“We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Many of us seem to break out into hives when this scripture is mentioned. A while back I read a comment about this scripture (by a member of the church) that suggested the “after all we can do” should be left off the next time someone uses it in a talk. What does “all we can do” mean, and why does it bother us?
Obviously, it does not literally mean, ALL we can do. That would doom us all. How many of us have not done all we can do? I have already slacked off enough to be sent straight to the Telestial Kingdom on this logic. I have not done ALL I could do, and don’t plan on doing it all in the future. It’s just not possible. How many months have you missed Home/Visiting teaching? Well, I guess you didn’t do ALL you could do then. Sorry about that.
If “all we can do” does not really mean “all we can do,” what does it mean? Some have suggested that it means we do all we can to repent. But can we really do this either? I do not think it is possible. Not to steady the ark, but perhaps the scripture should say, “We can do “all we can do” WITH grace, and be saved.” I recently watched Schindler’s List, and a scene towards the end exemplifies what “all we can do” may mean. Schindler, who by no means was a perfect man (member of the Nazi party, had a few mistresses, etc.) realizes that he could have saved more Jews if he had of sold his car or his gold pin. He realizes, with some despair, that he HAD NOT done all he could do. This entire clip is about 10 minutes, but skip ahead to the 6:50 mark for the relevant scene (stop it around 8:50).
I believe a man like this is saved, not because of his works (which were amazing), but because he was converted. To me, that is all we can do: be converted, i.e. have a change of heart. Is that not the ultimate purpose of Christian religion, regardless of dogma? So why an emphasis on works in LDS theology? What are they for? I believe they are meant specifically to aid us in our conversion, in our change of heart:
“Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses their works; but the law of Moses their works did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come.” ~Alma 25:16
In the movie, Oskar Schindler’s works brought him to a place in his life where a change of heart was possible. Salvation does not come by the law (works) but by faith in Christ. The purpose of the commandments is to strengthen our faith in Christ. All we can do is to have a change of heart.
It’s interesting to try and decide if his works led to his change of heart and conversion or if it was the opposite or if it was a process that evolved together. The role of grace is problematic if it, grace, is defined as a free gift because if it’s predicated on any sort of performance then it’s not grace. There was a discussion of grace here several months ago and hopefully this will revive it as it’s still not clear to me what role it plays in LDS theology.
Great post AdamF. I loved it. It is as though he tastes condemnation and salvation…both at the same time. Very interesting. Thank you again for sharing this. Gave me tingles and made me spiritually uplifted.
GBS: While it may be necessary that grace is not a “reward” for good behavior, if it is in no way tied or related to any behavior at all it seems to me we would be getting into predestination, and we wouldn’t have agency. Other types of Christians have *some* performance involved in the sense that they accept Christ as their savior before grace works for them, am I correct? Perhaps this is a paradox (one of many in religion for sure). How can one believe in free (with no strings attached) grace, and still believe in agency?
I think 2 Nephi 25:23 is a commonly misinterpreted scripture. As you pointed out, in the context of the entire chapter, it serves to emphasize that Nephi and the other prophets and teachers strove to convince people that Christ is the source of salvation, not the law. When you read the verse, you should place the stress on the word we rather than the word all. Even if we do all that is within our power, we need Christ and His grace to save us. That is our soteriology. In his book The Broken Heart, Elder Bruce C. Hafen pointed out that the reason people think we place too much emphasis on works is because we do—perhaps unconsciously, perhaps as a reaction against our Protestant critics. But the fact is that we believe that salvation comes only through conversion to Christ. Now, certain works are required, such as baptism and other ordinances. And we also believe what James said about the deadness of faith without works, but ultimately, Christ saves us.
I think you are on to something with the idea that our works simply lead us to or strengthen us in our conversion to Christ rather than producing some sort of celestial credit. In addition, our works are a sign to God and men that we have experienced this conversion. There was a disagreement between Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith regarding Joseph’s changes to Oliver’s draft of what is now D&C 20. In particular, Oliver objected to Joseph’s changes to verse 37 regarding the qualifications for baptism. Joseph’s new phrase now read this way: “and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins.” Though our works do not save us, they do play a role in qualifying us for certain blessings somehow.
I have an idea about the “free” grace idea. From Mosiah: “…if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” This is suggesting to me that our works do not “earn” anything. At the same time, there are consequences to everything we do, and who can deny that good works can cause change in us? For example, if Shindler had not done any of the good works, do you think the ending would be the same? Of course not. His works had led to a change of heart/conversion, which opened (I think) his heart for grace (once he realized the “condemnation” as Stephen put it). I don’t think God forces his grace upon people, for that would be Satan’s plan.
