some extent I agree), but apparently the “checklist of works” such as vicarious ordinances of baptism, temple work etc are important enough that we have to do them for billions of people (even though these people may have lived honorobly, nobley according to the light and knowledge they had).

    This is what gives our good Christian friends such a bad rub…they look at our faith as being chained to the formula of works, ordinances, etc to help push people into Heaven. I know of no other faith that has endevored such a monumental task of performing ordinances vicariously for all of humanity. If God simply relied only on our hearts, these ordinances would be unnecessary. It seems the ordinances are more for us, then they are for God (from a teaching and learning perspective).

  38. Robert C (#32),

    Yes, I see justification as the temporary suspension of the ordinate (legal-judical) law of justice as well as a temporal qualification for blessings beyond what a sinner would otherwise normally enjoy, thus ameliorating both the natural and judicial consequences of sin, on condition of a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – namely a broken heart, a contrite spirit, and a willingness to keep all the commandments of God. The condition is faith, but justification comes only by grace (it is a gift far above and beyond what we deserve, a gift that only comes in and through the suffering sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ).

    Sanctification is the process of (1) learning what the Lord requires of us and (2) willingly complying with those requirements until (3) we become free from sin, becoming holy, without spot, glorified through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us. It requires first learning compliance to the letter of the law, and second learning compliance to the spirit of the law, which is in most explicit terms what the Holy Ghost would inspire us do on any particular occasion.

    So yes, a process of making us better, but a process that has two major aspects – first a complete departure from a life of sin, or willing violation of the letter of the law, and second becoming one with God, according to the real time discipline of the Holy Spirit, which I understand to be the net result of the order and government of heaven, resulting, as all such processes are designed to do, in a clear mandate for one action or another, wherever and whenever there is a serious issue at hand.

    I understand that sanctification in the first sense is required for salvation. Sanctification in the second sense is one of the requirements for exaltation – in fact it is a decent working definition of what being divine is all about, among other things complete humility to seek not ones own will, but the will of the Father, in most general terms, the will of the divine concert. As I understand it, divinity has almost nothing to do with getting *your* way, but rather everything to do with creative agency in service of ends others (albeit with your participation) have established.


    The semantics of the term “works” is so widely misunderstood that I am reluctant to use it at all. The way I understood Paul to use it, he was referring to “dead works” in contrast to a “living sacrifice” – in other words dead works were those where we tried to accomplish lasting good according to our own direction, and a living sacrifice was where we submitted our soul to the discipline of what God would have us do.

    In part, Paul seems to emphasize the distinction between the first and second senses of sanctification I outlined above, namely that simple compliance with the letter of the law (as often emphasized in the Old Testament) was far inferior to willing compliance with the law of the spirit.

    As I understand it, no one is *saved* on account of their works, they are saved on account of first order sanctification – willing and complete departure from a life of sin. However, all degrees of glory entail work of one form or another, and an unwillingness to work would certainly disqualify somebody from being even a ministering angel, or any other mode of eternal glory.

    I would say that one of the primary differences between entry level salvation and exaltation is the degree of sacrifice one is willing to make. I don’t think that God as a rule adds up the sacrifices we make, as if more was always better, but rather that certain sacrifices we make in accordance with his will, are evidence that are prepared for a more intensive role in the administration of his kingdom.

    Or in other words, judgment is according to our works, or our proven willingness to sacrifice (whether here or elsewhere), but it is most definitely not proportional to our works or the number of sacrifices that we have made. The only *personal* benefit of more works is greater purification of character.

    However, on a larger scale, the kingdom of heaven can only be established on principles of both work and sacrifice, and if we do not make the necessary sacrifices, someone else will have to instead, and disobedience to the law of sacrifice doesn’t bode well for exaltation, even if our lesser degree of service and sacrifice is enough to make us fit for salvation.

    So I do not know exactly what the Lord requires of those who receive ordinances in the next life, but it is worth noting that the ordinances in and of themselves are not generally sacramental in nature, but rather covenantal. Unless the persons concerned abide in the covenant, the ordinances are for naught. Baptism is immaterial to the unrepentant, in fact strictly speaking it is not required for remission of sins at all. According to D&C 20, no one should be received unto baptism until they have demonstrated, by their works, that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto a remission of their sins.

  39. Ben, I agree completely, yet I still find problems with this view I can’t resolve. What exactly does grace enable that we weren’t capable of already? We all have the power to choose right now. It seems to me then that grace would be simply that which grants us agency in the first place.

  40. Hi Ben, I am glad that I have not offended you, I am a little short of time right now, so will just say a few things until later.

    First, I would be very glad if Blake’s view of grace was better understood by more members. I think, for whatever reason, Blake understands grace better than most of us.

    Second, again for whatever reason, Doc seems to have been changed by grace and therefore has a very good understanding of it. Perhaps he would be willing to share with us just how that happened in his life.

    Third, Ben you have been very blessed with a wonderful mind and can understand things that people like me would have a hard time with. Please do not take the following as any kind of a pejorative statement, because it is not intended in that light.

    It seems that you have studied grace way beyond what most of us will ever do. But in doing so, you have missed seeing the wonderful and beautiful forest because of all of those pesky trees standing in the way.

    There is nothing wrong with trying to figure out the metaphysics of grace or anything else for that matter. But sometimes the simplicity of something can be lost in looking too hard for “how does it work?” That is why a book like “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” can have a better effect that reading great philosophers. Yancey said that after reading thirteen pages about grace in the Catholic encyclopedia, he decided to just try and convey grace instead of explaining it. Reading his book literally has the ability to change lives, simply by exposing you to stories of grace that soften your heart allowing the love of God/Grace to fill your whole soul. At least that is what it did for me. I will try and address more on this later.

  41. Eric (#41),

    The idea that grace enables our agency in the first place is precisely my belief. Are you saying this view doesn’t resolve the problem, or that you have a problem resolving how grace could be the thing that granted us agency?

  42. Eric, if we are going to get more specific, I think the best thing to do is to think about what the Holy Spirit does to help us desire and choose the right. Basically I think the reason Mormons don’t talk about “grace” (a vague and generic word) much is that we talk about the Holy Spirit and the atonement, which is more specific and illuminating. To say we are changed through grace is basically to say we are changed because of God’s merciful generosity, but that only explains so much. It’s a bit like saying, “I was saved from a heart attack by technology,” when you were saved by nitro-glycerine and bypass surgery or something. To say “technology” is fine as far as it goes, but it is barely the start of an explanation. If we want to talk about how we are changed, we need to talk more about the means of bringing us salvation: Christ and the Holy Ghost, who of course act in loving merciful generosity to open the path, guide and transform us so that we can return to our Father.

  43. Jacob, I guess my problem is that – if that is indeed the case, and I lean heavily towards believing it is – then why do we talk so much about grace? It’s obviously important in the grand scheme of things, but it has no practical value anymore. It is over and done with. Why such an emphasis on it in the church? And why such vagueness as to its meaning?

    Ben, I’m not sure that I agree that grace, the Holy Ghost or Christ actually help us desire to choose the right. It seems to me that the enabling power of grace is what enables us to choose whether or not we desire the right in the first place, and then whether or not we actually do desire it is up to us. What would be the point of grace/Christ helping us desire what was right? It’s our desire that Christ wants in the first place. If he’s changing our desire for us, then we are not really giving ourselves to him.

  44. Eric,

    I see your point and I don’t think we can have a concept of grace in which grace is “over and done with.” I agree with Ben that grace is a generic term. To account for the various uses we might have to define it as something like “divine help” or something on that level of vagueness. We have more specific terms for various aspects of grace.

