“The Atonement: All for All,” Ensign, May 2004, 97–99
The Atonement: All for All
When the Savior’s all and our all come together, we will find not only forgiveness of sin, … “we shall be like him.”
In recent years, we Latter-day Saints have been teaching, singing, and testifying much more about the Savior Jesus Christ. I rejoice that we are rejoicing more.
As we “talk [more] of Christ,”1 the gospel’s doctrinal fulness will come out of obscurity. For example, some of our friends can’t see how our Atonement beliefs relate to our beliefs about becoming more like our Heavenly Father. Others mistakenly think our Church is moving toward an understanding of the relationship between grace and works that draws on Protestant teachings. Such misconceptions prompt me to consider today the Restoration’s unique Atonement doctrine.
The Lord restored His gospel through Joseph Smith because there had been an apostasy. Since the fifth century, Christianity taught that Adam and Eve’s Fall was a tragic mistake, which led to the belief that humankind has an inherently evil nature. That view is wrong—not only about the Fall and human nature, but about the very purpose of life.
The Fall was not a disaster. It wasn’t a mistake or an accident. It was a deliberate part of the plan of salvation. We are God’s spirit “offspring,”2 sent to earth “innocent”3 of Adam’s transgression. Yet our Father’s plan subjects us to temptation and misery in this fallen world as the price to comprehend authentic joy. Without tasting the bitter, we actually cannot understand the sweet.4 We require mortality’s discipline and refinement as the “next step in [our] development” toward becoming like our Father.5 But growth means growing pains. It also means learning from our mistakes in a continual process made possible by the Savior’s grace, which He extends both during and “after all we can do.”6
Adam and Eve learned constantly from their often harsh experience. They knew how a troubled family feels. Think of Cain and Abel. Yet because of the Atonement, they could learn from their experience without being condemned by it. Christ’s sacrifice didn’t just erase their choices and return them to an Eden of innocence. That would be a story with no plot and no character growth. His plan is developmental—line upon line, step by step, grace for grace.
So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose. As we draw close to God, He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, stronger.7 If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses, that just might mean you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away.
One early Australian convert said: “My past life [was] a wilderness of weeds, with hardly a flower Strewed among them. [But] now the weeds have vanished, and flowers Spring up in their place.”8
We grow in two ways—removing negative weeds and cultivating positive flowers. The Savior’s grace blesses both parts—if we do our part. First and repeatedly we must uproot the weeds of sin and bad choices. It isn’t enough just to mow the weeds. Yank them out by the roots, repenting fully to satisfy the conditions of mercy. But being forgiven is only part of our growth. We are not just paying a debt. Our purpose is to become celestial beings. So once we’ve cleared our heartland, we must continually plant, weed, and nourish the seeds of divine qualities. And then as our sweat and discipline stretch us to meet His gifts, “the flow’rs of grace appear,”9 like hope and meekness. Even a tree of life can take root in this heart-garden, bearing fruit so sweet that it lightens all our burdens “through the joy of his Son.”10 And when the flower of charity blooms here, we will love others with the power of Christ’s own love.11
We need grace both to overcome sinful weeds and to grow divine flowers. We can do neither one fully by ourselves. But grace is not cheap. It is very expensive, even very dear. How much does this grace cost? Is it enough simply to believe in Christ? The man who found the pearl of great price gave “all that he had”12 for it. If we desire “all that [the] Father hath,”13 God asks all that we have. To qualify for such exquisite treasure, in whatever way is ours, we must give the way Christ gave—every drop He had: “How exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.”14 Paul said, “If so be that we suffer with him,” we are “joint-heirs with Christ.”15 All of His heart, all of our hearts.
What possible pearl could be worth such a price—for Him and for us? This earth is not our home. We are away at school, trying to master the lessons of “the great plan of happiness”16 so we can return home and know what it means to be there. Over and over the Lord tells us why the plan is worth our sacrifice—and His. Eve called it “the joy of our redemption.”17 Jacob called it “that happiness which is prepared for the saints.”18 Of necessity, the plan is full of thorns and tears—His and ours. But because He and we are so totally in this together, our being “at one” with Him in overcoming all opposition will itself bring us “incomprehensible joy.”19
Christ’s Atonement is at the very core of this plan. Without His dear, dear sacrifice, there would be no way home, no way to be together, no way to be like Him. He gave us all He had. Therefore, “how great is his joy,”20 when even one of us “gets it”—when we look up from the weed patch and turn our face to the Son.
