The scriptures teach that through his atonement, Jesus Christ provided salvation. Peter explained it this way.
Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:10-12)
King Benjamin taught salvation comes only through the blood of Christ.
For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. (Mosiah 3:18)
Jesus Christ is the only gate by which we can enter the Kingdom of God.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Conditions for Salvation
Many people think belief and confession of Jesus Christ are sufficient for us to be saved, that is, for us to receive a remission of sins. They say ordinances such as baptism are not necessary. Let us look at some of the scriptures they quote. We read in Acts of Paul and Silas being placed in prison for teaching Jesus Christ. The Lord caused an earthquake to occur that shook the prison walls and caused the doors to open. The jail keeper awoke from his sleep, saw the damage, and assumed the prisoners had fled. Paul called to him and assured him the prisoners were still there. The jailer then fell down in fright before Paul and Silas and asked what he should do to be saved.
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16:30-31)
Another scripture that is often quoted to teach that belief in Christ is sufficient for salvation is from Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
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.
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:9-10,13)
In these scriptures, Paul tells what one must do to be saved. He said to Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and to call upon the name of the Lord. If those scriptures are used by themselves, they do seem to teach that belief in Jesus and confession of him is all that is needed for salvation. However, let us take a closer look at those scriptures by asking two questions.
- Did Paul say that belief and confession are all one has to do?
- Did he imply that those things are all one has to do?
The answer to both questions is “No”. Paul merely said one had to do those things. One does have to call on the name of the Lord and believe on Jesus Christ to receive remission of sins. In order to find out if those things are all one has to do to be saved, we must turn to other verses and study the context of the scriptures as a whole. That is, we must see if the scriptures teach if other things besides faith and confession of Christ are necessary for forgiveness of sins.
The Grace of God
The Nephite prophet Lehi taught his son Jacob that the Atonement of Jesus Christ comes through the grace of Jesus Christ.
Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
Behold he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. (2 Nephi 2:6-10, emphasis added)
Our righteous works will not bring us back to God. Only through Jesus Christ, through his mercy and grace, can we come to God.
Many years later, Jacob became the prophet to the Nephite people, and he also taught the grace of Christ.
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.
Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen. (2 Nephi 10:24-25, emphasis added)
Jacob said it is through the grace of God that we are saved but we must be reconciled to God before his grace will envelop us. That is, we must come into harmony with God and establish a friendship with Him, a friendship in the full sense of the word. Reconciliation is more than just a “lip” acceptance of Christ; it is a complete dedication to and acceptance of him. Then, the grace of God enters our lives and we are cleansed through the atonement. Nephi clarified the concept taught by Jacob, that we must be reconciled with God before his grace will enter our lives.
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to 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, emphasis added)
That is, we have to do all we can do to live the Gospel. Without obedience we can not be in harmony with God. Through obedience, we can be reconciled with him. However, we must realize that we can never do enough to satisfy the demands of justice. We can not “work our way to Heaven”. We do our best, some days doing well and other days stumbling and falling. Through our faith, we continue in our attempts to follow Christ, and we plead for the Savior’s atonement to cleanse us. Christ’s grace then enters our lives, and we obtain salvation.
The principle of grace was taught by the Lord to the brother of Jared.
And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:26-27)
Even though we have weaknesses, if we call upon the Lord for help, come to him in repentance and obedience, and trust in him, his grace will do what we can not do. Through his grace, our weaknesses can become strengths. Notice that the Lord said he would make weak things strong. We can dedicate ourselves to self-improvement, but our efforts by themselves will not overcome our weaknesses. We do all we can to improve ourselves, and in so doing we come to the Lord in humility, meekness, and repentance, and then the Lord does the additional that is required.
Christ is the Gift
In writing to the Ephesians, Paul made a beautiful statement about salvation coming through the grace of God:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The interpretation of those verses is controversial. Non-LDS Christians interpret them to mean that salvation comes as a free gift from God because of our faith in Him. Latter-day Saints have difficulty with those verses because they seem to conflict with the Church’s strong emphasis on the necessity of good works.
I propose an interpretation of those verses that is based on the Greek meaning of the word “gift”. Through this interpretation I have come to appreciate those verses as a beautiful expression of the Atonement, and I believe the verses are consistent with LDS doctrine.
In verse 8, Paul states that we are saved by grace. Then he continues that verse by stating that “it” is the gift of God, without clarifying what “it” is: The common interpretation of that phrase is that after we have faith in God, He gives salvation to us as a gift—“it” is salvation. The Greek meaning of the word “gift”, however, indicates that Paul was not speaking of the gift of salvation but was referring to a different gift. The word “gift” in verse 8 comes from the Greek word doron and refers to a present in the form of a sacrifice or offering(1). Paul was, I believe, saying that salvation is the sacrifice of God for our sins. That is, “it” is the atonement of Jesus Christ, and Jesus performed the atonement by giving himself as a gift in the final and ultimate sacrifice.
In verse 9, Paul states that the gift referred to in verse 8 did not come by way of the works of man: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Obedience and our repentance have nothing to do with the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Jesus performed that unselfish mission completely by himself.
The meaning of Ephesians is clear if we refer to the Greek meaning and substitute the word sacrifice for the word gift.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the sacrifice of God:
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Salvation is Conditional
Let us look from two opposing viewpoints at this principle of Christ giving himself as the gift.
- Jesus gave himself as a completely unconditional gift.
- Jesus gave himself as a conditional gift.
If salvation through Jesus Christ is unconditional, then salvation from sin is a universal salvation in which all persons regardless of their righteousness or unrighteousness will be forgiven. The scriptures, however, teach salvation will not be given to the unrighteous. Thus, we must conclude that salvation is conditional, that Jesus has stipulated that certain conditions must be observed before he will allow his atonement, his blood, to cleanse us from our sins. Jesus performed the atonement, and he has the right to stipulate conditions we must meet if we are to receive remission of sins.
It is important that we understand the conditions upon which the atonement is offered by the Savior to us. If a person does not have belief and faith in Jesus and acceptance of him as the Savior, that person will not receive forgiveness of sin. Does the person’s faith and confession of Jesus remove the sins? Of course not, that is nonsense. Only Jesus’ blood through his atonement removes sins, but Jesus requires we have faith before he will allow his atonement to remove our sins. Likewise, Luke 13:3 tells us except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish. Does our repentance remove our sins? Of course not, that is also nonsense. Jesus does, however, require repentance before he will forgive our sins. Matthew 7:21-23 tell us 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; that is, obedience to God’s commandments is necessary if we are to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Does our obedience remove our sins? Of course not, that is silly too. As with repentance and faith, Jesus requires obedience before he will allow his atonement and suffering to remove our sins.
To borrow a term from electronics, remission of sin comes through Christ’s blood, but faith, repentance, and obedience are triggers that allow his blood to remove our sins. The triggers have to occur before the remission of sin will occur, but the triggers do not cause the forgiveness of sin.
How then do we explain the verses that say those who believe in Jesus will be saved? To understand the relationship between the verses that say we are saved through faith and the verses that say repentance and obedience are necessary, let us borrow a term from mathematics: necessary but not sufficient. In proving mathematical theorems, it is common to have logical steps that are part of the proof but are not sufficient to complete the proof. Those steps are necessary to the proof but do not comprise the complete proof. Likewise, various verses of the scriptures give necessary conditions for salvation, but they do not give all of the conditions.
To get all of the conditions for salvation, we have to take the context of all the scriptures and see the whole picture. When Paul and Silas told the jailer if he believed in Jesus he would be saved, Paul was telling the jailer that faith is necessary. Paul did not say the only thing the jailer had to do was have faith. Paul gave a necessary but not sufficient condition for salvation. The jailer was new to the Christian religion, and Paul talked to him from an elementary viewpoint, much as we would talk to a small child. Paul gave the jailer “milk” before the “meat”.
The Pentecostal Pattern
Let us now discuss the conditions that Jesus has set if those who are accountable are to receive salvation through his Atonement. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost visited the Apostles and the many people assembled in Jerusalem. Peter preached a powerful sermon and bore his testimony that Jesus was Lord and Christ. The multitude were “pricked in their heart” (they received a witness of the Holy Ghost that what Peter had said was true), and they asked Peter what they should do now they had faith in Christ. Luke described the event as follows.
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:37-42,47, emphasis added)
This was a significant event, because it was the first activity of the Apostles in fulfillment of their charge to “teach all nations”. This event set the pattern for subsequent events. That pattern consisted of the following steps.
- The people developed faith in Christ
- They repented of their sins
- They were baptized for the remission of their sins
- They received the gift of the Holy Ghost
- They lived the commandments of God
Through this process, the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.