Hi! My anti-Mormon friend and I recently had a religious discussion. He brought up this point: “If you believe that in order to make it to heaven you need ordinances in a temple and you also need to do good works. You cannot buy your way into heaven with good deeds.” My response: “Yes, but faith without works is dead.” His response: “Ephesians 2:8 says that we are saved by grace and grace alone.” — My question is, if we are saved by grace alone, then why is there a need for temple ordinances?
This is the age-old argument about grace vs. works. And as many in our faith do, you’ve provided the common knee-jerk reaction that essentially takes grace out of the equation. And I’m afraid that is where we tend to fail as a culture.
Grace is a very important part of the salvation equation that we, as a culture, don’t give nearly enough credit to. But doctrinally, grace holds a much more prominent position than we tend to think. Your friend is right when he said we are saved by grace. Does that surprise you? What do the scriptures actually tell us?
The go-to scripture in the Book of Mormon is:
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. — 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. — 2 Nephi 25:23
We tend to focus on the last phrase “after all we can do” as the important part of this verse. It is not. As Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:
I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase “after all we can do.” We must understand that “after” does not equal “because.” — Gift of Grace; General Conference April 2015
This is a tendency, isn’t it? I’d also like to point out another phrase in the verse: “to be reconciled to God.” This phrase is more prominent in the following related verse:
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 Nephi 10:24
This verse much more powerfully states that we are saved ONLY through the grace of God. But it takes being reconciled to God. It would be illogical to believe that we can accept Christ as our Savior if we’re not reconciled to Him first. Part of such reconciliation is faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. These steps are commandments from the Lord, as are many other ordinances and obedience to His commandments. It doesn’t make much sense to say that we’re reconciled to God and refuse to obey His commandments. But Nephi further explains in ch 31:
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
While works play a role, they are not the saving mechanism. The works are there to help reconcile us to God. The reason we emphasize works so much in this faith is that the grace will be there. We don’t need to worry about the Lord doing His part. He will do it. We need to worry about doing our part. And that includes various works, obedience, faith, and enduring to the end.
As long as we remain reconciled to God and endure to the end, then is His grace sufficient for us.