What Think Ye of Salvation by Grace?
BRUCE R. MCCONKIE
Bruce R. McConkie was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this devotional
was given atÊBrigham Young University on 10 January 1984.
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I think I'll take as a text what we just sang:
Glory to God on high!
Let heav'n and earth reply;
Praise ye his name!
His love and grace adore,
Who all our sorrows bore;
Sing aloud evermore,
Worthy the Lamb!
[James Allen, "Glory to God on High," Hymns no. 44]
I wonder how many of us are aware of one of the great religious phenomena of
the ages, one that is now sweeping through Protestant Christianity, as only one
other thing has ever done in the whole Christian Era.
We are silent witnesses of an almost worldwide religious craze that had its
birth in the minds of a few great religious reformers nearly five hundred years
ago and which is now receiving a new birth of freedom and influence.
May I divorce myself for a moment from the mainstream of present-day
evangelical Christianity, swim upstream as it were, and give forth some rather
plain and pointed expression on this supposedly marvelous means of being saved
with very slight effort.
The Original Heresy
But before zeroing in on this religious mania that has now taken possession
of millions of devout but deluded people, and as a means of keeping all things
in perspective, let me first identify the original heresy that did more than
anything else to destroy the primitive Christianity.
This first and chief heresy of a now fallen and decadent Christianity--and
truly it is the father of all heresies--swept through all of the congregations
of true believers in the early centuries of the Christian Era; it pertained then
and pertains now to the nature and kind of being that God is.
It was the doctrine, adapted from Gnosticism, that changed Christianity from
the religion in which men worshipped a personal God, in whose image man is made,
into the religion in which men worshipped a spirit essence called the Trinity.
This new God, no longer a personal Father, no longer a personage of tabernacle,
became an incomprehensible three-in-one spirit essence that filled the immensity
The adoption of this false doctrine about God effectively destroyed the true
worship among men and ushered in the age of universal apostasy. The dominant
church then became a political power, ruling autocratically over kingdoms and
empires as well as over her own congregations. Salvation, as was then supposed,
was administered by the church through the seven sacraments.
The Second Greatest Heresy
Nearly a millennium and a half later, during the sixteenth century, as the
Reformation grew out of the Renaissance, as a means of breaking the hold of the
dominant church, the great Christian reformers lit a new doctrinal fire. That
fire, burning wildly over the dry and arid prairies of religious autocracy, is
what really prepared the way for the restoration of the gospel in modern times.
It was nonetheless the doctrinal fire--the burning, flaming, heretical
fire--that became the second greatest heresy of Christendom, because it
effectively destroyed the efficacy and power of the atonement of the Lord Jesus
Christ by whom salvation comes.
The first great heresy, sweeping like a prairie fire through the struggling
branches of a newly born Christianity, destroyed the worship of the true God.
And the second, a heresy originating in the same courts of darkness, destroyed
that very atonement of God's only Son.
This second heresy--and it is the delusion and mania that prevails to this
day in the great evangelical body of Protestantism--is the doctrine that we are
justified by faith alone, without the works of the law. It is the doctrine that
we are saved by grace alone, without works. It is the doctrine that we may be
born again simply by confessing the Lord Jesus with our lips while we continue
to live in our sins.
We have all listened to sermons by the great revivalists and self-appointed
prophets of the various radio and television ministries. Whatever the subjects
of their sermons may be, they always end with an invitation and a plea for
people to come forward and confess the Lord Jesus and receive the cleansing
power of his blood.
Television broadcasts of these sermons always show arenas or coliseums or
stadiums filled with people, scores and hundreds and thousands of whom go
forward to make their confessions, to become born-again Christians, to be saved
with all they suppose this includes.
While driving along a highway in my car, I was listening to the radio sermon
of one of these evangelists who was preaching of salvation by grace alone. He
said all anyone had to do to be saved was to believe in Christ and perform an
affirmative act of confession.
Among other things he said: "If you are traveling in a car, simply reach
forth your hand and touch your car radio, thus making contact with me, and then
say, 'Lord Jesus, I believe,' and you will be saved."
Unfortunately, I did not accept his generous invitation to gain instant
salvation; and so I suppose my opportunity is lost forever!
Interwoven with this concept is the doctrine that the elect of God are
predestined to be saved regardless of any act on their part, which, as I
suppose, is part of the reason a Lutheran minister once said to me: "I was saved
two thousand years ago, and there is nothing I can do about it one way or the
other now," meaning that he thought he was saved by the blood of Christ shed on
Calvary, without any works or effort on his part.
The Example of Martin Luther
Here is an account of how Martin Luther himself came to believe the doctrine
of justification by faith alone; it is an ideal illustration of why this
doctrine has such wide appeal.
