Brothers and sisters, it is a great honor to have the privilege of sharing with you this morning my testimony of the Atonement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What a joy it has been these last two weeks studying and contemplating this transcendent gift of love.
In 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley declared: “I believe our problems, almost every one, arise out of the homes of the people...if there is to be a change or return to old sacred values, it must begin in the home. It is in the home where truth is learned, that integrity is cultivated, that self-discipline is instilled, and that love is nurtured.” The sacred values he referred to are the first principles of the gospel. The power that makes it possible for these values to be incorporated into our lives comes from the atoning sacrifice of our Redeemer and Savior, Jesus Christ. In our world where evil is called good and good evil, the words declared by Mormon (found in Moroni 7) give us hope and confidence as they teach us that “Jesus Christ claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing.” There is no better place to build faith than in the home, where the lessons and practical applications are realized and lived day to day.
It is in the home that faith is intimately related to the Atonement. In Alma 34 we read, “this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.”
Without the effects of the Atonement in our lives, it would be impossible to develop the type of faith necessary for repentance, and so we would remain outside the marvelous plan of mercy since “only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.”
Repentance, that change that takes place in the heart, that is born of love for the Lord, that leads us to move away from sin and to submit to His will, can “become effective and accepted by God” “only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
After having a remission of sins and striving to retain it through obedience to the commandments, we receive the Holy Ghost, which fills us with hope and perfect love, love that can be maintained ... if we are diligent in giving priority to the principle of prayer in our personal and family life.
Principles like faith, repentance, love, forgiveness, and prayer become the best vaccine to combat the disease of sin which manifests itself in families in so many different ways.
Sin is the willful transgression of divine law. The Atonement is the gift of God to His children to correct and overcome the consequences of sin. God loves all of His children, and He will never cease to love and to hope for us. As we read in John 3:17 “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world might be saved.” Christ came to save us. Repentance and forgiveness can be as real as sin.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ causes each person to be accountable for his or her individual sins. We overcome the consequences of individual sin by claiming the blessings and benefits of the Atonement. However, it is not repentance per se that saves man. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that saves us. It is not by our change of behavior, but, as we read in 2 Nephi 25, it is “by grace that we are saved after all we can do.” The free gift of grace is the unconditional part of the Atonement. The conditional part requires our repentance so that God’s forgiveness can come into our lives. True repentance blesses our lives with the effects of the Atonement: we feel God’s forgiveness and His peace, and our guilt and sorrow are lifted away; we enjoy the influence of the Holy Spirit in greater abundance; and we are better prepared to live with our Heavenly Father.
I’d like to share some thoughts from Neal A. Maxwell as he speaks of his appreciation of Christ’s Atonement. Refering to the Savior’s words recorded in John 18 that states, “For this cause came I unto the world,” he reminds us that we too came into the world to pass through our own mortal experiences.” Purposefully pursuing this cause brings ultimate meaning to our mortal lives. As we confront our own lesser trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we “might not shrink” or retreat or give up. Also, partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter is likewise part of following the example of Jesus. Brother Maxwell suggests that instead of crying out to the Lord, “Why me?” we might ask the question, “What is required of me now?” or paraphrasing Moroni, “Which personal weakness could now become a strength?”
Along with the free gift of the universal and personal resurrection, there is also the personal possibility of meriting eternal life. In the words of the Lord to Moses we read, “For behold, this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The Lord gives to all the blessing of immortality; and to those who will serve Him, the blessing of eternal life. By living righteously and enduring well, we can eventually become more like Jesus in our traits and attributes so that one day we can dwell in the Father’s presence forever. In Christ’s own development toward perfection, He received the Father’s grace. As we read in D&C 93, He “received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace...until He received a fulness.” Our relationship with Christ can mirror His relationship with the Father: “For if you keep my commandments, you shall receive of His fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father.” Christ’s atoning grace can move us to the perfection of a divine nature.
However, in spite of our striving to live the gospel, and we are all striving so valiantly, we do fall short. Avoiding discouragement is vital. By applying the Atonement in our lives, we can continue to access the other nurturing gifts of the Holy Ghost. He cannot lift our burdens, but He can help us to bear them even when we make mistakes. He can comfort us and reassure us.
Why do we need the Atonement? In Corinthians we read, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In the paradisiacal state, Adam and Eve were in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. There was no mortality, no procreation, and no death. But in the wisdom of God, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” By the fall, Adam introduced temporal and spiritual death into the world and caused this earth life to become a probationary estate. But also in the wisdom of God, before the world was formed, Jesus Christ was appointed and foreordained to be our Redeemer. In John 17 we learn that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus offered an intercessory prayer. “I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do before the world was. He then went on to say, “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” With that love of God the Father, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane. With His divine sonship, His sinless life, the shedding of His blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, His excruciating death on the cross, and His subsequent literal Resurrection from the grave, He became the author of our salvation and made a perfect Atonement for all mankind. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He took upon Himself the sins, pains, infirmities, anxieties, depression, and sicknesses of all. Christ’s Resurrection overcame death and gave us the assurance of life after death. In John 11 we read, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” The Resurrection is unconditional and applies to all who have ever lived and ever will live. It is a free gift. It reconciles us with the Father. Christ alone could and did break the grasp of death. He also made it possible for us to have the peaceful comfort of the Holy Ghost. The overwhelming message of the Atonement is the perfect love the Savior has for each of us. It is a love which is full of mercy, patience, grace, equity, long-suffering, and above all, forgiveness. Our salvation depends on believing in and accepting the Atonement. Such acceptance requires a continual effort to understand it more fully. There is no better place to study about the Atonement than in our homes with our families.
It is my prayer that all of us may walk in the light of God’s love and that we might do all we can to bring that love into our homes so we and our famillies may spend eternity together embraced in the arms of our Heavenly Father.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen