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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I could get into Heaven if only somebody would foot the bill

I have noticed that one of the images that is conjured up by those who are teaching false, and destructive doctrines about the atonement is the imagery that to get into heaven we need someone to pay the price. Since we can't pay the price, then Christ paid the price. The bill now being settled, there is really nothing we need to do but show due gratitude and practice for our arrival.

But that is not what the atonement is about. It is true that Christ suffered for our sins. It is true that because of that, we can be forgiven of our sins, and not have to suffer for them. The scriptures put it this way:

D&C 19:15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
 16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
 17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
 18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
 19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
 20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.

Thus Christ made it possible for us to have our sins remitted. That is wonderful. But it is different than simply paying an entrance fee.

The difference is that the celestial kingdom is not a place we can go without first learning of its laws and being prepared to keep all of them. This was explained very nicely by Joseph Smith. He said that one could travel to the United States and live here without having to first learn its laws, but we can't do that with the Celestial Kingdom. We must learn its laws and live them before we can live there. Joseph Smith also taught that living the whole law would be required. 

So entering heaven is not as simple as paying an admission fee.

But then how can we be saved?

By grace. But not by grace as the modern prophets of born again baptist Mormonism (Stephen Robinson and Brad Wilcox) would have you believe.

It is by the grace of God that we can become the sort of beings that can live in a celestial kingdom. God's grace means nothing more nor less than God's generous and merciful gifts. Those gifts that provide us greater spiritual strength and sight allow us to behave better than we could if left to our own devices.

Now there are two important lessons about how the grace of God relates to our works.

The first is plainly stated in the scriptures. It gives the conditions on which we can gain access to the marvelous grace that God is willing to pour out:

D&C 130: 20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
 21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated

On what terms is this grace imparted to man?

By his works.

That is the first great lesson about how grace and works are related. We gain access to any spiritual blessing by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. We gain access to God's grace by our works.

The second lesson is also plainly stated in the scriptures. If grace is going to save us at the judgement bar, then it had better come into play when we are judged. And how will we be judged?

From the Book of Mormon we read:

... must be judged of their works (1 Nephi 15:32)
... must be brought to stand before God, to be judged of their works; (1 Nephi 15:33)
... all men shall be judged of their works (2 Nephi 9:44)
... they shall be judged, every man according to his works (Mosiah 3:24)
... stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body (Alma 5:15)
... stand before God, and be judged according to their works. (Alma 11:41)
... to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil. (Alma 11:44)
... stand before God to be judged according to their works (Alma 12:8)
... all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works. (Alma 33:22)
... stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds. (Alma 36:15)
... stand before God, and be judged according to their works. (Alma 40:21)
... men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life,
 and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored  unto them for evil... (Alma 41:3-4)
 ... they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works (Alma 42:23)
 ... all people, all kindreds, and all nations and tongues shall stand before God, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil (3 Nephi 26:4)
 ... be judged according to your works (Mormon 3:18)
 ... to be judged according to your works (Mormon 6:21)
If grace is going to save us, it had better affect our works. Because it is by our works that our final judgement will be made.

And indeed saving grace does affect our works. It flows to us conditionally based on our works, and in turn, it has power to transform our works.

That is the second great lesson about how grace and works are related. Grace which does not change our works has no power to save us at the judgement bar because the scriptures teach over and over that it is by our works that our final judgement will be made.

Some explicit examples of this can make a world of difference:


The light of Christ is a saving grace
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The light of Christ is a merciful gift from God. Man has no power to impart it to himself, it is simply and generously given to him by God and is therefore part of the grace of God, for that is what God's grace is: God's merciful and generous gifts to his children.

Is the light of Christ a saving grace? Does it affect our works? Yes. It can hardly be overstated how crucial it is to our salvation. Without the light of Christ to guide us we would be little more than brute beasts regarding good and evil. The light of Christ is our conscience, it lets us know basic right from wrong. Without it all mankind would be completely adrift. Indeed, it is by grace we are saved, and the light of Christ is a saving grace.

