The Role of Faith, Grace, and Works in Our Salvation
The scriptures clearly teach us in the Bible, in the book of Romans, “There is none righteous, no, not one. . . . For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). Someone may ask, “If that is the case, how then can a person be saved?” That question is one that is of great concern and generates a large amount of discussion throughout all Christendom. Many sermons have been preached from the pulpits of various denominations concerning this very subject. Although most denominations will agree that grace and faith are two important key elements in the process of one being saved, there are others who will also argue that works play a key role in the salvation process as well.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which church is inadvertently called the Mormon Church by many people in the world) our third article of faith teaches, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” In the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, we are taught, “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” (2 Nephi 25:23). And in the Bible, in the New Testament, in Ephesians 2:4–9 we are taught:
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
What is grace and what role does it play in the salvation of a person? Grace, defined in its simplest terms, is the unmerited favor of God. This means that God did something for us that we rightfully did not deserve, nor could earn ourselves. We needed a Savior, and so God sent His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to become sin’s final sacrifice—the sacrificial lamb for the slaughter to atone for all of our sins—past, present, and future. His Son willingly and lovingly accepted what He was sent to do, and He who knew no sin, took on the consequences of sin for us. He paid a debt that He did not owe and one that we could not pay on our own. That amazing grace was a free gift from God which we accept through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Advocate with the Father, and it is through Him alone that we are freely justified. That free gift of grace was exemplified through the Atonement when our precious Savior was crucified on that cruel Roman cross on Golgotha’s lonely hill. When He cried “It is finished!” the work that He had been sent to do was finally complete, and the gulf that existed between a sinful man and a loving Heavenly Father was bridged, providing a way for each of us to return home to the loving arms of the Father who awaits us.
With an understanding of what grace is, one might ask questions such as: “Is grace then not enough? Why do we need faith? Are works even a necessary part of our salvation?” Consider the words that we read in Romans 11:6 where the Apostle Paul teaches us, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Now someone may ask, “But isn’t grace more important than works? Therefore, should we exclude works altogether?” James would answer no to that question ,for he teaches that works are a necessary part of our faith, and faith is an essential key to our salvation. The works that we do are a testimony, or an outward expression, of our faith. Consider his words as recorded in James 2:14–26:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 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. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 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. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
I believe that James is teaching us that it is good to have faith, but faith as it stands alone profits nothing. We develop and maintain our faith through our works. Let us turn to the Bible, in the Old Testament, and examine more closely the account of Abraham being commanded by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac: as recorded in Genesis 22:1–12:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
In order to fully understand this account we must first realize what God was not doing. God was not tempting Abraham. God was not enticing Abraham to do wrong, but was testing him to see if his faith was strong enough to be obedient to His will and do what was required; giving him, thereby, the opportunity to understand the Love of his Heavenly Father and the glory of obedience. God was not instituting or condoning child sacrifice. As seen in Deuteronomy 12:31, God abhors child sacrifice: “Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods” (see also Leviticus 20:2–5, Jeremiah 32:35, Ezekiel 20:26, Isaiah 57:4–5). It is important to remember that God prevented the sacrifice from actually occurring. He did not desire the sacrifice as an act of worship or for any other reason beyond testing and developing Abraham’s faith.
God has the right to take human life, and therefore could have authorized Abraham to take the life of his son Isaac in this particular case, but He did not. However, had Abraham decided of his own accord to sacrifice Isaac, he would have been wrong, and his act would have been condemned by God.
Why then would God give this command? The point was for Abraham to come to understand that he trusted God completely and placed Him above all else, even his own son. Though God already knew that Abraham had faith in Him, it was necessary for Abraham to expand his faith through his works, or actions. Because of his “works,” not only God, but Abraham, his family and future generations knew that Abraham trusted God. This trust was important because it indicated that Abraham had the proper relationship with God, and thus he could benefit from God’s plans for his life. James records that “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God” (James 2:23).
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Hebrews 11:17–19). And so we “see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). And so, we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works or any merits of our own. All three elements—faith, grace, and works—do play a key role in our salvation. Grace is God’s part of the process, and faith combined with our works is our part of the process. Neither our faith nor our works alone could ever save us. We are saved through our faith, which is exemplified by our works, only through the amazing grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and all that He wrought through the atonement.