Fruitless Grace

Please join us in welcoming guest-poster Abdul Kalumbi. Abdul attends and studies Business Management at Utah Valley University. He loves the study of Mormon theology and the LDS Restoration Movement.

The grace of Christ unto salvation—it’s something that all believers are insufficiently appreciative of. Few of us really understand the intricacy of the all-encompassing grace continually bestowed upon us. Indeed, a fitting definition of the grace of Christ is the unmerited and undeserved bestowal of favor or goodness upon mankind by God.

There is a controversy in the Christian world over whether one must do good works to be saved, or whether acceptance of grace is enough. This is a false dichotomy, because good works and acceptance of grace are not two separate things. Good works are an integral part and product of what it means to accept grace. As prominent Christian author John MacArthur has put it, “God’s work in a [person’s] life is the inevitable fruit of transformed behavior.”[1] Therefore, the genuine personal acceptance of grace necessarily manifests unceasing good works.

Pauline theology teaches that the bestowal of saving grace, when genuinely accepted, necessitates an unwavering initiative to manifest good works. Paul referred to Christ as He “by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.”[2] The imagery of “standing in grace” implies steadfast commitment, much like “standing in freedom” as citizens of the United States.

In light of the previous verse, Paul asserts that the abundant grace given to man, if one is disposed and allows God to work through him or her, can bring a transformation of behavior. Paul says, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”[3] In this verse, the personal sufficiency (or ability) to “abound to every good work” is attributed to God. Also, consider the words “able” and “may” in this verse. Clearly, if God is able, man must also be “willing” to allow God to make grace abound within his heart. The word “may” indicates that allowing grace to abound in one’s heart is a choice, and must be initiated by a genuine complete acceptance of the terms of this grace.

Despite personal inadequacies, Paul wrote, “[God’s] grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”[4] The idea that God’s grace could be “in vain” implies that grace must be accepted by man; therefore, man can reject aspects of grace entirely, embrace it halfheartedly, or embrace it fully. The acceptance of the grace of God signifies that the receiver will be a good steward of such grace. Because grace is given to enable, the receiver is required, as good stewards do, to fulfill the measure of that grace. Grace is given to true believers so they can do as Jesus did; and if they do not do so, they take the grace of Christ with a lack of genuineness, irresponsibility, and in vain—hence fruitless grace.

Contemplate Peter’s remarks: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”[5] Also, consider Paul’s words: “let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”[6]  Likewise, another passage states, “by the mercies of God, . . . present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”[7] Binding all of these passages together in a notion, correspondingly Jesus did say, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also,” and “let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily.”[8]

Moreover, Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the LDS movement, explained that if a disciple keeps the commandments of God they shall receive grace in exchange for grace.[9] Smith’s revelatory declarations teach that Jesus himself “received not of the fulness [of the Father] at the first, but received grace for grace.”[10] This presumably means that if a believer emulates Jesus’ graciousness to others, the Father “giveth more grace” to the believer so they can administer graciousness more universally.[11] This corresponds to the concept of bestowed grace as a stewardship, but adds the idea that if one is responsible with grace previously received, he is given more grace. It seems that in the mind of Smith, the objective is for the meek disciple of Jesus to become like Jesus, that is, “full of grace.”[12] Reflecting on Paul’s and others’ writings, it is evident that true believers are responsible to demonstrate good works as a fruit of having genuinely accepted Christ’s grace.

The genuine acceptance of the grace of Jesus Christ unto salvation is multifaceted. Good works are not something additional to acceptance of grace, but rather an aspect of it. They become a habitual occurrence that manifests naturally as a believer is progressively converted to their Lord. Succinctly, if grace genuinely abounds in a disciple of Christ, fruitlessness will he avert.



[1] John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith?

[2] Romans 5:2, 1 Peter 5:12, Doctrine and Covenants 106:8

[3] 2 Corinthians  9:8

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:10

[5] 1 Peter 4:10, see also Ephesians 3:7-8

[6] Hebrews 12: 28, see also Ephesians 3:6-7

[7] Romans 12:1

[8] John 14:12, Luke 9:23

[9] Doctrine and Covenants 93:20, see also John 1:17, Helaman 12:24

[10] Doctrine and Covenants 93:12

[11] James 4:6

[12] 2 Nephi 2:6


Comments

Fruitless Grace — 59 Comments

  1. This is well written Abdul. I most particularly resonate with your point that the dichotomy between works and grace is a false one. They go hand in hand.
    I also liked your comparing the grace of Christ to the enabling power of Freedom in the United States. While both grace and freedom are abstract concepts, they create the very circumstances that allow us to thrive in the gospel, and land respectively. Thank you for your article.

  2. I did an interfaith dialogue at the local Institute building with a friend of mine for a crowd of 60 or so from both Mormon and evangelical congregations. The idea of “faith & grace vs. works” is quite flawed, especially when one reviews the Greco-Roman understanding of the two concepts. “Good works” were an intrinsic part of both faith and grace. This is the formal, written version of my presentation: http://theslowhunch.blogspot.com/2012/10/grace-and-faith-in-history-and-within.html

  3. I should point out that a good portion of my research came from evangelical scholars. The ideas I present are not unique to Mormonism.

