I feel as if I have rediscovered grace this past year. Working through my trial of faith and coming to grips with what I believe, as well as my own interpretation has caused this. Two sources have really helped my understanding of grace (President Uchtdorf’s talks and the Continuous Conversion), and I really feel like I am just beginning to truly understand grace within the Mormon perspective.
What I have come to realize is that I didn’t really understand the concept of grace before last year. I mean, I knew what it was and how it worked with the atonement, but I didn’t understand the depth and the purity of grace. And, sadly, I’ve come to notice that many of us in the LDS Church misinterpret what grace really is (that’s why I loved the Continuous Conversion and Uchtdorf’s talks because they are trying to reestablish what it is).
Yes, we as LDS members believe in works. No, we don’t believe that they come before grace or above grace or instead of grace. Grace is everything. Grace is the all. Grace is how we are saved. But, we still have commandments to follow, standards to uphold, and charitable works to accomplish. That is one thing that has always bugged me about some followers of other religions. They tend to use grace as an excuse.
Grace as an Excuse
Ever since focusing more on the grace of our Lord and Savior, I’ve noticed that phrase a lot more in social media. It could be something hopeful as “I had a really tough day, I’ve been super busy and my mood has been low, but I have to give myself grace and I’ll get though it.” That’s a good way of using grace–we forgive ourselves and lift ourselves up out of our rut with hope.
But, then there are times like this, “I didn’t go to the gym today, but I’m giving myself grace.” “I know I said no more coke this month, but I really needed it because today has been crazy, so I’ll give myself grace.” Honestly, to me, those uses of “grace” just seem like an excuse. I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before, which talks about habits, keeping habits, and staying away from things that break habits. There was a chapter about rewards and a chapter about loopholes. This is true to point on that–we sometimes turn “grace” in our lives into excuses or loopholes to get out of responsibilities or habits or resolutions. We need to stop that.
There are also those who profess to be Christians but don’t necessarily live a Christian lifestyle. They proclaim they believe in Christ as their Savior, therefore they are saved by grace, then go about their daily lives. If they sin, it doesn’t matter, they are saved by grace. They can live how they want because it doesn’t matter–they are saved by grace. That isn’t how grace works. That is being a hypocrite: “Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 27:25). God doesn’t want us to live our sinful lives. That’s not what grace is supposed to be used for.
Grace Improves Us
Yes, grace forgives sin. But, we have to repent of that sin. We have to actively try better, actively be better. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf is my absolute favorite general authority and has such an eloquent understanding of the Gospel. Talking about grace, he said,
But the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state. If salvation means only erasing our mistakes and sins, then salvation—as wonderful as it is—does not fulfill the Father’s aspirations for us. His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him.
With the gift of God’s grace, the path of discipleship does not lead backward; it leads upward.
It leads to heights we can scarcely comprehend! It leads to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our Heavenly Father, where we, surrounded by our loved ones, receive “of his fulness, and of his glory.” All things are ours, and we are Christ’s. Indeed, all that the Father hath shall be given unto us.
To inherit this glory, we need more than an unlocked gate; we must enter through this gate with a heart’s desire to be changed—a change so dramatic that the scriptures describe it as being “born again; yea, born of God, changed from [our worldly] and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God,becoming his sons and daughters.”
I have recently realized that the Gospel is one of continuous progression, not perfection as the goal. The only ones who can ever be perfect are Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. But, we can continue to progress. That is the wonderful thing about His grace–it allows us to transcend our sinful mortal state and return to him! But, we have to show that we are worthy by showing that we want it desperately.
The prophet Moroni begged us to “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” (Moroni 10:32)
Grace Leads us to Obey
We need to lead the lives that God wants us to live. That is why He has given us commandments. That is why He has told us how to live throughout His earthly ministry. He doesn’t want us to say, “I am saved by His Grace” and be done with it. No. Our job isn’t done yet.
President Uchtdorf (can’t you tell I absolutely love him!) said,
The prophet Nephi made an important contribution to our understanding of God’s grace when he declared,“We labor diligently … 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)
However, I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase “after all we can do.” We must understand that“after” does not equal “because.”
We are not saved “because” of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before He will intervene in our lives with His saving grace?
I feel that this is the biggest misunderstood concept of LDS theology by both Mormons and other Christians.
If grace is a gift of God, why then is obedience to God’s commandments so important? Why bother with God’s commandments—or repentance, for that matter? Why not just admit we’re sinful and let God save us?
Or, to put the question in Paul’s words, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Paul’s answer is simple and clear: “God forbid.”27
Brothers and sisters, we obey the commandments ofGod—out of love for Him!
Trying to understand God’s gift of grace with all our heart and mind gives us all the more reasons to love and obey our Heavenly Father with meekness and gratitude. As we walk the path of discipleship, it refines us, it improves us, it helps us to become more like Him,and it leads us back to His presence. “The Spirit of the Lord [our God]” brings about such “a mighty change in us, … that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (President Uchtdorf)
In conclusion, I urge you Christians, please don’t use grace as an excuse. Have your face directed towards Gods at all times. Continually be trying to find Him and reach Him. Allow His grace to change and improve you. Be an example. Shine His light through your words and actions for other to see so that they may find Him and be blessed by His grace as well.
Click here to learn more about the LDS interpretation of Grace.
How do you use Grace in your life?