A friendly biographer tells us: Luther "was much concerned about his personal
salvation and given to gloomy reflections over his sinful condition," so much so
that "he fell dangerously ill, and was seized with a fit of despair." Also:
No one surpassed him in prayer, fasting, night watches,
self-mortification. He was . . . a model of sanctity. But . . . he found no
peace and rest in all his pious exercises. . . . He saw sin everywhere. . . . He
could not trust in God as a reconciled Father, as a God of love and mercy, but
trembled before him, as a God of wrath, as a consuming fire. . . . It was sin as
an all-pervading power and vitiating principle, sin as a corruption of nature,
sin as an alienation from God and hostility to God that weighed on his mind like
an incubus and brought him to the brink of despair.
While in this state, he gained
the conviction that the sinner is justified by faith alone, without the
works of the law. . . . This experience acted like a new revelation on Luther.
It shed light upon the whole Bible and made it to him a book of life and
comfort. He felt relieved of the terrible load of guilt by an act of free grace.
He was led out of the dark prison house of self-inflicted penance into the
daylight and fresh air of God's redeeming love. Justification broke the fetters
of legalistic slavery, and filled him with the joy and peace of the state of
adoption; it opened to him the very gates of heaven. [Philip Schaff,
History of the Christian Church, vol. 7, pp. 111, 116–17, 122–24]
So says Luther's biographer.
It should be perfectly clear to all of us that Luther's break with
Catholicism was part of the divine program; it came as an Elias preparing the
way for the Restoration. But this does not in any sense put a stamp of divine
approval on the doctrine he devised to justify the break in his own mind.
A Modern-Day Example
I received a letter from a returned missionary whom I shall call Elder
Carnalus Luciferno, for no one in his right mind would have such a name, and my
correspondent was certainly out of his mind.
His letter told me of his own conversion, of his service as a zone leader in
the mission field, and of making many converts. But after returning home, as he
expressed it, "I returned to my old Gentile ways."
After thus ceasing to be a true Saint, and becoming a genuine Gentile, he met
some representatives of another church who taught him that we are saved by
grace, without works, simply by believing in the Lord Jesus.
Thereupon he was saved, and his letter, which he sent to many people, was an
invitation to these others to believe in Christ and be saved as he was saved.
Later I said to his mission president, "Tell me about Elder Carnalus
"Oh," he said, "Elder Carnalus Luciferno was a good missionary who made many
converts. But since returning home he has been excommunicated."
"Oh," I said. "What was his problem?"
The mission president replied, "Before he joined the Church, he was a
homosexual, and we understood that since his release he has reverted to his old
The Strait and Narrow Way
Now, let us reason together on this matter of being saved without the need to
do the works of righteousness. Did you ever wonder why our missionaries convert
one of a city and two of a family while the preachers of this doctrine of
salvation by grace alone gain millions of converts?
Does it seem strange to you that we wear out our lives in bringing one soul
unto Christ, that we may have joy with him in the kingdom of the Father, while
our evangelist colleagues cannot even count their converts so great is their
Why are those who come to hear the message of the Restoration numbered in the
hundreds and thousands, rather than in the hundreds of thousands?
May I suggest that the difference is between the strait and narrow way, which
few find, and the broad way, "that leadeth to destruction, and many there be
which go in thereat" (Matthew 7:13–14).
All men must have and do have some way of worship--call it what you will--be
it Christianity or Communism or Buddhism or atheism, or the wandering ways of
Islam. I repeat: All men must and do worship; this inclination is given them by
their Creator as a natural gift and endowment. The Light of Christ is shed forth
upon all mankind; all men have a conscience and know by instinct the difference
between good and evil; it is inherent in the human personality to seek and
worship a divine being of some sort.
As we are aware, since the Fall all men have become carnal, sensual, and
devilish by nature; they have become worldly; and their inclination is to live
after the manner of the flesh and satisfy their lusts and appetites.
Accordingly, anytime men can devise a system of worship that will let them
continue to live after the manner of the world, to live in their carnal and
fallen state, and at the same time one which will satisfy their innate and
instinctive desires to worship, such, to them, is a marvelous achievement.
Salvation by Grace
Now, there is a true doctrine of salvation by grace--a salvation by grace
alone and without works, as the scriptures say. To understand this doctrine we
must define our terms as they are defined in holy writ.
1. What is salvation? It is both immortality and eternal life. It is
an inheritance in the highest heaven of the celestial world. It consists of the
fullness of the glory of the Father and is reserved for those for whom the
family unity continues in eternity. Those who are saved become as God is and
live as he lives.
2. What is the plan of salvation? It is the system ordained by the
Father to enable his spirit children to advance and progress and become like
him. It consists of three great and eternal verities--the Creation, the Fall,
and the Atonement--without any of which there could be no salvation.