I love the phrase “all you can do.” It is distinctly personal. It isn’t after “all [Bob] can do,” or after all [President Monson] can do,” but after “all [Dan] can do.” Salvation for me individually is based on my life. I could be at the same place as someone else and be saved and that other not be saved, and vice versa. It is dependent solely on me.
The following are excerpts from a post I wrote in November 2007 entitle “Embracing Grace”:
Our understanding of “grace” is found in the Bible Dictionary. It is obvious from this definition that grace is the heart of the Gospel – that it is the “Good News” that encompasses Jesus’ love for us and is the ultimate gift He gives us. It is, in reality, the “gracious gift” of the Atonement, which is why we don’t use the word much. (We use “atonement” instead.)
I have been asked the age-old Christian question, “Have you been (When were you) saved?”
We have been saved by the grace of God. That salvation started when Jesus voluntarily offered Himself as our Savior prior to the creation of the world, continued when He was born of Mary, deepened in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Golgatha when He hung on the cross, declared “It is finished,” and “gave up the ghost” – and culminated on that Sunday morning when He rose from the tomb, appeared to Mary, ascended to His Father, and became the first fruits of the resurrection. The implications of that grace are enormous and too often misunderstood.
Let me say it again, more plainly. **We have been saved by the grace of God.** It has happened already, completely independent of what we do – except in the case of Sons of Perdition. For all of the rest of us, we have, through His grace, been freed from the bonds of physical and spiritual death and inherited a degree of glory in the presence of God. Even those who inherit the Telestial Kingdom have “inherited” a kingdom of glory and can enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost – a member of the Godhead. Even they will be resurrected and have been saved from endless torment in the presence of Lucifer.
*****That gift, promised to all but a few who accepted The Father’s Plan of Salvation and Jesus as their Savior in their pre-mortal life, has been purchased already – and all of them have, in a very real sense, “confessed His name and been saved by His grace” prior to being born.*****
2 Nephi 25:23 is the most quoted verse about grace in Mormondom. It says, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Many people believe that this means we are only saved if we do all that we can do – if we obey every commandment to the best of our ability. That simply isn’t in line with the rest of our scriptures (including the context of the entire chapter of 2 Nephi 25) and, more importantly, it leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety about whether or not “I am doing enough.” I see this all the time in my discussions with members and as I listen to and read the blogs of many women, especially. Rather than seeing the grace of God as a freeing, enabling gift that already has been given, they often internalize it as a reward dangling enticingly in front of them, ready to be withdrawn if they screw up too badly and fail to repent immediately. That leads to guilt and pain and lack of self-confidence, instead of the rest that is promised so beautifully in Matthew 11:28-30.
When I read 2 Nephi 25:23, I explain it by employing a common linguistic technique – switching the phrases to reflect the proper emphasis. In this case, the sentence becomes, “(Even) after all we can do, it is (still) by grace that we are saved.” Of course, we are to try to do all that we can do, but exactly what we can do pales in comparison to what He has done – saved us by His grace regardless of what we can do. It takes the pressure off of us and puts the focus where it should be – on His incomprehensible grace that so fully he proffers us.
Essentially in my mind, repentance and conversion are inextricably tied together, because if we are really converted, we will continually repent, turn back to Christ. I like your thought about conversion, but I do think it’s pretty much the same thing as saying ‘all we can do is repent.’ Of course we can do that, and we should, every hour of every day.
Stephen E. Robinson agrees:
“LDS commentators are agreed that the word after in this passage is used as a preposition of separation rather than of time. The sense is that apart from all we can do, it is ultimately by the grace of Christ that we are saved. This meaning is apparent from the fact that none of us actually does all he can do.”
Great post. The misinterpretation comes about by the unfortunate LDS tradition of hanging on every word and then building a doctrine upon one scripture when witnesses are supposed to come in twos and threes. I throw the LDS elevation of the LofC above everything else, all based on one BofM passage, on the same intellectual garbage heap.
We’re saved by grace, period. The “all we can do” is repent and come to Christ. Sinning continues unintentionally because we’re human and need redemption. When we recognize new sin, we again repent. Faith in Christ means we have faith he’ll be there for us at the judgment so that G-d’s judgment will pass over us and we will then be perfected by him, something we cannot do for ourselves. Exaltation-Salvation cannot be earned. Hence my Evangelical Mormon handle. To interpret the “all we can do” otherwise would mean we’re all damned, Christ sacrificed for nothing and Satan won, the antithesis of the gospel.