    As to whether or not grace helps us to choose right, consider that in addition to the “enticings of that cunning one” (2 Ne 9:39), the BofM talks about us yielding to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19). It also says that “that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13). Those scriptures seem to be saying that the Holy Ghost helps us desire to choose right. It seems we are enticed in both directions, which is part of what makes us free agents (2 Ne. 2: 16).

  45. Eric R.,

    I understand that we have to constantly remind ourselves of the Atonement or of the grace of Christ, because otherwise we will forget what an all encompassing gift it is, and tend to adopt an attitude of pride, selfishness, and ingratitude. Grace is a perfectly good word for this purpose, we just have tended to use the term “the Atonement” instead. I think we should use both.

    I also rather disagree with Blake’s position (and apparently Jacob’s position) on grace being required for the bare exercise of free will – I understand the idea of the gift of agency as not the gift of free will or the bare ability to exercise it, but rather the gift of a protected domain or stewardship to exercise it in, being made free within our stewardships to act without being acted upon, except by the judgment at the last day. In short the divine protection of liberty under the law, command of our own persons without undue interference from others, and the stewardship thereof, being made accountable only for our owns sins, and not those of others.

    According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles;

    That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.

    Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another. And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.
    (D&C 101:77-80)

  46. Mark, I don’t believe in “grace being required for the bare exercise of free will,” but this is not a good place to give a more nuanced version of my view.

  47. Robert C.,

    I have outlined my view in comments to NCT posts on the Atonement in the past. This was also a topic of discussion on LDS-PHIL about two years ago. I understand agency in terms of something God actually can grant us by his own sacrifice, and that is protection from the undue influences / coercion of others, including the adversary, relying on D&C 101:77-80 as the scriptural support.

    My critique of Blake’s position (grace required for the bare exercise of free will) is that it seems to be akin to a theory of intelligences as frozen conciousness, a uniquely LDS spin on the doctrine of total inability. As I see that in *essentials* any divine person, in and of themselves, is an intelligence comparable to what we are, in essentials, I fail to see how the gift of one intelligence, however glorified, is necessary for the bare exercise of will in another intelligence.

    What I do see is that we are eternally indebted to God for the such blessings as the miracle of our bodies, for his guidance and direction, for the blessing of his Spirit, for sustaining us spiritually, and temporally from day to day over and above the law of nature, for the blessings of celestial culture and civilization, and so on.

    However, the first order difference between what I understand about grace and how the Protestants see it, is I beleive that any person, sacrificing, serving, or suffering on behalf of others under divine direction or inspiration, verily contributes to the net amount of grace in the world, grace as in a sufficiently divine gift that we receive that we did not merit of our own. So the sacrifice of fathers, mothers, missionaries, soldiers defending their country, etc, when acting, and to the degree that they act according to the dictates of heaven, are indeed offering up a living sacrifice unto God, which they do not nor should not take credit for, because they are eternally indebted to him.

    So what happens is that the inspired or Christian sacrifice of others is re-labelled or re-categorized as the gift of God, and not anything the could have done by themselves. And thus sacrifice turns into grace. The idea here is because of the social, spiritual, and cooperative nature of everything we do, no one can be saved nor save others by themselves. So we give God all the credit, even when we deserve some smidgen for ourselves. He in return, remedies this willingness, by saving and exalting us, making us by degrees part of the divine concert ourselves.

    All we have to do is to understand that *for all practical purposes* we could never have done what we do by ourselves, that as Jesus said, of mine own self I am nothing. I would modify that slightly and say that of our own selves we are next to nothing, that it is only through spiritual unity that we accomplish anything at all, and the unity of the divine concert is what is responsible for all the lasting good in the universe, according to divine design – to establish a “monopoly” on true righteousness, so that we end the ultimate waste of good fighting the good through humility and common consent, submitting our will in all things to the will of the concert.

  48. I really do feel a little out of my league here. I am not as well read in philosophy and Christian thought on grace as most of the posters. I don’t have a grand schema that elaborates all the metaphysical details of the atonement. I don’t know that Grace must be prevenient, or even that it is the way are agency was granted. These things are beyond my current understanding. However, this is how I see the grace giving our agency. There are certainly many and divers ways to sin but I believe at bottom they come in two flavors, both with the same end result, distancing ourselves from God and stopping our ability to progress by limiting our agency.

    1) Pride- this causes us to hide our sins, resist change, turn away from God.

    2) Discouragement- This causes us to give up, to believe we are a hopeless cause and that nothing can change. We cannot overcome our sins, they are simply too strong. We should just give up now. This creates a sense of diminished personal worth.

    Being stripped of Pride and becoming as a child (meek, submissive, humble, etc.) is in fact all we can do of ourselves for our salvation. We have to turn towards the open embrace of God. Only then can the atonement have any effect in our life we need.

    Grace is what I have experienced and what I see removing the barrier posed by number 2. Grace is what gives a brightness of hope and a realization that we can change. When we receive the baptism of fire, and are sanctified, we gain a spiritual confirmation of our worth and divine potential. We are filled with his love and enticed to overcome and now have hope in doing so. We also come to know the Savior through this experience. We become more like him through sanctification and living his law in greater measure. He understands our pain and wounds through his experience in the Garden and on the Cross.

    I think the reason the spirit withdrew from him at the end of his life in the grand scheme of things was to enable him to know what it was like to be completely cut off from God. He had never experienced this. We experience this when we sin, when we turn away, when we become despondent or cynical. Christ through an infinite atonement now is able to have a true empathy with all who pass through this mortal experience, to know us and love us. This is the marvelous condescension of the Savior.

    In response to CEF and at risk of a threadjack, for which I apologize in advance, I guess I can give some details about my experience. I have learned these things firsthand over many years but particularly about 5 years ago in a major bout of depression, something I have struggled with throughout my life. I have learned that perfectionism and anxiety leading to despondency are particularly common among the religious. We have a tendency to develop an inner voice that shouts out are imperfections and beats us down. It happens long enough that eventually we do not even know it is there. Eventually it can gain such power over us that our very ability to feel joy or pleasure can be shut down. It slows our minds and our thoughts as they become disorganized. The anxious thoughts rev up our adrenal glands and cause bodily tension and exhaustion. Additionally they race through our heads in circles that can be totally paralyzing.

    I was brought to this state at the beginning of my residency in medical training and I became completely non-functional. I was not able to function as a physician, a husband, or a father. My career seemed very much ready to collapse entirely. I was plagued with thoughts of just “ending it all” but couldn’t do it. I was dragged into counseling by my ear by my superiors.

    As I have overcome these stumbling blocks, I have come to realize there are different levels of understanding the atonement and gospel of Jesus Christ. The telestial is one where we rebel and remain in pride, turned away from him in our hearts. The telestial is the one where we undertake to live the law on our own our of a sense of duty, destined to fail because none of us is perfect. The Celestial is the law of love, of grace, and of confidence that comes of being filled with his love, learning our divine potential and worth at a visceral level. We learn that we may make mistakes but that is not what defines our worth, nor is it what will define our destiny. The key to my healing process was the Savior. He became real to me in a way that I don’t think words can fully explain. With his help I have been able to pull myself literally out of the abyss. My career is now back on track after a two year hiatus and I am happier than I have ever been. I am growing and progressing now. My confidence has waxed strong in the presence of God. This is what enabling Grace means to me.

  49. Doc,

    I agree that a proper understanding of grace leads to hope, based on a realization that we do not have to do it all on our own, that we do not need to set a standard of performance higher that what God expects of us, that we need not run faster than we have strength, and that his grace is sufficient for us if we will turn to him and do those things that he reasonably requires and prepares a way for us to accomplish.

