With the stated purpose of reminding “class members that they are children of God and to encourage them to live worthy of their divine inheritance,” this year’s Gospel Doctrine manual stresses that faith in Jesus Christ justifies the saints, makes us joint-heirs with Christ, and impels us to live worthy of being called his saints. A Course 17 (for 17-year-olds) manual from 1971-72 teaches much the same principles. And you denizens of the Bloggernacle thought Latter-day Saints didn’t recognize the concept of “grace” until within the past ten years or so!
The Grace of Christ
In the Old Testament great stress is laid on obedience to the laws of God. Israel and Judah were destroyed for breaking them. Moses said to Israel as she stood ready to enter the land of Canaan:
Keep all the commandments which I command you this day. (Deut. 27:1.)
Prophets and rabbis, scribes and Pharisees from Moses to Jesus reiterated and elaborated the laws revealed of God and exhorted obedience with sincerity, power, and tenacity. Saul of Tarsus grew up and became absorbed in this great Jewish tradition of obedience to divine law. He had studied in Jerusalem and had great respect for his Jewish faith with its emphasis on doing the will of god.
One day as Saul traveled on the road to Damascus, with the earnest intent to persecute the Christians, Christ intervened. Saul had a vision of the Savior which drastically changed the direction of his life and his understanding of religion. He learned that religion was more than obedience; it included also a relationship to Christ, the Redeemer of men. Paul began to talk of faith and of grace, which were part of religion just as much as obedience to law.
To the Ephesians, he wrote:
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.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:8-109.)
Grace means the unmerited or unearned gift of Deity. All gifts are acts of grace if they are truly gifts, freely given. Grace comes to man through faith, which Paul felt was also a gift from God.
As a Pharisee, Paul had tried to live the life of obedience, to keep all the commandments in the law. No one is capable of keeping all the commandments perfectly, so Paul was always conscious of his failure and his sinfulness. He describes this condition in his epistle to the Romans:
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.)
For the good that I would I do not; but the evil that I would not; that I do. (Rom. 7:19.)
Perhaps many of us have had the same experience as Paul. In struggling in our own power to overcome a weakness, our habits have been stronger than our righteous desires, and we have found ourselves repeating that which we wished not to do.
Faith in Christ
Christ’s appearance to Paul had a marked influence on this Pharisee. The reality of the Savior’s existence and his condescension to appear unto Paul and to teach him – that was an act of pure grace to Paul. He had not earned such a wonderful gift. religion suddenly had become something more than obedience to law; it was now a relationship to the Son of God. The saving power of religion was in the Son, in his power of redemption from the grave and from sin.
Where Paul heretofore had been trying to lift himself by his own bootstraps, as it were, he could now reach up to the Savior of man through faith and love and find the strength and power to rise above death and sin. Man could become a new creature in Christ Jesus.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the death by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:3-6.)
Paul made Jesus Christ central in religion. This ancient apostle made it clear that man cannot save himself, but is saved by the redeeming power of ‘Christ which Paul had experienced within himself.
If you read the epistles of Paul you will note that the apostle did not leave everything up to Christ but exhorted the saints again and again to forsake sin, to put on the whole armour of righteousness. The law was still sacred and important, but it took faith in Christ to make religion a vital and redeeming power in a person’s life.
so great was Paul’s emphasis on the grace of God in the salvation of man that some Christians, notably John Calvin, mistakenly taught that man had no power whatever to save himself. His salvation or damnation was entirely a matter of predestination.
Grace in the Restored Gospel
In the restored gospel of Jesus Christ we find a fine balance between grace, God’s role in our salvation, and man’s role through faith and obedience. Both are essential and interdependent, as illustrated in the third Article of Faith.
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
Great stress is placed on obedience to law in the restored gospel, and rightly so, for we live in a world of law and order. If we wish to achieve our goals – whether inf arming, in medicine, or in the religious life – we must learn the laws and act in harmony with them. We have all heard again and again,
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated.
And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (Doctrine and Covenants 131:20, 21.)
On the other hand, maybe we overlook and therefore fail to appreciate the great number of gifts, unearned gifts, there are in the gospel and mission of Jesus Christ. The study of the New Testament and especially of the letters of Paul makes us more keenly aware of the grace inherent in the gospel.
What gifts have come to us from God, especially from the Christ? consider the following thoughtfully:
1. Our spiritual creation was an act of grace.
2. Our mortal creation was a gift of Christ (and of our earthly parents).
3. The resurrection is given to all freely.
4. The priesthood, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Ghost are divine gifts given to us. We must prepare to receive and use them, but they are still gifts we could not possibly fully earn or gain by ourselves.
5. The gospel plan itself, the laws of our moral and spiritual growth, are inspired of God, taught and exemplified by his Son.
6. Future opportunities in the celestial kingdom of God are still his gift, even though to receive them men must live the celestial law. (See Doctrine and Covenants 88:14-22.)
7. There is a gift in all forgiveness.
8. Christ himself – his life, his teachings, his spirit – is God the Father’s greatest gift to man.
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. (John 3:16.)
Without the graciousness of our Heavenly Father, neither we nor the son would exist as organized intelligences nor would we have the promise of a resurrected body. Without their gifts, teachings, and the life of Christ, we would not have his gospel, we would not understand his laws nor even have them to obey.
On the other hand, unless we accept the teachings, lend obedience to the laws, give heed to the example of Christ, and open our minds and hearts to the Holy Ghost, the spirit of Christ, and his priesthood, these gifts will have no place or meaning in our lives.
Paul, having spent his early life without faith in Christ, learned what a difference Christ can make in one’s life. And though he repeatedly admonished the saints to keep the commandments of God and the laws of the gospel, his greater plea was for man to have faith in Christ, to become new creatures in Christ Jesus, and to live by the spirit rather than by the letter of the law.
Paul’s love of Christ and the power the Savior was in his life is beautifully told in the following:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril, or sword?
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
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. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)
Without in any way minimizing the role of obedience and a life of good works, Latter-day Saints would do well to read the New Testament diligently and rejoice again and again in its beautiful portrayal of the grace of Christ in our lives.
We earned the privilege of partaking of this grace by keeping our first estate in the spirit world. We voted there to come to earth, receive physical bodies, and face the grueling test “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” those of us who meet the test will have kept their second estate and “shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abraham 3:25, 26.)