Atonement

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Part of the series on the
Impossible
Gospel

Overview
Miracle of Forgiveness
Repentance
Atonement
Perfection
1 Nephi 3:7
2 Nephi 25:23
Moroni 10:32
Merit, earning, and worthiness
Personal worthiness

According to Mormonism, the atonement is "the great sacrifice [Jesus] made to pay for our sins and overcome death." [1] Jesus was the only person able to atone for sin because he was sinless. Oddly enough, Gospel Principles, addressing why Jesus could atone for sins, lacks any reference to his divinity. (See esp. "Christ Was the Only One Who Could Atone for Our Sins").

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[edit] In Gethsemane or on the cross?

LDS teach that Jesus "atoned for our sins by suffering in Gethsemane and by giving his life on the cross." It was in the garden that "the weight of our sins caused him to feel such agony and heartbreak that he bled from every pore (see D&C 19:18-19)."

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[edit] How does one receive the atonement-benefits of forgiveness and eternal life?

Mormonism teaches that the atonement secured for each person a physical resurrection and thus "immortality". Yet, "only those who accept the Atonement will be saved from spiritual death." How does one do this? "[B]y placing our faith in him." Yet, it is added: "To make his atonement fully effective in our lives, we must strive to obey him and repent of our sins."[2] This has historically been a serious source of tension between Mormons and Christians. LDS clearly add unbiblical conditions to the atonement. Not only is it necessary to place faith in Jesus, but it is also necessary to obey and repent of ones sins. At first glance this appears biblical; however, the question arises as to what kind of obedience and repentance is required. Mormon leaders speak ambivalently of the "repentance" which brings forgiveness, sometimes giving the impression that it is a simple broken heart and contrite spirit, and other times speaking of it as a process which includes the successful abandonment of sin and keeping all the commandments.

"The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God... Through the Atonement you can live in a world where justice assures that you will retain what you earn by obedience." - Richard G. Scott[3]
"Our need in today's world, in which Christians assume there was an atonement, is to interpret the scriptures properly and to call upon men to keep the commandments so as to become worthy of the cleansing power of the blood of the Lamb." - Bruce R. McConkie[4]
"The Atonement cleanses us of sin on condition of our repentance. Repentance is the condition on which mercy is extended. After all we can do to pay to the uttermost farthing and make right our wrongs, the Savior’s grace is activated in our lives through the Atonement, which purifies us and can perfect us." - James E. Faust[5]
"Should choices be wrong, there is a path back: repentance. When its conditions are fully met, the Atonement of the Savior provides a release from the demands of justice for the errors made." - Richard G. Scott[6]
"When a person repents, accepts the gospel of Jesus Christ, and lives in accordance with the principles and ordinances of the gospel, then Christ's atonement becomes effective for him, for Jesus Christ has already paid the penalty--that is, for those who will repent." - Royden G. Derrick[7]
"The perfect relationship between the atoning grace of Christ and the obedient efforts of mankind is powerfully stated by Nephi: 'We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do' (2 Ne. 25:23). Furthermore, we are invited to 'come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.' When we deny ourselves “of all ungodliness,' then and only 'then is his grace sufficient' for us (Moro. 10:32)." - Clyde J. Williams[8]

Christians respond that it is not even partially our obedience which brings forgiveness and eternal life but faith alone in the work of Christ. It is our faith alone that unites us to Jesus, the only one who can and does save us. Obedience must follow, but it is not a necessary prerequisite for receiving forgiveness or eternal life (see justification).

[edit] Repayment to God

In Mormon theology, Jesus becomes our creditor when he "forgave" us, and we are now indebted to repay him. To receive the progressive benefits of the atonement (which was supposed to have cancelled our debt) we are required to "fully pay our part of the debt".

"All of us have sinned and need to repent to fully pay our part of the debt. When we sincerely repent, the Savior’s magnificent Atonement pays the rest of that debt." - James E. Faust, [9]

[edit] A helpful story?

The following is taken verbatim from Gospel Principles: Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve gave the following illustration to show how Christ's atonement makes it possible to be saved from sin if we do our part.

"Let me tell you a story--a parable.

"There once was a man who wanted something very much. It seemed more important than anything else in his life. In order for him to have his desire, he incurred a great debt.

"He had been warned about going into that much debt, and particularly about his creditor. But it seemed so important for him to do what he wanted to and to have what he wanted right now. He was sure he could pay for it later.

"So he signed a contract. He would pay it off some time along the way. He didn't worry too much about it, for the due date seemed such a long time away. He had what he wanted now, and that was what seemed important.

"The creditor was always somewhere in the back of his mind, and he made token payments now and again, thinking somehow that the day of reckoning really would never come.

"But as it always does, the day came, and the contract fell due. The debt had not been fully paid. His creditor appeared and demanded payment in full.

"Only then did he realize that his creditor not only had the power to repossess all that he owned, but the power to cast him into prison as well.

" 'I cannot pay you, for I have not the power to do so,' he confessed.

" 'Then,' said the creditor, 'we will exercise the contract, take your possessions and you shall go to prison. You agreed to that. It was your choice. You signed the contract, and now it must be enforced.'

