Monday, August 1, 2016

Grace, Works & The Apostle Paul

 Good Afternoon, I am so thankful for the chance to speak with you. You all likely know me as Sister Emily Turano. You also probably know my incredible daughter Brooke, whom is ten-years old, and my very funny, and active son Will, whom is six-years old.

 Some of you know my husband Kevin, and I will tell you that if you don’t think that you know him, you actually do, as you have seen some of his great efforts as a parent come to life through our children, and myself, as he kindly supports us in our faith.

So, as I was asked to speak on grace this week, I have to tell you that I think Brother Hilstrom was absolutely shocked at how fast I responded to his text message; as he asked if I would speak on “ grace “, only seconds after the text came in, I responded with a yes and exclamation point!

I will begin my talk by explaining to you why I so quickly answered that way with excitement. 

Immediately upon receiving that text message, with the subject of the talk on “grace “ a scripture came into my mind from D&C88:78. The scriptures says, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you….”

 The scripture goes on to explain ways that one whom teaches diligently will receive grace. I thought to myself, “Wow! The Lord is merciful to me because I need all the grace that I can receive, and He is giving me the chance to teach, and perhaps receive it!?”

So, It is my prayer that I can teach you diligently, and not just because I need grace, but because I truly desire to be able to share the things that I have learned this week reading about grace. It has been a great blessing for me, and of all of the things that I learned about grace, the strongest message that I received was the way that our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ love all of us and are trying and desiring to help each of us come back to live with Them.

First, the definition of grace in the dictionary is – the favor of God manifested in the salvation of sinners and bestowal of blessings.”

This definition comes from a dictionary, but I can assure you that the amount of debate, and discussion that has gone on in regards to the doctrine of grace, and the way that  it is to be defined and interpreted, does not come so easily as to open a dictionary and know it’s true meaning, and there are many differing opinions on what grace is. 

In fact, scholars have determined that in the 1400’s doctrines such as grace, set the stage for reformation controversies.

Without going into too much depth about the comparison of scriptures that are many alike to Ephesians 2:8-9 which says, “For by grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

In comparison to the seemingly many contrary verses such as James 1:23 which states, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”

It is necessary to consider the context of the scriptures, rather than compare and become frustrated with the conflicting messages of the words even in the wonderful New Testament.

Before explaining the context of most of the scriptures which state that one will be saved only through faith on Christ, as stated multiple times in the scriptures by the Apostle Paul; I would like you to imagine that you have a friend that you are responsible for- your friend is sick.  You will be held responsible for ensuring this friend's return to health after attending only one of their many doctor appointments with them. 

 Imagine that you were very late to the appointment that you attended, and you did catch enough of what the doctor was saying to write some of it down, but not the entirety of the instructions.  

Now remember you were not present for previous visits, and you have no knowledge of pre-existing conditions, current medications, allergies, and so forth. Would you feel comfortable enough to leave that appointment with confidence that you had received all of the correct instructions and treatments intended by the doctor? I certainly would not want to rely on such lacking information to help ensure my friends health or even perhaps to save their life?

We certainly should not look at the letters from Paul,that so many times can be perceived that we are saved by faith alone, and written to those in Rome; without looking at the whole picture either, and even doing the best that we can with recorded historical, cultural, and locations of the instruction given, we likely will still be lacking the entirety of the events, and divine purposes ? 

This can also allow us to be thankful for modern day revelation given by apostles and prophets just as the pattern has been set forth from the beginning of time, as the way that our Father in Heaven teaches and works with His children from the beginning of time. I am very thankful to know that the Lord has not left us with documentation that was given without prior history or knowledge to whom it was given to, and I know that modern day revelation is real and absolutely necessary as those in Rome were taught by Apostles about exactly what they need, so too are we taught by prophets and apostles about what we need in our time and day; and that pattern has been shown forth across the history of time.

Let me share with you some of the context of the letters written to Rome by that Apostle Paul:

From “The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles”, we read:

During the months that Paul had been trying to reach Rome, yet waiting for safe weather to travel there, Galatia was being ravaged by onslaughts of the Judaizers.

 They were teaching members of the church in the area that “True righteousness is based in the law of Moses.”

They were teaching that “Believing in Christ is all well and good but you must not leave the foundation principles of circumcision, dietary law, and Levitical rule.”

How ironic is it that the letters to Rome and Galatia should be used in later centuries as the basis for the doctrine that works are unessential for salvation?

 Can you imagine the retort of the Apostle Paul who had been beaten, stoned, scourged, jailed, endured hunger, thirst, cold, fatigue, rejection, insults, scorn and desertion for those who would say that all you must do to be saved is confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Christ? But, on the other hand you must also recognize that Paul rejected the idea which was being taught that man can achieve righteousness by his own efforts.

