I believe the act of the Atonement made by Jesus was anything but simple. It was difficult to perform, and has as far reaching a set of consequences as any other act could have. This article is about the basic effects of that sacrifice.
The atoning sacrifice of Christ is all encompassing. The whole gospel of Christ revolves around what was involved in this great act of love for mankind. But the principles of the atoning sacrifice, and the effect it has on each of us, is pretty simple. This article is a descriptive, encapsulated version of Christ’s payment for our sins.
This material is meant to accompany the 2021 Doctrine and Covenants Come, Follow Me lessons for Easter week, week 14.
The act itself
The act of the atoning sacrifice of our Redeemer is relatively easy to describe, yet can be so difficult to fully comprehend. Why was it needed in the first place? It was needed because every person to ever live on the earth has, and will, violate God’s laws. Payment must be made for the breaking of these laws – not an “Oops, sorry!” but an “Oops, sorry!” that lasts for an eternity.
To dwell in the presence of God requires we be completely compliant and obedient to the one who set all laws and consequences in the universe. This can be difficult for us mortals, since we can do as we please while here in mortality. What most of us fail to recognize is that there is a payment due upon the expiration of our time on earth, a payment we don’t have the capacity to meet. Someone has to pay for the consequences of all those actions of ignorance and willfulness we all commit in this life. If not us, then who?
It is important to remember that mortals didn’t make up the rule that all of what we call sin has to be answered for. God made that rule, and God is the one who is holding us accountable for every violation of His laws. Here is the kicker, He also knows we can’t make the payment required, yet He sent us here anyway. That might sound pretty unfair and cruel, except that He, knowing this before we ever came here, chose His only child capable of paying the steep price for all the children of God, and tasked him with the payment for all of us. Before we ever came to earth we accepted him as our Savior and Redeemer. We agreed to any and all terms he would exact from us in exchange for the payment he, and he alone was capable and willing to make for us.
The atoning sacrifice that Christ performed for us in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross, satisfied the demands of justice for all of God’s children. There is not a soul ever to be born into mortality that his suffering can’t cover; it was sufficient in the eyes of God to cover all and any sins that might ever be committed by any of God’s children. In this way his sacrifice was whole, complete, or in other words, perfect. In his act of kindness on our behalf there can be found no fault, and no shortcoming. No matter what happens to us in the future, God considers the matter of our mortal indiscretions closed and satisfied.
Though it is simple enough to say that Christ paid for our sins, there is a lot attached to that we sometimes neglect to remember. And perhaps we haven’t even been aware of all that his act of reconciliation with God on our behalf entails. The debt we owed to God has only been transferred to Jesus, the man who paid our debt. Now we owe him what we already lacked the capacity to pay to God.
How does that work?
If we couldn’t pay our debt to God, what difference does it make to transfer the same unpayable debt to someone else? To answer this question we have to look at an eternal law, one that God honors, because it allows us to sin in mortality, yet still be able to return home to live with Him again in the future, clean and pure from the stain of those sins. That law is the law of mercy.
Since our Father in Heaven made the laws, He can’t very well ignore the consequences of us breaking the laws. He must demand that justice be served. But Jesus, who is innocent of any fault, having paid our debt to those laws, can set terms for us we are all capable of meeting, and for those who meet those terms he offers mercy in the form of forgiveness. And because he loves us so much, Christ let’s us repent as many times as it takes for us to actually accomplish the changes in our lives that enable us to live happily, free from our sins. As long as we are desirous of truly repenting and changing, he will help us make those needed changes. And when the changes are made, we need never worry about having to repent of those things again, for his forgiveness is as eternal as the payment he made to God for our sins.
What a deal this forgiveness of sin is! On the one hand it brings us joy and peace. On the other hand, Christ’s forgiveness is eternal. As long as we don’t repeat the sin, we need never worry again about what we did in our past, for he promises us that in the day of judgment we must all face, he will not bring up those things for which we repented. It will be as though no sin was ever committed. This was what God had in mind all along. He demands justice, because the laws of the universe require it, and Christ can offer mercy and help us learn to grow into compliance with those laws of behavior, which is what all commandments are, laws of behavior. These are the laws that create the happiness enjoyed by celestial people.
What if we don’t repent?
Earlier I mentioned that we owed a debt to God for the behavioral commandments we violate. We can’t pay that debt, because we don’t have the power or capacity to reconcile our past behavior with the demands of a being who cannot tolerate willfulness (sin) in the slightest degree. No amount of suffering on our part can fully pay for our transgressions. But Jesus, being completely innocent of any violation of those commandments could make the payment. The suffering required on his part was so great that it required that he come to earth with the ability to control life and death, for his suffering had to exceed any mortal’s ability to live through what he had to suffer to make the payment for us all. So there is good reason for Christ’s need to come here as half God.
Once he paid for our debt, the debt was cleared with God, but now we owe Jesus. So the debt still needs to be satisfied, and Jesus sets the terms for the forgiveness of that debt. When we repent he forgives part of our debt to him. If we don’t comply with his terms then we still owe him for our personal violations of his commandments to us. It doesn’t matter if we are Christian or not, all of us must, at some point, choose to obey or not to obey and believe in Christ. It doesn’t matter if it is in mortality or in the spirit world following our time on earth, the gospel, or good news, will be preached to every soul, and each must choose to believe and obey or not believe and not obey. Our agency is never violated in any way. We choose eternal life and joy or eternal separation from God, which is damnation, the stopping of our eternal progress. The scriptures are very clear on this subject. This is the only real choice that matters in our time away from God.
When the day of judgment comes, and it will come for all of us, what we have chosen, to believe and obey or to not believe and obey, will separate the sheep from the goats, to use a New Testament expression. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Savior says that those who choose not to believe in him and obey his commandments he will be ashamed to recommend to his Father, so they will not be allowed to return, and their punishment will be just, for now it is clear that their rebellion against God’s commandments cannot be redeemed in any way. God, Himself declared that Jesus is the only means whereby we can be saved, or permitted back into His presence. If we reject Christ’s commandments then we reject God too, and must spend the rest of eternity elsewhere. This is a highly simplified description, but it is accurate.
We tend to get caught up in the minutia of our sins, the circumstances, the motives, and so forth. But the basic concept is simple – do we believe in Christ, and are we willing to conform our lives to his commandments? That is what mortality is all about. Nothing else really counts in mortality like that decision does. For all other decisions will be made for us come judgment day if we choose not to believe and obey.
For those who believe and obey, their other choices of an eternal companion, and living with the expectation and a desire to return to God, will be granted. From that point on they can continue the changes repentance began in mortality, and they can go further down the path toward their own godhood. These will be blessed with the association of family, and eventually an eternal posterity. And that is the whole point of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
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