Every week I am amazed about how God makes it clear to me what I need to put in this blog. As all Mormons know, practicing or not, the first weekend in October and first weekend in April is General Conference. General Conference is where the leaders of the LDS Church speak to the “multitudes” about how they should be living. The prophet of the LDS church speaks and it is often seen as a very inspiring and uplifting weekend. Being friends with many LDS people my Facebook feed is blown-up with memes and quotes of what has been said over the weekend.
One meme my daughter showed me stated, “God will always love us; but He cannot save us in our sins.” D. Todd Christofferson 2016 LDS General Conference. I was truly baffled by this quote. This created a great discussion between my husband, daughters, and I on Sunday and continued into Monday evening with my oldest daughter and I about grace.
We have grow group on Wednesday and we discussed Genesis 3:1-5, talking about Eve being enticed by the serpent to eat from the tree of knowledge. On Thursday, my husband Brian, meets with our pastor for lunch and they discussed John chapter 3 & 4, which is the story of Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well. On Friday I saw a quote about the thief on the cross that talked about the thief being saved with out any expectation of him doing anything. God knew the thief would never attend a Bible study, never go to church, never repent for the things he had done wrong (Luke 23:32-43). The thief simply asked Jesus to remember him when he entered in to Heaven. Jesus responded to him “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” Luke 23:43 NIV.
By Saturday night it was clear to me that my topic this week was supposed to be GRACE, and oh, how lucky I am to have God’s grace!! I don’t really believe in luck. I used to, but as a Christian, I believe more in Jesus and blessings than luck. I look at my life and look at how far I’ve come and I am truly grateful for grace. I have 4 of the most amazing kids on the planet. I know how I was as a kid growing up and I know that it is only by God’s grace that I don’t have a child like me. I have a husband who is loving, patient, and kind, and I don’t know how I got so blessed, that he would be so patient, and stay with me through all my craziness. I have career I love, an amazing church family, and an amazing family. There are so many things in my life that people would call me lucky, but I say, I’m blessed!
Growing up in Mormonism, grace is something they don’t really believe in. The 3rd article of faith for the LDS church states “All mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” 2 Nephi 25:23 states “We know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.” If you read my last blog, you know, I am not good at following the rules, laws, and ordinances. Especially those set forth by the Mormon church.
This week, I went to a training for work on temperament theory. I learned that I am a catalyst and an improviser. In this training I learned some things about myself but mostly came to an understanding of why I do some of the things I do. I talked last week about how God picked every piece of me, which is why my temperament is what it is. One thing I learned at the training is, if there is a rule or a requirement that I don’t agree with that’s in my way, I will find a way around it. That is so me, just by my nature. Just by who I am created to be. I am not one who likes to be confined or held back by rules and limitations.
When you believe your salvation is tied to doing enough and being enough, it is easy to become hopeless. When you become hopeless, you often become depressed and it is hard to find a reason to live. Growing up in Mormonism, I struggled, a lot. I felt hopeless. I tried. I don’t want you to think that I wasn’t a good person and that all I did was bad things. But it didn’t matter what I did, how hard I tried, I always felt it wasn’t enough and somehow everything became my fault.
I remember my sister blew out her knee when she was a Jr. in high school and had to have surgery, and somehow, I thought that had to do with me. Maybe, if I had prayed harder, maybe, if I had read my scriptures more, been a nicer to her, maybe, bad things wouldn’t happen. I remember being frustrated and angry because I thought my parents were going to be frustrated and angry, and somehow that was my fault. I know it may not make sense, but every time things went wrong, I thought it was some sort of punishment because I wasn’t doing enough, because I was a bad person. I thought it was because I told a lie or because I didn’t appreciate my family enough. This wasn’t the first time that something went wrong that I blamed myself for but, this is the most concrete example of something that I truly had no control over that I thought was a punishment for my sins. This was a lie I believed through all of my adolescence and into my adulthood until the true message of grace and Christ’s loving sacrifice. I didn’t get to this crazy conclusion just because of the LDS teachings. It was a combination of the belief that I had to be enough, who God created me to be, and the family I was raised in.