Bruce R. McConkie states about this:

“The epistle was written to the saints, to the members of the church, those whom already had the proper ordinances, the gift of the Holy Ghost, to those who held the Priesthood, and enjoyed the gifts of the spirit. He was writing to the people who already knew the doctrines of salvation, the ordinances and were on the path. These teachings can be understood by people who have the same background, the same knowledge, and the same experience as the original recipients of the message. Romans is a sealed book to the sectarian world; it is an open volume of inspiring gospel truth to the saints of God. “ ( DNTC, 2:216 )

So, then how can we know what the relationship between grace and works is to us whom have the proper ordinances, the Holy Ghost, and understand the principles of the gospel?

How can we appropriately learn from these scriptures that explain that we are saved by faith on Jesus Christ?

So many times it has been mistaken that we as members of His church believe that we are trying to work our own way into Heaven, or in other words that we do not believe that it is solely on the good grace of God, that we are able to make it back into His presence and live with Him for eternity.

This is not the case.

A helpful quote which explains the process that we believe in comes from a talk written by Gerald Lund as he says:

We are like a powerhouse on a mighty river. The powerhouse has no power residing in itself; the potential power rests in the energy of the river. When that source of power flows through the generators of the power plant, power is transferred from the river to the power plant and sent out into the homes (lives) of others. So it is with faith. The power to achieve justification does not reside in man. Man requires the power of the atonement of Christ flowing into him. If no power is being generated, one does not—indeed, cannot—turn the generators by hand (justification by works); but rather, an effort is made to remove those things which have blocked the power from flowing into the generators (working righteousness as a result of faith).

 With this background then, one can understand why the scriptures clearly stress that faith includes works (see James 2:17–26); that is, obedience, commitment, and repentance—these are the works of faith that open up the channels so that the power of the atoning sacrifice of Christ can flow into us, redeem us from sin, and bring us back into the presence of God.

 Disobedience and wickedness dam those channels. (How literal is the word damnation!) The righteous works in themselves do not save us. The atoning power of God saves us. But our righteous works, activated by our faith in the Savior, are the condition for the operation of that power. Thus, each of us has something to say about whether he will be able to seek the gift and power of the Atonement in his behalf.

When we recognize this process we can see that one must have all elements in place to have a working system of grace and works. As we become baptized into the true church we receive those necessary ordinances that those Paul was speaking to in Rome already had. As we are members of His church we have also been given the Holy Ghost. With those ordinances we become the powerhouse, or the light on a hill, or worthy Priesthood holder, and our divine potential is activated by this process; grace begins to work in our lives by way of His Atonement and the cleansing agent that the Holy Ghost is for us each and everyday as we repent.

Because those in Rome were begining to rely on the Law of Moses, it was essential for them to be reminded that it was Jesus Christ only who would be able to save them through faith. 

This is the case because as one has faith in Jesus Christ, they naturally want to DO THE WORKS to SHOW their belief, not because they believe they are saved by their works, but because they love HIM.

As with faith in Jesus Christ working in your life then translates into works like scripture study, Sabbath Day Observance, attending the temple and keeping temple covenants; and as you repent daily for the errors you will make - 

The flow of the water rushes into  your powerhouse . The water is the grace, or the atonement working within your life.

 It will either  flow stronger, or not as strong, all depending on how much of Christ’s grace or atonement that you desire to bring you power, spiritual gifts and blessings, or not?

There will be weaknesses, and sins to overcome, but I can promise you that there is no blockade, sin, or even weakness that cannot or will not eventually be removed if one desires for it to be removed, and by asking for help in prayer and sometimes even seeking for help from other’s such as Bishops or friends to help remove those things that stop the atonement from working in our lives.

I know with all my heart that our Savior is working for us and with us, to help each of us obtain the highest degree of glory that we would like.

I love the scripture in Jacob 3 that is a great reminder of how much we are loved by our Savior.

In Jacob 3:1 it states, “Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause…”

How beautiful is that, a perfect, holy and divine,Jesus Christ is pleading for us to the Father.

How merciful is it that in D&C46, verse 7-9 it says, “Ask of God who giveth liberally,” and that the spiritual gifts that we will need to obtain power “are given for the benefit of those who love me and keepeth all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do.”  As Elder Holland has graciously reminded us that the “seeketh so to do” makes us eligible!

It is those spiritual gifts that we are given that will help us continue to grow in His grace and be more and more like Him.

Lastly, I am called to Brad Wilcox’s unforgettable talk titled “His Grace is Sufficient “, as he states,

“We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body that we plan to be in God’s presence, and how long we plan to stay there.

Because Jesus took our punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection, and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could.

In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.

Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”

Brad begs, Jesus, “Please check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.”

The older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.”

 No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. 

Please, use my Atonement- not just to be cleansed, to be changed so that YOU WANT TO STAY.

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that- miraculously- we can feel at home there. “

Conclusion –
The grace of Christ is sufficient – sufficient to cover our debt, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes. The Book of Mormon teaches us to rely solely on “the merits and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.” (2 Nephi 2:8) As we do, we do not discover- as some Christians believe- that Christ requires nothing of us. Rather we discover the reason he requires so much and the strength to do all He asks (Philippians 4:13). Grace is not the absence of God’s high expectations. Grace is the presence of God’s power (Luke 1:37).
Give Testimony. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. 

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