On a side note, is Stephen Robinson retired? If not, how did he escape getting “Paced” by a GA?
OK BKP, have at me.
He did try to do all he could do, even if he realized later that he could have done more. Plus, we can always repent when we haven’t done all we could and try to do better, which is again doing all we can do if we’re willing to repent. Luckily we don’t have to decide who’s going to be saved and who isn’t. Have you read Believing Christ? I love that book. Thanks for the post.
This shouldn’t be a difficult concept for LDS to deal with, but it is.
If we put the Savior on the side line coaching us as we play on the field of life attempting to do all we can do, then we are missing the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Savior is not our coach!
The message of the gospel is that we are to come unto Christ. This is done by using the tools of the gospel. The tools of the gospel are the first principles: faith, repentance, baptism, receive the Holy Ghost. Once we’re baptized then we are told to receive the Holy Ghost. This is the first order of business after receiving baptism. In my opinion most of us miss the boat by forgetting this part of the plan. This is where many put the Savior on the side line as a coach because we get caught up in a self improvement mentality.
I did it my way until I came across a problem I couldn’t solve on my own. Then I approached the Lord as my Savior, instead of my coach, and after paying a price in prayer and repentance I received a remission of sins and all that goes with that(I give more details about this. Click my name and read: Jared’s testimony, if you’re interested.)
I would still be employing the Savior as my coach if I hadn’t come upon a problem I couldn’t solve myself. Fortunately, I had faith enough to turn to the Savior when all else failed. So often I have seen friends and loved ones just give up when they couldn’t solve the problem themselves. I guess they lacked faith, I don’t know why they rejected Him for a season. If they would have turned to Him they could have been healed.
I’m sorry for coming across as preaching, but this is a source of concern to me. I’ve been there, and it is troubling to me to see so many who can not find the power to turn to the Savior with full purpose of heart when they are brought to the point where they are humbled–at the bottom, but won’t turn to Him, but instead turn away from Him and do their thing the worlds way.
Recently, a very active church member, a sister I know, chose suicide instead of appealing to the Savior with full purpose of heart.
#7 Ray: In the sense that all of us here will inherit one of the kingdoms, all of us have already been saved. Your idea of all of us “confessing His name in the pre-mortal life and being saved by His grace” seems obvious but I had never thought of it before. “Rather than seeing the grace of God as a freeing, enabling gift that already has been given, they often internalize it as a reward dangling enticingly in front of them, ready to be withdrawn if they screw up too badly and fail to repent immediately.” This is some great insight, something that I myself need to be reminded of now and again.
#8 m&m: Perhaps “continual repentance” is pretty much the same thing. Repenting “every hour of every day” seems overwhelming to me personally, however, so maybe that’s why I like conceptualizing it a little differently. I personally cannot repent every day. But of course then we’d have to talk about what “repent” means. “Continually repenting” and doing it sincerely seems to be too overwhelming to me. Perhaps I have a misunderstanding of what repentance is. I just can’t promise every time I do something wrong (or don’t do something right) that I will never do it again. In a lot of cases, I’m sure I will. All I can promise God is that I will repent again. Any ideas here about repentance?
#9, 10, 11 Re: Stephen Robinson – I really enjoyed both of the books. Btw, Steve EM, what do you mean by “Paced”? And for Ammon Rye’s sake (if he is around) no one will bring up the parable of the bicycle, and then misuse it. 😉
Jared: Getting “caught up in a self-improvement mentality” is something that I have done many times. Thanks for this insight! I have (and probably still do) tried to solve problems by myself quite a bit. Not to discount personal effort, but when you’re dealing with the same types of shortcomings your whole life you begin to question your ability. You seem to be one with a lot of faith. That’s really neat.
I personally cannot repent every day.
I think we may think of repentance in different ways, then. To me, repentance is not only about being completely changed, but about turning back to Christ. I CAN do that every day, even every time I realize I have forgotten Him (again). I think part of the challenge is understanding that repentance encompasses a lot more than just getting rid of the sin in our lives. It’s also about simply turning more and more of our hearts over to Him, letting more and more of His grace change us. I know I can’t perfectly obey all of the time, or perfectly be sinless all of the time, but I have come to look at repentance as turning myself toward Him as much as I can, as many times as day as that takes. Does that make sense?
Yes, it does. Thanks for the added thoughts. I can definitely work on that every day. I think what I was hung up on was the traditional(?) model of repentance we all learn in primary (or from the missionaries), i.e. confess, make restitution, forsake, etc. That is a huge process.
