The Atonement


     The March 2008 edition of the official LDS magazine, Ensign, was a very special issue.  It focused entirely on Jesus.  The LDS church said it spent two years producing it.  They made many extra copies and it is now listed as one of its resources.  It would be a good resource to have for those wanting to witness to Mormons.

     It contains an article on the Atonement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of Mormonism’s 12 apostles.  In it he repeats much of what Mormonism says about the Atonement.  He talks a lot about Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and writes:  “Through this suffering Jesus redeemed the souls of all men, women, and children.”  He does bring in Jesus’ suffering on the cross, something that is being mentioned more and more in LDS writings.  But the emphasis is still on Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.

     He also talks about how the Atonement provided both unconditional and conditional blessings.  The unconditional blessings he list are ransom for Adam’s original transgression and bodily resurrection of all.  He then writes:  “Other aspects of Christ’s atoning gift are conditional.  They depend on one’s diligence in keeping God’s commandments.”  Again that is not new.  But then he uses a couple of phrases that I can’t remember running across before.  He writes:  “Obviously the unconditional blessings of the Atonement are unearned, but the conditional ones are not fully merited either.  By living faithfully and keeping the commandments of God, one can receive additional privileges; but they are still given freely, not technically earned.”  (my emphasis)  What does “not fully merited” and “not technically earned” mean?  “Not fully merited” implies that they are partially merited.  “Not technically earned” implies what?  Often when that word is used it is used in contrast to reality.  Technically you still have a job but in reality you better start looking. 

      Some Mormons say that Mormonism doesn’t teach salvation by faith and works.  I think articles like this demonstrate otherwise.  Maybe the word “works” is not used, but the idea is definitely there in phrases like “conditional blessings”, “not fully merited” and “not technically earned” and the repeated emphasis on keeping the commandments.

20 Responses to “The Atonement”

  1. October 1, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Mark, you believe that salvation through the grace of Christ is conditional too. That condition is having faith in Christ. We just seem to have a different interpretation of what it means to have that faith in Christ.

  2. October 1, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    I think you are getting things out of wack due to the simple perception of Focus.
    Take the Atonement for instance: You think that just because there is a focus on a particluar part of the Atonement by the LDS that we disregard the rest? (this is made obvious by the voice used on this post)

    It is not that we disagree about the suffering on the cross but that seems so previlant in the world og Christindom that as a christian Church we need not focus solely on that instance of Jesus’s Suffering. Do you not take into account the suffering and himulation endured by Christ after Arrest and before the March to Calvery? Is this not also part of the Atonement?
    As a member of the LDS Church I have seen all aspects discussed as part of the Atonement, but attending other christian church es the focus is solely upon the cross and the suffering endured there only.


  3. 3 Stephanie
    October 1, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Christians celebrate various parts of Christ’s life throughout the church year. Specifically concerning the atonement, in the months leading up to Easter, the Christian church celebrates all parts of Christ’s suffering, not just his death on the cross. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday, which represents Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday is followed by Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (also called Black Friday), and then Easter Sunday (the resurrection). Each day is special, and each day embodies certain aspects of Christ’s suffering and atonement.

    Holy Wednesday is the day Judas conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for 30 coins. The observance of Maundy Thursday represents several important events in Christ’s life: the institution of the Lord’s Supper during the passover meal, the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and Judas’ bringing the soldiers and betraying Jesus with a kiss. Good Friday is the day of Crucifixion. Christian’s call this day “Good” Friday because Jesus’ death now allows us access into heaven. For us, it is a “good” day, but this day is also known as black friday due to the agony Jesus suffered on the cross. Finally, we celebrate Easter Sunday, the resurrection.

    Often, during this season of the year, churches hold theatrical plays that encompass this entire week of Christ’s life. Each part of this week is given special attention, not just his death on the cross. However, as Bible-believing Christians, the most important moment of this entire week is indeed Christ’s death on the cross because it was this event alone that tore the curtain in the temple and grants us eternal life. This is why we wear crosses around our necks, even though a cross is actually a brutal instrument of torture. The cross represents our eternal salvation and our life with Heavenly Father.

