“God So Loved the World,” Ensign, Apr. 1982, 3
At this Easter season our thoughts turn to that most holy event, the greatest event in the history of mankind, the crucifixion and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The matter is of momentous significance to us. Thus, I should like first to make some comments and observations regarding the Atonement.
The scriptures tell us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.)
Luke writes that after the Last Supper with the Twelve, the Savior instituted the sacrament and then went to Gethsemane, where he suffered for our sins, and “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44.)
In further payment of our sins, the Lord was placed on the cross and crucified, where he said at the end, “It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:30.)
Then, in completion of his great assignment, Jesus broke the bands of death for us all. When some of his disciples went to his tomb, they “found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
“And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
“And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?
“He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,
“Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:3–7.)
To witness to his Apostles the reality and nature of his resurrection, the Lord appeared unto them and said, “Behold my hands and feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
“And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
“And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
“And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
“And he took it, and did eat before them.
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
“And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:39–47.)
To Moses, the Lord had earlier said, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.)
Thus, through being the Son of God, living a sinless life, shedding his blood in the garden, sacrificing himself on the cross, and being resurrected, our Lord Jesus Christ made a perfect atonement available to all mankind. When we learn the truth and power of these facts, our hearts are filled with love for God our Father and his Son Jesus Christ, and we ever want to thank God for his plan and love in our behalf. It is the greatest story and message God can give to us—to let us know the reality of the Atonement and then how we can make it fully effective in our lives in order that we can return to live with him.
In consideration of this subject, I should like to reference briefly the first four Articles of Faith, which directly relate to our obtaining the blessings of the Atonement in our life.
1. “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”
2. “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”
3. “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
4. “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” [A of F 1:1–4]
In order for us to understand the full significance of the Atonement, it is necessary for us to understand and believe in the true concept of God.
The God we believe in is a living God with body, parts, and passions, in whose image we were made, who is the Father of the spirits of all mankind and under whose direction the world was created and all things therein. He created the earth solely for the purpose of having a place whereon man could dwell and prove himself worthy of coming back into His presence. He is a loving Father who is interested in us and our welfare and who stands ready to answer our call if we will but go to him.
We believe that Jesus Christ is literally the Son of God, the Only Begotten in the flesh, that he was born of a mortal mother, that he dwelt among men, that he gave man the plan of life and salvation, and that he was crucified. We believe that he had power over death, that he willingly gave his life, and that he was literally resurrected so that man might be saved and resurrected from the dead and enjoy eternal life.
“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead,” wrote the Apostle Paul. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:21–22.)
Therefore we openly declare: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
The initial principles and ordinances necessary for us to follow to be saved are described in Article of Faith number four [A of F 1:4]. They provide the way for us to be washed clean of our sins and thereafter to make anew our covenants with God so that we may always have the Spirit to be with us.
Thus, mere belief in Christ is not sufficient, but obedience to his laws is essential to salvation and exaltation, for, as recorded in Matthew 7:21 [Matt. 7:21], Christ said: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
Doing his will means following the principles and ordinances of the gospel, which can bless us with the full blessings of the Atonement.
For Jesus also said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5.)
That is, after following the initial principles and ordinances, it is our responsibility to endure to the end by remembering our Savior’s atonement in our behalf, and by keeping his commandments which he has given us, that we may always have his spirit to be with us.
And then, as recorded in Revelation, the time shall come when it will occur to us as John wrote: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God … and they were judged every man according to their works.” (Rev. 20:12–13.)
Thus we find that it is not sufficient to believe only, but we must also obey the laws and prove by our works and by keeping the commandments that we are worthy of the saving blessings of the Lord’s atonement. Consequently, it is also important for us to know what the laws and commandments are. In this light we will not know these requirements unless we understand that our Heavenly Father continues to guide us in these latter days as he did in former times.
It is this understanding more than any other that sets us apart from the rest of the world. The prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (A of F 1:9.) In Christianity, Protestant churches were formed at the beginning of and during the period of the Reformation. These churches resulted from the fact that many people were dissatisfied with the teachings and practices of the dominant church, which it is said had transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant, and therefore had apostatized. The Protestant churches were established by men who were courageous enough to take a stand and risk their lives, and some of them even gave their lives, in an endeavor to correct these malpractices. But though they were good men, with high ideals and the best of intent, they did not claim divine revelation or direct authority from God to organize their different sects. In fact, they generally claimed that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days, that all such things had ceased with the Apostles, and that there would not be any more of them.
On the other hand, Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, claimed that he was called by revelation and given divine authority directly from God and Jesus Christ, and that he had received the keys of the priesthood under the hands of Peter, James, and John, as well as numerous other angelic and holy messengers who truly reestablished the church of God on earth once more in preparation for the eventual Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout the history of mankind, from Adam down to the present time, God has revealed his will to his chosen prophets. It is as Amos the prophet taught, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7.)
For this reason, we accept and understand the necessity of a restoration of the gospel to the earth again. We also accept and understand the necessity for a prophet to guide us and give us further revelation. We “believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” (A of F 1:8.) We believe that these books contain records of revelations which God gave to his prophets in the different dispensations of the gospel, but as stated in our ninth article of faith [A of F 1:9]: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” As a result, we not only have the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price to further document and tell of the Atonement and the restoration of the full truth regarding it, but we also have received many other vital directions and counsel from our prophets since the gospel’s restoration.
The gospel is not merely a moral code of living based on seeking to acquire the attributes of the Savior, but it is also the actual means essential to salvation. Thus, we believe that Christ willingly gave his life for you and me that we might be raised from the dead and go back into the presence of our Father in Heaven.
At this Easter season we rejoice with others that Jesus was literally resurrected, that his body and spirit were reunited. This is established by the testimony of those who have actually seen him and talked to him—not only two thousand years ago, but also in our dispensation. That is one of the great messages and blessings of Joseph Smith’s experiences and testimony.
How can we make this knowledge powerful in our lives? The late President Joseph Fielding Smith once made a statement to the effect that we need to know that in spite of all the troubles which befall us, the Lord is governing in the affairs of the earth. If we keep his commandments and are true and faithful to his laws, he will bless us in this life and reward us with eternal life in his kingdom. In other words, the full blessings of the Atonement are available to us. For this reason, this time of the year should be a great reminder for helping us make firm decisions to live the gospel and be obedient to our Heavenly Father’s blessed laws and teachings. They are our salvation and our joy.
I bear testimony that the Atonement of Christ is true and can be fully operative in our lives. And as one who has an absolute knowledge of the truth and divinity of this great latter-day work, I also bear my testimony that this work is true and that we are engaged in our Heavenly Father’s business. Let us continue to bear witness of the Lord’s goodness and love in our behalf and in behalf of all mankind.
1. Discuss the impact of the Atonement in our personal lives. Relate your personal feelings about its blessings. Ask family members to also share their feelings.
2. Are there some scriptural verses or other quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Discuss how the restoration of the full truth regarding the Atonement can increase our love for the Savior and our gratitude for his sacrifice.
4. Discuss ways family members can make the blessings of the Atonement a powerful part of their lives.
5. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop to the household head concerning the Atonement?