Thursday, March 24, 2011

Secrets of God’s grace

In my seminary preservice class, one of my classmates was to model the scripture study skill of synthesis and he chose to focus on the scripture block of D&C 93:12-20. This provoked much thought in me and led to much research and study, the results of which I want to share with you.
12 And I, John, saw that he [Jesus] received not of the fulness at the first,
but received grace for grace;
13 And he received not of the fulness at first,
but continued from grace to grace,
until he received a fulness;
14 And thus he was called the Son of God,
because he received not of the fulness at the first. (D&C 93:12-13)
In the space of three verses (12-14) it is repeated three times that Jesus received not the fullness at first! And in the same three verses it says he “received grace for grace,” “continued from grace to grace,” and “was called the Son of God.” Clearly the Lord is trying to emphasize that He didn’t know everything at the beginning and that He had to grow into perfection. Continuing on…
15 And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened,
and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him,
and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son.
16 And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;
17 And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth,
and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.
18 And it shall come to pass, that if you are faithful
you shall receive the fulness of the record of John.
19 I give unto you these sayings that you may understand
and know how to worship,
and know what you worship,
that you may come unto the Father in my name,
and in due time receive of his fulness.
20 For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness,
and be glorified in me as I am in the Father;
therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. (D&C 93:12-20)
As I was reading this part, I was struck by how often the phrases “receive of his fulness” or “receive the fullness” was used.

This block says that we can all grow in grace and that we must to receive of the fullness as Christ did. The promise that we can receive “grace for grace” made me want to learn more about grace. I wanted to know how a person can receive grace for grace and what I could do to receive more grace. So I started with the Bible Dictionary. I quote:
Grace. A word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.

It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. 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.

Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). It is truly the grace of Jesus Christ that makes salvation possible. This principle is expressed in Jesus’ parable of the vine and the branches (John 15:1–11). See also John 1:12–17; Eph. 2:8–9; Philip. 4:13; D&C 93:11–14.
So, grace is an enabling power to act, to do good works. (This means it would probably help us to substitute “enabling power” any time we encounter the word “grace”.)
Grace is needed because of the fall and our weaknesses.
Grace enables good works that man can’t do or continue on their own.
Grace is not enough if we don’t contribute our total effort, doing all we can do.
Grace is activated on our behalf by 1) our faith in Christ’s atonement and 2) our repentance of our sins.

Then I decided to look in the Topical Guide to see if I could find what it said about grace and how we might go “from grace to grace” (from enabling power to enabling power) as we are supposed to.

Grace comes through repentance and good works
And may God grant, in his great fulness,
that men might be brought unto repentance and good works,
that they might be restored unto grace for grace,
according to their works.
(Helaman 12:24)
This highlights two principles of invoking grace—repentance and good works (total effort). It also suggests to us that “grace for grace” means an exchange of some kind, receiving power in exchange for the work that we’ve done.

I’ve seen that in my life quite recently. I had to prepare a church lesson and I kept feeling stuck and powerless to teach until I realized I must have some things to repent of. Once I repented, I felt I had regained the power to teach, and I could prepare with confidence.

Humility and faith in Christ invokes grace
But he giveth more grace.
Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud,
but giveth grace unto the humble.
(James 4:6)
And if men come unto me
I will show unto them their weakness.
I give unto men weakness that they may be humble;
and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me;
for if they humble themselves before me,
and have faith in me,
then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

(Ether 12:27, emphasis added)
Here we see that humility and faith in Christ are necessary for the grace of God to operate. Also, we see that weakness, rather than being a thing to lament, is actually an opportunity to access the Lord’s grace and that the Lord has designed it that way. This is why Paul actually came to glory in his weakness:
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee:
for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Cor. 12:9)
Paul gloried in his weaknesses as a means of accessing the grace of Christ because he learned that his humility and faith in Christ would bring compensating strength. It’s as if he says, “Yaaay! I found another weakness so I can humble myself and receive help from Christ!” (I don’t think he goes so far as to create weaknesses, but it is evident he’s learned his weaknesses become an wonderful opportunity.)

I have learned that I often run up against personal weaknesses in the course of doing my duty. I have learned that if I go to the Lord and admit my weakness and try to summon at least a particle of faith, (even if it is as indirect as wanting the desire to do the right thing) the Lord will bless me with His grace (enabling power) to do my duty.

Grace (enabling power) from baptism
And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon;…
yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon,
and were filled with the grace of God.

(Mosiah 18:16, emphasis added)
Baptism requires faith in Christ—remember faith in Christ is a principle of grace. Baptism is unto repentance, and repentance is another of the principles of grace.

