Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Faith and Works

Another common point of contention between Mormons and other Christian religions is the nature of the balance between faith (or grace) and works. The Christians say to us, “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.” -Eph 2:8-9

And we say back to them: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” -James 2: 17

And the problem is that we mormons tend to forget that we can do all the good works that we want, but we’ll never be good enough to make it back to heaven, that’s why we need the Lord’s Grace. And the Christian world tends to forget that Jesus wanted everyone to be “Doers of the word, not hearers only”.

So, with that in mind, I recently noticed some interesting quirkiness in a couple of bits of religious pop culture.

One is the recently produced children’s story called “The Parable of the Bicycle”, and another is a number of CD’s currently out on the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) market, particularly DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” CD.

The “Bicycle” story is an adaptation of the story that forms the basis of the book “Believing Christ”. It talks about a little girl who wants a bike. Her dad says, “Save as much as you can, and we’ll see about the rest”. So, she does, but in the end falls hopelessly short of the amount needed for the bike. And her dad buys the bike anyway. The comparison is made with the atonement. No matter how hard we try, we can’t make it alone. But Jesus steps in and makes up the difference. The story has a very strong tone of “believe, and everything will be OK”. Which is a very orthodox Christian approach to the gospel. But the book is written by and published by Mormons.

And there are several songs by DC Talk on this CD that talk about how important it is to be kind to people and treat them well, and help them and act like Christians instead of just claiming to be forgiven. Which, to me, sounds a lot like emphasizing works, which is a very common Mormon approach to the gospel.

The reality is, of course, not so polarized. We do need to follow Christ’s teachings. We do need to do good. We do need to live well. But we also need to put our faith in the Lord, and not try to do it alone. Remember: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” 2 Ne. 4: 34, (Book of Mormon)

I guess, in a lot of ways, we Mormons and Orthodox Christians aren’t so different after all, eh? Shhh… Don’t tell…

Mark Hansen


  1. That's something I've had to explain at work quite a bit. They understand when they'll listen. It's getting them to really listen that's the trick sometimes.

  2. I've had this discussion before, most memorably with a friend who was a Baptist seminary student. Her point was that, according to their belief, it's doctrinally unsound to state that works are required. She followed that up, however, by saying that converstion to Christ and acceptance of his grace results in us naturally wanted to be obedient to his word. They just don't think a church has any business stating so.

    I'm paraphrasing months of conversation, but that was the impression with which I was left. I think many Mormons and many "mainstream" Christians would be surprised at the similarities between ourselves... much of it boils down to semantics.

  3. I always find these discussions to be alternately fascinating and fruitless. When you boil everything down, the true differences between "us" and "them" are the priesthood authority, temple blessings, and our understanding of the true nature of God. After that it's pretty much just semantics.

    Does that make me anti-semantic? Maybe I should bring that up in my next recommend interview...

  4. I enjoy your posts SO much! These are topics I have discussed with both of my best friends, both born again Christians.
    Both are interesting gals, both have knowledge of the scriptures, however both are very "instructed" by their Pastors and there is a concrete block that has been built that really is difficult to break through.
    One, however, is willing to discuss, and even be challenged. The other has made the statement: "What happens if I do read it, do the whole promise thing and get the answer that it is right? It would shake my foundation and everything I have believed up to this point. I can't take that risk. I will not read or discuss it." Her biggest concern is that "mormons" make God logical and she can't jump on board with that.

    I still have hope.



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