According to Mormon theology, a person’s works play a necessary role in said person’s justification. Mormonism is very clear that works are an essential aspect of being made right with God.
Gospel Principles is literature LDS missionaries provide to people for the purpose of succinctly explaining basic LDS theology, and it certainly blends sanctification and justification by making justification a process. Phrases like “Through faith and repentance, we make his atonement fully effective” (103). The implication is that the atonement can have a partial efficacy or application, and progressively be strengthened.
Most clearly this is demonstrated in the principles and ordinances of the Gospel. In each separate principle and ordinance, sins are said to be forgiven. How can that possibly be unless there is a subtle progress of justification going on?
For example, the book (written and endorsed by the LDS Church) says that faith forgives us. “As we place our faith in Christ, becoming His obedient disciples, Heavenly Father will forgive us our sins” (103). Repentance is said to be the process whereby sins are forgiven, “Repentance is the way provided for us to become free from our sins and receive forgiveness for them” (109).
Then, one specific element of repentance, which is forgiving others, is also said to be the means by which God forgives, “The Lord will not forgive us unless our hearts are fully cleansed of all hate, bitterness, and bad feelings against other people” (111).
Lastly, the gospel ordinance of baptism is a work of law by which our sins are forgiven, “When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, repent, and are baptized, our sins are forgiven through the atonement of Jesus Christ” (115).
In fact, a missionary tract produced and endorsed by the LDS church, distributed through the missionaries, titled “The Gospel of Jesus Christ”, says this about why we are supposed to be baptized,
“When you are baptized, you receive remission of sins…when you are baptized by proper authority your sins are washed away… While baptism washes you of your sins, the Holy Ghost sanctifies, or purifies you. If you remain faithful to your baptismal covenants, you can have the Holy Ghost with you always” (8).
And this is very consistent with Mormon scripture, specifically, Moroni 8: 11; 25,
“And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.…
And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins…” (emphasis mine).
Baptism takes away sins because obedience to the law brings remission of sins, and baptism is one of those laws. Hence, justification is accomplished through works of law, not by faith alone.
By way of a side, the language of the tracts seem misleading. Given the fact that faith, repentance, and baptism are logically and temporally separated in terms of the LDS Ordo Salutis, it seems we either have complete contradictions, or some kind of unclear, ambiguous, progressive forgiveness.
However, comparing some of the more famous verses from the Book of Mormon (LDS Scripture) can still adequately make this point.
For example, Moroni 10: 32,
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God” (The emphasis is mine).
This horrifying verse makes clear that grace is only sufficient to save upon the basis of our works; namely, perfect love and the denying all ungodliness.
I do not see how anyone other than Christ has ever done that on this earth, but that is the standard Joseph has established. And I have never heard a convincing argument from the context of Moroni 10 which demonstrates a misinterpretation.
The word “Gospel” literally means good news. And “[I]f ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you” is anything but good news.
Probably my favorite demonstration of the two different Gospel claims is found in the the two verses below. Paired side by side, notice how Joseph’s claim is quite the antithesis of Paul’s.
The Gospel of Mormonism is clear: you must believe and follow the law sufficiently to be made right before God.
Romans 1 is the condemnation of all people as accountable to God’s Law, specifically, the Gentiles.
In Romans 2, Paul fixes his sights specifically on his brothers in the flesh, the Jews. He condemns them as well for being guilty of breaking the Law of God.
That is why, Paul’s argument is perfectly summarized in Romans 3: 10-19,
[A]s it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
Every single person is guilty before God. This is where justification comes in. How then can we undo this? How can we receive peace with God?
Before Paul answers the question, he first explains what it cannot be on the basis of: works. Romans 3: 20,
“For by the works of the Law no human being justified in His sight, since through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
Following the Law cannot possibly be a means of justification for two reasons:
1) That was never the purpose of the Law.
Paul clearly explains in the above verse that the Law’s purpose was never to be a road on which man travels toward justification. Rather, it is to be like a spiritual mirror, reflecting and exposing our flaws.
This is consistent with what Paul says elsewhere in Galatians 3: 21-24,
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
The purpose of the Law was never to save. We were always meant to be justified by faith alone, before and after Christ. The Law was given, not to justify, but to condemn. And since condemned by the Law, God can glorify the condemned through their faith in Christ alone.
2) It is a logical absurdity.
Along with this idea about the Law from Paul in Romans 3 not being intended to save comes the question: since trying to follow the Law is what condemned us, how could following the Law play such a vital role in saving us?
Have you ever heard of the expression, “trying to dig yourself out of a hole”? This is what Paul is pointing out. You can’t dig your way out of a hole, digging got you in the hole.
Likewise, you cannot try to follow the Law into justification; trying to follow the Law provided your need to be justified. That is why the great theologian Jonathan Edwards said, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”
Romans 3: 21-28,
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (emphasis mine).
It must become clear as day to all of us that God is glorified by justifying His people through their faith, and nothing else.
