When in Romans

We’ve been getting a lot of online discussion lately as a result of the legalistic view of the gospel that’s been presented in General Conference, and particularly the introduction of a new term: qualification. The term may be new, but this is the same Mormon discussion we’ve been having since the get-go: grace vs. works. Mormons have a tough time comprehending grace as a gift, assuming that works are necessary to “qualify” for God’s grace, which leads to checklists of actions required to qualify, worthiness interviews to ensure we have done the things on the checklist, and at least doing the mental calculus to see if we’ve done enough, and sometimes just for personal gratification, noting that others have not done what we deem is “enough.” As a faith tradition, we are very works-focused. The idea that our puny efforts matter at all in the grand scheme of things is because we care so very much about no unclean thing entering, and we’re willing to tackle them personally at the Pearly Gates to prevent it.

A few years ago I substitute taught the Gospel Doctrine lesson on Romans, which is one of the most pivotal books in Christian scripture, inspiring Luther’s 95 Theses, and thereby sparking the Protestant Reformation.  A single lesson was not sufficient to do it justice, obviously, but there were a lot of interesting facts. [1]  For those who haven’t read it, I highly recommend Adam Miller’s book Grace Is Not God’s Back Up Plan.  It’s an easy read and makes Romans even more accessible with modern language.

Romans was written by Paul (most scholars agree he personally wrote it) between 55 and 57 AD, from Corinth.  This means it was about 20 years after his conversion.  The letter was transcribed by Tertius (his “amanuensis” which is something between a scribe and a ghost writer).  Romans is a letter (to a specific audience) rather than an epistle (to the public in a city).  His audience was just church members, and there were two groups of them:  Jewish Christians and Pagan converts to Christianity.  There was still a lot of tension between these two groups with the Jewish Christians feeling that Jewish customs and the Law of Moses were still important and Pagan converts being called by the Spirit, following Christianity without the encumbrance of Jewish traditions.

Paul’s background is important because he was a Hellenistic Jew (combining both Judaism and Greek culture) as well as a Pharisee (a political movement and school of thought within Judaism) before his conversion to Christianity.  He had sided against Peter by opposing the need for new Christian converts to be circumcised.  Paul had not yet been to Rome (where Peter had formed the churches), and some of the Jewish Christians in Rome were riled up about his viewpoints regarding their beloved traditions (if circumcision can be beloved).  He writes his letter to clarify his position and settle things down a bit and says he will come to Rome soon on his way to preach in Spain.

There are so many parallels to church culture today.  Within any group of people, those who are more established have privilege, particularly when they’ve been told they are the chosen people or are special.  I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the Jewish Christians and several groups within Mormonism:  multi-generational members with pedigreed family trees and pioneer stock, members who are born in the covenant (vs. converts) or even Utah Mormons.  All of these groups are steeped in Mormon culture in a way converts are not, having been raised in it.  Unlike the Pagan converts who respond to the gospel, they have the baggage of heritage to sift through, to determine what is part of the gospel, and what is not.  They have the disadvantage of being an insider, and Paul points out that it can be a disadvantage.

He doesn’t let the Pagan converts off light, though.  They too have their disadvantages.  Basically, he says nobody is more special than anybody else.  We are all equally sinful, and all equally divine; we all benefit from the roots of Judaism, and God is no respecter of persons.  As he reveals in Romans 8: 14-17, the crux of this chiastic letter [2]:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.  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.

If we see ourselves and others as children of God, this shouldn’t be to make us think we are better than others, but to show that we are all equally divine, and that a spiritual conversion awakens our awareness of that divinity within us and within our fellow men.

Paul starts in chapter 1: 21-23 by listing out all the ways humans are sinful.  One that he points out is particularly interesting:

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.   Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,   And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things.

This is a very Hellenistic idea, that what is ideal and spiritual is more important and more real than what is physical or material (corruptible); his Greek roots are showing.  By decrying the human tendency to focus on the “natural” world over the “spiritual” world, his criticism hits both groups squarely; Pagan converts were superstitious and used to idols as part of their culture, while Jewish Christians made the law an idol, trying to be justified by exact obedience to the Jewish law.

He points out that the Jews are quick to justify themselves by the law, but they have no leg to stand on for two reasons: 1) the pagans weren’t given that law and aren’t beholden to it, and 2) they aren’t perfect at adhering to the law, so they are hypocrites and are condemned by the law.  He even has to get one more dig in on circumcision, pointing out that they are not saved by circumcision which is physical, but by what’s inside of them, the spiritual.  Sorry, but the circumcision was all for naught.  Thanks for playing.

Paul then sets up a bunch of strawman arguments and easily knocks them down one by one, using these rhetorical questions to answer his supposed hecklers among the believers in Rome.  He says the law is only valuable to teach us what sin is, but we are all sinful.  It’s like driving with the speed limit.  There’s no perfect driver.  The speed limit just tells us what is safe, but when it’s not posted, we don’t have a guideline.  We just have to do our best.  But you don’t get a speeding ticket when there is no speed limit.

Paul asks whether faith or law comes first.  You could say that it depends whether you are raised in the church or not.  In Romans 4: 1-3, Paul explains why the Jewish Christians got so mixed up:

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?  For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

The Jewish Christians inherited the law (the Law of Moses in particular) as offspring of Abraham, but Abraham’s covenant wasn’t a set of laws.  Faith (or trust in God) came before the law, not the other way around.  But for those raised in that culture, law comes before faith.

So it is in our Mormon culture.  If children are raised in the church, they learn the “laws” or commandments from a very young age.  They are forced (or encouraged) to go to church, to fast, to say prayers, to read scriptures, to follow the Word of Wisdom, not to shop on Sundays, etc.  These are all the “law” of Mormonism–the outward behaviors–and they have their rewards like approval from authorities, parents and other church members.

But they aren’t the same thing as having faith or trust in God.  We talk about gaining a testimony, but that’s not how Paul puts it.  The way we talk about testimony often turns it into a proof of our faith, evidence that bolsters our being right.  It’s another reason Paul cautions us in Romans 14: 1:

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

He talks about conversion, being born again, starting a new life, being awakened and suddenly able to leave our sinful state.  We often don’t talk about that type of conversion for those born into Mormon culture, but perhaps we should because without it, there’s too much validation for obedience and the “law.”  It’s too easy to miss the point, which is that the law and our works don’t and can’t save.  Period.  Only trust in God’s grace can. Believing we are earning salvation through our works is just another sin after all, a very insidious one because there’s such a reward with it:  admiration, approval from leaders, and even increased responsibility through higher church callings!