    That understanding does not require us to delve into metaphysical, let alone physical details, we need simply to take the Lord at his word, to learn by the spirit when he has accepted of our sacrifice for that day, that we may obtain the rest of the just, and rise again with the hope of a glorious resurrection, according to the knowledge that we have that our lives are in accordance with his will, that we have entered into the way that leads to eternal life in the process of time, not some way that produces eternal life tommorrow.

    I do think, however, that a deeper understanding of the gospel can both be a comfort to our souls, and a more sure guide in our daily walk, so we gradually understand not only what the will of the Lord is, but why it is what it is. The Lord said:

    And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.
    (D&C 39:6)

  50. Response to Jacob (#37) about analogy in #32:

    You are right, analogies do tend to obscure, and this one is imperfect because no one, save Christ has been able to get through this mortal life with a “4.0” (without sin). However, here are the ideas I attempted to clarify:

    2 Ne 10:24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

    To me this scripture says that we should reconcile ourselves to the will of God, become perfect, or able to live without sin. This is equivalent in my analogy to becoming able to always make an “A” in any course. After we get to that point, we still need the grace of God to be saved. This is because during the process of becoming sanctified, we have sinned and our previous inadequacies still need to be made up for.

    As I understand Ben, he says that the need for grace during justification is no longer necessary once sanctification has taken place. This scripture seems to state that grace is still required.

    In my analogy I illustrate this grace by having the administration willing to accept the grade of another to replace our student’s “B.” (Maybe I should have used an “F” here, since our sins are failures to complete or obey the commandments.)

    Another way grace works in the analogy is by helping the student become perfected:

    D&C 88:78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand

    D&C 109:44 Help thy servants to say, with thy grace assisting them: Thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours.

    In these scriptures grace helps teach the student the laws of the gospel and helps the student submit his/her will to the Father’s.

    These are the major points I attempted to illustrate in the analogy.

    But to take it further, as you asked– Getting to heaven may be like a grade point average in the sense that once a student has failed to achieve that “A” in one of his classes, no matter how many “A’s” he gets from thenceforth, his average will never be a perfect 4.0. And even when we become sanctified, there are still errors we have made during that process that need to be compensated for through the atonement of Christ. Grace makes it possible to use his merits to wipe these out.

    2 Ne 2:8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah

    You asked: what is the \�dirt\� left from previous sins which the atonement must \�cleanse\�? In what sense are previous sins scored against us?

    Good question, I know only that there is some stain left from previous sins from scriptures such as the following:

    Alma 5:21 I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.

    And we cannot do this ourselves. Rom 4:4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

  51. Bored in Vernal,

    I understand the stain to be in our very nature, typically manifest in our character, habits and attitudes, not some sort of tally sheet that counts how many sins we have committed.

    Anyone who wants to change their character to live a life of righteousness, will be assisted in doing so by the grace of God, manifest through his spirit, and that change will be manifest in a change of character, habits, attitudes, whether the person has any sort of formal religion or not.

    The question here is one of proportionality. It seems to me that you are implying that sins stack up upon each other, making the stain *proportionately* or linearly deeper with each new occurence. I am saying that after a discrete change in lifestyle, a change in character, for good or for evil, normally is subject to the law of diminishing “returns”, in other words each new instance of sin or good behavior solely in accordance with that lifestyle and not anything new, has a temporally decreasing affect on a persons character as it settles down into a new comfort zone of sorts. Length matters, but it matters less and less as time goes on.

    So if a person desires to repent and change his or her ways, the necessary character change is *not* proportional to how many sins he or she has committed, nor *linearly* proportional the the length of time he or she lived that lifestyle, but rather proportional to the change in character required, something vaguely time dependent, but a much stronger function of the dedication or devotion to the lifestyle itself, and the difference between the old and the new.

    In short someone who has broken the Sabbath 1000 times in a row does *not* have 100 times tough a row to hoe as one who has broken it ten times in a row, nor does the amount of work that God must engage in to aid a sincere seeker of righteousness similarly linearly proportional.

    This is the inverse, by the way, of the false idea that one will be rewarded for the *number* of good works one has performed, rather than ones general character and willingness to do what the Lord asks. Neither works nor sins add up linearly like a tally sheet.

    If a life of sin caused suffering in others or in the Lord, that is over and done with, ancient history. Neither the Lord nor the sinner has to perform some action proportionate to the number committed – that is water under the bridge. That is why I am saying that as a rule the Lord doesn’t care what one was like five or ten years ago, he cares what one will be like tommorrow and five or ten years hence.

    It is worth noting, that Thomas Hobbes was able to make a very simple argument that punishing anyone in a backward looking, as opposed to forward looking fashion (e.g. revenge according to the number of deeds committed, instead of judgment required to achieve reformation of character) was contrary to natural law of morality. And if contrary to natural law, how much more so to divine!

  52. Bored (#54),

    Thanks, I think I see better where you are coming from. I broke your comment down into four points, let me respond briefly.

    (1) You are saying grace is still necessary after sanctification. I think you are putting the “that” in the wrong place in the scripture you cited (2 Ne 10:24). You are reading it as though it says:

    and remember [that] after ye are reconciled unto God that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

    In actuality, the “after ye are reconciled unto God” is parenthetical and refers to the remembering. So, it could be reworded as: after you are sanctified, remember that you got to where you are because of grace.

    Your analogy suggests that the atonement is like a school accepting someone else’s grade for you. I just reject the idea that the atonement is like this. It doesn’t work in the analogy because schools don’t do that, and it doesn’t work in the atonement because God can’t pretend we are righteous simply because Christ is. If he could, then God could save us in our sins, which he cannot do.

    (2) You said grace helps us become perfect. I agree. I mentioned this briefly in#46.

    (3) You said getting to heaven may be like a grade point average where once we get a B we can never have a 4.0 again. I just don’t think this is the requirement for getting into heaven. The scriptures never say we have to be perfect at all times in the past to make it to heaven. D&C 88 says we need to be able to live celestial law. Once we can do that, it doesn’t seem to matter if we couldn’t live that law before.

    (4) I agree that the scriptures use an analogy of sin making us dirty and that we must be cleansed through the atonement. I think the cleansing process referred to in this analogy is, in fact, the sanctification process. The sanctification process is the process of cleansing our souls (i.e. learning to live and act like Jesus does).

    By the way, I was flattered that you read my article so carefully and commented on it here (#30). Thanks.

  53. Wow, this is soooo cool. I am actually not all that bored tonight. I might have to change my posting name.

    Mark: I wasn’t trying to imply that sins stack up. In fact, I think if you have committed one sin, you are in just as bad a shape as someone who has committed 1000. It puts you in the position of needing the atonement.

    …”the stain to be in our very nature” So, we are under original sin? Didn’t we get rid of that with the Restoration? If not, we can go back to Theodorus…

    Jacob: “In actuality, the “after ye are reconciled unto Godâ€? is parenthetical and refers to the remembering.” OK, I agree. Now I have to find another scripture. Bummer.

    “accepting someone else’s grade for you…” I know we are not saved in our sins. We must eventually achieve perfection, and works are vital in that process; but Christ’s atonement works to cleanse us from the effects of sin. If you don’t feel that Christ’s sacrifice can somehow make us clean (though we didn’t earn the grade ourselves,) how do you interpret scriptures such as Alma 33:22– “If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; (semicolon) and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.” Or, in other words: the death of Christ atones for our sins and his rising from the dead makes possible our resurrection. In neither case did we earn this.

