The Saved Little Toaster

Last spring I participated in a program between Brigham Young University students (even though I go to Utah State University — go Aggies!) and some Evangelical Christian students from Wheaton College in Illinois.  The Evangelical students came to Utah during their spring break and toured Utah to get a feel for the culture and religion here, and to give us Mormons the same opportunity with them.  I came away from each discussion enlightened.  During their stay, they even arranged a private visit with Elder D. Todd Christofferson, one of the twelve Apostles.  I was so jealous.

One of the questions that often came up during their visit was whether Mormons believed our works saved us or the grace of Jesus Christ did.  They made an interesting observation: when challenged with this question, each latter-day Saint (even General Authorities) responded with one of two answers.  1) We are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.  2) Works are necessary for salvation.

On the face of it, we seem confused.  To many Christians, statements 1 and 2 are mutually exclusive; for us they fold nicely into each other.

A toaster: a modern kitchen marvel.Consider a toaster.  It has two slots, a mechanical tab, some knobs to control heat levels, heating coils, and a plug connected to the outlet.  The toaster was a wedding gift you gladly accepted from your brother; your dad’s present was to pay your first month of rent, including utilities.  You use your toaster every morning.  Drop in two limp, damp pieces of bread, push the lever down, and wait 35 seconds; then, crispy, deliciously crunchy toast pops out as if by magic!  Spread the butter on thick and enjoy.

As you feast, you make two statements to your new spouse, who does not notice any contradiction:

1) This toast was made through the generous gift of loving relatives.

2) It took some effort on my part (albeit not much) to make the toast.

We certainly can’t take the credit for the toast.  The same effort applied to an empty counter top, or to an unplugged toaster would result in disappointment.  (Maybe the bread would become “crunchy” in the sense of getting stale, but I don’t think that’s what we want).  In the same vein, we fully recognize that living by the law of Moses, or adhering to empty ritualistic tradition without a Messiah will never work.  This is why we respond with number 1.

We also know that we can’t expect the toaster to do everything for us, either.  Much of the joy of eating breakfast comes from taking the time to handcraft it.  Your brother knows that while designing and building a fully-automated toast-producing machine is possible, it isn’t what you need or want.  Besides, there’s still the matter of lifting it to your mouth and chewing.  Surely, you wouldn’t eat pre-chewed toast!  Our purpose on earth is growth, and that requires us to step up to the plate and show our willingness.  Our faith in Christ is manifest to Him by our (imperfect and small) effort.  This is why we give response number 2.

The toaster and its connection to the wall outlet represent the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ.  He offers it to all of us.  Please receive His help gratefully and often.  He loves you, so He will not force your hand.  Insert the bread of faith, and press down the mechanical tab of repentance to unlock the power of forgiveness and blessing that awaits you.  Repentance and righteous living may seem tough at first, but He has made it much easier.  In fact, he has made it possible.

“If ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits” (Book of Mormon, Helaman 14:13).

To Sing a Song of Redeeming Love

There are times in my life when feelings are particularly poignant towards my Savior.  I read the scriptures, I pray and and I try the best I can to do His will and I ask myself, as Alma once asked, “if [I] have experienced a change of heart, and if have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can [I] feel so now?.” (Alma 5:26)  The answer at times may be yes or no.  I certainly try to keep that feeling to sing a song of redeeming love concerning my Savior.  It is difficult, yes, but the rewards are infinite in scope and value.

The price to pay for these rewards is ourselves.  Our Heavenly Father asks us to be humble and penitent toward Him and to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.  When we give ourselves, our will and our lives, to Christ, He gives them right back to us in a purer condition and also with His blessings.  These might be spiritual blessings such as peace in one’s heart or also blessings of prosperity and success.  It is important to realize that He allows us to retain our freedom even when we give ourselves to Him.

This is diametrically opposed to the manner the world sees it and how the world operates.  Many things petition us for our time, energy and will that will enslave us and will never set us free willingly.  I have seen families destroyed by abuse of alcohol and individuals reduced to nothing because of all kinds of destructive habits.  There is no real freedom there.

