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.
From the time I was a boy, I was taught that no amount of action or good conduct on my part would enhance my prospects in the eternities, other than to accept, verbally, the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I was not averse to saying the words, but even as a child I sensed that that event alone could not prepare me for the presence of God. Someone may say, “Well, that is simply a manifestation of your lack of faith, so you cannot be saved anyhow”. I protest! I did not want for belief; I simply wanted the whole process to make sense to me. Another observer could state, “Well, you can’t get to Heaven with a Ph.D.!” That may very well be true, but I am quite certain that you can get there dumb as a box of rocks either.
Jesus taught his disciples in prayer, thusly, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Can one come to know God intellectually? Is it possible to intellectually perceive that He exists? Can it be reasoned out? Is there any external evidence that there is a supreme being? Perhaps not in an iron-clad objective manner, but there is sufficient evidence in the Scriptures of the world, in the religions of men, in the fundamental nature of the human psyche to suggest that there is a good chance that that is the case.
Once a person has accepted the intellectual possibility of a God, is there any way to find out what He is like? It would seem reasonable that a divine being who thought it was in the best interests of His creations to have them worship Him would provide at least a little information about what constitutes godliness. Those, of course, who reject the notion that God is prepared to communicate directly with men are left pretty much in the dark.
Once the existence of God is acknowledged and something is known of His character, is the worshipper expected to do anything other than adore? What is it exactly that would please God and should we be willing to do it? In conjunction with all of these questions is the most important one of all: What is the point of creation? What is the point of my own personal existence? If there is indeed a point to mortal life, it seems clear that there should be a bit of a divine agenda. Life eternal consists in knowing God. How well do we need to know Him? Should we assume that a passing acquaintance is sufficient? Does not the consummate knowledge of God occur when we do those things which He does? Hence, the commandments. Clearly, something is expected, upon which our salvation from death and hell depend.
Given that something is expected of us by God, can we ever do enough to justify our own salvation? The answer must be a resounding “No!”, or the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ makes no sense at all.
There is no other name given under Heaven whereby a man can receive salvation; only in Jesus Christ is there any hope for immortality and eternal life. No man has the power to bring himself back to life once his spirit has fled his mortal body. No man has the power or the means to satisfy the demands of justice, insofar as his redemption from sin is concerned. Faith in Jesus Christ creates a desire to be as he is, to follow his example as a dutiful disciple. Thus, repentance from all ungodly conduct is a direct product of our love for the Lord. When invited to become a part of his eternal family, to reap the blessings which he has provided through his atoning sacrifice, we willing do all that is required of us in a formal way. Hence, the ordinances of the priesthood represent the outward tokens of our faith in Jesus, our response to his tender love and concern for our welfare.
In terms of personal salvation, anything that a man might do to promote his own eternal welfare is insignificant, even adherence to the requirements incumbent upon a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Thus, baptism by immersion could have no efficacy at all without the realities for which the ordinance stands. The bestowal of the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands would be in vain if there were no redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ which may prepare a man to be a worthy vessel for that spiritual gift. Man may achieve great things in his own eyes, but when compared to the ministry of the Son of God, any mortal achievement looks like ashes and smells like smoke.
When we are born again, the nature of any obedient act changes. We keep the commandments, observe the statutes, and live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God. A man who professes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and yet is not the purveyor of good works, does not express love for his fellow men as manifested in his daily walk and talk, then that man most surely walks in the paths of the hypocrite and will not find salvation.
The Savior set the perfect example for us. He willingly submitted himself to the demands of justice for our sakes, because we could not do so on our own. He laid down his life that we might live again in his presence. He gave all that he was that we might dwell with him in eternity if we so chose. All this he did because of his personal love for us, a love that came in large measure because of what he accomplished in our behalf. Those things by which we can emulate his conduct toward our fellow men, we ought to do because of our love and gratitude for him. We love as much as we can, as much as our imperfections will allow us to love, and then his love makes up the difference. That is the meaning of the scriptures.