I still remember the clean feeling I felt when I was baptized at age eight.

The bestowal of grace at baptism suggests that grace is also bestowed upon us as we participate in all other ordinances of the gospel as well. Participating in saving ordinances invokes grace. Priesthood ordinances are part of the total effort of doing all we can do. Without the Melchizedek priesthood and the ordinances, the power of godliness is not manifest in the flesh. (see D&C 84:21) Pay attention to when “power” and “strength” is mentioned in the temple.

Every time I go to the temple, I leave feeling strengthened, ready to fight again the good fight of faith.

Hard work invokes grace (enabling power)
For we labor diligently to write,
to persuade our children,
and also our brethren,
to believe in Christ,
and to be reconciled to God;
for we know that it is by grace that we are saved,
after all we can do.

(2 Nephi 25:23, emphasis added)
Clearly total effort is required for grace to operate in our lives. Also notice the beginning of the verse mentions some of the ways that Nephi is doing all he can. He writes diligently, he persuades his children, he persuades his brethren. He tries to build faith in Christ. He’s anxiously engaged in this good cause.
And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support;
but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God,
that they might wax strong in the Spirit,
having the knowledge of God,
that they might teach with power and authority from God.
(Mosiah 18:26, emphasis added)
Hard honest work brings the grace of God because it satisfies the “total effort” and “after all we can do” requirement. Mosiah 27:5 notes further that those priests and teachers who did this “did abound in the grace of God.”

Pray for grace
I have come having great hopes and much desire
that I should find that ye had humbled yourselves before God,
and that ye had continued in the supplicating of his grace
(Alma 7:3, emphasis added)
Here we learn that grace is something that we can ask for in prayer. (This causes me to realize that when we pray over our food for it to “nourish and strengthen” us, we are really asking for the Lord to bless us with grace.) Sincere prayer involves several principles of grace. It takes humility to pray sincerely. It also takes faith in Christ. It can incorporate repentance. And continuing to supplicate is part of the total effort that we can give.

We say that there is power in prayer. Now we know why.

Seeking Jesus
I would commend you to seek this Jesus
of whom the prophets and apostles have written,
that the grace of God…may be and abide in you forever.
(Ether 12:41)
Seeking Jesus gives us grace because it incorporates faith in Christ, humility, and total effort on the part of the individual. Repentance is also a part of seeking Jesus.

So.. What does grace (enabling power) do that benefits us (besides the obvious)?

Grace saves us after we’ve been reconciled to God
Wherefore, my beloved brethren,
reconcile yourselves to the will of God,
and not to the will of the devil and the flesh;
and remember,
after ye are reconciled unto God,
that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.
(2 Nephi 10:24)
Grace (enabling power) facilitates further efforts
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you;
that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things,
may abound to every good work:
(2 Cor. 9:8)
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you,
that you may be instructed more perfectly
in theory,
in principle,
in doctrine,
in the law of the gospel,
in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God,
that are expedient for you to understand;
(D&C 88:78, emphasis added)
To teach diligently requires total effort on the part of the teacher, a sense that one doesn’t know everything (humility), and faith that the Lord will help. The enabling power that is given to us is that we are instructed more perfectly, and often we collect so much material that we have a hard time knowing what to leave out. How many times have we heard teachers say, “There is so much here!” or “I learned so much in preparing this talk/lesson,” or “I don’t know how we’re going to get through everything that’s in here!” That is always a sign that the speaker/teacher has been given grace and has been instructed more perfectly.

Paul also wrote that good and edifying communications “may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). This would only happen if the hearers were humble and had faith in Christ’s ability to bless the teacher with the words to say that would edify them.

Grace leads to hope, which leads to serving God
Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself,
and God, even our Father,
which hath loved us,
and hath given us everlasting consolation
and good hope through grace,
(2 Thes. 2:16)
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved,
let us have grace,
whereby we may serve God acceptably
with reverence and godly fear: (Hebrews 12:28)
Grace helps us endure to the end
I am mindful of you always in my prayers,
continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus,
that he, through his infinite goodness and grace,
will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.

(Moroni 8:3, emphasis added)
This suggests to us that receiving grace for grace helps us endure to the end. Grace (enabling power) is how we are able to continue anxiously engaged in a good cause. It is how we are able to keep pressing forward having a perfect brightness of hope and love for all men. It is how we become partakers of the divine nature.

