Strangers in Paradox
by Margaret & Paul Toscano

Chapter Eleven
The Case for Grace

[p.116]The picture of the universe set forth in the previous chapters is, we believe, entirely consistent with the doctrine of salvation by the grace of Christ. The marriage of time and eternity, the interconnectedness of humanity and God, and the inextricability of good and evil are all compatible with the teaching that God laid aside his glory, assumed a mortal body, suffered and died to make atonement, and then rose again from the dead.

In our view, Christ sacrificed his life for us for three principle reasons.

First, his divine sense of justice, fairness, and equanimity required him to take responsibility for his part in projecting evil into the universe. This is the meaning of his justice: he recognizes the shadow in himself as well as in us. He accepts this shadow of evil, takes responsibility for his part in it and ours, and brings good out of it.

Second, his attribute of divine love or mercy caused him to reach out to us in our state of powerlessness. Although we are connected to God, we are not his equals in glory or goodness. Because he loves us he desires to make us equal with him, to fill us with the same joy he experiences. Though he takes responsibility for our sins, we cannot realize the benefits of this act until we freely accept his spirit in an act of free will. With the spirit we can begin to love God and our fellow human beings. This is the purpose of the gospel: to allow us to receive the glory of God which will make us into godly individuals.

Third, Christ’s divine death is essential to his own eternal growth and development. God is a progressing deity. But he progresses by breaking the circle of his perfection and assuming a greater perfection. God possesses all the glory his resurrected body can endure. But this glory though incomprehensibly great to us is not infinite in amount. If [p.117]God wishes to grow in glory, to expand his kingdom, to bring about greater good, he must die. He must willingly set aside his body of flesh and bones, his spirit body, and his glory in order to obtain a new and more glorious resurrection. He must “descend below all things… that he might be in and through all things” (D&C 88:6). We believe it is through such a process of repeated resurrections that God grows in glory, power, and dominion. This, we believe, is one of the meanings of Jesus’ saying: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). For this reason God himself laid aside his glory and eternal life and entered fully into the shadow of time, assuming the mortal aspect of his children, taking upon himself their sickness and their sin. He did not avoid contamination. He descended below it all so that his light and our light could grow brighter. He made himself equal to us so that we could in due time be made equal to him. He died so that he could rise again and bring the whole of time up with him into eternity. He died to teach us that God is not beyond location, extension, duration, or freedom. He died to show us that God is good because he takes responsibility for evil, because he accepts our imperfections, because he loves us more than he hates sin.

Jesus’ atonement is the center of our religion. His gift to us of eternal spirit, eternal element, and celestial glory; of spirit birth, mortal birth, and the resurrection; of justification, sanctification, and glorification is the greatest of all the gifts: the gift of eternal life. Giving us this gift constitutes his grace and his gospel. Such ideas are rarely the focus of popular Mormonism, and for this reason a discussion of the Mormon theology of grace requires careful groundwork.

Orthodox Christianity and Mormonism both maintain that God originally made Adam and Eve in his perfect image, but they fell from this perfect state. In order to close the resulting breach between God and humanity, they and their posterity needed to be reclaimed or saved. Christians seem always to have found in both the Old and New Testaments this message that something must be done to bring about the salvation of humanity. Since the fall of humanity resulted from a particular act, it seems only consistent and reasonable that its redemption requires a particular act as well.

But what act? What must be done? Possible answers range across a spectrum from those minimizing human involvement and maximizing the role of the divine to others suggesting the reverse. Since the fall of humanity was brought about by the free act of the first perfect [p.118]beings, Adam and Eve, some Christians believe that salvation from the Fall can result only from the free act of yet another perfect being, Jesus Christ. Under this theory the involvement of ordinary humans—the posterity of Adam and Eve—is minimal. Humans are presented as cosmically powerless with little input into either the negative dynamic bringing about the Fall or the positive dynamic bringing about the Redemption. On the opposite end of the spectrum, other Christians believe that Adam and Eve are only representatives of all males and females. Each is created “good” rather than “evil” and is free to err (sin) and to change for the better (repent) and thus is primarily responsible for learning what pleases God and for doing it. Under such a theory the involvement of God in salvation is minimized, human involvement maximized. Between these extremes are theories variously balancing the influence of the human and the divine in the salvation process. What we are describing here, of course, is a spectrum bounded by the most extreme formulations of salvation by divine grace and of salvation by human works.

