Don't Make the Fruit the Root
An important point in any discussion between Mormons and Christians is recognizing the different role each assigns good works. Are they part of the root system from which the tree (i.e. salvation) grows? In other words, are good works one of the causes of salvation as Mormonism teaches? Or are good works the fruit on the tree - the result of being saved, not contributing to salvation, as historic Christianity has always taught? These are not trivial questions. That’s apparent from the intensity these discussions generate. How one views good works makes all the difference – for time and for eternity.
The Bible clearly states they are a result of salvation. It makes this point in a number of different ways. First, it pointedly excludes them as a cause of salvation. “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known” (Romans 3:21). “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:5-6). Many other passages make the same point.
How then does it describe good works? As something only believers can do. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Good works are fruits of faith. For example, in John 15 Jesus tells his disciples they are clean through the word – v. 3. By abiding in him they will bring forth much fruit – v. 5. Notice the fruit doesn’t make them clean. Because they are clean they can bear much fruit.
A story is told about how, in ancient times, a man passed by a slave market where a girl was up for sale. He stopped and after spirited bidding, bought her. As she was brought to him, he told her: “I hate slavery. I bought you in order to release you. You are free.” In gratitude, she fell to her knees and said, “I will now use my freedom to serve you for the rest of your life.” According to the Bible, good works spring out after a person hears how Jesus has purchased them from the slavery of sin. They are expressions of gratitude for what God has done. I do good works not because I think they are a requirement I need to do in order to be accepted by God, but freely and joyfully because God has already accepted me in Jesus.
Probably no place says it better than Ephesians 2:8-10. Notice how it says we are not saved by good works, but are saved to do good works. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Keeping this distinction straight is vitally important. Mixing it up is tragic. There is a tremendous difference between a root and fruit – between cause and effect.