Mormon’s are easy targets. The materials at which stones can be thrown is rich and varied, but often over-used; the same subjects come up repeatedly.
The clothing of one familiar strawman argument is that Mormon’s are trying to earn their way into heaven; we don’t accept the grace of Christ. It can easily be argued that Mormon’s have helped dress and stuff this particular strawman by focusing on a checklist of Do’s and Dont’s, but this doesn’t necessarily make the accusation correct.
I participate in a pub theology group called Theology on Tap Logan. One of the participants, an Eastern Orthodox Christian who is much more knowledgeable than I, made the following observation. He stated that Evangelicals often consider salvation an event. A question like “Are you saved?” is a foreign concept to those of the Orthodox traditions. Not because they deny the salvation of Christ, but because they see salvation as a life-long process of becoming like Christ. He further pointed out that Orthodox Christians do not see salvation as a personal activity, but one involving the community.
Mormon’s share this perspective. Our focus on becoming Christ-like does not mean that we deny his grace, but, on the contrary, it means that we accept it. The question then becomes: How do we become like Christ? Just because we accept the salvation that He offers and wish to follow Him does not mean that we immediately know what that means in our daily activities.
While listening to a Christian radio program, I once heard a short promotion about a sermon series dedicated to learning to walk a Christian walk. A quick search of “Christian walk” reveals a broad range of hits on the subject. Congregations often have certain standards of behavior, which vary from one congregation to another. So, the concept of becoming Christ-like (do’s and don’ts) isn’t foreign to those who accept event-salvation, but the perspective (and checklist) is different.
A landmark sermon (at least in the LDS/Mormon tradition) was given by Brad Wilcox in July of 2011. In it he gives the following analogy.
“Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. … Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.”
“I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, ‘You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.’
Wilcox’s sermon was later echoed by LDS Apostle Dieter Uchdorf in a 2015 general conference:
“…the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state. If salvation means only erasing our mistakes and sins, then salvation—as wonderful as it is—does not fulfill the Father’s aspirations for us. His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him.
“With the gift of God’s grace, the path of discipleship does not lead backward; it leads upward.” (His Gift of Grace)
The argument over grace and works has been compared to arguing over which blade in a pair of scissors does the cutting. Do we accept Martin Luther’s position that good works will naturally follow believers in Christ who accept the freely proffered salvation by grace? Or, are good works learned and developed as we grow in our Christian faith (See James 2:14-26)? In typical Jewish fashion, the interplay between these two perspectives is found throughout the Bible.
I think that all Christians can agree that Christ will save us, but he expects to do so while we are mid-step. (See Col 1:9-10)