    In your point (4), you say you believe the cleansing process is the sanctification process. (I think you mean sanctification by works and with the assistance of the Light of Christ??? Correct me if I’m wrong.) Whereas, my reading of the scriptures is that the atonement sanctifies us and cleanses us.
    D&C 76:40-41 And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—
    That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness

    AND…I can’t believe you’re _that_ Jacob–and you’re replying to my post!! **Swoon!**

  54. I think the effects of grace are a little more comprehensive than Ben suggests in that it (grace) not only enables us internally to put a better foot forward as we cross the bridge (as it were), it also provides the bridge. (Ha! More analogy)

    Also, I wonder sometimes if we over-emphasize the change of heart spoken of in the scriptures. Certainly there must be a change of sorts but once the gospel has been embraced it seems the real trick is to endure the process of justification/sanctification. In most cases (imo) the initial change is simply a reorientation of our hearts. What follows is a purification of our hearts as we stay true to that orientation.

  55. Bored,

    In this case (as in many) it is necessary to make a distinction between first nature and second nature, or even first, second, and third, or even more. By definition, one’s first nature is that which could not have been otherwise – it is the underlying substrate of existence as an eternal intelligence.

    Second nature, on the other hand, is conventionally what we acquire according to our desires for either good or evil, etc. In my opinion our second nature is written into our spiritual or temporal physiology, our instincts or sub-concious activity. I do not believe that an intelligence, as such, has a subconcious. It seems we need a body of some sort to have autonomous functions of any sophistication.

    Now the story gets much more complicated due to the default nature of the body, according to divine design, whether the default nature and inclination of a spirit body, or our current temporal body, or of an immortal resurrected body.

    I do not believe there is anything wrong, per se, with the bodies we have now, other than random genetic anomalies and so forth. No origin-al sin, no deprivation of grace passed like a disease from parent to child. I also am not generally inclined to think that this earth has any particular active or efficacious curse upon it except the present inquity of its human inhabitants.


    I agree, however one of the points Ben has made is that grace is really too all encompassing of a term to be particularly useful in narrow senses, at least without qualifiers (actual grace, sanctifying grace, creative grace, ordinate grace, healing grace, etc.).

  56. Wow, this is some discussion! Lots of thoughtful comments here. I will try to finish reading them tomorrow.

    For now, let me say to m&m I think there is value in Robinson’s books, and hey, we are all working with imperfect knowledge, and that’s part of the plan, so I don’t feel any need to disagree with Elder Oaks’ (broad) comment. By “baubles”, I was talking about weak non-Mormon accounts, which wouldn’t include those guys (nor do I think all non-Mormon discussions of grace are so weak). I think “dismiss” is also too strong a word for what I am doing with their accounts. It only seems like I’m “dismissing” them because I’m not giving a thorough explanation of how far I think they’re right and where my disagreement lies. But this is a blog post; if I had time to engage their work in detail, I would write an article!

    I know we don’t know anyone who completely avoids sin in this life, but I believe Amulek when he says no unclean thing can enter heaven. I don’t think we can keep sinning in heaven. Therefore I think we will have changed more by that time than what we see here. Make sense? It goes beyond what I see with my eyes, but I believe that is what God has promised us, and I take him at his word.

    Bored (#32), I’m not persuaded that God really cares about our past. I find support for this idea in the parable of the laborers helpfully cited in #16. I think what he cares about most is that we are purified and come to live holily, even if it takes us a while. I do think that sin often perpetuates sinful tendencies, and sin is certainly not happiness, and righteousness is not something one can just decide one day all at once, but involves habits and judgment and knowledge that we have to build over years through small choices and actions each day, but sin far in the past I don’t think will figure at the judgment bar if we have changed since then. So I think the transformation is what matters. Certainly it is merciful that God is willing to work to change us, though, given how weak and misguided we often are.

    Eric (#45), the scriptures say God changes our hearts. I’m okay with that. I’m actually ecstatic about it, and I have experienced it and been glad. I am okay with the idea that every good desire we have comes from God as some scriptures seem to suggest, if “every good thing” does. We’re children of God after all; we owe him some pretty fundamental things about our nature apparently. Do you want to say more about what doesn’t sit right with you about this?

  57. Mark,

    I’m thinking more along the lines of a broader conception of the mechanisms of grace rather than how grace is applied in various scenarios. I don’t think a change in scenario (for lack of a better word) necessitates a change in mechanism. Rather, I think grace as a whole is more comprehensive in its general function than is presented in Ben’s thesis.

    I think Ben is right when he says that grace “corrects our lack.” I also think he is wrong when he suggests that it doesn’t “make up for what we lack”–the problem being that it doesn’t address the dual nature of the Savior’s role as Redeemer. (i.e., the Door of the sheep as well as the Shepherd who leads the sheep to the Door. Or the Name by which we must be called in order to be saved as well as He who calls the Name, and so forth) We get a sense from this duality that the Savior both enables us to approach God by empowering us to move forward and provides a way in which to move forward without which we would fail to appoach God no matter how “able” we are. While we are empowered to become the kind of people who can join with the God of Israel as his Betrothed or with the Bridegroom as his Bride (Christ being the way) the necessity of joining with God implies that we are lacking in ways that cannot be corrected by a change in our nature. We must join with God and become part of something that is more than what we are individually in order to abtain a fulness. This (to me) implies a “making up for what we lack.”

  58. Not as Bored in Vernal,

    Of course, I do “feel that Christ’s sacrifice can somehow make us clean.” The trick is to figure out what it means to be filthy. So far, you haven’t given me any concrete idea of what you think this means. You seem to be saying through your grade analogy (and commentary on it) that even if we have become perfect God cannot accept us into heaven because we used to be imperfect. Why would this be? Is it because God is holding a grudge? Is it because God can’t see that we are now perfect due to the fact that he remembers all our past actions (sort of like a previous B always being calculated as part of our GPA)? Unpack the analogy for me. You concluded by saying “Whereas, my reading of the scriptures is that the atonement sanctifies us and cleanses us.” That is everyone’s reading of the scriptures, but what does it mean?

    I unpack the analogy as follows: The filthiness referred to in the scriptures which we must be cleansed from is our tendency to make wicked choices. We’re selfish and prideful and when we get together our interactions are totally different than that of a celestial society. That is what I think the “filthiness of sin” refers to.

    Sanctification (i.e. purification) is a process of becoming a different kind of person, a celestial kind of person. D&C 88 is foundational for my thoughts on this. It says that “he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (v. 22). It says that whatever is governed by law is “perfected and sanctified by the same” (v. 34).
    And: “That which breaketh a law, …and willeth to abide in sin, …cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.” (v. 35).

    Notice that the filthiness is simply still being a sinful person. I see no indication of a GPA. If we can live the law of the celestial kingdom, we are in. Notice that we are sanctified “by law.” In D&C 88 the light of Christ is said to be a result of the atonement and is “the law by which all things are governed” (v. 6-13). So, the light of Christ helps to perfect and sanctify us, which is precisely what it means that the atonement cleanses us from our sins. The BOM makes a big deal of our sinful “nature” because the critical thing is what kind of people we are, rather than what sins we have committed in the past.

  59. I completely agree with, endorse, and second everything Jacob said in #62.


    The way I see it is both the bridge, the order on the other side of the bridge, and the way we must cross the bridge, are all of design design, though consistent with natural law. And furthermore that the assistance we need to cross the bridge is of divine origin as well.

