Understanding the Atonement

By Guest Blogger Matt Blakely

“Now the Atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths. Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord in his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life. But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah, we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived. May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.” (The Purifying Power of Gethsemane)

As I have grown and matured, I have realized how true this statement is. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we define the Atonement as Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, his suffering and death on the cross, and his glorious resurrection on the third day. Jesus Christ’s atonement redeems all mankind from physical death. Every one of the billions of people who have lived on the earth will receive the gift of being resurrected and living for eternity, regardless of how well or poorly they have lived their lives. The Atonement also makes it possible for every member of the human family to be cleansed of our sins as we come unto him and repent. These are truly incredible blessings, and I am eternally grateful to the Lord for making them available to me and to all mankind.

However, I think that most of us, including those of us who have been Christian our entire lives, have still only scratched the surface on understanding how truly remarkable the Atonement is. I know that the words I share here will certainly be inadequate to fully describe it, but I will try to help us catch a glimpse of it anyway.

“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.” (Alma 7:11–13)

Christ didn’t suffer for only our sins, though it seems harsh to use the word “only” when we realize how big that burden is on its own. He suffered for every pain, every sorrow, every weakness, every sickness, every infirmity that each of us will encounter individually. Why would he do that? “That he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people” (Alma 7:12). Succor means to run to the aid of. Christ is always there willing and wanting to run to our aid if we choose to turn our lives toward him. He wants to transform us into beings like him, and he has the power to do it if we choose to follow him.

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want us to become like them so that we can return to live with them and with our families throughout eternity. This is made possible through the Atonement, which can transform who we are into who we truly yearn to become. Just like every person who reads this, I have had sins that I’ve struggled to overcome for long periods of time. Through these struggles and my efforts to turn to Christ, I have seen how his love has changed me. I recently wrote this in a journal entry: “I have come to realize that being a righteous disciple of the Savior is not dependent upon whether I have sinned or what sins I have committed. Being a man of God depends on doing what is truly hard—knowing yourself well enough to realize what your weaknesses are, recognizing the sins that you commit, and then following God’s plan regarding how to apply the Atonement to be cleansed of those sins.”

The Atonement is meant to change us. It can be hard to make the decision to change. I testify that going through that process of change brings joy that is exquisite. When you feel that the Savior has transformed you and you don’t have any desire to commit a sin that you used to commit, you realize that the process of repentance is completely worth all of the devoted effort you put into it. I know that Jesus Christ knows and loves you more deeply than you currently comprehend. The worth of every soul is great in the sight of God. The Touch of the Master’s Hand, one of my favorite poems, illustrates this beautifully. May each of us turn to the Savior and understand his atonement more fully as we feel his love transform us.

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