What is the cultic view of the phrase ‘saved by grace?’ A newspaper article from the Ogden Standard Examiner, Ogden Utah titled “Mormon Views on Grace Discussed at Symposium,” is revealing. This symposium was held in Salt Lake City in 1985. The article starts out with this statement:
“Most protestant religions rely on a concept of grace salvation in one form or another to explain how one receives salvation from God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, however, is based on the doctrine that works is far more important than simple faith to achieve salvation. Grace properly defined, is a belief that God will grant salvation to an individual due to their acceptance of Christ as their savior or simply because God sees fit to do so. Mormon attitudes concerning grace was the topic of a paper by Allen E. Barber, a litigation attorney from Idaho Falls at the Sunstone Foundation’s 7th Annual Theological Symposium”
Barber said: “There is a strong tradition of grace in Protestantism, but Catholicism and Mormons don’t really include grace as an integral part of their doctrines although they deal with the doctrine of grace in divergent ways. The Apostle Paul was a very strong advocate of grace, but James, the brother of Christ, was committed to works as a means of obtaining salvation, so the theories concerning faith and works originated with these two men.”
One of the things you need to understand when talking with Mormons is their emphasis in building a straw man which they can blow down with their doctrinal position. They build much of their attack on biblical Christianity on the supposed conflict between Paul and James on the subject of grace and works. James and Paul are viewing the subject from two different viewpoints, but what they are saying is essentially the same thing. Faith without works is dead, being alone, and Paul never says anything else than that. What Paul emphasizes is that in grace the person has been created in Christ into good works. James in his statement is approaching the face that faith without works is dead, being alone. When a person receives the Lord Jesus Christ, his eternal master, Jehovah the Savior, his Messiah, his Prophet, Priest and his King, the person is made by a supernatural act on the part of creation on the part of the Holy Spirit, a new creature in Christ Jesus. The works and things of God will become evident and obvious in his life. James and Paul are both warning the people that if there is not the reality of the works of God in your life, you are not saved. Let’s look at the article by Barber again.
“The concept of grace is based on free agency. When Paul had his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul believed he had received the fullness of God’s grace. On the other hand, when Joseph Smith had his first vision of God and Christ, Smith believed his path toward achieving grace was just beginning. Paul believed he received salvation simply because he accepted Christ as Savior and Son of God. Smith considered his visit first opportunity of a lifetime of good works that would one day add up to his salvation. Because of Smith’s orientation towards grace, Mormon man must continually strive to attain grace through works.”
There is one thing that is quite obvious here. These Mormon leaders and so-called doctrine teachers have not done their homework. The doctrine of grace, that they have stated here is, in reality, a mixture of grace and works. This view of grace is found nowhere in the Bible. It is not acceptable to God and certainly not what God teaches in His Word., but Mormons are trying to lump everybody together into Protestants or Catholics. That simply doesn’t work because everyone is not either Protestant, Catholic or Mormon. There are those who have never been a part of Protestantism and never been a part of Catholicism and have always existed separately and apart from either of those two groups. The concept that you only have Protestantism or Catholicism is a part of the heretical cult mentality that has been perpetrated down through the years.
Barber goes on to say that “Grace is God’s gift to humanity. The gift of truth and light, is free, but grace is not free, it must be earned.” So we realize in bold print that the Mormon has rejected not only the biblical concept of grace but has also rejected the English dictionary definition of the word ’grace.’ He is using English word symbols, but he is not using them in a relationship to the English language. The Mormon here is speaking Mormonese. We will deal with that at a later time, but it does help us to recognize what is taking place in a particular cult mentality. We will also deal with the cultic mentality that has grown out of Roman Catholicism seen in many protestant groups today.
Barber goes on to say, “Mormonism does a good job of reconciling the divergent concepts concerning grace espoused by Paul and James. There is no way to know how much grace you have received, only in our subjective faith can we be certain.” So in this group and in other groups of this cultic mentality, people are receiving portions of grace as if they were receiving sacks of wheat or quarts of milk. Something they can store up and use as a hedge against bad works or sins they might perpetrate in their lives. This has nothing to do with the definition of grace in the English dictionary. In Webster’s Dictionary, the meaning of grace is “Unmerited favor given man for his regeneration or sanctification.”
