Many Latter-day Saints accuse Christians of "cheap grace" or "easy-believism" by neglecting the close relationship of faith and works in the Bible. The shallowness of this Mormon accusation is discovered in the fact that, first, the LDS Church wrongly defines the content of biblical works-adding many works-obligations that do not exist in the Bible-and second, Mormons confuse the theological truths of biblical justification and sanctification.
Again, Mormonism teaches that entrance into the exalted state of eternal life in the highest level of the Celestial kingdom of God is assured only through faith in Jesus Christ plus good works-that is, works as defined and required by the so-called restored LDS gospel. But these requirements of extrabiblical Celestial works are a distortion of the gospel message that the righteous will live by faith alone. The apostle Paul makes this LDS distortion of biblical salvation clear in Romans 1:16-17:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
Contradicting the Romans passage, Bruce McConkie defines the central salvation doctrine of justification this way:
As with all other doctrines of salvation, justification is available because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, but it becomes operative in the life of an individual only on conditions of personal righteousness.
In stark contrast to the Mormon view of justification, Dr. John Piper in his insightful and well-researched book Counted Righteous in Christ clarifies in detail that God justifies the ungodly through the imputation of his righteousness totally apart from any works. Our justification-being declared righteous before God-fully rests in our authentic heart-centered faith in God; it is impossible to attain it through good works, even partially. The apostle Paul clearly affirms this truth in Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Absolutely no works can serve as the effective means or instrument to justify ungodly humanity before our perfectly holy God. Our justification and eternal salvation is experienced by faith alone, apart from every human concoction of works-righteousness. In other words, biblically identified good works are the fruit of being justified by God in Christ, but they are not the authorized means of uniting us to Christ and meriting us eternal life with God.
One of the top Christian theologians today, Dr. Wayne Grudem, in his definition of the doctrines of justification and sanctification, summarizes and reveals the vast divide between the Christian and Mormon views of salvation:
Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ's righteousness as belonging to us, and declares us righteous in his sight. Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.
It is important that we understand that in God's gospel of biblical salvation, the doctrines of justification and sanctification remain biblically inseparable and interrelated, but they are also distinct stand-alone truths. Sanctification must never be collapsed into the foundational doctrine of justification.
Let's be clear: when Christians emphasize eternal life and salvation through faith in Jesus' righteousness alone, we do not exclude the importance of biblical works, but we simply understand how biblical works uniquely relate to the distinct doctrines of justification and sanctification. Dr. Craig Blomberg provides this clarity:
Virtually all Evangelicals believe "that the proper way to harmonize the teaching of Scripture on faith and works is that only God's grace, received by faith, brings us into right standing before God (justification), a new birth-the beginning of new life with Christ (regeneration), liberation from bondage to past sin and its eternally damning consequences (redemption), and a new relationship with God and others (reconciliation). At this moment of conversion, the time of our salvation, God's Spirit comes to live in us and begins a process of moral transformation, unique to each person, often frustratingly slow and filled with setbacks, but nevertheless one that inevitably leads to perseverance in good works of all different kinds, though never quantifiable and never adequate to merit eternal life with God in and of themselves."
Because the various LDS salvation covenant requirements for Mormon eternal exaltation can be confusing, for clarification purposes they are organized here under three general categories: (1) the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, (2) salvation temple ordinances, and (3) remaining a worthy Mormon to the end.