" 'Can you not extend the time or forgive the debt?' the debtor begged. 'Arrange some way for me to keep what I have and not go to prison. Surely you believe in mercy? Will you not show mercy?'

"The creditor replied, 'Mercy is always so one-sided. It would serve only you. If I show mercy to you, it will leave me unpaid. It is justice I demand. Do you believe in justice?'

" 'I believed in justice when I signed the contract,' the debtor said. 'It was on my side then, for I thought it would protect me. I did not need mercy then, nor think I should need it ever. Justice, I thought, would serve both of us equally as well.'

" 'It is justice that demands that you pay the contract or suffer the penalty,' the creditor replied. 'That is the law. You have agreed to it and that is the way it must be. Mercy cannot rob justice.'

"There they were: One meting out justice, the other pleading for mercy. Neither could prevail except at the expense of the other.

" 'If you do not forgive the debt there will be no mercy,' the debtor pleaded.

" 'If I do, there will be no justice,' was the reply.

"Both laws, it seemed, could not be served. They are two eternal ideals that appear to contradict one another. Is there no way for justice to be fully served, and mercy also?

"There is a way! The law of justice can be fully satisfied and mercy can be fully extended--but it takes someone else. And so it happened this time.

"The debtor had a friend. He came to help. He knew the debtor well. He knew him to be shortsighted. He thought him foolish to have gotten himself into such a predicament. Nevertheless, he wanted to help because he loved him. He stepped between them, faced the creditor, and made this offer.

" 'I will pay the debt if you will free the debtor from his contract so that he may keep his possessions and not go to prison.'

"As the creditor was pondering the offer, the mediator added, 'You demanded justice. Though he cannot pay you, I will do so. You will have been justly dealt with and can ask no more. It would not be just.'

"And so the creditor agreed.

"The mediator turned then to the debtor. 'If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?'

" 'Oh yes, yes,' cried the debtor. 'You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.'

" 'Then,' said the benefactor, 'you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.'

"And so it was that the creditor was paid in full. He had been justly dealt with. No contract had been broken.

"The debtor, in turn, had been extended mercy. Both laws stood fulfilled. Because there was a mediator, justice had claimed its full share, and mercy was satisfied." [10]

"Our sins are our spiritual debts. Without Jesus Christ, who is our Savior and Mediator, we would all pay for our sins by suffering spiritual death. But because of him, if we will keep his terms, which are to repent and keep his commandments, we may return to live with our Heavenly Father."

Packer is clear in that "if we will keep his terms" only then can Jesus save us. This is a very different gospel from that which the Bible teaches. Obedience is commanded by Jesus, but in a very different way from the LDS teaching.

[edit] Ostler's view

Blake Ostler argues for what he calls "the compassion theory of atonement." [11] He admits that his view will be controversial among many Latter-day Saints. It can be summarized as follows:

The purpose of the atonement in LDS scripture is to 'bring about the bowels of mercy' so that God is moved with compassion for us and we are moved with gratitude to trust him by opening our hearts to him. The result of the Atonement is that we are freed to choose to turn back to God, and he is free to accept us into a relationship of shared life. Atonement removes, casts out, and releases the guilt that alienates us; and it also brings us together into shared life... In [Jesus'] Passion we find compassion. He literally feels our pains and is thereby filled with compassion for us. In this sense, Christ suffers for our sins and bears our iniquities. [12]

[edit] Quotes

[edit] Christian

[edit] Mormon


[edit] Christian response

It wasn’t that he was crucified, but that he was crucified.

Jesus didn’t suffer in the garden "for us"–it wasn't the “cup” yet. It was in anticipation of the cup he was about to drink:

Matthew 26:39 - "And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

John 18:11 So Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?"

Peter, of all people, would mention the Garden, yet he says,

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." (1 Pet 2:24)

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[edit] See also

[edit] References

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are taken from the reference below:

[edit] Notes

  1. Gospel Principles
  2. http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-18,00.html
  3. “The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 40–42. From General Conference, October 2006.
  4. Bruce R. McConkie, "What Think Ye of Salvation by Grace?". BYU devotional address was given at Brigham Young University on 10 January 1984. Available online here: http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6910&x=56&y=3
  5. James E. Faust, "The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope," Ensign (Conference Edition), Nov. 2001, 18. Emphasis original.
  6. Richard G. Scott, "Have No Regrets". Fireside address given at Brigham Young University on 12 September 1999.
  7. Agency, by Royden G. Derrick. Online
  8. Clyde J. Williams, "Plain and Precious Truths Restored," Ensign, Oct. 2006, p. 50
  9. James E. Faust, "The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope," Ensign, Nov. 2001, 18. Emphasis original.
  10. Conference Report, Apr. 1977, pp. 79-80; or Ensign, May 1977, pp. 54-55.
  11. Blake Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought: The Problems of Theism and the Love of God, vol. 2 (Greg Kofford Books, 2006), pp. 235-284.
  12. Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, vol. 2, pp. 235-236.
  13. D. Chad Richardson, “Forgiving Oneself,” Ensign, Mar 2007, 30–33

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