The conflict between grace and works has traditionally plagued Catholicism and Protestantism and to a lesser extent Mormonism. To many moderns these disputes seem silly, like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Why, we ask, would people be willing to fight each other over grace and works? It strikes us as more sensible to worry about more concrete problems. How many inchoate liens can dance on the head of an interest in realty? Shall we have capitalism or communism? Individual freedom or social justice? Big government or small? Regulation or deregulation? Tax breaks for individuals or corporations? It is our belief, however, that the most basic human concerns change very little over time. At bottom our modern controversies over power and money are merely reassertions of the issues involved in the venerable old grace/works controversy: Is a person’s salvation an individual matter, as taught by Martin Luther? Or is it principally the concern of the priesthood and the church, as taught by the papacy?

These religious questions are very like their secular counterparts: Is a person more likely to find happiness on earth in a society that values individual initiative in a free market system? Or in a society that values the needs and wants of the community as distilled by experts in a system that is heavily or even totally regulated? Moreover, secular people go about seeking their answers to these questions in much the [p.119]same way that religious people do: by appeals to authority. In a religious context, people resort to the scripture or the priesthood, while in a political context, they resort to constitutions, statues, or legal precedent. Also, in the secular context, there are strict constructionists of law as well as true believers in the reliability of science and the knowledge of professionals just as, in a religious context, there are those who believe in the inerrancy of scripture or the infallibility of the priesthood. In a secular context, there are those who reject strict construction-ism and believe that constitutions, statues, and other such writings are subject to reinterpretation in light of new conditions and unforeseen circumstances and that the opinion of experts must be tempered by the concerns of lay persons just as, in a religious context, there are those who see scripture and religious leadership as but one source of truth—a source that must be balanced against such others as tradition, revelation, and experience. Our point is that the issues at the heart of the grace/works controversy, far from being irrelevant and immaterial, touch the very quick of our lives.

The stand any of us takes on these issues affects how we define justice, mercy, power, and happiness—the basic foundations of our social structures. This is so whether we think of salvation in spiritual terms as eternal happiness in another world or whether we think of it in secular terms as happiness here and now. If, for example, we believe that salvation, either temporal or eternal, depends on human works, then we are likely to reject divine or governmental intervention on grounds that each promotes complacency, postpones maturation, and encourages dependence and timidity in the weak and self-indulgence and tyranny in the strong. But if we believe in salvation by grace, we may object to ecclesiastical or political systems fostering competition, rewarding the rich and disadvantaging the poor, encouraging corporatism and legalistic observance of rules and regulations, or favoring the strong and arrogant over the weak and humble.

In Mormonism the conflict between grace and works has two primary manifestations. The first arises solely within Mormonism. The second arises between Mormonism and fundamental Christianity. The controversy within Mormonism focuses on a conflict between the salvation doctrine in Mormon scripture and the doctrine promoted by the Mormon ecclesiastical institution. Mormon scripture teaches salvation by grace, while the ecclesiastical institution throws its weight behind self-reliance, self-help, self-atonement, and self-salvation. This [p.120]ecclesiastical commitment can be seen in requirements for church attendance, family home evenings, genealogical research, temple attendance, tithing, and conformity to the sex and leadership role models defined by the church.

