The following is the outline for a class taught on Romans for an LDS Sunday School class.
Romans is not real easy for LDS. Romans is where Paul outlines his theology that salvation is not through works but through grace.
Up until the 1980’s, the missionary lessons were primarily focused on the differences between LDS doctrine and other churches. We focused on the areas in contention, as a way to explain what we believe. Pictures in the Ensign focused on temples and Joseph Smith. This general style we had of focusing on the differences caused us to misunderstand and lose sight of what we actually agreed on.
Starting in the 80’s, we as a church changed our style, to embrace what we have in common with other churches. We put more pictures of Christ in the Ensign. We made the Jesus Christ portion of the church’s logo larger. We started focusing more on Christ and the atonement in church publications and lesson manuals.
The doctrine of grace is still a little misunderstood. As it turns out, we do believe in grace. Stephen Robinson started popularizing the doctrine of grace in the 90’s with his books Believing Christ and Following Christ. From there we have parables like the girl and her bicycle, the weightlifting spotter, the parable of the divers, and many other teachings that have become pretty mainstream. But his teachings were always just a little bit edgy, and you were never quite sure if they were completely accepted by the brethren.
The brethren do teach grace. President Uchtdorf validated all these teachings in his conference talk this last April on Grace, so we can finally rest assured knowing what Paul taught in Romans is completely and fully endorsed by the church.
From the Gospel Doctrine lesson manual:
Explain that Paul had been writing to Church members in several areas who had returned to practicing the law of Moses, believing that strict observance of this law was necessary for salvation. Although the Saints in Rome were strong in the gospel, Paul wrote this epistle to emphasize that justification and salvation come through faith in Christ, not through the works of the law of Moses.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world
The Romans were pretty darn good at obedience. They were the goody two shoes. They had a long checklist of commandments they were good at, and they even added some. They didn’t drink Coke. They didn’t watch R rated movies. No TV on Sunday. They voted Republican.
But they weren’t getting it right. They were looking to the commandments for salvation.
What Paul needed them to understand was that salvation was not through keeping the commandments. He needed to explain to them that no matter what they did, they would never make it to heaven without the grace of Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:10-12, 23
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
He boldly declares that through grace we are saved.
Romans 3, 24
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
And just to make sure they understood, he clarified in Romans 3: 20,24, and 28 that their works just didn’t matter. No more listing off how good you were at keeping the commandments.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Book of Mormon backs this up
20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
He didn’t say, you Bishop Smith, you’re pretty close. You, Sister Jones, you’re even closer. He said you’re all unprofitable servants no matter what you do. Everyone in this room is on the same level, level F for FAIL.
Paul is troubled with what he calls a thorn in his side. This is really troubling him as he has gone to the Lord three times to have it removed. Many scholars—both LDS and non-LDS—have tried to determine what that so-called thorn might have been. It might have been a physical ailment such as bad hearing or a bum leg. It might have been an individual or group persecuting Paul and his mission. Some theorize that it might have been temptation, whether it be carnal in nature or even a predisposition to losing his temper. Paul mentions that Satan was the one who put this thorn in his side.
It doesn’t matter what the thorn was. Only that to Paul it was a big deal. And also that it relates to the troubles that vex us. The power of the story is in the Lord’s answer to his pleadings. Does the Lord remove the thorn? No. We want him to. We get sick and tired of this mortality and the constant thorns.
The Lord simply says. No, keep the thorn. But take heart, because my grace is sufficient for you. His grace is sufficient for us all in all our problems and weaknesses. Then he takes it even a step further. In verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” And then Paul’s powerful testimony in verse 9 and 10 after this teaching lesson he received. “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
From Paul’s story, it appears that the measure of success in dealing with the thorns in our life is not whether we can remove them all ourselves, or whether we can endure them perfectly without committing sin, but if we can simply endure them by staying humble, not giving up, and continuing to rely on Christ.
From Max Lucado: Had God removed Paul’s thorn, he might never have embraced God’s grace. Only the hungry value a feast, and Paul was starving. You wonder why God doesn’t remove thorns from your life? If he did, you might lean on your strength instead of his grace. A few stumbles might be what you need to convince you: His grace is sufficient for you. When we are hurting, we don’t need pain relief, what we need is Jesus. To walk with him. Talk to him. Crawl into his lap and let him hold us for a while. Perhaps we’ll never say, “Jesus is all I need” until he is all we have. At that moment, he will prove to be all we need and more.
The theological definition of the word grace is “unmerited favor given by God.”
There are many reasons grace and mercy are difficult concepts for us to grasp. We don’t receive a lot of unmerited favor in this world. Banks don’t usually offer grace when we miss a few mortgage payments. Our cultural heritage is a farming one. Law of the harvest. You reap what you sew. How strange it is for us to receive unmerited favor. Just because he loves us, not for anything we do.
We frequently say we hope we can be worthy of blessings. We say we hope we will never disappoint God. The Savior says “you will never be worthy of the blessings I have in store for you, but I will give them to you anyway.” The beautiful thing is that he knows we will disappoint Him and loves us for it. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
The Savior over and over told us He will actually give us what we can never earn. Did the lost sheep deserve to be found? Did the prodigal deserve to be received so generously? Did the unchaste woman deserve to be forgiven? Did Paul and Alma deserve heavenly visitations when they had ignored every attempt God made to reach them in their wickedness? The parable of the workers is really hard to get. Some workers worked all day. Some were lazy and didn’t show up for work until right before quitting time. Did they merit the same reward? The Savior said they did. That really gets us to think of another getting the same reward for less work. But why get hung up with that comparison when the reward is so great?
