Grace and works
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Paul’s epistle to the Romans
"God will render to every man according to his deeds"
(See Romans 2:6)


In his epistle to the Romans, Paul emphasizes grace, a free gift of God. It is because of the grace of Jesus Christ that we can be saved. Nothing we can do will make us deserve heaven. Because we all sin, and fall short of God's glory.

Does this mean that...

God forbid! Paul never meant that. Grace and works both matter. It just happened that Paul had special experience of the ancient Jews, and chose to emphasize one point at the expense of the other. But if we read all his writing, we see that a good Christian pays attention to good works. Indeed, we cannot follow Christ - and therefore we cannot be saved - without good works.

The real problem: confusing LOVE with GRACE

Protestants sometimes accuse Mormons of not understanding the grace of God. My response is that we are confusing grace with love. God's love is unconditional. All we need to do is acknowledge it. Nothing we can do can separate us from God's love. However, our own actions can stop us from benefiting from that love. In other words, we can fall from grace, even though we are still loved.

Peter warned us against misunderstanding Paul

Modern "born again" Christians love to quote from Paul, but do not like to quote from Peter or James or John, even though Peter, James, and John were the there disciples that Jesus chose for the leadership of the church (they were with him at transfiguration, when Jairus' daughter was raised, etc., Peter was given the keys and later told to "feed my sheep" etc.). We should interpret Paul in the light of the these senior apostles.

The book of James is well known for his teaching that "faith without works is dead" (see below).

The epistles of John are an even clearer warning against "born again" errors.

As for Peter, he taught this:

"It is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear." (1 Peter 1:16-17)

"Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." (1 Peter 3:11-12)

"Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." (2 peter 1:5-10)

Seems pretty clear. If we do NOT do all these good works, we shall fall from grace.

Peter had this to say about the teachings of Paul:

"And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:15-16.)

If we look at the New Testament as a whole, we will see that Paul - even in the book of Romans - taught that we will be judged according to our works.

Can we be saved without good works?

After Paul was killed, some people twisted his words to say that good works were not important. Thankfully the apostle James was still alive. James had been one of the three disciples who had been particularly close to Christ. He understood the true doctrine. He wrote, in James 2:14-26:

"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone."

"Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works."

"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble."

"But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?"

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

Paul wrote that good works lead to grace

In Acts 14:26, Paul and his companions "thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled."

In Acts 26:20, Paul teaches good works as the first step to conversion: "But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and [then] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance."

Paul's other epistles

Paul wrote that grace leads to good works

2 Corinthians 9:8: grace shows itself through works

"And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work"

2 Corinthians 11:15: ministers are judged according to their works

"Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."

Ephesians 2:10: God has ordained that we should walk in good works

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

Colossians 1:10: being worthy means having good works

"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God"

2 Thessalonians 2:17: Paul prays that Jesus will establish us through good works:

"Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17: "That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

Titus 2:6-7: Exhort young Christians to do good works

"Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity"

Titus 2:14: Jesus' purpose was to create a people zealous of good works

"Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."

Titus 3:8: believers should be careful to maintain good works

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.

If we do not do good works, then Christ is not our minister

Galatians 2:16-18 - "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, [is] therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor."

Titus 1:16: you can tell a true - or false - believer by his works

"They profess that they know God; but in works they deny [him], being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate."

In summary: work out your own salvation

Philippians 2:12: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure"

This is the whole point of disagreement. Paul taught that we do not have to do good works, because Jesus will do them through us. However, if these good works are not there, we are false believers. Will false believers get to heaven? No. In other words, we will not get to heaven unless we do good works. Not because we earn our way in, but because God has commanded us to do good works and our task is to please God.

Now, on with Romans:

Paul's Epistle to the Romans

Faith without works

Romans 1: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

So it is possible to hold the truth and yet be unrighteous. And if so, the wrath of God is upon you! It’s not enough to know the truth – your salvation depends on righteousness, which is something more.

21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

So there are people who knew God, but did not glorify him? How do we glorify God? Paul must be referring to the words of Jesus, in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

Judged according to our deeds

2:5-6 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

So Paul taught that we shall be judged according to our DEEDS

7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

Let’s read that again: "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life" – works again.

Glory and honour to every man that worketh good

2: 10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

Paul is kind of obsessed with good works, wouldn’t you say?

