What is the Atonement of Jesus Christ?
The word “atonement” describes the state of being “at one” with those who have been estranged, and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of Jesus’ Atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin.
This is another definition of the Atonement which is found in the Come Follow Me youth curriculum: “The Atonement is the sacrifice Jesus Christ made to help us overcome sin, adversity, and death. Jesus’s atoning sacrifice took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. He paid the price for our sins, took upon Himself death, and was resurrected. The Atonement is the supreme expression of the love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
The LDS Guide to the Scriptures entry on Atonement adds that the Atonement was not complete until Jesus was resurrected from the grave. “His atonement included his suffering for the sins of mankind in the Garden of Gethsemane, the shedding of his blood, and his death and subsequent resurrection from the grave (Isa. 53:3–12; Mosiah 3:5–11; Alma 7:10–13).”
Need for the Atonement
All men and women on the earth who reach the age of accountability are guilty of some sin in the eyes of God. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). When we sin, we becomes the slave of sin (Rom. 7:14), and so incur the penalty of spiritual death, which is alienation from God (Rom. 6:23). The atonement of Jesus Christ also redeems mankind from physical death. The fall of Adam brought physical death into the world, but “in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Jesus Christ has made a perfect atonement that will unconditionally bring about the resurrection of all mankind from physical death and reward each individual with eternal life with Heavenly Father according to his/her works.
The Atonement: the least understood of all our revealed truths
The Atonement is the most important event in the history of mankind, yet perhaps also the most difficult to comprehend. True understanding of the Atonement will only come after much study, meditation, and prayer. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“The atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths. Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life. But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived. May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement” (The Purifying Power of Gethsemane).
The Infinite Atonement
One of the reasons why the Atonement is difficult to be understood is that we are motal beings with finite thinking, yet the Atonment is infinite. Amulek, the missionary companion of the prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon, said: “there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.” (Alma 34:12) The prophet Jacob, the brother of Nephi, in the Book of Mormon also spoke of the infinite atonement:
“For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption.” (2 Nephi 9:6-7)
The Gospel = The Good News of the Atonement
The full-time missionary guide is called Preach My Gospel which begs the question, what is the gospel of Jesus Christ? The LDS Bible Dictionary says that the word “gospel” means good news and the good news, specifically, is “that Jesus Christ has made a perfect atonement.”
3 Nephi 27: 13-14 gives a similar definition of the gospel: “And this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father.”
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ died for us and atoned for our sins and has made it possible that we can repent and return to live with our Father in Heaven.
Greater love hath no man
Heavenly Father and Jesus showed their love for all of mankind through the mission and atonement of Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Charity is defined in the scriptures as the pure love of Christ. How was that loved manifested? The pure love of Christ is seen through the Savior’s willingness to pay the ultimate price and to make a selfless sacrifice to fulfill the Atonement.
- The Atonement by Russell M. Nelson
- The Purifying Power of Gethsemane by Bruce R. McConkie
- How the Atonement relates to missionary work by Jimmy Smith on Mormon Mission Prep
- For Children: Primary Book 3: Lesson 22: The Atonement of Jesus Christ
- Atonement resources on Sugardoodle. Family Home Evening lesson ideas, print outs, and other lesson helps.