The second Mormon manifestation of the grace/works conflict arises between Mormonism and fundamentalist Christian groups. These groups insist that because the Mormon church ignores or denigrates grace, Mormons are not Christians. In response to these attacks, some Mormons counter-attack with the argument that salvation by grace is simply a Christian heresy (McConkie 1984; Ensley). Others argue that Mormons believe people are saved by grace but only after they have done all that they can do. Yet other Mormons, ourselves included, argue that Mormonism is founded on the doctrine of salvation by grace and that the present works-oriented posture of the ecclesiastical institution is simply mistaken.

That Mormon scriptures teach the doctrine of salvation by grace has been amply demonstrated by a number of Mormon. writers. In her article, “Toward a Mormon Concept of Original Sin,” Janice Allred argues that Mormonism does not reject the doctrine of original sin, although it differs with the traditional interpretation of the Fall. She further shows that Mormonism gives three answers to the question, “Why is sin inevitable?” First, conflicts arise among the commandments making it impossible to obey some without, disobeying others. A classic example arises when one’s personal beliefs appear to conflict with what priesthood authorities are commanding. The church requires service in the armed forces, but an individual may be a conscientious objector; the church encourages marriage, but an individual may not be so inclined.

The second reason why sin is inevitable, according to Allred, follows from human finitude, egocentricity, and ignorance, which impair our ability to see choices clearly or foresee their consequences. A priesthood leader excommunicates an unrepentant sinner only to discover that the excommunication alienates from the church the sinner’s religiously faithful wife and children. This leader’s finitude keeps him from foreseeing the evil consequences of what he considers a priesthood duty.

The third reason for the inevitability of sin is the solidarity or interrelatedness of all humanity, which makes it impossible to put the blame for a particular wrong exclusively on one individual. As Allred points out, “no one is ever totally responsible for what he does in the sense that his decision or action is the only causative factor in his choice. [p.121]There are always many reasons for a choice and many of these may be beyond the control of the principal agent” (Allred, 14-17). Thus Allred concludes that not only does Mormonism accept a concept of original sin, it also admits that sin is statistically and theoretically inevitable due to the essential lack of perfection in the human condition.

In another article, “Understanding the Scope of the Grace of Christ,” Donald Olsen demonstrates that Mormon scripture not only accepts the doctrine of humanity’s fallen condition but also teaches that “no law, not even the law of Moses, provides a way to remove the effects of sin” (cf. 2 Ne. 2:5). This does not mean the law is useless. The law, says Olsen, “brings an awareness of and responsibility for our sins and errors,” and the law of Moses additionally provided “a foreshadowing of Christ,” who was to “redeem man from sin” (cf. Mos. 16:14-15).

Of course, as Olsen states, a “misplaced devotion to the law” and works can “sever us from the grace of Christ.” He adds, “The scriptures seem to categorically exclude works as a means of obtaining forgiveness and reconciliation.” This point is made by Paul in Romans (4:2-8), where he also argues that we cannot both be saved by works and by grace (11:6). Good works are valuable within the human context, but they cannot be used or relied upon to “actuate a relationship with God.” Olsen provides a lucid discussion of the concept of justification, a word translated from the Greek dikaiosis, referring to the imputation or “attribution of Christ’s righteousness to the undeserving sinner so that he appears righteous to God” (cf. 4:6, 22-25). In other words, because “Christ has fully paid for past sins… the justified sinner is not accountable for them” if that sinner has faith in Christ, repents, is baptized, and receives the gift of the Holy Ghost. However, the ordinances are not in themselves “good works.” They are the means by which we ritually reenact Christ’s saving work while rejecting the salvific efficacy of all human works. And as Olsen states, “baptism cannot be done by oneself. The candidate must receive this ordinance from God’s priesthood holder,” another symbolic repudiation of the efficacy of self-atonement.

Olsen also discusses the meaning of sanctification, which refers to “a state of holiness or righteousness in behavior and thought.” He shows that this state is “attained through the grace of Christ.” Olsen further shows that salvation by grace refers not only to the gift of the resurrection from the dead but also to the gift of the redemption from sin. The famous Book of Mormon phrase that “it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23) does not mean we are saved after we have [p.122]met all the requirements. It means we are saved in spite of ourselves, and our own best efforts. Works are the product of grace; they are a spiritual gift. They do not serve as prerequisites to grace or salvation (Olsen, 20-24).