Only the restored gospel has the fulness of these truths! Yet the adversary is engaged in one of history’s greatest cover-ups, trying to persuade people that this Church knows least—when in fact it knows most—about how our relationship with Christ makes true Christians of us.
If we must give all that we have, then our giving only almost everything is not enough. If we almost keep the commandments, we almost receive the blessings. For example, some young people assume they can romp in sinful mud until taking a shower of repentance just before being interviewed for a mission or the temple. In the very act of transgression, some plan to repent. They mock the gift of mercy that true repentance allows.
Some people want to keep one hand on the wall of the temple while touching the world’s “unclean things”21 with the other hand. We must put both hands on the temple and hold on for dear life. One hand is not even almost enough.
The rich young man had given almost everything. When the Savior told him he must sell all his possessions, that wasn’t just a story about riches.22 We can have eternal life if we want it, but only if there is nothing else we want more.
So we must willingly give everything, because God Himself can’t make us grow against our will and without our full participation. Yet even when we utterly spend ourselves, we lack the power to create the perfection only God can complete. Our all by itself is still only almost enough—until it is finished by the all of Him who is the “finisher of our faith.”23 At that point, our imperfect but consecrated almost is enough.
My friend Donna grew up desiring to marry and raise a large family. But that blessing never came. Instead, she spent her adult years serving the people in her ward with unmeasured compassion and counseling disturbed children in a large school district. She had crippling arthritis and many long, blue days. Yet she always lifted and was always lifted by her friends and family. Once when teaching about Lehi’s dream, she said with gentle humor, “I’d put myself in that picture on the strait and narrow path, still holding to the iron rod but collapsed from fatigue right on the path.” In an inspired blessing given just before her death, Donna’s home teacher said the Lord “accepted” her. Donna cried. She had never felt her single life was acceptable. But the Lord said those who “observe their covenants by sacrifice … are accepted of me.”24 I can envision Him walking the path from the tree of life to lift Donna up with gladness and carry her home.
Consider others who, like Donna, have consecrated themselves so fully that, for them, almost is enough:
Many missionaries in Europe and similar places who never stop offering their bruised hearts despite continual rejection.
Those handcart pioneers who said they came to know God in their extremities and the price they paid to know Him was a privilege to pay.
A father who reached his outermost limits but still couldn’t influence his daughter’s choices; he could only crawl toward the Lord, pleading like Alma for his child.
A wife who encouraged her husband despite his years of weakness, until the seeds of repentance finally sprouted in his heart. She said, “I tried to look at him the way Christ would look at me.”
A husband whose wife suffered for years from a disabling emotional disorder; but to him it was always “our little challenge”—never just “her illness.” In the realm of their marriage, he was afflicted in her afflictions,25 just as Christ in His infinite realm was afflicted in our afflictions.26
The people in 3 Nephi 17 had survived destruction, doubt, and darkness just to get to the temple with Jesus. After listening to Him for hours in wonder, they grew too weary to comprehend Him. As He prepared to leave, they tearfully looked at Him with such total desire that He stayed and blessed their afflicted ones and their children. They didn’t even understand Him, but they wanted to be with Him more than they wanted any other thing. So He stayed. Their almost was enough.
Almost is especially enough when our own sacrifices somehow echo the Savior’s sacrifice, however imperfect we are. We cannot really feel charity—Christ’s love for others—without at least tasting His suffering for others, because the love and the suffering are but two sides of a single reality. When we really are afflicted in the afflictions of other people, we may enter “the fellowship of his sufferings”27 enough to become joint-heirs with Him.
May we not shrink when we discover, paradoxically, how dear a price we must pay to receive what is, finally, a gift from Him. When the Savior’s all and our all come together, we will find not only forgiveness of sin, “we shall see him as he is,” and “we shall be like him.”28 I love Him. I want to be with Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.