In my “Come, Follow Me” studies this week, I searched Romans 1-6 and found many teachings about justification and grace. Paul teaches, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10) and “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). He explains, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-23-24).
We should be obedient to the commandments, but our obedience alone cannot save us (see Romans 3:27-31). It is as though all mankind was plunged into a deep pit when Adam and Eve fell. No matter how hard we work to provide a way for ourselves out of the pit, we can never build a “ladder” long enough to reach the top of the pit. We need someone to lower a rope from the top and pull us the last few feet out of the pit. The only Person who can lower the rope is Jesus Christ, and He does so through the power of His atoning sacrifice.
President Ezra Taft Benson taught the importance of knowing about the Fall of Adam in order to understand why we need the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As quoted here, President Benson wrote in his book A Witness and a Warning (p. 33) that “just as a man does not really desire food until he is hungry, so he does not desire the salvation of Christ until he knows why he needs Christ. No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind. And no other book in the world explains this vital doctrine nearly as well as the Book of Mormon.”
It is by the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we can all overcome the effects of death and sin and be worthy of entering the presence of Heavenly Father. It is the grace of Jesus Christ that saves us as represented by the rope in the analogy of mankind being in a pit. It is this grace that allows us to be forgiven for our sins and enables us to do good works.
President David O. McKay taught this principle by sharing an analogy about a boy who was about to drown while swimming with his buddies. One of his friends saw that the boy was in trouble and found a long pole to extend to the lad. The drowning boy grabbed the end of the pole and was drawn to shore.
All the boys declared that the venturesome lad owed his life to the boy who furnished the means of rescue.
This is undoubtedly the fact; and yet in spite of the means furnished him, if the lad had not taken advantage of it, if he had not put forth all the personal effort at his command, he would have drowned, notwithstanding the heroic act of his comrade” (“The Gospel of Work,” Instructor, Jan. 1955, 1).
As President McKay emphasizes, the drowning lad would not have been saved if he had not grasped the end of the extended pole and hung on. The same is true for us. Even though Jesus Christ extends grace to us, we must do our part by obeying His commandments and becoming His true disciples.
Some people question whether we are saved by faith or works. Would the boy have been saved if he merely had faith that the extended rod could save him? No, he had to grasp the end of it and hold on while he was pulled ashore. Christian writer C. S. Lewis wrote, “It [seems] to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary” (Mere Christianity, 148). Just as we need both blades of the scissors, we need to exercise faith and do good works in order to access the grace of Jesus Christ.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about the need for both grace and works. He says that grace is a gift from our loving Heavenly Father.
If grace is a gift of God, why then is obedience to God’s commandments so important? Why bother with God’s commandments – or repentance, for that matter? Why not just admit we’re sinful and let God save us? …
Brothers and sisters, we obey the commandments of God – out of love for Him!
Trying to understand God’s gift of grace with all our heart and mind gives us all the more reasons to love and obey our Heavenly Father with meekness and gratitude. As we walk the path of discipleship, it refines us, it improves us, it helps us to become more like Him, and it leads us back to His presence….
Therefore, our obedience to God’s commandments comes as a natural outgrowth of our endless love and gratitude for the goodness of God. This form of genuine love and gratitude will miraculously merge our works with God’s grace….
Dear brothers and sisters, living the gospel faithfully is not a burden. It is a joyful rehearsal – a preparation for inheriting the grand glory of the eternities. We seek to obey our Heavenly Father because our spirits will become more attuned to spiritual things….
Grace is a gift of God, and our desire to be obedient to each of God’s commandments is the reaching out of our mortal hand to receive this sacred gift from our Heavenly Father.
We learn from all these sources that we must exercise faith in Jesus Christ. However, we also learn that faith alone will not bring us back into His presence. We learn that we must perform good works and show our love for Heavenly Father by being obedient to His commandments. We also learn that we cannot climb out of the “pit” of mortality by ourselves. After all that we can do, we must rely on the grace of Jesus Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.