  4. There is a controversy in the Christian world over whether one must do good works to be saved, or whether acceptance of grace is enough.

    A controversy among whom?

  5. This article has really helped me understand how grace and works meet. To understand that its not one or the other. And I intend to do more of my own research in this regard.

  6. Someone outside of this blog mentioned to me that the concept of “grace for grace” is not Biblical. Yes, this is true in the sense of the Bible doesn’t explicitly suggest the concept, but in my article it was rendered as a private unfounded interpretation. I did responded to this persons comment by saying this:

    Recall these verses: “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” – John 1:16-17.

    You are at liberty to interpret the verses as you’d like as we all do. Joseph Smith appears to have received a revelation expounding on the content of these verses found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 93. Note in this revelation of JS that the words “fulness,” “grace,” and “truth” are all discussed in the revelation.

    Also, in Matthew Henry’s Commentary the phrase “grace for grace” is discussed. Here are excerpts of the interpretations he posed:

    “Grace for grace is abundance of grace, grace upon grace. It is a blessing poured out, that there shall not be room to receive it: one grace a pledge of more grace.”

    “The serviceableness of this grace. Grace for grace is grace for the promoting and advancing performances; grace is a talent to be traded with.

    This is but two of the interpretations he presented. Chosen because they relate to the thought/question at hand.

  7. I was very impressed by this article. Grace is talked about so much yet I always find myself learning more and more about it. This article helped me look at grace with a new improved perspective.

  8. This was indeed a compelling article. However, when comparing LDS beliefs and Biblical Christianity, I keep returning back to 2 Nephi 25:23. It seems like this article is the antithesis of that BOM reference.

    Personally, I believe that grace is precedent to faith and works.

    Once we accept this gift from God, we can build in faith and the grace then turns into a working principle.

    Grace is complete, and is sufficient for salvation as reflected in biblical principles.
    Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Titus 3:7

    I would also like to share that as a Christian, I need to follow Jesus and his message. My acceptance of this grace built my faith, and my faith then manifested itself in prayer, loving others, respecting those in authority etc. I am not a couch Christian how touts all I need to do is believe, I am saying that…all I need to do is believe :)

    I find this interesting;
    “all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws”…Where does grace fit in there?

  9. @ Tom: Many Mormons emphasis so heavily the need of good works, ordinances, covenants, etc. This is done, most often to the point where grace is not or never mentioned in relation to the above stated, which is unfortunate.

    In relation to my thoughts above, – all things are manifestations of the grace of God, which include the power to do good works, to have or be given from God himself authoritative ordinances (or oblations), and covenants. The Lord God has worked with the House of Israel through covenants, outward ordinances, and oblations, to bring Israel to Christ. You already know this, but my point is that although many Mormons fail or lack understanding of the doctrine of grace, the realization that one will or should come to is that the grace of Christ is the entire, sufficient, undoubtedly able catalyst to salvation, period. And although many Mormons use the phrase, “saving ordinances,” the ordinances in themselves avail to nothing and are not saving agents themselves, but rather an outward manifestation of one person’s acceptance of the grace of Christ unto salvation. I like to rephrase “saving ordinances” to “accepting ordinances.”

    Mormonism’s vocabulary concerning Gospel doctrines such as grace, generally speaking, needs some revamping allowing it to correspond more precisely with the Standard Works.

    Latter Day Saints culturally and doctrinally don’t have everything cognitively or conceptually correct as of yet. As all Christians, we are trying to understand God’s workings concerning us more thoroughly, we’re just not collectively there yet, especially with the doctrine of grace, generally speaking.

  10. I am confused? Are the works being done to receive grace or is the grace being given in order to do works? If the works are being done to receive grace, isn’t that a contradiction of grace? Rather than calling a work an “aspect of grace” isn’t it better to see it as the fruit of grace.?

  11. Abdul referred to good works as an aspect of the acceptance of grace, not an aspect of grace itself.

    The idea is that grace is given to empower us to do good works. That is its purpose: to morally transform us and make us fruitful. Thus accepting grace, by definition, involves doing good works and allowing ourselves to be transformed. If you sit around doing nothing, then you aren’t really accepting grace; you’re rejecting it and allowing it to be “in vain”. So Abdul’s saying something a bit stronger than that good works are the fruit of grace. He’s saying that you haven’t really accepted grace unless you allow it to produce that fruit within you.