    Now as I understand it, all of God’s grace ultimately comes about by the same agency – roughly speaking the free activity of his eternal intelligence as everlastingly immanent in the world, not outside of it. Immanence is what couples activity with suffering.

    Nonetheless God freely chooses to exercise his will and capacity in diverse ways and manners, such that we can make a distinction between them – his activity in authoring the plan of salvation, his activity in teaching it to us, his activity in sustaining our efforts to follow it, his humility in granting us all the same privilege that he has, and so on.

    All modes of grace from first to last. All obligations that he freely takes upon himself, not imposed upon him by any higher will or agency. Nature constrains of necessity but does not will one way or the other. Grace is personal, not natural.

  60. Here’s the thing: my analogy does express my understanding of grace, it just doesn’t represent yours. So the analogy will only be helpful to you insofar as you wish to comprehend my view.

    Grace is incredibly more complex than what I am about to post. I think we agree on many of its functions. In addition, I think we all agree that works are necessary. Grace can’t “make up for our sin without changing it,� and we can’t be saved in our sins. I don’t wish to, as Ostler says: “oversimplify the notion of grace as if it were a single, unitary concept, namely that God arbitrarily confers saving grace on those he wishes to save and that once grace is accepted one is saved regardless of what one does.� But I’m boiling down a couple of points that we seem to see differently.

    1. What it means to be filthy
    Jacob: our propensity to make wicked choices
    When we have become able to live righteously we are no longer filthy
    BiV: any sin committed causes a stain on our soul
    When we have become able to live righteously those stains must still be cleansed.

    2. How the atonement cleanses us from our sins
    Jacob: Helps perfect and sanctify us, by giving us the light of Christ
    BiV: Takes away the stains which remain as a result of sin (as well as helping to perfect & sanctify)

    I think Ben’s original post would tend to agree with you also.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but what makes me uncomfortable about this view is that it doesn’t take into account the fact that we must remember every one of our sins and repent of them. We use the atonement– “wash ourselves in his bloodâ€? and become cleansed of these former sins. We can’t just forget they ever happened. Even if we have now become able to live a celestial law.

    If we just had to be cleansed from our tendency to make wicked choices, we wouldn’t have to receive a _remission_ of our sins. It is only when we have received a remission of these sins that the Lord will “remember them no more.�

    I’m trying to find scriptures to prove my point, but most of them can be read both ways, depending on what your paradigm is. Hmmmm…

  61. Oh, and let me comment on this remark, too.
    “You seem to be saying that even if we have become perfect God cannot accept us into heaven because we used to be imperfect. Why would this be? Is it because God is holding a grudge? Is it because God can’t see that we are now perfect due to the fact that he remembers all our past actions?”

    I am saying that because of the stain left on our soul because of sin, we are unable to dwell in the presence of a perfected, sanctifed Deity. Not because he is holding a grudge. Not because God can’t see that we are now perfect. But God’s grace allows a solution to this problem; our acceptance of the atonement erases the stains.

    (Personal note:) I feel that some sins I have committed have caused what seems like irrepairable damage to my soul (not to mention others) and I don’t think there is any possible way I could fix this–even if I do go on to become “a celestial kind of person.” I would still feel it necessary to go back and fix that–and am so grateful that, because of the atonement, I can! To me, that’s grace.

  62. Bored (#65), I agree that some sins can harm our souls, as manifiest in our habits, memories, physiology in ways that are difficult to repair, almost impossible to repair on our own. I understand that when we sincerely repent and serve the Lord, we are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of our bodies, and that can be effective in changing our ingrained habits and other emotional-physiological manifestations of our past sins.

    I further see the process of death and resurrection as allowing the the more permanent healing of those infirmities, rewarding us eternally according to our desires, not just replicating our soul (as manifest in the body) the way it was on the day we died.

    So in part it appears to be a difference in nomenclature. As I said, I do not believe sins stack up, or create dark energy that must be expiated. I believe that sin causes habits to be ingrained, our instincts gradually modified to accord with our desires of evil, and that I understand all habit and instinct to be manifest physiologically, in the body of whatever variety, and not in the intelligence. The body is the tabernacle of the spirit, and adapts according to the desires thereof, such that when we repent, without God’s grace, it can be very difficult to change it back. If we do not even try, it is impossible, grace or no grace.

  63. Bored in Vernal (#64 and #65),

    I think you have correctly identified and isolated the key places of our disagreement. I do want to understand your view, which is why I keep asking what the “stain” is. I feel sure you don’t think it is a literal stain (like grape juice spilled on our souls), but beyond that I honestly don’t know what you think it means.

    You said “We can’t just forget [former sins] ever happened. Even if we have now become able to live a celestial law.”

    Why not? If the answer is the stain left by sin, then what is the stain?

  64. I’m thinking, I’m thinking!
    (I told you it was a good question…)
    Tell you what, if I come up with the answer, I will write an article and publish it in Dialogue!

  65. Ben, I am not sure why you are still unconvinced that 2Nephi 25:23 is the big reason that the Church struggles with grace. When I think of any talk I hear in church about grace, it is “always” couched in the “after all we can do.” And that goes from hearing talks by the GA’s to my Stake Pres., Bishop and general membership. If that is not the scripture we use to make such a point, then where does such a notion come from? Again, if we did not interpret it the way we do, then I do not believe we would make such an issue about grace saving us only “after all we can do.”

    My point in asking Doc to share his story with us, (thank you Doc) was to show that whatever it was that led him to grace most certainly was not waiting a life time of trying to do good works before he accepted the grace of Christ being sufficient to sustain him now, not at some unforeseeable time in the future. Of course if I am wrong, then Doc can correct me.

    How does the verse in Either fit in with “after all we can do?” It sounds like we will never come close to having charity in our lives until we have accepted grace. Maybe I misunderstand the scripture in Either.

    I honestly believe if we would just turn loose of the current understanding of 2Nephi, and embrace the one that Robinson, Millet and Ostler (and others) are teaching, we would come closer to being seen as Christians, which would help immensely with our missionary work. Just my opinion of course.

    By the way, I believe that once a person feels the grace of Christ in their lives, they will want to talk about it, write about it, and sing about it. I am glad to see that you seem to be drawn to grace more than you let on. :)

  66. CEF,

    I don’t think it really matters how you slice that scripture. Though in the end it is by grace that we are saved, one way or the other, whether it is because of the love of God in our hearts or any mixture of that love with lesser motives, the faithful will be doing all they can to serve God–in the end, that is. As we become more purified we become more able to place God at the center of our affections. It follows naturally, then, that such will anxiously do all they can to, well, do all they can.

    That said we shouldn’t suppose that because God’s grace isn’t sufficient to save us before we have stripped ourselves of all ungodliness (as per Moroni) that His grace is not operative in our lives prior to that point. It is! In fact (imo) it is by His grace that we are led to position ourselves so as to receive a fulness of grace.

  67. Hello Jack, is this the same Jack that I talked to about this same subject about a year ago? If so, it is nice to talk to you again, if not, then it is nice to talk to you.

    Jack, my problem is that it does matter how we slice the scripture. One way can lead the members into depression, because at some point in time they will come to realize that they will “never” do all they can.

    The other way leads one to accept Christ “now” and rely on Him to be good for His word. As Robinson puts it, believe Christ, believe He can do what He said He can do. Namely, save you.

    One leads to bragging, despair and hopelessness. The other leads to humility, faith and hopefulness.