Romans 4: 3-8,
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Romans 4: 22 – 5:1,
That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Emphasis mine).
This imputed righteousness which Mormons deny has been often referred to as an alien or foreign righteousness, since it comes to us from an outside place. This is exactly how Paul describes it in Philippians 3: 8-11,
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
It was a controcersy masquerading around the church by the name gospel, but was nothing of the kind. And what was the controversy?
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Emphasis mine)
The problem is Judiazers were not Atheists. They were theists in the Christian church! They claimed the faith, but they added works to their faith, and Paul considered them then those trying to be “justified by Law.”
The claim is that Paul believes we are justified by works, but not by works of the Mosaic Law. They then insert whatever yolk of slavery they bind on people as the law Paul would believe justifies us.
Certainly, the Law of Moses is contextually what Paul is speaking of, but there are 3 problems with this argument:
If Moses’ Law could not justify men, no law can justify men.
“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.”
Romans 4: 1-4,
“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”
Ephesians 2: 8-9,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
1 Corinthians 1: 28-28,
“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
Law-based gospels would still leave room for boasting, even if they were not mediated by Moses. Those wages would still be credited as what is due (Romans 4: 1).
“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of Law? By a Law of works? No, but by the law of faith.”
Paul is clear here that any law of works, not just the Mosaic Law mentioned in the next verse, but any Law of works allows room for boasting. That is why boasting is only eliminated by a law of faith.
James 2 is a powerful chapter in Scripture emphasizing the important necessity of works in the believers life. Although Christians are saved apart from works, our saving faith is not apart from works.
Paul, immediately after telling the Ephesians they are saved by grace alone through faith alone (2: 8-9), he immediately tells them, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Paul believes good works are a necessary and inevitable outcome of faith.
Perhaps the strongest demonstration of this is from Paul in Romans 3. Immediately after saying that we are saved by a law of faith and not a law of works (27-30), he anticipates an objection being that Christians then get to live lawlessly. He knows that people will immediately jump to that conclusion, so he asks the question and answers it in verse 31,
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
We obey the Law in response to being saved from it’s condemnation apart from it. Works are the evidence, or fruit, of true saving faith, and that is exactly James’ point.
James 2: 15-17,
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
There are two key words to the first section above: “That” and “Says.”
James does not recognize the hypothetical person in view as having a real, genuine faith. It is merely a profession. He describes it as lip-service only. He does not recognize a work-less faith as being authentic, but simply stated. This is merely someone who “says” they have faith. And then, the most important verse is written, “can that faith save him?” James is clearly talking about a specific kind of faith not being able to save, not authentic, real, faith, which Paul speaks of. That is why in verse 17 he calls it a “dead” faith. Contextually, James is comparing two kinds of faith: living faith vs dead faith. But faith is still James’ highest concern. Faith alone saves, but what is faith?
James 2: 18-20,
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”
Again, a dead faith is worthless. But that is not the same thing as saying faith alone is worthless. They are different faiths.
James 2: 21-26,
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
The quotation of Abraham is also key. James is not talking about the same kind of justification as Paul. How do we know this? Because Paul uses Abraham to prove justification by faith apart from works of the Law. But what Paul quotes from the Old Testament is in Genesis 15. James’ quotes the events from Abraham found in Genesis 22! If they are talking about the same kind of justification, then James makes Paul a liar, claiming Abraham was actually justified many years after Paul falsely claims he was, but that is obviously not the case.
Abraham’s works “fulfilled” the justification he received by faith alone. In other words, his works proved it. Abraham’s works justified his justification. That is why God told him,
Notice the words in James 2 like “You have faith, I have works.” “Show me your faith…and I will show you my faith…” (18). Notice phrases like “Do you see that faith was working together…”(22). And finally verse 24, “You see that…”
James is clearly, contextually, talking about justifying our faith to others, not our souls to God.
This is all wrapped up in the fact that James himself quotes what Paul also quotes from Genesis: Abraham being justified by faith (23). The work of sacrificing Isaac vindicated his intrinsic justification.
James believes we are saved by faith alone. But like Martin Luther said, James does not believe that saving faith is alone. Not any profession of faith will do. Only true, authentic faith will do. And how are we justified as true, authentic believers? By our works, not by faith alone.
All throughout the book of John, Jesus relentlessly and regularly affirms the truth that salvation is channeled through nothing but faith.
This is already far too long to quote all of Jesus’ affirmations of Sola Fide, but I want to quote one very poignant one.
In John 6, John spends the first 12 verses explaining Jesus speaking to a Jewish crowd, specifically identifying Himself as being the bread from heaven.
The Jews ask in 28, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
Is this not Jesus’ opportunity to share all of the works they must do? If Jesus were honest, would He not be required to give them the entire list that Mormon tracts give us today? Should not Jesus tell them faith, baptism, following the commandments, denying themselves of all ungodliness, and all the other works required? Should He not hit them with the Law?
How does Jesus respond? Verse 29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom he has sent.”
There are the works you must do: believe.