  12. @Tom:

    Look at what Jacob in the BoM says regarding salvation:

    “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” (2 Ne. 10:24)

    Here we are told that it is only by God’s grace that we are saved, yet we must reconcile ourselves to God’s will (i.e. repent). Nephi, as you point out, more famously proclaimed, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled unto God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). Unfortunately, the plain meaning of “it is by grace that we are saved” is too often ignored. The verse reads more after the fashion of an exhortation rather than a rigorous theological treatise; a call to repentance and a recognition of God’s loving-kindness. Jewish scholar and philosopher Rabbi Byron Sherwin notes, “To effect complete reconciliation, the return must be mutual. Therefore, repentance requires both a human initiative and a divine response. The corollary of human contrition is divine grace (hesed). A midrash observes, “Consider the parable of a prince who was far away from his father-a hundred days journey away. His friends said to him: Return to your father. He replied: I cannot; I have not the strength. Thereupon his father sent word to him saying: Come back as far as you are able, and I will go the rest of the way to meet you. So the Holy One says to Israel: ‘Return to Me, and I shall return to you.’ [Mal. 3:7].” [Pesikta Rabbati, Shuvah Israel]” (Byron L. Sherwin, In Partnership with God: Contemporary Jewish Law and Ethics. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990, 126). Nephi’s words are similar to the aforementioned words of Jacob as well as Anti-Nephi-Lehi: “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins…and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son…for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain” (Alma 24:10-11).

    You also left out the most important part of AoF #3: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ…” In other words, all good works and ordinances are given saving power because of Christ’s grace. This is why King Benjamin very clearly states,

    “I say, if ye should serve [God] with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants…And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?” (Mosiah 2:20-24)

    Though commandment keeping is mentioned, it is established beyond doubt that mankind is unable to repay God. It is difficult to obligate one to whom you are “eternally indebted” (vs. 34).

  13. Grace (Greek charis) in New Testament times was not a uniquely religious term, but one of secular usage also. In the Greco-Roman world, reciprocity was a key component to society and operated by means of client-patron systems. When one was unable to access a particular need, individuals who did have access were petitioned. David DeSilva, Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland University, provides this overview:

    “If the patron granted the petition, the petitioner would become the client of the patron and a potentially long-term relationship would begin. This relationship would be marked by the mutual exchange of desired goods and services, the patron being available for assistance in the future, the client doing everything in his or her power to enhance the fame and honor of the patron…, remaining loyal to the patron and providing services whenever the opportunity arose” (David A. DeSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000, 97).

    While God is never directly called the patron of the Christian church, the language of New Testament writers (like Paul) carries “a strong patronal tone” (Mark A. Jennings, “Patronage and Rebuke in Paul’s Persuasion in 2 Corinthians 8-9,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 6. 2009: 113). It is worth noting that the patron and the client did not hold an equal status due to the former’s ability to provide necessary resources that the latter was incapable of acquiring on his own. “It was this state of dependence…that formed one’s identity as a client. In exchange for receiving these needed goods from the patron, the client was expected to give back to the patron.” Since he was unable to provide his own necessities, “a client could hardly give something from himself, and therefore could only give of himself to the patron” (Ibid.: 114). The concept of giving of ourselves resonates with the words delivered by LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks in a 2000 address to the Church: “[T]he Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become” (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign. November 2000).

    Given this context we can discern that grace in antiquity was not only the initial gift of the giver, but also included the response of the receiver. DeSilva confirms, “Grace thus has very specific meaning for authors and readers of the New Testament, meanings derived primarily from the use of the word in the context of the giving of benefits and the requiting of favors.” This “suggests implicitly what many moralists from the Greek and Roman cultures stated explicitly: Grace must be met with grace; favor must always give birth to favor; gift must always be met with gratitude. An image that captured this for the ancients was the picture of three goddesses, the three “Graces,” dancing hand in hand in a circle…From [many] ancient witnesses, we learn that there is no such thing as an isolated act of grace…Only a gift requited is a gift well and nobly received. To fail to return favor for favor is, in effect, to break off the dance and destroy the beauty of the gracious act” (DeSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, 105-106).

    Judah Goldin (one of the most prominent Jewish scholars of the 20th century) defines hesed as a “word expressing the phenomenon of “loyalty”, “devotion”,” corresponding “fairly closely to the Latin pietas [piety]…” He further explains that an “act of grace” or gemilut hasadim is an “act by means of which one demonstrates his response to someone, in obedience to him or out of loyalty to him. In short, it really is an act of piety. And strictly speaking, any action…which an individual carried out as a fulfillment of a divine command, was an act of gemilut hasadim” (Judah Goldin, “The Three Pillars of Simeon the Righteous,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 27. 1958: 45).

    This understanding of grace makes it easier to comprehend Paul’s mentioning of those who have “fallen from grace” in Galatians (Galatians 5:4). Peter’s warning to “beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” becomes more understandable as does his exhortation to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18). The author of Hebrews speaks of those who “fall away” after being “enlightened,” having “tasted of the heavenly gift,” and having been “made partakers of the Holy Ghost” (Hebrews 6:4,6) and thus reminding his readers that “we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14).

  14. The following is from Clarke’s Commentary on the bible, on grace upon grace. I beleive the idea that grace could become a form of merit by the way one lives is contrary of what the gospel declares. Grace being a free gift that i did nothing to deserve, and now putting my faith in Christ and being a christian has allowed me to receive blessing after blessing or grace upon grace, poured into my life.
    The concept of merit through law for grace is what Christ replaced through his fullfilment in the gospel.