When Paul describes that newness of life that comes with conversion, he also describes that when we live in grace we quit focusing on all the behavior policing and we follow the great commandment to love one another:

  • We love our enemies and do good to them.  We don’t lay a snare for others.  (Romans 12)
  • We welcome doubters (those with weak faith) and quit trying to prove we’re right. (Romans 12: 1)
  • We are awakened to a new way of living, loving our fellow men. (Romans 13)
  • We quit arguing over politics.  We take care of our societal obligations and leave it at that.  (Romans 12: 7-8)
  • We quit judging people for preferences like what they eat, clothing, hairstyles, or other cultural customs.  (Romans 14)

It seems to me that not a whole lot has changed in 2000 years.  We are just as prone to self-justification and judging others as ever.  People still tattle in the name of righteousness and don’t welcome doubters.  People judge others as less righteous than they are, and then use that to justify mistreating them.  Maybe we’ve gained a testimony, garnered evidence to prove we are right, but not been converted in the process.  And without that conversion of heart, we don’t love our neighbors.  We keep trying to show how we are better than they are.

While I was teaching, an older sister raised her hand and said, “It sounds like you’re saying that works aren’t necessary to be saved.” I said, “Yes, that is what Paul is saying.” Several class members audibly said “Faith without works is dead,” quoting James. They were a bit scandalized, but also engaged in the discussion. I clarified, “Yes, James said that. These are two different people; Paul didn’t write James. Just like there are different members of the Q12 who focus on different things at conference, two different people said those things.” There’s this tendency to harmonize the scriptures, and even general conference talks, as if they all came straight from one source, but they didn’t.

I actually fully expected the class to come back with the Book of Mormon scripture from 2 Nephi that we are saved “after all we can do.” Paul essentially disagrees with this view in Romans, unless the word “after” means something else, more like “despite.” Maybe if after means at the end of our life’s labors (generally) rather than after we’ve done as many items on the checklist as possible, and particularly more than those other bad people who shouldn’t get the same reward we get if there’s any justice in this world. Paul’s argument is that boasting of our works is a slippery slope used to justify excusing ourselves when compared to other sinners. This was what Paul was cautioning the Jews against. (Romans 9:3) Of course, Nephi would have still been operating under the Law of Moses, so those could be the works he refers to (the sacrifices associated with the Law of Moses). Paul points out that even if we have the law, we never actually DO “all we can do.” [3]

Discuss.

[1] Not only that, but the manual reduced it down further by only focusing on two things:  that you still have to do works (Paul is probably rolling over in his unmarked grave somewhere) and the part about being a child of God.  In fact, the manual recommended ditching a huge portion of the lesson time to having kids come in to sing I Am a Child of God.  To me, that’s giving Romans–and Paul–short shrift. If anyone deserves extra shrift, it’s Paul.

[2] The lesson didn’t point out that Romans is a chiasmus, oddly enough.  I thought Mormons lurved chiasmus.  I just happened to notice it was one while I read it.

[3] But that’s one reason Nephi comes off as a bit of a jerk.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks Angela, very helpful.

  2. Very insightful and helpful. Thanks, Angela.

  3. I teach RS and Sis. Craven’s “Careful vs. Casual” is on my schedule. It’s all box ticking to define “disciple of Christ” by actions rather than by attitudes of love. I don’t think I can teach that. I believe if you get your heart right first, then your actions will manifest it. I don’t believe that accomplishing a litany of duties will bring me or anyone closer to Christ

  4. Thinking about Romans for a single 50-minute class once every four years is kind of shocking, or depressing. But I like this in general and as a good way to handle one short session on Romans.

    I quite like the “two different people” way of sidestepping a discussion that could take over the class. But if anyone’s listening to “pivotal” and “95 Theses” and “Adam Miller” at the beginning, they’re not going to be satisfied with “just two different people” at the end.

  5. your food allergy is fake says:

    “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

  6. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

    Of course, some of us do not see that instruction as commanding an action to prove one’s love of Christ, but as an invitation — one that may be at least partly predicting that the kind of “works” that matter are a natural consequence of love (or faith in Christ which seems to entail love). Still, it doesn’t reach the kind of perfectionism sometimes sponsored by our church culture since one of those commandments – repentance – cannot be kept without committing and acknowledging sin.

    Stephen Robinson’s “Believing Christ” (1992) addressed the issue including the common misunderstanding of Nephi’s “after all we can do” with great effect for some individuals and apparently little effect on the general culture. I imagine there were also others much earlier than Adam Miller.

    Thanks for the write-up on a great way to approach Romans in a brief Sunday School class.

  7. Wonderful post. The day I read in Romans the section about Grace coming first and that the Law was given much, much later (and was given in order to define those things that get in the way of Grace) changed my entire religious world-view.

    In many ways this has become the crux of what I struggle with at church in a day-to-day sense. I want to avoid sin so that I can be filled with and exude grace. The pressure I feel though is to check off the boxes, and the competitive spirit in my ward (and most of the lessons) is all about checking off the boxes. It’s what we judge each other by.

  8. Although I’ve always liked the epistles of Paul, I feel like he taught a different gospel than found in the rest of the New Testament. I suspect his focus on grace arises from his pre-Christian lifestyle…like he’s saying “hey look, I’ve tried the works thing….it just doesn’t get you anywhere. But then Christ had grace on me despite all my bad works and brought me to his fold.”

    On the other hand, Christ’s message as recorded in the gospels seems to be focused on our actions. Not on ritualistic works, like the Pharisees advocated, nor on completing a checklist of deeds, but specifically on how we treat others.

    In the end, I think judgment will go down much like stated in Matthew 25: Were you good to other people? Sheep. Did you ignore the needs of others? Goat.