Perhaps I’ll write something in the future on repentance. Is repentance about turning to Him, and growing every day, or is it about sinning, and then repenting and being perfect again every day? The former (more as you described it) is a lot more doable than the latter. I suppose what I’m getting at here is that completely forsaking one’s sins may not be possible in this life, but the way you describe repentance is.
I think “Paced” refers to the fact that George Pace, a popular author and BYU religion professor, was denounced by Elder Bruce McConkie in the early 1980’s during one of his campus visits. Pace had written a popular book about the need to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
Robinson has not been Paced because Robert Millett has been saying essentially the same things as Robinson, the Brethren learned that what Elder McConkie did was personally devastating to Pace, Elder McConkie is dead, and President Packer, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s devastating phrase, “is no Bruce McConkie.”
And there might be growing support for the Robinson/Millett view now versus twenty five years ago.
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Adam, I know what you are saying. I think that repentance is both. Elder Bednar’s talk on clean hands and a pure heart and I think it was Elder Nelson’s talk on repentance get to this.
I have spent most of my life feeling discouraged by the concept of repentance. This layer of its meaning has made a huge difference in my life.
I think it’s an interesting question… What exactly is “all we can do”? It’s rather ambiguous and clearly, quite open to interpretation. By no means do I consider myself to be a doctrine wiz, but here’s my take on it. You have to realize the context it’s being said in. Clearly “all we can do” differs with each person, and I think one can take it a little too literally. If you take it literally, if we did all we could do, would we really need to be saved by grace? If in life you did everything you could, every time you could, wouldn’t that make you perfect? So the scripture is being said with the knowledge, knowing that we’re not perfect, which changes the meaning. We’re expected to make mistakes, its inevitable, by nature we have to sin. Leaving repentance out of the meaning for a second, Let’s say you missed your visiting teaching this month, does that mean that you didn’t do all you could, or because, we are human, were you possibly incapable of doing it, because you’re not perfect, and you can’t be expected to do everything you could, because it’s not possible. And maybe I’m just running in circles now, but “all you can do” doesn’t mean doing everything that’s possible, it means doing all that you’re capable of as an imperfect being.
Thanks for reprinting the post in #7. I had not read it before and enjoyed it. It reminds me of the timeless nature of the Atonement and how it indeed began to take force from the moment it was accepted in the premortal life. One element of temple worship that I enjoy is the representation of simplicity in accepting this gift. After making a major blunder (of sorts), Adam and Eve covenant to keep the commandments from that time forward and aside from the consequences, the “act” of disobedience is forgotten. We have weekly opportunities to renew our covenants to keep the commandments. Mosiah 26: 30 teaches “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.” Moroni 6: 8 similarly teaches “as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.”
I believe, like AdamF mentioned, I have, at times in my life, been “hung up” on the traditional model of repentance, or the steps, or the “work”. We sometimes won’t move on (or move at all) until we’ve judged our guilt to have been adequate in duration or until we flaggellated ourselves with, for instance, a read of MoF. There is certainly a time and place for the steps, but it shouldn’t delay our turning to Christ. If He will forgive as as oft as we repent, then I would want to repent as oft as I can. Feeling overwhelmed by the concept of repentence can be a stumbling block.
I see a parallel with testimony bearing. Some individuals won’t get up to bear their testimony because they haven’t had a spiritual experience to testify about, or because they feel like there are too many issues in their lives that haven’t been dealt with. Others bear their testimony after not having come to church for months or years–obviously still struggling with many issues in their lives–and then after bearing of the truthfulness of the gospel, disappear for many more months or years. Those individuals fascinate me because, historically, I have tended to fall into the other camp. I think for many of these individuals, this is their way of turning to Christ to feel His love amidst the turmoil of the challenges they are up against. I’m sure He is as ready to hear their testimony as He is for us to turn to Him in repentence.
Thanks, Rigel and Adam.
I really believe historically grace hasn’t been taught much in the Church for two reasons:
1) Grace generally is associated in the rest of Christianity with being saved from the devil – of being saved from Hell. Our theology indicates that this salvation is practically universal and accomplished before birth – meaning it really has no “significance” actually IN THIS LIFE. It’s a done deal. That is an incredibly powerful concept, but it’s such a “given” in our theology that it just kind of gets taken for granted.
2) Grace has been used by many to justify the “eat, drink and be merry” mentality that deemphasizes the importance of what we do – and our church places great emphasis on Jesus’ statements regarding our actions. We haven’t rejected grace, but we certainly have rejected certain interpretations of grace – and doing that has led many simply to stop using the word to avoid confusion and mis-association.