The power to free us remains in Christ.  We must choose Him to become free spiritually.  “But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son.” (Alma 12:33)  That mercy will allow us to break the chains that hold us down and to destroy habits that enslave.

All can be free through Christ.  It truly is a glorious prospect, and not one that comes easy.  It takes a sincere desire to change one’s being, from thought to action, and, more importantly, the humility to understand the powerlessness one has in a current situation.  But where there is a lack of power and ability, Christ makes up the difference.  “But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” (2 Nephi 1:15)  From binding chains to arms that embrace is a reality that does happen.  I know it does.  I have seen it, I have felt it and I can’t imagine a better way to show my appreciation for it than by sharing it.

Why Did Jesus Die For Our Sins?

Q. Why did Jesus die for our sins?  What would have happened if he hadn’t?

I was thinking about this question early this morning from 3:30 till 5:00 as my toddler was throwing a massive fit.  For some reason, he had decided that sleeping in his crib for the rest of the night was not going to work for him.  He didn’t like sleeping in the portable crib either (but his baby sister liked that better–he was out of the room they share).  My prevailing thought was the importance of law, as a parent, to prevent chaos from ruling the house.  (Bear with me, this will all tie together shortly. )

sometimes lazy, always tired.

See, we have rules, as parents.  Many of them we make up: you need to sleep in your own bed, you need to finish all of your food if you want dessert, you cannot hit anything but the floor, etc.  Some of them are imposed by other people: you have to be buckled in your car seat when we are moving, you can’t take that candy from the store without paying for it, and so on.  Because we are imperfect, lazy or tired, all parents choose to disregard the laws once in a while.  “Fine, just get into bed with me and Daddy”, thinking that just for tonight, that will work.  But of course, it isn’t just for tonight it is now expected every night.  “He’s starving–just give him Chex for dinner tonight”, but for weeks thereafter, when it is time for dinner, the toddler refuses to eat anything but Chex (or Goldfish crackers).  When we disregard these laws, we lose the structure of our family society and everything can come unglued. Chaos reigns.  Once you take a kid out of their carseat while driving they suddenly understand that what they thought was impossible is now possible.  Same with Chex for dinner.  Same with sleeping with Mom and Dad.  There are no more rules and I can do whatever I want!  It is a very dangerous place to be.

without honoring justice, chaos would reign

Luckily, our Heavenly Father has laws and He never deviates from them.  Some of them He has created (the 10 commandments, for example) and some of them are just natural laws that He honors (gravity, rotation of planets, etc.).  The law that applies to this question is the law of justice.  Essentially, if you do wickedly, you will be punished and you are no longer worthy to return to live with God.  If you do well, you will be rewarded.  Unfortunately, every single one of us has done wickedly, and we cannot return to live with God–our righteous works don’t cancel out our sins, I think they are on separate balance sheets, as it were.  So that is justice.  It doesn’t help us at all, but it keeps the universe running smoothly.   And God needs to honor justice fully in order to prevent chaos from reigning.  As soon as He lets just one person in, with just the tiniest sin (like maybe, Moses or Abraham), there is going to be a big line of people demanding to get in too.  They didn’t sin that much.  They aren’t that wicked.  Its a slippery slope.

God is an excellent parent, though.  He can honor all of the demands of justice and still get us back to Him.  His more excellent way is accomplished through Jesus Christ, who offers us mercy.  When Christ came to earth, he was the only person in the history of this earth to ever live a perfect life.  No evil thoughts, no evil actions, not even any selfish motivations.  He lived perfectly.  Before he died, Justice could have looked Him over and said, “Come on back in.  You’re clean”.   But Jesus didn’t just go back to Heaven after His perfect life–instead, He allowed himself to suffer for every person on this earth and every sin that they had ever committed.  He died on the cross between two criminals after allowing himself to be beaten, scorned, mocked, spit upon, tried and convicted all by people like you and I.  Regular justice-breakers. Betrayed and condemned And in this way, Christ broke the law of Justice–but He broke it the opposite way that we break it.  He broke it toward himself–He owned it.  He should not have died and suffered for us in that way–that was not just.  The atonement of Jesus Christ (this suffering and dying in order to reconcile us with God) was merciful and motivated entirely by love.  Christ’s mercy can satisfy the demands of justice and still get us back to Heaven.

