Graceful Faith, Willful Works

This post was first published at Nine Moons, where you can go and read comments and post your own.

My wife and I have 5 kids. Our daughter (one of them, not the one who has a 5-month-old son) is serving a mission in England now and despite being busy she writes faithfully enough. As she was growing up, we would have discussions around the dinner table during long dinners, family home evenings and any other time the family was together. We talked about everything. So it’s natural that she’s telling us about things.

One of the things she tells us about are the people she runs into who are “saved”. She meets them often, because these people come and tell her she’s on a highway to hell. Her analysis of their spiritual state is much more upbeat. She believes that they have actually had a strong spiritual experience. She can relate to that, because she’s had spiritual experiences, too. So she’s asked more about it to understand it better. The answers have caused her to ponder her own relationship to the Savior and what she can do to become more like him. See, those people say that it is impossible. She can’t do a thing.

That, of course, is a common theme in talking about religion. It had started when Paul was writing his epistles. We all have heard that we are saved by Faith/Grace, not Works. The most common counters to that are the passages of James saying that faith without works is dead (for example, James 2:17-24) and Nephi saying that we are saved by grace after all we can do (in 2 Nephi 25:23). The latter has been taken to mean that grace is applied when we have exhausted our efforts – we don’t save ourselves by our own effort (works), but we have the opportunity to show faith and thus be worthy of grace.

Faith is also said to be a gift from God. The protestant theology has dwelt much upon this issue and more has been written on predestination and election than most other subjects. It is natural, as it is somewhat confusing to think that God picks one person to have faith, and, thus, to be saved, and another not to. On what grounds? Latter-Day Saint teachings diverge on this point from common protestant views by holding that faith can be cultivated (see for example Alma 32:21-41). Alma talks about nourishing the seed for it to grow into a tree, which yields the fruit of eternal life. In this view faith is an act of will. We excercise our free agency by accepting the words of Christ as our guide, and as we act accordingly, we receive confirmation that we are on the right path (for example John 7:17).

A little while ago we stumbled on the idea that, as well as faith being dead without works, so also works without faith are dead. This is not a new idea, I think, but it somehow crystallized in my heart so that I could see it clearly. Faith is a great motivator. Think about the volunteer fireman or someone paying their own way while saving starving children or helping victims of hurricanes, earthquakes and the like. A favorite story of doing things with faith is Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan on their way to the Promised Land (see Joshua 3:9-17). As the bearers of the Ark of the Lord, we too have to get our feet wet before miracles can happen.

But faith can also be seen in everyday, little things. Pick up the Scriptures. Pick up the discarded wrapper and put it in a trash can. Help someone find their way in the city. Any little thing you can do to make the world a little brighter, better place. It may not stop global warming, but never mind. Some say you have to dream big. But I think we should be humble enough to dream small, too. By starting with little things we can grow and be able to do bigger things. I’m an optimist in that regard.

I wrote this by way of introducing my thinking. In the most likely case that you haven’t been following me around where I have commented on different blogs, I can tell you that: I’m European; I was baptized in 1979 at the tender age of 19; served a mission in England 1981-83. I was raised pretty much areligious – although I had to sit through religion classes because I was inducted into the state church as a baby. My family were very much against me joining the Church despite never having an interest in religion before. But my wife and I have tried to build a “faithful posterity“.

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Posted in Mormonism, Religion
2 comments on “Graceful Faith, Willful Works
  1. [...] of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen” (see Hebrews 11). And faith is a choice, it is acting based on what we think is right. Read Alma 32 and think how you can have faith. It is [...]

  2. [...] context, is that they constitute an attitude, a “default” mode to think and act. In an earlier blog post, I wrote something about faith, and I haven’t had a reason to make major adjustments to it. [...]

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