When I was in high school, I had an interesting conversation with one of my other Christian friends. She wasn’t a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like I was (a faith often inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church), but she did have a strong conviction in Jesus Christ. That shared faith in our Redeemer has always been a strong bond in our friendship. One day she was telling me about a family member who had accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and that because of that he was saved. This led to a lengthy discussion on the differences between her Baptist faith and my Latter-day Saint (“Mormon”) one. “Being saved” isn’t terminology that is often thrown around in Mormonism, but the concept is one central to the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ.
Latter-day Saints Believe Everyone Is Saved
Unlike my friend’s understanding of “being saved,” Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ saves everyone from sin, not just those who say they accept Him. That isn’t to say, however, that everyone is automatically redeemed. The grace of Jesus Christ—one aspect of which Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) commonly call the Atonement—isn’t something that you earn, but rather it’s something that you’re given. And, like a gift, we have the choice to accept it or not.
When Jesus suffered for our sins in Gethsemane and died on the cross at Calvary, He suffered for everyone, not just those who He thought might need it or accept it. His Atonement is a blanket one. Our entering mortality came with the condition that we would be saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He suffered and died for us so that we might be made clean and perfect, so that we could live with Heavenly Father again. Latter-day Saints believe that everyone is saved because Jesus Christ overcame death and sin; that triumph alone is enough to qualify everyone for redemption. Even those who never accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice will be saved from a fate in hell.
We Must Choose Jesus Christ
The Atonement of Jesus Christ doesn’t automatically make everyone clean, however. Rather, it makes it possible to become clean. In Psalms we learn about the conditions for dwelling with God: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (24:3–4). No one can be perfectly clean through their sole efforts; anyone who lives with God must be made clean through the grace of Jesus Christ.
The key to being saved is our own moral agency. (Moral agency is a term Latter-day Saints use to describe our ability, freedom, and responsibility to choose between right and wrong. Our moral agency is a gift from God and gives us the power to become as He is.) When the Savior completed the Atonement, He established a condition whereby we may be cleansed. He made it possible. But because He won’t force us to keep His commandments and live by His example, He cannot guarantee that we will be saved unless we choose to accept His gift of grace.
In the Book of Mormon (a book of scripture unique to Latter-day Saints and a companion book to the Bible) we learn a key characteristic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: “he [Christ] cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins” (Alma 11:37, emphasis added). The key to this scripture is that Christ cannot save us in our sins; He can only save us from them. If He redeemed us in our sins, then we wouldn’t be required to change, and we wouldn’t really be made clean. He saves us from our sins, so that we can repent, change, and be cleansed.
Faith and Works
When my friend and I were discussing this, she got hung up on the battle of faith versus works. In James we read that “faith without works is dead” (2:26). But we also know that we cannot become perfect and clean through our own efforts. So how do faith and works fit together? What James means is that our faith in Jesus Christ is powerless unless we act on it. We must use our faith to propel us into making choices that guide us closer to Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.
When it comes to grace and being saved, our works are crucial, not because we “earn” salvation but because we surrender ourselves to God’s will. We cannot say that we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior without changing the way we live. So when my friend said that her relative had accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior, he was clearly indicating that he had faith in the Lord. But unless he changed his life to fit more in line with the teachings of Christ, then his faith didn’t do much.
We Are Saved by Grace
I need to emphasize that Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) do not believe that our works will get us a ticket into heaven. The pathway to salvation isn’t divided up into one part works and two parts grace. The atonement of Jesus Christ is the whole pathway. Our works come into play because they are what gets us onto the road of grace, and our works keep us there. Being saved isn’t a passive act; it is an involved and active way of living. Being saved is a way of life that invites the Savior into your heart, mind, and actions so that He can make you clean. He can’t wash away our sins if we insist on holding on to them.
Latter-day Saints say that everyone can be saved, because that pathway to salvation is available to everyone. No one is exempt from being able to choose to follow the Savior, and because of His sacrifice, all can make it down the road He has prepared for us.