This is the title of a talk given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf at the April 2015 General Conference. When he gave it, he was a member of the First Presidency (a position higher than the 12 Apostles); thus, his talk carried great weight.
Some LDS missionaries and members share it with Christians to prove they believe in grace just like us. In many places, it does sound so Christian. Here are just a few excerpts:
The Savior’s Atonement cannot become commonplace in our teaching, in our conversation, or in our hearts. It is sacred and holy, for it was through this “great and last sacrifice” that Jesus the Christ brought “salvation to all those who shall believe on his name.”
I marvel to think that the Son of God would condescend to save us, as imperfect, impure, mistake-prone, and ungrateful as we often are. I have tried to understand the Savior’s Atonement with my finite mind, and the only explanation I can come up with is this: God loves us deeply, perfectly, and everlastingly. I cannot even begin to estimate “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height . . . [of] the love of Christ.”
Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God.
Brothers and sisters, we obey the commandments of God—out of love for Him!
It, however, only sounds Christian. Uchtdorf espouses classic Mormonism but does so subtly. This makes his article even more dangerous. Not only will it mislead many Christians, but it will also delude Mormons all the more into thinking they believe “just like us.” Because of this, it deserves a close look.
A Closer Look
The subtitle already shows that nothing has changed. It reads: “Today and forever God’s grace is available to all whose hearts are broken and whose spirits are contrite.” Notice how it limits God’s grace to be available to only those who meet the criteria of broken hearts and contrite spirits. Those words reflect David’s prayer in Psalm 51:17. David, however, placed them in the context of sacrifices given in response to God’s grace. Uchtdorf makes them criteria for receiving grace. In other words, he makes the result the cause.
Consider the classic example of Saint Paul’s conversion. God didn’t wait for Paul (then called Saul), the persecutor of the church, to have a broken spirit. On the contrary, he took the initiative and came to Paul in his grace. Only after Paul experienced God’s grace did he become contrite and broken.
Another telling aspect is how Uchtdorf defines grace. He says: “A powerful expression of that love is what the scriptures often call the grace of God—the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now into exalted beings of “truth and light, until [we are] glorified in truth and [know] all things.” He reflects the classic LDS definition of grace as an enabling power. But saving grace is not a power God implants in us; it is his unconditional love for us. This makes all the difference in the world. The LDS definition ends up making salvation dependent on how people use the power God gives them. (He spells this out in the sections “Grace Opens the Windows of Heaven” and “All We Can Do.”) The biblical definition, however, gives all credit to God and his grace-motivated actions on our behalf.
Another instructive section is “Grace Unlocks the Gates of Heaven.” The unstated premise behind the entire section is that grace allows us to return to God’s presence to be judged. In his widely-quoted BYU talk, Brad Wilcox put it this way: “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.” In other words, God’s grace gets us to the courtroom, but our works (obedience) determine our fate. In light of this understanding, this statement, “We cannot earn our way into heaven,” simply means that we can’t unlock heaven’s gates through our works.
In Mormonism, salvation is often equated with bodily resurrection. In Uchtdorf’s statement, “salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God,” he means that we didn’t earn bodily resurrection with our obedience. Although it sounds Christian initially, this salvation does not include eternal life with God. According to Mormonism, what we can do and earn is a place in the celestial kingdom where we will experience Heavenly Father’s presence for all eternity.
Biblical teaching is much more glorious. It teaches that God’s grace doesn’t just get us to the courtroom. It furnishes us with a perfect defense attorney in the person of Jesus (1 John 2:1). In grace, Jesus presents as evidence his perfect obedience. Furthermore, he places into evidence his cross where the debt of all our sins has already been paid in full. God’s grace doesn’t just open the gates of heaven; it gives us an air-tight case in Christ!
Further on, Uchtdorf refers to Jesus’ statement about the sinful woman in Luke 7:47. “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” This passage has troubled many Christians. It seems to be saying she was forgiven because she was so loving—that first she loved, and then in response, God forgave her. This is how Uchtdorf takes it.
The simple explanation is the words “for” or “because” don’t always describe the cause. For example, the statement: there must be fire for there is smoke. The smoke isn’t the cause of the fire. No, the smoke is evidence there is a fire. Likewise, the woman’s love isn’t the cause of God’s forgiveness. Rather it’s the evidence she is forgiven. Jesus taught the same lesson in the parable of the unforgiving servant recorded in Luke 18.
Finally, Uchtdorf talks about how our motivation for obeying is our love for God. Much of what he says sounds good. He tips his hand when he states, “This form of genuine love and gratitude will miraculously merge our works with God’s grace.” Mormonism is all about grace plus works in the matter of salvation. The Bible, however, emphasizes that we are saved by grace alone.
How Should We Respond?
In most cases, you won’t want to respond with such depth. We suggest you try to accomplish two goals with your response.
- Refute the main reason they shared the article with you, namely, as proof that they believe in grace as we do.
- Proclaim the brilliant message of God’s grace.
Both of these goals can be accomplished by focusing on the contrast between how LDS grace only gets us back into the Judge’s presence (unlocking the gates of heaven) with the biblical idea of grace supplying not only our defense attorney but also our defense! Christ’s obedience, not our obedience, determines our fate.
If you get into an in-depth conversation, you must point out the drastic differences in the definitions of grace and salvation. Just to review:
Bible: a characteristic of God – the unconditional and sacrificial love he shows us
Mormonism: an enabling power God gives us
Bible: equivalent to eternal life; living with God for all eternity in heaven
May the Lord bless you as you share the message of true grace!