If you’re a Mormon, you’ve most likely had another Christian say or insinuate something to the effect of, “You Mormons think you can work your way to heaven.” It’s just bound to happen. Many times, the person saying this to you is either quoting their pastor, or something they might have read in a book somewhere. If you’re smart enough not to take offense at the accusation, you’ll have the great opportunity of entering into what is known as the great debate over whether or not our works mean anything in this crazy life.
The funniest thing about this timeless argument is the fact that both parties think they’re disagreeing with each other…when in fact, they are actually agreeing. It’s the strangest thing!
Nowhere in Mormon doctrine does it teach that we are saved by our works. We’ll just get that out of the way up front. What we do believe is that we are rewarded according to our works! Our works are critical to our progression, but worthless without our Savior. Without Christ’s atonement, we have absolutely no chance. No chance at all!
Christianity often overlooks the fact that everyone is actually “saved.” Christ died for everyone, and regardless of their belief in Him, they will still receive the gift of the resurrection. The resurrection is an act of grace bestowed upon even the lowliest of criminals and disbelievers. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others classed among the most wicked of people will receive that gift of the resurrection and be saved from death. So by grace…we are saved. All of us.1
But there’s more to the story of God’s grace. Beyond that initial gift of grace that rescues us from certain physical death, God offers those that have good works a greater measure of His grace. He “rewards” them according to their faith in Him. The greater the faith…the greater the works. The greater the works…the greater the faith. You can’t have one without the other.
We used an acronym in the mission field to describe the grace of God:
God bestows more of His “riches” upon us based on our commitment to Him. Through Christ’s sacrifice, God is able to offer a much more comprehensive inheritance to those that accept and honor Jesus Christ. John said that he “saw the dead, small and great, stand before God…and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”2 Paul tells the Philippians to “work out you own salvation with fear and trembling before God.”3 To incorporate some of Paul’s other teachings to the Corinthians, we might as well say, “work out your own degree of salvation…before God.”
Christ enables us to receive God’s riches. No one else was capable of giving us that opportunity. But it’s clear from the scriptures that the degree to which we are saved is in direct relation to our works. I’ve never quite understood why that concept is so hard to understand.
Sometimes I’ll have a person tell me that all I need to do to be saved is to confess the name of Christ. They quote Paul in saying that “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”4 It’s selective reasoning. It’s the easy route. It’s the guilt free route. But “How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him?” asks Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
Each of us, says Elder Holland will need to “spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane…and have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.”5
A confession of faith in Christ is indeed an important first step to discipleship and a pathway to God’s riches. But is not the very act of moving my mouth and the subsequent verbal confession of faith a work on my part? Most people will agree that a confession of faith is indeed a verb, an action, and a work. Therefore, anyone who agrees that a confession of faith is a work, is also saying that a work is a requirement for receiving a greater portion of God’s grace. That portion over and above the grace of the resurrection.
Every decent Christian will agree that it is required to repent. Every decent Christian will agree that you can’t just go to a revival at Dodger Stadium on a Saturday and “get saved” and then be done with it. The confession of faith places us on a path to perfection. It’s the first step in living a life worthy of the rewards and blessings that have been promised to the faithful. Surely, it’s our works that prove our faith. If we confess Christ and then proceed to dishonor Him, then our faith is dead. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” 6
Many people have tried to get rid of the Book of James over the years. They don’t think it should be part of the canon. It’s easy to understand why. The world doesn’t want faith to be hard work. But it is. Apparently we live in a world that is afraid of hard work. But if we want to become like God…we must work! “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” said the Savior in John 5:17. If they work…should we not?
Christ does everything for us that we can’t do for ourselves. But the things we can do for ourselves, He wants us to do for ourselves. That is the only way to learn…and earn. He saves us from physical and spiritual death and reminds us that “In my Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you.” He prepared a place for us because he wants us to be with Him, but we have the choice to reject the place that He’s prepared for us. Truly, we choose whether that place He prepared for us is going to be a hut or a mansion. He prepared it! He didn’t finish construction on it!
Everyone of us gets an undeserved trip back to the presence of God, but none of us get an undeserved mansion. He’s done His work and will continue to help us in our endeavors. But now it’s time for us to do our work.
1. 1 Cor 15:22
2. Rev 20:12
3. Phil 2:12
4. Romans 10:9
5. Jeffrey R. Holland, Missionary Work and The Atonement March 2001
6. James 2:14
7. John 14:2