Grace to perform miracles
6 Wherefore, we search the prophets,
and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy;
and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope,
and our faith becometh unshaken,
insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus
and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
7 Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness
that we may know that it is by his grace,
and his great condescensions unto the children of men,
that we have power to do these things. (Jacob 4:6-7)
Grace perfects us in Christ
Yea, come unto Christ,
and be perfected in him,
and deny yourselves of all ungodliness;
and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness,
and love God with all your might, mind and strength,
then is his grace sufficient for you,
that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ;
and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ,
ye can in nowise deny the power of God. (Moroni 10:32, emphasis added)
Receiving more grace from keeping the commandments leads to a celestial fulness
For if you keep my commandments
you shall receive of his fulness,
and be glorified in me as I am in the Father;
therefore, I say unto you,
you shall receive grace for grace.
(D&C 93:20)
They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn;
and they see as they are seen,
and know as they are known,
having received of his fulness and of his grace;
(D&C 76:94, emphasis added)
Inherit exaltation by grace
And Enoch beheld the Son of Man ascend up unto the Father;
and he called unto the Lord, saying:….
thou hast made me,
and given unto me a right to thy throne,
and not of myself,
but through thine own grace…

(Moses 7:59, emphasis added)
So, why do we need to learn about this?

Returning to D&C 93, which started all of this inquiry in the first place:
I give unto you these sayings
that you may understand
and know how to worship,
and know what you worship,
that you may come unto the Father in my name,
and in due time receive of his fulness.
(D&C 93:19)
We have to know what we worship in order to exercise true faith. Unless we have a correct idea of the character and attributes of Christ, we can’t do that. And unless we know how to worship and how to come to the Father in the name of Christ, we won’t have done “all we can do,” which is a necessary requirement to access divine grace.

In summary, the great principles for obtaining grace (enabling power) are:
  • Humility
  • Faith in Christ and His Atonement
  • Prayer
  • Repentance
  • Total effort/Doing all we can do/obedience
If you go back through the scriptures I’ve listed above, you’ll start to notice that many of them have one principle of grace stated, but several other principles of grace implied as well. They’ll start to jump out at you. We have to see this interrelatedness to get the full picture of what we need to do to grow in grace.

Now, knowing this, we will be able to understand better some of Paul’s words about grace.
For by grace are ye saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves:
it is the gift of God:
(Ephesians 2:8)
We see here the principle of faith attached to grace, and we assume it is faith in Jesus Christ. “Not of yourselves” also reinforces the important part that humility plays in obtaining grace. Realizing we can’t do it on our own prepares us to put our faith in Christ and what He can do for us.

This verse is often used by other Christians to justify their argument that grace has nothing to do with works. However, once you understand all the principles that invoke grace, you understand that Paul happens to be emphasizing faith and humilty because the Ephesians had had an overemphasis on works and forgotten those other equally important principles.

Some have the idea that grace is unmerited mercy given to us by God, but that is not quite right. Grace is given to us because God is merciful, but it is not the mercy itself. If it was only mercy, we could only hope to have the same sins and weaknesses forgiven over and over and over. We would have no hope of every becoming any better than what we are or of gaining power to completely eradicate our weaknesses. But God wants better things or us. This is why grace is enabling power.

Now here’s something I realized that nearly made my head explode—if there are principles by which we can obtain divine grace, then grace is a matter of divine law! (And it could even be called a law of works!)

Even more exciting, having learned these principles, we can see in scripture stories how the people accessed grace (enabling power) by putting these principles to work!
  • Nephi pleads for strength to burst his bands when his brothers have tied him up and are about to leave him in the wilderness to perish.
  • King Lamoni and his father both access divine grace as they humble themselves before God and pray in faith for forgiveness of their sins.
  • The stripling warriors, well known for their strength in battle, are strict to remember the Lord from day to day, to depend upon the Lord while they fight, and to put forth total effort.
  • The people of Alma escape from bondage as they humble themselves, put total faith in the Lord, and do all that they can do.
  • Alma the Younger calls upon God in battle and is strengthened to slay Amlici.
Here are two really good talks with insights about grace that I found enlightening in my study.

David A. Bednar, “In the Strength of the Lord”, speech given at BYU 23 Oct 2001.

Gene R. Cook, “Receiving Divine Assistance through the Grace of the Lord”, General Conference April 1993.

I can testify that the grace (enabling power) of God is real. I have accessed it through faith in Christ, repentance, saving ordinances, hard work, humility, and prayer. I know that it is grace that saves me.

Can you tell me about a time that you recognize divine grace (enabling power) was at work in your life? What was your need? How did you use grace-invoking principles? How did it help?

2 comments:

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Wow, Michaela! Excellent and exhaustive treatise on grace!

Michaela Stephens said...

Glad you found it helpful. I just hope it was exhaustive without being exhausting! ;-)