One of the most common accusations against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we believe that we are saved by our works and not by the grace of God. Well I have been going to church all my life and I have never heard anyone ever teach that in church. The only place I ever heard that is from Evangelicals trying to prove that Mormons believe false doctrine. As an interesting side note, that is also one of the central accusations that Evangelicals have against Catholics, so go figure.
So the other day I came across a random blog that discussed religion and the author was looking for comments about what she had written about Mormons. So on her post about Mormons and "how they think they are saved by their works" (she called it the Jesus Plus program, as in faith plus works--imagine that! you mean we actually have to do something?! you mean we can't just "believe" and Jesus will save us?...anyway back to my post), I decided to leave a comment (actually it was three comments because blogger has a limit to the number of characters allowed in a comment). I decided to repost my comment(s) here.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to understand about LDS theology from a Protestant perspective is the concept of how salvation, grace and what we do (our works) are related. Let me try to explain it.
You have quoted some of the more well known scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the D&C but there are others that will perhaps help you understand this concept better. In the Book of Alma in the Book of Mormon the prophet Amulek was talking to some people who were wondering why they had to have faith in Christ. In Alma Chapter 34, verse 9 he explains that, "For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made."
So up until now this is exactly the same as any other Christian church teaches. So, later on in verse 16 he says, "And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption."
Here is what many Protestants would consider to be the difference. For those who have enough faith in Christ to repent of their sins then the Plan of Salvation (Christ's atonement) will begin to work. Now before we continue with this we must understand why this needs to be.
Well further on in verse 33 and 34 we read,
"33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world."
Here we see a critical idea, because in the when we die the same spirit (our spirit) that possesses our body, that is to say what ever good, or evil, that we have in our souls will stay with us in the resurrection. When Christ restores to us our bodies, what ever type of person we were in this life, if we were mean and hateful, or kind and gentle, then we will still be like that after the resurrection.
The whole point is that when Christ comes to save us He will not, I repeat will not save us in our sins. He will only save us from our sins. He gives us a way out. A way out of bondage from our sins. This is what the scriptures mean when they say that Christ is the way. He is the way out of bondage from our sins. Thus for Mormons, to continue in our sins (to continue sinning) is to deny The Way, or the way out. Which is to say, to accept Christ as your savior, but then continue in your sins is to deny Christ, and the power of His atonement.
So the next question is, why is this?
Well, if we continue reading in Alma 34:35-36,
"35For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.
36 And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell; yea, and he has also said that the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out; but their garments should be made white through the blood of the Lamb."
If we sin, which is to say we do not listen to the counsel of God and Christ, then we are opening ourselves up to the Devil, and he will make us unclean. And if we are unclean, then we cannot enter in to the kingdom of God. This is not just a Mormon thing. In Ephesians 5:3-5 it reads,
"3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."
The thing to remember is that once we are unclean, once we have sinned, there is nothing we can do that will cleanse us of our sins. If it were entirely up to us then we would be forever shut out from the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ. But through the atonement of Christ we can have "our garments made white". There is no other way.
After they are made clean, the only thing that make them unclean is ourselves, returning to the sins we had previously given up.
With this in mind let us look at some of the phrases you picked up from lds.org and other places. One of the phrases you quoted, “the scriptures say that His Spirit cannot be with us if we are sinful.” This quote related to the idea that God cannot dwell in unholy temples, or to put it another way, God cannot dwell within us if we are sinning. To say otherwise would be to make God a liar. His spirit withdraws from us and we are left to ourselves, without his support.
Then you said, "We are cleansed of our sins when we reach perfection." I think a better way of saying this would be, "We are cleansed of our sins so that we might reach perfection." The further issue of what perfection is, and how the concept of perfection has been corrupted by different philosophies, would take a very long book to explain. The short answer is that Mormons try not to have an impossible view of what it means to be perfect. Anyway, back to the subject...
So finally we come to spiritual death and our salvation. With all this in mind if we consider the implications of sinning again, then that is a strong incentive to not sin, or to continue being a good person. So when we get baptized, both by the water and by the spirit, the Atonement of Christ cleanses us from our sins. Now it is up to us to not mess it up, because we can return and sin we are also able to act for ourselves and to not sin. But if we do mess up, then Christ can again cleanse us from our sins and let us start new again. There are no sins (except for denying the Holy Ghost) that Christ cannot cleanse us from. To not even attempt to repent is to deny the Way, which is to deny Christ.
I think that is a start.
I hope that wasn't too much for her since that ended up being more writing than she put in all of her six posts on Mormons that she had up. So, any comments?