3. What is the grace of God? It is his mercy, his love, and his
condescension--all manifest for the benefit and blessing of his children, all
operating to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
We rejoice in the heavenly condescension that enabled Mary to become "the
mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh" (1 Nephi 11:18).
We bask in the eternal love that sent the Only Begotten into the world "that
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John
We are profoundly grateful for that mercy which endureth forever and through
which salvation is offered to erring mortals.
4. Does salvation come by grace, or grace alone, by grace without
works? It surely does, without any question in all its parts, types, kinds,
We are saved by grace, without works; it is a gift of God. How else could it
In his goodness and grace the great God ordained and established the plan of
salvation. No works on our part were required.
In his goodness and grace he created this earth and all that is on it, with
man as the crowning creature of his creating--without which creation his spirit
children could not obtain immortality and eternal life. No works on our part
In his goodness and grace he provided for the Fall of man, thus bringing
mortality and death and a probationary estate into being--without all of which
there would be no immortality and eternal life. And again no works on our part
In his goodness and grace--and this above all--he gave his Only Begotten Son
to ransom man and all life from the temporal and spiritual death brought into
the world by the Fall of Adam.
He sent his Son to redeem mankind, to atone for the sins of the world, "to
bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). And again
all this comes to us as a free gift and without works.
There is nothing any man could do to create himself. This was the work of the
Nor did we have any part in the Fall of man, without which there could be no
salvation. The Lord provided the way, and Adam and Even put the system into
And finally, there neither has been, nor is, nor ever can be any way nor
means by which man alone can, or any power he possesses, redeem himself.
We cannot resurrect ourselves anymore than we can create ourselves. We cannot
create a heavenly abode for the Saints, nor make provision for the continuation
of the family unit in eternity, nor bring salvation and exaltation into being.
All these things are ordained and established by that God who is the Father of
us all. And they all came into being and are made available to us, as free
gifts, without works, because of the infinite goodness and grace of Him whose
children we are.
Truly, there is no way to overstate the goodness and grandeurs and glories of
the grace of God which bringeth salvation. Such wondrous love, such unending
mercy, such infinite compassion and condescension--all these can come only from
the Eternal God who lives in eternal life and who desires all of his children to
live as he lives and be inheritors of eternal life.
Teaching in the Early Church
Knowing these things, as did Paul and our fellow apostles of old, let us put
ourselves in their position. What words shall we choose, to offer to the world
the blessings of a freely given atoning sacrifice?
On the one hand, we are preaching to Jews who, in their lost and fallen
state, have rejected their Messiah and who believe that they are saved by the
works and performances of the Mosaic law.
On the other and, we are preaching to pagans--Romans, Greeks, those in every
nation--who know nothing whatever about the Messianic word, or of the need for a
Redeemer, or of the working out of the infinite and eternal atonement. They
worship idols, the forces of nature, the heavenly bodies, or whatever suits
their fancy. As with the Jews, they assume that this or that sacrifice or
appeasing act will please the Deity of their choice and some vague and
unspecified blessings will result.
Can either the Jews or the pagans be left to assume that the works they do
will save them? Or must they forget their little groveling acts of petty
worship, gain faith in Christ, and rely on the cleansing power of his blood for
They must be taught faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to forsake their
traditions and performances. Surely we must tell them they cannot be saved by
the works they are doing, for man cannot save himself. Instead they must turn to
Christ and rely on his merits and mercy and grace.
Teaching by Abinadi
Abinadi struggled with this same problem in his contentions with the priests
and people of Noah. They had the law of Moses, with its various rites and
performances, but they knew nothing of the Atoning One. And so Abinadi asked,
"Doth salvation come by the law of Moses? What say ye? And they answered and
said that salvation did come by the law of Moses" (Mosiah 12:31).
After teaching them some of the great truths of salvation, Abinadi answered
his own question: "Salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for
the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his
people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses"
(Mosiah 13:28). Salvation is not in works--not even in those revealed of
God--but in Christ and his atonement.
Now let us suppose a modern-day case. Suppose we have the scriptures, the
gospel, the priesthood, the Church, the ordinances, the organization, even the
keys of the kingdom--everything that now is down to the last jot and tittle--and
yet there is no atonement of Christ. What then? Can we be saved? Will all our
good works save us? Will we be rewarded for all our righteousness?
