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Faith and Works

Biblical Framework

The Divine Combination
The pattern of grace through faith followed by works is revealed clearly in the Bible, and the interconnectivity of these spiritual principles is addressed repeatedly. King David, author of the Psalms, urged all men to trust (have faith) in the Lord, to “do good” (work), and then reap the benefits of combining the two principles (Psalm 37:3). Paul, the New Testament’s primary commentator on grace, said in his writings to the Ephesians that it is grace, accessed through faith, that brings salvation to the souls of men (Ephesians 2:8-10). He went on to teach that grace is followed by good works, that is, men and women under the influence of grace are guided unfailingly to do good works (Titus 3:7-8, 2 Corinthians 9:8-10, and 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). James wrote that faith is made perfect through works (James 2:22, 24).

Faith without Works
While Paul wrote extensively on the unity of grace and faith, the apostle James wrote extensively on the unity of faith and works. Indeed, James put a sharp point on this unity, saying three times in the same chapter that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17, James 2:18-20 and James 2:26). Likewise, Paul in his letter to Titus describes the useless condition of one who professes to know God, but in his works does not demonstrate such knowledge (Titus 1:15-16). Paul calls such a person “abominable”.

In teaching the interconnectivity of grace, faith, and works, the Lord proclaimed through Paul that a man must work out his own salvation with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13). By exercising faith through works, men and women are saved through the Atonement of Christ and can then have a significant impact on the salvation of others (1 Timothy 4:16). Jesus told his disciples that the only way a man could save himself was to lose himself, to expend himself, to work in the cause of Christ (Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Luke 17:33 and Matthew 16:24-25).

Love without Action
The Savior said the two great commandments were to love God and to love one another (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:30-31 and Luke 10:25-28). He taught that love of the Lord is more than a simple emotion or profession of devotion: Indeed, love without loving action is an empty abstraction or an emotional self-indulgence. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He said that those who keep (do works in compliance with) his commandments will abide in his love just as he abides in his Father’s love (John 15:10). John sternly wrote that anyone who claims to know Christ but does not keep his commandments “is a liar” (1 John 2:4).

Doers of the Word
God gives words to live by, and he requires obedience to those words (Micah 6:8). God commands all men and women to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22-25). During his public ministry Jesus relentlessly taught the principle of “doing” (Luke 3:11-14 and Mark 10:21). He said that those who “heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them” are wise, and those who do not do them are foolish (Matthew 7:21-27). In the Day of Judgment the Lord will separate the sheep (doers of the word) from the goats (hearers only). He proclaimed that a man or woman who serves others serves the Lord (Matthew 25:31-45).

Sacrifice as Works
To sacrifice is to deny one’s self in service of others, to lose one’s life in order to find it, to enlarge the self by including others in it (Mark 8:34-36, Luke 9:24, Matthew 16:25 and Luke 17:33). Peter encouraged the early Christians to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Charity as Works
Charity marked by selfless service given through the pure love of Christ is greater than prophecy, understanding, and faith (1 Corinthians 13:2, 13). Paul proclaimed that those who are without charity are “nothing.” James defined pure religion as service given to those who are in greatest need (James 1:27).

Humility as Works
Humility is essential for spiritual progress. Peter taught the disciples to be “clothed with humility” (1 Peter 5:5). James said that with humility comes wisdom (James 3:13). Humility (or meekness) is so important that those who possess it will not only inherit the earth (Psalm 37:11 and Matthew 5:5), but will be exalted (Matthew 23:12 and 1 Peter 5:6).

Endurance as Works
Endurance is the willing acceptance of afflictions and persecutions. Jesus warned his followers against being like the man who “dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” and is without fruits (Matthew 13:18-23). Jesus urged his disciples to endure to the end (Matthew 24:13 and Mark 13:13) despite persecution (John 15:20). Enduring to the end brings great blessings (Luke 6:22 and Matthew 5:10-12, 44). The persecuted are promised they will not be forsaken (2 Corinthians 4:8-9), and are encouraged to rejoice and take pleasure in being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 12:10 and 1 Peter 4:13-14). The reward of endurance in the eternities is beyond measure, including a “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:5-8), “life everlasting” (1 Timothy 1:16), and “to be counted worthy of the kingdom of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

Works as Examples
The Savior exhorted his disciples to let their good works shine before men to glorify God (Matthew 5:16). The apostle Peter taught that good works when seen by men will “glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

Works in the Afterlife
Works follow the worker into the afterlife (Revelation 14:13).

Works and the Final Judgment
The children of God are judged on earth and in the afterlife for their works in mortality. While salvation (immortality) is assured through acceptance of the Atonement of Christ, the Lord records works in the “book of life”, upon which he will judge all mankind (Revelation 20:12-13). Paul wrote that judgments will be made according to what each person has done (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Works and Rewards
Men and women who do good works lay up “in store for themselves” a solid foundation for eternal life (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Rewards are determined according to works (Psalm 62:12, Matthew 16:27, Revelation 22:12 and 1 Peter 1:17). Those who live in and propagate righteousness will earn a great reward (Proverbs 11:18, Psalm 18:20, 24 and Psalm 37:29), while those who render evil will be given a far lesser, though just, reward (2 Timothy 4:14). Because good works flow from faith and faith flows from diligently seeking the Lord, the Lord will reward those who “diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The rewards that flow from rendering good works in the glory of God include receiving a crown of life (James 1:12), sharing in the Lord’s throne (Revelation 3:21), and becoming a “ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:19-23).

Mormon Doctrinal Clarification

The Divine Combination
Faith, works, and grace are the three legs of a spiritual platform that must be mounted to fully praise and experience God. The platform collapses if any of these legs is taken away. Faith is necessary for actions to have meaning, and grace is necessary for actions to have efficacy.

The Great Debate
There is a centuries-old debate about the matrix of faith, works, and grace. Some see an insurmountable contradiction, expressed here as a question: “If it is by undeserved grace that man is saved, how can faith or works also be a necessity of salvation?” Latter-day Saints disentangle from this either-or construct and embrace faith, works, and grace as a perfect unity. In this unity, a new life in Christ becomes possible, and fear of damnation is replaced with the joy of divine labor under the protection of grace.

Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little faith grows, works proliferate, and the purposes of God are fulfilled. As faith and works combine, human understanding deepens. This deepening can in time and by the grace of God culminate in pure knowledge.

Faith and Works
The Bible places enormous emphasis on faith and works together. They operate like the blades of a pair of scissors (to borrow a metaphor from C. S. Lewis). This is why James boldly proclaimed that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Jesus said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. If ye love me, keep my commandments (1 John 14:12-17, emphasis added).

Jesus preached love as an action verb. To love is to do. Love and action are inseparable in Christ’s message. The apostle Paul said, “…without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is . . . he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Paul does not invite men to simply bask in their saved condition. He preached seeking. Latter-day Saints are seekers: They have faith, do good works, and trust that the grace of God through the Atonement of Jesus Christ will erase whatever deficit may remain.

See chapter18 in The Biblical Roots of Mormonism for a more comprehensive explanation, scriptural references and commentary on Faith and Works

See the following Sword SeriesTM papers for summaries:

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