  9. Kathryn S says:

    I still think we need to get beyond the faith/works dichotomy. Is there a model that integrates both, rather than putting them in opposition to each other, perhaps by emphasizing how Christ wants us to live or what he wants us to become? Or maybe we need to think more clearly about what it means to be saved. Save from what? Throughout the scriptures Christ clearly commands his disciples to have faith in him as well as to do specific things out of faith. In 2 Nephi 31:17-20 we are taught to have faith in Christ, repent and be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost in order to enter in by the gate and start on the path to eternal life. Those are all actions on our part. But we are reminded that the only way to come that far is by “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is might to save.” And then we are told to do more things as we continue to rely on Christ–have hope, love God and our neighbors, feast on the word of Christ, endure to the end.

  10. Is there really anyone out there who achieves good things in life (even in their religious life) who does not have values, expectations and goals for their own behavior and achievement? Sadly, I perceive an appreciation of Paul not based upon allowing Grace into our lives, but into abandoning any sort of expectation or effort into living a Christian life.

    I believe that one who allows Grace into their life turns into a minister, a hard worker and a loyal Latter-day Saint. They run to serve others. They experience great pain, not solely because they are mortal, but because they have embraced a mission that is other-worldly. Knowing their limitations, they strive to be perfect. I have found many such people in the list-laden traditional type of Latter-day Saint that this post criticizes.

  11. Thanks, Angela. Good insights. But I think we have a responsibility to get our politics right, so I’ll keep on arguing. Then again, Paul didn’t live in a democratic republic. Of course, under Trump we don’t either!

  12. Kathryn S, I believe this is what Elder Bednar was trying to teach us in his talk “Gather Together All Things in Christ”. He discourages check lists (which he has done for quite awhile now) and teaches us “There is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ.” Are there things for us to do? Oh, yes.
    https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2018/10/gather-together-in-one-all-things-in-christ?lang=eng

  13. Jared Livesey says:

    Or maybe we need to think more clearly about what it means to be saved. Save from what?

    Saved from the society of those who know the commandments of God in the Sermon on the Mount and will not keep them as they are written.

  14. I appreciate your comment that James and Paul are 2 different people. Unfortunately, that is the end of your discussion and not the beginning. You don’t really give any reason why “Mormons” should defer to Paul’s interpretation over James’, apart from saying that “Mormons have a tough time comprehending grace as a gift.” A delightful sweeping generalization that is insufficiently supported.

    Harmonizing different viewpoints & differing opinions of the scriptures (even inspired opinions), and then attempting to apply those viewpoints and live within the complexity of God’s tangled web of commandments is a fun part of mortality, and the essence of agency. And best of all, we can blame God for starting the mess in the Garden with 2 conflicting commandments.

  15. Troy Cline says:

    Actually, James’s “faith without works is dead” is perfectly consistent with Paul’s “thus ye are saved by faith alone.” When taken in the context of the entirety of James 2 (which, admittedly a Mormon Sunday School class is not good at doing) James does not teach that works are required for salvation. The Biblical message is consistent – being justified before God comes entirely through faith on the blood of Jesus Christ.

  16. Good points Angela. I agree with your comparison of early and modern Saints. And I see Romans 14:1 that you quote, “1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” As a caution against allowing one’s Gospel Doctrine class discussion to degenerate into a discussion about the historicity of the Book of Mormon just to accommodate a class member. If you read the verses that come right after, sounds like Paul is warning those who would call vegetarianism superior. Those verses illustrate your point, against any claim of superiority through the “higher law,” and judging others.

  17. Jared, true, nobody lives the sermon on the mount teachings perfectly, thus the need for Grace. Also the need for modern revelation, put in place by Jesus himself to Peter. Which is why modern missionaries do not go out without “purse or scrip” and are justified.

  18. joshua harrison says:

    Here’s a possible explanation that I came up with years ago: maybe we are all “saved” via grace, but “exalted” via works. We’ll all go to a kingdom (saved) but only some of us will go to the top (exalted). I know it sounds elitist but I’m simply suggesting that we get rewarded for performance even though all of us get saved without performance.

  19. Carey F. says:

    In my reading of Adam Miller and Joe Spencer they seem to be re-define grace from the metaphysical saving to the actual world that is given. This re-orientates grace to being prior to my sinning, which is really just a refusal of grace that is given. In this model I might sin and reject the grace that is given because I wasn’t expecting it to show up imperfect and requiring assembly or needing to be cared for. In other words I wasn’t expecting to have to do any work once it arrived.

  20. Troy Cline says:

    Joshua Harrison – I think this is how many Mormons try to reconcile the grace vs. works concern. I find this to be really problematic because A) it diminishes the work of Christ as being insufficient to save us in the highest kingdom and B) it actually places the work of the exalted individual over the work of Christ. I think the New Testament is clear, either Christ is placed on that altar as a sacrifice in your behalf, or your works are placed on that altar. If it is the former, “his grace is sufficient.” If it is the latter, you have fallen from grace and “your works are as filthy rags.” According to your rationalization, Jesus isn’t good enough to get us to the top. I think you’re on really dangerous ground when you come to that point.

  21. Carey, I think that is closer to what Adam is saying although at times he comes close to a kind of quietism. (He disputes that but I think it at times a problem of how he talks of grace)

    Troy the way to reconcile this is the problem of doing things on your own versus doing it while being empowered through Christ. In that model to receive grace is to act upon it. Thus God’s spirit gives us the spirit of work and the ability to do it. Those who don’t work are rejecting grace. The alternative is a grace that doesn’t change us which is simply cheap grace following Bonhoeffer. This gets into the whole “save you from your sins” versus “save you in your sins” distinction that Charles Spurgeon makes a big deal with.

    God can only save us to the degree we are willing to let him save us. A cultural issue, particularly in the last 50 years within the United States is the idea that God should take us as we are rather than letting God transform us. I think you see that in a lot of tensions in the contemporary Church.

  22. How about the “conflict” between grace and works being explained simply as “works are necessary, but not sufficient.” Or, you can not have faith without works because faith LEADS to works, but you can for sure have works without faith because works do not lead to faith. To use the “no true Scotsman” argument where I think it applies, if you think you have faith but don’t have works, then you don’t really have faith. Without any works faith soon dies, or never really existed. Faith without works is dead. But you are saved by faith and faith alone because sometimes we can have faith but because of circumstances are prevented from specific works. In that case for example, God understands that if you had any income, you would pay tithing. But paying tithing without faith for example, paying tithing to impress your bishop and get a socially impressive calling, as Christ said, “you have your reward.” So, the check list mentality where specific works are important, simply is not how God will judge us. God will judge us by where our heart is, our faith.

