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 preceding is a scripture that we, as Mormons, are quite familiar with. It is usually the first salvo in any faith/works discussion and it is taken to mean that we have to do all we can to in this life to attain Eternal Life. However, I have, as of late, come to an additional conclusion of what this scripture means. And it all lies on the premise of the moment vs. the eternities.
To get what I mean, let’s start off with an example using the “be perfect” scriptures:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (3 Nephi 12:48)
These two scriptures are definitely not meant to be accomplished in this life since there is nothing we can ever do to make ourselves perfect. Even with repentance, we will still make all kinds of mistakes which will make us ineligible for perfection. However, after all is passed and we’re at the moment of resurrection, well, that’s when we will be made perfect but with one caveat; if we qualify. So these scriptures are all about what out potential is and that ultimate goal that we are all expected to work towards.
But then what about the moment? When I read the scriptures, I look to see if what I’m reading has a narrower meaning than at first reading. To illustrate, let’s use the Atonement:
With the Atonement, all mankind will be resurrected. But it also has a more personal level to it. So when I read about this subject, I also look at how far down the funnel I can go; from the broad eternal perspective to the personal. It is the same way when I look at commandments and blessings:
Blessings are for the eternities, for my life and right now, at this moment. This is how I view the grace of God and his tender mercies; there is an eternal, a life and a right now level to it.
Well, ok, what is grace? In the online Webster’s dictionary, grace is defined as “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.” I looked around other Christian websites and I found the same definition. Additionally, on one website I found it in acronym form:
I don’t know how I feel about that, but I’ll continue. The LDS Bible Dictionary has a bit more:
“It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by His atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.
Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the Fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’” (LDS Bible Dictionary: Grace, emphasis added)
So, we start at the top of the funnel and see that we need grace to be saved because we are unable to save ourselves. But what we miss in these definitions and explanations and what I feel that we, as an LDS church culture, are guilty of is looking too far into the future, worrying and trying to gain blessings for the eternities, while we fail to realize that these blessings, such as the grace of God, are meant to bless us this very moment, if not this very second. We get hung up on the “after all we can do” when it comes to the end of life and not “after all we can do” when it comes to right now.
I’ll give a couple of examples in my own life that I recently shared to illustrate. When I was rebaptised, I experienced spiritual experiences that was, and still is, unequaled to any other spiritual experience I have ever experienced. No, the heavens did not open and I did not see a choir of angels singing when I was pulled up out of the water. But I felt the companionship of my Father in Heaven closer than I have ever felt in my whole life. Nothing compared to what I felt that evening. For nine years or so I did all I could do to be prepared and worthy for rebaptism and because I qualified and received that sacred ordinance, I was blessed for it in an immense way.
Conversely, a couple of weeks ago I had a horrible day. I woke up, got ready for the day, said my prayer, read my scriptures and then it all went downhill from there. By the time the day was over, I had my boss upset at me, clients that were demanding, my work computer that was not cooperating, I learned about some bad news, and many, many other things from that day and that week that just kept piling up higher and higher. Everything went wrong. By the time my day was over, I was frustrated, I hated me, I hated everyone, I hated my situation and I just plain and simple hated my life. So that evening, as I was ready to lie down, I said my evening prayer and I vented all my pain and frustrations to my Father in Heaven. I didn’t feel any better when I was done but I went ahead and lied down in bed, albeit in tears, because it was just way too much for me to take at that moment. After lying there for less than a minute, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and peace was spoken to my soul. I went from pained and frustrated to relaxed and fell asleep. I did all I could do at that moment and that was to exercise a little faith that my Father in Heaven would listen. He did and I was blessed with his grace.
One of the best talks I’ve heard and read about Grace given by a General Authority is from the April 1993 General Conference talk: “Receiving Divine Assistance through the Grace of the Lord” by Gene R. Cook. In his talk, he says:
“Yes, works alone cannot bring that divine gift, but they are a key condition upon which the gift is received. (See 2 Ne. 10:23–25.) “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Ne. 25:23.)
Thus, unless one has done all in his own power, he cannot expect the grace of God to be manifest. What a glorious principle to understand: the Lord’s assistance to us—whether we have strong faith or weak faith; whether a man, a woman, or a child—is not based just on what we know, how strong we are, or who we are, but more upon our giving all that we can give and doing all that we can do in our present circumstance. Once one has given all he can, then the Lord, through His grace, may assist him. (See D&C 123:17.)”
Weak or strong faith, it doesn’t matter. It’s about what we have at the moment. At my rebaptism I had a strong faith that what I was doing was necessary and I was blessed for it. When I had that difficult day, my faith took a beating but I summoned just enough to say a prayer and I was blessed for it. There are thousands of examples that are in between these two levels but I hope that you get the point of what I learned. Sure, look to the eternities. That type of perspective puts this life into its correct focus. But don’t concentrate so much on look ahead that you miss the lessons and the blessings of the moment. It is exercising what faith we can at these good and bad points in life that solidifies our testimony of a loving Heavenly Father who sacrificed his loving Son, Jesus Christ so that they can, through the loving power of the Holy Ghost, bless our lives and give us grace so that we can be empowered to not only get through life’s difficult times, but conquer them.