    My only disappointment with these kinds of discussions is that nothing ever changes. I would be willing to change my belief if someone could show me how I am wrong. In other words, I would like to see a discussion like this continue until we all come to a unity of the faith. Maybe that is not possible. But it sounds good anyway. :)

  68. Jack and CEF—
    Are you saying the same thing? The title of Millet’s book is “Grace Works” which is apropos to your discussion because grace & works are both necessary, but grace comes first.

    CEF says: grace “leads one to accept Christ now and rely on Him to be good for His word.”
    Jack says: “the faithful will be doing all they can to serve God–in the end, that is.”

    These don’t look mutually exclusive to me…

    But the works have to be “in the end,” or in other words, after grace has led the person to accept Christ. Grace also gives us a desire to do good works.

    Maybe works serve their purpose in another way, too. When you have tried your best to do all you can do and finally realize at a visceral level that you can never do it on your own, you succumb to the need for grace.

  69. Born in Vernal, yes I agree with what Jack said, except the part about the interpretation of the scripture not mattering. I think it matters a lot. Again, it is (IMO) the main reason that we are not seen as Christians in the world. It is easily corrected, and I believe should be corrected.

  70. BiV,
    You are probably on to something about works serving their purpose in us finally learning we need grace. I can imagine this is how Nephi experienced it himself. He always struck me as a perfectionist. However, why is it good for us to spend so much time in this zone? It seems wasted time, perhaps a necessary part of the journey to truly being spiritually born of God for some people, but only because they are stubborn. Some people succumb to depression from perfectionism entirely before they see the error in their thinking. Don’t forget that depression can literally be fatal.

    I don’t think the reason the interpretation of that scripture is important has anything to do with our being perceived as Christian. I think it importance is much more in real life application.

  71. CEF,

    I agree that the scripture is somewhat of a problem in the common understanding of what grace is, but I think that is more a nomenclature problem than an actual problem. No one is going to preach that one only can feel the spirit if one is effectively perfect, or completely free from weaknesses and shortcomings. No one is going to preach that Christ came only to minister unto the righteous. No one is going to say that the Atonement is of no effect in helping us repent or helping us become better people.
    We talk about grace all the time we just use different terms for it – either the blessings of the Spirit or the Atonement.

    I completely agree that one needs the spirit of grace to have true charity. However I disagree that one needs grace to have any good desire whatsoever. That leads to a chicken and the egg problem that nullifies all existence, in an LDS framework, at least.

    How did our Heavenly Father (as a person) get grace except from someone else, who got it from someone else, ad infinitum, turning grace not into the freely willed gift of God, but a metaphysical accident of nature. Grace is not grace unless it is a free gift, over and above what we naturally deserve. Nature cannot give, only personal intelligences can give, suffer, and sacrifice for the benefit of others. If one says all good, of any sort whatsoever is external to us, that we cannot generate grace of our own, even under the direction of the spirit, that shuts down the avenue by which God gives us grace in the first place, for we (as persons), in essentials, are co-eternal intelligences with him. If we cannot contribute to the pool of grace, neither can he.

  72. Doc,
    Amen and amen. We shouldn’t spend much time in this zone. If we can realize this principle as soon as possible, we can move on.

  73. CEF #74
    If I had been born in Vernal, I would not have survived this long. I’ve been here 10 months and I’m about to expire. The boredom! The narrow-mindedness! The lack of fine dining! The atrocious grammar! Arrrrggghhh!

  74. I find it interesting the depression always creeps into discussions having to do with grace. I, personally, have had great struggles with depression/anxiety and what-have-you. No doubt there are others chiming (or lurking enthusiastically) in to this discussion who suffer from depression as well. Why is that? I have some ideas of my own, but perhaps one of the permabloggers might do a post on the subject–or maybe not. I think it would be an topic interesting tho–

  75. Jack,

    I understand it like this. If one does not have faith in or an appreciation of a spiritual power far higher than one’s own mortal abilities, the natural realities of life according to the arm of flesh lead to a loss of hope, and a loss of hope leads to a loss of vision, and a loss of vision leads to a common form of depression, and without where there is that sort of depression, the people perish.

    All depression is not mentally self inflicted however, the grand theories of half of the psychological community to the contrary.

  76. Mark,

    The way you understand it is indisputable though–as you imply in your second paragragh–only applicable to one (healthy) slice of the pie. (forgive the pun) And I appreciate your contrariness to those “grand theories.”

    This thread gave me some hope: http://timesandseasons.org/?p=1228#more-1228

  77. Jack,

    Having suffered through various afflictions in my life, I can definitely say they felt the deepest by far on those occasions when I lost or nearly lost hope, and a bearable burden when I had (and yet have) an abiding faith in Christ and his power to heal all wounds, if not according to his will in the here and now, then in the resurrection.

    I would say more on the second subject, but it is off topic here.

  78. First, let me apologize to Bored, not born in Vernal. I was in a hurry and did not proof read what I wrote, plus I am, next to Jack, the worst speller in the world. :) A few years ago, we had a missionary here from Vernal. Small world.

    Doc, I could not agree more that grace has a much bigger importance the the scheme of things than just us being seen as Christians. But agreeing to that, does not diminish the problem we have in the Church as a huge PR problem.

    The biggest problem here where I live, in our missionary work, is that we are not even seen as Christians. And the biggest reason I hear is that we do not believe in the grace of Christ saving us, that we have to earn our way to heaven. In trying to trace that down to see if there is something we can do to correct it, I have come to the conclusion that it is that one scripture causing most of the problem. As I said before, “every” talk I hear about grace, is “always” framed in the understanding of only after we have done all we can do. That is like saying this.

    We are saved by an undeserved gift, but it is only bestowed after we have spent a life time trying to earn it. Okay, so how is it a gift if I have earned it? I hope it is clear that the current understanding is and has been very harmful to the Church. It is easily corrected and should be, but for whatever reason, too many members are trying to hold on to it.

    Mark – I tend to agree with everything you said, but this one point. I am not willing to say that we are unable to do any good on our own, that somehow seems wrong. But in Warner’s book, “Bonds That Make Us Free” he makes a very good point that until we have a change of heart, every good thing we try and do, is done for the wrong reason. For instance, if I pay my tithing, it could be because I am hoping for some kind of fire insurance, and not because I truly want to give back to the Lord so He can use it for His purposes. Or if I give some poor person some money, it is only so I feel better about myself, not because I have an altruistic nature to help the suffering of the poor. I agree with Terry Warner.

    I have a good friend that lives in the SLC area. A few years ago, he told me about some kind of church meeting he went to and I think it was a Bro. Porter or Potter, that said a big problem in the Church is that third and forth generation members are leaving the Church because they have come to the conclusion that they will never be good enough to make it to the Celestial Kingdom. I can think of only one scripture and it’s misinterpretation that leads one to that conclusion.

  79. I’ve read this thread with interest, as I’ve recently taught my NT (Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians) and BoM classes about the relationship between grace, faith, works, salvation, and covenant.

    I think there are better passages than 2 Nephi 25:23 to teach about grace, and I always quote Alma 24:11 in connection with 25:23.

    Otherwise, it lends itself too easily to a perfectionist, list-based concept of righteousness and salvation. At least, such is my experience.

    The best passage, I think, is 2 Nephi 10:24.

    ” 24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, **after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.**
    25 Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine.”

    It’s also interesting to note that the JST for Romans 3:28 (not included in the 1981 edition) matches Luther’s emendation of “faith alone.” 3:24 does have the JST.

  80. CEF,

    I haven’t read Terry Warner, but the position you describe is I believe too absolutistic, in a way that makes divinization and exaltation impossible. It is in fact a variation of the doctrine of total depravity.