    “but the Gospel, which had now taken place, introduced that plenitude of grace and truth to the whole world, which the law had only shadowed forth to the Jewish people, and which they imagined should have been restrained to themselves alone. In the most gracious economy of God, one dispensation of mercy and truth is designed to make way for, and to be followed by, another and a greater: thus the law succeeded the patriarchal dispensation, and the Gospel the law; more and more of the plenitude of the grace of the Gospel becomes daily manifest to the genuine followers of Christ; and, to those who are faithful unto death, a heaven full of eternal glory will soon succeed to the grace of the Gospel.

  15. Looking to a couple of medieval Jewish examples, there is a parable in the Sefer Hasidim about a simple shepherd who would pray to God saying that I make a living by tending sheep for money, but if you had flocks I would do it for free as I love you.

    As for the second example, Bahya ibn Paquda wrote Duties of the Heart, a popular ethical treatise influenced by Sufi ideas.

    “Thus the duties of the heart involve the formation of ideals of conduct, love of man, faith, etc.; the cultivation of right beliefs based upon Reason; the conscious effort of the mind to realise the wonders of creation, so that we may come to know, of God, truths which human language, that can only accurately tell of things material, can never adequately express. That trust in God which makes right conduct possible, even at the cost of personal risk and loss; the banishing of hatred, envy, scorn, all longing for revenge, and all desire for sin, are also obligations of the heart. And they include all nuances of virtue, such as these that have their being in the heart alone, and are not manifested in material life, save only by their influence; and yearning, till the yearning one turns pale with longing, to realise, in thought and mind and deed, the will of God. And chief among them is the attuning of the soul into such perfect harmony with God, that all right conduct and right thought must follow without effort on our part, because our will is one with His, through love.”

    Bahya goes on to teach that our intent influences the consequences of our actions.

    “It is quite clear to me that even the duties of the body and its members can neyer be perfectly fulfilled, except with a willing heart, and a soul that delights to do them, and when our heart is really full of yearning for the work that they involve. And should the thought arise in our minds that our moral obligation requires only outward acts of goodness, and that our hearts are not in duty bound to choose the service of The Infinite’ and to delight in it then the obligation to ethical conduct would also be removed from the body and its members. For no act of any kind is done completely unless the soul delights in doing it.

    Moreover, with regard to any sinful conduct, it is not the act itself, but the sinful intention, by which one incurs guilt. It is only when the heart co-operates with the bodily members in the commission of an offence that guilt is incurred; so that it is the intention of the heart that is the principal element in either virtue or vice, and he who does a meritorious action unintentionally is still without merit. Thus the essential thing in all conduct is the intention of the heart.”

    We aren’t talking of checklists, but of actions that must be performed with the right intent.

  16. Protestants, mostly.

    Wait, you are saying that there is a live controversy among Protestants over whether one must do good works to be saved, or whether acceptance of grace is enough?

    Among which Protestants? Where is this controversy waged? What are the factions preaching the one notion or the other? Who are their most visible spokespeople or most prominent voices?

  17. Well, not just Protestants. Protestants merely continued a controversy that’s nearly as old as Christianity itself. But yes, the controversy is waged among Protestants with special enthusiasm. Back during the Reformation, Luther lined up on the grace side and the Anabaptists on the works side. These days the combatants include Bill Bright and John Piper on the grace side and John MacArthur on the works side. Of course, the different positions have always been much more nuanced than “grace side” vs. “works side,” but usually it comes down to monergism (irresistible grace) vs. some form of synergism (you have to cooperate with grace).

  18. Being accused of preaching “works-based salvation” is not the same thing as preaching works-based salvation.

    And I think the level of nuance that you concede is significant: Protestants may split hairs over whether you have the free will to assent to grace or not, but that’s not the kind of grace versus works controversy that the OP (and many Mormons) appears to be imagining.

  19. I don’t think I ever accused anyone of preaching works-based salvation, did I? But the controversy isn’t just about whether we have free will to resist grace. The controversy is also about what grace does, what it means to accept it, and whether anything more is required thereafter.

    There is a wide range of Protestant positions on all of these issues. In some Protestant circles, grace is primarily talked about in terms of forgiveness of sin and removal of forensic guilt. In these circles, it’s common to hear the prooftext: “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.” Sinners are told that being saved is as easy as praying “the sinner’s prayer.” This is sometimes known as the “easy grace” school. This camp acknowledges that works should be a fruit of grace, but strongly emphasizes that salvation is accomplished by mere acceptance of grace, and works are just an after-the-fact evidence of something already completed. In fact, some of them are so ardently opposed to anything smacking of synergism that belief in monergism practically becomes a work in itself.

