Grace Redefined by the Mormon Church

Grace Redefined by the Mormon Church

“Is Grace like frosting on a cake or both cake and frosting?”



For over a year I had dialogues with the same New Zealander Mormon missionary in Liverpool and the City. Elder D completed his mission a week ago.  He was one of the most articulate and well-informed missionaries I had known.  Whenever I met Elder D, I brought up the issues of forgiveness and grace.  I repeatedly made him aware of the terminological differences between Christianity and Mormonism and compared and contrasted Christian teachings of forgiveness and grace with those of Mormonism.  I told him, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church) teaches that grace is like the frosting on a cake, but biblical grace is both cakes and frosting”(R. Philip Roberts, Mormonism Unmasked, Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998, p.89).  He said, “ Oh, no. For us grace is like part of the ingredients of a cake.”  What he meant was works are a twin sister of faith as the means of salvation (living eternity with our Heavenly Father).


Mormon grace is like the frosting on a cake!! 


I attended a NT course at a Mormon Institute in order to understand how the Mormon Church interprets the Bible and then to develop apologetic methods for reaching out to Mormons.  When we studied the Letter to the Romans, an Institute teacher taught us the Mormon understanding of grace.


The Book of Mormon says, “it is by grace that we are saved after all that we can do”(2 Nephi 25:23) (emphasis is mine).  According to Mormonism salvation by grace merely means resurrection from the dead.  And beyond this we must work hard to earn a place in one of three kingdoms.


“Grace: ……The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength given through the bounteous mercy and love of Christ---This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”(LDS Bible Dictionary, p.697)


“Grace is granted to men proportionately as they conform to the standards of personal righteousness that are part of the gospel plan” (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Book craft, Utah, 1979,p.339 - a non official Mormon source)


The teacher gave us a few illustrations of Mormon teachings of grace.  A small girl wants to buy a bicycle.  She starts saving up her money, doing house chores, washing a huge dog and walking him. She makes every effort to buy a bicycle.  One day she asks her dad to go to a bicycle shop to find out prices of bicycles. At the shop she was disappointed to learn the price. The bicycle was too expensive for her. Then, her dad says to the daughter something like this, “You’ve done enough.  I will pay the rest. You can now buy a bicycle.”  In this illustration our bicycle is exaltation (living as a god in the highest place of the Celestial kingdom).  The girl made her efforts and then Christ’s grace was given, so that she would live as a god.


The second illustration given by the Institute teacher was that we are at the bottom of a deep pit. There is a ladder, which is not long enough to reach ground level. Anyway we must climb up the ladder. When we reach the top of the ladder, someone will throw a rope so that we could grab it and we will be able to get out of the pit.  The teacher said that climbing up the ladder is keeping the commandments of God. She also said that when you

reach the top of the ladder Christ would bridge the gap with grace, so that we may gain exaltation.


Mormons bake a cake with best ingredients following instructions (the teachings, the laws and commandments of the Mormon Church) carefully and faithfully. After they have done their best, a chef (Mormon Jesus) examines their work and does the finishing touch on a cake. This finishing touch is grace according to Mormonism.


Biblical grace is like both cake and frosting  


In Mormonism, the idea of partnership between Jesus Christ and man occupies the foreground and the significance of what Christ achieved on the cross recedes to the background. The Mormon Church seems to redefine the meaning of grace to suit their teachings. Grace according to the Bible is “undeserved blessing freely bestowed on man by God”(ed. Walter Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology). “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of your yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  Our spending eternity with our Heavenly Father is a gift from God.


In the Bible grace is like both cake and frosting. God prepared a cake for us. God initiated a rescue plan for our sin problems and Jesus died for sinners like us, so that our sins may be forgiven. What we need to do to taste a piece of cake (spending eternity with the Heavenly Father) is to receive it as a gift.  We cannot deserve it or earn it. “It is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” God does not have second thoughts, does he? You could have everlasting life as a present reality today.           


Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie said that grace is granted proportionately to man’s conformance to ‘the standards of personal righteousness.’ This teaching directly opposes biblical teaching. “Moreover, the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”(Romans 5:20 KJV).


A few months ago when I met Elder D in Liverpool, we talked about forgiveness and grace again. He said, “If we are saved by faith through grace alone as you said, I am saved.” Here he was equating salvation with spending eternity with God. I told him that I was not sure if he had salvation as a present reality, as he had different understandings of God and Jesus and the means of salvation. I talked about the Parable of the Pharisee and the tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14.  It was the tax collector who went back home as a friend with God, not the self-righteous Pharisee. I said to Elder D that God eagerly waits for friends (repentant sinners), not righteous strangers.  I quoted Romans 10: 3- 4  “For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”(English Standard Version)        


Points to ponder    


I have been haunted by the Elder D’s claim to salvation. It poses a question.  I do not think that Mormons will go to hell simply because they are Mormons. But people will go to hell when their sins remain unforgiven. Eternal life is a gift from God. At the end of the day what matters most is our living personal relationship with Jesus. Matthew 7:21-23 is a sober warning to us. Merely holding correct theology does not save us. Not everyone who talks about the kingdom of heaven belongs to the Kingdom. If we do not know Jesus but claim to do things in his name, he will say he does not know us and we will be rejected (7:23). On the day of judgement Mormons may say to Jesus, “We went on mission to preach the restored gospel. We prayed in your name, kneeling down. We baptised people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” My heart breaks when I think about Mormons’ horror on that day when they realise that the Jesus they put their trust is not the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, and will be eternally separated from God. In Christ God dwells fully. Christ has made God known fully.  And no later prophets add to the knowledge of God. There is no other way to know God or receive his salvation. Our job is to make Mormons understand that that God has made himself known in Christ through the Bible, and not through the Book of Mormon and modern day revelations. We should help Mormons see that knowing God in this way, we will have a God-honouring relationship with Him.


Copyright 2003 Mormon Outreach Ministries,Sydney