    We have assurance that at the moment of our death, we will be with Heavenly Father. Christ, who is God, told the thief on the cross next to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

  4. October 1, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Mark the last thought you added here was: “the repeated emphasis on keeping the commandments”. This seems to be a real sore spot with you and obviously one we’ve discussed a ton here already.

    Many who believe in Christ will lose their way. It’s clear from the scriptures that this can happen, and it’s clear that Satan does everything in his power to dislodge believers.

    We believe following Christ’s teachings (commandments) leads to increased faith, understanding, and guidance from the Spirit. These are all helpful in continuing to follow Christ and withstand temptation.

    The Savior taught repeatedly that we should always pray, repent, and strive to live as He lived. I really can’t understand why anyone has issue with those who are trying to implement Christ’s teachings into their lives.

    Luke 21:34-36

    “34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
    35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
    36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”

    Notice the words “accounted worthy to escape all these things” and “to stand before the Son of man”. This is our goal, to be worthy servants of Christ.

    We believe in being fully committed to Christ. The initial conversion may bring about a major change of heart and create a new creature, but still the new creature must continue down the straight and narrow path by having enough faith to actually follow Him. We can’t let anything, such as the “cares of this life”, get in the way of our commitment to Christ.

  5. October 1, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Thank you for helping to illistrate my point by sharing how many christian groups celebrate the entire life (and atonement) of Christ. The LDS Church also does this but instead of sectioning the year out to specific observances like the Lutheran and Catholic Churches do We tend to celebrate the full life of Christ at any particluar week/month of the year, this is more like many Baptists Churches. We also do allocate certian days as special observances, Christmas (christmas week), Easter and the like. However we do not consider Lent or Pentacost as yearly observances, like the Lutheran and Catholics.

    After Stephanie’s statment about many Christians, what is your take on the Atonement: Do you concern yourself (and your Congragation) with every part of the atonement, or just one part?


  6. October 1, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    The instance of signifacance in the Atonement of Christ is suggested by many Churches as the suffering upon the cross. It is the focal point that many certinally use and their members usually relate to as the atonement.

    I should have been less absolute in my first comment on this line. Many Churches that I have attended focus mainly if not entirely on the Cross as where Christ Atoned for man. But it is in the LDS Church that I have found the emphasis is not solely on the suffering upon the cross. I was stating that the perception of a Focus on the Gardin or any particluar part of the Atonement is due to the General Christian Emphsis on the importance of the Cross and the focus of the atonement on the cross.

    I have asked a few Christians as to how they think Christ atoned for us, and the answers were:

    He Dies on the Cross, He Suffered and died on the Cross, he suffered and died for us, he died for us… But the majority of Christians I have asked have made it clear that the Atonement happened upon the cross. They have forgoten about the suffering before the cross was erected.


  7. October 2, 2008 at 12:02 am

    It should probably be noticed that in the early 1800s, the cross was not used as a symbol by many Protestant sects, including the Baptists. They all felt that it had too much taint as a symbol of “popery” (Catholicism).

    This is probably why Joseph Smith did not adopt the cross as a symbol. None of his Protestant neighbors were, so he had no reason to.

  8. 8 TXNate
    October 2, 2008 at 12:03 am

    Mark, you believe that salvation through the grace of Christ is conditional too. That condition is having faith in Christ.

    We seem to define faith differently. Faith is not a work. Faith itself is a gift from God! Look at it this way: As a Christian, I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength come to know God, but God has made Himself known to me through the Scriptures. I can’t therefore claim faith as a work. If I reject the faith, that’s a different story entirely. Anyone can do that. God does not coerce.

  9. 9 TXNate
    October 2, 2008 at 12:05 am

    I believe this is also held by Mr. Cares?

