What is grace?

Well, I’m home again today.  It’s my last “regularly” scheduled Monday that can be considered a weekend.  Next week I swapped out days in order to have an extended birthday weekend with my husband and to get our house straitened up for the spring.  

After that special extended weekend our floor should be finished and all the base boards down.  We’ve only been working on the floor for .. two years now.  My Mister J has a tendency to start projects and not finish them and there is a growing threat that the half started projects currently living in our garage may grow legs and find their way into a construction dumpster since we still have access to one in our development.

So much to do between then and now, but first I need to conquer this stomach flu and get back to work.  The Doc says I can head back on Wednesday but I have strict instructions to head to the emergency room if I start vomiting again.  Ugh, stomach flu.

Once all of this is over, I’ll be working a 5 am to 2 pm schedule Monday through Friday.  That means that for the first time in fifteen years I’ll have a normal weekend and even better, despite the hours being a lot earlier than most people prefer, I get to avoid Austin traffic!  

I’m excited for the new schedule and for the position at work where I get to focus on coaching my team mates.

Now, what does all of this have to do with grace?  Not much but I figure some more get to know you touchy feely type info about my life in a way that makes me a real person to my readers would be a great way to get started.

I’ve posted a few times that I’m preparing a lesson on grace for my first lesson as part of our Young Women’s program.

There are a lot of things that come to mind during my preparation for this upcoming lesson.  There are a number of images, a number of songs and hymns and conversations I’ve experienced since the time my nephew passed away and the one below is the one that stands out the most:

Music, amazing music, is a great way to help focus in and find yourself connected to the Spirit.  I’m one of those people who get emotional when they listen to music.  For example, when I hear The Motions by Matthew West, I tend to cry.  

There are so many times in my life where I’ve felt as though I was just going through the motions.  Almost like I was pretending or wearing a mask and floating through life without connecting or endearing anyone to me or being endeared to anyone.  I’ve had so many wake up calls in my life where I’ve made horrible mistakes that should have sent me down a road where I would have died far too young. 

How scary is it to look back and think about what his grace has enabled me to do even when I didn’t realize it was there with me.  I found the strength to finally free myself from a situation where I was not safe.  

Domestic violence is terrifying and it sent me through a spiral of depression, fear and a crazy roller coaster of horrible relationships that could have also ended in a world of pain for myself and my family.  But thanks to his grace, not only have I been able to survive, I’ve also been able to forgive.  

If our Savior could endure so much in order to forgive me, wasn’t that enough for me to be able to forgive the one that hurt me?  What an amazing gift grace is.  It took the guilt and the fear and the pain and lifted it off my shoulders and through time and prayer I was able to forgive.  

Of course there are also moments when I’m listening to the radio and I hear things like Gods Not Dead by the Newsboys and I feel the rush of hope that comes with remembering that His grace means that my God is inside of me through his Spirit and it is roaring like a lion!

There are other things that come to mind when thinking about grace which have helped me begin to prepare for the work that would be done in my life.  Every step I’ve taken, every hurt, ever triumph, all have brought me to a moment where I have the privilege of teaching the young women in our ward.  

In preparation of this upcoming lesson, I’ve been reading scripture about the atonement and about grace, as well as listening and studying the talks that are part of the lesson plan: What is grace?

First, I have to tell you how blessed we are as a church to have a program that we can use to teach our youth that combines modern revelation with the living word as we see it in Scripture, not just the Holy Bible, but the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants as well as the Pearl of Great Price.

I’m not one to get into apologetics, thats not the purpose of me writing here about grace.  I’m sure that there may be moments in time later that we can get into apologetics and that we can have a grand old time doing so, but that isn’t the purpose of me writing about grace today.

No matter which denomination you are a part of, one thing we have in common is the belief that through His grace in the power of the atonement that we are empowered to being saved.

There was a point in time that my mother argued with me that because I joined the Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-Day Saints that I no longer believed in Jesus because of a simple caveat to how Mormons view grace as seen in 2 Nephi 25:23 as seen below: 

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.