So, to answer your question: Jesus died for our sins to get us around the impassible heights of justice.  If we ally ourselves with Him, He will vouch for us and His mercy carries us over the demands of justice back to our Father in Heaven.  He is the only one who can do that.  We can’t do it–we are imperfect.  Heavenly Father can’t do it, He needs to honor justice (though He is, of course, carefully helping us find our faith in Christ so that we can come back to Him).  Without Christ, we are subject to endless death and hell (an eternity without God).

For more information on this fundamental topic, see:

Doctrine and Covenants 45

Alma 42

2 Nephi 2

2 Nephi 9

Alma 34

This priesthood lesson

And this talk

What Do Mormons Believe about the Atonement of Jesus Christ?

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

The atonement of Jesus Christ is the single most important event that has or ever will occur in the existence of the earth.  Through this incomprehensible act of self-sacrifice, mercy satisfies the absolute demands of justice required by broken commandments of God (Alma 34:15-16).  Atonement literally means to set at one. The atonement of Jesus Christ reconciles all things that have estranged us from the Father. Thus, only through the atonement of Jesus Christ can we be brought back into full favor with the Father (John 14:6).  When we come before God to be judged, Christ will plead our case before Him and if we have been true and faithful, the Father will accept his Son’s sacrifice in our behalf (D&C 45:3-5).  By being set at one with the Father we are granted innumerable blessings — we become perfect in every way, just as Christ and the Father are perfect (John 17:20-23; D&C 35:2; Hebrews 2:10-11; Revelation 21:6-7).

The Act of the Atonement

The pinnacle and defining event of Christ’s ministry on this earth was when He bowed beneath all of the sins and imperfections that we as God’s children have experienced or will experience.  From the time that He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane to the time that He said “it is finished” on the cross, the entire world hung in the balance.  Our very souls, billions if not trillions of souls were at stake; He knew it and yet, He came off victorious.  He drank from the bitterest of cups, not necessarily because He wanted to, but because He was willing to submit Himself to the will of the Father in all things.  In order for us to be spared from destruction and eternal torment, it HAD to be done (Luke 22:41-42; Isaiah 51:22). What Christ did in those blood and tear-stained hours allows us and this world to exist (D&C 88:6-13, 50).  It even gives Christ power over death and sin and allows the resurrection to happen (D&C 88:14; Alma 42:23).  To contemplate the weight of this burden He bore is overpowering and yet to know that He personally atoned for my imperfections (Mosiah 15:10) causes “[my] heart to swell as wide as eternity” (Moses 7:41) in love and gratitude for Him.

In addition, when one considers exactly who Christ is, a God himself (Alma 34:9-14), and that he would condescend from his throne on high to submit himself to all of the suffering, torture, beating, and humiliation associated with the atonement, descending below all, just to save you and me is confounding to say the least.  If even He who had all power over both heaven and hell could control himself in every way as He bowed beneath the rod of his own creations, then I too should be able to bite my tongue when I want to say something mean, or when I want to do something contrary to His commandments.

Our Part in the Atonement

All people who have lived on this earth are given the free gift of resurrection (Revelation 20:12-13), but for the atonement to have full power in our lives we must satisfy specific requirements (1 John 2:1-6). We need to believe that Christ’s atonement can cleanse us from our imperfections (Mosiah 15:10-13), and have a broken heart and contrite spirit before Christ (3 Nephi 9:19-20).  In essence we need to “[become] as [children], submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things” (Mosiah 3:19).  Furthermore, we must be baptized by immersion and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by one who holds proper authority from God to perform ordinances in His behalf (St. John 3:5; Hebrews 5:1-4).  All of these things show that we are willing to submit our will to the Father and that we want to follow Christ’s commandments (John 14:15). Our will is the only thing that we have that we can give to God.  Everything else is already His.  If we will completely submit our will to God just as Christ did, then the atonement of Jesus Christ can make us white as wool by washing our garments in the blood of the Lamb.

