An 85 year old couple, having been married almost 60 years, die in a car crash. They had been in good health the last ten years, mainly due to the wife’s interest in health food.
When they reached the pearly gates, St. Peter took them to their mansion, which was decked out with a beautiful kitchen and master bath suite with Jacuzzi. As they “oohed and aahed”, the old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost.
“It’s free,” St. Peter replied, Remember, this is Heaven.”
Next they went out back to see the championship golf course the home backed up to. They would have golfing privileges every day, and each week the course changed to a new one representing the great golf courses on Earth. The old man asked, “What are the greens fees?”
“This is heaven,” St. Peter replied. “You play for free.”
Next they went to the clubhouse and saw the lavish buffet lunch with the cuisine’s of the world laid out. “How much to eat?” asked the old man.
“Don’t you understand yet?” St. Peter asked. “This is heaven. It’s free!”
“Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods?” the old man asked timidly.
“That’s the best part…you can eat as much as you like of whatever you like and you never get fat and you never get sick. This is Heaven.”
The old man looked at his wife and said, “You and your stupid bran muffins. I could have been here ten years ago!
Now although we don’t know exactly when our time will be to return with our Heavenly Father or even all the specifics of what it will be like, we do know what we need to do to return to Him. As stated in John 14:15, If ye love me, keep my commandments. In addition, in the Articles of Faith, which are the 13 basic points of belief of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the third one reads: We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
In a devotional given by Brad Wilcox at Brigham Young University, he recalls,
A young woman once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”
She said, “I just don’t get grace.”
I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”
She said, “I know I need to do my best, and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”
I said, “The truth is, Jesus paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”
She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”
“Oh, no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to pay that debt. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence to be judged. What is left to be determined by our obedience is how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and what degree of glory we plan on receiving.”
A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”
“Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”
“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!”
“Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its work with my tithes and service.”
“Terrific!” says St. Peter, “that’s certainly worth a point.”
“One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”
“Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” he says.
“TWO POINTS!!” the man cries, “At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!”
“Come on in!” St. Peter replies.
Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements.
When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned at Philippi, he was asked by a distressed jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” Without reference to obedience or repentance or good works that he himself so often spoke of, Paul simply answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” (Acts 16:31) But in a church that also has many ancient and modern scriptural passages stressing works of righteousness and the importance of obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, scriptural passages like Acts 16:31 often give rise to confusion. As one missionary stated to his companion, “As far as I’m concerned, when somebody starts quoting Paul on salvation by grace, I just quote James on faith without works being dead and try to get off the subject as quickly as possible.” Now, it isn’t difficult to understand these reactions. Paul’s defense of salvation by grace and his emphatic criticism of justification through works of the law seem almost in direct contradiction to our third Article of Faith which I spoke of earlier. The problem in understanding Acts 16:31 isn’t that Paul de-emphasizes the atoning sacrifice of the Savior, but rather that he seems to de-emphasize the need for works. What missionary hasn’t been confronted with Paul’s statement to the saints in Rome: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Furthermore, in both Galatians and Romans, he pointedly rejects any idea that justification comes through works of the old law: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified”.
Does Paul indeed reject the value of works for the disciple of Christ? Or was he simply reacting to the Jewish Christians who insisted that adherence to the law of Moses was necessary if one were to be saved? And, for us in the latter-days, does Paul’s position coincide with that which has been revealed in latter-day scripture?
Really though, there is no need to try to apologize for Paul, or to try to explain away his statements on salvation by grace. We are saved by grace—saved by Christ’s love from physical and spiritual death; saved by Christ’s love from Adam’s fall and our own; saved from sin and transgression by the grace or gifts of God. The atoning power of God unto salvation is a freely available gift from him—but our works of righteousness are essential to bring the gift into power in our lives. As followers of Christ, we must remember that he told us: If ye love me, keep my commandments. Sin brings alienation from God. The more we sin, the greater the alienation and the more difficult it becomes to effectively tap the power of God, which alone is sufficient to save us from our sins.
