The doctrine for this article all comes from Mosiah 26:15-32. The fact that Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world is a doctrine that is pretty much universally preached and understood, at least superficially. But how personal that act is to Jesus, I believe, is far less understood. So let’s talk about what he teaches Alma about the nature of forgiveness in this passage.
I was fascinated when I recognized in myself that even as I wrote the previous paragraph, as soon as I went from saying Christ took upon himself our sins, and then said, “let’s talk about what he teaches Alma about the nature of forgiveness,” I experienced an emotional disconnect between the two topics. For some reason I keep thinking of his shouldering my sins as being separate from the topic of forgiveness of those sins. I’m not sure why, because him taking upon him my sins, and my being forgiven for those sins are, in reality, like inhaling and exhaling. Inhaling and exhaling define what it means to breathe. Doctrinally, Christ taking ownership for my sins and my being forgiven for my sins is the very definition of what it takes for me to be saved.
The background for this story comes from King Benjamin’s sermon to his people a generation earlier. Those who were old enough to understand his words were converted and experienced a change of heart, losing their disposition to do evil. But those children who were too young to understand his words grew up as spiritual reprobates. When they grew up they refused to be baptized, because they refused to call upon God, so they could not understand the doctrines that were taught to them. They hardened their hearts against the teachings about Christ, and went so far as to do all in their power to pull those who did believe away from their beliefs. Alma’s son, Alma was in this group, though he wasn’t there for King Benjamin’s sermon.
Alma the younger may not have been there for the sermon of Benjamin, but Alma’s best friends, the sons of King Mosiah certainly were. Either that or they were born after the sermon was given. I am mentally making an assumption that is never stated in the scriptures. In Jewish society one could not become a preacher until the age of 30. This is why Jesus had to wait until the age of 30 to begin his ministry. The sermon preached by Benjamin was at the beginning of Mosiah’s reign as king. Mosiah reigned for 33 years, and died at the age of 63. By the time Mosiah died, all of his sons were old enough to go out and preach to the Lamanites themselves. Assuming they were still following the Jewish custom, they were all at least 30 years of age when they left home to go preach. I don’t believe they were mischievous teenagers as many paint them to be. I personally believe they were all mature adults with families of their own.
Like I said, there is a lot about Alma and the sons of Mosiah we don’t know. My opinions are based on my own personal assumptions about how their culture worked, because of the culture from whence they came. I have no actual proof. But my point remains that these men were part of this generation who didn’t experience what King Benjamin’s people did at the beginning of Mosiah’s reign. As adults they did not believe in the coming of Christ, nor of his resurrection, so they refused to be baptized and would have nothing to do with the church Alma established in Mosiah’s kingdom. It was their delight to using flattering words to deceive many in the church which led the members to commit many sins.
It was these wayward members who were brought to Alma to be “admonished by the church.” Alma had never seen this kind of sinning before, and didn’t know what to do with them, so he took them to the prophet to be judged of him. But Mosiah had put Alma in charge of the church, so he put the responsibility back on Alma’s shoulders to figure out. This is what drove Alma to his knees to find out what the Lord would have done with these people who had made covenants, but then committed sins worthy of being admonished by the church.
Jesus takes ownership
When the Lord (Jesus) spoke to Alma about Alma’s problem, he laid out some doctrines for Alma that are important for us to understand. First, God expects us to accept the word of His servants and live by those words. This takes great faith. The first principle we need to understand is that God expects us to live by faith. Here are his own words to Alma in Mosiah 26:15-16.
15 Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the . Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
16 And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them.
Christ is telling Alma that he and the people of the church will be blessed because they were willing to believe God’s word just by being told God’s word. He applauds that kind of faith.
The Lord goes on to tell Alma that because of their faith in the words of Alma alone, he would establish them as his own people. In verses 17-18 he tells Alma that because of their willingness to “bear my name” “they are mine.” All it took for the Lord, himself, to take a personal interest in what happens to these people was for them to be willing, just willing to believe in the words of his prophet.
The Lord goes on to specify what it takes to become one of his own people, accepted and acknowledged by God as his own. Verse 21.
21 And he that will hear my voice shall be my ; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.
The result of living by faith
As you read verse 22, notice how personally Christ talks about those who are willing to repent and exercise faith. They are his, like you would talk about your family members, as opposed to talking about strangers. There is an intimacy in the way the Savior talks about his own people.
22 For behold, is my ; whosoever is shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall in my name; and him will I freely .
The conditions for baptism are faith in Jesus Christ and baptism “unto repentance.” Those who choose to do this he says, “him will I freely forgive.” Do we remember, and believe, that he has personally promised to freely forgive us for our sins?
In verses 23-24 the Lord gives Alma the doctrinal reason why he is so willing to forgive us of our sins.
23 For it is I that taketh upon me the of the world; for it is I that hath them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.