    Another school of thought considers grace to work in stages. Forensic guilt is removed in the first stage, but in later stages there is sanctification and/or baptism of the Holy Spirit. These Holiness and Pentecostal schools often believe that salvation is a process, and that salvation can be lost if one doesn’t put in the necessary effort during the sanctification stage. Some of them even insist that salvation is not completed until one has experienced entire sanctification or manifested baptism of the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues. They often place much greater emphasis on human effort and responsibility than the easy-gracers. In fact, Anabaptist founder Conrad Grebel was so disgusted by Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone that he accused Luther of worshipping a “sinful, sweet Christ.” Grebel unabashedly insisted on the need for human effort and rigorous, radical discipleship.

    Still another school of thought speaks of gospel “laws” that must be followed in order to be saved. These groups will sometimes make long lists of New Testament prooftexts that assert conditions for salvation, such as “if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” and “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” In this camp you’ll find the Church of Christ, some Anabaptists, and a lot of other smaller Protestant groups.

    In sum, the controversy is not imaginary. I should know; I was raised and educated in the midst of it.

  20. Abdul, what a marvelous article. Once we surrender we enjoy God’s grace and as his adopted sons and daughters, heirs to his kingdom, we perform good works which we attribute to him in his glory. It is impossible not to do good works once in His grace. Our hearts are changed, he works through us! Works done outside grace may benefit those around us and make us feel good – and rightfully so. But works done outside grace have no affect on our heavenly rewards or righteousness.

    We must remember Christ considered belief a work. John 6:28-29. “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? 29Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”

    I have a little trouble with the phrase “progressively converted to their Lord” in your conclusion. I believe I know what you mean but I believe you need to better phrase your meaning. Is that like being progressively pregnant? I believe one can progress toward conversion. However being converted is like being pregnant. You either are or aren’t. I would rephrase as I believe your intent is correct.

    I would be amiss if I did not point out the error in Joseph Smith’s teaching “that Jesus himself “received not of the fulness [of the Father] at the first, but received grace for grace.” Joseph contradicts the biblical teaching the Jesus is God, the Alpha and Omega. Eternal. Without beginning. More important he has no need for grace ( as you have defined grace at the beginning of this article) as he is without sin. He bestows grace, he does not receive it.

    Again I applaud you on your article.

  21. “In sum, the controversy is not imaginary. I should know; I was raised and educated in the midst of it.”

    Yeah, but what do you know. ;)

  22. I chose to think that God desires to be known in the lives of the youngest of minds. Which is why Jesus said we should have faith like a child. Faith is simple. Having read the contents and remarks on this page I feel we are regretfully making truth complicated in attempts to puff up our own pride in order to justify a particular stand. I don’t want to leave this article feeling this way, so I am curious if the original author of the article can help me? Would you be so kind to explain to me, in a concise and simple explanation, what is grace? Please answer this in a way I can explain grace to my 5 year old? Perhaps you could answer two questions for me. 1) what I Grace? 2) how do I merit grace?

  23. @ Nate:

    Hi, I’m the guy who stirred these guys up, and I also wrote the article. In the first paragraph I gave my finite definition on what the grace of Christ is (although grace is much more intricate in nature I feel):

    “Indeed, a fitting definition of the grace of Christ is the unmerited and undeserved bestowal of favor or goodness upon mankind by God.”

    Perhaps a simpler definition would be “love.” Grace is love.

    Hopefully that suffices.

  24. @ Gene:

    Perhaps I could have been clearer. I’d say once truly and genuinely converted to Christ, (as a byproduct) your conversion deepens, strengthens, becomes more concrete in nature, and is steadfast, thus developing. (i.e. I am not saying conversion is a process)

    Also, Joseph Smith, I feel revealed some more intricate details concerning the nature/doctrine of grace (e.g. Mormoni 10, DC 93). You state “More important[ly] [Jesus] has no need for grace ( as you have defined grace at the beginning of this article) as he is without sin.” Reflect on this passage, “and the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.”- Luke 2:40 KJV Now if Jesus didn’t need grace (as I’ve defined it), this verse may be contrary to your statement, but as you and I know, this verse can be understood differently.

    I feel Joseph was expanding on this concept of “grow in grace,” found in 2 Peter 3:18 as he rendered DC 93. I understand to say that Jesus Christ “received grace for grace” and went from “grace to grace,” in the sense of growing in grace is perhaps a hard pill to swallow for non-Mormon Christians and I think this is where we are not on the same page.

    Your Friend in the Faith

  25. Again I am at a loss to understand how Jesus can grow in grace when he is the origin of grace.

  26. And yet, Gene, the New Testament indicates that he did precisely that. Here’s Luke 2:52, from the same chapter as the verse Abdul cited:

    “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

    The Greek word translated “favor” is charis, “grace.” In fact, the word charis appears 156 times in the New Testament, and 130 of those times the KJV translates it as “grace.”

    http://www.biblestudytools.com/interlinear-bible/passage.aspx?q=Luke+2%3A52&t=kjv

  27. As Abdul pointed out this verse uses an expanded definition of grace. I suppose that Christ could gain more favor in his own sight and that of the Father and of man – but I believe we all agree he was without sin. In Abdul’s article the definition we are dealing with is “the unmerited and undeserved bestowal of favor or goodness upon mankind by God.” Abdul’s entire article is about how grace brings a man forward to perform good works – grace changes us from the natural man to a new creature. Christ was sinless and he bestows his grace on us unto salvation and more. The rub comes in that Christians accept that Christ has always been God whereas LDS theology has Christ progressing to become a God. Huge difference and is at the core of the LDS-Christian debate. The other side of the coin that Abdul referenced is that salvation is through the grace of Christ. By definition (Abdul’s definition) works are not needed. Salvation is a gift to all believers. If you believe in the LDS Prophets, the B of M and other writing of Joseph Smith you will naturally disagree. You must recognize that Gordon B. Hinckley cleared this up that what the LDS believe about Christ and what the Christian world believes about Christ are two very different things. The apostle Paul and President Hinckley agree on this – it is a different Christ.