  10. October 2, 2008 at 1:09 am

    This seems like a fine distinction at the theological level.

    But at the level of the lay worshiper, I’m not convinced it makes much difference. All the person in the pews knows is that being good is somehow linked with faith. That’s good enough for them, and who are we to say they are wrong?

  11. 11 Stephanie
    October 2, 2008 at 1:38 am


    I thought your point was that evangelical Christian churches focus only on the cross, and ignore the rest of Christ’s suffering. I was trying to show that, in fact, we celebrate the entire week before Easter, which includes all the events of Christ’s passion. The week then culminates on Easter morning with the resurrection. Many churches also observe Lent, which is a time of fasting and prayer, to remind us of the great sacrifice that Christ gave for us. Lent, which is 40 days, prepares believers for Easter, through self-denial. Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice, and Lent keeps the hearts and minds of the believer focused on this sacrifice. I would submit that Christians are very much “in-touch” with the sufferings of Christ, and the joy of His resurrection.

    The crucifixion and resurrection is regarded with more awe than the suffering in the garden, because that event is the most important event of the week (much more important than the suffering in the Garden, let me be clear about that.) The crucifixion and resurrection are two sides of the same coin. One is meaningless without the other. That is why I speak of them in the singular tense; they are one event in terms of purpose.

    Christians focus on an empty cross, because we are reminded that Christ’s body is no longer there. He is alive today, and we will live with him should we die today. The cross reminds us daily of the sacrifice Christ gave for our sins. This is why Christians rightfully focus on the cross, which is the bridge between man and Heavenly Father. The cross is the reconciliation between God and man. To reconcile means to fix something broken, which Christ accomplished perfectly with his single sacrifice on the cross. Nothing more is needed from us, or from our efforts, which are even offensive to God.

    Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

  12. 12 Stephanie
    October 2, 2008 at 1:51 am

    That’s interesting, Seth. I have never thought that “being good” had anything to do with faith. Faith has always been taught to me as a simple belief of the heart. Faith has never been tied to actions or doing. In fact, your statement attempting to link “being good” and “faith” surprised me. Mormons obviously misunderstand faith as defined in the Bible.

    Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” KJV “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” NIV

    Faith is knowing and trusting God. Like TX Nate said, “faith is not a work. Faith itself is a gift from God! As a Christian, I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength come to know God, but God has made Himself known to me through the Scriptures.” Well said.

    I hope all who are reading this blog are able to separate “being good” from “having faith.” Faith is not a work.

  13. 13 Stephanie
    October 2, 2008 at 2:14 am

    Another thought about Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    Faith is defined as a “substance of things hoped for.” It is also defined as “evidence of things not seen.” How interesting that faith can be so powerful as to be called “evidence” of things not seen.

    Faith is also defined mysteriously. Faith is not something that can be seen or done! Faith just is. Faith is so hard to define because it cannot be seen with the human eye. It is clearly not a work that can be performed, seen by others, or heard by others. Only God can see faith when He looks at the heart.

    Trying to be good enough, or worthy, falls under the law, not grace. Hebrews 10:1 “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” Performing all the good works required of the law can “never make perfect” those who draw near to worship.

    Hebrews 10:10 “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ once for all.” God has declared us holy, not just worthy based on our own efforts. God has declared us holy based on Christ’s efforts. And notice the end of the verse, “once for all.” There is nothing else that can be done.

    Hebrews 10:18 “And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” This is redundant, but God likes to be redundant because he wants to be clear. Christ’s death was “once for all,” and “there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” Nothing else is required. Any human effort would be wasted effort, and offensive to God.

  14. 14 TXNate
    October 2, 2008 at 2:26 am

    “This seems like a fine distinction at the theological level.”

    Not at all, by my experience. Let me share an anecdote.