  23. Just coming here to say, impressive pun game on the post title. A+

  24. Jared Livesey says:

    “It is by grace ye are saved, after all ye can do.”

    What is all we can do? We can love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.

    What does it mean to love God? “If ye love me, keep my commandments…. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” It means to keep his commandments. In fact: “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.”

    We love God if, and only if, we keep his commandments.

    What are God’s commandments?

    3 Nephi 15:1, 9, 10
    1 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ended [the Sermon on the Mount] he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and said unto them: Behold, ye have heard the things which I taught before I ascended to my Father; therefore, whoso remembereth these sayings of mine and doeth them, him will I raise up at the last day.

    9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.

    10 Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.

    What is grace? Grace is the ability to give a good gift.

    What is a good gift? A good gift is a gift given without resentment, without judgement, without expectation of reciprocity.

    Why is it by grace we are saved after all we can do? Because salvation is to be made into exactly what Jesus is, and Jesus is defined by the law and commandments given in the Sermon on the Mount. “I am the law, and the light.” Where we disobey his law and commandments is where we do not agree with Jesus, but instead agree with his enemies. It would not be a good gift to us were we to be saved when, by our unholy deeds, we show that we disagree with Jesus, whatever we may say with our lips, but prefer the company of his enemies, who likewise break, and therefore disagree with, his law and commandments.

    The works commanded of us are training exercises so that we may learn what it means to be Christ, and understand what we are asking for. We aren’t saved by the works, but the works are necessary to show we agree to become what we say we’re seeking to become – like Jesus. And when we fulfill them all, then is his grace sufficient for us, for we fully agree with him, and then it would be to us a good gift to be made like him.

  25. I’m a fan on the “despite” interpretation of “after [despite] all we can do” scripture in 2 Nephi. Grace is one of the things keeping me in the LDS church even though we don’t teach it effectively. If God can forgive Joseph, Brigham, and others, then He can forgive me. Since I realized that I rarely feel guilty which used to be my default state of mind.

    Thanks for the lesson on Romans.

  26. Olde Skool says:

    Jared Livesey, are you sure you’re not a late-17th-century nonconforming Calvinist?

  27. LaJean Carruth says:

    In 2006 our 33 year old car – the only car we owned – was literally falling apart, and we didn’t have the means to replace it with anything reasonable. A generous person offered us a five year old minivan he was replacing, free. This was grace and mercy, freely offered. But there were still requirements: we had to buy insurance on the car, and handle the legal matters associated with changing the title, and we had to pick up the car, minimal requirements, to be sure, but still requirements.
    Christ offers us redemption, grace and mercy beyond our comprehension, but there are still requirements – legal requirements, as it were – for us to accept it, except resurrection, which is freely extended without condition to everyone. These requirements protect our agency: we can choose to abide by the requirements and receive his redemption, grace, and mercy, or we can refuse, the choice is ours. But to unconditionally force all redemption, grace, and mercy on all, regardless of their willingness to abide the conditions, would be a violation of our agency – and we fought a war, eons past, to defeat that plan.
    We are taught that redemption, grace and mercy are dependent upon our keeping the commandments and receiving the ordinances. Obeying commandments and receiving the ordinances give us not only growth and learning and increases in blessings and spirit, but also are means by which we make a choice, to accept the proffered redemption, grace, and mercy, or to reject it.

  28. To get at several of the comments here (and addressing none in particular): Harmonizing the scriptures is an important practice, and I think is emblematic of an absolutely necessary process in our eternal development. It takes hard work to reconcile to apparently contradictory things, and the work in doing so reveals truth and helps us see what is really important (in the scriptures, with general/scientific knowledge, in life experiences). Each of the writers of various scriptures had their own perspective, and we can view them as telling the same truth if we understand the filter of their own perspective. To me, the ultimate truth about salvation is that we are not saved by what we do or what we believe, but salvation itself is changing what we are. We are totally incapable of changing ourselves, so Christ must do it for us, but we have to submit to Him, both in belief and deeds to allow Him to change us.

    Works, faith, doctrine, commandments, and even checklists have a role in that process (Jesus and early Christian writers clearly reverenced the Ten Commandments, which is a checklist that seems to have been divided and combined intentionally to correspond with the number of digits on your hands). But it’s important not to confuse the process with the goal, or one component of that process with the process itself.

  29. Dr Cocoa says:

    Troy,

    “When taken in the context of the entirety of James 2…James does not teach that works are required for salvation.”

    Thank you for getting me to open my bible and read James again. But despite looking for where your opinion comes from, I can’t seem to find any supporting verses in James 2. In fact, after reading through the chapter twice, I’m even more convinced that james’ intent was in fact to show that works are necessary. See verses 8, 13, 14, 17,18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, and 26…which is a substantial fraction of the chapter.

    So….what verse in particular in chapter 2 do you feel supports your stance that James does not teach works are necessary?

  30. Kathryn S, yes exactly, I think seeing it as a dichotomy is missing a bigger more complete picture. A few years ago after a very difficult part of my life I had an experience after general conference that gave me a new understanding of what it means to be saved. I wrote a blog post about it and here is an excerpt:

    “I then could see that salvation likewise is not so much a place we reach or even a station we attain; salvation is largely a way of life. By living/playing love that person is experiencing happiness and is therefore “in salvation”. On the opposite hand, if an individual ‘plays’ principles of hate and discord, the music they experience is the feeling of misery and they therefore do not have salvation. And whether in this world or the world to come, it is the same. In other words living/playing hate or selfishness is misery. Living/playing love is happiness. It gave new meaning to the old question, ‘Are you saved?’ ”

    You can see the full explanation here: https://lovehavejoy.com/peace-and-happiness/

  31. Wendy C. says:

    I have to agree with Troy Cline. I used to be a Mormon, but I am now a born again Christian. It is Jesus that saves. Nothing we do can save us. There is no checklist required. When you come to the place of realizing how utterly nothing we are and begin to understand all that Christ has done for us, you gain a deep confidence in Him. You feel so much love for him that it compels you to love God and your neighbor through good works. The good works are the fruit of being saved not the requirement.