The use of the word unmerited reveals that man cannot be worthy of it and is not entitled to it. If you make a statement that grace is not free, it must be earned, you have rejected the English definition of the word itself. The word itself means unmerited divine assistance given man for his regeneration or sanctification. If we were to take Webster’s definition of grace, the word unmerited reveals the man cannot earn grace cannot earn salvation. If we were to earn grace, then it would not be grace.
Webster’s Dictionary says, “Salvation is deliverance from the power and effects of sin.” If we were to take the statement ‘Salvation by grace,’ and give it a precise translation from Webster’s Dictionary it would read: Deliverance from the power and effects of sin by the unmerited, divine assistance given man for his regeneration or sanctification. Then coming from Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word unmerited we would have to state that man cannot earn it, cannot become worthy of it and is not entitled to it. When we look at the word ‘savior,’ the Webster’s Dictionary tells us, “It is one who brings salvation, specifically the Savior acknowledged by Christians.” So when we refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, He is the one who has brought us salvation through grace, which is delivered from the power and effects of sin by the unmerited, divine assistance given man for his regeneration or sanctification. Man cannot earn it, cannot become worthy of it, and is not entitled to it. From this basis of biblical understanding, we can move on into a discussion of how the cult mentality infiltrated and began to pervert these biblical truths set forth in the Word of God.
The Mormon concept of grace being something that must be earned as espoused by Alan E. Baber at the Utah Symposium is a concept that is also taught by Mormon Church leaders. Spencer Kimble, who was president of the Mormon Church from 1973 to 1985, said many times, “Free grace is cheap grace.” He and other Mormon Church leaders have made wrong conclusions about the apparent differences in the teachings of James and Paul.
As always when interpreting Scripture, context is very important. The context of Paul’s writings is faith leads to justification and the context of James is works of the believer after being justified. The context of Paul’s writings is justification in the eyes of God and the context of James is justification in the eyes of men.
“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Romans 4:3-5 NKJV
The word ‘justify;’ means ‘to prove to be guiltless or blameless.’ In accounting it means to be reconciled to a standard. When reaching the end of a fiscal period, a justification column is initiated and the two columns of the books are reconciled to the third, justification column.
In the Romans passage Abraham was blameless in the eyes of God because of his faith, which only God could see. Abraham was called a friend of God by his servants and neighbors because of his works which they could see. He was blameless or justified by his works in the eyes of his neighbors according to James.
The example of Rahab the harlot is even more striking. In the book of Hebrews, Rahab was said to be justified by faith when she received the spies. To receive the spies required no outward action on her part. Only God could see her recognition and reception of the spies.
In the book of James, Rahab was said to be justified by her works when she received the spies and sent them out. When she talked to the spies and told them what was on her heart, they made the agreement to spare her. But there was something missing. Joshua and the Israelites didn’t know of the agreement Rahab made with the spies. Rahab had to send the spies back the camp of the Israelites so they could tell Joshua of the agreement. The act of sending the spies out justified Rahab in the eyes of Joshua and the children of Israel.
So the doctrine of Paul and the doctrine of James concerning justification are not contradictions, they are two different contexts. Paul talks about being justified before God because of faith. James is talking about justification before men because of man’s works
When it comes to the Mormon concept of earning grace as espoused by Alan Baber, the Mormon church is not alone in their misunderstanding. The Roman Catholic Church doctrine of sacramental or sanctifying grace is very similar. The Church of Rome teaches that God’s grace/forgiveness is stored in heaven and released to individuals by the taking of sacraments. This is simply the Roman Catholic’s way of making the members loyal to the church since the church is the only way to earn grace. In this they are like the Mormons, not different from them.
The cult mentality, however is more widespread than would first appear. There are several Protestant denominations that misunderstand the place of baptism in an individual’s life. It is taught, by many, that it is necessary to be baptized in order to be saved; thus baptism is the key that unlocks grace. What a twisting of definitions, where God’s unmerited favor must be earned or released by individual works.
But the misunderstanding does not stop there. Many Evangelicals believe that grace must be earned or released by the human exercise of faith. But that brings up a critical question that must be answered. Is it faith whereby we acquire grace or is faith the evidence that we have received God’s grace?