Faith and works is a big topic of debate among many Christians. I’ve discussed it with many people in and out of the LDS church and I’ve thought about it a lot within my own mind. As missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, people will sometimes seek us out and single out a particular point of Mormon doctrine to hammer on. Faith and works is a favorite among some.
“You guys think you can earn your way to Heaven,” many have told me. I emphatically respond with, “No, that’s not true.” But the point never comes off very clearly as they explain to me and my companion that grace is a gift from Christ, and therefore faith is the only thing required to enter into God’s kingdom. This Biblical analogy of the Atonement as a gift has made me think a lot about how to properly explain the Latter-day Saint viewpoint of faith, works, and the grace of Jesus Christ. Here’s where I’ll start…
A gift must be received. No one gives a gift forcefully, otherwise it is no longer a gift. Likewise, Jesus Christ suffered and died for us, giving us the gift of the Atonement. With outstretched hands, His grace is within our grasp. He will not force it upon us, but we must reach out to Him and take the gift. It is not enough to see the gift in His hands and say, “Hey thanks, Jesus! I can see that that gift can bring me salvation.” Such is faith, dead without works, recognizing that only through Christ can we be saved but doing nothing about it. Here is the reaching out…
We read in Exodus 12:23-24, And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.
This is known as the Passover. The Lord sent the destroying angel to kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. The children of Israel, however, were instructed to take the blood of a lamb and strike it on the posts of their doors. This would cause the destroying angel to pass by them and spare the firstborn.
In the most recent General Conference, W. Christopher Waddell, of the Seventy, said,
“The blood used by the Israelites, symbolic of the Savior’s future Atonement, was a product of the sacrifice they had offered. Nevertheless, the sacrifice and the blood alone would not have been sufficient to obtain the promised blessing. Without the application of the blood to the door posts, the sacrifice would have been in vain.”
As he states, it was the application of the blood that saved them. The blood itself, without applying it in the way instructed by the Lord, would have left the firstborn dead. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, by itself, cannot save us. We must apply His atonement in our lives, which requires both faith and works.
So… no, we can’t work our way to Heaven, and a belief in Christ without applying His atoning sacrifice in our lives will not save us either. We must believe and do.