As a Gospel Doctrine teacher, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to delve more deeply into the New Testament this year than ever before. It’s been a life changing experience that I am deeply grateful for. Throughout my life in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my study of the scriptures has primarily focused on the Book of Mormon and I’ve read this sacred text many times. It has singularly become the foundation of my faith and my core beliefs. I feel very close to the prophets and the people in the Book of Mormon and I know this book to be true. That said, my studies of the New Testament have up until recently, taken a back seat to my studies of the Book of Mormon. My understanding of the treasures that Paul speaks of have only more recently been planted in my heart.
Studying the New Testament this year is helping me to understand the differences between the ancient Mosaic Law and the gospel of Jesus Christ, which appears to be an entirely different gospel altogether. I’m starting to recognize that a primary distinction between the Old Testament (Mosaic Law) and the New Testament (Jesus’ gospel-Love) is found in Paul’s teachings-accepting Jesus’ saving grace through faith.
Grace is a fairly new concept for me, so I began searching for understanding in the Bible dictionary. The greatest portion of the definition of grace referenced 2nd Nephi 25:23…”ye are saved by grace after all you can do.” I found myself wanting to search deeper because this scripture has never really settled as a complete truth in my heart. The “do” implies personal works, so I began to study out in my mind the purpose of works.
My journey has given me pause to re-consider my relationship with works…the purpose of good works and my motivations underlying them. At what point in time are my good works enough to earn grace? When have I done enough to deserve grace? If good works don’t save me, what is the purpose of good works? What is grace? Does grace really save me? Or do good works? So, I began to search the scriptures with the intent of receiving answers. In truth, while my search has begun to answer some questions, several new ones have come up that I would sincerely like answers to…
As I studied Paul’s writings, I began to take note of how frequently he referenced the (Mosaic) Law and compared it with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I thought it was interesting that these comparisons had gone unnoticed in my previous studies of the gospels. While the Law was punitive, harsh, black and white, and behavior-focused, the gospel was lovingkindness, forgiveness, mercy, grace and suffering for the Lord’s sake. The Law focused on the external behaviors; the gospel more internally focused.
My lightbulb moment came when I realized that the 2nd Nephi 25:23 scripture was written in 559 BC and was therefore written in Mosaic Law times. That’s why this scripture always seemed so incomplete to me! It was written in an “incomplete time.” The Nephites at that time did not yet have the saving grace of Jesus Christ available to them. Nephi wrote it to his people for his day. They were living the Law of Moses. It wasn’t written for our day. The Mosaic Law stressed the importance of personal works as a means to salvation because they lived in a time before Jesus had paid for their sins. Works were extremely important because our Savior hadn’t atoned for their sins yet. Hence the importance of ritualistic animal sacrifices to “pay for” their sins, until the last Great Sacrifice could be prepared for ALL of us. Jesus’ atonement for our sins IS the saving grace that Paul and other New Testament prophets wrote about.
I ’m curious why we continue the practice of “saved by grace after all we can do” when it was not intended for us? The purpose was very relevant for a people who had not yet been gifted the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Do we as a church not recognize that this scripture was written by Nephi during ancient Mosaic Law times? Why have we not studied out this scripture in context of the times and looked more deeply into the entire context of the chapter? Context is EVERYTHING! Verses 23-27…”For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know it is by grace (Jesus) that we are saved, after all we can do (Mosesworks). And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For this end was the law given; wherefore the law (works) hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ (love) through our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments…we speak concerning the law that our children may know concerning the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ (grace), and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against Him when the law ought to be done away.” …”And inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.”
So, what is the Mosaic Law that Nephi taught “ought to be done away with” at the coming of Jesus? I’m certainly not a scholar and have not studied extensively on the subject outside of the Come Follow Me manual, but I believe it was a commandment-based system that originated with the 10 commandments that governed the behaviors of the ancient Jews. I’m learning to study my scriptures through the lens of Mosaic Law versus Jesus Christ gospel of Love, and I’m beginning to see why works were the central focus in the Mosaic Law. When a sin was committed, a blood sacrifice was required in order to “pay for” the sin and to justify the sinner. Elaborate performances were necessary with animals of varying types in order to satisfy the demands of the punitive law. The pharisees, Sadducees and ancient Jews grew the “works” into an elaborate 613 commandment-based system that governed all aspects of Jewish life.