    There were a few events in my life (actually, over the past few months), that made me doubt whether or not I had “true” faith in Christ. I agonized greatly over this, trying to convince myself that yes, I did have belief, and if I didn’t find any, I would try to generate this faith in myself. I recited the creeds over and over again. I read my Bible constantly. I prayed consistently for faith. I often spent several straight hours at a time doing nothing but pondering my spiritual state.

    In the end, I realized, I had faith all along, and it definitely wasn’t by my own work. God worked this faith in me at my baptism (which is also a work of God, by the way– without God, it is merely water, without any power) and sustained it constantly. Every time I tried to generate faith, I failed. It’s like trying to produce a feeling (though faith is definitely not a feeling). You can’t make yourself instantly euphoric, and if you try, the opposite is likely. God, and only God, works faith in me, or in anyone. As a result, my efforts were useless.

    One remarkable change this realization has had on me is that God is beginning to make me focus more on Him. In my ponderings, I was constantly focused inward. What I needed to be focused on was Christ, not myself. I do not place my hope in an ability to produce faith in Christ. God worked faith in me, causing me to place my hope in the Atonement. The difference between the two is enormous.

  15. 15 markcares
    October 2, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Someone once said, “Faith is the eye of the soul. Like an eye it doesn’t look at itself. It looks at an object. Faith looks at Jesus.” This is what Jesus was saying in John 3. As the poeple in the Old Testament lived just by looking at the bronze snake Moses had made, so we live by looking at Jesus. Interestingly, there Jesus talked about looking at his crucifixion “the Son of Man be lifted up”.
    Yes, we talk about other parts of Jesus’ suffering but the thing that appeased God’s wrath (the root idea of atonement) was not his physical suffering (even on the cross) but his God-forsakenness. Many people have suffered tremendous physical pain – only Jesus suffered God-forsakenness. That is the heart of the atonement.
    Finally, as others have commented, fait itself is a gift from God. The bible brings this out in numerous ways – 1 Corinthians 12:3 is one: “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost.”

  16. October 2, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    (I know we ventured off topic a little here but I must respond to the current line of thinking)

    The act of Looking is a form of work. One must open their eyes and turn toward what it is to be seen and then they have looked. If having faith in Jesus Christ is like looking at Jesus, we must open our eyes to the truth and turn from our wickedness and toward Jesus – this is what you have been calling “Works” for at least the last few months. So by this likeness we see how Faith is a Work.


  17. 17 alanandginatong
    October 6, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    I find it interesting that the LDS view on Faith is perceived by many Christians. It seems they believe, mistakenly, that we believe we have to work our way to Heaven. Put simply we believe that Faith in Christ is a must. That faith should lead to a change in our lives, and our works should reflect that Faith. No works in themselves will qualify anyone for Heaven. Grace is what saves, and this is the gift that Christ gives us as our works truly reflect our faith.

    In James we read,

    14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
    15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
    16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
    17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
    18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
    19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
    20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
    21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
    22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
    23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
    24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
    (New Testament | James 2:14 – 24)

    We see not just Faith, but Faith AND Works. Isn’t that clear?

    In Revelation we read,

    12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
    13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
    (New Testament | Revelation 20:12 – 13)

    Part of the Judgement will be concerning our works according to this scripture. Works alone? Of course not. The Faith in, and Grace of, Christ are the keys.

    In Romans we read,

    1 WHAT shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
    2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
    3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
    4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
    5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
    6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
    7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
    8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
    9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
    10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
    11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
    13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
    14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
    15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
    (New Testament | Romans 6:1 – 15)

    Surely this tells us that even though Grace is a gift from Christ, we cannot continue in our old ways because Grace will save us despite anything we do. I personally find that is not in line with the teachings of the New Teatament. I don’t mean to belittle anyone else’s beliefs. I love the fact that anyone loves and worships the Saviour. I find it disappointing though that many Christians refuse to accept that LDS members are fellow Christians.

    Many Christians use the scripture in Galatians to point out to Mormons that works will not save them. Why point that out? We already know that. It is the Grace of Christ that follows faith in Him, and the resultant works that follow that faith. Let’s look at the scripture concerned.