The doers of the law are just before God - including Jews and Gentiles

13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

How much plainer can it be? Paul taught of justification by DOING the law!

2:25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

Keeping the law is profitable! This sounds like what James said about faith. Faith and works is good. Faith without works is dead.

26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

This sets the scene for the chapters that follow. What matters is not whether or not you are circumcised – the sign (up until in Paul’s day) of being a member of the church – what matters is that you keep the law!

Good works (though essential) on their own cannot save us

3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

This is just what the Mormon church teaches – good works, though essential, are not enough. As Nephi wrote, "It is by grace we are saved, after all we can do".

3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Is Paul now contradicting what he just wrote about works? Of course not. He is simply pointing out the obvious – that good works, though essential, are not enough. The most important part is grace.

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

And what does belief mean? As James chapter 2 says bluntly, we show our faith by our works.

So many people stumble over a single word

3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

That one word – "without" – has been the cause of so much confusion! But if you read the Bible, you will know that in the King James language, "without" means "outside", in the sense of "beside" or "next to", as in "without the walls". In other works, grace is separate from, different to works. It does not make works unnecessary! Let us skip ahead to the last verse of chapter 3, where Paul makes this abundantly clear:

Faith establishes (confirms) works

31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

Amen to that! Faith does not make works void. God forbid! Faith ESTABLISHES works!

Good works are our duty

4:4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

This is important. Although they are not enough to save us, we do owe God a debt. We must do good works –that is our duty, our debt to God!

To get grace, you need to stop sinning

6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

Exactly. For grace to abound we need to stop sinning.

2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

So we should obey. We should yield ourselves to righteousness. Otherwise we are under the dominion of sin. Sounds like good works are important after all.

In Paul’s life, grace and works exist together

In chapter 7, after complaining about how the law introduced the possibility for sin, Paul reminds us that:

12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

This is worth remembering. Though law brings with it the potential to sin, yet the law is still holy, and just, and good. And it STILL APPLIES even to Christians:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

(and so on)

19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

The need for works is implied

Here some of the previous ideas are repeated, including the fact that the body (subject to law) and the spirit (subject to grace) exist together:

8:10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

The goal of course is to have the spirit in us all the time:

11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

And how do we get the spirit? As Peter taught in Acts 2:38, we need to repent (works) and be baptized (works) in order to get the gift of the Holy Ghost (grace).

The need for works is implied again

10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

And what did Christ teach? Good works! Belief in Christ means we accept the beatitudes, the difficult teachings, and all the other requirements that he summed up in "be ye therefore perfect".

We have to read Romans in the context of the rest of the New Testament

8 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;

9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Did Paul mean to believe and no more, or to believe and let that belief become actions? Paul’s own life shows that belief has to lead to actions. Despite this, it seems that, even while the apostles were still alive, many people thought Paul meant salvation without works. Just read James chapter 2 for what the bible says about that.

13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

As long as the words lead to actions. Or would you deny what Christ said? Matthew 7:21 "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." If you have a problem with what Jesus said, take it up with him, not me.

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

This is the essential context. Paul is writing about faith as an introduction to the topic of missionary work. (Being a missionary is, of course, a Good Work).

Paul beseeches the saints to perform good works

12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

If this isn’t good works, what is it?

2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;

8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.

9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;

13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.

More and more works…

17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

If you don’t do these good works, you are overcome by evil

After listing these good works, Paul cautions us:

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

So, if you don’t do these things, evil overcomes you. In other words, good works are necessary.

He again commands us to do good works

13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

What is this? Paul commanding us to DO that which is good?

5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

But did not Paul, in the opening chapters, identify that the conscience was what makes men do good works?

God put them there, and they demand good works

6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Fulfilling the law is important

8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

So fulfilling the law IS important. See also verse 10:

10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

More good works

9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

And yet more good works

15:1 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Be obedient "by word and deed"

18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,

Good works are our duty

26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.

27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.

EXACTLY! If you have grace, then good works are your duty.

28 When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.

"Sealed to them this fruit"? Sounds like a spiritual significance to good works.

In closing, various saints are instructed to perform various good works

16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:

2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

Once again, it "becometh saints" to do good works in helping each other.

3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:

So helping is good.

4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.

And sacrifice is good.

5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

6 Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor on us.

And much labor is good.

12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord.


17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

So "good words and fair speeches" are not enough

And Paul ends up by encouraging people to "the obedience of faith". Enough said!



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