>>> 1) Grace generally is associated in the rest of Christianity with being saved from the devil – of being saved from Hell. Our theology indicates that this salvation is practically universal and accomplished before birth – meaning it really has no “significance” actually IN THIS LIFE. It’s a done deal. That is an incredibly powerful concept, but it’s such a “given” in our theology that it just kind of gets taken for granted.
In other words, Ray, you’re saying that salvation from hell is given through “free grace” with no works in Mormon theology and you have to do something to “earn” (or apply) it through a “work” in other Christian religions. 😛
Not quite Bruce, although that juxtaposition is funny.
If you had said, “Salvation from hell is given through “free grace” with no MORTAL works, in Mormon theology,” I would agree. It actually required a very real and difficult action and choice – one that in Mormon theology was not made by 1/3 of the other spirits. What I’m saying is that the “free grace” has happened already – that much of Christianity is stuck in a play that already has ended. It’s like the Jews rejecting Jesus and waiting for a different Messiah. They are missing the feast because they won’t accept the one who has provided it already. Much of Christianity is nothing more than modern Judaism – as incredibly ironic as that statement is.
The layer of grace that Mormonism adds is what we teach as available AFTER that initial salvation from Hell – the growth and eventual possibility of a higher level of glory than “mere salvation from Hell” that rests on our efforts to become like the Father and the Son – our willingness to believe what they have said in the Bible, if you will.
That’s Robinson’s distinction between “believing IN Christ” and actually “BELIEVING Christ”. It’s also why Joseph Smith once said that the main difference between Mormonism and other Christian churches is that “we believe the Bible; they don’t”. I don’t think he meant that to be focused on “little doctrines” (Excuse that term; it’s mine, not his.), but rather on what the Bible teaches about the transformative power of God.
#18 Hope – “it means doing all that you’re capable of as an imperfect being” – I like what you’re getting at here (and I have many similar thoughts). What I am wrestling with is that this phrase (all one is capable of) could mean any amount. When I think about “all I can do” I tend to get stuck between the extremes of near perfection, and mediocrity. Hence my focus on conversion rather than repentance, if that makes any sense.
#20 Ray – I suppose the danger of looking away from doing ALL we can do is going to the other extreme of “eat drink and be merry.” Being at peace with oneself while at the same time working hard to improve is not an easy paradox to live with. Kind of like pairing the “true” church with a constant need for new revelation. Not to change the topic.
I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (U2 reference unintended) on this topic, but it’s getting closer. For now, I suppose I will continue to keep the idea (or at least the “steps”) of repentance on the shelf and just focus on things that build my faith in Christ. Maybe I’ll end up in the same place.
Adam, I’m not lessoning the “all you can do” one whit. I just think we need to recognize that we aren’t saved AFTER we have done everything we can do; we are saved already and “exalted” BY accepting Jesus’ admonitions as real and necessary and, therefore, doing all we can do TO BECOME LIKE HIM.
If I had to summary this, I would say that all we can do is summarized well in the Sermon on the Mount – that the other modern commandments (like tithing and the WofW) are simple check list items once you begin the process of becoming what He said to become.
Wow, I like how you put that Ray. We are saved “already” and are now doing what we can to become like Him. I understand that, and it works for me. As for the “all” I’m think just hung up on words.
Thanks. Yes, that was what I meant by Paced. I just figured folks in the nacle would have been familiar with the incident but, it’s been more than a generation, so it’s understandable many are not.
Actually, I was at BYU when that occurred, and did find Pace and his groupies to be preaching their own gospel, so to speak. In any case, there was a cult personality surrounding Pace. So I actually welcome Pace getting shut down at the time and felt it was long overdue. I figured the GAs sent their pitbull to do the dirty work, but someone had to do it. What I didn’t learn until years later, was that BRM had blindsided Pace, and that is shocking. I figured Pace was privately encouraged to retract some stuff and dissuaded people away from the cult personality, and upon failing to do so or do so quickly enough, the hammer came down. But Pace got Paced w/o warning. Well, that’s BRM. I will say BKP is indeed a BRM in terms of dogma and orthodoxy; he’s just not as smart or persuasive as BRM was.
IMHO, Evangelical Mormonism is on-the-money, but a BYU prof preaching it is looking to get Paced, hence my question if Robinson was retired.
Thanks for bringing this topic up. It’s one I have spent years trying to figure out.
Ray, I really like what you’re saying about grace being free and automatic by virtue of our keeping our first estate. But I’m a little stuck on the next part of what you said, that we must do all we can to become like Him. Isn’t it impossible to “become like Him,” even when we do all we can? I mean, isn’t that the whole point of having Jesus in the first place? That we can never work our way to perfection? That we need His saving grace and sanctifying power?