The philosophy of salvation by works grew an extremist Jewish religion. As the works grew, so did the judgmental perspectives of the people. Punishments for breaking the laws were harsh and swift. They looked to their works to save them, rather than Jesus Christ. Their desire for His saving grace was eclipsed by their attachment to personal pride through their works. They were looking beyond the mark. Personal worthiness and societal prestige were attached to the laws and they became so restrictive and all-consuming that the laws began to define their identity. This became a stumbling block, and they were unable to surrender the practice of salvation by works when Jesus Christ came and preached the gospel of love.
Jesus’ sermons and parables focused on tolerance, forgiveness, and withholding judgment…the woman caught in adultery, the good Samaritan, the hirelings that were hired late in the day…movement away from judgmentalism towards love, grace, and understanding. Healing the sick and afflicted became the cornerstone of His ministry.
As I’ve studied the scriptures with the intent of understanding the differences between Mosaic Law and Jesus’ gospel, I’m amazed at how many references there have been all along and I’ve never noticed them…John 1:17 “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” John 5:45 ”Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.” Jesus loves; Mosaic Law judges. Philippians 3:9 “And he found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is through the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Romans 11:6-8 “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which it seeketh for; but the election (of grace-verse 5) hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded…God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear.”
I wonder why 2nd Nephi 25:23 was the primary reference to grace in the Bible dictionary when we have Paul’s current Christ-centered teachings on grace? Do we not recognize the context of the 2nd Nephi scripture? Does this scripture appeal to us for the value of the “work” that it offers? Nephi writes that the law of being saved by performances and ordinances is only to be practiced until Jesus Christ comes to usher in the New and Everlasting Covenant which is LOVE…”love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and the second is like unto it…love they neighbor AS thyself (not more than thyself). Upon this hangs all the Laws (Mosaic) and the prophets (Matt 22:37-40).
Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Righteousness is a gift (Romans 5:17), it is not earned.
Romans 9 delineates the difference between the ancient Israelites who were not able to surrender the concrete law of saved by works and the gentiles who were able to “through their faith” believe in salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ. Romans 9:30-32 “…What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were the works of the law, for they stumbled at that stumblingstone.” This passage shows a fundamental difference between salvation by works and salvation by grace-FAITH. It does not require faith to depend on and attach to salvation by works. It does, however, require faith to believe that Jesus’ grace saves.
The Lord allowed the gentiles to be a stumbling block to the ancient Jews in hopes that through “jealousy” of the gentiles, the Jews might eventually accept saving grace through faith. (Romans 11:11) Are we like the ancient Israelites who remain fixed in salvation by personal works? If so, does this imply that the rest of Christendom-who has through faith accepted salvation through grace-are like the ancient gentiles?
I’m beginning to wonder if we as modern-day Latter-Day Saints are unknowingly walking the same path as the ancient Israelites. Why the emphasis on works? Do we believe we are saved by works? Salvation or attachment to works appeals to the natural man; we want to attach to something concrete that we have control over. Our works are measurable, definable. It feels safe to measure our progress through our works.
The focus on works invariably puts us in a position of using them to measure our own personal worthiness. We may compare ourselves with our peers in an effort to see if we’re measuring up. Focusing on works as a worthiness barometer unfortunately may move us towards projecting an image that may not be consistent with who we really are, but who we believe we should be. We may find ourselves on the path of doing works in order to elicit praise and acceptance from our peers. Our works easily fit into nicely manageable boxes or checklists that we feel empowered by. Church attendancecheck! Temple attendance-check! Activity in church callings-check! Son or daughter on a mission-check! All wonderful activities if we are mindfully engaged in them, but I’ve got to wonder where our motivation stems from. If we are living the “check-list” life, then we’re probably engaged in these good works out of a sense of obligation or “shoulds”. How can this ever yield true joy if we’re doing things out of a sense of obligation? Obligatory good works is an out-cropping of the mindset of salvation by works. This is not a meaningful life. Choosing to do good works because we’ve accepted Jesus’ grace and we want to share our love is a meaningful life. Then we’re no longer doing works to earn salvation, we’re doing good works as a gift to Jesus.