I need to say I was raised in a good home. I have a great family and I love them all very much. We have our differences and we don’t always get along but they are my family and they are very important to me. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
I have good memories from being LDS as well. I did try to follow the rules. I graduated from seminary. One of my greatest accomplishments was being Laurel Class President. That was a true honor. A validation of sorts because that meant that I was doing something right. For those who don’t know what that means, in the LDS church when you are 12 you enter into the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Program. They are split up by ages, the young women are Beehives:12-14, when you turn 14 you graduate to the Miamaids: 14-16, when you turn 16 you graduate to the Laurels:16-18. Each age level, in each ward, has a class president, 1st & 2nd counselor, and a secretary. I’m not sure what the requirements are but I know the people who held the position before me were people I thought were way above my level in being more righteous. I also completed my personal progress goals all 4 years of the young women’s program. This is kind of like the scouting program. You have goals that you set and work toward and if you complete all of the goals for each set of years Beehive, Miamads, and Laurels, you receive pendants. There are 7 areas you worked on then. I believe it has changed since, but the 7 areas were faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice & accountability, good works, and integrity. I still have all my pendants.
I think back to what D. Todd Christofferson said this year at 2016 LDS General Conference; “God will always love us; but He cannot save us in our sins”. To me this statement is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever read. This is because, while I was in my sin, Jesus came to me and said, “I love you just as you are, come to me, I am enough. I am all you need”. In the moment I was the most broken, God did save me. I didn’t have to do anything, I didn’t have to show Him, I didn’t have to prove it. I just had to accept the gift of grace He set before me and the chains that held me back were gone. I was truly free. I think Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, and the Thief on the Cross are all great examples of God’s Grace. All great examples of being saved in our sins.
The first time I realized that something had gone wrong, and I knew it wasn’t my fault, was when my youngest daughter was born. I got very sick and she was born 2 months early. She was doing well and then got a stomach infection. She spent 35 days in the hospital. I was so sick they kept me on the surgical floor for 3 days. I didn’t move to the maternity ward until then and that was the first time I saw my daughter. I remember a few days after I was moved to the maternity ward I looked at my husband and said, “I know this isn’t my fault”. That was the first time I recognized grace. In the past I would have blamed myself. What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? I know I’m not doing everything I can do. In that moment I just knew. It wasn’t about anything I could have done. It just was. Grace isn’t about doing enough or being enough.It’s not about punishment or earning a place. It is a free gift. There is nothing you can do to make yourself worthy enough. There is nothing you can do to be worthy of grace and you can’t pay it back. The gift has already been given. All you can do is accept it or you not. The choice is completely yours.
I’m just a small town girl… Living in a fallen world. I don’t believe in luck, but I hold on tight to my lucky penny!
2 thoughts on “Jesus is my lucky penny!”