24 For behold, in my name are they called; and if they me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.
These are powerful claims. The Savior is telling Alma that 1 – he has created these people, 2 – he has taken (will take) all their sins upon himself, 3 – it is his right to grant those who believe a place at his own right hand in the eternities. The reason he gives for this is that because they are called in “my name”, “if they know me”, they will have the ability to come forth and “have a place eternally at my right hand.”
Call me crazy, but it appears that the Savior is telling Alma, in essence, that to know Christ is to live by faith. It is those who live by faith who come to know him for who and what he is, and it is this same group of people he will claim at the judgment seat as his own. This is what I am gleaning from these verses. Do you get something different?
The Lord goes on in the following verses to say that those who refuse to believe and live by faith are not redeemable by his atoning power, so they will go away “into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” That is found in verses 25-27.
I find it interesting that Christ says that those who refuse to believe in him, that is, believe and exercise faith in his redemptive power, are not redeemable. In other words, he cannot save them. He wants to, but is unable to save someone who, by their own choice, refuses the only redemption possible to save them from being punished for violating God’s laws. He will confess that “they that never knew me” would be those to whom he would say, “I never knew them.” In other words, they would be strangers to each other. These are they who cannot be redeemed through Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Interesting that he says that he will “freely forgive” those who repent and follow him, but that those who refuse to believe cannot be forgiven. It is not because Christ doesn’t want to forgive them, he simply can’t. There is only one path or way back to our Father in Heaven, and that is through Christ and his atonement for our sins. God laid out that plan, not Jesus. God made the rules, and the Savior lives by them.
How these laws affect forgiveness
Forgiveness for those willing to believe in Christ and live by faith is universal and free. He states this to Alma clearly in verse 30.
30 Yea, and often as my people will I forgive them their trespasses against me.
What about those who have violated the rules of the church or who we feel have sinned against us? What does the Lord say about them? In verse 29 the Lord addresses this first issue. He says that if the sinner –
his sins before thee and me, and in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye , and I will forgive him also.
There are no stipulations put on the sinner other than he/she repents in the “sincerity” of their heart. But what about those we feel have sinned against us or hurt us in some way? What then? This answer is found in verse 31.
31 And ye shall also one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.
That is harsh doctrine. This leaves no room for me to hold a grudge for someone who has hurt me, betrayed me, or violated one of my family. The cheat, the swindler, the thief, all must be forgiven by me or I bring myself under condemnation in the eyes of the Lord. Why is that?
Why is that?
Why must we forgive each other as freely as Christ forgives us? The answer lays in the nature of sin and its forgiveness. What is sin, but the violation of goodness? When we do something we are not supposed to do we must answer for that to God. When we don’t do something we were supposed to do we also must answer to God for that. Why? Because they are His laws and ways we are violating. They are not my ways or your ways. They are His ways.
When my neighbor commits sin, even if I am the object of his sinning, or even if I am just collateral damage in his sin, it is still God’s laws and ways that were violated, not mine. I have no claim on that person, only God does. So for me to NOT forgive someone their trespasses is for me to claim that they violated my laws and my ways. That means I am taking judgment for sins out of the hands of the great judge of us all and claiming I have the right to judge this person. Is that really a place I want to go or a stance I want to take? No. I am required to forgive all because their sins are never even about me. All of our sins are about our personal relationship with God. We are all just bystanders to each other’s sins, and hence must be patient and forgiving of them.
Christ paid the price for the punishment of all our sins. Because he suffered for the sins we commit, when we break a commandment or hurt others in any way, it is Jesus we must answer to, for his payment for our sins has given him ownership of the disposition of our souls. We cannot reconcile our lives with the laws of God on our own. Only by obeying the commandments Christ has given us, and living our lives with faith in him, can we be forgiven for our own sins. The sins of others is not our jurisdiction, nor our business. Their sins are between that person and Christ. This is why Jesus tells us that if we want to remain forgiven of our own sins we must forgive others their sins. In other words, we must be willing to forgive as freely as Christ, himself is willing to forgive.
In the case of Alma, those brought to him had violated the laws of the church, so as long as they were willing to repent he could forgive them as the Lord’s servant over the church. But they each still personally needed to seek Christ’s forgiveness on a personal level as well. Alma could only forgive them for the violation of the church’s laws.
The parts of this chapter that caught my attention most powerfully were Christ’s statement in verse 23 that he had shouldered the burden of all of our sins, and his statement in verse 30 that “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.” I noted that he acknowledges that all trespasses are against him. No one else, just him. My sins caused him to suffer. Salvation through Christ is a personal issue between him and me alone. What you do is between you and Christ. No one else has a stake in your relationship with Christ, just you.
This chapter taught me that if I choose to believe that Christ will freely forgive me then I must be willing to just as freely forgive everyone else. This whole issue of judgment needs to be recognized as the property of one person only, and that is Christ. He took all our sins upon himself and squared us with our Father in Heaven so that no eternal law could ever again have claim on those who do what Christ commands us to do. This chapter vindicated to Alma all that he had ever taught about the importance of Christ as the one and only path back to God, and the one and only person through whom we can be saved.
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