Thankfully, our worthiness is not attached to our works. We can never do enough to earn salvation because we will never be good enough to deserve it. But herein lies the true gift of grace-that in spite of our unworthiness, Jesus offers it to us out of love. This is the simple truth of His gospel…if we accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior and through faith believe that we are saved through His merits (not our own works), and we confess His hand in all things, and follow Him and try to be like Him (Mosiah 18:8-10)…then we have a hope of being saved through His grace.
Then the focus shifts from “perfecting the saints” to acknowledging our imperfections and recognizing that our weaknesses (Ether 12:27) are a divine gift from God and have a purpose. We can start a new path of continual dependence upon the merits of Him who saves and begin a true path of discipleship where we are eternally grateful for His saving grace. On this path of accepting the saving grace of Jesus Christ through faith, we can begin to show our gratitude to Him for saving us through practicing good works in His name and for His glory (Romans 12 grace-given gifts)---as opposed to for the purpose of perfecting or saving ourselves. I believe that the practice of good works also serves to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ so that through our good works, we can be enabled to be part of the worldwide body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:11-13) that seeks to build up His kingdom here upon the earth in preparation for His second coming.
I believe the path of striving for perfection is Perfectionism and is the great Pride that the Book of Mormon has warned us about. I believe it serves to lead our hearts away from the love and saving grace of our Savior, and down the greatest plan of misery ever known to man…saved by personal works. Perfectionism robs us of the peace and comfort and contentment of the gospel of love. It robs us of the understanding of what works are truly intended for…as a way to exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and as a way to show our love for God, self, and others (Matt 22:37-40).
The gospel of Perfectionism or Saved by Works does not make space for loving, honoring and knowing the self. Our focus is to sacrifice self in the service of others. John 1:17 teaches us that Jesus is Truth and Grace. If we are to know the path of truth, we need to know our personal truth through personal revelation. We have access to personal revelation through the Holy Spirit and through our personal senses-feelings, intellect, intuition. True discipleship is an awareness of what the Lord is calling each of us to do individually in order to use our gifts to build the kingdom. This is NOT a checklist gospel. True discipleship is calling deep for courage to do hard things which may be contrary to societal or cultural norms, and having a knowing of what your personal mission on this earth is. Programs program people. Truth stems from an authentic place in our hearts, which is where ministering gifts are born.
This is a call to surrender the notion of “saved by works” so that we can move into relationship with Jesus Christ and embrace His grace. To be clear-this is not a call to surrender good works. Good works enable us to truly empathize and connect with the broken hearted and to practice our baptismal covenants (Mosiah 18-8-10). Good works might look more like just sitting with a friend and validating her heartbreak as opposed to dropping off a casserole. Good works looks like NOT judging our gay friends but accepting and loving them with all of our hearts. Good works looks like loving the self and being honest with our feelings and needs… acknowledging when we’re exhausted and don’t have service to give. Good works looks like showing up and asking for help when our marriage is falling apart so we can allow others to offer us the good works that we need but might be afraid to ask for. Good works looks like letting our truth be seen and asking for help when our children are becoming unmanageable. Good works looks like asking to be released from a calling when we honestly don’t have it to give so that we can give a service opportunity to another brother or sister. Good works looks like sharing the load when the natural perfectionistic self wants to cling to the works out of a need to feel worthy, accepted and good enough. Good works looks like honestly asking ourselves “Do I have it to give?” If the answer is yes, then engaging in wholehearted giving without any expectation of reciprocity. Authentically giving from a wholehearted place can only happen when we honestly know within ourselves that we have something meaningful to give…this applies to casseroles, callings, meetings, child-care, forgiveness, patience, or love. We need to be honest about when our well has run dry so that we can take precious time to care for self and replenish the soul.
We love Him because He first loved us. We will want to give good works when we believe we don’t have to give good works to save ourselves. When we can trust that our welfare (grace) has been satisfied by our Savior, it will be exponentially easier to care for others. As a therapist, I work primarily with LDS members of the church and I’m seeing firsthand that we can become deeply entrenched in the tyranny of the “SHOULDS.” This oftentimes leads to depression and anxiety. The imperative that we have to do more and be more in order to be worthy is wreaking havoc in the mental health and wellbeing of my clients. (And to be quite honest, it kept me out of relationship with Jesus Christ as well.)
