A mistake many Christians make is saying Mormonism is solely a works-righteous religion. Mormons talk about grace. Therefore, it is more accurate to call it a grace-plus religion. This is exemplified in a commonly quoted Book of Mormon passage, 2 Nephi 25:23: “for we know that is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.”
Being a grace-plus religion is still fatal as Romans 11:6 points out, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Making this point clearly to the missionaries, however, is a challenge. Here are a few illustrations which have proven helpful. Use them only if they make sense to you.
There was a young man who loved his wife very much. He wanted to do something very special for her birthday. He knew she loved wooden furniture. So he decided to surprise her by making her an exquisite wooden chest. For months he saved up money to buy some exotic wood. He was already good at working with wood but wanted to get better, so he secretly attended woodworking classes. Then he started making the chest in his friend’s garage. As he carefully cut the wood and nailed it together, he eagerly anticipated his wife’s delight. He spent many hours constructing the chest—routing out channels to insert various types of expensive wood, etc. Then he stained and polished it and polished it some more. After many months, the big day arrived. He could hardly contain his excitement as he led her by the hand into the room where the chest was prominently displayed. When she saw it, it was just as he expected. She was delighted. But then she did something unexpected. She went to her purse, got out $5, and handed it to him, wanting to pay him for it. You can well imagine how shattered he was and how angry this made him. There probably was no way she could have insulted him more.
That is how it is when we try to pay God for his wonderful gift of salvation. Whatever we do is so paltry. Even worse, it shows a total lack of appreciation for his gift. Instead of pleasing him, all such attempts anger him.
Imagine someone gives you a priceless painting—a Rembrandt. You greatly appreciate it, but you think it would look better if you painted a little flower in the corner. So you do. What have you done by adding the tiny flower? You have totally ruined the masterpiece. So also, when we add any of our imperfections to Christ’s perfect masterpiece of salvation. All we do is ruin it.
Picture God’s holiness as strong radiation, constantly radiating out from him. By its very nature, it destroys anything imperfect with which it comes into contact. God has given us a radiation suit perfectly made by Jesus to protect us. However, suppose you have worked hard on making your own suit. You realize Jesus’ suit is vastly superior, so you put it on. But you have worked so hard on your own suit that you decide to use just one glove you made. You walk into God’s presence only to be destroyed by his holiness. Your glove couldn’t protect you from the radiation of God’s holiness because it wasn’t perfect—it was flawed. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
No matter how little we rely on ourselves—maybe I just replace one finger on one glove—any tiny bit of reliance on self becomes a fatal flaw. Even the tiniest flaw in a radiation suit spells disaster. Neither does it matter what my motivation is. It could be prideful reluctance to give up what we worked so hard doing—it could be the thought that this is what God wants. It doesn’t matter—if we rely on, ever so slightly, what we have to do in order to live in God’s presence, we have a flawed radiation suit—and we will be destroyed by God’s holiness.