    The gospel is clearly laid out in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

    Here Paul is reminding the people what the gospel is, what they are to stand on, and what saves them. That they are saved if they keep in remembrance that Christ died for their sins according to the scriptures, (they would have only had the Old Testament) that he was buried and then rose the third day. Christ is the Good News. He fulfilled the law. No action is required by you except to have the faith of a little child and gain the change of heart which brings you into the body of Christ and cloaks you with His righteousness.

  32. This may have already been said by someone more eloquent than me. With the discussion of faith vs. works, I always viewed works as an outward manifestation of an inner change. It’s not that we are saved by the works themselves, but certain works naturally follow when that inner, soul-redeeming conversion takes place.

  33. GEOFF -AUS says:

    A couple of people above have quoted “if ye love me keep my commandments”, in the next chapter, towards the end of the talk, he says “the commandments are, love god and love your fellow man.
    Someone also quoted be ye therefore perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect. The verses before this are talking about loving our fellow man. So not keep lists of rules perfectly, but love perfectly as your father in heaven does.
    Another scripture Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy.
    My understanding is that we are here to learn to have joy, we have this joy by loving our fellow man. With the grace of God to help us we can have the joy of loving like God does.
    There is another scripture that talks about this. All are alike unto God, black and white male and female, gay and straight. You can not love perfectly, while you discriminate, or treat differently, any of Gods children.
    When you realise that we are not here to learn to be obedient, but to have joy by loving our fellow man, you can start on the path to exaltation.

  34. Geoff,

    It’s not just those verses though. The gospels contain several quotes that explicitly state that we will be judged according to our works; Matthew 16:27 and John 5:29 are pretty unambiguous.

    I agree we’re here to learn to have joy and to love one another. That doesn’t mean that we should be afraid to call sin by what it is. Jesus called out sin, and so did Paul (pretty forcefully, even as he emphasized the grace that saves us from it).

  35. Kristine says:

    In The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defines Puritanism as the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. I think sometimes that Mormonism is a haunting fear that someone, somewhere will not have to pay for their sins by being a Ward Clerk or Webelos den leader…

  36. Chadwick says:

    For me personally, it’s all about grace. Works are merely the way we show God our gratitude for that grace. The works don’t save. My 2 cents. Also, love the title!

  37. Geoff – loving is when we do what God wants for the same reasons God does it. Obedience is teaching us how to love. The rejection of God’s demands means that we have not yet learned to love. We become a law for ourselves making ourself God. It’s hubris but more significantly shows that we don’t love God.

  38. Great post, Angela. The variety of reactions to this post and to the message of Paul itself is fascinating.

    One of the biggest problems we have in the church when it comes to understanding the scriptures is that we often don’t take the time to actually read the argument the scripture writer is making. Instead, we take our already-held systematic theology and then pick out words and phrases from the chapter to plug into our theology. So when it comes to Paul, instead of understanding Paul’s argument about law and grace, we instead try to plug words and phrase from Paul into our ideas about salvation vs. exaltation and about being judged by our works. That’s interesting, I guess, but it’s not Paul.

    I agree with the comments above that at some level it can be productive to try to harmonize apparently different teachings, but in my opinion, the bigger problem is attempting to harmonize words or phrases from Paul with James without first understanding what Paul is saying on his own terms, and understanding what James is saying on his own terms. Only then can we productively try to reason out what the differences are and what those differences can teach us. If we instead neutralize Paul by dismissing anything that doesn’t seem at first blush to agree with James (or with 2 Nephi, or whatever), we’re getting a cheap, santized imitation of Paul, not Paul.

  39. Angela C says:

    James is problematic as well because it was purportedly written by James, the brother of Jesus, but many scholars say no, that it was written by someone unknown in the mid-to-late 2nd century. That timing puts it just on the wrong side of the Great Apostasy for most Mormon thinking. James is pivotal to Mormonism thanks to James 1:5-6 being an inspiration for our founder’s search for truth. Many faiths reject James as canon because of its questionable authorship and contradiction of Paul. It’s addressed to the Jews specifically, which is why it focuses on the law. Paul pointed out that the law wasn’t going to save them.

  40. Good point about the timing of James, Angela. And that reminds me of something that often gets overlooked in NT discussions at church: The seriously huge importance of Paul. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that if it hadn’t been for Paul, Christianity would have remained a small idiosyncratic Jewish sect and soon died out. Paul’s letters are the earliest look we have at what the first Christians actually believed and taught.

  41. Angela,

    Most scholars date James to the late first century or early second century. Some even date it to mid-first century. This is earlier than multiple purportedly Pauline epistles. I know of no major Christian denomination that fully rejects James. Even Luther ultimately accepted James.

  42. Luther accepted that James was part of the canon, but the Lutheran church still considers it to be a book whose authenticity is disputed. More importantly, I don’t think Angela or anyone else in this discussion is saying we ought to throw out James, just that you shouldn’t throw out Paul whenever he seems to be saying something that’s not immediately obviously the same thing James is saying.

  43. After we covenant to be a follower of Christ our works stand as a testimony for or against our loyalty as a proclaimed disciple.

  44. Troy Cline says:

    Dr. Cocoa – https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/does-james-contradict-paul
    The explanation found at the above link is how I reconcile Paul and James. I think we need to start from a place where we acknowledge that James and Paul are extremely unlikely to contradict each other on a matter as weighty as the manner by which a Christian is justified. It’s lengthy, but for the meat of it pick up at the section entitled “Does James refute Paul or an abuse of Paul’s teaching?”

  45. Jared Livesey says:

    Why not start with the things Christ taught by his own mouth and interpret Paul’s teachings in light of that? The significance of Jesus being the Christ is that he must be heard by all mankind in all things whatsoever he said (Deut 18:18-19; Acts 3:22-23, 7:37; 1 Nephi 22:20-21; 3 Nephi 20:23; JS-H 1:40). Those things Christ spoke by his own mouth are the things by which all mankind must come to Christ or else they cannot be saved (1 Nephi 13:40-41).

