GRACE, FAITH, AND WORKS:
THE ONGOING STRUGGLE FOR UNDERSTANDING
by President Ralph Damon
Volume 18, Number 1, Issue 70, Jan/Feb/Mar
Part One of this article appeared in the October/November/December 2016 issue of The Hastening Times. Readers are encouraged to review Part One in preparation for the conclusion of this article.
We began our discussion by examining the relationship between grace and works; we now find more qualifiers thrown into the mixture of our spiritual developmentand growth. One of those qualifiers is faith, or simply put, the ability to believe and to trust in God in spite of all the challenges presented to the promises made by Divinity.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Many people today confess that they are “believers,” meaning that they “believe” in a God in heaven, and that he has a Son named Jesus. But all too many of those cannot profess to be
“followers,” as the lures of Babylon too often pull them from their weak faith in God and his Son and lowers them once again into the effects of sin and separation. Those with true faith find it possible to hold themselves to the heavenly promises through the sheer strength and determination of their faith.
Further, their faith is demonstrated in their ministries in their quality of work and labor to God’s brethren. “…thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing…men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God” (Moroni 7:24-25).
Not only does the addition of faith to grace and works afford mankind the opportunity of becoming the sons and daughters of God, the Scriptures promise that there will become evident in each person’s life a power that was not before available. This power, due to the many necessities of life and ministry, can take many forms as it works in concert with God’s will. “And the Lord said, If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you might say unto this sycamore tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you” (Luke 17:6).
“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous…. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death…. Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions” (Hebrews 11:4-5, 33).
“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:15).
Just as there are many ways in which faith’s presence brings about certain evidences of power, there are also many aspects of faith through which mankind may find faith taking root in this life. We quickly come to understand the need, the necessity, for faith. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith “…it is impossible to please him.” Moroni 7:24-25 encourages us that, “…thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing…and by faith, they become the sons of God.”
We learn that there are specific objects of our faith, entities which can bring us greater blessings than anything ever found upon, and in, this earthly life. We must come to believe and trust in God, to have faith and trust in his Son so that we will have everlasting life, and to accept and put into practice the gospel of Jesus so that it might provide for our salvation. We also need to accept the witness of the prophets of all the ages so that God’s Word might ring as true to us today as it did to those believers of dispensations long past to have faith that the promises of God will be fulfilled and are designed to bring each created soul back into the presence of God. Finally, we must understand that Grace we are justified by our faith so that we might find the peacefulness of God’s rest within us.
Returning to the words of Ether, if mankind is given weakness in order to understand the need for humility, he also promised that the weak things will become strong. Paul allows us to take that thought and extend the promise that those who become “strong” will also have the opportunity to become perfect.
“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight…” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Now we begin to see the union, the unity of works of faith and of grace, combining together to bring mankind into that special relationship that God has so long anticipated. Let us use the words of Moroni to clarify this unity: “And again, if ye, by the grace of God, are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through theshedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father, unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy without spot” (Moroni 10:30).
So grace is a gift bestowed by God upon those who can never “do” enough but are diligently working in their ministry to the brethren, keeping the commandments and exercising their faith in God and all he encompasses. It appears that the pivot point of our discussion balances on works with faith and grace being the two ends of the fulcrum lever. In the Inspired Version of the Bible there are 252 references to “works” – all alluding to the works of Christ, our works, and how these affect our salvation. Throughout our other two books of Scriptures, there are also numerous references that indicate each man and woman will be judged according to their works: be they good or bad, be they led by the Holy Spirit or by the influence of Satan.
As we ponder this, the Lord desires that we carefully understand what he knows regarding our works: “But behold, I will shew unto them, saith the Lord of hosts, that I know all their works. For, shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” (Isaiah 29:28). Later in Isaiah we read what might be an even more disturbing verse of scripture: “For I know their works and their thoughts;” (Isaiah 66:18). Two seemingly innocent scriptures place us at the heart of God’s ability to know not only what we have done (our works) but also to pierce our hearts and our minds and understand the intent by which we respond in doing. He knows! He knows us; our hearts, our desires, our fears, and our trepidations; he knows, yet he loves and continues, to the last moment of our mortal ability to come unto him, to afford mankind the opportunity to receive of his grace – through the expressions of our individual faith and our works.
