“Sir, you are using a different dictionary,” I said to the man standing before me yesterday evening.
The conversation had begun when he had asked for a knife from the hotel kitchen to slice his loaf of french bread with. He noticed my copy of How to Read a Book sitting on the front desk counter and asked if I was reading it for an English class. No, for a Biblical Hermeneutics class – how to study and interpret the Bible. He asked if I was to be a pastor. Yes.
“How about you, sir? Are you religious?” I asked.
“I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins.”
“What church are you a part of?”
“Latter Day Saints…What do you think of us?”
I could not tell him anything other than the truth. I would look upon my hands come judgment day and see them covered in his blood should I not as Ezekiel 33’s watchmen condemn my cowardice.
“Sir, I believe that you are not Christians, that you are not saved.”
“I’ve agreed with everything you’ve said so far.”
“Sir, you are using a different dictionary. How I define grace and how you define grace are entirely different.”
“How would you define grace?”
“Unmerited favor. We do nothing that merits the kindness of God.”
“I believe that.”
“Sir, that is not the official teaching of the Mormon church.”
“Don’t you think I’ve studied my own religion!”
“Sir, which would you say comes first, grace or works? Do works produce grace, or does grace produce works?”
“Well, isn’t that just semantics?”
Is it? Is it just semantics? Stare into your own soul and understanding of the gospel and answer that question. Is the razor-thin wire that we walk which is the truth that saves concerned with the order of grace and works?
My Mormon hotel guest would pile that question upon the tangled trash heap of philosophical folly, doomed to rest next to ponderings upon the chicken and the egg.
Does it matter?
“No sir, it is not semantics. I believe it is the difference between eternal life and eternal death.”
If works come first, I save myself. It may be all perfumed up in a pretty dress, peddled as the idea that though we may not ever work our way back to God, He looks upon our good works and matches them with His grace, saving us.
But such is the gospel of the damned. Semantics? No. A thousand times no. God has closed the door upon my works. He will pay the whole bill or none of it. Saving grace that is given in a response to my good works is not grace, for grace is unmerited.
And that is the gospel. God enlivens dead human souls, who then in their joy turn and worship Him with their hands. Without this, there is no Christianity. Poets have written of it, the wealthy have spent their fortunes to spread it, martyrs have bled for it.
It is not semantics.