A popular Mormon illustration equates God’s grace with giving us piano lessons. The parable was told by Brad Wilcox, a BYU professor, in his now famous talk, “His Grace Is Sufficient.” It became so popular that he expanded it into a book entitled “Practicing for Heaven: The Parable of the Piano Lessons.”
Here is what Wilcox said. “Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice” (emphasis added).
The sentence in italics is key to understanding Wilcox’s point; something, however, many Christians fail to see because it is worded so subtly. The higher level of life he refers to is living in God’s presence in the celestial kingdom. Mormonism teaches that Christ’s atonement enabled everybody to return to God’s presence to be judged. Living with God for all eternity, however, depends on what a person does. Wilcox states this earlier in his original talk. “We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence to be judged. What is left to be determined by our obedience is how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and what degree of glory we plan on receiving.”
The bottom line is that in Mormonism, our works, not Jesus’ works, determine whether or not we will live eternally with God. Jesus purchased piano lessons for us, but we had better “practice, practice, practice.” The mother’s (and God’s) joy is seeing the child improve.
In keeping with the analogy, we can respond that Jesus didn’t purchase piano lessons for us; he made us concert pianists! I’m referring to our wonderful new status in Christ. In Christ, God sees us as saints, as righteous, and as holy people. Not only has Christ paid for all our sins, but he also covers us with his righteousness. He credits us with his perfection. Because of Jesus, we are already worthy to live with God for all eternity.
This holds true even when we don’t “practice.” Our sins don’t nullify our wonderful status. Only unbelief does that.
We indeed want to express our appreciation to God by trying to lead a God-pleasing life. But trying to lead a God-pleasing life has no bearing on our eternal destiny. Whenever the topic is heaven, the only thing which counts is Jesus’ completed work for us. Contrary to Wilcox’s book title, we don’t have to practice for heaven. In God’s sight, because of Jesus, we are already concert pianists.