When our personal value is dependent upon our works-as opposed to a deep knowing that our Savior loves us personally and unconditionally-our foundation is fragile. Guilt, low self-esteem, mental selfharm, and unhealthy dominion over self and others in an attempt to save or fix, are also outcroppings of what I’m witnessing in an agenda driven gospel of saved by works. I think at a core level, we may feel deeply disingenuous and hopeless because we realize the real truth-that we really can’t ever DO enough to become worthy. Out of shame, we attempt to hide those feelings of unworthiness and project the expected image, as opposed to living in truth and acknowledging our imperfections and relying upon the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
True discipleship is ministering out of authentic love. This can only stem from understanding Christgiven grace so that we can apply it to self and others. Mindfulness helps us to be aware of our own personal needs and feelings so that we can live intentionally and be an agent unto ourselves. The Holy Spirit will bear witness of the truth of all things. If we are seeking for the spirit of discernment to know truth from error, we must first be living in truth so we can be honest with ourselves. This is fundamental in loving ourselves…and this is the path of vulnerability with self and others. This is where LOVE lives and I believe Jesus Christ. The pathway of love is an internal exercise that is not measurable or definable…it involves practicing the Savior’s virtues of grace, patience, charity, truth, kindness, long-suffering, mercy, empathy, contentment, gratitude, trust, surrender, and acceptance of His divine path in your life. This path looks nothing like the pathway of Perfectionism, which is an Impression Management path and will leave us forever miserable and never truly feeling good enough and acceptable.
We are good enough to be saved by His grace now. The truth is that He loves us so much that he’s willing to save us in our imperfect, limited, weak state now…we don’t have to wait to be saved until after all we can do because the real truth is that we can never do enough to earn salvation…which is why Jesus AMAZING GRACE is so truly beautiful and mind-blowing that He is willing to save us now, even though we’re imperfect. He wants us to trust His love, accept Him as our personal Savior, and surrender to His endless power to save us. And through exercising our faith in Him, grant us the enabling grace we need to overcome our weaknesses and with His help, miraculously transform them into strengths. And recognize as in Step 1 of the divinely inspired Addiction Recovery Program (Healing Through Christ) …that we are ultimately powerless over saving others and powerless over saving self. Only God himself and Jesus Christ has power to save. Control is really little more than an illusion…it’s not real. Everything we are and have is literally a gift by the merits of God. He can give, and he can take away. It is our path to recognize His hand in and through all things and to surrender (outcome) and our will to Him…”nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”
The gospel of LOVE to me looks like charity (holding sacred space) for all of our neighbors that believe and act differently than we expect them to…atheists, friends, gays, spouses, children, parents, people of other faiths, church leaders, homeless, and perhaps most especially, our-self. Lovingkindness to me is about the absence of judgement and criticism. If ye have not charity ye are nothing (Moroni 7:44). This new path to me looks like recognizing God’s hand in all things and trusting His love and wisdom even when it flies in the face of what we want and expect. It looks like truly practicing our baptismal covenants (Mosiah 18:8-10) and mourning with those who mourn (empathy), bearing one another’s burdens (making sacred space for humanness), and comforting those who stand in need of comfort (sitting with and validating anger, sadness, confusion, despair rather than trying to fix it or correct it).
Perfectionism seeks to judge, criticize, correct, redirect, fix, silver line problems. Love seeks to understand and be genuinely curious about what we don’t understand. Love seeks to be open-minded. Love acknowledges that we don’t have all the answers and solutions, but our Savior does. Love seeks to gain insights through the Holy Spirit and seeks to stretch and center the inner vessel.
The gospel of Jesus Christ as I’m coming to understand it is more a gospel of surrendering to our higher power and surrendering outcome, and less a gospel of attaching to a desired outcome that we are working feverishly to achieve. Being in relationship with Jesus Christ looks like securely attaching ourselves to the sacred ground that is a foundation of virtues…showing mercy when mercy is not deserved. Forgiving when the offender has not earned our forgiveness. Truly living a grace-centered life is calling upon the virtues that are within us as sons and daughters of God. And through daily practice of these virtues, receiving the Holy Spirit and feeling the change that can happen within us as we move closer to our Savior.
It is my hope and prayer that as we accept Jesus as our personal Savior and accept His saving grace into our hearts, that we will be able to honor grace within our-self and in our relationships. Let us embrace the full truth of the gospel so that we can feel true joy-now.
Lara Anders LMFT (Medford, Oregon 3rd ward, Gospel Doctrine Teacher)