The purpose statement of this lesson is “To help class members develop greater faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.” That rather broad goal is followed by the narration of several episodes, unrelated to each other, that report some of the activities of Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry. Frankly, I am unable to see how the selected episodes support the purpose statement beyond the generality that existing faith is sustained by remembering the life of the Savior.
Because the incidents included in this lesson have so little continuity or relationship to each other, it has been impossible for me to find an earlier lesson covering the same ground. I have therefore settled on a pair of lessons from the gospel doctrine manual of 1961: Lowell L. Bennion, Teachings of the New Testament, Sunday School Course 27. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1953. These two lessons present a more systematic argument of what Jesus Christ has done for us that merits our having faith in him and in his (and our) Father.
THE GRACE OF DEITY
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:8, 9)
Latter-day Saints seldom speak of grace. when we do, sometimes it is to refute the idea by quoting the book of James on faith and works. The main reason for these attitudes may be that grace sounds sectarian to us for in both Catholic and Protestant worship and teaching, the concept of grace plays a major role.
The truth is that Latter-day Saints do believe in the grace of Deity. Both the Book of Mormon and the doctrine and Covenants use the word grace many times and with solid meaning. The idea of grace is integral to our entire religion. Without it there would be no salvation, no exaltation, not even life itself. Catholics and Protestants have been right in placing great emphasis on grace. They have been wrong in their understanding of its relationship to other principles of religion. Their error has been not in their recognition of grace, but in their interpretation of its role in religion and in life. Many of us have never taken the time to think through the meaning of grace. Therefore, we have not understood the Catholic or Protestant doctrine of grace or appreciated our own belief in this doctrine.
In the New Testament, particularly in the letters of Paul, the concept of grace and the word grace appear time and time again. One cannot believe in the New Testament without believing in the grace of God and of his Son Jesus Christ. It is our purpose in this chapter to indicate the New Testament teaching on the subject. In a second chapter on this subject we shall suggest the role of grace in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. First, let us pause to consider the meaning of grace. This itself is a difficult and involved subject. This chapter must be considered only as introductory and necessarily oversimplified.
The Meaning of the Word Grace
Both grace, as a noun, and gracious, as an adjective, are used again and again in the Old Testament. They come from Hebrew words which mean “favor.” Men found favor in the sight of the Lord. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Gen. 6:8) Ruth uses the term in the same way in response to the generosity of Boaz who had invited her to glean in his fields and drink, of his vessels.
Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? (Ruth 2:10)
The adjective gracious is used most frequently as a companion word of “merciful.”
… but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsakest them not. (Neh. 9:17)
Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God. (Neh. 9:31)
In the New Testament the word is used with the same basic meaning. The Father and the Son are compassionate and merciful. From their own loving kindness they give mercy, salvation, and the bounties of life to man beyond anything he merits. Thus the word grace is closely akin to generosity, mercy, forgiveness, and love because in all of these words there is a connotation of something given to us – either apart from our own merit or beyond what we have earned. Love and mercy are always gracious, never entirely merited by the recipient. If they were entirely earned they would not be love and mercy, but simply justice or reciprocity. For further insight into the meaning of grace, let us turn to the New Testament.
Grace in the Life and Teaching of Christ
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40)
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. … And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:14, 16, 17)
The favor of the Father was upon his Son. This Jesus knew. He also knew that all men, the evil as well as the good, have part in the graciousness of the Father.
… for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:45)
Therefore, we too should love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, that we may be the children of this gracious Father in heaven. (See Matt. 5:43-48.)
Jesus also knew that he laid down his life freely, as an expression of grace, to bring about the resurrection of the just and the unjust, the believer and the non-believer. (this we noted in our lesson on the resurrection.) The word grace is used infrequently in the gospels, but much of Jesus Christ’s life was spent in giving grace. Out of love and compassion as well as by faith, he made the lame to walk, both the blind and the sinner to see, and cleansed the leper:
And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:41, 42)
Grace in the Life and Teaching of Paul
It is in the writings of Paul that we read so much about grace. He exulted in the grace of Christ and gave it a central position in his teaching. with him grace was not a carefully defined theological doctrine, but a living reality.
