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Understanding grace through the Pauline epistles

PROVO, Utah — Mormons can understand Paul's discussion of grace in his epistles even though other churches may have misunderstood how he used the words "grace" and "justification." "If (those words) are good enough for Book of Mormon prophets and they are good enough for Paul, I think they are something we should enjoy," said Eric D. Huntsman, an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU, who spoke at Campus Education Week on Monday, Aug. 17. Huntsman explained that the Greek word for "grace" means a helpful gift given without any expectation of return. The Greek word for "justify" means to bring into harmony with law, or, in other words, it basically means to forgive. Paul's appreciation for grace changed over time — although his understanding of what the Atonement was remained constant. "Paul, through a lifetime of ministry, through a lifetime of experiences, gained a huge appreciation for (grace)," Huntsman said. Huntsman illustrated the development of Paul's feelings by looking at the three epistles that discussed grace directly, Galatians (written probably AD 54-55), Romans (written around AD 57-58) and Ephesians (written around AD 61-63). Galatians "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."(Galatians 2:16) Paul addressed in this epistle those Jewish Christians who emphasized the Law of Moses over the saving mission of Jesus Christ. Problems of understanding this happen, according to Huntsman, when people simplify what Paul said to "justified by faith, not works." Paul is talking in this epistle about the "works of the law" or the Law of Moses. He is also talking about the "faith of Christ," which can mean not only trusting Christ, but also Christ's own faithfulness toward us. Huntsman also explained that "justification" should not be confused with or equated with "salvation" or "exaltation." Justification is forgiveness. "It is not about becoming like God and Christ," Huntsman said. "It is simply about being brought into harmony with law." Romans "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God ... Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:23-25, 28). In Romans, Paul brought grace into discussion about justification. "As he continues to reflect on the miracle of justification ... he was amazed by it. He was grateful for it. He saw it as a gift," Huntsman said. In Galatians, Paul wrote about the faithfulness OF Christ. In Romans, he wrote about faith and trust IN Christ. In Galatians, "law" is the ceremonial observance of the Law of Moses. In Romans, Huntsman said "law" is the established benchmark of behavior; it tells you what sin is. The Jews had the Law of Moses and the Gentiles had natural law or conscience. In both cases, Paul said law didn't justify them, it condemned them. There is another law that Paul discusses, according to Huntsman. It is the "law of God" or "the law of the Spirit" (for example Romans 7:22 and 8:2). Other laws tell you what sin is. "The law of the Spirit, I would suggest to you, tells you what God is," Huntsman said. "And to live a godly life, this is how you should live." Ephesians "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul's progression on grace reaches its zenith in Ephesians. "Paul seems to have introduced (grace into) the discussion of justification in Romans out of awe and wonder and gratitude," Huntsman said. "(In Ephesians) we are now getting the sense it's an actual power that's coming into your life. Not just to justify sin and forgive you, but to really redeem and to change and to transform you." We need to have faith in Christ, repent and be baptized to receive the gift of forgiveness — but it is still a gift. "If not for the faithfulness of Christ ... if not for the Atonement of Christ ... all the obedience, all the ordinances, all the temple work, all the casseroles, all the service, all those things would not get us forgiven for a single sin," Huntsman said. "Forgiveness comes as a gift from Christ." Ephesians is not about justification by faith, but about being saved by grace. Paul pairs "faith" (or as Huntsman translates the Greek word, "trust") with "grace." "I'm not sure I completely understand this yet, but we are saved — the full breadth of what Jesus has done for us — as a gift from him through faith," Huntsman said. "I wonder if it is that grace is sitting there waiting for us, but we need to trust him enough to just reach out and grab it." Paul's use of the word "works" in Ephesians was, like Romans, not just about the Law of Moses. But, Huntsman pointed out that Ephesians also says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). The Book of Mormon says, "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:20). "How can I (press forward)? It's because Christ will give me the strength and the ability to do things I normally could not," Huntsman said. Paul expressed several levels of grace in Galatians, Romans and Ephesians. "The justifying power of Christ, his faithfulness in completing the atonement and our taking advantage of it, that's one level. But then we are supposed to live this 'law of the Spirit,' which is absolutely impossible for us to do by ourselves. But see, it is still grace, because he will give us the ability, the strength to do that," Huntsman said. Huntsman noticed in his own life that the times he works the hardest in keeping the commandments are the times when he has a greater appreciation for grace. "We can discuss the Atonement forever. All I know is I trust Christ. It works," Huntsman said to a small group of people who were asking him questions after his presentation. "Christ gives us the power to do what he asks."


E-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com