All Things Witness

Thoughts on the mission and power of Jesus Christ

Studying the Atonement of Christ


The Atonement is wondrous in its scope – in its breadth and depth.  It is the most important act in all of history – the focal act of our Heavenly Father’s creations, and our testimony of it forms the first principle of the gospel.  Consequently, the Lord hasn’t kept it a secret.  The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob said, “…we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.” (Jacob 4:4), and the Saviour Himself commanded that we study to learn about Him, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)

Modern Apostles have repeated this encouragement.  Elder Richard G Scott, when speaking to students at Brigham Young University, said, “I energetically encourage you to establish a personal plan to better understand and appreciate the incomparable, eternal, infinite consequences of the perfect fulfillment by Jesus Christ of His divinely appointed calling as our Savior and Redeemer. Profound personal pondering of the scriptures accompanied by searching, heartfelt prayer will fortify your understanding of and appreciation for the Atonement…. please establish for yourself a must-be-accomplished goal to acquire a better understanding of the Atonement…. This may seem to be a significantly added burden that you cannot realize because of the press of all else you are required to do…. However, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ—and I do not use those words lightly—I testify that your understanding of the Atonement and the insight it provides for your life will greatly enhance your productive use of all of the knowledge, experience, and skills you acquire…. The Atonement is something that none of us can ever adequately appreciate, yet I believe that it is beneficial to try to imagine what it required of both the Father and His willing Son.” (Elder Richard G Scott, To Establish a Secure Foundation for Life, BYU Speeches, 18 Mar 2008)

On another occasion, Elder Scott stated, “Our understanding of and faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ will provide strength and capacity needed for a successful life.” (He Lives! All Glory to His Name, April 2010 General Conference).  So here Elder Scott teaches us that our faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice will increase our capacity, so as to improve our success in life.  We cannot ever adequately understand or appreciate it in this life, but there remains huge value in our attempt to do so.

Elder Russell M Nelson once said, “Understanding the significance of His atonement is fundamental to choices we make in all facets of our lives…. We are scripturally bound to study it and to teach it.” (Elder Russell M Nelson, Standards of the Lord’s Standard-Bearers, Aug 1991 Ensign)  Again, we have an Apostle stating that the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers “all facets of our lives”.  The more we understand the Atonement, the better choices we will be able to make in our lives.  This implies that the greater understanding of the Atonement we have, the greater our true agency.

To the youth of the Church, President Boyd K Packer wrote, “You should learn… that while the Atonement of Christ applies to humanity in general, the influence of it is individual, very personal, and very useful…. an understanding of the Atonement is of immediate and very practical value in everyday life…. It was through reading the scriptures, and listening, that I could understand, at least in part, the power of the Atonement.” (President Boyd K Packer, Apr 1998 New Era).  So here we have an Apostle stating that there is “very practical value in everyday life” to be gained from a greater understanding of the Atonement.

The study of the Atonement is not an intellectual exercise.  It is not a scholarly endeavour.  It is not for the benefit of some ethereal, intangible spiritual self, which has no tangible impact on our day-to-day lives.  Rather, it has “very practical value in everyday life”.  The more we understand the Atonement, the more successful we will therefore be in every good endeavour we undertake.

Of the importance of parents teaching about the Atonement to their children, Elder Robert D Hales said, “Faith and testimony must be centered in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. We should express to our children our own feelings about the Savior and share scriptures or experiences that have strengthened our testimony of Him. We should help them understand the significance of the Atonement and how it can be a daily blessing in their lives.” (Elder Robert D Hales, Our Parental Duty to God and to the Rising Generation, Aug 2010 Ensign)

As we bring up our children in righteousness and truth; as we teach to them the gospel; we begin with the first and most important principle – the Atonement of Christ.  By so doing, we are teaching them something which will have very practical value; something which will increase their capacities for success in life; something which will increase their freedom; something which is fundamental to choices they will have to make in every facet of their life.  And just as it is important for my children to learn these things, I too need greater practicality in my life, a greater capacity, and greater wisdom in the choices I must make.  So gaining a greater understanding of the Atonement remains the most important thing I can learn in my life for my own benefit, as well as for the benefit of my children and others.

