For The Love of God

In John Piper’s second edition of Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist he shares this story:
Supposing I come home to my wife on our wedding anniversary with a big bunch of red roses. When she opens the door flinging her arms around me and thanks me for the gift, I could make one of two responses . If I say to her, ‘I had to buy these for you – it is my duty. At Wedding Anniversaries these are the things husbands are supposed to do’ she would probably not be very impressed! If however, I respond by saying ‘Darling I love you, and it gives me great pleasure to give you flowers’ she will not turn to me and say: ‘How selfish you are talking about YOUR pleasure’. But rather will respond positively seeing that the pleasure I gain from giving her flowers dignifies both the act and the action!

Piper gives a challenging and liberating message that God wants us to serve him, not out of obligation but out of joy and passion. I hope this might explain why Evangelicals are so enamored with the idea of salvation by grace alone.

In our teaching, a man’s works can not bring him salvation. Only the perfect sacrifice of Christ is enough. No amount of work will add or subtract to what is already perfectly given. Since our works are meaningless toward our salvation there must be some other reason we perform them. It can be out of obligation and duty or it can be out of love and passion for the God’s Kingdom.

Merely doing good works out of duty doesn’t express gratitude to God the same way doing them out of love does. Since we aren’t earning our salvation, we can be confident that leaving something out will not affect our eternal status. We don’t have a check-list to fulfill on our road to heaven. This gives us great freedom to serve out of our own gifts and passions. We serve out of joy and delight. With gratitude we build God’s kingdom because of the what it has done for us. Never are our works an effort to prove we deserve God’s love, instead they are an effort to prove that we love God.

I hope this helps explain why we lhold the idea of salvation by grace alone so dearly.

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8 thoughts on “For The Love of God

  1. what is already perfectly given

    This is definitely a powerful and convincing thought. LDSs would have a hard time disagreeing with this. It bothers me that I think that there are some who’d disagree with the idea that we should render good works based solely on this motivation alone but I know that some staunchly feel that we behave good and do good works because it is commanded first and that love cannot be the entire reason (though we think love should be a main motivator, not fear or desire for reward).

    For me, I’d agree with you in about 99% of everything said. This has gained me something of a “Grace Mormon” reputation (which, I may add, I’m quite proud of). As for the 1% difference I’d say it comes from thinking that our actions can cause us to fall from grace. That and the (IMO) slightly more complicated way of accepting that grace (namely the Church’s ordinances).

  2. Is this not works?

    Matthew 24:34-40 “34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
    35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
    36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
    37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
    38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
    39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
    40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. “

  3. Many Mormons I know are still very much in the mindset that each good deed is just another drop in the bucket. Over time, these deeds accumulate, little by little. Then, after death, if we have accepted Christ as our Savior, He makes up the difference, however wide it may be.

    I’ve never liked this view and I don’t think it’s really supported in the Book of Mormon. I also think it trivializes Christ’s role a bit much.

    One of the key sermons in the Book of Mormon is given in Mosiah chapters 2 through 5, by a righteous king (Benjamin) addressing his people. It is one of Mormonism’s key texts on the Atonement and grace vs. works.

    “if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another – I say , if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.”

    Mosiah 2:21

    He also notes that all God asks is that we keep His commandments, but that the moment we do, He immediately blesses us for it. So we never get ahead on paying Him back. We are forever indebted and it is impossible to break even.

    Later in the speech, Benjamin explains the ordinances necessary for becoming Christ’s own people. He also explains the process of conversion. Then in chapter 4, he basically states that if you are truly converted to Christ and have repented, THEN come the fruits of that acceptance of Christ – good parenting, charitable giving, kindness, honesty, etc., etc.

    It seems to me that the “works” required in Mormon theology are not actually your typical generic good deeds. They are the ordinances and process of repentance and faith in Christ. The other commonly recognized “good works” are then a natural result.

    I don’t think there is any “filling my jar” with good works with a helpful Christ ready to “top me off” in the end. I believe that all human good works are flawed at the outset. When I play with my children, I do so for selfish reasons. When I give a gift to the poor, I have impure motives. When I pray, my mind wanders. Nothing I do can ever be pure in such a way that I could stand in the presence of God unashamed. As Christ said, “there are none who doeth good, no not one.” And He meant it literally. The very moment I drop a penny in my spiritual piggy bank, I am not making any sort of “progress.” I’m simply digging myself a deeper hole.

