What is “grace”, really? We know we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8; 2 Nephi 25:23). Of course, lots of people (including some Mormons) think Mormons don’t believe in salvation by grace. What I think is that lots of people think grace is X, and they can see that (many) Mormons don’t believe in salvation by X, and so they think Mormons don’t believe in grace. That is natural enough, but wrong, because grace is not X. In fact, grace is Y, and Mormons believe in Y. So, what is Y? I’m not going to claim that most Mormons would say what I’m going to say about grace, but I think they would accept it, and I think it is what fits best with what we know from our scriptures.
I’ve been thinkng this for a long time, but I finally found a scripture that says it, using the word “grace.” If you search for “grace” on scriptures.lds.org, there are lots of occurrences of the word, and it clearly has something to do with salvation, and countering sin or the effects of sin in some way, but pretty much nowhere does anyone actually say what grace is. But yesterday I read this passage:
“And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity.” Ether 12:36
What does grace do here? Something quite specific. It doesn’t just hide sin; it enables righteousness! It enables the Gentiles to have charity. Grace enables us to do what God would have us do.
Lots of people think that we need grace because we can’t measure up to God’s expectations. Grace somehow covers over our shortfall, so that even though the shortfall is very much still a shortfall, God treats us as though it wasn’t. God judges us by the merits of Christ (who is righteous), rather than by our merits (we keep right on sinning). Grace makes up for our sin, without changing it. They say.
But this idea does not fit the Book of Mormon. As Amulek teaches, God “shall not save his people in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.” Further, God does not give commandments that we cannot keep. Rather, as Nephi says, he “prepare[s] a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Grace is not a cloak for sin; it is a correction for sin, a refining and purifying and quickening fire.
Christ does not save us in our sins; he saves us from our sins. Grace is what empowers us to do good.