  28. “Huge difference and is at the core of the LDS-Christian debate.”

    A difference vastly exaggerated by some non-LDS.

  29. A difference vastly exaggerated by some non-LDS.

    Nonsense. It cuts to the heart of what Christianity is. Christian doctrines about the Trinity and the Incarnation have been the fundamental foundation of Christian belief since the ecumenical councils of the first millennium.

  30. Christian doctrines about the Trinity and the Incarnation have been the fundamental foundation of Christian belief since the ecumenical councils of the first millennium.

    Only to orthodox Christian belief. Non-Trinitarians like the Cathars don’t stop being Christians just because the orthodox wiped them out in a massive act of genocide.

  31. We can split hairs about that all day, Chris; the point is, Mormons may not get why it’s a big difference to orthodox Christians but that doesn’t make it not a big difference to orthodox Christians. As you put it, it’s a big enough difference to have warranted “a massive act of genocide.”

  32. Not to perpetuate the discussion, but I don’t understand how the phrase “orthodox christianity” or anything like unto it is still used, considering the works of such scholars like Bart Erhman?

  33. It’s not splitting hairs to point out that the only reason you get to claim your version of Christianity as “the heart of what Christianity is” is that your version of Christianity successfully eliminated all competitors through mass violence and state repression.

  34. Curious discussion. The Cathars were about 400 years to early to participate in the Reformation. They recognized the corruption in the Church and pushed the envelop a bit to much. The persecution of the Cathars lead directly into the Inquisition.

    I would offer that your understanding of the eternal nature of Jesus directly affects your understanding of Salvation by Grace. And I understand that is not the topic of this article. Abdul – I apologize that we have ventured off topic. But this is pretty juicy stuff. I believe we are all agreed that grace begets good works and that Abdul has handled that side of the topic quite well. I do not believe that is the controversial part of the discussion on grace.

    Until you understand the Trinity you cannot begin to understand the vast difference in the belief structures offered by the few non-trinitarian churches that believe in Jehovah. And without a belief in the eternal nature of God you become susceptible to the rabbit trails found in the teachings of Joseph Smith (Exalted Man Doctrine) , Brigham Young (Adam God Doctrine) and other teachings considered to be heretical.

    But to get back on track grace begets salvation AND good works. They are mutually non-exclusive. Good works cannot bring about grace as offered in Moroni 10 and 2 Nephi 23.

  35. Abdul,

    When used in a sociological context, the term “orthodoxy” doesn’t indicate truth or originality. An “orthodox” belief is simply one that is imposed or enforced by a religious or civil institution. In the case of Christianity, the institutions tended to be governments, and the orthodoxies imposed tended to be Trinitarian. There were non-Trinitarian orthodoxies imposed at the edges of the Roman Empire——Monophysites in Egypt, Nestorians in Syria, Arians in the Gothic kingdoms, and (later) Cathars in parts of France——but they all got destroyed, converted, or driven underground. By the time of the Reformation, Trinitarianism was pretty much the only orthodoxy left standing, and it was actively enforced upon most or all of the “Christian world.” So today, that’s pretty much what we mean by the “orthodox Christian tradition”: it’s the tradition that was enforced as normative by nearly all Christian governments at the end of the Middle Ages, and thus became the common ancestor of nearly all Christian sects in existence today. Many of those sects still enforce it as the orthodoxy of their particular group, even though the machinery of state coercion that imposed it on the wider society has broken down.

  36. @ Chris, thanks for that run down, and I agree, as this is what Erhman discussed in Lost Christianities but sometimes the argument suggests a “you’re wrong, and we’re right” tone contrary to how you’ve defined.

  37. Good point. Guess I’ve been doing religious studies for so long that I sometimes forget that in some circles “orthodox” has a positive rather than negative connotation. :)

  38. @ Gene,

    You and I have become friends, and with all the Christian love I can render, I have to contend, kindly, that 2 Ne. 25:23 and Moroni 10:32-33 are very misunderstood passages of Mormon holy writ (inside and outside of the LDS culture/church).

    You state, “Good works cannot bring about grace as offered in Moroni 10[:32-33] and 2 Nephi 2[5:23]”

    I don’t understand the misunderstanding of these passages; they are so clear when read in context, especially Moroni 10:32-33. There are common notions/ideas in Mormon culture (we know what they are) about 2 Ne. 25:23 that are simply not correct, considering the whole context of 2 Ne. 25.

