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By: Kelly Merrill, Moroni Channel
Laie, Hawaii USA
Knowing what the atonement is supposed to do for us and knowing how to use it are often two very different things. For years I fussed over what seemed to be a big gap between knowing what the atonement was and how to make it take effect in my life. I knew the atonement involved commandments, grace, repentance, and a bunch of other things, but what was I supposed to do to be forgiven of my sins? How was I supposed to be able to change to become a better person?
For some strange reason I had gotten the idea in my head that there was something magical and unexplainable about the atonement. You either “got it” or you didn’t. No one seemed to be able to explain how it worked for each person. We were all just supposed to be able to figure it out somehow. I guess I am just slow that way, but I couldn’t figure it out.
A long time went by with me in a panic because I felt like try as I might, I still wasn’t seeing the kinds of changes I saw in other people. But like most things in life, once I started to calm down and not stress myself out, the pieces started to fall into place all by themselves.
The Atonement Has Parts
The Savior’s suffering for us came in parts. There was the garden of Gethsemane, the trial, scourging, and public humiliation, and finally his time on the cross. He may have been suffering unbelievably the whole time, but it came in phases, just like life comes. For us to access the spiritual power of the atonement we need to understand that it isn’t just one grand ball of magic that floats into your life or it doesn’t. The atonement has parts that we need to be aware of so we can access the power of each part.
The first part of tapping into the power of the atonement is to understand what it is supposed to do for you. It isn’t going to do your dishes or get you a date. Knowing the limits of the atonement helps reduce unrealistic expectations.
The atonement is what gives us access to God’s grace, his forgiveness, as well as his enabling power that helps us change from the inside out. Without the sacrifice and suffering Christ went through, any wrong doing we commit would be on our heads permanently. No forgiveness possible. And without any forgiveness, we would be shut out from God’s presence forever.
The atonement is first and foremost a display of God’s love for us. President Thomas S. Monson in the October 2015 General Conference said this about God’s love for us.
God’s commandments are not given to frustrate us or to become obstacles to our happiness. Just the opposite is true. He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live our lives in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible. He has provided us with guidelines which, if we follow them, will see us safely through this often treacherous mortal journey. We remember the words of the familiar hymn: “Keep the commandments! In this there is safety; in this there is peace.”
Note that he says that the commandments are in place “in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible.” The commandments work hand in hand with the atonement. Without the commandments the atonement couldn’t work. Without the atonement the commandments wouldn’t work. They need each other.
The atonement is the eternal payment for our sins that satisfies the demands the law of Justice requires be paid for the things we do that break God’s laws. What are God’s laws that we need to obey? The commandments. They aren’t punishments, they are the laws of happiness. Because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ when we obey the commandments the Spirit (Holy Ghost) is able to change us from the inside out.
Remember that the first law of heaven is obedience. As we obey the laws of God (the commandments), He is able to give us blessings reserved for only the obedient. Since our Father in Heaven cannot force us to choose to be like Him, he has to wait until we have made that choice. Then, and only then can we be given the grace, or enabling power, that changes us from someone who has great difficulty resisting Satan’s temptations into someone who has no desire to give in to Satan’s temptations.
The more commandments we choose to obey, and the more often we do it, the more the Spirit is able to give us access to the power of Christ that comes from his payment of the atonement. The sacrifice Jesus made for us makes it possible for him to decide whether or not we can and will be forgiven for any sin we commit.
Because he paid a price for our souls that we could not pay for ourselves, he has earned the right to decide what will happen to our souls. He loves us, so he will show us as much mercy as possible, but we need to remember that mercy can only be shown to those who have been obedient. Mercy cannot be shown to the disobedient and rebellious. That would break his own laws, so that is not a possibility.
But to those who live the laws of happiness our Father in Heaven had Christ give us, his mercy includes being able to decide when we have repented or changed sufficiently that he can forgive our misconduct and act like it never happened. He then sends the Holy Ghost to help us gain a clear conscience and more power to resist temptations in the future.
Notice that the Holy Ghost is a very involved member in accessing the atonement. It isn’t just about you and the Savior. Our teacher, our guide, our go-between with God is the Holy Ghost. Our prayers are answered through the power of the Holy Ghost. Any revelation of God’s will in our life comes through the Holy Ghost. Forgiveness is conveyed to our souls through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Isn’t it wonderful that our Father in Heaven has given us a God to be our personal escort and tutor in mortality to teach us how to return to His presence? The atonement is a cooperative effort of all three members of the Godhead. No one of them could do what is necessary to redeem us alone. They rely on each other and act in unison in all things.
Just like the law of gravity controls how everything is done on earth, from how far you can jump to how fast you fall, to how much lift is required to get a plane off the ground, etc., so too does the atonement of Christ determine all of our spiritual development and the degree of happiness we are able to achieve in this life and for the rest of eternity.
The payment for our sins has been made by a third party, Christ. We can’t pay for our own sins. Jesus sets the terms and conditions for our forgiveness. After all, He paid the full price for our sins, something that was impossible for us to accomplish. So he sets the price for forgiveness at something we CAN do.
This means we still need to suffer for our sins. We need to feel sorry for sin. We need to work hard to keep the laws of happiness, the commandments. But when we start keeping the commandments it is like learning how the law of gravity works. Spiritually speaking we learn that stepping out of that third story window is not a good idea, unless you have arranged to have a slide in place to slow your decent to the ground.
That is called working within the laws that govern our lives, instead of trying to work against them. When we learn to live within the commandments of God we find that our moral choices become almost limitless. In the realm of spiritual things it is the person who breaks the laws that loses the ability to make good choices in the long run. Those who live within the laws of happiness are able to find happiness because they are living the laws that create happiness.
As President Monson said, “God’s commandments are not given to frustrate us or to become obstacles to our happiness. Just the opposite is true. He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live our lives in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible.”
There is no magic involved in being blessed by the atonement of Christ. All we have to do is keep the commandments. This is what is meant by the statement “living within the laws of happiness.” As long as we learn to live the laws of happiness, the commandments, the Holy Ghost will do His part and bless us with Christ’s peace, grant us access to the enabling power of God’s grace, and change our desires so eventually we lose the desire to be disobedient all together. It is our choice to be obedient that sets everything else in motion.
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