I need to know for my own sake after having conversations with my daughter’s father (my ex) that he is leaving the LDS church because he has a problem with 2 Nephi 25:23. “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 that it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do.” He argues that we are saved no matter what we have done in our lives as long as we have faith in Christ. He says that the referenced scripture above does not say that. He says that LDS believes that we have to do “certain” things to be able to live with GOD and according to the New Testament this is not so. He mentions our former prophet Kimball and his teachings as well. Can you help me out here? Also, why would we need the Book of Mormon IF we live (to the best of our abilities) as Christ did and taught? Since we are saved by grace? I would be so very grateful since I worry about our daughter who is at a critical age. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Your daughter is of utmost importance in your request. Do not lose sight of that, and I will try to do the same in my response. How do you teach her faith? Especially when someone with an opposing opinion holds influence. The key here is that you are transmitting your own values to the next generation, not abstract principles or well-proved theory. Get comfortable with what you believe and it will be that much the simpler to explain it.
A question of faith
So take a moment to determine where you stand on faith. What does it mean to have faith in Christ? Can you have faith in other things (is there a secular application of faith)? Is faith different from belief, or a synonym? Is faith different from positive-thinking? Do I have faith in Christ? How do I know? Can others tell if I have faith in Christ? Does it matter if others can tell or not?
Similarly, take a moment to determine where you stand on works. What is a work? Is an ordinance work? What about prayer? Is obedience work? What if obedience is simply abstaining from evil (“thou shalt not”) – is that still a work? Why do I perform my works? Is there a relationship between my faith and my works? Is there a relationship between my works and my faith?
Take your time in answering these questions. You will probably come up with more as you ponder them. What will come out of this exercise is what you really believe. As I read over your concerns, I am hearing what your ex-husband thinks you believe. He doesn’t get to define that – you do. I’ll address a number of your concerns by sharing what I believe, but these are really just points for you to ponder in arriving at your own position.
Do we need additional scripture?
Let me first address the Book of Mormon concern. In the context of faith, why do we need additional scripture? Isn’t the New Testament enough if we actually lived its precepts? I don’t know if this question comes from your ex-husband or yourself, but it shows great confusion. How can you accept a no-works policy and still maintain that it’s sufficient to “live (to the best of our abilities) as Christ did and taught”? Following the example of another is a work! Following the teachings of another is also a work!
But this question shows further misunderstanding of faith. Paul teaches where faith and salvation come from: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? … So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:13-17). Asking why have additional scripture is like asking why do we need more preachers. Hearing God’s word builds faith unto salvation. The Book of Mormon, as God’s word, does just that.
In practice, I think what you will find is that someone who is trying to live a life patterned after Jesus and His teachings will embrace additional scripture, as it reveals more of the divine nature of our Lord. Nephi testified, “if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ;… and they teach all men that they should do good (2 Nephi 33:10). If your daughter asks why you need The Book of Mormon ask her what she gets out of it. Does it teach her of Christ? and add your own witness of what it means to you.
Are we engaging in the right discussion?
Oftentimes in our cross-faith discussions, we (as humans) paint the other side at extremes so we can more easily debunk a position. It is, after all, considerably easier to pound a strawman than a living, breathing opponent. Uncharitable Evangelicals have taken our principles of industry to show that we rely on ourselves for our salvation and not the Savior; in turn, uncharitable Latter-day Saints have taken their principles faith and grace to show that they feel salvation is a license for sin and debauchery. In truth, neither is an accurate representation of either religion. In the conversations I’ve had with others of different faiths, and in listening to the various sermons they give on the subject I feel confident in telling you that both camps employ a combination of grace and works in daily faith journeys. That’s not to say there aren’t differences in the two perspectives, but the disagreement is not in whether or not there’s a place for these gospel principles.
My own perspective on it is that if you are asking which is more important – grace or works – you are engaging in the wrong discussion. C.S. Lewis (in Mere Christianity) compares them to two blades of a pair of scissors. Which blade is more important? The question is nonsense of course. Any work without faith does little for the busybody. It may in time bring the laborer to faith (John 7:17), but if it fails to do so, it has no personal merit towards salvation. Conversely, if a believer professes faith but does not bother to follow it up with works, that faith is highly suspect (James 2:17-18). The verse you opened with is an excellent blend of the two, pointing out that there are works which we must do while acknowledging our dependence on Christ. If your daughter asks why it is not enough to simply have faith, you may want to take some time to understand better her beliefs about faith. Ask the questions I started with. I would be very surprised if an honest Christian does not acknowledge a place for works in following her Master. Be sure to share with her your experiences as well.
Share your testimony of faith
Now I return to the important thing here, which is your daughter. She will ask you questions that will be verbatim barbed inquiries you’ve heard from her father. Recognize that these are not the same questions, because they are asked by a different person. I was speaking with someone about the Church, and he said he wanted to make sure both sides were addressed in our conversation. So he pulled out some critical material he found and started asking me questions. At first, I responded as though I was talking to the author. It was the wrong way to address my friend, as it became apparent that although he was asking the questions, he did not understand why the question was a criticism. My responses were not answers for him and only served to confuse him. I changed my approach and asked him to paraphrase the questions for me, so I could understand better what he was asking and not what the author was accusing. I recommend a similar approach with your daughter. Answer her questions, not her father’s criticisms.
And by all means share your testimony with her! Not the testimony you wish you had, or that you think a good Latter-day Saint should have – yours! She is trying to understand her relationship with God and she is learning it from her mother and her father. She is trying to understand which of her parents, if any, really has faith in Christ. There’s a simple test for this. Take a look at the fruits. Is it a spirit-filled life or a carnal one? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance” (Galatian 5:22-23). She can judge her parents’ faith on whether the Spirit is changing them. Is there peace, love, and joy in your home? Are you more longsuffering, gentle, and good than you were before? Or conversely, are you becoming more carnal and faithless? “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery ,fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: …they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). It is not your place to be an accuser of her father (I think that would probably fall under “revellings”), but to work on your own faith such that she can see and desire the fruits you bear.