Before his conversion to Jesus Christ, Paul, then called Saul, was one of the strictest among the Pharisees. Devoted to the letter of the Law of Moses, he practiced his religion earnestly and meticulously. the religious life to him consisted essentially of obedience to divine commandments. For man’s obedience he would be rewarded; for disobedience he would be punished. Judgment day awaited him. he would know the wrath of God. Much of the religious life consisted of a kind of bookkeeping.
This description of Paul’s religion is not complete nor is it to be taken as a fair picture of the religion in the Old Testament, where there is great emphasis on the love of God and of justice, mercy, and humility. but, by Paul’s own admission and the record of the gospels, much of Pharisaic religion centered its interest in obedience to all the elaborations of the Law, which had been building up during the centuries since Moses’s day.
On the road to Damascus Paul not only had a vision of Christ, but he also began to obtain a new vision of religion. In place of obedience to law, faith in Jesus Christ came first. In place of concern for the “letter of the law,” the “spirit of the law” assumed primary importance. Jesus Christ himself, and man’s relationship to him, became central to Paul’s understanding of religion. This difference between religion interpreted as obedience to law, and religion as faith in Jesus Christ, Paul describes most completely in Romans, chapters 3 to 11. It is referred to also in all of his letters, particularly in Galatians. These writings are not easy to understand. Many a theologian has been led astray and many missionaries of our Church have been confused by them. We shall try to clarify his teachings, but we can in nowise deal with the subject fully.
The Law of Moses brings man under condemnation. (Paul reiterates this position, especially in Romans, chapters 3 and 7.) Why is this? It is because no man is able to keep every law of God perfectly. Sometimes he forgets; at other times he is weak.
For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that I do not; but what I hate, that I do. (Rom. 7:15)
To know the law and not to live it is sin. For sin is the willful transgression of the law of God. Whoever sins, according to Paul, is under condemnation. He is the object of the wrath of God. And we are all sinners, made so by our acceptance of the law.
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no man be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Rom. 3:19, 20)
Paul is careful to point that out the law itself “is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7;13) “The law is spiritual,” but man is carnal and fails to keep the law. Therefore, “the commandment, which was ordained to life, I (Paul) found to be unto death.” (Rom. 7:10) Paul does not make mention of all the values and strength found in living the law even imperfectly. his whole point is to let the Romans know that the law leaves man a sinner and condemns him. Because of man’s own nature he cannot keep the law fully.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. for without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. (Rom. 7:7-9)
The child, the mentally deficient, and the seriously ill, however, are not under condemnation, for they know not the law. They cannot sin. The rest of us are condemned by our failure to live the law.
Salvation from sin does not come from obedience to law because one is continually breaking the law. There is also no forgiveness in the law. It knows only justice; it is impersonal. There is no grace in the law itself. Religion lived on the plane of obedience leaves man a sinner, a debtor to the law. Such is Paul’s teaching.
Jesus Christ brings grace and salvation. With a vision of the Lord, with further meditation, and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, Paul’s outlook on religion changed. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not obedience to law, is the saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, according to the letters of Paul. This does not mean, however, that the law is unimportant or done away with.
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Rom. 3:31)
The law is not void, but salvation must come from another source. Christ is that source.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)
How Jesus Christ Saves Us
1. Jesus Christ saves us from death and the grave. Paul bears eloquent witness of this in I Corinthians, 15, as we have studied in our last chapter:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; … (See I Cor. 15:19-23_)
… Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (I Cor. 15:54. 55)
The resurrection, made possible only in and through the Christ, is evidence of his grace. We do not earn it. Christ brought it about freely of his own will and loving kindness.
2. Jesus Christ saves us from sin. Through faith in him, which is a gift of God, man is able to throw off the carnal man, rise above the evils of life, and live righteously – a new creature in Christ Jesus. In Romans, chapter 6, Paul likens baptism to the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as he was buried in the tomb and raised “by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (vs. 4)
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:20-23_ (Note also Alma 34:14-17)
3. According to Paul, salvation is not only a future event through the resurrection of the body raised to immortality; it is also a present reality. Faith in Jesus Christ brings to man the Spirit of Christ. And the Spirit of Christ in man lifts him above the law, above sin, beyond condemnation in this life.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. for what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please god. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. and if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Rom. 8:1-10)
This and many other passages in Paul’s letters illustrates the fusion of the religious and moral life. Faith in Jesus Christ, a gift of God, works upon a man to bring about righteous living. Spirituality – faith in and love for Christ, in this instance – expresses itself in morality by inspiring all the Christian virtues. And then, because a man has become a new creature through faith and repentance, God will graciously and mercifully forgive him for Christ’s sake. Jesus Christ not only saves us from sin through faith in him, he also forgives us our sins.
