Near the beginning of the Gospel of John, there is an unusual statement which describes how we receive the power of God:
And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.John 1:16
The Greek word rendered “for” in that passage—anti (ἀντί)—actually means “in place of” or “in exchange for.” What does it mean for God to give us grace in exchange for grace?
English translations of the Bible have generally interpreted this verse as a celebration of the abundant gifts God has given us, each one greater than the last. For example:
- New International Version: “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.”
- New Living Translation: “From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.”
- Amplified Bible: “For out of His fullness [the superabundance of His grace and truth] we have all received grace upon grace [spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, favor upon favor, and gift heaped upon gift].”
(See John 1:16 on biblehub.com.)
In the Book of Mormon, we find a similar passage, but with some meaningful additions. After lamenting the foolishness and the stubbornness of people, Mormon offers the following prayer for all of us:
May God grant, in his great fulness, that men [and women] might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works.Helaman 12:24
With its focus on our works, this passage provides an alternative interpretation of that word “for.” I would paraphrase it in this way: We receive the abundant blessings of God by striving to emulate His goodness. As we give grace to others by our good works, we receive His grace.
As Alma taught his son Corianton, “That which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored” (Alma 41:15). And as King Benjamin pointed out, God’s blessings in response to our good works are always more than we deserve. (See Mosiah 2:20-24.) We don’t earn His grace, but we unlock our ability to receive it by acting with grace ourselves.
In 1833, Joseph Smith received a revelation in which this phrase was given additional meaning. The Savior, Joseph learned, followed this same pattern in mortality, growing “from grace to grace.” Paraphrasing the Gospel of John, Joseph wrote:
I, John, saw that [the Savior] received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-13
And then, the Savior speaks directly to us, clarifying that this pattern applies not only to His progression in mortality, but to ours as well:
If you keep my commandments you shall receive of [the Father’s] fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.Doctrine and Covenants 93:20
In this context, “grace for grace” is reminiscent of Isaiah’s observation that we learn “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10, 13, 2 Nephi 28:30). For those who might be discouraged about this incremental process of growth, Elder Brian K. Ashton offered the following words of reassurance:
Given the distance between what we are as mortals and what Heavenly Father has become, it is not surprising that some feel that becoming like the Father is unattainable. Nevertheless, the scriptures are clear. If we will cleave in faith to Christ, repent, and seek God’s grace through obedience, eventually we will become like the Father. I take great comfort in the fact that those who strive to be obedient will “receive grace for grace” and ultimately “receive of his fulness.” In other words, we won’t become like the Father on our own. Rather, it will come through gifts of grace, some big but mostly small, that build upon one another until we have a fulness. But, brothers and sisters, it will come!“The Father,” General Conference, October 2018
Today, I will be grateful for the gifts of grace which I have received and continue to receive from God. I will strive to be gracious with others, knowing that God gives me His abundant grace in exchange for my small and imperfect efforts to emulate Him.