There are numerous other quotes that could be used that either explicitly or implicitly teach us that we should study and learn about Christ and His atoning sacrifice.  My favourite scripture on the subject is in the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon, when he quotes Zenock as saying, “Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.”  (Alma 33:16)  It offends the Lord when we fail to study His Atonement.

Many of us have made covenants to follow Him, to be His disciples – indeed, to take upon ourselves His name – and then we too often fail to study the act that is central to the entire gospel; is the very reason why we have made those covenants; and is the means by which we are enabled to fulfil those covenants.   We have access to healing, and peace, and joy, and blessing beyond measure; and then we fail to learn about the act that enables us to have these blessings in our lives.  I’m sure the Lord weeps when He sees us suffer so needlessly; when if we would but learn of the Saviour, and then allow Him to lift our burdens, such suffering could be at least reduced.

The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (see Article of Faith 4), and Joseph Smith in his Lectures on Faith taught that the first two things necessary to exercise faith were; firstly, an idea that He exists; and secondly, a correct understanding of His character, perfections, and attributes.  This very clearly implies that if we want to have the blessings that come from faith in Christ’s Atonement, then we need to have a fuller understanding of it.   The LDS Bible Dictionary defines knowledge as follows, “Knowledge. One of the attributes of God (Isa. 46:9–10; Acts 15:18; 2 Ne. 9:20). Knowledge of divine and spiritual things is absolutely essential for one’s salvation; hence the gospel is to be taught to every soul. “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14). Knowledge is not obtained all at once, even by revelation, but line upon line, precept upon precept (Isa. 28:9–10). The scriptures, and also living prophets, are given so that the people might have knowledge of things of God and “know how to worship, and know what you worship” (cf. D&C 93:19). Knowledge is one of the endowments of the Holy Ghost (John 14:26; 16:13; D&C 34:10; 121:26–33) and one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:8; Moro. 10:10; D&C 46:18). Peter lists knowledge along with faith, patience, kindness, and virtue as necessary acquisitions for one who would seek for a divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3–9).”  (LDS Bible Dictionary, page 721)

“It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”, the Lord tells us in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 131:6).  And President James E Faust said, “Our salvation depends on believing in and accepting the Atonement. Such acceptance requires a continual effort to understand it more fully.” (October 2001 General Conference) The more we understand the Atonement, the more its blessings can be applied in our lives.

And so we seek to study and learn more about the Atonement, so that we can have it more fully in our lives, and in the lives of those we love.   I was once struck when we were discussing in a Sunday School class the events leading up to the Atonement, in the Garden of Gethsemane, with words that had never really meant much to me before.  In the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament, the Saviour takes His disciples to the garden, and leaves 8 of the 11 in the outer parts of the garden, taking Peter, James and John with Him.  These three He takes with Him further into the Garden, and then gives them a command to tarry, “and watch” (Mark 14:34).  It struck me that the Saviour was commanding those who would shortly be those to lead of His Church to witness His atoning sacrifice.  These would be the only three mortals to see first-hand the greatest and most important event of all of history, as it happened – the event that has eternal impact on every living thing.  But either because they did not understand, or because they themselves felt too much pain and sorrow at seeing the Saviour suffer, they struggled to keep this command to witness, and three times the Saviour came to awaken them.

Would you or I fall asleep if we had the opportunity to witness this event of all events?  I would hazard a guess and suggest that most of us would be pretty adamant that we would stay awake if given that rare opportunity to witness the most sacred act ever performed; truly the crowning act of eternity.  But the reality is that you and I are constantly asked to partake of the power of the Atonement and all too often we refuse the offer.  We are asked to repent, yet we persist in our favourite little sins.  We are asked to forgive others, and yet we hold grudges.  We are asked to cast upon Him all our burdens, but we cling on to them, stubbornly refusing to be healed.

May we accept the Saviour’s invitation to learn of Him.  May we heed the call of latter-day prophets and apostles to make the study of the Saviour’s Atoning sacrifice a part of our lives.  In so doing, I believe that His power will become more evident in our lives.  We will have a greater power to resist evil and to triumph over it.  We will have greater power to overcome challenges.  We will have support to overcome our natural and acquired weaknesses and shortcomings.   In short, we will thus have more of the power of the Atonement in our lives, to make us whole – to fully and completely heal us.

