Question Box: The Atonement

by
November 5, 2011

Question Box:  Do Mormons believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross and rose again? That He paid the price for our sins once and for all? And that there is no other way to the Father but through Jesus? Thank you.

Yes, we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, that He died on the cross, and that he rose again the third day.  We believe that Christ’s atonement (his suffering and death/resurrection) was for our sins, making it possible for us to repent and become clean again.  His perfect life provides an example for us in how to live and love others as He does.  We can become like Him as we give up our sins and change our lives to follow His teachings.  We believe “that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.” (Helaman 5 :9)

I know Christ loves us by the things He taught and the way He lived His life, culminating in His atonement for our sins.  I’ve added a short video below that the Church has produced to help demonstrate how the atonement works.

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18 Responses to “Question Box: The Atonement”

  1. Steve G

    Great post and I really like this video.  Thanks for sharing it.

  2. cindy

    Thank you for your candor in explaining the answer to this question, although I don’t think you were completely transparent in your <b>answer</b> to the question. 
    Based upon your explanation, your <u>answer</u> should be no, not yes.  Part of the question was,
     
    “That He paid the price for our sins once and for all?”
     
    and part of your answer was, 
     
    “We believe that Christ’s atonement (his suffering and death/resurrection) was for our sins, making it possible for <b>us</b> to repent and become clean again.”
     
    I think that to be perfectly honest you need to explain to the questioner the teachings of your leaders about the LDS view of the conditional nature of the atonement and how the way to the Father is through Christ’s atonement AND our ability to give up sin and fulfill every ordinance of the LDS church:
     
    “Thanks to the Atonement, the gift of immortality is unconditional. The greater gift of eternal life, however, is conditional. In order to qualify, one must deny oneself of ungodliness and honor the ordinances and covenants of the temple” Russell M. Nelson, “Divine Love,” Ensign, February 2003, p. 24
     

  3. Jodie

    Cindy,

    Please do me the courtesy of not changing what I say.  The atonement is unconditional.  However, if my article seems to not be thorough enough, I’m sorry.  The gospel is so interwoven that it’s impossible to discuss everything connected to the atonement.

    Eternal life, or life with God, is dependent on our applying the atonement.  This does not make the atonement by any means ‘conditional’.  The atonement is free for all, the same way a public telephone is free for all.  No one is barred from using a public telephone.  The telephone is by no means discriminatory, by working only for certain people and not others.  Granted, in order to use the telephone, a person must make the effort to pick up the receiver and dial the number, but what do you expect?

    The atonement is available for everyone.  Anyone who would like help from the atonement, may have it.  We apply the atonement in our lives when we repent of our sins and change our lives to conform to the teachings of Christ.  Because Christ paid for our sins, we can then be forgiven.  A better statement would be that forgiveness is conditional. (Prov. 28:13, Matt. 6:14-15, D&C 64:10)

    As for the phrase ‘once and for all’, to me the question seems to ask if more will be needed.  Christ paid for all of our sins.  He doesn’t have to do it again.  We just need to make the effort to use it.

  4. cindy

    Hi Jodie,
     
    I’m sorry but I don’t believe I changed anything that you said.  I quoted you exactly. 
     
    What I did, and what I am asking is that you reflect in your answers is what the church says about the atonement.  THEY are the ones who describe the atonement as conditional, not me.  Do you disagree with them?
     
    The Bible dictionary at lds.org also defines the atonement as conditional in nature:
     
    “All are covered unconditionally as pertaining to the fall of Adam. Hence, all shall rise from the dead with immortal bodies, because of Jesus’ atonement. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22), and all little children are innocent at birth. The atonement is conditional, however, so far as each person’s individual sins are concerned, and touches every one to the degree that he has faith in Jesus Christ, repents of his sins, and obeys the gospel.”
     
    “It may be regarded as the ‘Mormon’ contribution to views of the Atonement of Christ, for it is to be found no where else except in Mormon literature.’ 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 Nephi 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 (Moroni 10:32)” (BYU Professor Clyde J. Williams, Plain and Precious Truths Restored, Ensign, October 2006, p. 53)”
     
    “The benefits of the atonement for personal salvation arise out of our obedience to the laws and commandments of the gospel. The forgiveness of sins comes to us by this obedience to the ordinances of the gospel and by enduring to the end, walking in obedience to the commandments. (Roy W. Doxey, The Doctrine and Covenants Speaks 1:104″
     
    It seems clear to me that in order to live in God’s presence and to continue as families (to have Eternal life, or exaltation) we must become sinless through our efforts, and not Christ’s death on the cross.
     
    I think that in describing the lds view of the atonement to sincere investigators, those facts should be made clear as well, don’t you?