What is this “after all we can do” thing that seems to separate Mormons from other Christians?  It was during an evening at a local recovery program as my husband and I began dating that I was told that Mormons aren’t Christians because we don’t believe in grace and don’t have His grace in our leaves because of that one phrase.

My first knee jerk gut reaction at this point is one where I want to ask “did you see the name on the building”.  Of course people on the outside can see this response as antagonistic or even one with an attitude that can put off someone who is having that conversation.  (Remember that moment earlier when I mentioned that I didn’t want this to be an apologetics commentary, I’m doing my best to steer away from that…)

The hardest part about this “after all we an do” phrase is that in the long run, when you separate it from the over all message about grace found in 2 Nephi 25, it is found without it’s full, robust context which is a huge disservice in a situation where we’re discussing grace

So let us take a look at what this part of the Book of Mormon is able to tell us about grace:

20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them, and also gave him power that he should smite the rock and the water should come forth; yea, behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.
 21 Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand.
 22 Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.
 23 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.
 24 And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keepthe law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.
 25 For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.
 26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
 27 Wherefore, we speak concerning the law that our children may know the deadness of the law; and they, by knowing the deadness of the law, may look forward unto that life which is in Christ, and know for what end the law was given. And after the law is fulfilled in Christ, that they need not harden their hearts against him when the law ought to be done away.
 28 And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffneckedpeople; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law.
 29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.
 30 And, inasmuch as it shall be expedient, ye must keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses.

So here we are, having learned about the prophecies of Christ and grace and the laws that we were expected to abide by.  What does it mean?

Well, after a lot of personal study over the last handful of years, I understand why it could be argued that we don’t believe in grace as Mormons.  But here’s the catch.

Doesn’t the after all we can do mean that no matter what we do both by serving our fellow man and abiding by the laws and following the examples of the ministry of Christ that we are empowered by his grace no matter what we do?

There are so many articles and arguments that address this one phrase that consists of only five words.  The amount of writing and the number of talks regarding this phrase is simply staggering.  But luckily, we are thoroughly blessed by the apologists who gathered up so many of these quotes and articles regarding faith and grace for us that in attempting to indicate we do not have grace, they actually provide us with a comprehensive listing of quotes from talks that you can’t help but wonder who they’re trying to convince what grace is and how it pertains to all of us.

One of my favorite quotes actually comes from a talk given on December 9, 1982 by President Ezra Taft Benson titled “After All We Can Do” which is quoted in The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson:

“What is meant by ‘after all we can do’? ‘After all we can do’ includes extending our best effort. ‘After all we can do’ includes living His commandments. ‘After all we can do’ includes loving our fellowmen and praying for those who regard us as their adversary. ‘After all we can do’ means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and giving ‘succor [to] those who stand in need of [our] succor’ (Mosiah 4:15)-remembering that what we do unto one of the least of God’s children, we do unto Him (see Matthew 25:34-40; D&C 42:38). ‘After all we can do’ means leading chaste, clean, pure lives, being scrupulously honest in all our dealings and treating others the way we would want to be treated.”

A free copy of The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson is availableonline at LDS.Org and also through Deseret Book.

More recently, in the 2010 October General Conference, Elder Dahlin H. Oaks said in his talk Two Lines of Communication said :

“Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).”

There is so much more on this topic that I’ve been exploring in preparation of next week that my head is simply exploding (in a good way) with all of it.  I think maybe after all this chit chat that I should actually get down to defining grace and answering a few questions about grace based on the information I’ve been devouring over the last few days.

At least, these are my answers!

What is grace?

Grace is the divine help and strength received through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

What will we receive because of grace?

We receive forgiveness, resurrection, immortality in the next life and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Why do we need grace?

Grace bridges the gap between us and our Heavenly Father caused by sin.

How can we use grace in our every day lives?

Grace strengthens, comforts and urishes our spirits in times of struggle.  While prayer may not necessarily change our circumstances, grace gives us the strength to face our trials in life.

What an amazing thought.  The atonement is the redeeming power that can make bad men good, but the enabling power of grace not only makes good men better, but it also gives us the strength to accomplish things through Christ that I could have never done on my own.

Now that I’m done rambling, I hope that you all have a blessed week.