The Arithmetic of Grace
In the Utah culture, Mormons are confused when it comes to how Christians understand the role of works.
As believers our mission is to make the gospel clear so I wanted to share an easy way to distinguish how we believe works work.
From the Mormon perspective, if belief in the Gospel and confession to Christ as Lord is all that is necessary for salvation, then why would Jesus and the Apostles give commands? After all, anyone reading the Epistles and the Sermon on the Mount will no doubt read many commands to be followed.
Why would these commands be given if they were not intended to be followed?
If you’re not careful, this kind of question will lead you to say things that are unbiblical or biblically inaccurate:
Things like “God doesn’t care about your works”, “God isn’t impressed by works”, or “our works are as filthy rags to God”, etc.
As far as salvation goes, all those statements would be true, but stating those things to a Mormon will send them on a diatribe! That’s because we aren’t taking their world-view into account.
When we emphasize grace above works, we must be careful not to devalue the importance of works in the life of a believer. The truth is that we do believe works are a vital part of being a Christian! We do believe that those commands are intended to be followed. The difference is why they are important to be followed.
Mormons have a belief in grace. It sounds like “you are saved by grace after all you can do” (2 Nephi 25:23)
Christians have a belief in grace. It sounds like “You are saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8)
At first glance, the Mormon understanding of grace seems to be better (from their perspective) because it ties the importance of works into the hope of salvation. They might say it this way: “We believe that Jesus saves us, but God expects us to have some responsibility in salvation as well. That’s why works are important. How is it that we believe works are important, if not because they affect our salvation?”
So believer, if works do not affect our salvation, then why do we believe they are important?
Simply put, we believe works matter, not because our salvation depends on them, but because our salvation causes them. This is where arithmetic comes in very handy. It’s an objective way to distinguish how we believe faith, salvation and works all relate.
FAITH, WORKS, and SALVATION are elements used in both world-views, but how they relate is very different:
In Mormonism, the grace equation is FAITH + WORKS = SALVATION
This means that faith in Jesus’ atonement is essential but salvation is not guaranteed until works are added. The believer must believe in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection and also do specific things such as be married and sealed in the temple, have children, stay temple worthy by refraining from certain dietary elements, wear temple garments, and do temple work. These works are all that they can do to complete the necessary equation that would eventually lead to salvation.
In Christianity, the grace equation is FAITH + SALVATION = WORKS
This means that faith in Jesus’ atonement is essential, but works are not guaranteed until salvation is added (James 2:19). The good news is that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord in confession to his Lordship (meaning you agree that Jesus is the sole Master and commander in that person’s life) will be saved! (Romans 10:9-11)
This helps us to describe why works are important. To the Mormon, works are important because they help to bring about salvation. To the Christian, works are important because they are the effect of salvation (James 2:18).
We don’t do good works to be saved, we do good works because we are saved.
The Christian’s desire to do good works is because those works please the one who saved us.
The Mormon’s desire to do good works is because those works are essential to be saved.
So then, works are important to the Christian! They are the manifestation of being God’s workmanship!
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10)