Strengthening Faith

Grace, Faith, and Works

June 19, 2018

Much has been said and written about Christianty’s fascination with grace vs. works. Many claim the “old school” way of thinking, that we “earn” our way to Heaven, has been replaced by a more modern “by the grace of Christ only” rationale. I would pontificate that both are wrong, and both are right. Each side that continues to argue that things are one way or the other are missing out on the other half’s truthfulness.

Grace (definition):

  • the condition or fact of being in favor with someone (be a beneficiary of God’s love and blessings)
  • (graceful) also congenial, beautiful, expert, delicate,

Ephesians 2:8-10

 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.
 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

2 Timothy 1:9

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began…

2 Corinthians 12:9

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The “grace only” camp simply claims this: that it is only through Christ’s grace that we will receive any kind of heavenly salvation. The Ephesians verse backs up their claims, stating “saved through faith, not of yourselves… not of works, lest any man should boast.” Without added context or explanation, that verse might very well seal it.

But there is always more, and most of these scriptures are sermons or letters to a specific group of people, in a certain place at a single time in the vast timeline of Christianity. We have little context or explanation as to why the speaker used those words or phrases, nor do we usually have a perfect copy of the original sermons or letters, and so must combine all that we have available to us.

Grace of Christ

The scriptures say that we are saved by His grace. Let’s replace the word “grace” with “favor.” Many other verses use the word grace in this way, i.e. so-and-so “found grace in the eyes of” so-and-so. Usually this comes as someone (our scriptural hero or heroine) approached the wealthy farmer or sheep herder or merchant, or some prominent leader in the land, or they find the grace (or favor) of the Lord by being obedient.

So to have the grace of Christ implies we have His favor. How do we get His favor? First, He asks of us to believe in Him, believe Him, and follow the commandments. Aside from the Ten Commandments, we (by way of the Scriptures, which are messages given to others that have been written down for posterity) have been given other commandments. Some have been superseded by more important commandments, and the necessity of others has passed over time, due to cultural changes or by divine declaration. But either way, we are supposed to be obedient to them. After all, He gave them to us so we would be happy, live good lives, take care of each other, and grow closer to Him.

Let’s talk about salvation. There are different understandings of what it means to be saved, and there are different blessings or rewards to be had by those who are “saved.”

Saved Temporally

By accepting Jesus while on Earth, we are “saved” while here. Depending on who you talk to, that means that you’ll never have anything horrible happen to you. Others believe that they can do anything and Jesus will still love and accept them. Yet others have faith that God and/or Jesus will help you through all the tough parts of life. Some will overshoot the mark and place every single decision into Jesus’ hands and eschew any personal responsibility altogether.

Saved Eternally

For some, once you announce that you believe in Jesus, they believe he’ll accept you and take you into Heaven. And everything He has will be yours, whatever that entails. To some believers, merely a few will go to Heaven, while the rest (believers and non-believers alike) will be confined to some kind of in-between place where most of the angels live. Yet others believe only a specific amount of true believers will be chosen to live in heavenly bliss forever, and all the rest will simply die and be done with everything.

Within the vast disparity between religions that call themselves Christian is some commonality in that there is a good place hereafter and a bad place hereafter, and that to go to the good place, you at least have to accept Christ.

I’m going to posit that Christ’s saving grace goes only so far, and fits in two specific places, from a “saved after death” perspective. (Grace saving us during life is attached to repentance and forgiveness, and we feel it to the extent we apply the blessings of the Atonement of Christ in our lives.)

Physical Death

Because of Adam’s decision to partake of the forbidden fruit, he fell out of the grace (favor) and presence of God, and with him, the world fell too. The world and everything on it became a corruptible, temporary existence with disease, hunger, fatigue, weeds, and eventually murder, war, and death. Satan, who also had fallen from God’s favor for coveting God’s glory and power, was put into a position where he is allowed to tempt man (but luckily, not above that which we are able to withstand) and help move this corruption along.

Because of our corruptible state, physical death comes at the end of man’s life, either naturally (disease, old age) or unnaturally (murder, accidents, suicide, etc.). Death is the separation of the spirit from the body, and is the natural opposite to birth (the union of a spirit with a new earthly body). This physical death became “permanent” because of the Fall of Adam. That is the result of the so-called original sin, which we are all subject to. That is also part one of Christ’s purpose on Earth. By laying down His mortal body and picking it up again (the Resurrection), He paved the way for all of us to do so.

