The doctrine of grace is one of those things not very well understood within Christianity. While most traditional Christian denominations accept the doctrine of “Salvation by Grace Alone,” The LDS Church stands mostly by itself with a firm rejection of that doctrine. We believe that a combination of a belief in Jesus Christ as Savior, the knowledge and understanding of His Atonement and the resulting good works that emanate from that testimony are necessary for our complete salvation, to return to live with our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ throughout the eternities. Exaltation, we call it.
“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)
The key to this scripture verse are in two distinct phrases:
“for we know that it is by grace that we are saved” and,
“after all we can do.”
“By grace we are saved” – We are saved from eternal death, brought about by the fall of Adam because of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. We receive this gift without condition, we cannot earn it and it is given to every person who ever existed or will exist on this earth.
However, then comes a tricky phrase:
“after all we can do.” – This would seem to indicate that the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ comes after the “do.” The footnote in the LDS Bible for “do” sends us to the Topical Guide section “Good Works.” This might lead one to the conclusion while reading this scripture literally, that you “work your way to heaven.” That grace is earned after good works. This is a common charge by those critical of the doctrines of the LDS Church.
So just what does “all we can do” mean?
Here is my take on it.
I do not believe that good works can fully justify us. That is, unless we bring to the Lord what He asked for, the sacrifice of a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalms 34:18)
“And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. …” (3 Nephi 12:19)
“Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:8)
Someone who truly repented of his/her sins and tries to live the example of the Savior will be motivated to do good works as the Savior did. In doing good works will be a desire to more fully emulate the Savior, but not as a proof point about how well the person performs all the works of the gospel. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18), the Pharisee thought himself very justified and worthy before the Lord because of all the things of the law that he performed, while the Lord justified the Publican because of his humility.
It speaks to the idea that works:
- be motivated for the right reasons
- be inspired by our desire to serve the Lord
- not be done to seek the praise of others
- does not replace the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
- be combined with a true “broken heart and contrite spirit.”
So, I am saying that, “all we can do” is offer “the sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit” and the Lord provides the rest.