It is revealing to see how Mormonism views Bible passages that say we are not saved by works. Probably the most familiar of these passages is Ephesians 2:8 -9 which says: “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.”
The LDS manual that addresses the New Testament most thoroughly is the 500 page manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles. Following is the only treatment it gives of this passage. It is quoted in its entirety.
“I am not unmindful of the scripture that declares: ‘by grace are ye saved through faith; and this not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’ (Ephesians 2:8) That is absolutely true, for man in his taking upon himself mortality was impotent to save himself. When left to grope in a natural state, he would have become, and did become, so we are told in modern scripture, ‘carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature.’ (Alma 42:10) But the Lord, through his grace, appeared to man, gave him the gospel or eternal plan whereby he might rise above the carnal and selfish things of life and obtain spiritual perfection. But he must rise by his own efforts and he must walk by faith.
“’He who would ascend the stairway leading upward to eternal life must tread it step by step from the base stone to the summit of its flight. Not a single stair can be missed, not one duty neglected. If the climber would avoid danger and delay and arrive with all safety and expedition at the topmost landing of the celestial exaltation.’ The responsibility is upon each individual to choose the path of righteousness, of faithfulness and duty to fellow men. If he choose otherwise and as a result meets failure, misery, and death, he alone is to blame.” (David O McKay in CR, Apr. 1957, p. 7 Italics added.)”
Notice how McKay (who was one of Mormonism’s living prophets) equates the gift of Ephesians 2:8 with the Lord giving the eternal plan – a plan that depends on man’s own efforts. The manual even emphasizes this by putting it in italics. “But he must rise by his own efforts and he must walk by faith.”
The “this” of verse 8, however, grammatically refers back to “by grace are ye saved” or salvation itself. Salvation is not of ourselves – something that is reinforced by verse 9: “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is striking that McKay doesn’t even mention verse 9. That is striking especially because, even though, it is a separate verse, it is still part of the sentence. It completes the thought. Standing alone it makes no sense.
It also shows that McKay’s interpretation is wrong. God’s gift to us is not a plan of salvation which requires us to tread the stairway step by step. God’s gift to us is salvation itself.