Such arguments demonstrate that in Mormon scripture the doctrine of grace corresponds to traditional Protestant salvation theory. However, some Mormon writers go further and show that Joseph Smith expanded this traditional grace concept. In “I Am Not Under the Law,” J. Frederic Voros, Jr., demonstrates that Joseph Smith in his revision of the Book of Romans did not reject Paul’s view of grace but boldly amplified it. Among his examples Voros cites the King James translation of the scripture: “Therefore being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Voros shows how this verse is changed in Joseph Smith’s revision: “Therefore being justified only by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Thus ”justified freely” becomes for Joseph Smith “justified only.” As Voros observes: “if ‘freely‘ shuts the door on the role for works, ‘only’ locks it.”

In “Beyond Orthodoxy: Joseph Smith’s Amplified Doctrine of Grace,” Daniel Rector argues that Joseph Smith expanded the scope of Christ’s grace by revealing the following doctrines: (1) mortality as a probationary state is a gift given out of Christ’s grace; (2) we demonstrate our willingness to please God not by human works but by ritual ordinances revealed by his grace; (3) mortals who reject Christ will not go to hell but to lesser glories, which exist because of the grace of Christ; (4) young children are not accountable for their sins because of the grace of Christ; (5) those who die in ignorance of the gospel or without a knowledge of the law or of their sins are spared the demands of justice because of the grace of Christ; and (6) exaltation in the highest kingdom does not depend upon works but upon one’s growth from “grace to grace” until one attains the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ.

In spite of these scriptural and critical evidences, those in the Mormon ecclesiastical structure, influenced by the teachings of progressive Mormons, tend to ignore the doctrine of salvation by grace. The progressive school has for many years asserted that Mormonism is an antidote to such orthodox Christian concepts as God’s transcendence, human depravity, and salvation by grace. Adherents to the progressive school have been powerful voices in the Mormon intellectual community. And although a number have been criticized by Mormon leaders for their liberalism, they have nevertheless been effective in re-defining [p.123]Mormon theology in favor of salvation by works. In doing this they assert that Joseph Smith’s major contribution to Christianity was his teaching that humans and God are of the same race and that humanity principally by its obedience to the commandments or by its achievements can become godlike.

These ideas seem to echo and reinforce popular twentieth-century notions that people are innately good, that the doctrines of original sin and the fallen nature of humanity are leftover bits of fallacy from the dark ages, and that in truth we humans have all the authorization and power we need to improve ourselves and the world through our own unaided efforts. Thus Mormon progressives have successfully re-interpreted Joseph Smith’s complex teachings in humanistic terms and have made of him an early exponent of self-atonement, self-reliance, self-improvement, and social progress. Progressive Mormons dismiss Joseph Smith’s grace-affirming views in the Book of Mormon and the inspired version of Romans as examples of his early religious notions, which he later rejected for the more mature, progressive, and humanistic views of his Nauvoo period.

Going further progressive Mormonism has argued that the doctrine of salvation by grace is false because it contradicts the idea of free agency. If we are saved by God’s divine act of grace, then all human decisions and actions would necessarily be unimportant, and we would have no control over our destiny. This idea, progressives assert, contradicts Joseph Smith’s teaching that humans are not created out of nothing but are eternal beings just as God is. They are not dependent upon God for their existence or their salvation, because they are beings of free will, who were created “good” and who have the innate power to make themselves perfect.

We have several objections to this humanistic re-interpretation. First, although Mormonism makes it clear that we have always existed as beings co-eternal with God, we find nothing in the teachings of Joseph Smith or Mormon scripture establishing that humans as eternal beings have been eternally self-aware or aware of moral choices. As we have already shown, certain scriptures suggest that as pre-mortal intelligences, we were once part of God, who liberated us from this state and gave us a sphere in which to actualize our free choices.

