The act of engraving the Book of Mormon was laborious, but the writers had a common purpose for keeping the records. It is to persuade their children and their brethren to believe in Christ and through him to be reconciled to God. Besides believing that through the grace of Christ they could be saved. The writers knew that salvation also depended on their works (v. 23). This is one of Nephi’s great theological teachings. Many in the Christian world believe in salvation only through the grace of Christ and place no emphasis on works. They quote Ephesians to justify their position.
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. [Ephesians 2:8–9]
Others propose that it is our works that will save us and quote Paul’s admonition to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). They use other references from Paul to support their beliefs, (i.e. Romans 2:6–13; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Some even refer to James 2:14–26, “faith without works is dead” as a contradictory theology to Paul’s teachings. If fully read and understood there are no contradictions between Paul’s and James’ teachings, or even between Paul’s theology. Nor does Nephi’s statement contradict the New Testament teachings. Nephi’s declarations on gaining salvation are succinct and definitive: “it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). Lehi taught the same theology: “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). Also Jacob, son of Lehi, testified: “remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Nephi 10:24).
In spite of their full understanding of salvation through Christ, Nephi explains why they were still observing the law of Moses. The law was given to bring people to an understanding and acceptance of Jesus Christ. Paul called it a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Galatians 3:24). Since the Nephites had accomplished the purpose of the law by attaining a great knowledge of Christ and faith in him, the law was now dead unto them (vv. 24–25). However, they still observed “those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed to them”(Alma 25:15) because it was a commandment (v. 25). The law was to be observed until Christ came and said “the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end” (3 Nephi 15:5). Both Moroni and Paul refer to Christ as “the author and finisher of our faith” (Moroni 6:4; Hebrews 12:2). The law of Moses was not finished until Christ was sacrificed as the Lamb of God and said “It is finished [all prophecies fulfilled]” (John 19:30).
The extent to which the Nephites kept the law is not given except that they kept the “outward performances” (Alma 25:15 more fully quoted above). It is assumed that they had outgrown what the author of Hebrews says “consisted only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” (JST, Hebrews 9:10), or what may be referred to as the minutia of the law. It is further assumed that they offered “both gifts and sacrifices” that were symbolic of Christ (Hebrews 9:9). There is no mention of specific calendar sacrifices being observed although some have drawn parallels between the calendar sacrifices and certain Nephite events. Elder Bruce R. McConkie observed: “There is, at least, no intimation in the Book of Mormon that the Nephites offered the daily sacrifices required by the law or that they held the various feasts that were part of the religious life of their Old World kinsmen.”
Certainly Christ was the center of the Nephite worship and the center of what they taught of their children. They also wanted their children to know of the deadness of the law (vv. 26–27). The Nephites did not pray unto Christ, but addressed their prayers to the Father through the name of Christ (see 2 Nephi 32:9; Jacob 4:5; 3 Nephi 18:19).