    Frankly, I get tired of such notions and hope that you haven’t adopted these cultural ideas (you being not LDS).

    Briefly, it is clear, so very clear, in Moroni 10:32-33 that “perfection,” perhaps in a spiritual/physical manner, is in and through Christ. This is in no way suggesting personal merit. It says, “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him,” suggesting a believer should take hold of the Atonement/Ransom of Christ and allow His merits to heal, sanctify, and purge iniquity from the soul through repentance. Likewise, “…deny not his power…” in v.33 again suggesting clearly that it’s His merits that perfect the soul of man.

    2 Ne. 25:23: The largely misunderstood verse. Verses 20-22 shows that Nephi and his people are surely anticipating the coming of the Messiah, and then in v. 23 comes the famous line (you know it). Nephi is apparently looking forward to and acknowledging the fullness of the New Covenant (that Christ would be the mediator of) by declaring “we know it is by grace that we are saved…,” but then Nephi states “after all we can do.” If you continue to read v.24-27 it is vivid that Nephi, concerning the phrase “all we can do” is using the word “we” in reference to his people, and continues to explain to the reader “what they have been doing” (i.e. Law of Moses). He is saying “after (or despite) all we (his people) can do (the Law of Moses), we (his people) are [inevitably and undoubtedly] saved by grace.” This has no reference to anyone outside of Nephi’s people, as commonly interpreted as such, none.

  39. @ Chris,

    I’m not sure in what context Kullervo was using the phraseology, so I should have not so quickly assumed and concluded. Haha…

  40. “Nonsense. It cuts to the heart of what Christianity is. Christian doctrines about the Trinity and the Incarnation have been the fundamental foundation of Christian belief since the ecumenical councils of the first millennium.”

    The difference, I maintain, has been exaggerated. For all intents and purposes, in LDS scripture Jesus was God before his incarnation, and certainly by the time that God the Father decided upon the creation. So, for the same period of time about which the Bible clearly speaks, LDS in general hold that Jesus was God. That is why I say that the difference has been exaggerated.
    As for Trinity and Incarnation, I would say rather that debates on their exact meaning have been an integral part of Christian thought and belief for centuries.

  41. Catholic philosopher Stephen H. Webb writes,

    “What gives Christianity its identity is its commitment to the divinity of Jesus Christ. And on that ground Mormons are more Christian than many mainstream Christians who do not take seriously the astounding claim that Jesus is the Son of God. Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him…Mormon metaphysics is Christian metaphysics minus Origen and Augustine—in other words, Christianity divorced from Plato…Matter is perfectible because it is one of the perfections of the divine…This should not be taken lightly. The Mormon metaphysic calls for the revision of nearly every Christian belief…If you had to choose between a Jesus whose body is eternal and a Jesus whose divinity is trivial (as in many modern theological portraits), I hope it would be an easy choice” (“Mormonism Obsessed With Christ,” First Things 220. Feb. 2012).

    I have often had a similar feeling regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. Most Latter-day Saints who take time to disparage it have never taken the time to try and properly understand it. Given the Creator/creature metaphysical divide that had become prominent in Christian thinking since the second century A.D., the Arian version of subordinationism placed Jesus on the creature side of this divided ontology. The Athanasian alternative sought to maintain the divinity of Jesus and His rightful role as Creator.

    Eastern Orthodox philosopher David B. Hart explains,

    “Ultimately, though, the Arian position was untenable simply because it reduced to incoherence the Christian story of redemption as it had been understood, proclaimed, prayed, and lived for generations…For Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and many others, it was first and foremost the question of salvation that must determine how the identity of Christ is to be conceived. And they understood salvation, it must be appreciated, not in the rather impoverished way of many modern Christians, as a kind of extrinsic legal transaction between the divine and human by which a debt is canceled and the redeemed soul issued a certificate of entry into the afterlife; rather they saw salvation as nothing less than a real and living union between God and his creatures. To be saved was to be joined to God himself in Christ, to be in fact “divinized”-which is to say, in the words of 2 Peter 1:4, to become “partakers of the divine nature.” In a lapidary phrase favored, in one form or another, by a number of the church fathers, “God became man that man might become god.” In Christ, the Nicene party believed, the human and divine had been joined together in a perfect and indissoluble unity, by participation in which human beings might be admitted to share in his divinity…Only God can join us to God. And so, if it is Christ who joins us to the Father, then Christ must himself be no less than God, and must be equal to the Father in divinity” (Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. Yale University Press, 2009, 205-206. See also Keith Edward Norman, “Deification: The Context of Athanasian Soteriology.” Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1980).

    That the divinity of Christ was maintained by these councils is something Mormons should be grateful for.

  42. The difference, I maintain, has been exaggerated. For all intents and purposes, in LDS scripture Jesus was God before his incarnation, and certainly by the time that God the Father decided upon the creation. So, for the same period of time about which the Bible clearly speaks, LDS in general hold that Jesus was God. That is why I say that the difference has been exaggerated.

