The Atonement is the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ to pay for the sins of all mankind and to overcome death. It is the most important event to ever take place in the history of mankind. It is the “hub” about which Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation turns.
The choice of Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden brought two kinds of death into the world – physical death and spiritual death. Physical death takes place when the spirit leaves the body, and spiritual death takes place when men and women become separated from God. If the Atonement had not taken place, Adam, Eve, and all their posterity – us – would have remained separated from God for all eternity without bodies.
Heavenly Father wanted all of us to return to His presence after our sojourn on earth, and He prepared His wonderful plan for the happiness of His children. He planned for a savior to come to earth to pay the ransom for our sins and death. This savior would have to be completely sinless and have power over death.
Jesus Christ is the only individual who could atone for the sins of everyone, and there are several reasons why this is so. The most important reason is that Heavenly Father chose Jesus to be our Savior. A second reason is that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of the Father and had divine power over death. A third reason is because He is the only person to ever live on earth without sinning.
Christ volunteered for the mission to atone for His brothers and sisters. He suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross with the terrible burden of the sins of all mankind. We cannot fully understand how He took our sins upon Himself, but we know that the agony caused Him to bleed from every pore. After His anguish in the Gethsemane, He suffered even more as He hung upon the cross. Jesus Christ described His agony in a revelation given through Joseph Smith in March 1830.
Therefore, I command you to repent -- repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath,
and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore – how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit – and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19).
The Atonement was a great sacrifice for both the Father and the Son. It also showed the great love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for mankind.
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).
On the third day after He died, Christ took up His body again, thus becoming the first person to be resurrected as well as overcoming death. Jesus made it possible for all people born on this earth to be resurrected and overcome physical death. With our resurrection, our body of flesh and bone and our spirit will become one, never to be separated again. We will also become immortal and live for eternity.
Jesus Christ also made it possible for us to overcome spiritual death through His Atonement on the condition that we accept Him as our Savior. We accept the Atonement of Christ when we repent of our sins, are baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and obey all of His commandments. This is the process where we can become clean from our sins and become worthy to be in the presence of our Heavenly Father and His Son. Each of us must repent and obey the commandments to make the Atonement effective in our lives.
Then Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles gave the following parable to illustrate how the Atonement of Christ makes it possible for us to be saved from sin on the condition that we do our part.
Let me tell you a story – a parable.
There once was a man who wanted something very much. It seemed more important than anything else in his life. In order for him to have his desire, he incurred a great debt.
He had been warned about going into that much debt and particularly about his creditor. But it seemed so important for him to do what he wanted to and to have what he wanted right now. He was sure he could pay for it later.
So he signed a contract. He would pay it off some time along the way. He didn’t worry too much about it, for the due date seemed such a long time away. He had what he wanted now, and that was what seemed important.
The creditor was always somewhere in the back of his mind, and he made token payments now and again, thinking somehow that the day of reckoning really would never come.
But as it always does, the day came, and the contract fell due.. The debt had not been fully paid. His creditor appeared and demanded payment in full.
Only then did he realize that his creditor not only had the power to repossess all that he owned, but the power to cast him into prison as well.
“I cannot pay you, for I have not the power to do so,” he confessed.
“Then,” said the creditor, “we will exercise the contract; take your possessions and you shall go to prison. You agreed to that. It was your choice. You signed the contract, and now it must be enforced.”
“Can you not extend the time or forgive the debt?” the debtor begged. “Arrange some way for me to keep what I have and not go to prison. Surely you believe in mercy? Will you not show mercy?”
The creditor replied, “Mercy is always so one-sided. It would serve only you. If I show mercy to you, it will leave me unpaid. It is justice I demand. Do you believe in justice?”
“I believed in justice when I signed the contract,” the debtor said. “It was on my side then, for I thought it would protect me. I did not need mercy then, nor think I should need it ever. Justice, I thought, would serve both of us equally as well.”
“It is justice that demands that you pay the contract or suffer the penalty,” the creditor replied. “That is the law. You have agreed to it and that is the way it must be. Mercy cannot rob justice.”
There they were: One meting out justice, the other pleading for mercy. Neither could prevail except at the expense of the other.
“If you do not forgive the debt there will be no mercy,” the debtor pleaded.
“If I do, there will be no justice,” was the reply.
Both laws, it seemed, could not be served. They are two eternal ideals that appear to contradict one another. Is there no way for justice to be fully served, and mercy also?
There is a way! The law of justice can be fully satisfied and mercy can be fully extended – but it takes someone else. And so it happened this time.
The debtor had a friend. He came to help. He knew the debtor well. He knew him to be shortsighted. He thought him foolish to have gotten himself into such a predicament. Nevertheless, he wanted to help because he loved him. He stepped between them, faced the creditor, and made this offer.
“I will pay the debt if you will free the debtor from his contract so that he may keep his possessions and not go to prison.”
As the creditor was pondering the offer, the mediator added, “You demanded justice. Though he cannot pay you, I will do so. You will have been justly dealt with and can ask no more. It would not be just.”
And so the creditor agreed.
The mediator turned then to the debtor. “If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?”
“Oh yes, yes,” cried the debtor. “You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.”
“Then,” said the benefactor, “you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way. You need note go to prison.”
And so it was that creditor was paid in full. He had been justly dealt with. No contract had been broken.
The debtor, in turn, had been extended mercy. Both laws stood fulfilled. Because there was a mediator, justice had claimed its full share, and mercy was satisfied.” (See “The Mediator,” Ensign, May 1977, pp. 54-55.)
I love this parable and have much greater understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ because of it. It clearly illustrates how the Atonement of Jesus Christ works in our lives. We are like the debtor and foolishly commit sins or spiritual debts. Without the Atonement, we would all have to pay for our sins. Because of the Atonement, Christ agrees to redeem our souls if we accept His terms – to repent and keep His commandments. If we keep our agreement with Jesus Christ, we may someday return to live with Heavenly Father.
Behold, I have come unto the world… to save the world from sin. Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi 9:21).