  5. Willie

    I see nothing that Jodie wrote that disagrees with LDS theology or hides anything.  Cindy, it just seems that you want Jodie’s phrase “making it possible” to be in bold with flashing lights or something.
    The fact stands that she gave a correct answer for a site entitled What Do Mormons Believe and hid nothing.  I’d say if you read it differently you are simply looking to pick a fight, which purpose is not permitted on this site.

  6. Bus

    Its back to the old faith vs works argument that no one can resolve, although James gave it a valiant effort in his second chapter.  Perhaps the terms are just to ethereal to get a grip on.  On one level the Atonement is universal and no matter what a person does here on earth they will be granted a resurrected body and a continued life in the hereafter.  That should satisfy all those who are looking to life everlasting. The second part of the atonement deals with exaltation, or where our habitation will be in the next life.  This aspect of the afterlife is kind of unique to LDS doctrine as most Christians are content with just getting back to heaven.  

  7. cindy

    Dear Jodie,

    I’m sorry for the delayed response…I have been out of town, and I didn’t want to just dash an answer to you.  I wanted to thoughtfully respond to your kind letter.  I do not think that you are lying. 

    Perhaps, because of the differences in definitions of terms, you aren’t clear about what the investigator is asking.  She asked “Do Mormons believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross and rose again? That He paid the price for our sins once and for all?”  From my perspective as a non-member it seems clear that she is asking whether you believe that Christ’s death on the cross is the payment for all of our sins.  That it is HIS work that makes us clean and forgiven.

    So when you answer that “Christ’s atonement (his suffering and death/resurrection) was for our sins, making it possible for US to repent and become clean again and that WE can become like Him as WE give up our sins and change our lives to follow His teachings”  it sounds like you are saying that Christ’s death simply gives US the chance to perfect ourselves through repentance and perfect living.  If so, then the answer to her question should be no, right?  

    I’m not trying to pick a fight…I just think it is important to be clear about our answers to people when they are considering a change in their beliefs.  Our understanding of the work of Jesus Christ is of eternal significance, don’t you think?

    Respectfully,

    Cindy

  8. Jodie
    In my opinion both terms are correct.  They’re just used to describe different aspects of the atonement.

    The atonement is ‘unconditional’ in that there are no conditions or criteria set on WHO has access to the atonement.

    The atonement is ‘conditional’ in that there are certain conditions which must be met for the atonement to have an effect in our lives.  That effect is forgiveness of sins.  Forgiveness requires some effort on our part to repent.
     – BD Atonement:  “The atonement is conditional, however, so far as each person’s individual sins are concerned, and touches every one to the degree that he has faith in Jesus Christ, repents of his sins, and obeys the gospel.” (Emphasis added)
     – My post: “We apply the atonement in our lives when we repent of our sins and change our lives to conform to the teachings of Christ…We just need to make the effort to use it.” (Emphasis added)
  9. Dave

    Cindy, I’m totally down with what you are saying.  It’s way important to be clear about these distinctions.

    Like the other day my coworker Andre bought pizza for the whole office, and sent an email that was like “I bought you pizza!  Come get it in the break room!” 

    And my other coworker Albert was all “Oh, thanks for giving us lunch, Andre!”  But I was totally on top of that, and was all “No way, man.  Alls he did was provide US the opportunity to walk OURSELVES into the break room and feed OURSELVES on pizza.  There’s a difference.”  

    Represent.

     

  10. Kym

    I’d love to add onto your example Dave.

    So when your other co-worker (Bob) replies to Andre and says “how do I know that you really brought in Pizza? I don’t want to walk all the way to the break room if this is just a joke”

    Will Andre carry it out for Bob to see? or ask Bob to have faith and Come.

    I believe that Christ did provide “pizza” for all of us, but that he also asks us to have faith that it is there for us and to RECEIVE it through conditions that HE has set. In no way does this allow US to take credit for the pizza. The beautiful, wonderful, awe-inspiring gift that it is. (ok, now the analogy is getting weird). 

    I guess the distinction is really: Can you have FAITH without being FAITHFUL? 

    Faith is an action word. This does not mean that we provide our own way to heaven, it means that by being faithful, we meet CHRIST’s qualifications for salvation.

    He said “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him…” Rev.3:20

    OPEN the door. that action does NOT “feed OURSELVES on pizza” As Mormons, we do NOT believe that our actions earn our salvation. Christ is the ONLY one who can give salvation. We do not earn it, He GIVES it. But we do believe that He has asked us to OPEN the door. to RECEIVE Him. To have FAITH. In short, to ACT on his words. 

    I ask again: Can you have FAITH without being FAITHFUL? 

