Notes for my writing

This blog is made up of notes on the gospel as found in the only true and living church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This includes notes that are either excerpts from or ideas for books I either have in draft or may yet write.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Grace

First, a brief note. Bruce R McConkie gave a marvelous description of grace and the relationship between grace and works in a talk entitled “What think ye of Salvation by Grace?”. The audio version is particularly good, and it is the clearest discussion I know of on the topic of works and grace.

Now, for the post. The term grace has nothing to do with making allowances for sin. Most particularly, the grace of God has absolutely no affect to alter the truth that God cannot look on sin with the least degree of allowance. In other churches, the term grace is used to mean that the atonement of Christ changes the equation “No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.” Other churches teach that the atonement of Christ changes this unalterable fact one way or another. They are particularly fond of offering loopholes for moral transgression, either declaring it largely or entirely irrelevant to spirituality or declaring it a sin, but one of little consequence, or by making it very easy to fix. There are many variations on this theme.

So let us teach some truth here about grace. First off, when we speak of the grace of God, it is not limited to the atonement of Christ. The plan of salvation given by the Father is provided by the grace of God. The creation is a manifestation of the grace of God. The necessary environment we need to gain exaltation was provided by the fall and that environment is provided to us by the grace of God. Our physical body is a gift granted to us by the grace of God. These are manifestations of God’s grace that did not require the atonement. The grace of God is the gifts and endowments he grants to men out of his love and mercy.

When we were small children we were generally ignorant of all the work our parents did to take care of us. Food, clothing, a home and toys appeared magically as it were, and we took no thought about our parent’s efforts to provide them to us. So it is with us and our Heavenly Father, who provides all that is necessary for us, though hopefully as adults we can wake up to a sense of gratitude for his mercy and grace in providing all for us. These many manifestations of his love, provided to us without any work on our part are all manifestations of the grace of God.

It is also true that the gift of redemption provided through the atonement of Christ is offered to us as a manifestation of that same grace. No work on our part could have redeemed us. Our works have no power to redeem us from the fall, to bring us out of hell. Without the atonement we would all become devils and angels to the devil. We have no power to save ourselves.

We know our abilities. Which of us could bring ourselves into heaven? Could resurrect ourselves? Could we make our families eternal by our own power and means? We are mere men and women and can do no such thing. The ability to obtain these blessings are all offered to man by the grace of God. No amount of mortal effort alone can provide any of them. They are simply outside the means of a mortal man.

However, the fact that redemption is made available to us through God’s grace does not mean that mankind is not required to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It does not alter, in the least degree, the fact that God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. It does not, in any way, alter what constitutes sin. It does not mean that a man can enter to live in the celestial kingdom of God while still failing to keep the full celestial law in the least degree. The offer of the atonement in no way compromises or alters that fact.

The atonement offers redemption, the opportunity to change and be cleansed of our past transgressions. It offers us the possibility to progress from grace to grace until the perfect day. It offers us the ability to be cleansed of our sins and freed from the effects of them. Without that intercession, we could not become clean and be worthy even of the gift of the Holy Ghost, much less be worthy to dwell in the celestial kingdom.

The change that is wrought in our hearts must be forged by our own wills – we must choose to subject our will to the will of the father. We must choose to obey the commandments. If salvation was based on God’s choices of who to change rather than our own choices of who to obey, then we would not be choosing, rather God would be. It must be us that chooses, but in the choosing God grants us light and power that we have no ability to bring to ourselves. I serve my neighbor, and I can feel my soul filled with light, peace and joy. I cannot generate that light and joy, it comes from having the presence of the Holy Ghost to be with me. As we choose that change, the Lord’s spirit is poured out upon us and we are capable of living better than we could have lived without it. We are enlightened by it, we perceive what is right and wrong more clearly through it, our hearts are more charitable. The Lord bestowing his spirit on us is a manifestation of the grace of God, as we cannot force the Holy Ghost to do something, we can only make choices that would allow ourselves to be worthy of it. Without the cleansing power of the atonement we could not be worthy of any spiritual blessing. We could not be comfortable in the presence of the Holy Ghost, much less the presence of the Father and the Son.

Progressing from grace to grace

There are points at which significant changes take place, and the scriptures give these special attention. For instance every man is born into the world with the light of Christ to provide spiritual guidance. That gift is not given by mankind, it is a manifestation of the grace of God. It is a merciful and loving gift. Those who follow that light which will lead them into the true church will be washed at baptism and become worthy to have the gift of the Holy Ghost. The light offered by the Holy Ghost is much brighter, it is the presence of a member of the Godhead. It is, again, a gift offered to us that we cannot grant to ourselves. It is a greater manifestation of the grace of God. When we are baptized and confirmed, we have progressed from one grace to another. We have progressed from the grace which granted us the light of Christ to the grace which grants us a baptismal covenant and the gift of the Holy Ghost. We still have the light of Christ, but we have made new covenants, received new promised blessings, have received new spiritual endowments. We have progressed from one grace to another.

As we continue in the church we may be endowed. We are given further light and knowledge, along with more serious commitments. We are given greater spiritual guidance if we will keep the greater commitments made in our endowment covenants. We have progressed from the grace we obtained at baptism to another grace.

It is critical to recognize that the path does not end there. There are other graces that we may obtain.  How does one know that. Two ways.

First, the description of Christ progressing from grace to grace teach that Christ progressed from grace to grace until he received a fullness, even the fullness of the Father. If the conclusion of these progressive steps is godhood, then there are more steps than baptism and endowment.

Secondly, are not there other promises made to us if we just keep the covenants that we make?

D&C 107: 18 "The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—

19 To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

We do not generally, as a church, stand at that point where we have received the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. But that is promised to us as a grace that we can progress to. When we are worthy, it will be imparted, but it will be a spiritual endowment. Our works have no power to grant to ourselves, it will be a merciful gift from a loving Heavenly Father.

When we have the heavens opened to us, will that not be a greater spiritual endowment with greater spiritual light, knowledge, and greater commitments required of us than the temple endowment? Will that not be another grace the Lord bestows?

What of when we progress to the point that we are worthy to commune with the general assembly and the church of the Firstborn? Joseph Smith taught of such experiences that they serve a purpose. They are so we can learn to come up to the level of such beings. Is that any different than the gift of the Holy Ghost really? Is it not another grace we can progress to? Then, having progressed there, it then provides greater light and spiritual endowments that aid us in progressing to the next one.

When we can enjoy the communion and the presence of the Father and the Son, then we will have progressed from grace to grace. We will have progressed from the grace of the light of Christ, to the grace of the baptismal covenant and gift of the Holy Ghost. We will have progressed from there to the grace of temple covenants and spiritual endowments, to sealing ordinances, and from one grace to another progressively until we have progressed to that grace at which we can enjoy the communion and presence of the Father and the Son. And when we have progressed from grace to grace until we have received, as Christ did, the fullness of the Father, then there is nothing else to receive.

Are there not additional covenants if we just keep the covenants that we make?

D&C 59:4 "And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me."

Don’t we even already know that there are covenants, such as the united order, that we do not yet keep? Will they not be accompanied by greater spiritual blessings?
  

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