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
Christ as advocate
As our advocate, or our lawyer so to speak, what is Christ’s best defense for us? Does He advocate for us by listing all of our righteous deeds and how they merit or deserve a reward? No, He advocates by pointing to his own righteousness, saying:
Doctrine and Covenants 45:4
4 Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom
thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.
One reason grace is difficult for us is that we compare our works to others. We self-righteously claim our works are better than another’s and are the reason we have received favor of God. Or we, in a perversion of humility, think another’s works are greater than ours and somehow we don’t and maybe will never measure up. Jesus seemed to strike at this idea a lot. I’m fascinated by the theme that recurs in the following.
After the Pharisee rebuked him for eating with the woman in sin, he declared “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
When he sat down to eat with sinners and was mocked by the Pharisees, he said “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
He taught the lost sheep parable and how a good shepherd would go out and find the lost sheep and leave the ninety and nine “which need no repentance.”
These ideas are very confusing. Jesus loving a sinner more than a non-sinner? Or that someone with sin would love him more than someone without sin. Or the idea of sinners needing him, but righteous not needing him. Some of us identify with the non-sinner and scratch our heads at why Jesus would say such a thing. John sheds some light on it. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
The brilliance of the Savior’s teaching in these cases was his sarcastic use of the concept of one who “needed no repentance”. There is no such person. He wants us to relate to the publican and the prostitute and admit our sins and need of him, not relate to the Pharisee who’s pretty darn good already and might not even need Him that much. As Elder Holland pointed out, both brothers in the parable of the prodigal son were lost. We sometimes mistakenly refer to a less active member as a lost sheep, but there is no such thing as a found sheep. All we like sheep have gone astray.
President Uchtdorf in his grace talk in April used these same scriptures and examples.
To make it even more obvious to us that we’re not going to avoid being sinners, he took the long list of sins from the Law of Moses and kicked it up a notch. He gave us a New Covenant. A New Testament. The law used to be Thou Shalt not Kill. Now the law is don’t even get angry. The law used to be Thou Shalt not commit adultery. Now the law is don’t even lust. He doesn’t want just our outward actions. He really wants whats inside. Our thoughts. Our hearts. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” With that commandment, he made sure we wouldn’t make it a day sinless maybe not even an hour. We need to rely on his grace every single day.
When we are asked to jump to the moon, which is about as easy for us to do as perfect ourselves, we shouldn’t put ourselves above another because we out jumped them four feet to three. Likewise we shouldn’t be unable to forgive ourselves for a two foot jump. Robert Millet, dean of religion at BYU says “too often we think of grace as the little cherry on top that is the last little step in our path to perfection.” I believe this mocks the saving power of the Atonement and is as heretical as any doctrine we criticize other churches for. We show our guilt in this manner of thinking when we get into the comparison games.
Another reason for the resistance to unconditionally accept the notion of grace is in the idea of easy grace. The worry that grace is a license to commit sin.
Back to Romans. Paul anticipated this question and answered it. Again, this is material President Uchtdorf explained in his talk.
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
So, since we’re saved by grace, should we go around sinning just because we can? No! Of course, not! Through Christ, we overcame sin, why would we want to wallow in it?
Role of Works
18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
How awesome is it none of us need to worry about sin? Awesome we don’t have to worry about salvation or whether or not we’re going to heaven? We can put all that anxious energy into living positively. Let’s become the servants of righteousness, let’s do good works, let’s obey the commandments because we can. Out of love.
Paul goes on in Romans 12 and 13 to describe a life the saints should live of righteousness and faith. Not because they have to. Not because we go to heaven because of it. But because we want to be examples as followers of Christ and show that we are true saints. Worship God by living your life as a gift.
We don’t obey for fear of being condemned or rejected by God. We obey out of love. Love for God. Love for others. Love for ourselves. Love is the motivation God uses. Fear is an emotion that Satan manipulates. When we feel the Savior’s love, we desire to serve him and keep his commandments. Let us not motivate our children or others using fear that His forgiveness might not be available or fear in letting God or others down, but let us motivate by teaching the love that is demonstrated in Christ’s grace and Atonement. When we feel loved unconditionally by the Savior and those around us, we can endure any trial or temptation and truly become “servants of righteousness.”
Qualification for Grace
The general authorities use the word qualify a lot to describe our part in the covenant relationship with Christ. We don’t earn salvation or become perfect on our own, but we can qualify for the grace of Jesus Christ to justify us and perfect us, thus allowing us to gain exaltation. Qualifying can be thought of as receiving or accepting the Savior’s grace. We do this by entering and staying in the covenant of Christ. Specifically, through faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end by repeating this process over and over again–continuing to exercise faith and repent of sins, with the sacrament substituting for the ordinances. In various references in the scriptures it is said that all is required for salvation is to believe in Jesus or come unto Christ or have a broken heart. Entering in and staying in the covenant of Christ is evidence that we have done that. Perfection is not required for salvation, but being perfected in Jesus Christ is. We’re not required to be successful in keeping all of the commandments all of the time—only to keep trying and repent when we fall short.
After (errr Apart from) all we can do
OK, so what about that scripture in second Nephi 25:23
23 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.
Twenty years ago, Stephen Robinson argued that this we misinterpret the word after. After is not chronological in this context, it doesn’t mean chronologically first we do all we can do, then if and only if we do that, then Christ’s grace is the little cherry on top. No, after is meant in exasperation meaning “outside of” or “in spite of”. It’s by grace we are saved, in spite of or no matter how much we can do.
President Uchtdorf backed this up in his conference talk:
“However, I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase ‘after all we can do.’ We must understand that ‘after’ does not equal ‘because.'”