    Matthew 7:21-27
    21 ¶ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

    22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

    23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    24 ¶ Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them [this is “the will of my Father which is in heaven”], I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

    25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

    26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

    27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

  46. Troy Cline says:

    Jared Livesey – Christ’s words there in Matthew 7 are not advocating for salvation by works. Christ does not contradict what Paul says in Romans and James’s discussion of living, or salvific, faith in James 2. If Christ really is teaching something different than Paul and James then we all ought to rip everything after the Gospel of John out of our Bibles because it contradicts the Lord. I think the reconciliation of grace vs. works that is described in the link I provided can be used to make sense of what Christ says here. The conclusion I draw from Matthew 7, Romans, and James 2 is that faith justifies – a certain KIND of faith justifies, the kind which James describes in James 2 and that Christ describes in Matthew 7.

    See, it is possible for somebody to DO all that Christ says to do, with an impure heart and without demonstrating any faith. That individual would not be saved just because they followed the commandments and did all of the right stuff. Paul and James (and Christ too, actually) are stressing that the DOING is not what saves you – faith saves you. The kind of faith that naturally results in all of the DOING that Christ and James speak of, is the faith that saves, or justifies one in the presence of God. In Matthew 7:21-23, Christ rejects the idea of “cheap grace” (that is also rejected by Paul and James) in order to set up a description of the kind of faith that saves. Then, in 7:24-27 Christ does what James does – he describes what it truly means to have professed belief on His name. In other words, he describes what saving faith looks like.

  47. Just happened to read this today. Sound like work to me- “Some describe the entire spiritual growth process as faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost—as if once we’ve received the Holy Ghost, the hard work is done and our exaltation is assured, so long as we don’t do something seriously wrong. “Endure to the end,” we say, as if that means relaxing in some eternal rocking chair. God will just reel us in, like a fish hooked on a line. But it’s not quite that simple.

    On the contrary, receiving the Holy Ghost marks the beginning of our real spiritual growth, not the end of it. Baptism and the Holy Ghost only let us enter “in by the gate.” Then the Holy Ghost leads us along the “strait and narrow path”of becoming sanctified disciples—not as passive spectators but by our straining every spiritual muscle, drinking in the power of temple ordinances, and feasting actively on Christ’s words to nourish us in becoming ever more holy. And the long-term goal of that journey is to become like Him.” (Bruce Hafen, A Disciples Journey)

  48. Here is how Elder Hafen describes grace- “So, after weeding out our worldly ways, Christ’s perfecting grace helps us replace those weeds with the divine flowers of Christlike attributes. You might say He wants to plant a garden in us. But we must satisfy certain conditions for this growth to occur, just as we had to satisfy the condition of repentance in order to receive forgiveness. “

  49. I love how you got the class members to be thinking about Paul vs. James. But I think the correct response to the “but faith without works is dead” knee jerk response; would be to bring up the fact that no one is claiming that faith saves you. Dead or alive.
    It’s Christ that saves us, by his grace. But Jesus did say that there are those who are going to say “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name … and in your name perform many miracles?” and Jesus will reply with the fact that He never knew them.
    So, there must be something that we need to do on our end to make sure that Christ knows us.
    In the 1 Cor chapter about Charity is where I think Paul really drives it home. You can do all these great things, but if you don’t have charity it amounts to nothing.
    The way that Christ is going to know us, is by who we are becoming. The works help with that. They’re not the end, but they do contribute to the means. If the works we’re doing aren’t changing us to be more Christ-like, then they amount to nothing. But we still encourage good works in the hopes that by doing the good works we’ll catch the vision of who we should become, and then we do our best to become that person.
    So the works aren’t very checklist like. I think this is what Jesus was teaching with the parable of the laborer’s hired at different times during the day. Christ is going to have different expectations for each of us – probably based off of what we’ve been given. So we can’t say “Hey, my check list is more checked off. Why did he get into heaven and I didn’t”. The reason will be that based off of what we’ve been given, did we change enough such that Christ will know us? Will Christ look at us and say “Yes, considering what you were given in mortality, that you changed sufficiently to show me your potential to be a heavenly person to live with in heaven.” or will he say something else?

  50. Maybe my experience in the church is different from most, but for most of my life I had the impression that I must earn God’s love by keeping the commandments. I saw the emphasis always on the earning, and not on the receiving. It has taken me a long long time to realize that I don’t need to earn his love, I already have it, and no matter how hard I try to keep all the commandments, I can’t. I wish the experience in the church was based more on the love of God, rather than the list.

  51. I’m persuaded that Paul’s message is as relevant as ever, but I’m skeptical that the institutional church can fully enjoin “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” Among churches who make claims to sole authority, there seems to be a sacerdotal imperative not to demote sacraments and other forms of priestly mediation to an inessential role.

    This may not be an entirely bad thing, either. Richard Rohr, a priest himself in the Franciscan Order, draws on Jung’s work on the two halves of life to reach the conclusion that the real transformative work of the second half of life–breaking wide open into something vast; seeing beyond labels and limiting identities; surrendering and abiding in sacred presence–is only available when the work of the first half is done, which is the formation of identify, of standing, of conquering and claiming territories. In retrospect, I can appreciate how the spiritual disciplines, earnest strivings, and sacramental instruments of grace constitute a kind of gestational phase, preparing us for new birth in which Grace becomes both midwife and nursing mother.

    Now in my forties, I walk with ease, much more secure in God’s love. I have relinquished most of the self-improvement projects I’d thought might “qualify” me one distant day to be worthy of eternal life. To the extent my life, a simple branch, bears any fruit at all, I can thank the True Vine into which it has consented to being grafted.

  52. Troy Cline says:

    pamelaweste – you are not alone. I too (I’m 41 years old) have experienced a lifetime of Mormon doctrine telling me that if I do not live up to every covenant I make, then I am a lost soul in Satan’s power. Christ has not given us the spirit of fear that Mormon doctrine, in many ways, instills in the devoted. Christ’s message is one of liberty from that exhausting, fruitless, damning slavery to law. I’m glad to hear that you have found God’s love. Stay rooted in that love sister.

  53. In Mosiah 2:23–24, King Benjamin has an interesting take on faith vs. works. He points out that we are born indebted to God. When we keep his commandments, he blesses us and thus we continue indebted to him.

