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Grace: The Mystery of Godliness

Grace has been a buzzword in Christendom for a long time. Even further, 'buzzword' does 'grace' a disservice. It is a term often employed in scripture.

In Protestant vernacular, it is everything. In LDS vernacular, it is an ever growing and evolving understanding we have. In some instances, the Protestants understand it better than we do. In other instances, we are more on point.

In LDS speech, we speak of Grace as an enabling power. We speak of it as being the help we receive in times of struggle. We speak of it in terms of mercy. This article is an effort to take such understanding farther. For example, Grace is an enabling power, but what does it enable us to do? What is its purpose?

Interestingly, in the Protestant world, they are beginning to see grace in a different light. 'The New Perspective on Paul' is a theological movement that, over the last 50+ years, has brought various Protestant theologians to rethink their perspective on grace, human nature, depravity, and so forth. This perspective has noted that maybe mainstream Christians have misunderstood the 'grace vs works' debate dating back to Saint Augustine. The idea is that Paul's criticism of 'works' in his writings is a reference to the "works of the law". Dr. N. T. Wright is one of the biggest proponents of this perspective. Dr. Terryl Givens summarizes, very briefly, the idea:
"Paul wasn't obsessed with this human depravity, but he sees the greater problem as just our incapacity. Christ comes not to remedy this depraved, horrific condition, but to heal and nurture us and restore us to unity with ourselves, with each other, and with our father."(The Christ who Heals, Video Podcast transcript)
Therefore, our understanding of grace (and a host of other interrelated Gospel principles) is evolving and expanding in the Christian world. This article is an attempt to explain some various insights I have gained while studying and trying to live with the grace of Christ.


Before the foundation of the world, we lived as spirit sons and daughters with our Father in Heaven. Even before that, we became spirit children thereafter existing as eternal intelligence.  "All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes" (D&C 131:7).  Our spiritual existence came to be as we were united, as intelligence, with the fine matter of spirit.  This was done by the power of God.

In this pre-mortal realm, an "Everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth. These personages … are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Witness or Testator."(1)

In consequence of this covenant the first spirit son became Jehovah and the Redeemer of all men.

In Moses 4:1-4 we find that Christ received God's Honor (the Honor that Satan sought after).  In D&C 29:36 God's Honor is defined as God's Power.  Due to the everlasting covenant made between the 3 personages, the two spirit sons were given a portion of God's Honor in which they would be elevated to fulfill their roles as the second and third members of the Godhead.  Further evidence is given in Revelation 13:8 where it states the Christ was slain from the foundation of the world.  Alma 13:3 states this also, as we were able to dwell in God's presence with agency before we came to earth according to a "preparatory redemption".

Now, what does this have to do with Grace?

D&C 93:12-16 enlightens us:
"And I, John, saw that Christ received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.
And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son.
And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;"
We clearly see that Christ from the beginning (either from spirit birth or His mortal birth) did not have a 'fulness at... first'.  In Luke 2:40 it states:
"And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him."
This becomes interesting when we ponder how it flies against our common notions of grace. Protestants and many other good people view grace and mercy as almost synonymous.  They view grace as the mercy given for the forgiveness of their sins. This is undoubtedly true, but, as per usual, there is more.

As indicated in the verses above it is evident that grace was present and abounded in Jesus' life.  We see that by the grace of God and from going from grace to grace he received the "fulness of the Father."  If mercy and grace are the same we would have to admit that Christ needed mercy in his life. We learn in 1 Peter 2:22 that Christ committed no sin, therefore, our conventions about mercy and grace do not quite add up when we speak of how grace was used in the Savior's life. We know that Christ gave/gives out mercy to those seeking, but since He never sinned He never needed mercy, (at least from the standpoint of being forgiven of sins).  During the agonizing hours of Gethsemane and Calvary, the only mercy He received was an angel sent to comfort/empower Him. In other words, mercy was in short supply during those agonizing hours.

So the question then becomes, "What is grace then?" Or, " How was grace present in Jesus' Life?"

Could it be that grace has more to do with obedience to covenants?  Could it be that grace has just as much to do with justice (if not more so) as it does mercy?  Could it be that Grace is the term used to indicate the elevating of God's children according to their obedience to Him, or at least those "that seeketh so to do" (D&C 46:9).

In a moment of reverential pause, the following idea was expressed to me over 8 years ago by a dear friend, Brent Thomas. I dedicate this post to him.

To resume, grace is "the honor of God given to man or woman, according to covenant in response to a divine witness that he or she is just." (Talk on grace in my possession)

That is a mouthful.


The mechanism of grace becomes more meaningful as we expand our understanding of the Holy Ghost. I have written such ideas here. In probably the least discussed, but known, role of the Holy Ghost is the office he has as The Holy Spirit of Promise. Dr. David E. Bokovoy gives a brief description of said role:
"While it is natural for Latter-day Saints to recognize that the Holy Ghost serves as an official witness of truth for man, in the administration of God, the Holy Ghost also functions as a witness or testator of man for God. Fulfilling this role as witness, the Holy Ghost serves as the scriptural “Holy Spirit of promise,” ratifying or sealing the testimonies and righteous acts of believers... In this capacity as witness of man for God, the Holy Ghost serves as the testator of all righteous acts..."(2)
D. Todd Christofferson simplifies, but also clarifies, further:
"The Holy Ghost... is the messenger of grace by which the blood of Christ is applied to take away our sins and sanctify us."(3)
My dear friend, Brent Thomas, ties the idea together:
"Justice like a vigilant arbiter looked on Jesus’ life and saw nothing wherein the law required payment; mercy was not required and therefore was irrelevant in Jesus’ life.  But grace was present – He progressed from grace to grace & received grace for grace.  It seems to me that when we owe justice, the payment can be made be made by us or by mercy if we are willing.  If justice owes us then we are paid by the bestowal of honor; this process is grace.  The Holy Ghost determines which process is germane." (Talk on grace in my possession)
What exactly does the Holy Ghost minister to us in our receiving the grace of Christ? From my personal experience and study, it appears that he endows us with various aspects of the divine nature. In other words, an endowment from the nature of God we are worthy of based on our diligence, asking, and need.

