At the recent General Conference of the LDS Church, Elder Craig A. Cardon gave a talk entitled, “The Savior Wants to Forgive.” In it, more than once, he talked about “the enabling power of the Atonement”. Especially enlightening was this comment: “Rather, after all we can do, His compassion and grace are the means whereby ‘in process of time’ we overcome the world through the enabling power of the Atonement. As we humbly seek this precious gift, ‘weak things become strong unto (us),’ and by His strength, we are made able to do that which we could never do alone” (Ensign, May 2013, p. 16).
As this comment illustrates, Mormonism teaches that one of the greatest benefits of the Atonement is the power it can instill in people. This agrees with how it defines grace. “The word grace, as used in the scriptures refers primarily to the divine help and strength we receive through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (True to the Faith, p. 77) Therefore, as the above comment with its reference to 2 Nephi 25:23 (we are saved by grace after all we can do) makes clear, Mormonism teaches that, to be saved, a person must do all they can do, and then the Lord will give them more power (grace) “to do that which we could never do alone”. The result is that even when Mormonism talks about grace, the focus is on what a person does.
The biblical message is so different. The most striking biblical picture of atonement is found in the Day of Atonement as it is recorded in Leviticus 16. The emphasis there is not on people rendering obedience – it is on blood – the blood of animals sacrificed in place of the sinning people. It’s that blood – not any obedience on the part of people – that atones for their sins. St. Paul picks up on that picture in the New Testament’s only use of the word “atonement” in Romans 5. In verse 9 he talks about how we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ. How Jesus’ death reconciled us to God (v.10). And then in v. 11 he continues by saying: “And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” We have joy because Jesus made complete atonement for all our sins. We are now worthy and acceptable to God, not if we now do a lot of things, but because Jesus has already done everything for us.
We are saved not after all we can do, but because Jesus has done all things for us. That, my friends, is the source of all true joy.