Scrub board for washing clothes by hand

Although it may seem hard at times to live the way Christ asks us to live, he has promised us that if we yoke ourselves to Him, that it will be easy (Matthew 11:28-30).  I can say from personal experience that this promise is true.  Our part is to believe and live such that our lives are a manifestation of our belief that Christ can set us at one with the Father.  While at times this may seem a heavy burden, Christ and his Atonement are there to help us in our journey.  In addition, we have the Holy Ghost to provide comfort and encouragement that we are on the correct path.

Yoke of oxen pulling a load.

More importantly though is whether or not we will accept this infinitely priceless gift into our lives by believing in the power that Christ gained over sin and death.  If we do we will be spared suffering and be granted glory in the mansions of the Father (St. John 14:2, Enos 1:27). The mercy of this doctrine is profound — that “God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should never perish, but have everlasting life” (St. John 3:16).

The Atonement in Salvation

With regard to salvation, the atonement provides mercy or justice for all people who will fall into one of three categories.  First, little children and those that do not know the law are redeemed (Mosiah 3:16, Moroni 8:12-13, D&C 29:46-47, 2nd Nephi 9:25-26, Mosiah 3:11).  Second, those who do know the law and repent are saved from suffering for their sins (Mosiah 3:12; Alma 34:15-16; D&C 19:16).  Third, those who do know the law of God and choose not to repent receive just punishment (Alma 34:16; Alma 42: 24; D&C 19:17-18; Isaiah 51:22-23).

I invite you:  come unto Christ; come drink from a Fountain that is springing up unto everlasting life (St. John 4:14) and eat Living Bread (St. John 6:47-58).   You will never hunger or thirst again. There is nothing, nothing, but peace, joy, and happiness to be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know this, because I have experienced it in my own life and continue to do so — I know the promises of God are sure and true.

See “The Plan of Salvation

The Everlasting Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Romans 1:16

The word gospel is derived from the Old-English spelling of God-spell, or rather, good news.  The term is not limited in referring to the first four books of the New Testament, but rather refers to the good news that “Jesus Christ has made a perfect atonement for mankind that will redeem all mankind from the grave and reward each individual according to his/her works.” (Bible Dictionary: Gospel)  This makes those books commonly referred to as the gospels, testimonies of that gospel, being witnesses of Jesus Christ, of His life and teachings.

Go ye thereforeThe true and everlasting gospel of which the apostles and all the prophets testified throughout their lives was taught to men on the earth since the time of Adam.  “And thus the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Moses 5:58)  Every prophet that was called of God, was instructed to teach the people of this gospel.  They testified of Christ, His atonement and sacrifice and implored the people to repent, come unto Christ and receive the gospel into their lives.  This call was often rejected, as told in the scriptures, and resulted in repeated periods of apostasy wherein the true gospel was lost.  Repeated periods of apostasy were ended by repeated callings of prophets to restore what was lost until Christ Himself came to earth to teach His own gospel and also to fulfill it.

Christ’s apostles went abroad to spread this good news.  The bad news is that they too were rejected and martyred and the world was left bereft once again of the truth; that is, until the truth was restored once more by a prophet called of God.  That gospel is now being taught all across the world and people everywhere are coming to the knowledge that Christ lives and loves each one of us and that He has prepared a way for us to prosper in this life and return to Him once we pass into the next.

The faithful would never forget that good news that they were redeemed and they rejoiced in the future where the Lord’s kingdom would be established and His gospel would be preached around the world.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!  Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion. Isaiah 52:7-8

This testimony of Isaiah was a prophecy of our time that the gospel would be preached when the Lord brings Zion to the earth.  It was also an outpouring of gratitude that he felt towards God for His greatness, glory and love for all mankind in that He caused His gospel to be available to all those who would want it.  God indeed gives everyone the opportunity to receive the happiness and joy that comes with accepting the true and living gospel of Christ.  I am a witness that the good news of the atonement is real.  Christ lives and is waiting for each one of us to come to Him.  “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”