Mormonism and Christianity/Grace and works/Salvation by faith alone

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Evangelical Christians claim that salvation comes through "faith alone"

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Question: Do Mormons believe that salvation is based upon works?

For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, belief and faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for salvation

Evangelical Christians claim that salvation comes through "faith alone" (sola fide) and they accuse Latter-day Saints of holding to an un-Biblical belief of "works-based salvation."

For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, belief and faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for salvation. Just like our Evangelical brethren we may say, "faith without works is dead," and inversely, "works without faith is likewise dead." These two principles are undeniably connected as means to salvation. The conflict for both groups arises from a misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, this misunderstanding demonstrates how very far apart Mormons and Evangelicals are in coming to understand each other and each other's beliefs. The irony of this accusation is that there really shouldn't be any controversy. Because of differing jargon and built-in mistrust between Mormons and other Christians, both sects are generally confused as to exactly what the other sect believes.

The Evangelical position: While each denomination varies slightly in how they define justification by faith, a common place to start is that good works stem from faith

Contrary to what many Mormons believe, justification by faith alone does not mean that one can profess belief in Christ and then run amok with one's life. It is much more intricate than what its title suggests.

While each denomination varies slightly in how they define justification by faith, a common place to start is that good works stem from faith.[1] In other words, if one has the appropriate amount or type of faith, then they will be driven by their love of Jesus Christ to keep His commandments and ordinances.[2]

This position is well supported by scripture:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (James 2:18)

To an Evangelical Christian the word "works" has a negative connotation and is often associated with "works of the law" which Paul roundly condemns (see, for example, Galatians 2:16). In fact, many go so far as to prefer the word "deeds" over "works" because the former is nowhere mentioned in connection with the law.

It is a misconception that Mormons don't believe faith is important for salvation

Because Mormons consider works separate from faith, many Evangelicals assume that Mormons don't believe faith is important for salvation. The implication here is that the atonement is not necessary since a "righteous" enough person can make it to heaven without it.

This misconception does not take into account Latter-day Saint scripture which emphatically states this is not true:

They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given — Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (D&C 76:51,59).[3]

But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 3:12)


Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: Joseph Smith does not reject the efficacy or necessity of grace

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[4]

Two corrections of common misrepresentations of Smith’s theology need to be made at this point. First, Mormons are often charged with denying the efficacy of grace and thus making salvation dependent upon the exercise of the individual’s free will. All theologians use the language of effort, reform, and growth, so this is not a fair charge.... In any case, Smith describes the process of sanctification as being “from grace to grace.” Rather than replicating Pelagianism, Smith is siding with that aspect of the Christian tradition best represented by Thomas Aquinas, which says we can and must cooperate with divine grace in order to permit it to actualize our potential for divinization. [5]:96–97


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. It should be noted that a few evangelicals do not espouse this view. They believe in "free-grace" which does not even require repentance. This view, however, is not common in Evangelicalism. See William R. Baker, ed., Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 76-77.
  2. An excellent summary is given here by one prominent, though not necessarily Evangelical denomination: Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, "Justification," lcms.org (accessed 22 September 2006). off-site
  3. Note this is for inheritance into the Celestial Kingdom, but belief in Jesus is likewise essential for the Terrestrial Kingdom: D&C 76:74.
  4. "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  5. Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011).