Let me go down that path for a minute.

Just as He was baptized to set an example for us, He was resurrected too. As the literal offspring of the Father, He had the power to rejoin His body and spirit. Also, He had atoned for all of mankind’s earthly sins and everything else that came with the corruption introduced by the Fall of Adam, thereby earning the respect of the Universe. I believe that granted him the authority to complete the resurrection, and since He descended below them all, He is the guardian of who gets to be resurrected and exalted.

Fortunately, for you and me, the resurrection is a gift available to all. That is part of the Grace (favor) of Christ that He shows to all of us. And without the resurrection, or rejoining of our bodies with our spirits, we would not be able to progress further and return to our Father in Heaven.

Short answer to the “grace only” camp: you’re right. We can’t be saved without the grace of Christ, because had He not been willing to go through the Atonement and Resurrection, we would have all been stuck here in this Earthly existence without hope of continuing on. He is full of grace and truth, and He extends that grace to us to allow us to be resurrected.


I wrote earlier about all of the different commandments we’ve received throughout the scriptures, and in some denominations, yet more commandments have been revealed in the present day. Many of these commandments tell us of things not to do. Why not do them? Well, because those things violates sacred laws of God, including limiting or eliminating another person’s agency. Others are commandments of things to do. Those include loving God and our neighbor. Showing love to our fellow men/women shows a form of love and respect to our Creator, who created both us and them.

Works, in my mind, represent our willingness to be obedient to those commandments, especially the to do ones. We’re told to honor our father and mother, and (as just mentioned) love others. My faith teaches that “when [we] are in the service of our fellow beings, [we] are only in the service of [our] God.” And another verse of scripture exclaims that we ought to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause.” Our faith in Christ is manifest by the works we undertake when performing acts of service and kindness, raising families, teaching children, and caring for the elderly.

We all have this great gift of agency wherein God gives us countless opportunities to make decisions. While some decisions are the good vs. evil kind, or “good for us” vs. “not good for us” kind, most decisions we will make in life are not that binary. He is also interested in seeing what kinds of choices we’ll make to help others, or, importantly, to help ourselves. I’m not talking the selfish kind. Selfish tendencies might arguably be catalysts for doing good things like earning money or offering service, but for those who are truthfully seeking to better the lives of others, that selfishness gives way to the purity of their intentions.

I’m convinced God and Jesus are thrilled when we choose to make ourselves better, and even more so when we strive to help make others better. That is one of the best uses of agency I can imagine. Think about it. As master creators, they’ve created this Earth and everything about it for us. They’ve created countless opportunities for self-improvement for mankind. They’ve given us creative powers, thoughts, and talents that we can use to educate ourselves, start families, start businesses, and do any number of other things for ourselves and others. If we waste that talent, oh what a shame, and I imagine what a disappointment it would be to at least two perfect individuals who love us so dearly.

Several scriptures talk about faith in Christ alongside the grace of Christ. Faith is belief in action. If you just believe in Christ (that He exists), you’re only doing it half way. If you have faith in Him, that means you’re willing to show and act upon your belief. That involves keeping commandments, i.e. doing what He has asked. It also means coming closer to the Father through Christ, and to do that, you’ve got to improve your relationship with the Savior.

He gave us countless examples of how we should live and serve. He says to be like Him (“be” is a verb, which implies action), and then does things to show us the way. So how else to better know Him than by doing what He showed us? That is, after all, the definition of worship. “Even as ye have done it unto the least of these…, ye have done it unto me” (paraphrased). All of use know Christlike individuals, because we can tell that they strive to be like Him.

The sheep of the flock know their shepherd’s voice, and will come when he calls. Likewise, verses quote the Savior saying how He will claim His own, and deny others who claim to know Him yet have done nothing to get to know Him.

This is a lot of set up for the punch line, but I hope it helps to this point: works go hand-in-hand with both parts of Christ’s grace.