Author: JeffC

I'm a 50-something bloke who lives in the northern hills of England. I write fiction (mostly fantasy), blog about religion and work in book publishing after a career in healthcare.

4 thoughts on “Studying the Atonement of Christ

  1. Hey Jeff
    If you are going to start a religious blog then why not start it with the most significant event in the history of the world – The Atonement!
    Here are some of my thoughts on the subject…
    Because of its complexity a great number of people don’t even attempt to understand it at all, even though there are many significant things we can learn provided we are willing to make the attempt. Here in my view are the steps needed in order to begin to receive the enlightenment which will come, sometimes as bolts of light and at other times quietly and subtly.
    1: The Savior went alone – I believe we have to take some serious time alone and prepare ourselves through prayer and even better, fasting. Fasting opens the spiritual door to our hearts and minds.
    2: The Savior was left totally alone during his struggle and we also will feel at the time of our searching that we are also alone and it will feel as though the rest of the world is asleep (just like the Disciples in the garden) and until we make the spiritual breakthrough and communicate with heaven itself, that loneliness will be present. Therefore we need to recognize the lonely feeling to be an indication that we are on the road to the enlightenment we seek.
    3: If we want to learn how to service a car we go to the handbook and study how to do it. If we want to learn about Jesus Christ we need to make time to regularly study the scriptures.
    4: It is despair that leads us to our own Gethsemane just as it was the Saviors despair that led him into the sacred garden.
    Having traveled that road myself from time to time I have come to realize that this enlightenment is an ongoing process which we need to continue to do – probably far more often than we think we should.

    John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
    Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

    Gethsemane is a place we all have to go through in this life even when we don’t even recognize the experience as a teaching method for us and leads to wisdom. Pain and suffering force us to either turn against God or draw us closer to Him. It is our choice.
    I am glad that my Gethsemane experiences have brought me closer and I believe also that it is because, to some extent I have come to understand the Atonement’s purpose. This surely is the reason the Church leaders encourage us to study the Atonement in order to shoulder our own burdens when they press upon us.
    The Savior said that He had “tread the wine press alone”. That is what we need to be prepared to do if we are to ever begin to understand the purpose of the Atonement in our lives.
    Ella Wheeler Wilcox understood the process very well I believe when she wrote the following thought provoking poem named – Gethsemane.
    Notice how the poem travels through the stages of life, from carefree childhood to invincible youth and then through maturity until finally identifying those of us who face our Gethsemane with a plea to take it away rather than surrender to God and by so doing come to understand its real purpose for us…

    In golden youth when seems the earth
    a summer land of singing mirth
    When souls are glad and hearts are light
    and not a shadow lurks in sight
    We do not know it but there lies
    somewhere veiled under evening skies
    A garden which we all must see
    the garden of Gethsemane

    With joyous steps we go our ways
    love lends a halo to our days
    Light sorrows sail like clouds afar
    we laugh and think how strong we are
    Then hurry on and hurrying go
    close to the borderland of woe
    That waits for you and waits for me
    forever waits, Gethsemane

    Down shadowed lanes across strange streams
    bridged over by our broken dreams
    Behind the misty caps of years
    behind the great salt fount of tears
    The garden lies, strive as you may
    You cannot miss it in your way
    Each path that has been or shall be
    pass somewhere through Gethsemane

    And every journey soon or late
    Must pass within the gardens gate
    Must kneel alone in darkness there
    And battle with some fierce despair
    God pity those who cannot say
    “Thy will not mine” but only pray
    “let this cup pass” and cannot see
    His purpose in Gethsemane.

    Our Gethsemane is always there lurking in the background, but rather than see it as our doom we need to recognize it as our greatest opportunity to find God.
    The Savior’s Atonement in Gethsemane was His crowning achievement and it will be ours provided that we, like Him, stay true!

    Good luck with your blog – I think the subject is at least as important as how to groom a dog or how to make apple pie (just joking dog lovers and would-be chefs)

  2. A great first blog Jeff. Funnily enough this was the topic of my youth Sunday School last week. I am inspired to double my efforts!

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