But even if this were not true, even if we were always self-aware, free, and morally responsible beings, there is nothing in the scripture or the teachings of Joseph Smith establishing that we were initially perfect or “good” or even inclined to do “good” or that we always possessed [p.124]the innate power to perfect ourselves. Joseph Smith in his King Follett discourse did indeed advance the concept of human eternality but only to discredit the orthodox Christian teaching that we were created out of nothing. He never discredited the concepts of human sinfulness, human dependence on God for salvation, or salvation by grace. And even if Joseph Smith believed that humans are essentially “good,” he never denied the fall of humanity with all of its dire consequences. In fact a revelation containing one of the earliest renditions of the theme of human eternality also reaffirms the doctrine of salvation by grace: “And God, having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38). We believe Joseph Smith did oppose the concepts of predestination and the irresistibility of grace, arguing that humans must choose God before they can receive his saving grace, but such opposition does not argue against grace itself, only against determinism.

This leads to our second point. Exponents of progressive Mormonism argue that the doctrine of grace contradicts Joseph Smith’s teachings on free agency and human responsibility and inevitably supports predestination. This argument is unpersuasive because determinism is not tied exclusively to the idea of grace. It fits into the idea of works too. Similarly free will can be espoused by grace advocates or works advocates. Works advocates can argue that because we are free and responsible for choosing and doing good rather than evil, the burden is on us to be obedient and freely achieve the righteousness which will please God and earn us exaltation in his kingdom. But grace advocates can argue that freedom itself is a gift of God, a manifestation of his grace. We were made free so that we could voluntarily accept God’s gift of salvation by grace.

The converse is also true. Works advocates can reasonably argue that we are determined and that our works, good or evil, are not in our control but are products of environment and heredity. Similarly grace advocates can argue (and historically have argued) that God predestined some for salvation and others for damnation and that his grace is prevenient, irresistible, and unshakable. Thus a doctrine of grace does not favor determinism any more than does a doctrine of works.

Our third point relates to our second. Though works advocates see themselves as champions of human freedom, in practice their views tend to promote religious intolerance and rigidity. For those who believe in salvation by works, the question of which works to do and which to avoid becomes critically important. This concern leads [p.125]naturally to the promulgation of rules and regulations, punishments and rewards defining which works to do and which to shun. When these laws become calcified in a religious institution, the result is not freedom as one might suppose but a rigid religious legalism, a modern Pharisaism, a holier than thou, my-works-are-better-than-thine attitude. An emphasis on human achievement also leads to an elitism of achievers, which rivals the elitism of the elect.

Our fourth point concerns the institutional church. Although the church has demonstrated considerable resistance to intellectual trends of all kinds, it has fallen prey to progressive Mormonism’s salvation-by-works position at least in part because this doctrine tends to lend power and importance to the ecclesiastical structure. It reinforces the church’s role as definer of good and bad attitude and behavior in every department of life from sex to parenting, diet, doctrine, economics, politics, and social attitudes. In short salvation by works feeds the church machine, empowering it to reward the “faithful” and disenfranchise the “rebellious.” And this results in the syndrome of arrogance and despair we have mentioned before. This is one of the reasons why the grace/works controversy persists. When people despair of their futile efforts to perfect themselves through works, they become disenchanted with legalistic Mormonism and its institutional rigidity. They hunger for inner spiritual life, which cannot be satisfied by an ecclesiastical structure dedicated to making its members conform rather than allowing them to experience contact with God. In such a pressure cooker, some turn away somewhat from the institution and begin to privatize their religion, seeking comfort in scripture, family, and networks of like-minded friends. Ironically, the emphasis of the institution on the institution inevitably leads some individuals to reject the institution, just as the emphasis on works inevitably leads either to arrogance or to the despair that sometimes brings people finally to believe in the grace of God.