So the light of Christ affects our works profoundly. Put differently, the grace of God affects our ability to even do the least righteous works.

But also, the more we hearken to the light of Christ, the more clearly we can discern it. With the additional light and spiritual strength we gain by learning to hearken to the light of Christ we are more capable of sensing the light of Christ, and also more strong in obeying it. So our access to this grace is conditional upon our obedience. The more we hearken to it, the more we can perceive it. The less we hearken, the less we sense it. In the New Testament we learn that some were so sexually immoral that it was as if they seared their conscience with a hot iron, giving way to homosexual acts. Our access to this grace is conditional upon our works.

So there is one example. The light of Christ is a saving grace. We could not possibly be saved without it. It profoundly affects our works. Our ability to gain the benefits of this grace is conditioned upon our works.


Forgiveness from sin
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Another saving grace is the forgiveness of sins made possible by the atonement. This one is so familiar I will be brief. It is the one everyone already knows about. But without it, we could not possibly be saved. It is granted to us conditionally upon our works.


The Holy Ghost as a saving grace
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Another saving grace is the gift of the Holy Ghost. The same remarks that were made about the light of Christ apply equally well to the gift of the Holy Ghost. It profoundly affects our works as we grow into it. It is a merciful gift from God, not something a mortal can simply bequeath upon one's own self. Our ability to receive the benefits of it depend upon our works. The better we are living, the more we have it. The more we have the Holy Ghost, the better we are capable of living.

As we grow into the gift of the Holy Ghost in time it will testify of the Father and the Son as taught by Christ to the Nephites. Christ's intention in saying the Holy Ghost would bear record of him and of the Father was not that these Nephites needed the Holy Ghost to affirm to them that Christ existed, as he stood directly before them. What they needed was for it to be revealed to them who Christ was - what sort of being he was. Even with him present they could only gain a glimpse of that knowledge without the Holy Ghost. They needed to become one with him, as he was one with the Father. And the primary mechanism for that in mortality is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Without that grace of God, they could never become one with the Father and the Son in the way that is necessary for them to enter Zion or the Celestial Kingdom. It simply wouldn't matter what habits they developed, what scriptures they read, what service they rendered; without the Holy Ghost to bear record of the Father and the Son, to be a living witness of God as he is in their own hearts and minds they could never become one with the Father and the Son in the sense needed to become part of the Celestial paradise of God. In the Celestial Kingdom, all are united so perfectly that the scriptures say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God. Without that saving grace, salvation is impossible.

And on what condition is that grace granted? It is granted conditionally upon our works.

And does that grace change our works? From the scriptural account we see that it fundamentally transforms them in a way that no amount of simple human good behavior can approach. Our ability to do God's work and to stand firm in his truth is greatly magnified as we learn to receive the Holy Ghost.

The same is true of some measure of God's own glory which Joseph Smith pointed out that Christ bestowed upon his disciples. To what end? That they could be one as he is one with the Father. That oneness is not within natural human realms. It requires the grace of God. But that grace is conditioned on our works, and it also fundamentally transforms them so that we may receive a good final judgement.

"The Savior surely intended to be understood by his disciples: and he so spake that they might understand him; for he declares to his Father, in language not to be easily mistaken, that he wanted his disciples, even all of them, to be as himself and the Father: for as he and the Father were one, so they might be one with them. And what is said in the 22nd verse is calculated to more firmly establish this belief, if it needs any thing to establish it. He says, And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one. As much as to say, that unless they have the glory which the Father had given him, they could not be one with them: For he says he had given them the glory that the Father had given him, that they might be one; or in other words, to make them one." (Lectures on Faith, 7:13)

In the end, the grace of God is the only way that each member of the church can stand, as will be necessary for exaltation, before the judgment bar and say "I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, and the Father and I are one."

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