  11. Heather

    Let’s go to the final authority on this; our Savior, Jesus Christ addressed this very issue in Matthew 7:21. (This is from the King James Version of the Bible) :
    “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.”
    Now, one thing I’ve learned from personal experience during religious discussions, is that often the same verse from the bible can be interpreted in different ways by different people. Therefore, I would invite anyone who has a different interpretation of this phrase to comment. 
    It sounds to me, that Jesus, being our Lord and Savior, is the only one who can save us, but that whether or not he does so is conditional upon our doing the will of His Father.
    A note to Cindy: Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears that you are insinuating that we, as members of the LDS church, believe that we can save ourselves….If you have come under this assumption, let me rest your mind on this subject:
    We do not believe that we can save ourselves, not even close. Jesus Christ is the only Savior, he is the Only Begotten of the Father, he is the ONLY way, and the ONLY name given under heaven whereby man can be saved. We must be redeemed by his blood, because we are all under sin. I speak in no uncertain terms when I tell you this. We do not believe in saving ourselves, but in doing the will of the Father, who is in Heaven. Jesus Christ died for us, he shed his blood for our sins, He suffered because of our transgressions, and He only asks that we do His Father’s will.
    What is such a little thing compared with what he has done? I am compelled to praise Him forever, and to do His will.  Whether I am saved or not, is, as always, God’s will. But I do know this, that I cannot live a day on this Earth without being totally and completely in debt to my savior, no matter what I do. Following His will, is all that I, being imperfect,  can do, and so I must. Considering these things then, how great is the condescension of our God?
    P.S. Cindy, I do appreciate your sensitivity to this subject. For anyone who would be preaching that we could save ourselves would be teaching a lie. But let me tell you that the idea that we can save ourselves is not a thought that members of the LDS church entertain.
     

  12. Tim

    Know I completely agreed with the words spoken by Dave and Cindy. All of you who call yourself Latter-day Saints need to be asked something that I think is very important. As you continue to mask your religion under actual Christianity it makes you seem almost Christian. Now I ask you this, Is there any difference between Mormonism and Christianity? You may make them seem identical, but this is not the case. I’ve been looking around at the other comments for some time but I am still left confused. Is there internal life without Mormon membership, tithing, temple rituals and Mormon Baptism? Just something I was thinking about.

    Also, as Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible makes many personal changes and  edits are we to take it seriously as if God told him to completely change the words he gave to Moses and the ones he himself spoke?

    Lastly, do you believe the Holy Spirit is not God, but an electrical imitation of God? As well it would end this entry for me if (from a Mormon perspective) the origins of Jesus and God the Father. Short if it pleases you!

    Thank you, God’s obedient servant
    Tim
       

  13. Jodie

    Tim,

    I’ve been thinking a lot about your reply.  It concerns me that anybody might think we want to hide behind mainstream Christianity.  I think I’d like to clarify our position and beliefs.  We call ourselves Christians because we believe that Jesus Christ was the Only Begotten Son of God and the Savior of the World.  We follow Him.  Everything we do is based on becoming more Christlike, living and treating others as He would.

    If you study the history of mainstream Christianity and the resulting number of different Christian churches, you can see the evolution of a belief system.  We claim that the full authority to act in Christ’s name (or run His church) was lost with His Apostles.  Our church is based on that authority being Restored.  In other words, God has called apostles and prophets again.  Their responsibility is to testify of Christ’s divine role in performing the atonement and to teach us how to become like Him.

  14. Bill Evans

    I just found this post, and I wanted to take a shot at answering some of the concerns that were brought up. 
     
    First of all, to Tim, Cindy and everyone, thanks so much for your comments!  I love when we can have a discussion like this without being disagreeable.  It is so easy for comment threads to degenerate into insults, especially on sensitive topics like this.  I’m so glad that that is so rare on this site.  
     
     

  15. Bill Evans

    (For some reason, I had to break up my comment into parts…)
     
    As far as some of Tim’s concerns, I can really see how, from one point of view, it must seem like we’re “masking” our religion — trying to look more like “real” Christians.  Please understand this is not the intent at all.  We call ourselves Christians because we follow Christ, at least to the best of our poor mortal abilities.  We’re not perfect.  We don’t claim to be.  We are constantly trying to learn how to be a little better, a little more Christlike, and how to understand His will for us a little better than we do now.  That is why we so value modern prophets and modern revelation.  We believe that God guides this church through His prophets and His authority.  We don’t understand everything right now.  Sometimes God sees that one thing is the best thing for us to do at a certain time or the best way for us to build His kingdom.  Later He may, in His wisdom, see that the time for such actions has passed, and He will instruct His people to do the opposite.  From the outside, this may look like self-inconsistency, but really it is evidence of an all-wise and all-loving Father who knows how to respond to changing times and who sees fit to test the patience and faith of His people. 
     
