A question we frequently receive is:
“How do I respond when LDS say they are not saved by works?”
2 Nephi 25:23 in the Book of Mormon states:
“it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”2 Nephi 25:23, empasis added
Many Mormons say this verse doesn’t teach that salvation is based on grace and works. Some of the ways they try to explain away its clear message can only be described as bizarre.
If they try to water down the phrase “after all you can do”, wait until the next time you meet. When you visit with them again, tell them you were confused by their explanation, so you went to their website, churchofjesuschrist.org, to get a better handle on it. You were surprised by what you found because it didn’t support what they said last time.
When you say this, don’t make it sound like you are attacking them. Your attitude should be one more of puzzlement. Scratch your head figuratively. But don’t hesitate to say it. There are times when we need to show them what they say doesn’t jive with official church teaching.
Many Mormons don’t realize they are contradicting their church’s teaching because they don’t have a good handle on official LDS teaching. Showing them how their explanation (and often their personal beliefs) doesn’t line up with church teaching sometimes becomes the first crack in their foundation.
The following quote is especially useful because it is from one of the foundational manuals of the LDS Church, True to the Faith:
“The phrase, ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fulness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with Him”p. 77
The following are some examples of how this passage has been referenced in General Conferences. This is significant because General Conference addresses are often placed on the same level as Mormon scriptures.
One of their apostles, D. Todd Christofferson, said in October 2011:
“Second, repentance means striving to change. It would mock the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross for us to expect that He should transform us into angelic beings with no real effort on our part. Rather, we seek His grace to complement and reward our most diligent efforts (see 2 Nephi 25:23). Perhaps as much as praying for mercy, we should pray for time and opportunity to work and strive and overcome. Surely the Lord smiles upon one who desires to come to judgment worthily, who resolutely labors day by day to replace weakness with strength. Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving. Divine forgiveness and healing flow quite naturally to such a soul, for indeed ‘virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; [and] mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own’ (D&C 88:40).”
Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, said in October 2010:
“Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).”
Jorge F. Zeballos said in October 2009:
“Salvation and eternal life would not be possible if it were not for the Atonement, brought about by our Savior, to whom we owe everything. But in order for these supreme blessings to be effective in our lives, we should first do our part, ‘for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ Let us with faith, enthusiasm, dedication, responsibility, and love do all that is within our reach, and we will be doing all that is possible to achieve the impossible—that is, to achieve what for the human mind is impossible but with the divine intervention of our loving Father and the infinite sacrifice brought about by our Savior becomes the greatest gift, the most glorious of realities, to live forever with God and with our families.”
Turn the obstacle into an opportunity.
The key is to show them how their church leaders explain this verse. As stated above, sometimes illustrating that their personal beliefs don’t line up with official LDS teachings is the first crack in their foundation. So, when and if they try to explain away 2 Nephi 25:23, don’t see it as an obstacle.
See it as an opportunity to further the dialogue with them.