Walk the Walk

So my compañero and I were knocking doors the other day. After about the sixth door, someone finally answered and he let us right in. I’m always a little bit suspicious when that happens, but  he was a very nice man and started the conversation by asking us some questions about the LDS church and how LDS missions work. We answered all of his inquires, but then he shifted the discussion a little by asking us how we viewed the whole “receiving Jesus into your heart” thing.

The conversation got a little more interesting, and we started telling him about some more specific doctrines pertaining to The Church of Jesus Christ. It eventually turned to the doctrine of salvation, and what constitutes being “saved.”

He made sure we understood that many “Mormon” doctrines don’t quite fall under the “umbrella of classic Christianity.” This is something that my companion and I are very well aware of. Many things that The Church of Jesus Christ teaches don’t agree completely with the traditions of what the world now likes to call “mainstream” Christianity.

Naturally, talking about salvation, we delved into faith and works. He was all for faith, which of course is a necessary thing. We must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But he told us, “Don’t hang your hat on works.” Well, duh, I know I can’t earn my way to Heaven. I don’t know if people just think we’re stupid or something, but we know very well that only through the Atonement of Christ can anyone have any hope of salvation. Without Him, and without having faith in Him, our good works are in vain, and profit us nothing… because we’d all be damned to Hell. Simple.

I quoted James and told him that “faith without works is dead.” He tried to explain that good works come as a result of our faith and… as far as I understood it, ultimately don’t even matter anyway. They’re just… good things to do. We asked him about the Ten Commandments, if it was needful to obey them in order to gain salvation. His answer was no.

A bit puzzled, I said, “You don’t have to obey the Ten Commandments? So basically you can just be a bad person?” He said yes. Well, now that was interesting, ’cause last time I checked, they were still called the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions, or the Ten Creative Ideas.

I’m sorry (no, I’m really not), but “receiving Jesus into your heart” is more than just proclaiming a belief in Him and His atoning sacrifice. If you’re going to receive Him into your heart, then you better darn well get out there and do something about it.

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps (1 Peter 2:21)

There are the words of Cephas himself. Christ suffered for us, not so we could sit on our butts and not obey His commandments, but that so we could see His example and follow it. “Work out your own salvation”, as Paul states to the Philippians, but still maintain an understanding that salvation comes “not of works, lest any man should boast,” as he counsels the Ephesians.

Find your faith in Christ and show it, otherwise your “faith without works is dead”, as James so boldly proclaimed. You may tell your neighbor, who is in need of food and clothing, to be fed and clothed, but what’s it going to do if you don’t do anything about it? If you proclaim your faith in Christ, that’s great, but if you seriously think that’s all there is to being worthy to receive the glory of God, you’ve got something to reconsider.

God didn’t go through the trouble of creating this entire world and placing us here for eighty something years just so we could say “Lord Jesus I receive you into my heart” and automatically become “saved.” You know what? Salvation isn’t cheap. It doesn’t come from saying a few lines that some random pastor guy made up off the top of his head. Christ didn’t suffer for that.

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (James 2:19)

You believe in Christ? That’s great, so do the evil spirits that flood this earth. Does their belief in the Son of God do anything for them? No, because it’s not just about believing, it’s also about living a life that’s in harmony with what Jesus Christ taught.

So if believing that our salvation is also dependent on being a good person somehow makes me a non-Christian, then I suppose by today’s standards I’m not a Christian. But I do know that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that He lives again. And I know that only through His grace can we hope to be saved. Christ’s atonement is the bridge that has been built over the gulf of misery. Without it, our destination, no matter how good of person we were in this life, would be Hell. But with it, we can escape the captivity of the devil and enter into salvation. We must walk across that bridge, however. Standing there and saying, “That bridge has saved me!” is not going to get you over that bridge.

I know that through obedience to God’s laws and ordinances, all mankind may be saved, and that the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ is the only thing that has made that possible for us. His sacrifice has opened the door into eternal life, but He has left it up to us… to walk through it.

Applying the Blood

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.

Articles of Faith III: Atonement and the Gospel

Now that we got a couple of basic things out of the way, let’s get into something deeper. The third statement of belief is as follows,

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

This reaffirms the fact that we are indeed a Christian religion. We firmly believe that it is only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that salvation is made possible. The word may is important. We do not believe everyone is automatically saved. Rather, we believe the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12 when he says to “work out your own salvation.”

Faith and works are both necessary. As James said, faith without works is dead. And of course, works without faith is empty, shallow, and unfulfillable. Hence the last part of the statement, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

Salvation is not cheap. It requires effort and diligence. Christ said Himself that “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Obviously, there are some requirements in this life that need to be accomplished. Baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost (“and of the Spirit”) are just a couple.