Writing to the Romans, who had faith in Christ, and expressing his own faith, Paul expresses his deep feeling of peace and salvation through the Savior in these words:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35, 38, 39)
It is clear that Paul believed that salvation and eternal life come to men through Jesus Christ. Without his gift or grace there is neither resurrection from the grave nor forgiveness of sin. This truly is the heart of Paul’s teaching.
It remains for us to discuss in the next chapter the meaning of the doctrine of grace to the Latter-day Saints, and to see what it may mean in our lives day by day.
THE GRACE OF DEITY – (continued)
And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength. (D. & C. 20:30, 31)
Latter-day Saints Belief in the Grace of Deity
To us, God is a Father full of grace and truth, loving, merciful, and forgiving, as well as just. These attributes cannot be his without his being gracious. Jesus revealed them to us in his own life and teachings. We believe that much of the grace of the Father comes to us through his Son.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16, 18)
Many are Deity’s gifts to us.
1. The Father and the Son have made possible life itself through their creative acts on our behalf, not because of our merit, but from the abundance of their love. We were, as far as we know, quite helpless in our own creation. The Father created us, his spirit children, in the pre-earth life. Through Jesus Christ, he prepared life on earth for us. And Jesus Christ will bring about our resurrection so that “spirit and element, inseparably connected” may “receive a fullness of joy.” (See D. & C. 93:33-35.)
2. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost have been Revelators to us through the ages, seeking to guide us individually and through the prophets.
And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space – The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, from the power of God who sitteth upon the throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (D. & C. 88:1-13)
Our Church had its beginning in a revelation of the Father and Son. Jesus Christ himself laid its foundation. And the gift of the Holy Ghost, as we have seen, is very real and is an individual possession of all whoa re worthy. While revelation must be sought with desire and in worthiness, when it does come it is still a gift of God, an expression of his love for man. The teachings of the gospel come to us as a gift of god – as the fruit of his love and that of his Son.
The priesthood is also a gift of God to man. It too is an expression of his grace.
In summary, we too can say with Paul that salvation comes by grace and through Jesus Christ. In him we are saved from death, ignorance, and sin – the great limitations of life which wek need to overcome to be reconciled to God and to have the abundant life which Jesus Christ came to bring.
Latter-day Saints Reject Certain Traditional Views of Grace
The main currents of thought in Christian history, particularly in Protestantism, went to extremes on the doctrine of grace. In Calvinism and Lutheranism it is taught that man, through the fall of Adam, is utterly fallen from grace and is incapable of contributing to his own salvation through individual merit. In Calvin’s teachings, the salvation of those to be saved and the damnation of the rest of mankind is a matter of predestination. it is entirely in the hands of God. According to Catholicism, the saved are those who receive sufficient grace of God, and the damned are those who do not receive sufficient grace. The latter are not predestined unto damnation by the Lord, as in Calvinism, but they are damned because he is not sufficiently gracious unto them. In the end this all seems to amount to the same thing. it leaves us baffled. Why should not a just and all-loving father give sufficient grace to all men if they are wholly dependent on his initial grace for their salvation?
Latter-day Saints reject these beliefs. Such ideas cast sad reflection on both the character of god and the dignity and worth of man, and, in a measure, deny the very core of Christ’s teaching of love. We believe that God is just, impartial, and merciful. We also believe that man, each man, is the object of his love. We also believe that man is capable of contributing to his own salvation, and damnation. our trust in man’s capacity for doing good is well stated in a modern revelation:
For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; … Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. … (D. & C. 58:26-28)
Latter-day Saints Believe that Salvation Is the Fruit of Both Grace and Individual Merit
Salvation is not possible in any full meaning of the word without both. It is a gift and also an achievement. From Deity we receive life itself and life everlasting; we receive the inclination to believe and to do right; we receive guidance through revelation, forgiveness, and mercy. But to participate fully in any and all of these gifts man must exercise his own freedom and initiative. He must seek, knock, hunger and thirst after righteousness; he must love God and man, accept the will of Deity, and make use of the gifts of God. for man is not basically corrupt. he has a capacity for good as well as for evil, for light as well as for darkness. his freedom comes from his own eternal nature and is also nurtured of God. (See D. & C. 93:29-31.)