My (admittedly limited) understanding is that we are all lost and fallen; when we turn to Christ through the ordinances of salvation, we are bound to Him; and He cleanses us and makes us perfect in Him. Repentance is not going through the “steps of repentance” for every sin every day, but instead is a state of being in which one constantly recognizes one’s dependence on Christ and ever seeks to surrender one’s will to Him. Good works, as opposed to being requirements for salvation or progression, are the natural fruits of a converted heart. They are a way to praise and thank Christ for His goodness and mercy. They may even be a way to show Him loyalty. They are NOT, however, a way to heaven or perfection.
Having said that, I recognize my understanding is probably flawed. This scripture has given me fits. 🙂 The word “all” seems too big to ignore, yet impossible to live up to, and contrary to the rest of my understanding of the atonement. And yet it’s still there! I sympathize with Adam’s sense of not having found what he’s looking for. Like I said, I myself been trying to figure this one out for a very long time…
#26 Steven EM
Did you ever have a class with Pace? Can you name some of his groupies? What was he teaching that would cause you to say:
“Actually, I was at BYU when that occurred, and did find Pace and his groupies to be preaching their own gospel, so to speak. In any case, there was a cult personality surrounding Pace. So I actually welcome Pace getting shut down at the time and felt it was long overdue.”
Please be specific. I’m interested in knowing more details. Thanks in advance.
Katie, I was going to address repentance (in conjunction with grace) here in these comments, but it would be an entirely different thread – which I just sent to Andrew to post. 🙂 Fwiw, you have summarized it quite well, imho.
If it doesn’t show up here within a couple of days, click on my name, scroll down to the category for “Repentance”, click on it and read “A Fresh View of Repentance”. (No pressure, Adam. *grin*)
Repentance is not going through the “steps of repentance” for every sin every day, but instead is a state of being in which one constantly recognizes one’s dependence on Christ and ever seeks to surrender one’s will to Him. Good works, as opposed to being requirements for salvation or progression, are the natural fruits of a converted heart.
I think repentance is both. We must go through steps of repentance, but the way you describe turning to Him is also essential.
I guess I wonder if we all always feel that our good works come from a truly converted heart, or do you feel that sometimes you are exerting yourself in trying to do good even when you can tell your heart is not yet fully changed or converted? I think this is all an interplay. I know and can feel my heart changing in many ways. But often that change comes only after years of exerting myself, doing all I can, sometimes having to repent over and over again because my heart is not yet changed. I don’t think that change always comes as fast as we would like, and we have to work hard to keep ourselves on the path so it can happen.
For example, I have struggled with a temper as a mom. I worked and worked and worked for years to overcome that, and I would fall over and over and over again. I needed thus to repent over and over and over again. I would sometimes feel so worthless and hopeless that I wasn’t sure I could ever really change. I knew that I couldn’t do it alone, and yet I felt the Lord expected me to really exert myself to do all I could to seek to have more self-control.
I didn’t really start noticing a change coming in my heart until the last year or so. I KNOW that the Lord is helping to change my nature. I can feel that. But I don’t think he would be able to do that if I hadn’t exercised my agency to stay on the path, to keep trying, to keep repenting, to keep striving to be obedient. All I could for a long while was keep fighting this element of my natural self, keep doing all I could to love my children in spite of my weakness. I had to keep repenting. Yes, that means recognizing my dependence on Christ, but also recognizing the need to exercise my agency, my own will, my own choices, to try to do my part to be more like the Savior. Of course, I cannot fully become like Him by myself, but I do believe we can make choices to open up the power of the Atonement in our lives.
Conceivably, we know that all good comes from Christ, which means all good even in us is because of Him. But by the same token, our wills are not His to give, so all we can do is repeatedly and constantly choosing His way, His path, His covenants, to seek for and seek to be worthy of and listen to the Spirit. That is a lot on our side of the covenant that I think fills in the ‘all we can do’ part, and ends up being a balance between works and grace, where BOTH are necessary and end up also being an upward spiraling relationship.
I think charity is also another example of something that really is a gift, and yet we are supposed to do all we can to act by our own agency in ways that are charitable, until we reach that point when we are truly like Him because we have slowly been changed through His grace and power.
I think what Elder Hafen says about charity can apply to this scripture in 2 Ne in general when we are talking about developing the divine nature and becoming like the Savior…thus striving toward exaltation.