King Benjamin closes Mosiah 3:21 with these words of counsel to his people. Written some 120 years before the birth of Christ, they have the same truthful ring to us today: “Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him, who created all things, in heaven and in earth,who is God above all. Amen.”
Recall just a few paragraphs ago when we listed a couple of examples of why or how we might be judged? The greater part of that judgment comes not just from what we do or did, but comes from the intent by which we respond and carry through on our ministries. Alma helps us understand this intent perhaps a bit more clearly: “For I say unto you, that whatsoever is good, cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil, cometh from the devil; Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works, he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd; and he doth follow him;” (Alma 3:67-68).
In a concise and deep study of the Scriptures we find that there are references to works, many works, good works, doers of the work, and so on. Scripture references, especially Paul and James as authors, expound on the union of faith and works being so closely tied together that you cannot have one without the other. Jesus counseled his followers, and us, with several challenges of how we should work or labor.
“And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
“…He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also;” (John 14:12).
“Therefore, whosoever hearing these sayings of mine and doeth them…” (Matthew 7:34).
“And he said, Yea, and blessed are all they who hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:29).
However, for the very first, and the only time, in the Scriptures we can now find another reference to “holy works” that takes us to another step in our walk towards the kingdom. And this reference can only refer to the type of work or ministry which we are counseled to follow – the same type of ministry performed by the Master himself. “And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; And this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance, and their holy works;” (Alma 9:49-50).
Would this richer description of the works of Christ be surprising to anyone? If the Master was involved in any “works” of ministry, due to the nature that was within him and his utter allegiance to the Word itself, would any other description of his ministry suffice other than him doing “holy works?” If we are to grasp that richer understanding of “works” and their importance in establishing our life in eternity, the truest example for us is resident within the life of Christ himself. Thus, by simple extension, if we do that which Christ would do, we do “holy works.”
In attempting in some small way to describe God, three scriptures record him being a “Man of Holiness.” This can be found in Genesis 6:60, Genesis 7:42, and Doctrine and Covenants 36:7d. If God is a “Man of Holiness,” we would then understand that his Son, filled with the same attributes as his Father, would also be such a man. Further, we would, with great reason, then understand that all they would do would reflect nothing but wonderful, amazing, and “holy” works.
The third book of Nephi 13:45 records this understanding: “And if ye had all the scriptures which give an account of all the marvelous works of Christ, ye would, according to the words of Christ, know that these things must surely come.”
In some of the final words Jesus spoke to his disciples, he spoke of many things which would confront them as well as giving them the promise of what the coming Comforter would bring to them. In one verse of John 14, he shared even further the abilities which would be theirs to continue to do the type of “work” he was now extending to them. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do…” (John 14:12).
In the Book of Mormon these words came true as those whom Jesus called his disciples began to work their marvelous ministries: “And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; And all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus” (4 Nephi 1:6-7).
And it is within those marvelous works, those “holy works,” that the gift of grace is bestowed upon mankind – bit by bit, piece by piece – “holy work after holy work” – until mankind comes to realize that the grace of God has been within us from the moment we began to change the corruption that is within us to the incorruption that waits for us.
God’s grace is not simply the gift that is bestowed upon us at the time of our presence before the judgment bar of God. The gift of God’s grace becomes that quality of life which is reflected in each and every person who has begun to live a life according to God’s will and not his own.
Grace is for now; it is for the future; it is for us whenever we choose to live a life of faithfulness toward God and the Christ and allow the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to encourage us to work righteousness in our lives so that the image of both the Father and the Son can become our reflection.
Grace – Faith – Works! Three components of ministry which find balance in the lives of dedicated and devout saints of the Most High God.