I have noticed that one of the images that is conjured up by those who are teaching false, and destructive doctrines about the atonement is the imagery that to get into heaven we need someone to pay the price. Since we can’t pay the price, then Christ paid the price. The bill now being settled, there is really nothing we need to do but show due gratitude and practice for our arrival.
D&C 19:15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
It is by the grace of God that we can become the sort of beings that can live in a celestial kingdom. God’s grace means nothing more nor less than God’s generous and merciful gifts. Those gifts that provide us greater spiritual strength and sight allow us to behave better than we could if left to our own devices.
D&C 130: 20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
By his works.
That is the first great lesson about how grace and works are related. We gain access to any spiritual blessing by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. We gain access to God’s grace by our works.
The second lesson is also plainly stated in the scriptures. If grace is going to save us at the judgement bar, then it had better come into play when we are judged. And how will we be judged?
From the Book of Mormon we read:
… must be brought to stand before God, to be judged of their works; (1 Nephi 15:33)
… all men shall be judged of their works (2 Nephi 9:44)
… they shall be judged, every man according to his works (Mosiah 3:24)
… stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body (Alma 5:15)
… stand before God, and be judged according to their works. (Alma 11:41)
… to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil. (Alma 11:44)
… stand before God to be judged according to their works (Alma 12:8)
… all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works. (Alma 33:22)
… stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds. (Alma 36:15)
… stand before God, and be judged according to their works. (Alma 40:21)
… men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life,
and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil… (Alma 41:3-4)
… they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works (Alma 42:23)
… all people, all kindreds, and all nations and tongues shall stand before God, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil (3 Nephi 26:4)
… be judged according to your works (Mormon 3:18)
… to be judged according to your works (Mormon 6:21)
If grace is going to save us, it had better affect our works. Because it is by our works that our final judgement will be made.
And indeed saving grace does affect our works. It flows to us conditionally based on our works, and in turn, it has power to transform our works.
That is the second great lesson about how grace and works are related. Grace which does not change our works has no power to save us at the judgement bar because the scriptures teach over and over that it is by our works that our final judgement will be made.
Some explicit examples of this can make a world of difference:
The light of Christ is a saving grace
The light of Christ is a merciful gift from God. Man has no power to impart it to himself, it is simply and generously given to him by God and is therefore part of the grace of God, for that is what God’s grace is: God’s merciful and generous gifts to his children.
Is the light of Christ a saving grace? Does it affect our works? Yes. It can hardly be overstated how crucial it is to our salvation. Without the light of Christ to guide us we would be little more than brute beasts regarding good and evil. The light of Christ is our conscience, it lets us know basic right from wrong. Without it all mankind would be completely adrift. Indeed, it is by grace we are saved, and the light of Christ is a saving grace.
So the light of Christ affects our works profoundly. Put differently, the grace of God affects our ability to even do the least righteous works.
But also, the more we hearken to the light of Christ, the more clearly we can discern it. With the additional light and spiritual strength we gain by learning to hearken to the light of Christ we are more capable of sensing the light of Christ, and also more strong in obeying it. So our access to this grace is conditional upon our obedience. The more we hearken to it, the more we can perceive it. The less we hearken, the less we sense it. In the New Testament we learn that some were so sexually immoral that it was as if they seared their conscience with a hot iron, giving way to homosexual acts. Our access to this grace is conditional upon our works.
So there is one example. The light of Christ is a saving grace. We could not possibly be saved without it. It profoundly affects our works. Our ability to gain the benefits of this grace is conditioned upon our works.
Forgiveness from sin
Another saving grace is the forgiveness of sins made possible by the atonement. This one is so familiar I will be brief. It is the one everyone already knows about. But without it, we could not possibly be saved. It is granted to us conditionally upon our works.
The Holy Ghost as a saving grace
And on what condition is that grace granted? It is granted conditionally upon our works.
And does that grace change our works? From the scriptural account we see that it fundamentally transforms them in a way that no amount of simple human good behavior can approach. Our ability to do God’s work and to stand firm in his truth is greatly magnified as we learn to receive the Holy Ghost.
The same is true of some measure of God’s own glory which Joseph Smith pointed out that Christ bestowed upon his disciples. To what end? That they could be one as he is one with the Father. That oneness is not within natural human realms. It requires the grace of God. But that grace is conditioned on our works, and it also fundamentally transforms them so that we may receive a good final judgement.
“The Savior surely intended to be understood by his disciples: and he so spake that they might understand him; for he declares to his Father, in language not to be easily mistaken, that he wanted his disciples, even all of them, to be as himself and the Father: for as he and the Father were one, so they might be one with them. And what is said in the 22nd verse is calculated to more firmly establish this belief, if it needs any thing to establish it. He says, And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one. As much as to say, that unless they have the glory which the Father had given him, they could not be one with them: For he says he had given them the glory that the Father had given him, that they might be one; or in other words, to make them one.” (Lectures on Faith, 7:13)
In the end, the grace of God is the only way that each member of the church can stand, as will be necessary for exaltation, before the judgment bar and say “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, and the Father and I are one.”