We talk about the infinite Atonement, which is at the center of the whole gospel plan. What we more rarely talk about is the grace involved in the Atonement. Sometimes we treat the Atonement almost like it was owed to us. The truth is that we can’t and could never do anything worthy of a gift such as Christ’s atoning sacrifice. That is what makes it the ultimate expression of love. It took God’s greatest child everything He had to pay for the sins of all God’s children. But His love did not stop with His sacrifice in Gethsemane and on the cross. The sacrifice He made was only the beginning of His kindness and devotion to God’s children. Gethsemane set the stage for all that was to come for each of us.
I have been having numerous conversations with Latter-day Saints online who are frustrated with the Church. They claim we rely too much on works, and not enough of the saving grace of Christ for our salvation. This bothered me a lot, but I did not know how to answer them. I decided it was time to start digging to try to understand where they were coming from.
If you do a search on the Internet about grace, justification, and sanctification, you will quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer number of definitions about these words. And that has nothing to do with application of doctrine, just definitions. Whole religions are defined by how they treat the definition and application of grace, how they view the possibilities of justification and sanctification before God. It is very confusing. It is small wonder there is precious little agreement out there when it comes to how to view grace and its component parts.
For this reason I will be using only the definitions for grace, justification, and sanctification that are used by latter-day leaders. After all, that is what we will be held accountable for. Grace is such a big topic that it includes the Atonement within it. Please don’t think that this article will cover everything there is to know about the subject. The most I can hope for is that by reading these articles (all parts) you will have a better understanding of what we believe about grace, and how we can apply it in our lives.
In this discussion, I will ask questions about finite or small parts of the topic of grace. The answers will not be exhaustive, but hopefully will be instructive enough that you will feel satisfied with the answers. In the next article I will finish up the questions. In the final article, I will summarize the topic of grace and how to apply it in our lives.
Questions about Grace
What is grace?
As defined by our Bible Dictionary, grace is God’s enabling power. Grace is also referred to in reference to his healing power. Traditional definitions of grace talk about grace in terms of the special favor that God shows his children. This kindly disposition is unearned, and is freely given without any requirement of worthiness on our part. Indeed, if you look at the Atonement, this definition is spot on. Others believe that we need to exercise faith to receive God’s grace or special favors.
As Latter-day Saints we understand that faith cannot exist without applied effort to bring belief into the realm of faith. We believe that the gifts and kindnesses God bestows on his children come by way of living by faith, which does, in fact require effort on our part. We’ll talk more about this later. In the October 2003 Conference, Elder Christoffel Golden, Jr. spoke on the topic of grace. The following quote comes from that talk. This quote serves to illustrate the need for cooperation between God’s freely offered gift of divine assistance, and our need to put forth effort to receive that gift.
Some years ago, President David O. McKay (1873–1970) related a story which illustrates the relationship between works and grace. He told of a group of boys who were learning to swim when one fell into a treacherous hole in the stream. The boy would have drowned but for a quick-thinking companion who extended a branch to him and helped pull him to shore.
“There are those who claim that no one will sink and be lost if he will look to Jesus on the shore and say, ‘I believe.’ There are others who declare that every one must by his own efforts swim to the shore or be lost forever. The real truth is that both of these extreme views are incorrect. Christ redeemed all men from death which was brought upon them through no act of theirs, but He will not save men from their personal transgressions who will put forth no effort themselves, any more than the young rescuer on the river bank could have saved the drowning lad if the latter had not seized the means provided him. Neither can man save himself without accepting the means provided by Christ for man’s salvation.”
Where does grace come from?
Let’s back up a step and look at our condition without grace first. By coming to earth and committing sin, i.e. breaking God’s commandments or laws, we cut ourselves off from his presence for all of eternity. God cannot tolerate sin with the least degree of allowance (D&C 1:31), therefore, we have no way to return home. Without divine intervention we would be consigned to suffer eternity as angels to a devil (2 Nephi 9:9).
But God is gracious, and loves us, so He gave us His son. God’s grace or healing power to us was the gift of His son, Jesus, the Anointed One (Christ or Messiah). Their combined gift to us was the Atonement worked through by Christ; His sacrifice was central to the whole plan of salvation. This sacrifice on His part paid for the sins of all God’s children, satisfying the demands of justice that says that if a law is broken, punishment must be made to pay for the broken law. Christ paid the price for us, and by so doing, purchased the rights to the disposition of our souls.
In other words, He now has the right to say what happens to us after we die. His suffering for our sins was the beginning of His grace or kindness to us. Grace enters the picture in the form of the mercy extended by Christ to each of us, the ability to repent of our sins, which was not possible without his sacrifice on our behalf.
With the requirements of all eternal laws satisfied, Christ can now open the door or gate for us and set us on the path back to God. His grace is found in giving us all the tools necessary for us to become like Him, so that when we return to be judged of Him, we will feel comfortable in His presence because we have become like Him. His grace makes these changes in our personalities and our desires possible. His grace can heal any spiritual or emotional wound, it can repair any weakness and turn it into a strength. In Ether 12:27, we learn that through the enabling power of Christ – His grace – that those who exercise faith in Christ can have their weaknesses transformed into strengths.
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
His power is, as the scriptures say, sufficient for anyone who exercises faith in Him, to bring them back to the Father. God’s grace, His undeserved kindness and help, is seen in every part of the gospel plan. We are all truly in debt to Them for all they have done for us, only because they love us, and not for anything we have done to deserve Their help.
Next week I will continue answering questions about grace. Please have patience. By answering questions, I am keeping the topic fractured. It will all get put back together the way it belongs in the last installment. Feel free to make any comments that come to mind. I will answer them as quickly as I receive the comments.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.