The Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ is the heart and core and center of revealed religion.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie Christ and the Creation

Yesterday, I was asked to speak on the topic, “Why We Need a Savior,” as part of our church Christmas Program.  I was happy to receive the request because this question is at the heart of the Atonement.

I was asked to take no more than 7 minutes on this subject.  This raised an interesting challenge.  I can talk about the Atonement for 30 minutes, an hour, two hours or more without difficulty.  However, how could I speak about the essential elements of the Atonement in 7 minutes?

Following is what resulted after quite a number of drafts:

At this time of year, we remember some of the titles Isaiah used to identify the Messiah – Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Many other words also describe Christ and his countless attributes, but, for me, two sacred titles stand above all others – Savior and Redeemer.

But why do we need a Savior?

Our Savior and Redeemer holds those exalted titles because His Atonement saves us from sin and the consequences of mortality and allows us to return to our heavenly home.

We cannot understand the Atonement unless we understand the Fall.

When Adam and Eve were placed into the Garden of Eden, their bodies were immortal – they would never age or die. Those bodies were also incapable of having children.

In the Garden, Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence of Heavenly Father. They could see God with their eyes and hear Him with their ears. That association made a strong spiritual connection easy and natural.

When Adam and Eve transgressed the law and ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, four things happened:

1. Their bodies became mortal and subject to mortal death.

2. They could no longer remain in the presence of Heavenly Father. That separation is spiritual death.

3. They understood the difference between good and evil and were accountable for their choices.

4. They were able to have children so God’s spirit children could come to earth.

After the Fall, “Eve . . . was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5:11)

The Fall was not a mistake, it was a choice. Just as Adam and Eve chose to live in mortal bodies, each of us made that same choice — we chose to come to earth and gain mortal bodies, knowing we would be separated from our Father.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The atonement is the child of the fall, and the fall is the father of the atonement. Neither of them, without the other, could have brought to pass the eternal purposes of the Father.

“The fall of Adam brought temporal and spiritual death into the world, and the atonement of Christ ransomed men from these two deaths.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, The Three Pillars of Eternity, devotional address at Brigham Young University on 17 February 1981)

Two scriptures encapsulate our mortal lives and describe why a Savior is essential.

1. “No unclean thing can dwell with God” – 1 Nephi 10:21

2. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” – Romans 3:2

A) We cannot sin and be with God and

B) We all have sinned.

We need a Savior.

The Atonement is key to everything Heavenly Father does and all He has created. “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

These two terms may sound the same, but have different meanings.

Immortality is how the Atonement saves us from physical death.

Eternal Life is how the Atonement can save us from spiritual death, depending upon our faithfulness.

Amulek describes how Christ saves us from the death of our body and gives us immortality:

“Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death . . . . The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame . . . . Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame . . . .” (Alma 11:42-44)

Virtually everyone who will ever be born on this earth will receive immortality through the Atonement of Christ. Their bodies will be resurrected from the grave and returned to a perfect form, then their spirits and bodies will be reunited and never die. Worlds and time without end, they will live. Mortal death will be permanently defeated.

What about Eternal Life?

Eternal Life is the kind of life that Heavenly Father lives. Through the Atonement, immortality comes to all men, righteous or wicked. Eternal Life is “the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7.) We obtain Eternal Life, according to the Lord, “if you keep my commandments and endure to the end.” If we do this, He promises, “you shall have eternal life.” (D&C 14:7.)

If we are to gain Eternal Life, this greatest of all gifts, it will be because we become like God. God is perfectly clean and pure and we must become the same way.

How can imperfect people possibly do that?

“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (Third Article of Faith)

This brings us to justice and mercy. One of the most important ways in which Heavenly Father is perfect is that He is perfectly just and perfectly merciful.

Perfect justice is not terribly difficult for us to understand. Any time a law of God is violated, justice imposes an appropriate penalty.

Our problem arises because of that scripture we mentioned earlier, “No unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21)

Does justice make us clean?

No, justice ensures that a proper penalty is paid when a law is violated. It does not remove the effects of sin upon the individual who is punished. When prisoners are released from the penitentiary after having served their sentences, we say they have “paid their debt to society.” Prison has not made them clean and pure.

One way to be perfectly clean and pure is to never sin at all. That describes our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and no one else. He is the key to perfect mercy. Christ is the only way to recover from our sins.

Lehi tells us, “[R]edemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” (2 Nephi 2:6-7)

A perfectly sinless Christ took upon Himself all the sins of all the people who will ever live on this world. At Gethsemane and Calvary, he paid the full price that justice imposed for every one of those sins, great or small.

Christ “satisfied the demands of justice by His own suffering, ‘the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). He removes our condemnation without removing the law. We are pardoned and placed in a condition of righteousness with Him. We become, like Him, without sin.” (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “Justification and Sanctification,” Ensign, Jun 2001, 18)

In place of the demands of justice, Christ provides merciful commandments that ordinary people can obey. He allows us to repent of our sins without being condemned by them. Describing His commandments, Jesus said, “Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world” (3 Nephi 27:16)

Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. We celebrate the Manger because of what Christ did on the Cross.

David P. Vandagriff

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