I am a Mormon, and I hold strong to my beliefs and testimony, but I agree with most of this! I think Mormons think too much that we have to EARN our blessings and EARN our way to heaven, when in reality that’s not the case at all. We forget that grace is a free gift given to us to lift us above any limitations we have, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. In the Mormon church, we tend to reassign this to “the Atonement”, which isn’t wrong, it’s just a different terminology for what the rest of the Christian world believes. We believe that no matter what we do, nothing earns our salvation. Now, no unclean thing can dwell with God, and none of us are perfect, so we will sin, big or small, for our entire lives. But that doesn’t disqualify us from grace. That’s the reason we have grace in the first place, is because grace can change us. Because God loves us so much, no matter how, when, or why we fall, He will not send a punishment to us. Rather, he sends goodness and grace our way to turn us around, whether that’s a powerful spiritual experience while reading scriptures, or a kind friend, family member, or neighbor to help us with something or just give us a hug or a plate of cookies. We’re all imperfect, and we’ll never be perfect, but God expects us to always be trying to do better than we did yesterday, and he expects us to be cleansed from sin by having a change of heart and showing that change by being baptized. Not all Mormons believe this, because a lot of them are trying to earn their way to heaven by completing a checklist, which is in vain. Nothing can earn your way into heaven. All God requires of us to be saved in His kingdom is clean hands and a pure heart, which comes as we take and accept every little bit of grace that comes our way and allow it to change us into who God wants us to be. If by the time we reach the end of our life we’ve tried (no matter how much we’ve failed) to do this to the best of our abilities, he’ll judge us as clean, because we’ve repented of our wrongs based upon where our heart is. We may have sinned the day we died, but if true change in our hearts had taken place after the fact, and our heart is changed, then I believe God will see that we’re cleansed from sin. It’s not a checklist of do’s and don’ts that we follow. And we won’t get to the judgement and have Jesus say to us “Oh sorry, you missed it by 5 points!” He judges us by where our heart is. If there’s anything you disagree with in this feel free to reply to my comment and I’d love to discuss it! This is religious freedom at its finest! It doesn’t matter if we disagree, as long as we both continue trying to glorify God and are charitable to one another. A friendly debate never hurt anyone! Also, a great perspective on what Mormons should believe about grace is given in this talk by Brad Wilcox. It’s kind of long, but it’s well worth the read or listen! He says what I’m trying to say much better than I can!
Austin, thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate your feedback. I enjoy being able to discuss and talk about different things. I love hearing other people’s perspectives on things! I hope you will take my response and consider what I have to say. I look forward to hearing from you in the future!
It’s funny you bring up the talk by Brad Wilcox. Last Monday, when I was having dinner with my daughter, her friend had sent her the same talk and had asked her to watch it. We read through it together and discussed the struggles we had with it. We were excited because in the beginning, he hit the nail on the head. It sounded so right!
But before I can go much further I want to first define a few things. In order to make sure we are on the same page we need to make sure our definitions are the same. So, just for clarification purposes I am going to put down some definitions.
First Gift, dictionary.com defines gift as: something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance. Mirriam-Webster.com defines gift as: something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.
The next thing I want to define is earn dictionary.com defines earn as: to gain or get in return for one’s labor or service or to merit as compensation, as for service; deserve. Mirriam-Webster.com defines earn as to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.
The next one is sin. Dictionary.com: transgression of divine law or any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle. Mirriam-Webster.com: an offense against religious or moral law or an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible. I personally believe that a sin is anything that offends God or that would be considered offensive to God.
And finally let’s define grace. Dictionary.com: a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior Mirriam-Webster.com: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification. As an added definition I spoke with my pastor on Sunday and he was teaching about grace. He was telling me in Hebrew Grace has 2 definitions Hen and hesed. Hen, is grace like a ballerina. To be graceful. Hesed is grace where kindness is shown to the undeserving, unmerited favor. Hen and hesed are the English translation of two Hebrew words. They Can be spelled in English Chen or Chesed also. English doesn’t have the ch sound like in Hebrew so the sound is translated in words like Rachel. The grace that Christ extended to us on the Cross was Hesed: unmerited favor.
So according to those two sources, I think it is fair to say that a gift is something given to someone freely without any payment or repayment. To earn something is to gain or receive compensation or something you have done. A sin is a violation or transgression of a moral law or principle. And according to all of the definitions grace is being shown favor that is undeserved.
So with those things being clarified, I want to address Mr. Wilcox’s example he used in his speech about piano lessons. Mr. Wilcox did such a good job in the beginning at addressing grace. There is nothing we can do to receive grace. Then he stated “Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.”
I believe that grace is a gift. As I defined above a gift is something given to someone freely without any expectation of anything in return. In his example he said that mom pays for piano lessons and now can expect something but if you expect something in return it is no longer free. You now have to earn “receive compensation for services rendered” the gift that was given. Mr. Wilcox stated that mom can expect the child to practice as repayment but again the defeats the whole purpose of the gift that was given to us so freely.