Our fifth point concerns the claim that Joseph Smith is the source of progressive Mormonism. The argument has been made that Joseph Smith espoused grace in his early years but later, especially in Nauvoo, gave it up in favor of a more “positive” view of humanity. Superficially this position seems credible, but on investigation it proves illusory. This was demonstrated by J. Frederic Voros in his article, “Was the Book of Mormon Buried With King Follett.” There Voros provides strong evidence that Joseph Smith in his later years never abandoned his concept of salvation by grace alone. As Voros observes, if Joseph Smith had believed that salvation depended upon human works, he would likely have [p.126]encouraged people to do good works in traditional terms (Voros 1987b). But since Joseph Smith believed that he was not under the law but under grace and that what was wrong under the law was no longer wrong under grace, he was free to advance ideas about sex and marriage which contradicted traditional moral concepts. No one who thinks of Joseph Smith as the author of progressive Mormonism has yet explained how or why Joseph Smith could or would have been promulgating humanist views at the same time he was immersed in a magic-religious world view (Quinn 1987), when he was in the throws of developing the mystical temple ritual, and when he was privately teaching and practicing celestial marriage.

Our sixth point is that the doctrine of grace is not as some have argued opposed to good works. Paul, considered the most ardent ancient advocate for this teaching, exhorts his readers to pray (Rom. 15:30), to succor the needy (16:1-2), to avoid fornication ( 1 Cor. 5:1), to avoid covetousness, extortion, and idolatry (v. 10), to avoid fraud (7:5), to have faith, hope, and charity (13), to be of one mind and live in peace (2 Cor. 13:11), to avoid the works of the flesh, such as witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, and revellings (Gal. 5:20-21), and to cultivate the works of the Spirit such as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, and to live and walk by the spirit of God (vv. 22-25).

The works condemned by Paul and other grace advocates are works people claim can earn God’s favor and secure to them discharge of their guilt and sin. What is rejected is the theory that humans can self-atone, self-justify, and self-sanctify. Within the world view of grace, good works are the effect of God’s salvation not the cause of it. Salvation cannot be earned. It is free. This does not mean that it can be attained without effort but rather that no human can pay God anything equivalent to the gift of salvation.

But what of the teaching that we shall be judged by our works? This teaching has unfortunately been misunderstood. Scripture warns that if we do not accept the grace of Christ, we will be judged by our works. Our choice is simple: to be judged by our works and merits or to be judged by the works and merits of Jesus Christ. This is the burden of Alma’s discourse to his son Corianton in the Book of Mormon. “It is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works,” says Alma (Al. 41:3). Under aegis of divine justice “all men that are in a state of nature… in a carnal state, are in [p.127]the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity” (v. 11). And because of divine justice, “there is a law given, and a punishment affixed” (42:22). This punishment will be meted out to all those whose works fall short of the perfection of Christ. But, says Alma, though “justice exerciseth all his demands,” there is something else: “mercy claimeth all which is her own” (v. 24). Then Alma makes his point: “thus none but the penitent are saved” (ibid.). And who are the penitent? Alma explains: “those who partake of the waters of life freely” (v. 27). The “waters of life” are his symbol for “the plan of mercy,” which “could not be brought about except an atonement should be made” in which “God himself atoneth for the sins of the world … to appease the demands of justice” (v. 15). Hence for Alma all of our works good and bad condemn us before divine justice. The choice then is between our works and God’s works, between our human righteousness and God’s divine righteousness. It is only if we reject Christ’s grace that we will be judged for our works.

But if good works cannot qualify people for salvation, what can? The answer was given by Jesus. At that time people believed pleasing God meant conforming to the whole of the law of Moses with its specific ethical, spiritual, ritual, and dietary requirements. Jesus’ answer contravened this teaching. Jesus brought to closure salvation by law and initiated salvation by love. We believe the Gospel of John, although compiled late in the first century, contains the most mature expression of Christ’s teachings on this point. Christ introduces this change in soteriologies with the phrase “A new commandment I give to you.” This commandment would not only replace the previous commandments. It was meant to circumscribe them, absorb them, and supersede them. Christ stated: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 14:34-35, New Annotated Oxford Bible).