    Now I agree that the good an intelligence can accomplish by itself (without inspiration) is extremely limited. However I cannot agree that it is of no value at all. The reason why I cannot agree is that I understand divinization in terms of spiritual unity of the hosts of heaven, in other words not a natural property of any being at all, but an emergent property of a host of beings in concert, divine concert in particular.

    If not one of those beings can accomplish or contribute a smidgen of good to the spiritual welfare of the whole, then the whole cannot be good either, no amount of addition or multiplication of a bunch of beings that are totally depraved, no matter what degree of humility, cooperation, graciousness, obedience, etc. they strive to have, can result in anything more than total depravity of the whole.

    The doctrine of total depravity relies on the doctrine that the Godhead or Trinity are the only source of any good whatsoever, that they are necessarily that way, that there was no free will about it, that they did not progress to their current station grace for grace, as D&C 93 teaches, that they stand alone and independent of all other persons. That is no way to understand a personal God, in fact it destroys the hope of exaltation completely, reducing it to the Protestant doctrine of glorification alone.

    However, it is not as if the Protestants believe this doctrine without a cause. Indeed, it is a very good *approximation* to our relationship with God. However it is not a very good approximation to our relationship with just three individuals, it is a very good approximation to our relationship with the divine concert, the hosts of heaven, the assembly of all exalted beings.

    Without the doctrine of conciliar investiture in divine persons, it is impossible, for example, to properly understand the distinction between the behavior Jesus Christ exemplified while here on this earth (humble, self-abasing, servant, etc.) and the behavior that Jehovah demonstrated in the Old Testament (all powerful, domineering, having no equal nor God beside him, etc.).

    I understand the answer here is that Christ during his mortal tenure was demonstrating that being divine, *as a person*, does not mean being high and mighty, self-willed, a law unto oneself, selfish, proud, and telling everyone else what to do.

    However, Jehovah in the Old Testament, on the other hand is acting by divine investiture of authority, not the authority of simply one other humble, self-abasing, easily to be entreated figure (his heavenly father), but rather the investiture of the divine council as a whole, Elohim (plural according to Joseph Smith), a council beside which there is no equal.

    So we are strictly monotheistic in exactly the same sense as conventional Christians, but the doctrine of exaltation implies that there is only one unity of divinity manifest through the divine concert, instead of only one unity of divinity manifest through three divine persons. Our extended Godhead has very many persons, eventually millions, who share an indwelling spirit of glory, unity, and consent that leverages natural law, but is largely of their own free creation.

    In short the ontological similarity between us prior to the body, and any divine person, prior to the body, entails that while any person (mortal or divne) is self-existent, divinity as such is largely a created being, not necessary being alone, and certainly not arbitrary being. Some of its aspects love are unavoidable aspects of any divine unity of purpose. But nature did not make God love anyone. He freely chose to love. That is what makes grace a gift. Because any gracious person is not forced to give, but giving is indeed what makes them gracious.

    So we have two senses here. Jesus Christ was not forced to do what he did, but if he did not give us grace, he would no longer be God. Same applies to the divine concert. They were not forced to love, serve, and sacrifice, but not one of them could be considered divine, nor would we owe them any respect or gratitutude, if they did not give freely of their own free will. A gift given grudgingly or under duress is not a gift.

  81. I’ve read a little of Warner’s stuff and I can tell ya–me no like. ‘Seems like a nice guy and all but I think he was overly influenced by some of Arthur Henry King’s ideas. If AKH wasn’t a believer in total depravity he was very close to it, IMO.

  82. Hello Mark – I tend to agree that the way Warner frames his ideas sounds too absolute. So last night after I went to bed, (when I do some of my best thinking) I tried to figure out why Warner would do such a thing, after all, he is Mormon and I assume understands the theology of the Church as well as others. So I came up with this.

    Perhaps it is along the lines of the natural man is an enemy of God, the BOM stressing the “mighty change of heart”, and the necessity of being born of God that creates a new creature to walk in a newness of life.

    It would seem from all of the above, that until a person changes some way, somehow, that he is not seen in the same light by God as he is after he changes. Maybe this is what Warner is trying to say without making it seem too religious, because his book is not a religious book. Maybe he would say it differently to a Mormon audience.

    As for the other things you said, I couldn’t have said it better myself. :) I think you and Blake must hang out together or something. :)

  83. Ben #85 – It is nice to see more and more people in the Church better understanding the problem with 2Nephi 25:23 and your teaching Alma 24:10-11 is the only way to correctly understand the current interpretation of it. Thank you for your help.

  84. Thanks for the compliment, CEF. I have never met Blake in person, but it is an honor to be placed in the same category with him.

    I agree, in general that it is necessary to understand how we are next to nothing standing before God, how we cannot accomplish anything of lasting, eternal value without his assistance, to enter into a proper relationship with him – seeking not to counsel the Lord, but to accept counsel at his hand.

    After that, however, we need to understand that the Lord values us, not just as children, but as servants, and eventually as friends – that working through us he can accomplish a great work that will bless us all around, indeed increase his joy in heaven as well. Ad majorem Dei gloriam right?

  85. What an insightful and stimulating conversation! It really made me think and dig deeper into Paul’s writings and various other scriptures that explore the concept of grace, including the Book of Mormon, which is, for me, the key to understanding any doctrine. As a convert from atheism, I have the benefit of not having my mind clouded by the Protestant precepts. Nor did I grow up being taught by well-meaning but shallow expressions that are so often taught as doctrine in our meetings.

    I have no problem with 2 Nephi 25:23 in the context of grace vs works. Of course, it would be much move convenient if Nephi said “…for we know that after all we can do, it is by grace that we are saved’, which would mean that it is grace that saves us, notwithstanding the contributing factor of our own efforts. Only Nephi didn’t say it that way. Nor did he “stumble because of the placing of [his] words” (Ether 12:25). But there is so much stumbling already (1 Nephi 13:29,34; 2 Nephi 26:30), and, thus, more theologizing and misinterpreting of the doctrine by Latter-day Saints and Protestants alike. The doctrine is stunningly simple. This is not to say that I have comprehended all of its transcendent depth, but I do understand enough with the help of the Holy Ghost to make me comfortable with a few conclusions which, I believe, are supported by scriptures and, most importantly, by personal experience.

    I don’t think theologians no very much about grace. I would far more gladly listen to one simple inspired testimony in a sacrament meeting than read all the books on the subjects of grace. I think that grace is not understood until it is been received and felt and internalized.

    Another reason for misunderstanding grace is it’s broad definition, or the ambiguity with which it is applied. Often times it becomes an abstract concept, rather than the Atonement and testimony, which are very personal. That is, in my opinion, why it is so easy for me to understand prophets and apostles on deepest doctrines, albeit in relatively simple terms. They are not theologians and speak from the heart and by the power of the Holy Ghost, by which we may know the TRUTH of all things. That means we have the capacity to understand more than what is being said (in proportion to our preparation to hear the word).

    I don’t want to seem too arrogant or subjective. I believe that we cannot as mortals comprehend intellectually full depth of the doctrine of grace, or any other doctrine, for that matter. But the beauty of the Plan of Salvation is that even a child can understand and rejoice in it at their level of spiritual attainment. So, while listening to my two favorite hymns: the simple and sweet “I am a Child of God” or the theologically drenched (as Elder Maxwell would put it) “If You Could Hie To Kolob”, and glean essentially the same doctrine from both.

    Anyway, my post may be less scholarly or coherent than those preceeding (I am a musician, after all). But I do love and appreciate the “enabling grace” and, coincidentally, have been thinking about it when I discovered this blog.

