2 Nephi 25:23. Saved by Grace
While the Bible teaches “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9; see also Ephesians 2:5, 2 Timothy 1:9, and Acts 15:11), the Book of Mormon adds a qualifying phrase that suggests the need for “works.” “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).
The Book of Mormon agrees with the sentiments expressed by Paul, in that salvation came through grace. Throughout the Book of Mormon, the fact is stressed that “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17). Lehi, the first Book of Mormon prophet, declared,
Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved. (2 Nephi 2:6-9)
The last of the Nephite scribes, Moroni, wrote, “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 . . . then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ” (Moroni 10:32-33). Moroni, like Nephi before him (2 Nephi 2:8; 31:19; see also Alma 24:10; Helaman 14:13), wrote of the importance of “relying alone upon the merits of Christ” (Moroni 6:4).
Aaron, a prominent Nephite missionary, noted that “since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth” (Alma 22:14). That works, without the grace of Christ, cannot save us is indicated by the words of Aaron’s grandfather, king Benjamin, who told his people, “I say, if ye should serve him [God] with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21). Nevertheless, while the Book of Mormon stresses that only Christ brings salvation, like the New Testament, it also clearly affirms the responsibility of individuals to repent and come unto Christ and afterwards endure unto the end in keeping the commandments of God.
The difference between the Latter-day Saint view and that of many other Christians is when grace comes into effect. We believe that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He did not wait until we had faith in him or repented of our sins, but offered himself a sacrifice for us before we even began to do good works. Thus, grace existed not only before our good works, but before our sins as well.
When Nephi wrote that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23; see also 2 Nephi 10:24), we must not understand that what we do brings salvation. He had a specific meaning in mind for the words “all we can do.” Lamoni’s brother, Anti-Nephi-Lehi described the situation well: “And I also thank my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things . . . which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son. And now behold my brethren, since it has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins . . . which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain” (Alma 24:11). So when Nephi speaks of “all we can do,” he is not speaking of individual perfection on our own, which is impossible, but rather of being reconciled to Christ by exercising our faith unto repentance and by entering into a covenant with God through baptism to keep his commandments and being faithful to that covenant (Alma 7:15-16). When we fall short, we can repent. The important thing is that we keep trying within the grace that Christ gives us.
As for the Bible, it does not teach that it is grace alone that brings salvation. The very fact that Paul wrote to that grace was received “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 1:5; 4:16; 5:2) suggests some action on our part. The apostle James noted that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14, 17-26). Paul did not condemn good works in general, but the “works of the law” of Moses, which could not bring salvation without Christ’s atoning sacrifice (Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 5). Moreover, Paul taught that certain sins would keep people out of heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-5). Indeed, Hebrews 5:9 says that Christ, “became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”
Moreover, when the Pentecostal crowd asked the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37-38). He did not say to merely have faith or to depend on grace alone. Jesus was more emphatic. When the rich young man asked him “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” the Savior replied,
If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. (Matthew 19:16-21)
Jesus clearly did not teach that one can be saved by grace alone, and I have always found it strange that those modern Christians who teach the concept of salvation by grace alone quote Paul, but never the Savior himself. The reason is simple: None of Christ’s words even remotely suggest such an idea.
For more details on this subject, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Salvation by Grace Alone?” posted on the FAIR web site.