Note: Back in 2009 I wrote a short piece, more to get something off my chest than anything, and called it Conversation with a Mormon – Good Works. I recently dug it up and worked it into a different ending explaining from the apostle Paul’s perspective how we meet the charge of easy-believism and this is the result.
Christian: Where do you get the idea that “Christians don’t believe in works”?
Mormon: Every Evangelical I speak to tells me that they are saved by grace alone. But James 1:5 says that “faith without works is dead”.
Christian: Do you count any Evangelicals among your friends?
Mormon: Yes, I do and they all say the same thing – “grace alone, faith alone”.
Christian: These Evangelical friends, do they go to church?
Mormon: Yes, we see them setting off Sunday mornings about the same time as us.
Christian: And do they have a nice building in which to meet?
Mormon: Yes, it’s a nice building.
Christian: And they have a pastor? Is he full time? Does he get paid to preach?
Mormon: Yes, their pastor is a professional man.
Christian: And do your Evangelical friends get involved in the community?
Mormon: Yes, they seem to have open houses just like we do and they run a soup kitchen. They also have something called – “Street Pastors” I think.
Christian: How do you think the building, its upkeep, the pastor, etc. are paid for?
Mormon: I suppose they take up a collection or something.
Christian: So, these Christian friends, who don’t believe in works, attend church regularly and seem to pay for their own building, pastor and running expenses by what I suppose you would call tithes and offerings. They busy themselves with charity work, invite the neighbours in for refreshments and make every effort to tell the gospel. Quite busy then; for people who don’t believe in works?
Mormon: I hadn’t thought of it that way. But if works are required then why don’t you say as much instead of continually talking about “grace alone”?
Christian: But works are not required.
Mormon: I don’t understand. You are making no sense.
Christian: I am making perfect sense; biblical sense. But you are right in saying you don’t understand. It is because you are so full of Mormon preconceptions about my faith that you have left no room for any other understanding. My faith will never fit into the scheme of Mormonism because it looks nothing like Mormonism. No temples, no “priesthood”, except that which we share as followers of Christ, no “law of eternal progression” because all that we need to grow more Christ-like we find in Christ.
“Church” is not, for us, an institution we join to be saved but a natural congregating of all those who are in Christ to sing his praises, encourage one another and work to build his kingdom.
Mormon: So where is the motivation to do all the things you do if you are already 'saved by grace?' It sounds to me like a dangerous doctrine. If you tell a man he is saved by faith you undermine his moral senses. If he only has to trust he gets the idea he can live as he pleases and still go to heaven.
Christian: Do you believe the Bible?
Mormon: We believe the Bible, 'as far as it is translated correctly.'
Christian: We believe the Bible – period. And the Bible answers your question. Maybe if you learned to trust the Bible more you would know this for yourself. Did you know that Paul was asked the same question you just asked.
If Paul was asked the same question, accused of teaching licence to sin, what do you think he was preaching? Mormonism? Or the message I believe in? Surely if he was preaching what you preach no one would ask him that question.
Mormon: I suppose so.
Christian: Paul answered his critics in his letter to Christians in Galatia (part of modern Turkey). When his critics charged him as you charge me (Galatians 2:17) he pointed out:
We are justified in Christ Galatians 2:17
That is, our justification comes from being united with Christ. Someone who is united with Christ is a changed person. That person is living a new life in Christ and the idea of going back to the old life is inconceivable. Paul explains:
For through the law I died to the law Galatians 2:19
The penalty for sin, death, was paid by Christ at Calvary and so the law is satisfied in Christ's perfect sacrifice so that I might live for God. If I trust in him the law has no more demands on me because it has been paid in full in Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ Galatians 2:20
By trusting in Christ I am counted as crucified with Christ and, through his bearing my sin on the cross, my sin is blotted out.
I no longer live (the old self has died), but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
Where do we get the motivation to the good works that you admit you see your Evangelical Christian neighbours do? The drive to good works is the new life in Christ, a life that demonstrates the saved state of the person living out that life in Christ's power.
Mormon: But James definitely writes faith without works is dead
Christian: Yes, and he is right. But he is not saying we are saved by a combination of faith and works. Rather, he is saying that faith issues in works, as I have explained, and if no works follow then that faith is not a living faith. Remember that James is a church leader writing to Christians, a saved people. He is urging them to live out the new life they have in Christ. Paul writes the same thing to the church in Philippi.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposes. Philip.2:12-13
Notice, he wrote work out your salvation and not work for your salvation. Note also that it is God who works in you to will and to act...
The Christian is a marvellous creature, the world has never seen the like, new, born-again, or born from above, born of the Spirit Jesus calls it in his conversation with Nicodemus Jn.3:1-9
Christians all over the world do good works but we don't “believe in” them the way Mormons do, that is we don't trust them to gain us salvation in God's kingdom. We are saved by grace through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God...Eph.2:8
As Paul explains in his Galatian letter:
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing Galatians 2:21
It is, I suggest, a serious business to set aside the grace of God and trust in works of the law, of any law.