“Being like Him means we possess His divine attributes, such as charity. Do we develop charity by our own power or is it a gift from God? It is both. In the current BYU vernacular, we must be “fully invested” in Him—as He is fully invested in us. Only then will God “bestow” charity “upon all who are true followers of his Son.” We can’t develop a Christlike love by ourselves, but we can do all in our power to become a “true follower”—meek, lowly of heart, and submissive to correction and affliction. Then the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, “filleth” us “with hope and perfect love, which . . . endureth [forever], when all the saints shall dwell with God.” (emphasis added)
The Savior cannot come and change our hearts uninvited. We are the ones who decide whether or not we will let the Spirit come into our lives to change us. We can exercise our agency to do things that bring the Spirit — read, pray, go to Church, serve, hold our tongues, turn away from sin, keep ourselves clean and pure, repent, have faith, be obedient, etc. etc. etc. Without such choices, we leave ourselves more alone, less able to feel the Spirit and thus less able to be changed. That to me is the interplay of grace and works, and we cannot go to either extreme in the spectrum and fully capture the power of the gospel and the plan of salvation, because it involves BOTH agency and the Atonement. Neither alone could lead to exaltation. Even the Savior’s perfect love and atonement is not enough if we don’t choose to follow Him!
A couple more quotes that I find helpful include the following:
from then-Elder Uchtdorf:
We acknowledge that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but we also declare with firmness that repentance and forgiveness can be as real as sin.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ causes each person to be accountable for his or her individual sins. We will overcome the consequences of individual sin by claiming the blessings and benefits of the Atonement.
President David O. McKay said, “Every principle and ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ is significant and important … , but there is none more essential to the salvation of the human family than the divine and eternally operative principle [of] repentance” (Gospel Ideals , 13).
“For salvation cometh to none … except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 3:12).
It is not repentance per se that saves man. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that saves us. It is not by our sincere and honest change of behavior alone that we are saved, but “by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). True repentance, however, is the condition required so that God’s forgiveness can come into our lives. True repentance makes “a brilliant day [out] of the darkest night” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness , 362).
This whole talk is really relevant, I think, because he gets to both elements of repentance — both the steps and the conversion/spiritual change elements of repentance.
Elder Bednar also gets to this — reminding us of both the need to choose to turn away from sin and repent (to overcome the evil) and the need to become better (which happens through the Atonement):
The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses much more than avoiding, overcoming, and being cleansed from sin and the bad influences in our lives; it also essentially entails doing good, being good, and becoming better. Repenting of our sins and seeking forgiveness are spiritually necessary, and we must always do so. But remission of sin is not the only or even the ultimate purpose of the gospel. To have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit such that “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2), as did King Benjamin’s people, is the covenant responsibility we have accepted. This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater individual discipline. Rather, it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures made possible through the Atonement of Christ the Lord. Our spiritual purpose is to overcome both sin and the desire to sin, both the taint and the tyranny of sin. (David A. Bednar, “Clean Hands and a Pure Heart,” Liahona, Nov 2007, 80–83)
Ray, thanks. I’ll keep my eyes open for it.
m&m, thanks for your thoughts. Understanding the interplay between grace and works must be one of the most delicate nuances in all the gospel…and for me, anyway, one of the most elusive.
I think your thoughts really speak to why C.S. Lewis said that grace and works are like two blades on pair of scissors–trying to use one blade without the other renders the scissors ineffective.
On a parenthetical note, I really wish more of our discussions in church were of this nature…where we could discuss how Christ is at the core and how He changes us, and what our responsibility is within that context…as opposed to endless laundry-lists of dos and don’ts. Anyway, thanks.
#30 m&m: “The Savior cannot come and change our hearts uninvited. We are the ones who decide whether or not we will let the Spirit come into our lives to change us.” I really like the way you put this. I was having a similar thought last night talking with my wife about this issue. If the Savior gave us his grace “uninvited” it would essentially be taking away our agency, imo. What we can (and need to) do are the things that bring the Spirit into our lives such as service, scripture study, etc.
#32 Katie Langston – I wish for that too. I suppose it is somewhat up to the teachers themselves to decide how they will lead the discussion. I think it could be done in Gospel Doctrine (if it were small enough) or Relief Society/Priesthood. Teens seem to get a lot of the laundry lists, but I suppose it’s because a lot of them aren’t interested in deep discussions. Not the teenagers I know anyway.
Joe P. I love verse 8 of Ephesians there. By grace, through faith. Another I like is in Romans 5:1-2 – “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
I think your thoughts really speak to why C.S. Lewis said that grace and works are like two blades on pair of scissors–trying to use one blade without the other renders the scissors ineffective.