Most assuredly we will not. We are not saved by works alone, no matter how
good; we are saved because God sent his Son to shed his blood in Gethsemane and
on Calvary that all through him might ransomed be. We are saved by the blood of
To paraphrase Abinadi: "Salvation doth not come by the Church alone: and were
it not for the atonement, given by the grace of God as a free gift, all men must
unavoidably perish, and this notwithstanding the Church and all that appertains
Let us now come to the matter of whether we must do something to gain the
blessings of the atonement in our lives. And we find the answer written in words
of fire and emblazoned across the whole heavens; we hear a voice speaking with
the sound of ten thousand trumpets; the very heavens and the earth are moved out
of their place so powerful is the word that goes forth. It is the message that
neither men, nor angels, nor the Gods themselves can proclaim with an undue
This is the word: Man cannot be saved by grace alone; as the Lord lives, he
must keep the commandments; he must work the works of righteousness; he must
work out his salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord; he must have
faith like the ancients--the faith that brings with it gifts and signs and
"Ye Must Press Forward"
Does it suffice to believe and be baptized without more? The answer is, No,
in every language and tongue. Rather, after belief, after repentance, after
Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect
brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall
press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold,
thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
And now, behold, . . . this is the way; and there is none other way nor
name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. [2
John, the beloved apostle, promises the Saints eternal life with the Father
on this condition,
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one
with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
[1 John 1:7]
The blood of Christ was shed as a free gift of wondrous grace, but the Saints
are cleansed by the blood after they keep the commandments.
Nowhere has this ever been taught better than in these words of the risen
Lord to his Nephite brethren:
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing
entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my
blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their
faithfulness unto the end.
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come
unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception
of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things
that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall
ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;
Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up
at the last day. [3 Nephi 27:19–22]
Men must be doers of the word, not hearers only; they must do the very works
that Christ did; and those who have true and saving faith in him accomplish this
Our Day's Need: Correct Interpretation
In our day, among other Christians at least, we are not faced with the
problems of our predecessors. They had to show that any works then being
performed were of no avail without the atonement, that salvation was in Christ
and his spilt blood, and that all men must come unto him to be saved.
Our need in today's world, in which Christians assume there was an atonement,
is to interpret the scriptures properly and to call upon men to keep the
commandments so as to become worthy of the cleansing power of the blood of the
Hear, then, the word of the Lord Jesus:
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.
And it is the will of the Father--as a thousand scriptures attest--that all
men everywhere must endure to the end, must keep the commandments, must work out
their salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord, or they can in no wise
enter into the kingdom of heaven.
How well Nephi said,
Believe in Christ, and . . . be reconciled to God; for we know that it is
by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. [2 Nephi 25:23]
Gospel Call to Righteousness
Salvation by grace alone and without works, as it is taught in large segments
of Christendom today, is akin to what Lucifer proposed in preexistence--that he
would save all mankind and one soul should not be lost. He would save them
without agency, without works, without any act on their part.
As with the proposal of Lucifer in the preexistence to save all mankind, so
with the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, without works, as it is taught in
modern Christendom--both concepts are false. There is no salvation in either of
them. They both come from the same source; they are not of God.
We believe and proclaim that it is life eternal to know the only wise and
true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Let men worship whomsoever they
will, but there is no salvation in worshipping any God but the true God.
We believe and proclaim that salvation is in Christ, in his gospel, in his
atoning sacrifice. We are bold to say it comes by the goodness and grace of the
Father and the Son. No people on earth praise the Lord with greater faith and
fervor than we do because of th is goodness and grace.
As the Lord's agents, as his servants, as ambassadors of Christ--sent by him,
sent to speak in his place instead, sent to say what he would say if he
personally were here--we testify that no man, as long as the earth shall stand,
or the heavens endure, or God continues as God, no man shall ever be saved in
the kingdom of God, in the celestial kingdom of heaven, without doing the works
As far as man is concerned, the great and eternal plan of salvation is:
1. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; faith in him as the Son of God; faith in
him as the Savior and Redeemer who shed his blood for us in Gethsemane and on
2. Repentance of all our sins--thus forsaking the world and its carnal
course; thus turning from the broad way that leads to destruction; thus
preparing for the spiritual rebirth into the kingdom of God;
3. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; baptism under the hands of
a legal administrator who has power to bind on earth and seal in heaven--thus
planting our feet firmly on the strait and narrow path leading to eternal life;
4. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost--thus enabling us to be baptized with
fire; to have sin and evil burned out of our souls as though by fire; to be
sanctified so as to stand pure and spotless before the Lord at the last day; and
5. Enduring to the end in righteousness, keeping the commandments, and living
by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.
Thus saith the Lord:
He who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even
peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come. [D&C 59:23]
As God is true, and Christ is the Savior, and the Holy Ghost is their
minister and witness, such is the plan of salvation, and there neither is nor
ever shall be any other.
Let those in the world think and act as they please; let us, the Saints of
God who know better, together with all who are willing to live by the higher
standard of the gospel, praise the Lord for his goodness and grace and do so by
keeping his commandments, thereby becoming heirs of eternal salvation.
Glory to God on high!
Let heav'n and earth reply;
Praise ye his name.
His love and grace adore,
Who all our sorrows bore;
Sing aloud evermore,
Worthy the Lamb!
[Hymns, no. 44]
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.