    I take that as meaning that we obey God out of love and gratitude, freely, giving our obedience as a response to his grace. Works are grace for grace, in return for which God gives us even more in an ever increasing spiral. We’re teenagers trying to pay off our debt to our parents for everything they’ve done for us. We do our chores, we help around the house—but we never get to the point where our parents are in our debt.

  54. Jared Cook,

    Didn’t mean to imply that Angela was advocating rejection of James. Just trying to correct the record on my favorite book of scripture. I understand that Lutherans deemphasize James, but they still regard it as canon, and for good reason (in my opinion).

  55. Troy Cline,

    When you say that faith saves you, you risk doing the very thing Paul is warning against. Your belief doesn’t save you. Christ does. He requires faith. He also requires obedience. More than either, He requires submitting yourself to Him and becoming as He is. Obedience/good works and faith interact with each other in a virtuous cycle that results in becoming more like Christ. His atoning sacrifice is what fuels that cycle and brings it to completion.

    Opponents of the sola fide doctrine rarely argue that works save you, and so that line of attack is usually a straw man, as it is here. So often I find that between whether works plus faith qualify you for grace or whether sufficient faith (manifested by good works) qualifies you for grace is a debate about a distinction without a difference–doctrinal hair-splitting.

  56. Daniel Welch says:

    Catholics, a major opponent of sola fide, do argue works save you. The works of baptism and the sacrament of reconciliation, AKA confession. Calvinists by contrast argue that grace alone, Sola Gratia, saves you. The Holy Spirit heals your soul replacing a heart of stone with one of flesh, Ezekiel 36:26, which causes you to be saved resulting in your being able to have Faith and good works. So these while present in the saved they are the results of the Holy Spirit’s actions not our one so we gain no merit from them.

    Note: I am an actual Calvinist not a Mormon.

  57. Chompers says:

    One thing that I note in all this is that most of the exploration of doctrine comes not from Jesus, but from his followers long after his death (including Paul). Jesus talks very much about an action-based gospel more than he does about belief. He speaks more of increasing talents and labouring than he does about pure belief (if I can draw a temporary distinction). He comments on grace are pretty limited.

    The real divisions in Christian theology come primarily from Paul. I find it worth noting that Paul argues specifically against the Law of Moses (in Romans), directed to a specific audience, and I don’t think we give that enough weight. I’ve read Adam Miller’s book on Romans and it’s excellent, by the way, but it doesn’t resolve the question.

    Grace is a really complicated topic. Are works necessary? Most LDS would say yes, but then where is the line drawn between “saved by grace and exalted by works”?
    Are works just the result of true faith? Yes, but as Jesus said “Do my will and you’ll know if it’s true”, which indicates that works themselves are a path to faith.

    James 2, in context, is much more of an LDS-style teaching, in that James acknowledges that the audience has faith, but is encouraging (and scolding them) them to action (showing that you can have faith and still fail to act). It’s also interesting that both Paul and James appeal to Abraham, but from different perspectives.

  58. Kristine – which sins do I need to do to be made Ward Clerk, but avoid Webelos?

  59. RockiesGma says:

    I think faith and works are symbiotic….one nurtures and encourages the other – IF- our hearts are in a place of grace toward ourselves, and especially others. I’ve found that pure faith has always led me to naturally do better so I am better. And when I do good I feel good! I see the goodness of doing things like Jesus taught. They improve me. And I like that! So my faith in Jesus grows stronger. But I also believe after all I can do, no matter how much or for how long, will always fall far too short and thus my only hope is the grace of God. Glory, bless him for his unending grace…..

  60. Troy Cline says:

    I agree with the idea that true faith nurtures and encourages good works and that good works can aid in the development of faith. Where I think Mormonism errs way too far towards works-based salvation is in requiring a checklist of things that must be accomplished in order to be saved in the highest kingdom. Temple initiatory, endowment, sealing. Those are absolutely and unapologetically taught in Mormonism to be essential ordinances for the one who seeks to land in the happiest heaven. And, because they are required to gain access to the saving ordinances of that temple, obedience to the word of wisdom (read Colossians 2:20-23 some time), payment of tithes, and donning the proper under-garments, by extension, are also works required for salvation. This is probably a turn of phrase that is no longer commonly used by the cool kids, but – Pharisee much?

  61. Troy – “Mormonism” very likely follows the checklist approach, because in the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ himself said:

    “And again I say unto you, ye MUST (i) repent, and (ii) be baptized in my name, and (iii) become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” (emphasis added)

    So you are correct; a checklist of requirements (and an ordinance) to get in to the happiest heaven.

  62. Troy Cline says:

    Chompers, you point out that most of this discussion has revolved around the teachings of Paul, who after Christ’s death, rather than around the teachings of Jesus. I think it is important to recognize that most scholars believe that the gospels were written decades of Christ’s death as well. In fact, most scholars would date the gospels AFTER Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. Further, there is still some disagreement over who wrote several of the gospels. It is likely that more than one of the gospels were written by men who were not eyewitnesses to the Savior’s ministry. Thus, there is no reason to believe that Paul’s dissertations on Christian theology is any less precise than those contained in the gospels.

    To speak to your comment on the fact that Paul’s discussion of law is referencing the Mosaic law – well, I would say, in addition to the Jewish traditions that had accumulated over the centuries, of course that is what he references because he speaks to people who would have had the pure message of liberty through Christ confounded by those specific traditions. However, in Galatians 3, Paul seems to suggest that if there could have been some law, any law, that could have given righteousness, then righteousness would have been by that law. The implication for us is that there is no law that can bring righteousness, including the “law” of the Mormon checklist of commandments. Thus, justification before God is through the merits of Jesus Christ and faith on his name. Upon becoming justified, God works in the heart of the believer to bring him/her to an eventual state of sanctification or holiness, a lifelong (and beyond?) process.

  63. Troy Cline says:

    Thor – You make a fair point. I would respond by suggesting that there is no saving merit in the act of baptism itself. One could be baptized without ever having really come to know Christ or without having ever made an internal commitment to follow him. Will baptism save this individual? Hardly. There is nothing magical about putting your head under water for Jesus. On the other hand, one who truly has discovered his sinfulness and accepted Jesus as the only path to righteousness and justification before God, will follow him into baptism as an outward display of the newness of life that he has received in Christ. The commandment, then, to be baptized has no merit unless the recipient of the ordinance has already made an inner commitment and accepted the saving grace of Christ. The act of baptism doesn’t add to that grace – it is merely a public display of one having been touched by that grace.