This idea gives increased insight about our 'desires' and how any blessing we receive from God is predicated upon obedience. When we do what He says, he is bound. If we do not, we have no promise. That promise, the various blessing or endowment from heaven, is a direct result of the Holy Ghost's role as The Holy Spirit of Promise. (see D&C 82:10 and 130:21)


After reading the above ideas, I don't want to completely divorce grace from its conventional counterpart of mercy. Boyd K. Packer once painted a beautiful verbal picture when he said the following:
"Justice can seem to be so very demanding. But we must learn that when we put everything as right as we can put it right, it is Justice who invokes the Atonement, orders the adversary off our property, and posts the notice that his agents will make no more collections from us. Our debt will have been paid in full by the only perfect pure person who ever lived... Justice is another name for Mercy, and Mercy is another name for Justice." (Address given at Young Adults Church Education System broadcast 7 November 1993; reprinted in Boyd K. Packer, Things of the Soul [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], pp. 45-60)
The beautiful idea expressed by Boyd K. Packer might highlight that grace is even larger than ideas of justice vs mercy. Alma dedicates a whole sermon to it in the Book of Mormon, but to view our deeds and, therefore, grace through this lens still limits us in our understanding and application of it.

Adam S. Miller puts it well:
“Grace doesn't grease the wheels of the law. Grace isn't God's way of jury-rigging a broken law. It's the other way around. The law is just one small cog in a world animated entirely--from top to bottom, from beginning to end--by grace.” (Grace Is Not God's Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul's Letter to the Romans)
 This appears to fly in the face of conventional interpretations of 2 Nephi 25:23 in which we think that grace ONLY comes into our lives 'after all we can do'. Connecting grace to justice has highlighted for me an increased understanding of covenants, but taken too far and overemphasized it can prevent us from "searching deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness"(4).

Emeritus General Authority and LDS theologian, Bruce C. Hafen, comments on 2 Nephi 25:23 with the following:
"The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during, and after the time when we expend our own efforts." (The Broken Heart, p. 155-156)
Another LDS scholar has given even more plain thoughts:
“At first glance at this scripture, we might think that grace is offered to us only chronologically after we have completed doing all we can do, but this is demonstrably false.” - Stephen E. Robinson (Believing Christ, p. 91)
In order to deflect criticism of not having a scriptural refutation, we can take a look at 2 Nephi 10:24 which puts 'after all we can do' in its proper context:
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved."
Grace is not, therefore, God's backup plan. It is the plan. Perfection (as the ancients understood it) is not in some far distant day. Being alive in Christ is being perfect. Grace is how we are 'made perfect in Christ'. The Holy Ghost is given to us, not just to reveal all truth to us, but (as equally important) to transform us into new creatures. It is the design and intent for us to receive the power of God (i.e. His grace) here and now so that we can stand before God.
"The redeemed of the Lord are those such as Abraham who now have eternal life in his kingdom. But it is also the design and intent and purpose of the Lord to redeem men spiritually while they yet remain in the flesh." - Bruce R. McConkie (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 120)
"And thus Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord; for Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation; and he walked with God." - Moses 8:27
Noah did not live a perfect life. He was perfect, however, because he continued to abide in his covenants and was fully initiated through the ordinances and rites of the temple (the full meaning of 'perfect'/'teleios' in the Greek).  The same blessing lays in store for us if we are willing to be just and willing to give more of ourselves so that grace can abound in our lives.

We can stop seeing salvation as something in the far distant future and become more aware that salvation is happening now. So many doctrines of the gospel are consistent with this idea.
"Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things." - Jacob 4:6-7
We can further enhance our priesthood privileges (both men and women) when we understand that grace is meant to abound here and now.

We can view grace as the drop by drop endowment of the Divine Nature to us. We can understand that to 'receive the Holy Ghost' is to let the third member of the Godhead witness on our behalf and to unleash the power of grace in our lives.

When we understand this, we can perhaps start to glimpse what it means to 'ask and receive'. In other words, we can more confidently petition the Lord that by our sacrifices and obedience (and sometimes through the medium of tender mercies) that we be shown what we need to do in order to bring about the various blessings we desire in our lives. Once we grow in spiritual maturity, we might find that what we have desired all along is to have grace abound in our lives so that we "know the Lord" (John 17:3).

In our efforts to understand grace and to receive it in our own lives, the following verses that appear after the description of Christ in D&C 93 are instructive:
"I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.
For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace." (D&C 93:19-20)
It appears that not only is Christ our Savior and Redeemer. It seems that not only is He one who performed the atonement, but He is literally the prototype of our salvation. He was elevated by covenants and, thereby, grace. We are to go through the same process He did. Isn't it edifying to contemplate that the gospel process is a process that made Christ who he is today?



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