    P.S. I just realized that I never did say what my take on the doctrine was, but the post is long enough as it is and I got home teaching to do.

  86. Bored in Vernal – I see you read the book “If Grace Is True.” I found it to be interesting. If you liked it, you will probable like the next one they wrote called “If God Is Love.” I thought both books made some good points and asked some good questions.

    It has been my experience that if anyone has really been changed by grace, there is no need to worry about how much work they will do, they will do it naturally, out of love of their Savior not out of duty or obligation. The following is a neat quote from Robert Millet in his book “Are We There Yet?” page 137-138.

    This is a response to a question by one of his
    nonmember friends that he has had an ongoing
    conversation with about each others faith. Question: “You
    are standing before the judgment bar of the Almighty,
    and God turns to you and asks: Robert Millet, what
    right do you have to enter heaven? Why should I let
    you in?”

    Answer: Some personal pondering before he answers his
    friend. “Would I say to the Lord something like,
    ‘Well, I should go to heaven because I was baptized
    into the Church, I served a full-time mission, I
    married in the temple…”

    “I would say to God, I claim the right to enter heaven
    because of my complete trust in the Lord Jesus Christ
    and my reliance upon his merits and mercy and grace.”

    I really believe Millet has come to the correct conclusion.

  87. I think I probably agree with the point Millet was trying to make in that quote above. I was always impressed by Millet as a person (I took a class from him and talked with him in his office hours a few times) even though he did get visably annoyed with me once when he showed “The Mediator” in class and I asked a probing question about the analogy. He always struck me as a very Christian person in the best senses of that word.

    I think it would help if we would make a distinction more often between what we need to become _in this life_ to make it into heaven verses what we need to become _eventually_ to make it into heaven. I take Millet’s statement above to be focused on the first question. While it is true we must put our complete trust in Jesus and rely on his grace during this life, it is not incompatible with that to say that we must eventually become perfect to live with our Heavenly Father again. It is healthy to remember the end goal at the same time we recognize that no one ever got there in a moment, and no one is expected to get there in this life. I have always liked George MacDonald’s statement (oft quoted by C.S. Lewis) that “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” He really does expect to make something great out of us and he needs our help to do it. That is why I love the concept of enabling grace. It tells me that while God is forgiving and patient, he does believe I am destined for greatness and he intends to help me get there.

  88. ditto Jacob, I have loved this thread, and don’t think I could sum up my feelings any better than
    Yeah, what he said(#95) :).

  89. Yes. The requirements of the Lord in terms of what we need to become are very strict:

    For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven;

    And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.
    (D&C 1:31-33)

    No one can say, *Stop*, I have received commandments enough, let me enjoy my life! It is either forwards or backwards, making a sacrifice each day sufficient to show that we are serious about obeying *all* of his commandments, and not a chosen few. He who willingly rejects the commandments of the Lord, not according to temporal weakness, but open rebellion, is in a dire strait indeed. He inevitably falls backward, entering a worse state than he was in the first place, until he repents, according to the judgments of God, which are just.

  90. Mark – I am not sure how to take your last post. I have not seen anyone say that works are not important and that we do not have to endure to the end. The difference I am trying to point out, is much too often, we LDS do not enjoy the journey as much as we should.

    I have tried to show one reason that I think we do not enjoy the journey. A change in the direction we have discussed would help in many ways. Namely, we will come across much more like the Christians I know us to be, which would help with our mission of sharing the gospel with others, as well as making the journey much more enjoyable for all of us.

    Or did I misunderstand you?

    Sasha – I am glad you have enjoyed the discussion. Thanks for helping out!

    Jacob – I agree

  91. CEF,

    I was merely providing scriptural support for what Jacob said regarding “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy”.

  92. Don’t know if people are still interested in this, but I had a few more thoughts.

    The more I am studying this from the scriptures, the more I am coming around to the viewpoint of “enabling grace.” There are still a few things I can’t quite shed, though I wonder how much it comes from actual theology and how much from what I’ve been taught since youth.

    Sorry, CEF, I didn’t agree with the authors of “If Grace is True,” nor the concept of universal salvation. To me, it’s rather obvious that works play a key role in salvation in Mormon theology.

    But when I read Ben’s posts, they do bother me. Here’s a statement that rubs me the wrong way: “No one can say, *Stop*, I have received commandments enough, let me enjoy my life! It is either forwards or backwards, making a sacrifice each day sufficient to show that we are serious about obeying *all* of his commandments, and not a chosen few. ”

    Enabling grace when translated into practice would seem to give a greater enjoyment of life, trusting God to cover our inabilities. Works would stem from the fact that we love to do them! They would flow forth with no groaning that we are making a sacrifice each day.

    I don’t think Ben would disagree. But his paradigm, when translated into practice, gives us the very situation we have in the youth programs today, where we are emphasizing chastity, modesty, Strength of Youth pamphlet so very much that there is almost nothing on Christ and his grace. Many youth (and adults) see this as “all fun is forbidden.” Without an emphasis on love of the Savior and joy of the message, they lack the strength and conviction to follow all these “no-no’s.” This is where I agree with CEF.

    How can we translate the combined theology of grace and works into teaching that will bring forth in our listeners a response like this instead:
    “Don’t stop! I haven’t received commandments enough! Give me more! I enjoy my life under grace so very much that I want to live every commandment and not just a chosen few.” (compare with quote above)

  93. Just as a clarification, the Ben of comment #85 is M* Ben, and it’s the only comment of his on this thread.

  94. Bored,

    That is one of the mysteries of the gospel. How it it consistent with the economy of heaven for us to sacrifice now, and often not see any benefit – *to anyone* – for a lengthy period of time, perhaps not even until the next life. Sacrificing isn’t particularly pleasant. It rubs us the wrong way. The refiner’s fire is hot – and that is when we are just giving up our own weaknesses. What about the sacrifice of the virtuous? Why is it so often meet for the righteous to suffer even more than the judgments that the Lord inflicts of the wicked?

    The following scripture doesn’t answer the question, but it does provide a framework for the answer:

    Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?

    And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.

    Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.

    And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.

    Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
    (Malachi 3:14-18)

    The New Testament teaches the answer to this question in one word: partake.

    And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
    (2 Cor 1:7)

    The idea that Paul didn’t teach a doctrine of what the Protestants would call “works”, is ridiculous, by the way. Christian service, suffering, and sacrifice is all over his writings.

  95. Still, you gotta watch out because sacrificing merely because you think you should be sacrificing doesn’t always yield heathly fruit. That approach has led a lot of folks (whole societies, in fact) into an escetic misery of sorts.

    God gives Adam the Law of sacrifice in the wake of hope–a hope of redemption. IMO, if there isn’t an element of gladness in the process then something’s not quite right.

    Now if I can just follow my own very good advice…

  96. Any old sacrifice (e.g. according to the arm of flesh, or the wisdom of men) is what Paul called “dead works”. Service to others under the direction of the Holy Spirit is what Paul called a “living sacrifice”. The Spirit makes all the difference. For example:

    How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
    (Hebrews 9:14)

    We depart from dead works to do what? Service.

    Not all sacrifices are created equal. Some avail relatively little, compared to the greater:

    And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
    (1 Sam 15:22)

    For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
    (1 Pet 2:20)

    Inspired service is a true sacrifice:

    I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
    (Romans 12:1)

    To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
    (1 Pet 2:4-5)

    It is worth remembering that the scriptures speak not of us accepting Christ’s sacrifice, but rather of him accepting ours.

  97. Oops, that should be asthetic with an “a” not an “e” in my previous comment.

    From John 6:

    28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
    29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

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