So what if someone lives and dies without receiving the necessary ordinances such as baptism? Are they damned to Hell? Definitely not. How fair would that be? It wouldn’t be fair at all! These ordinances are still required though, and everyone, whether in this life or the next, will have the opportunity to receive them by their own free will.

Now don’t misunderstand. In no way do Mormons believe they can work their way into Heaven. I can knock doors all day long, but it won’t do anything if I’m not doing it for the right reasons. Faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation for our works. If we work without faith, we work in vain, but our faith is only shown through our works. We do as much as we can, and Jesus makes up the difference. This is what grace is.

 

Make It Happen

We know that by small and simple things God performs miracles. These small and simple things are often us. By using the free will that God has given us, we can be instruments in His hands to carry out His plans for us. This, of course, requires action. It means we need to get ourselves out there and make something happen. A prayer said without a willingness to help that prayer be answered is a prayer said in vain. God will not simply wave a magic wand and make the world a better place. He expects us to do our part. We are His tools, and He has given us the gift of agency for a reason.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma taught,

Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. (Alma 34:27-28)

If we have the means to assist others, we need to do so. If we don’t, we are nothing more than hypocrites. Jesus Christ was all about serving others. Nothing He did was for Himself. He rendered all his energy to Heavenly Father’s will, and undoubtedly was and forever will be the greatest instrument in the hands of God. If we profess to be followers of the Savior, we must do as He did.

The surest way for a prayer to come true is to do our part to make it happen. Our Father in Heaven will do the rest. We are the instruments He uses to make miracles happen.

Of Sheep and Goats

It’s impossible to earn your way into Heaven. Everyone knows that. No human power can bring about salvation. It is only through the grace of Jesus Christ that we are saved. But doesn’t Jesus Christ bid us to follow Him? Did not the apostles state that He, Christ, set the example for us to follow?

I ask you, what did Jesus do? Perhaps a better question would be to ask what He didn’t do, but I’ll answer the first one. Christ carried out the will of the Father. He performed miracles, forgave sins, and set the ultimate example of righteousness for us to follow. He is the Good Shepherd, and those that follow Him are His sheep. Those that do not follow Him are goats. We read in Matthew 25, verses 33 through 40…

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

The goats, on the other hand (literally), did not tend to the hungry, the poor, the sick and afflicted, or the needy in general. They did not work righteousness. They still, however, acknowledged Christ as their Lord. They believed, but they did not follow Jesus’ example. They didn’t do the will of the Father. Christ said Himself that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of the Father.

The prophet Nephi, in the Book of Mormon, stated,

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)

We are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, but only after all we can do, for we will be judged by our righteousness. So don’t be a goat! Believe in Christ. Believe He can save you, and then follow His example and work righteousness.

 

A Faith Is Dead Without the Deed

You say you’re good, then let me see
A faith is dead without the deed.
How can we fail if we believe?
Let’s be who we were meant to be.

Inside Our Skin ~ Emery

Faith is the foundation of all we do. It is the driving force behind our actions, and therefore… it is an action. Faith is not about just saying that we believe in Christ. Faith is making that fact known through what we do.  As James says in the New Testament,

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (James 1:22)

Of course, you can’t work your way into Heaven. You could do all the good in the world, but without Jesus Christ’s Atonement, and having faith in and using that Atonement, there would be no hope of returning to live in God’s presence. But having faith alone is also not enough. Does God reward laziness? Doubt it. Christ’s Atonement is not a freebie. It’s open to all, but through repentance and good works we must use it.

Here’s the way I look at it. You can agree or disagree, but at least ponder it. We are saved by grace, but we are judged according to our works. Makes sense, right? Well, at the very least it makes sense to me. Here’s something else to think about…

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)

They were/are/will be judged according to works. Again, works don’t get us to Heaven. But certainly they play an important role. ‘Cause life is a test, right? So we can imagine that after this life each of us are graded. Let’s say we can get between an A+ and an F. Receving a D- is pretty bad, but it’s still technically passing. But doesn’t it seem unfair that the one with the A+ should get the same reward as the person with the D-? Of course it’s unfair! It wouldn’t make any sense! They both had faith in Jesus Christ, but the A+ showed his or her faith through their works.

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (James 2:20-22)

James gives Abraham as an example, and explains that faith worked with his works, and that by Abraham’s works was his faith strengthened. Faith is dead without works, and works is dead without faith.

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2: 24, 26)

You say you’re good, then let me see.