    The only way out is through constant repentance.

    That’s my understanding of the Atonement anyway. It’s not shared by a lot of Mormons, as I mentioned above. But I think it’s the truer reading of Mormon scripture.

    I also realize that Evangelicals are likely to have some real problems with my take on Christ’s Atonement. But the evangelicals here can probably explain that better than I could anyway.

  4. Later in the speech, Benjamin explains the ordinances necessary for becoming Christ’s own people. He also explains the process of conversion. Then in chapter 4, he basically states that if you are truly converted to Christ and have repented, THEN come the fruits of that acceptance of Christ – good parenting, charitable giving, kindness, honesty, etc., etc.

    Seth, this was basically the Evangelical understanding of faith and works that you laid out here.

    John Piper would definitely have a problem with you’re finding fault with doing things out of our own motives, but that’s really neither here nor there for me. You definitely should check out his book. I think that your understanding of grace is in line with his such that you would enjoy reading the book and won’t be concerned with “fixing” his view on that point.

    Ed,
    I don’t dispute the scripture you posted one iota. But there is a problem when you take that scripture by itself and neglect the rest of the Bible.

    Romans 9:31-33
    31but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” 33As it is written:
    “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall,
    and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

    Ephesians 2:8-10
    8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

  5. Mosiah 2:24
    “And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.”

    Ed: I don’t think that what you pointed out is ‘works’. I think that what the scriptures are saying there is that we need to have our heart in the right place; we need to have the right attitudes. Which is why, as in the scripture I pointed out, even when you can’t give, or act, or whatever, you are supposed to want to.

    The whole thing is talking about the kind of person that we’re supposed to be. The ‘changed countenance’, if you will.

    I’ve always thought that people who read the Book of Mormon and came out thinking that they had a hand in their own salvation–besides coming forward with a broken heart and a contrite spirit–then they should read it again.

  6. I agree, katyjane. I think the Book of Mormon is a very grace-oriented text.

    I also think that the Book of Mormon doesn’t actually reflect much of real Latter-Day Saint doctrine and practice. On my mission, this bothered me a bit. I knew that the Bible was supposed to be contradictory (since Mormonism teaches that it has been changed and corrupted and often written purposely obscure because the Israelites were looking beyond the mark, etc.), so I expected to be confused by it. But the Book of Mormon? It was supposed ot be the plain and simple thing that dispelled doubt and confusion.

    I’m not satying the Book of Mormon is riddled with contradictions or anything, but there were a few passages that seemed to directly contradict modern LDS practice and belief.

    I was also always puzzled by the fact that the Book of Mormon never even hinted at many major LDS doctrines like work for the dead, the importance of temples, the degrees of glory, the pre-existence, etc. I mean, the Book of Mormon people surely knew about that stuff, right? This isn’t super-deep meat like Kolob or anything, the stuff you’d expect to be in the sealed portion of the plates, or maybe the stuff that Jesus said in 3d Nephi that the disciples were commanded to not write down. This is basic stuff- it’s in the new member discussions.

    If all these truths have been restored, why is there no inkling that they were ever taught before, especially in the Book of Mormon which is theoretically free from tampering?

    Once I started to doubt the Church and fall away, I realized the simplest answer which is also the most likely: Joseph Smith didn’t include those doctrines when he wrote the Book of Mormon because he hadn’t invented them yet.

    Kind of a sad realization for me, but I definitely feel that it’s the best story to fit the facts.

  7. Well Kullervo,

    I’ve noticed the same things. I guess we just took different conclusions from them.

    I do have a question though. Whenever I read accounts of old Christian belief and practice, it seems that Protestants used to be almost as focused on good works as Mormons are today. Also lots of hellfire and damnation being preached and a heavy emphasis on correct behavior.

    Is it fair to say that the current Protestant emphasis on grace is also a fairly recent historical development?

  8. eh, I think it depends on who you read at what point in history. There certainly have been differing focuses on externals but I think the concept of salvation by grace has been constant. I was raised in a fairly legalistic denomination (perhaps more legalistic than even Mormonism) but it was always clear that our salvation was based on grace despite the high expectations on our behavior (for sanctification).

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