Grace/Salvation/Atonement as a process or as an event

Elsewhere, Clark Goble has publically agreed with Dr. Millet’s assessment of salvation as a process. In a slightly different context, Mssrs Goble, Greenwood, and Johnston have all admitted that, while they think it is possible for people to hold the idea that humans are “instantly transformed” at judgment, they are uncertain as to why anyone would (see here and following comments). I am one of those who do believe in “instant transformation”, but I object to that characterization and actually believe that the distinction between process and event is actually not all that helpful. These notions are tied together; please allow me to explain.

I tend to view salvation/justification/sanctification as a process consisting of a series of saving events, each of which should be termed as a gift or a grace. I, therefore, dislike Dr. Millet’s distinction because it seems to separate out two ideas that I find are intertwined. We are “instantly transformed” in a thousand, thousand small ways as part of the life-long process of repentance. All good things (including faith, grace, love, hope, patience, intelligence, light, and so forth) are gifts from God and, as such, are not earned. There is no way for us to earn them. They are given in God’s own time and in His own wisdom. Even if we make the central covenants of the gospel, there is no gaurantee of the instant receipt of those gifts, just the promise that, as we abide in the covenant, we will receive…eventually.

Now some may argue that abiding in the covenant constitutes “work.” I disagree, because those qualities that we use to abide in the covenant are themselves inherently gifts from God. It is a bit recursive, admittedly, but the idea that we can do anything of ourselves is, I believe, contrary to one of the central messages of the gospel: our need for complete submission to the will of God.

In fact, this is the central trial that Christ faced on earth. There is real pain, suffering, and work behind his concession in Gethsemene that God’s will be done. My argument is that, fundamentally, this is what God is asking each of us to do. None of us will be as good at it as Christ, which is why the atonement is in place, but if we do what we are able (which, by the way, ain’t much), then God considers us in fulfillment of this covenant in the same way His Son was (which is why we can be joint-heirs).

So, ultimately, all God asks of us is to submit to his will. He makes up for our lacks by a process of instantaneous transformations that slowly make us better. However, with that as an understanding of the atonement, I find no reason to object to the idea that transformations can be more overarching at the time of the judgement. I do believe that God can and will make us Celestial (so long as that is what we want), by means of instantaneous transformation (if that is what it takes).

12 Replies to “Grace/Salvation/Atonement as a process or as an event”

  1. Unfortunately, your links did not help explain to me the difference between “instant transformation” and whatever the alternative is. You’re babbling. Snap out of it, man. :)You seem to be hung up on this “grace is a free gift, therefore it cannot be ‘earned'” idea… starting to sound a little Protestant, there, bro. I know you don’t like the parable of the mortgage… what about Stephen Robinson’s parable of the bicycle? No way do we merit or deserve or “earn” exaltation, but that doesn’t mean that our actions (or “works” as the Protestants would say) are meaningless or irrelevant. If Christ does 99.999% of the work, and you only scrape together 0.001%, and i’m probably being generous there, your portion is still just as essential as Christ’s. He CANNOT save you in your sins (Alma 11:34-37). You must repent, make and keep covenants (including ordinances) and endure to the end. Is this “earning” your exaltation, of course not, no more than coming up with a $.01 down payment on a Hummer is “earning” the Hummer. But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water and head down the “works are worthless” path.

  2. Out of curiosity, John, do you encourage your students to visit your blog? It seems like it would make for a nice outside-of-class discussion group. Perhaps it’s not mainstream enough to be official, as it were.Technically, isn’t any Christian religion that’s not Catholicism considered Protestant…Anyhoo, I don’t really have any pertinent comment to make, except that it sounds like a well-thought out description of how grace works towards personal salvation.

  3. I wonder if we aren’t seeing two sides of the same thing. The process view includes the step-by-step process whereby we become incrementally more Godlike. We keep the WoW, pay our tithing, are more charitable on a more consistant basis. Along the way, our sins (petty and significant) are forgiven as we repent and change our ways. The instataneous aspect may well describe having our calling and election made sure. Seemingly to us, almost out of the blue, we are told that we will be saved in the kingdom of God. But perhaps, I see it incorrectly, because even then the process of perfection continues through this life and afterwards.  Posted by Floyd the Wonderdog

  4. I have a great response to your comment over at M* John. The problem is that site has about a 50% uptime-downtime ratio lately.I just read a great take on grace from a Mormon perspective  over a T&S by Blake Ostler. Oddly, this comment was largely ignored. I loved it because it shows how grace happens from the beginning for us and functions as an enabling power — but that enabling power is ineffectual without our choices going foward. (This was what I was clumsily hoping to get at with my parable of the mortgage.) Posted by Geoff J

  5. We are definitely not Protestant. The Protestant churches were born of the Reformation, and formed as a “protest” to certain Catholic doctrines and practices (Luther and the indulgences being the classic example). After that time, some of the Protestant churches split into various factions, i.e. your Primitive Baptists, Southern Baptists, Free Will Baptists, etc. The LDS Church was not formed as a branch, offshoot, or “protest” of any other organization. It was a direct restoration of the same church Christ organized some 1800 years earlier.

