Did you know that I could make someone real angry, really, really fast? I know it’s hard to believe about me, mild mannered mom and generally all-around nice person that I am, but it’s true. In fact, one of the ways I can tick people off faster than pretty much anything else is for me to tell a LDS person that they are not Christian. And, so in general I don’t make that statement—at all, even though more or less I believe it to be true.
The trouble isn’t that I’m right and they’re wrong, or even that they’re right and I’m wrong, but it’s all wrapped up in definition. You see, when LDS folks say they’re Christian they define that as someone who believes in Christ. When I (or someone else that I might agree with) say that they’re not Christian I mean that they do not believe certain biblical doctrines that are set forth so clearly in the Bible that their truths really are not open to debate.
As I read the LDS webpage entitled Jesus is the Way http://lds.org/plan/jesus-christ-is-the-way?lang=eng there’s a real good example of one of those differences. It’s in the portion of the article entitled We Have To Do Our Part, and says “. . . we have to do our part to overcome spiritual death. To be forgiven of our sins, we need to repent and increase our faith in Jesus Christ throughout our lives. We will not be saved simply because we get baptized or say we believe in Jesus Christ. It takes work. . .”
Now, no true Christian would disagree that there are things that God wants us to do, and doesn’t want us to do, and that a true Christian would live out his life trying to do, or not do, those things. In fact, as James so rightly points out, if we’re not doing (or not, not doing) those things, we should examine ourselves to see if we’re really Christians at all. But, the Bible is very clear that our works do not contribute to our salvation. Or in other words what we do, or don’t do won’t change one bit whether or not we’ve been reconciled to God if we’ve been reconciled to God in God’s way.
Paul is actually the apostle who talks the most about this concept and in Romans 4 he gives the clearest teaching of all about this when he compares us working for our salvation to having a job. Most of us when we go to work every day don’t do it out of grace: we do it because we expect to be paid. And, that’s just how Paul compares salvation, he tells us that if we work for it we get what we deserve, our pay so to speak. The trouble is that God demands that we do it either our way, or His way. His way is through putting our faith in His Son, Jesus and in His finished work on the cross. (See Romans 3 and 4, Ephesians 2, Galatians 3, John 3, 6 and many, many more verses.) Our way is to work and try to make ourselves good enough that God, or Jesus might accept us; to somehow do enough good deeds that our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds and somehow we’ll make the standard that God sets, even if by the skin of our teeth. (If we were Muslim we could choose martyrdom and then we’d know that we’d made it, but otherwise we’re always left wondering if we’ve lived up to God’s standard, no matter how “good” we become or how much “good” we do.)
And, this is where our own works trip us up. You see, the Bible also says that all—yes that’s ALL of our “righteous” acts are like filthy rags before God. (Isaiah 64:6) Other passages in the Bible agree with this assessment, Paul tells us in Romans 7 that in his flesh (our human nature) nothing truly good exists (vs. 18). And, the Proverbs tell us that what we think is “right” isn’t right with God (Proverbs 16:25).
So in the end, although it may seem that we can work and try and do all these good things that’ll somehow help in our salvation, the Bible is unequivocal in it’s teaching that we can’t do anything that’s going to help out in our salvation, and in fact, that if we’re counting on our good works for anything at all, we’ve nullified grace. . . which means that we then get the “wages” for our own behavior.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried to “do” all the right things, and you know what? It doesn’t last, or I just plain can’t do it right, or I don’t know really, but somehow it fails—fatally fails. I lose my temper, or I am not patient enough, or someone cuts in front of me in traffic, or the dog truly does eat my homework, and the washer eats my socks, and well, I just fail again and again and again.
The good news is that Jesus knew that. He planned for that in fact, by taking away the responsibility for my sin from me, and taking it on Himself and in taking it on Himself paid for it in the only way really possible. He paid for it in the only way that is, and will ever be, good enough.
And, all He asked from me was the one thing that I can do: to trust in Him, and even in my utter inability to do that well, He knew and made the provision, and He works in me to do what He’s purposed to do in me, and in that He is glorified, and I am not.
Which is why the next time I make someone mad, I’m trusting that Jesus will give me the will, power, and words to make the situation right, even if we have different definitions of the same word. And most of all I’m trusting that although my “work” is imperfect and in the end fatally flawed, His isn’t.