To Latter-day Saints salvation is a positive goal. Death and sin are but negative factors in a positive plan. Salvation also means to learn to live as our Heavenly Father and his Son live; to become more like them in character and endeavor. It means to learn to abide by celestial laws – to increase in knowledge, wisdom, integrity, freedom, and love. It means to help Deity “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The scriptures support this concept of salvation. Jesus Christ and New Testament writers place confidence in men and hold them responsible for their own deeds. They make salvation depend on repentance and good works. They assume the freedom of man and his moral responsibility to God and his fellow men.
Man’s responsibility to help in his own salvation is also consistent with all of our experience and with reason. Who can learn without thinking, become skillful without practice, acquire virtue without doing virtuous deeds? Morality and spirituality cannot be put on like a cloak. They are the fruit of moral and spiritual growth. Deity points the way and inspires us to follow. We must do our part as free, moral and intelligent children of God.
Grace is not given us once and for all in a designated amount. The grace of Deity is ever available to us. Its role in our individual lives will depend greatly upon us. We may partake thereof in increasing amounts as we make the effort and prove our worthiness. We must grow in grace. A beautiful passage in the Doctrine and Covenants reveals this intimate relationship of grace and individual merit. Even Jesus Christ increased in grace, which fact indicates his own participation and merit.
And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us. And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first. And I John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him the form of a dove and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying; this is my beloved Son. And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him. And it shall come to pass, that if you are faithful you shall receive the fulness of the record of John. And I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. (D. & C. 93:11-20)
In summary, according to Latter-day Saint teaching, we most certainly believe in the grace of Deity. Without it there could be no salvation from death and sin and no exaltation in the presence of the Father and the Son. Sometimes the grace of Deity is given us freely without our having earned it. Things are done for us which we could not do for ourselves – such as the bringing to pass of our spirit-creation, and the resurrection from the grave. Other times the grace of Deity is given us only when we seek it, invite it, and are prepared to receive it. For example, forgiveness is received by an individual only if he has “exercised faith unto repentance” (See Alma 34:15-17.) Revelation is given in response to man’s desire and need. (See D. & C. ___24-28.)
As we have already noted, revelation and forgiveness are part of God’s grace when they come to us. Latter-day Saint doctrine distinguishes itself from the teachings of traditional Protestantism in believing that man has the power within himself to choose or reject the grace of God, to receive or to ignore it, to decrease or to increase its role in his life. We must prepare ourselves to receive some manifestations of the grace of Deity.
The Grace of Deity in Life Today
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such great emphasis is placed on individual effort in salvation that often we fail to appreciate and give thought to the grace of Deity that enters into our lives. What can we do to be more appreciative of this? What can we do to feel more deeply the graciousness of the Father and the Son?
1. Think and speak of the great things which Deity has done for us.
We go for days, and even months, so absorbed in self-concern that we never praise the Lord for the beauty and wonder of nature. We read weather reports, but seldom thank him for rain, for sunshine, for day and night, or for the peace of twilight. We, in the city, rarely rise to meet the dawn when the whole of God’s creation awakens. Fatigue, illness, a pain or discomfort here and there becloud our minds and restrain the joy we should feel in being alive to everything we can see and feel, or think and imagine. Life itself is a precious gift of a gracious Creator. Believing this and in him, our hearts should sing hymns of gratitude for his grace.
Faith in eternal life, assurance of forgiveness, trust in his goodness, awareness of the orderliness of the universe, awareness of his Spirit – each and all of these things should help us appreciate what great things the Lord has done for us.
2. Working with others in doing the Lord’s will helps us to appreciate the grace of God. Grace is manifested in the goodness we find in our fellow men, in the measure which they possess of divine attributes. Goodness in human life reflects the Creator to us who believe in him. Also, when we do the work of the Lord in the right attitude, we have access to his Spirit. We feel its influence and power lifting us above our own limitations.
Sweet is the work, My God my King,
To praise Thy name give thanks and sing,
To show Thy love by morning light,
And talk of all Thy truths at night.
My heart shall triumph in my Lord,
And bless His works, and bless His word:
thy works of grace, how bright they shine,
How deep Thy councils – how divine!
– (Sweet Is the Work)