The Point at Which Grace and Works Meet

Christ’s atonement and resurrection ensured we all will be resurrected (“saved” or Grace Part 1). Everybody who comes to Earth gets this benefit. Even those who are wicked will (eventually) be resurrected.

If all benefit from the resurrection, then, why do we even have to accept Christ to be “saved?” This is where works and “being saved” (or Grace Part 2) work together.

First, our works in this life determine what kind of blessings we enjoy now and later. To truly accept Christ involves work. It involves faith in Christ, repentance from our sins, and baptism. From there, if we are to keep our baptismal covenants, we must work at it every day. Faith requires growth and Repentance is a process. Neither are a singular event to be celebrated and then ignored or forgotten.

The line about Christ’s grace being viewed as the “ultimate over man’s works, lest man should boast,” is to keep us humble. We have to recognize that everything we have comes from God. He has given us stewardship over these earthly possessions and (if we’re parents) our families, and He is testing us to see what we will do with that which we’ve been given.

Remember the parable of the talents? Three servants had been given talents, or coins: the first received five, the second two, and the third one. The first two set about to increase what they had given, but the third buried his gift, afraid he might lose it. After a time, the master requested a report. The first had earned another five talents, for a total of ten. The second had done likewise: doubling his gift to four talents. The third retrieved his buried talent and had no increase to show. The master took the lazy servant’s lone talent and gave it to him who had ten.

Why would Jesus teach using this parable if the works we do in this life don’t matter to Him? It’s because they do matter, but more for our sakes than for His. We stand to be the eternal beneficiaries of everything we learn while we’re here, and God’s children on the Earth stand to be the beneificiaries of all those who chose to perform good works. (God uses people to carry out most aspects of His plan.) While works alone will never save us, it is the very work related to our faith in Christ that puts us in a position for salvation (Grace Part 2) to kick in.

Bringing it All Together (TL;DR)

  • Even after all we can do in this earth life, we’ll never live up to the perfection required by law to be with God.
  • Our works show Christ that we accept, believe, and follow Him. As a side benefit, anything we learn from what we do will give us all the more advantage in the world to come.
  • The resurrection (Grace P.1) gets us to the judgement bar of God, where He asks who will speak for us.
  • The Savior is our advocate before the Father; if we know Him (and He claims us), we are beneficiaries of the remaining elements of the Atonement of Christ, namely foregiveness of our sins and entering into His rest (Grace P.2).
  • It is through the intercession of Christ (Grace P.1 and P.2) that all of us who obey Him (works) are able to return and live with the Father eternally, and receive all that He hath in store for us.

Where Do We Go From Here

Now, picture for a minute the type of people you like to be with. Are they happy, or do they complain a lot? Are they gossipers? Do they serve others? Are they entrepreneurs, or scholars, or teachers, or farmers, or plumbers, or politicians, or otherwise good ol’ run-o-the-mill folk who mean well?

In His infinite wisdom, the Father has designed a plan that allows us to forever be in a state that we will be comfortable in. Not everyone has the desire to be a go-getter. That is why they aren’t managers, or leaders, or entrepreneurs. Some are happy being miserable, and never seem to get out of their ruts. Imagine how uncomfortable you would feel if you were put into a room of people completely unlike yourself, and forced to be there for ever.

So is it, at least in my mind, in the eternities. There will be many who will be happy with the glory that comes just from being resurrected. Others won’t be satisfied unless they can keep going and moving onward, trying new things and growing and creating and improving themselves. In the Father’s house are many mansions, and there is room for all.

Consider the sorting hat from Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books and films. The hat knew the individual’s desires and talents and placed them in the house that would best suit them. I imagine our post-mortal meetings will be similar, in that we will reconcile with Christ, and according to that which we’ve done on Earth, we’ll ask to go with the group of individuals most like us, to continue in one way or another. Christ’s grace will then “be sufficient for [us]” and we’ll live eternally grateful to a loving, wise Father in Heaven.

As for me and my family, we’ll work hard, do our best to love and serve others, strive to improve, and create everything He lets us create. I believe our Father in Heaven has given us free reign to do great things, and I would be short changing myself to deny that works have no bearing in the blessings He has in store for me.

Bryan Scott

These are the thoughts, ideas, and writings of Bryan Scott, a father, instructor, developer, and all around good guy. Follow him on Twitter