19 August 2007

Grace and More

There is a very good discussion going on over at Feast Upon the Word. Robert C started it with his post on grace and works in Ephesians. The discussion is quite long (up to 72 comments as of this posting) but worth reading. It's helped me clarify my thinking on many topics and think about new things as well.

Among other helpful thoughts, the discussion got me thinking about works. What are they good for, anyway? Let's just suppose that we believe Luke 17:10 and Mosiah 2:21: Even if we serve God with all diligence (i.e. obedience) we would still be unprofitable servants.

What does unprofitable mean? Well, in the context, it means that the servant has not gained anything to his credit. What does that mean?

Imagine a man living in Jesus' day, looking for a way to make a living, so he decides to sell himself into slavery, becoming a bondservant (sort of like an indentured servant). He gets a place to live, food, and protection, and the master gets someone who will do everything the master tells him to do. That's the deal. So if the servant does everything he is told, that is not counted towards him as some kind of bonus, as though he went above and beyond. Thus, he cannot one day say to the master, "I worked really hard so now you owe me something," because those were the terms of the contract. The word "unprofitable" applies to the servant, not to the master; i.e. the master may very well have profited from the servant's labor, but he doesn't owe the servant anything.

So, how do we profit from works if they are in fact "unprofitable"? I think the discussion I linked to holds the answer....


Allen said...


I think you're right that it is the servant not the master who profits.

King Benjamin said that if we would serve God with all our whole souls, we would still be unprofitable servants. To me, that means that our works do not save us. Our works do not do not get us into heaven. Our works do not earn us exaltation. Salvation, exaltation comes through the Savior's atonement which was an act of grace.

What then is the purpose of serving God with our whole souls. To change our behavior by developing the attributes of Christ, such as forgiveness, service, love. And, of course, to benefit God's other children. We change our behavior to become more like Christ, and the Savior allows his atonement to cleanse us and bring to us our salvation in his three kingdoms of glory. Without the atonement, God's grace, we could repent and give service and thus become more God-like, but we would never have salvation in the Father's house.

I commented on this in that note in the Feast blog, and I thought I'd comment on it here from a slightly different viewpoint.

Lyle said...

Depends on how you use the word "works". I can work at digging a whole in the ground all day, without a real purpose and call it a work. If you are engaged in Christ-like works, then there is a greater value. There is also the underlying principle of motive. Are we performing a work out of fear, because we are told, or are we performing a work out of love? Even then, we still fall short...hence the role of mercy come into play.

BrianJ said...


I'm not sure if I understand you. I think that King Benjamin's point is that, inasmuch as we are God's bondservants, then there is no way that we can "profit" (i.e. gain the upper hand) in our relationship. But I certainly believe that God profits.

Put it this way: if I sell myself to you, becoming your bondservant, then I promise to work for you with all my strength, and in exchange you promise to feed and house me. That's our contract. No matter what I do, by definition I cannot exceed my end of the bargain; thus, I am not profitable to myself---I am not able at some point to buy my freedom with hard work. I am very profitable to you, however, because for the price of a few meals and a small room, you get me to do whatever you want (cook, weed, clean, etc.).

Allen said...

Yeah, my first paragraph should be disregarded. I was brain-dead when I said that.

There is a cross reference from Mosiah 3:21 to Luke 17:10. In the Luke scripture, the Savior said that after we have done all the things commanded of us, we are still unprofitable servants because we only did that which was our duty to do, that is, required of us. So, we keep God's commandments, and we are still unprofitable servants, because our obedience does not bring us salvation. It is our duty as disciples of Christ to do those things. Christ's atonement, through his grace, brings us salvation. Our obedience brings us into harmony with God, allowing the Atonement to cleanse us (D&C 19:16-19).

Nathan said...

I don't want to resurrect that long post on Feast Upon the Word, but I recently thought back to physics and work. Work is force times distance. Force can move us somewhere. Not that this explains some of the questions about salvation and works, but I thought our spiritual works are simply what happens when we apply the force of faith to ourselves. I'm beginning to think that our works are important in that it is how God does his work. If we're not actively doing God's work, then his work is getting frustrated. Hard to become one with God if we are not joining him in his work.

BrianJ said...

Nathan - What does Paul say in Romans 6? It is not we who do God's work, it is Christ who lives through us and does God's work. I'm pretty sure you agree with that already, and that I am just parsing.

Nathan said...

Good point. If we then take both of them together and still consider faith as a force moving us to works we have another facet of the gem of faith to consider (I wouldn't give my thought more than a portion of a whole picture). Particularly, how is it that faith (in Christ) is a force to cause action and how does it relate to God's power working within us?