Don't roll your eyes just yet sports fans. Sometimes we need to be very basic to communicate accurately. Two terms that constantly seem to be pitted against Mormons by our non-LDS friends and critics are Grace and Justification. It is often asserted that Mormons are dealing with a different vocabulary than the rest of Christianity. Well, if Christianity had a firmly defined set of meanings for all terms, it would make life easier. Sadly, there are many terms which are controversial, whether LDS or not. Because of a desire to move ahead discussing the differences in LDS and Calvinistic perspectives, I think it best I get some clarity of what Justification and Grace mean.
Justification, or to be Justified, has its roots in a Biblical word having to do with the legal status of a person. The Greek word dikaiosune and its cousin words (Strongs 1342-47) were used frequently by Paul and other New Testament writers, and is similar in meaning to righteousness, especially in a legal sense. So it lends itself very well to counter-positioning to the Hebrew Law (gr. Nomos) to illustrate the superiority of Christ to the Law of Moses.
The Atonement of Christ makes us right with God. Everyone is justified. But we retain the justification through our faithfulness. Everyone is therefore made righteous through Christ, but again that righteousness is retained only through obedience brought about by faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. So by justification we are taken back into the presence of God. Our ability to stay there depends upon our faith and actions towards obeying God. In the Book of Mormon we read:
Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection--Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. (
The ability to retain the state of grace in the presence of God and
Grace is an interesting component of Justification. Grace has many definitions and meanings, and the exact meaning is dependent upon context. For example, God’s gift of creation is an act of grace not specifically earned by any of us.
The most common understanding of Grace in New Testament times was within the system of reciprocal giving of the Oriental and Occidental cultures. It was an act of grace to give something one was not obligated to give. It was almost a technical term to dispense grace, such as by a king or benefactor: “a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill.” (See A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature; Third Edition, BDAG, 2000, U. of Chicago Press, entry Xaris, definition 2, page 1079, hereafter BDAG).
For example, by grace we are saved through faith, and not of the works of the Law of Moses. The fact the gift is given without obligation on the part of the giver, so it is not paid as a debt but as a gift, does not mean the giver cannot attach specific conditions or qualifications precedent and predicate to the gift.
Grace is generosity for something without merit. It is being given a Rolls Royce when all the money we have to pay with is $10. There may have been a for sale sign in the car window stating a price of $300,000. The seller took pity on the condition of the buyer, and grace was the difference. The gift is out of proportion and not earned, but that is not to say that there are not requirements to receive the gift. And he who gave the gift must still pay the cost of the gift, for to not do so would be theft and unjust. And even though the gift is given, it can be taken at any time should we violate the terms and conditions upon which the gift was given.
In the parable of the Kings Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1-14), all are invited to partake at the feast. Attendance at the actual wedding feast was Grace. Those to whom the servants (prophets and apostles) first went were the House of Israel. All were offered the invitation: They were justified. It allowed them to enter the Feast. Nothing was earned to get there. Responding to the calling is faith. The Wedding Garment is obedience. They had to come, and they had to be clothed in the wedding garment. The fact that all the people, good or bad, were invited and came means that all men are justified. Their obedience, including accepting Christ, was determinative in their salvation. For they were in the King’s Palace, but some could not stay. And Christ said this is how Heaven is.
While any parable can be pushed beyond its reasonable interpretive limits, it is hard to visualize a better word-canvas outlining the LDS doctrine of salvation. In the series of parables taught in Matthew 21-22, we see Christ describe the need for action and not just confession (21:28-32), the imminent giving of the channel of salvation to a new group because of the unrighteous works of the leaders of Israel (21:33-46), and the necessity of keeping the two great commandments. It is impossible to see how all of these teachings by Christ can be relevant if we believe God predestined some to salvation without regard to their worthiness. In the parable of the Wedding Feast, the Earthly actions of the invited determined whether they were worthy (22:8). Failing to respond, which is a lack of faith, disqualified Pharaseeic
I think from these definitions and passages, and comparing them to Paul’s specific teaching on the desire of God to save all men, and that Christ is the Saviour of all men, most of all those who believe,(1 Tim 2:4; 4:10) the New Testament destroys any sense that the atonement is limited to just a few people, or that God only wants to save a few of his children. The two verses in 1Timothy 2:4 and are especially devastating to any attempt to limit 1 Tim. 2:4 to any particular sub-group and avoid the clear and obvious meaning of the verse. I look forward to discussing these verses and similar ones in great depth.
For those who do not enjoy a deep look under the hood of the scriptures, the next little while may be a solution to that insomnia you have been struggling with. Otherwise, roll up your sleeves pseudo-scholars and jump in with both feet. Based on past experience with Leroy, I am betting we will have a lively discussion, and that it is unlikely he will give up as others do as we roll out facts. It is my blog, so I can’t go anywhere. Besides, it is my sense from meeting and discussing things with Leroy that he is sincere about his desire to develop a deeper understanding of both his faith, and the LDS view of these important subjects as well.
Let the games begin.