    But merely saying “Jesus was God” isn’t sufficient. The phrase itself is not somehow talismanic; there are a whole lot of different things you could mean when you say it, and so we’ve got Seven Ecumenical Councils nailing down, inter alia, just what it means. A thousand years of Christians thought the differences were important enough to be the defining points of Christianity–you don’t get to come along now and say they’re not a big deal and so we should just get over it.

    As for Trinity and Incarnation, I would say rather that debates on their exact meaning have been an integral part of Christian thought and belief for centuries.

    No; that’s a Mormon polemic. It has been well over a thousand years since Christians were in any way significantly divided on the Trinity and the Incarnation.

  43. The fact that Mormons don’t understand the significance of Trinity and Incarnation to orthodox Chrstianity doesn’t mean the differences are not important. It just means Mormons don’t understand why they are.

  44. That the divinity of Christ was maintained by these councils is something Mormons should be grateful for.

    The divinity of Christ that these councils maintanied bore no resemblance to the “divinity” of Christ that Mormons teach. Mormon
    Christology would have been just as heretical to the Church Fathers as Arian Christology. The fact that you can say “Jesus is divine” does not get you out of a damnable heresy–thus Eutychianism, Monothelitism, Nestorianism, Sabellianism and Docetism, despite affirming (in their way) the “divinity” of Jesus, are all still heresies.

  45. “No; that’s a Mormon polemic. It has been well over a thousand years since Christians were in any way significantly divided on the Trinity and the Incarnation.”

    I love that phrase “in any way significantly divided,” as it allows you to minimise and marginalise any contrary evidence.

  46. De minimis is de minimis. If you have to make your case with outliers, you have a bad case.

    The existence of flat earthers doesn’t mean that the shape of the planet is a live controversy.

  47. No; that’s a Mormon polemic. It has been well over a thousand years since Christians were in any way significantly divided on the Trinity and the Incarnation.

    That’s just not true. You don’t get to dismiss as insignificant the thirteenth century genocide of the Cathars, let alone the large Unitarian and Arian movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, the eight million active Mormons, the twenty-four million Oneness Pentecostals, the large-but-indefinite number of non-Trinitarian African Independent Churches, and so on.

  48. “The divinity of Christ that these councils maintanied bore no resemblance to the “divinity” of Christ that Mormons teach. Mormon Christology would have been just as heretical to the Church Fathers as Arian Christology.”

    Perhaps, though I think Mormon Christology fits very closely with the Logos theology of the 1st century as laid out by Daniel Boyarin in his book ‘Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity’ (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). I already made mention of the Creator/creature metaphysical divide; a divide that Mormons do not share. Nonetheless, given that metaphysical divide, I think it is important for Mormons to recognize that the divinity of Jesus was defended in the case of Athanasius (even if the concept of divinity isn’t exactly the way Mormons understand it).

  49. You don’t get to dismiss as insignificant the thirteenth century genocide of the Cathars, let alone the large Unitarian and Arian movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, the eight million active Mormons, the twenty-four million Oneness Pentecostals, the large-but-indefinite number of non-Trinitarian African Independent Churches, and so on.

    As they relate to the question of whether Christianity is significantly divided on these issues, then yes, I do get to dismiss them as insignificant. Twenty-four million Oneness Pentecostals is barely more than one percent of 2.2 billion Christians.

  50. “Twenty-four million Oneness Pentecostals is barely more than one percent of 2.2 billion Christians.”

    Looks like my hunch was right. At any rate, going by actual numbers, that figure of twenty-four million Oneness Pentecostals is about three and a half times larger than the entire population of my country, Israel. You are not talking a small number.

  51. But the question is not whether a small number of Christians are nontrinitarian. The question is whether Trinitarian questions divide Christianity. Twenty-four million people may be a “large number,” but it is not a large number of Christians.

  52. At any rate, going by actual numbers, that figure of twenty-four million Oneness Pentecostals is about three and a half times larger than the entire population of my country, Israel. You are not talking a small number.

    Yeah, but Israel is insignificant, just like the 1 million Cathars—including women and children—who were slaughtered by the Catholics during the Albigensian Crusade.

  53. “Yeah, but Israel is insignificant, just like the 1 million Cathars, including women and children, who were slaughtered by the Catholics during the Albigensian Crusade.”

    That is what the argmuent is sounding like.

  54. “But the question is not whether a small number of Christians are nontrinitarian. The question is whether Trinitarian questions divide Christianity. Twenty-four million people may be a “large number,” but it is not a large number of Christians.”

    You don’t think that the Filioque is a Triniatarian question dividing a large number of Christians?

  55. Chris: I’m not saying that the Albigensian Crusade was not significant, important and tragic as a historical event. Stop putting words in my mouth. I’m saying that the examples you cited–the Cathars, Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals, etc., are outliers, not evidence of major disagreement among Christians about the Trinity. None of them–not even all put together–constitute anything like a serious doctrinal divide. 1-2% is not a major schism in any proportional sense.

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