Then Christ explains, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (v. 15). This statement has been misinterpreted, especially among Mormons, to mean that if we love Christ we will show it by strictly adhering to all the scriptural and church rules and regulations. But in context this admonition means something quite different: the very act and attitude of loving Christ constitutes keeping his commandments. The same point was made by Jesus when he affirmed that the greatest commandment was to love God and the next to love one’s neighbor unconditionally. Upon these commandments hung all the law and the prophets. In other words his requirement to love God and [p.128]humanity embraced and superseded all the other commandments, which are derived from this admonition about love. Christ clarifies this teaching in John: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word” (v. 23). In other words if we love Christ unconditionally, we shall by this act of love be keeping Christ’s new commandment. Then he says, “he who does not love me, does not keep my words” (v. 24). In other words no matter what good works we do, we will not be keeping Christ’s commandments if we do not love him. Salvation is not predicated on the commandments to do works but on the commandments to be full of divine love. “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9). And again, “this is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you” (v. 11). “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (v. 14). “This I command you, to love one another” (v. 17).

But how can mortals love as God loves? Jesus answers, “I am the true vine. … you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-5). His apostles then ask, How do we abide in you and you in us? Jesus replies that he will soon depart from them (John 16), but he prays that they may be one in his Spirit (John 17). He promises to leave them his Spirit, which will fill them with divine love. Again it is not good works but the divine love of God which is the prime requisite for salvation. This love is not a product of human effort or emotion; it is a gift of the spirit. Paul explains that karitas or charity is the greatest of all the gifts (1 Cor. 13:13). The Book of Mormon similarly admonishes: “Wherefore … pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that you may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ, that ye may become the [children] of God, that when he shall appear we shall be like him” (Moro. 7:48).

Our seventh and final point is that the salvation by works view misperceives what God requires of us. At the heart of Judeo-Christianity, in our view, is the concept that human beings were made in God’s image, but after the fall, this was no longer completely true. In Jesus’ time people believed that to correct this distorted image individuals had to conform to God’s law. They emphasized outward cleanliness and appearance rather than inward holiness. Christ reversed this emphasis. He taught that God is a being of divine, unconditional love and that in order to be recreated in God’s divine image, people must have planted in them the same divine unconditional love God has for humanity. [p.129]Thus, matching God’s divine image is not a matter of outward appearance, but of inward light and love and holiness. This is why the gospel teaches that, to be conformed to God’s image, people must be born of the spirit, be recreated from above, so they may receive the spiritual gift of divine love so that they may love others as he loved them first. For this reason Joseph Smith taught that “until we have perfect love we are liable to fall” (TPJS, 9). And as late as 1843, Joseph Smith stated that at the time of the Fall, each human being did not completely lose the image of God “but his character still retaining the image of his maker Christ who is the image of man [and] is also the express image of his Fathers person. … And through the atonement of Christ and the resurrection and obedience in the Gospel we shall again be conformed to the image of his Son Jesus Christ, then we shall have attained to the image glory and character of God” (WJS, 231).

Mormonism teaches not a different gospel but a restored gospel. In Mormonism salvation is by grace alone. It is brought about by Christ’s free, sacrificial act through which he assumed our sins and imperfections and imputed to us his own righteousness. The heart of the gospel is Christ in our hearts. To be saved means to accept the crucifixion in ourselves of all our wasted expectations of human perfection and to be filled with the Holy Ghost, to be freed from the fetish of justice, to be imbued with mercy, to have power to love and to embrace the world and its people in their imperfections even as Christ did, and, by that act, to be sanctified beyond the evil of the world and be remade in a new likeness and a new aspect, the matchless image of the Most High.