  6. This idea that God gives gifts to whomever He will, and that whoever is the happy recipient of said gifts can receive more and more of them, regardless of personal worthiness, until they receive the gift of salvation… Sounding a lot like John Calvin there. The fruits and gifts of the spirit are freely given, yes, but you must qualify for them. Qualifying is not the same as earning. But it is something that you choose to do, not something that God chooses to do TO you. God has made it abundantly clear that WE are to choose exaltation or damnation, eternal life or spiritual death. He has opened the door, and extended his enabling power or grace to help us cross the threshold, but unless WE choose to reach out and grasp his hand (and he cannot coerce us to do this, it is totally of our own volition), He cannot pull us through. The ability to choose is a gift, yes, but the actual choice we make is not a gift, it is something we create in ourselves.

  7. Floyd, I agree with you in that I think we are all ultimately describing the same thing and what we are in is a battle over terminology.Rob, I am a believer in the parable of the bicycle. And I do believe that works are important. I think that they are equally as important to our eventual salvation as that girl’s pennies were to her getting the bicycle (which, it should be said, was a gift from her father).Geoff, I agree that Blake’s comment was great (everybody, go read it!!!). He influenced my opinions on this matter (which, I hope, is apparent). Our work is primarily to ready ourself to receive gifts (what I call, submitting our will to God). For that matter, I think the reason that it remained uncommented upon is because what he was saying wasn’t fundamentally different from what Adam and Clark were saying. Nor do I think that they disagree with me, fundamentally (I clearly haven’t been to M* yet). I like the mortgage parable in terms of the continuing nature of the Atoning covenant. I just think that the emphasis on our keeping covenant as works rather than the expression of divine gifts in our lives is where it fails me.Rob, again,The way I would put it is that the sincere seeker chooses to allow themselves to be chosen. It is dependent on activity from both us and God. For examples, see Alma the Younger and Paul. Posted by John C.

  8. BTW — I put up another post you are sure to hate a couple of weeks ago called “Come On and Take a Free Ride ” — I’m sure you can imagine the thrust of it… You will find sympathizers there though (like RoastedTomatoes).We agree that the task is to completely submit our will to God. I just happen to believe that means we go where he wants us to go, we say what he wants us to say, we do what he wants us to do, and we be what he wants us to be. Unfortunately, those all are defined as works by Calvinists and other protestant grace promoters. Posted by Geoff J

  9. To me, salvation is certainly a process. If it weren’t, we’d be like the evangelicals, preaching the gospel of being “saved” and recounting the day we finally got “saved”. Doesn’t it say in 2 Nephi that it is grace by which we are saved AFTER ALL WE CAN DO? That, to me, indicates that it is a process. Judgment may be the sum total of this process…the “closing scene”, as it were…but the ‘movie’ of our lives & how we accept the grace of Christ which He offers us through His infinite atonement is up to us. Our salvation is in our hands, and is won and lost based on our reaction to the conditions upon which Christ offers salvation to us–broken hearts, contrite spirits, and receiving/believing the First Principles & Ordinances…the last one of which is, of course, enduring to the end…thus sealing the deal that grace and salvation are a process. ~~

  10. John, I’m not sure how Paul and Alma Jr. are relevant. Alma, at least, was not a sincere truth-seeker. Just because they had supernatural experiences does not mean they were now “chosen” or “saved” or “graced”. They still had to repent, fast, pray, make covenants, perform ordinances, put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us. Is your point that sometimes God is less subtle with certain people than with others? I’ll agree with that.

  11. Geoff, it occurs to me that the real place where we are failing to make the connection is when we talk about what works are. I am arguing that the act of submitting our will to God’s is  the work that we are being asked to do. Other “works” that we accomplish are symptomatic of that one thing and, since it was what God wanted from Christ ultimately, I think it is what he wants from us. If we manage it, then that is why we can be joint-heirs (what we will have accomplished is the same in substance (if not degree) as what Christ accomplished). That we are given the faith, hope, and charity (along with revelation, patience, endurance, temperance, etc.) necessary to do what the Lord would have us do is merely symptomatic of our commitment to submit our will to Him.SRA – I basically agree. I think we differ regarding who is ultimately responsible for the judgement we get. I am reading to say that it is wholly reliant on what we do. I see it more as a joint effort by both us and God. I don’t believe that God, having set up the parameters of the Atonement, has excused himself from the process.Rob, I was being facetious when I mentioned them. I know that, at face value, they weaken my argument. But you are right, they still had to do all those things (things which, remarkably, Laman and Lemuel didn’t (or at least failed to consistently do)). I’ll try to explain the difference I was getting at with my next post. Posted by John C.

  12. So, what about cases of children that die before the Age of Accountability? Do we apply 100% Grace to them, or do we count their pre-mortal decision to come to Earth as work? I realize that at a certain age (still younger than 8,) children can perform certain ‘works’, acts of faith and whatnot, but I guess I’m mostly asking about infants. In a more whimsical vein, what sort of punishment should be reserved for parents who give their child a name that results in the initials: PMS Federline Linky-Linky

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