Before we can discuss the role of graces or works within the Plan of Salvation, we need to understand why we need salvation in the first place. As we have discussed in a prior post, the Fall of Man, while allowing us to enter into mortality, also subjected us to sin. Sin is when we know the will of God and fail to comply with it. (James 4:17; see also 1 John 3:4). All of us have sinned. (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8-10).
And God has revealed His will to us through commandments. All commandments, or the law, are insights into the nature of happiness, or in other words, the nature God. (Alma 41:11). So when we fail to keep the commandments, we are living in a way that will eventually bring us sorrow, even though some may find pleasure in their wickedness for a season. Some commandments, like the Law of Moses, have been superseded, while others, such as the commandment to repent, have been in effect since Adam. (See 3 Ne. 9:17 (stating that Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses); Moses 5:6-8 (stating that an angel commanded Adam to repent and do all that he did in the name of the Son)).
Every man, woman, and child who is accountable for his actions must keep the commandments. If he does not, then he must face the consequences of his failure. We have all seen blindfolded lady justice with her sword drawn holding a scale. Her scales must remain in equilibrium. But each time we break a commandment, or sin, they tip against us. And there is only one way to return them to balance: punishment. (2 Ne. 2:5, 10; Alma 42:18).
The punishment justice demands when we sin is spiritual death. (Helaman 14:17). Spiritual death is when we are cut off from the presence of the Lord. (Alma 42:9). Those who suffer this death are those who are sent to hell, (2 Ne. 9:12) which is also called outer darkness, (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30; Alma 40:13; D&C 101:91; D&C 133:73). And when we consider that "nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar his face is to us," being cut off from our loving Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ will be more painful that we can ever imagine. (See Ezra Taft Benson, "Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations," Speeches of the Year, 1974, 1975, 313).
Now, our discussion of justice would be incomplete if we did not consider the other edge of lady justice's sword. When we keep the commandments, or the law, we will be blessed. For example, if we obey the commandment to pay tithes and offerings, the Lord promises to pour out blessings from heaven and to "rebuke the devourer for [our] sakes." (Malachi 3:8-12). Search the scriptures and you will find many other blessings that come through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
But there is one thing obeying the commandments cannot do: Obedience will not and cannot pay the debt we owe to justice because of our sins. (Galatians 3:11; 2 Ne. 2:5, 10). Therefore, by ourselves, it is impossible to escape the chains of hell, for justice cannot be denied. (See Alma 42:25).