    Baptism is a sacrament. Mormons have taken a lot of the meaning out of the word “sacrament” by equating it to the Christian eucharist. As a sacrament, baptism is a physical manifestation of a spiritual truth. In this case, the spiritual truth is that the recipient of baptism has received the blood of Christ as a substitute for his/her own sin and baptism marks the beginning of their new walk with Christ. So, is baptism commanded? Yes, but it does not save. It is a reflection on the saving power that comes only through the blood of Christ.

  64. Chompers says:

    Troy, I agree with your timeline of when things were written. However, since all we really have is speculation and well-educated guesses (even by our best efforts), I still find that Paul is the source of all the contentions I’ve come across, even at times with his writings being held higher (it seems) than the simplicity of Jesus’ teachings. Now, that’d be either because he’s the only one who tried to delve into the specifics of the gospel, or that he just unfortunately muddied the water.

    Jesus leaned heavily towards an action-based gospel. Paul takes a different approach, which I think is because of his audience. He does reference the Law (big L) in almost all his writings. That can be easily adapted to mean any law/work, but eventually you find yourself where Luther ended up, which is that no works contribute to salvation and no sin can damn you.

    The way Jesus taught it was so simple. Believe and act. James gets at this as well in his letter. Both use very practical examples to illustrate what they mean. Paul however rarely does.

  65. Taylor Petrey says:

    Adam Miller, Jim Falconer, Rosalyde Welch, Joe Spencer, and myself discussion Romans 1 in an exchange in the most recent issue of Element: The Journal of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology, for those interested.
    https://www.academia.edu/38468351/Theorizing_Critical_Mormon_Biblical_Studies_Romans_1_18-32_and_responses_

  66. Passer-by says:

    Long-time lurker here. Sorry to jump in after the party’s apparently over, but I couldn’t help but note that for many of the commentators here, the assumption appears to be that if we could finally disassociate works from grace, that we would all finally become less judgmental, Pharisaical, check-list-y, etc. While I sympathize, I’m curious as to where this assumption is coming from.

    For having served my mission among evangelicals, having known several personally, and having long followed national trends in evangelical block voting, it has been my observation that privileging grace over works if anything only liberates folks to become even MORE judgmental, Pharisaical, check-list-y, etc.

    For at least when works are at least partially tied to salvation, there is this sense that one must, at a minimum, do good things before one can be considered a good person.

  67. I was taught that grace was God’s enabling power that operates to help us accomplish what we cannot do on our own. In a sense, relying on it separates us from those who followed Satan, who believed he could get to exaltation without God’s help, with only their own works. And I think belief in grace assumes something Satan could not imagine, the power of true and eternal change in our natures and the real need for that change in order to obtain joy.
    What is wrong in our culture? False pride in publicly displayed accomplishments. In the world, it is wealth, position, Ivy League degrees. We just substitute Church displays of righteousness and think it is somehow different. Or we beat ourselves up attempting to escape guilt for our sins and failures through endless to do lists. Or try to impress those we feel we need to impress. All false paths.
    Both work and faith are necessary. Our goal is to become like God. He cannot do it alone. We cannot do it alone. It is a joint venture with Christ providing the biggest piece because we need not just to finish the race but to be transformed by it.
    I remember something Dallin Oaks wrote once. He said the Church leaders had had to learn to be careful how they admonished the members. Those who were already doing too much felt greater responsibility and doubled their efforts, working themselves to exhaustion. Those they were trying to motivate never saw the advice as applying to them.
    So maybe we just take Christ as our role model. Other than the actual Atonement, his works were limited during his mortal life in number and in space. He did not skip off to England while the disciples slept. He slept as well. He used what power he possessed to heal the sick and raise the dead who were in front of him, not the sick and dead in India. So drop the guilt for what you cannot do and take joy in what you can. And trust that God has power to accomplish His work, but it requires our giving Him our hearts and minds and best efforts, because His real work is changing us. The other works we do are our homework, designed to help us change.

  68. I honestly don’t think that grace vs works matters except in the way we apply our particular belief to others. In that sense Jesus clearly taught to turn the other cheek, to forgive 70 x 7, and to love one another. I’m not familiar with a teaching of Jesus’ where he councils us to be conditioned towards the works of our neighbors.

  69. Old Man says:

    Troy Cline,
    I disagree with your definition of the word “sacrament.” In traditional Christian theologies, the sacrament actually imparts a measure of God’s Grace. It is not just a mere recognition of a change which has already occurred. Baptism is a sacrament necessary for salvation in Catholic, Latter-day Saint, Lutheran, Methodist and Orthodox theologies. Correct me if I am wrong, but your views seem more closely aligned with Baptist and Unitarian teachings and practices.

  70. LDS always seem so behind on Biblical scholarship.

    Lots on the New Perspective on Paul that’s relevant here and supercedes some of these assumptions.

  71. GEOFF -AUS says:

    Recently everyone is agreeing that grace has a place in our lives. I do not believe it is possible to obtain exaltation by works even with grace. If you get up saying my purpose today is to tick all the boxes you never become a celestial being.
    If you get up with the vision of becoming Christlike, by becoming a person who loves all their neighbours, who sees discrimination against gays, or women, or anyone, as a problem to be overcome, who recieves joy from that love is becoming celestial. The works the Saviour referred to always involved loving your fellow man. You won’t be judgemental when you love.
    The problem is the church doesn’t understand this (obedience is the first law) so there is not much place for the church in the gospel.

  72. Old Man says:

    Got it Geoff. If you are a political liberal who does nothing because you are not in the mood, you are closer to the Celestial kingdom than a conservative who has the self control to do things he does not want to even though he does them anyway because of a standard or rule and loves God. You know, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

    Seriously, do parents do things for their children because they are the embodiments of love and feel loving at every minute of the day? Or do they do the long laundry list of difficult but necessary things because they are the right things to do and need to get done?

    I believe church members, regardless of political persuasion, understand more about the struggle with love, duty and obedience than you give them credit for. We all live it on a daily basis.