“The only time I had turned to God in the past was to ask for forgiveness, but now I also asked for grace—His ‘enabling power’ [Bible Dictionary, “Grace”]. I had never done that before. These days I spend a lot less time hating myself for what I have done and a lot more time loving Jesus for what He has done.”–Bradley R. Wilcox, Second Counselor in the Young Men General Presidency, October 2021 General Conference.
The LDS Bible Dictionary has a clunky explanation of what grace is and does. It is by Jesus Christ’s grace that we are saved. We are saved because of who He is and not because of who we are or what we can do. But the Greek word χάρις (Charis), or grace, is more than just favor or goodwill, though indeed it is by Jesus’ favor and goodwill that we are saved. Like Nephi in the Book of Mormon, I glory in plainness. I spend years pondering a subject so that I can simplify it in the most fundamental terms so that a child might understand it. After you finish reading this entry, you might understand grace better in your mind, but you must still learn to understand it in your heart and this only happens through a process.
So what exactly is grace if not favor and goodwill? There is more to it than that. Grace is also the condition of possessing light and truth. In the simplest term, it is the condition of being godly.
D&C 93:6 And John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John’s record is hereafter to be revealed.
7 And he bore record, saying: I saw his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was;
8 Therefore, in the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation—
9 The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.
10 The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.
11 And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
12 And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
13 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
14 And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.
Before Jesus Christ resurrected clothed in glory and power like the Father, he was a mortal man clothed in a tabernacle of clay, subject to all the weaknesses and infirmities of the flesh and subject to mortal death. And before He was born into this mortal world, He was clothed only in spirit and not yet a tabernacle of clay like the rest of us today. But Alma gives us a little clue about our existence before Satan was cast down to the Earth as we read in Isaiah.
Alma 13:1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
It was the Father’s foreknowledge of their individual capacities for good that men were called after the Holy Order of the Son of God. Before we were born to this Earth, some of us had already demonstrated our capacity for good and were called after the order of His Son who had already been ordained as our Great High Priest and Savior because of His great and infinite capacity for good and because of His great and infinite capacity for love and because of His great and infinite capacity to suffer more than all of us put together when that distant future hour would arrive and He would carry His cross and all our sins. Our Father had the foreknowledge of Jesus Christ’s capacity to love the world by being the instrument of our salvation with the capacity of tungsten steel to do what clay never could.
Joseph Smith once said, “Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”–Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp.346-347.
So what does it mean to grow from grace to grace? When we grow from grace to grace, we grow in light and truth by degrees, line upon line and precept upon precept, possessing greater light and truth and that comes from our diligence in obedience to God in this life. This can be likened to making iron into steel through a certain process. We are willing to suffer the trials by fire that our Father sees fit to inflict upon us so that by growing from such trials, we develop the qualities produced by the intense heat and flames. Such qualities are patience, longsuffering, charity, etc. It is a process of growth wherein we change from being less god-like to being more godly. This typically happens through our suffering on behalf of others because of our love for them. The less willing you are to suffer to be a light to your neighbor, the less godly you are or will become (and perhaps the less faithful you were before the foundation of the world). You may possess a much greater capacity to love than you realize if you are willing to experiment and grow. God gives to us family members, neighbors, and various people in our life’s paths to challenge us and to provide us opportunities to express our love in different ways. Too many Christians are willing to do little more than their religious duties or perform rote tasks, but such performances do not make them more godly. It just makes them dutiful and task oriented. Machines and robots can be task oriented. Slaves can be very task oriented. God does not want slaves. He wants a family.
This, then, is grace and to be saved by grace: it is the condition of godliness and also God’s favor and goodwill because of His godliness that we are saved. Growing from grace to grace is a process whereby we change from being less godlike to being more godly. The heed and diligence we give to God’s instructions allows us to accomplish that growth. Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice makes possible the sins that we commit along the way to be forgiven so that we are able to grow without being damned by the errors that we wish to abandon through repentance. And becoming more and more godly also means our capacity to love others increases accordingly. The more godly we become, the more we are willing to suffer to elevate those who cannot elevate themselves, such as the poor and infirm. Jesus Christ, who is more godly than us all, has the greatest love and thus the greatest capacity to suffer all things for all of us with His condescension (1 Nephi 11:16), Latin “con” meaning with, which means the same in Spanish and “descend” which Christ did and does for us, below us, and WITH us all, He being full of grace and truth (John 1:14).