    7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
    8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
    9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
    10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
    (New Testament | Ephesians 2:7 – 10)

    Notice that the scripture in verse 9 mentions that works alone will not save us. Verse 8 tells us that through grace we are saved by faith, but verse 10 is also important. Notice that we are created in Christ Jesus UNTO GOOD WORKS, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Isn’t that what I said in the beginning is the LDS view on this subject. We should develop faith in Jesus, which will lead us into good works, and then we will be saved by the grace of Christ. Where are we not scriptural in that please?

    I hope you will not take offence at my comments. There is no malice in my thoughts, and no desire to try and be “Holier than thou.” I believe that we are all totally and utterly dependent on Christ. Without Him we are all lost. I do believe however that we, as well as you, are Christians.

  18. 18 alanandginatong
    October 6, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Sorry, the last scripture I quoted is in Ephesians, and not in Galatians. It is late at night here in England, and my brain is not fully functioning.

  19. September 9, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  20. 20 rblandjr
    September 12, 2009 at 3:18 am


    And all,

    James’ goal is to distinguish true faith from false faith. He addresses what saving faith is and how we can recognize it, not how it saves. He shows that true faith produces works, which then become visible evidences of faith’s invisible presence. He is talking about how true faith reveals itself becomes apparent from v. 18 “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do“. James then cites the example of how Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son “made perfect” his faith. James is not saying Abraham’s faith was not true faith until he was willing to sacrifice Isaac can be seen from the very next verse. There James quotes Gen. 15:6 which says Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. But God spoke those words, before Isaac was even born. Before Abraham did anything he had saving faith. His willingness to sacrifice Isaac came after his faith. it was a fruit and not the root of his faith, thus serving as a visible evidence of his invisible faith. In that sense, his faith was made complete, “completed in the sense that an apple tree is completed when it produces what god intended and created it to produce, apples”.

    I want to make sure that I am not misunderstood so let me expand upon what James said. You see there are two types of faith. True and False. The false faith which may be just mental assent to the facts but it hasn’t penetrated the heart and brought about real salvation.

    True salvatiion is the result Of God drawing a person to Christ, bringing about repentance and faith where a man crys out for mercy. Right then and there a person is justified(declared righteous by God)and only God can see this invisble faith.

    Now all that man can see is the outward things. So a man does not know if that person was saved just because he prayed a prayer. When the man see’s changes in the life of that individual then he knows something has happened. This is the work that james was talking about.

    The example I gave from Abraham in Gen. 15:6. Lets look at that passage in Gen. 15.

    God promises Abram that he will have a son. That his seed would number the stars. Now what was Abrahams response to Gods word,(promise)?

    V.6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Right then and there Abram was justified and made righteous in Gods eyes.

    Now probably 10 to 15 years or so later in Gen. 22 Abraham carries Isaac to Mt. Moriah to offer him up. So for that 10 to 15 years God had considered Abraham justified.

    Now could man see that change in Abram’s heart? No

    It was later as a result of salvation that works or fruit was seen by man to prove he was saved. Now this work occured later, so it wasn’t the means of his salvation.
    In other words before Abraham did any work he had saving faith.In Gen15;6 God said his faith was credited to him as righteousness. Now that was in Gods eyes.
    Years later the work of offering Isaac occured.
    “The work of offering Isaac was the FRUIT and NOT the ROOT of His FAITH.

    First comes the Root (Gen.15:6), God declares him righteous which is his invisble faith that man cannot see.

    Now that root grows into a tree and then produces fruit(Gen.22) which is the visible evidence of that faith that took. What a man can see as evidence of Abrahams faith, which initially took place much earlier in Gen. 15:6.
    Paul and James are in complete agreement that salvation by grace through faith will produce works which are the fruit of salvation not the root.

    Again thanks for yor comments.

    Resting in Him Alone,

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