I really wish more of our discussions in church were of this nature…where we could discuss how Christ is at the core and how He changes us, and what our responsibility is within that context…as opposed to endless laundry-lists of dos and don’ts. Anyway, thanks.
I love love love discussions like this, too. They help me start to get away from thinking of the gospel as a laundry listy thing.
And I think we need to just do our part to help discussions change in this direction. I think the doctrine is clearly there, but perhaps we are all still trying to figure out this balance. The more people who are finding both blades and discovering the power of grace talk about these things, perhaps the more the gospel can come alive?
I have started to listen more for these doctrines, and they are everywhere, both in the scriptures and in the teachings of the prophets. And I really do think that struggling through that nuance is a huge part of our journey, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when church sometimes ends up in something more ‘concrete’ since that is easier to pinpoint and discuss. And yet, as we have mentinoed here, we can’t ignore the ‘to dos’ either. It is enough to hurt the brain — but imo that is just it! We are supposed to discern this, it’s a mystery found and discovered and understood through the Spirit, so it is less the words and more the experience that really start to open it all up. At least that is how it has been for me.
Thanks for letting me sort through some of the words in my heart and brain nonetheless. I’m finding tonite that my thoughts and words aren’t as clear as I like them to be, so forgive me if I’m rambling….
I read it the preposition “after” as “despite” or “regardless of”, and side with Robinson on this one too.
I’ll warn you, don’t get too deep into Pace. There’s some really screwed up stuff in there. Virtually all true blue Paceites I knew back then have left the church and are not happy. Many became depressed when the personal relationship with Jesus they were seeking didn’t materialize, some expected visions. IMHO, Paceism is to Mormonism what Kabbala is to Judaism, really dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. For an example of a typical Paceite I knew back then, I hate to link to an exmo board, but here’s a classic: http://www.exmormon.org/whylft38.htm. I served with that guy in the South of France and can confirm he and many others I knew at BYU and the mission were screwed up big time by Pace’s crap. Like hand and glove with the Pace was that satanic book, “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven”, written by another false prophet.
My advice is let dead dogs lie.
#38 Steve EM
Thanks for taking the time to go into detail. This is very interesting to me. I followed your link and read David’s account and couldn’t help but feel pain for him.
My experience is exactly the opposite of David. I invite you to read my testimony-Jared’s testimony on my blog by clicking my name.
One of the reasons I came to the Bloggernacle is to gain an understanding about people. People like David. I am completely puzzled by his experience and others who relate similar accounts.
Some of the pain I’ve experienced in my life has come from having experienced an abundance of the things of the spirit. This, I know, sounds odd-a contradiction, a paradox, but it is a fact.
Two years ago next month I decided to be more open about my experiences and to bear my testimony less guarded. Believe me it’s uncomfortable to stand to bear a testimony, and feel restrained by fear of being different, and end up feeling frustration. So two years ago I wrote out my testimony and stood and read it in my ward. I spent many hours prayerfully preparing it and it was a joy to have it down on paper. It only took a few minutes to read. However, I felt let down by the Spirit because I didn’t feel His presence when I shared my testimony as I had anticipated. While I was preparing it, I felt His spirit very near. I was puzzled by this and felt I should talk with a friend who was there, a former Bishop, and ask him how he felt as I shared my testimony. I met with him the next evening and he told me he thought what I shared was very moving and helpful. As we talked the spirit came into my heart with great power. My friend said that he felt the spirit very near as we talked. I felt a great desire to tell him other experiences I’ve had. After he left I went to my bedside and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. As I was praying the intensity of the spirit increased and I was given an experience that taught me that the Lord was pleased with my desires to share my testimony the way I have experienced it.
I decided then that I would find a way to appropriately share my testimony with the objective of building faith. That is how I ended up in the Bloggernacle and now have a blog.
I can just say that what I’ve learned so far about things of the spirit is that the Lord communicates with His sons and daughters in many ways. I suppose it’s like many other things we encounter in life– there is a wide range of talent and capability manifest by men and women in every endeavor mankind undertakes, and apparently this is true with things of the spirit.
Regarding George Pace and others who teach the things about the spirit the way they do. In my opinion they have their place and provide a message that is pleasing to the Lord. That doesn’t mean that everyone who hears it will benefit from it. However, I know many people who testify that they have been greatly blessed and benefited by George Pace and books like “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven”.
I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and providing the link to David’s story. I am learning that we shouldn’t be afraid to be who we are, and at the same time allow others the same luxury. Of course we need to be as wise a serpents and harmless as doves in the process.