President Joseph Fielding Smith has summarized the relationship between grace and works as follows:
“So Paul taught these people—who thought that they could be saved by some power that was within them, or by observing the law of Moses—he pointed out to them the fact that if it were not for the mission of Jesus Christ, if it were not for this great atoning sacrifice, they could not be redeemed. And therefore it was by the grace of God that they are saved, not by any work on their part, for they were absolutely helpless. Paul was absolutely right.
“And on the other hand, James taught just as the Lord taught, just as Paul had taught in other scripture, that it is our duty, of necessity, to labor, to strive in diligence, and faith, keeping the commandments of the Lord, if we would obtain that inheritance which is promised to the faithful. …
“So it is easy to understand that we must accept the mission of Jesus Christ. We must believe that it is through his grace that we are saved, that he performed for us that labor which we were unable to perform for ourselves, and did for us those things which were essential to our salvation, which were beyond our power; and also that we are under the commandment and the necessity of performing the labors that are required of us as set forth in the commandments known as the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Thus, we can with Paul fervently exclaim that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). We should continue to stress the importance of obedience, of repentance, of faith, and strive with all our hearts to demonstrate good works in our lives. But we should never lose sight of the great overriding fact of the grace of God and the wholly central part it plays in our atonement and salvation.
Moroni, in the closing words of the Book of Mormon, teaches the relationship between the grace of Christ and the need for our righteous efforts. Note how he keeps distinctly clear what it is that perfects us, and yet what must happen in our lives to bring that about.
“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.
“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.” (Moro. 10:32–33.)
To gain eternal life, we need both grace and works. A Christian author, C. S. Lewis, compared grace and works to the blades of a pair of scissors. Both are necessary. To ask “Are you saved by grace or works?” is like asking “Do you cut with this blade or that one?”
We receive God’s grace because of the Atonement. We can’t raise ourselves from the dead, so the Resurrection is an example of His grace. We can’t purify ourselves from sin, so the Lord’s forgiveness is another example of grace. But before He will forgive us, we must repent—that’s our part, our works.
Besides repentance, our works also include receiving ordinances, keeping covenants, and serving others. While these works are necessary for salvation, they aren’t sufficient. They are not enough because we can’t live perfect lives, but we can do our best to live righteously. By doing so, we invite the Lord’s grace into our lives and qualify for the gift of salvation.
We don’t earn salvation. Heavenly Father and the Savior will bless us with eternal life, through Their grace, if we do our part. They have asked us to have faith in Jesus Christ, repent throughout our lives, be baptized and receive other ordinances, and faithfully endure to the end. If we do that, we are promised eternal life through the grace of God.”
In addition, as an upcoming missionary, in approximately 238 hours – but who’s counting – I also see how His grace can help me. No, I’m not planning on leaving this Earth anytime soon, but I am planning on leaving this continent at least. Although I will be at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, for about 9 weeks or so, there is nothing that could be done to fully prepare me to be ready to teach and serve the people of the Taiwan Taipei Mission. The US Department of State estimates that that it will take about 2,200 class hours to learn a language like Chinese, Arabic, or Japanese. That could also be seen as 5 hours of studying every day for 88 weeks. This is in sharp contrast to languages more closely related to English such as Spanish and French which only take approximately 600 class hours to become fluent in. Looking at it this way it could seem like I may not even become fluent in Chinese until I’m ¾ of the way done with my mission! However, I recognize that I’m not going to Taiwan to just talk to people, I’m going there to serve them and to communicate to them how the gospel has impacted my life and how I know it will make a difference in theirs. I know that even though all I may be able to say during those months when I’m first out there is a few sentences in possibly even Chinglish (a mixture of Chinese and English), I know that if I am humble enough to recognize that even when I am (hopefully) fluent at some point that without the help of my Heavenly Father and through his grace I would never get anything accomplished. If I do the best I can to study the scriptures and learn the language, the difference that I am unable to fulfill will be made up for by my Heavenly Father and Christ through the Holy Ghost.