    You asked about eternal life without “Mormon” baptism, tithing, etc.  I would ask if there is eternal life without “Christian” baptism and tithing.  It may certainly seem presumptuous to a Buddhist for Christians to claim Christ as the ONLY way to salvation.  It could also seem frustrating for a Jew to wrestle with the idea that in addition to following all of the Old Testament prophets, even though they were all true prophets, they would also have to follow the teachings of Peter, Paul, and those prophets who came afterwards. 
     
    For example, at the time of Peter and Paul, there were many of the Jewish Christians who were offended at the idea of Gentiles joining the church of Christ without first accepting Judaism.  Acts 15 describes how one such issue was decided.  Is it possible that there were some Christians at the time who were offended by and rejected this decision?  Would it seem improbable to any Christian that these, even though they had once accepted Christ, would remove themselves from His greatest blessings because they were no longer willing to follow the directions of His prophets and apostles?  We claim that God’s authority, His prophets and apostles are found today in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Is it any wonder that we place such an emphasis on following God’s commandments and receiving His ordinances by His authority as directed by His modern apostles and prophets?  Is it odd that we place the same level of importance on Joseph Smith that the ancient Jews placed on Moses or that the early Christians placed on Peter?  None of these prophets hold a candle in comparison to the Savior.  However, as they are His representatives and they speak for Him, obedience to God’s word as revealed through them is just as important as obedience to God’s Word as revealed in the Word, even the Savior Himself.  
     
     

  16. Bill Evans

    (Part 3…)
     
    You also referenced the “Inspired Version” of the Bible, often called the Joseph Smith Translation.  It’s true that he made many edits to the standard text of the Bible that we have today.  To me, this is evidence of his calling as a prophet.  The Bible itself is thousands of years old.  Its text has been lovingly passed along and preserved in many different languages by prophets and scholars and faithful people for centuries.  However, there were times in which the Bible, or many parts of the Bible, were guarded by individuals who may not have been so faithful.  All too often, modern scholars and politicians try to impose their own interpretations onto the sacred text.  Isn’t it possible that certain ancient scholars and ancient politicians would have tried to do the same?  Isn’t it possible that ancient tyrants may have tried to “edit” parts of God’s revealed text so as to further their own personal ambitions or to justify their own greed and sins?  Even though so many faithful scholars spent their lives ensuring the accurate translation and transcription of the Bible, isn’t it possible that the texts found their way into hands that were not so faithful nor so careful?  Though so many of the faithful gave their lives protecting the word of God, isn’t it possible that errors or ambiguities could have still crept in?  All it would take is one error in one manuscript, which would then have been perpetuated and transmitted as if it had been part of the original revealed word.  If this could possibly be the case, what then would be more natural, more reasonable for God, once He had called a new prophet, to have one of that prophet’s first tasks to be to try to restore the Bible to its original purity? to fix all the mistakes made by ancient lazy grad students and corrupt rulers? to give us once again the words of Moses and Isaiah and Peter as they would have spoken if they lived today? to restore again the revealed word of God as God wanted it to stay revealed?  Doesn’t this show the value and importance the God places on the Bible? 
     
    Calling Joseph Smith’s version of the Bible a “translation” is not entirely correct.  Parts of it were, of course, an inspired re-translation from some of the original languages.  Other parts were entirely restored material, not present before in any surviving texts in any language.  Still other parts were likely prophetic annotations and commentary.  Many passages that would have been crystal clear to the Jews at the time of Moses may need a bit of further explanation or commentary to carry the same clarity to modern readers.  Who better to provide such commentary on the words revealed to Moses than someone who held the same office as Moses and was authorized to receive the same revelations that Moses received? 
     
     

  17. Bill Evans

    (Part 4…)
     
    Regarding the Holy Spirit, to my understanding, we entirely accept the Holy Spirit as God.  The scriptures speak of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  (See, among others, 1 John 5:7 and Doctrine and Covenants 20:28.)  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  We often refer to the three as the “Godhead.”  The separate nature of these three is one of the important truths that was restored through Joseph Smith.  (See Doctrine and Covenants 130:22)  We rarely refer to the Holy Ghost as God, I believe mainly to avoid confusion, as this term is most often used to refer to the Father.  More often we refer to Him as “the Spirit of God” or “a member of the Godhead.”  (Admittedly, there are fewer scriptural sources referring explicitly to the Holy Ghost.  Clear references to the Father and the Son are much more prevalent.  If anyone has additional clarification to add on the subject, please do so.  Some good references on this from lds.org are found Gospel Principles, Chapter 7 and The Holy Ghost — a 1974 talk by President Marion G. Romney.) 
     
    I hope this (admittedly long-winded) thought provides something of use.  Thanks for bearing with me.  
     

  18. Bill Evans

    Sorry, the scripture links on that last part wouldn’t work.  Here are the links: 
    1 John 5:7
    Doctrine and Covenants 20:28
    Doctrine and Covenants 130:22