As my daughter and I discussed this last Monday we talked in-depth about this and we brought up the Thief on the Cross. Christ extend him the Gift of Grace while he was on the Cross. No expectation of him to practice anything. Just like you and I there is no expectation. Once you receive the gift it is yours. You choose what you want to do with the gift but there is no expectation of repayment. You can set that gift on a shelf and never do anything with it. It is still yours, it is still there, and it is still grace. You are still covered by the blood of Christ; you still accept that gift. You can also choose to take that gift and use it as a tool to worship God. Not as a form of repayment but as a way of showing gratitude and love to the One who gave you the gift. God doesn’t expect any repayment.
So, here is interpretation of that analogy from a Christian perspective. Mom gives you the gift of piano lessons, and whether or not you accept them, they are paid in full. The end. It is that simple. You can choose to accept them or not but they are always there. The gift of grace that Christ offers is like the gift of piano lessons. The difference between Mr. Wicox’s analogy and mine is that in his analogy, now that Christ has paid the price for your sin, he has the right to ask for something in return. In my analogy he doesn’t. In my analogy grace is truly a gift. In Mr. Wicox’s it is something you earn because the giver has the right to ask for something in return.
In Christianity you have the right to accept grace or not. It is a gift, given freely to everyone. You don’t have to earn the gift. You don’t have to ask for repentance first or be good enough to be given the gift. It is already there. Already offered to you, and everyone. The gift of grace, unmerited favor. A gift that we don’t deserve. A gift that is lavished on us. Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 2:11, Romans 4:4-5, Romans 6:14, Romans 11:6, Acts 15:11, Galatians 2:21, these are just some Bible references to the free gift of grace without having to earn it.
I think one of the biggest differences from Mormonism to Christianity is the understanding of the atonement and why Christ died for our sins. I never understood the Jewish law, until well after I gave my life to Christ. Our pastor does a 13-week Bible study and I went through it twice before I understood that God gave the Israelite’s 600+ laws to follow. And in order to repent or receive forgiveness from these broken laws they had to offer living sacrifices. There had to be blood spilled for the sins to be covered. That is why Christ was offered as a living sacrifice. He completed the law. His blood covered all the sins that were required to be repented for, covered by a living blood sacrifice. All sins past, present, and future, are done. It is finished because Christ died on the cross.
In Matthew 5:17-48 it talks about sin and that Christ came to fulfill the law. In this passage Christ talks about the importance of being righteous and sinless. However, He is intentional to point out the impossibility of doing everything pleasing in the eyes of God, up to God’s standard. In Mathew 5:27-29 he talks about adultery and that you should not commit adultery, but to even look at a woman and lust after her is to commit adultery in your heart. Have you ever looked at a woman besides your wife or even your wife before you were married and lusted after her? That is to commit adultery in your heart. To live according to the law is impossible. To live a life completely perfect sinless is impossible to do except for the One who came and died so the law could be fulfilled.
I think another big difference is the is when you realize what Christ has done for you. When you truly accept that gift as a Christian, you want to please God, you want to please the one who sacrificed so much so you can live and be forgiven. It isn’t to earn anything. It is gratitude and love. It is acknowledging the lavished grace you have been given, and being grateful knowing you won’t be punished for what you deserve to be punished for. It changes your heart. It has nothing to do with repayment but complete gratitude. Sunday, our pastor taught about the prodigal son. He was given so much by his father. He took his inheritance and squandered all of it. He came home to beg for a place as a servant in his father’s home. His father welcomed him with open arms and gave him more of everything. Lavished grace. He didn’t get what he deserved. He was showed unmerited favor.
It doesn’t matter how much you do, how hard you work, or how good of a person you think you are. You will never be good enough, you can never work hard enough, you can’t earn enough. You can’t “practice” enough to be in the presence of the Lord unless you have accepted that Christ is the only way.
Sorry my response is so long! I hope this gives you some added perspective into where I am coming from. Thank you again for your comment. This is the exact purpose for this blog. To create discussion and dialogue!
And just for fun a skit that shows it doesn’t matter what you do it’s only Jesus that can make you good enough to get into Heaven. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9SJp0T08ZQ