Many evangelicals teach that a person gets to heaven by being “saved.” This involves the act of accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. At the same time, they teach that acts cannot get you into Heaven. The Mormons also believe that a person must accept Jesus Christ as His Savior in order to return to God’s presence after death. Both groups agree that at least one act is required of all of us in order to be with God.
The confusion over the number of acts required to be saved comes from the differences in terminology used by Mormons. Mormons believe everyone is saved through the atonement of Jesus Christ, even if they never accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, grace and eternal life, to a Mormon, are not the same thing. To understand this complex issue, let’s look at several essential points.
What is grace?
The Bible Dictionary, found in LDS editions of the King James Bible, defines grace for us:
It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts. (see Bible Dictionary.)
In other words, grace allows us to rise from the dead, receive our bodies back from the grave in a perfected form, and life forever. This is possible only because Jesus Christ voluntarily gave up His life for us after taking on the sins of the world. No fully human being was capable of doing this for Himself. Had Christ not made this sacrifice for us, life would end with death because none of us could live a perfect life or satisfy the demands of justice fully. Only Jesus, with a mortal mother and a Heavenly Father could live perfectly and choose to die for us.
Each person then, is resurrected and given a place to spend eternity. However, living forever isn’t the total sum of our goals for eternity if we love God. We who love Him want to live with Him in His home forever. This requires a bit more. Again, it is grace that makes this additional gift possible. Without grace, we could not repent of the sins we commit here on earth.
Why does repentance matter?
For this, we need to search the Bible, where we find the following scriptures:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21, KJV of the Bible)
The Book of James, who is believed to be the brother of Jesus, took this thought even further, and answers the question without any room for doubt:
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2, King James Version of the Bible)
James points out that believing in God is good, but even Satan believes in God. No, more is required that just to believe. He explains, using Abraham and Rahab as examples, that they obeyed the commandments because they had faith, and that faith was made perfect when they chose to not just believe, but to do what God taught them to do. It was the combination of faith and works that made them perfect in the eyes of God. Note especially the inclusion of Rahab. Rahab is a woman who was a harlot, so not a prophet or other person we might normally think to hold up as an example. If we looked only at that one aspect of her life, we’d see her as a lost soul, but God sees her as more and notes that she made courageous choices that helped to progress the work of God. She was, in fact, listed as an ancestor of Jesus Christ. This does not give her the right to sin as she chooses, but it demonstrates that the good works she did mattered and counted in the long run.
We see then, that faith and works must work together as a unified total in order for either of them to “get us into Heaven.”
Can Mormons (or anyone else) work their way into Heaven?
No. An evil person who did good works could not get himself into Heaven. A person who did good works every single day would not be admitted to God’s presence unless he had also accepted Jesus Christ as His Savior and unless His good works were an outward manifestation of the private faith in his heart.
A person who truly loves God will want to do His will. The greater our faith, the easier it becomes to make good choices. A person who says he has faith, who publicly proclaims that he has accepted Jesus Christ as His Savior, but who happily goes about his life robbing banks or hurting others, and who does not bother to repent is not going to be admitted into Heaven, as Jesus made clear, because his faith is not real and because no unclean thing can enter into God’s presence. Faith without works is a dead faith, but so is works without faith dead works. No one will live a perfect life, but we have a responsibility to repent when we do wrong, and to continually strive to keep the commandments.
The Book of Mormon teaches:
23 For we labor diligently to write, 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. …
26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. (2 Nephi 25)
It is only through Jesus Christ that people can be saved. If we want to live with God, rather than to merely live forever away from His presence, we must have faith, and we must also keep the commandments, as Jesus Christ instructed us to do.