Sin and Atonement, Repentance and Redemption in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Thank you to Greg Geiger

The ideas of sin and atonement, repentance and redemption, are at the very heart of the faith and teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In our faith we often talk about the important questions of life – Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? All religions, I think, seek to answer these basic human questions in ways that provide meaning and direction to our lives. Latter-day Saints find answers in the teachings of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, which together, describe the “great plan of happiness” that God prepared for all of his children. We learn that God’s purpose in creating us is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of his children, and that we were created so that we “might have joy” in this life and beyond. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is what makes this wonderful plan possible.

We believe that God is our Father, the Father of our spirits, and that we each lived with him before we were born. Because of His love for His children, God gave us two great gifts – mortal life, where we are endowed with a physical body, and the power and freedom to choose. With these gifts, we may each, through our own experiences, learn and grow in our knowledge of truth and light. However, for this power to be meaningful, the choices we can make must be real. To have genuine opportunities to desire and develop goodness, we must also have the capacity to desire and pursue evil. There must be “opposition in all things”, the potential for both good and evil. As we choose to live our lives according to principles of truth and virtue, we become more like our Father in Heaven, who is the embodiment of all truth and perfectly virtuous.

Because this plan allows for our imperfections, sins and mistakes, there is also a need for an atonement, and for an Atoner or Redeemer. I used to wonder why this was so. Why couldn’t God just forgive our sins without redemption?

As Boyd K. Packer noted in his parable “The Mediator” (www.lds.org/general-conference/1977/04/the-mediator?lang=eng) there is a paradox in God’s character of perfection. We understand that He is perfectly just; we also believe that He is perfectly merciful. But these are “two eternal ideals that appear to contradict one another”. Between any two individuals, between God and each of His children individually, it is possible to be for Him to be either just, or merciful. It is not possible, even for Him, to be both.

The solution to this impasse comes through the introduction of a third party, a Redeemer. Perfect in his own right, thereby satisfying the requirements of justice, He willingly offers to bear the demands of justice which would otherwise condemn us. In this way, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, it is possible for God to offer mercy instead of condemnation to each of His children who repent and turn away from sin and deception (see the 42nd chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon and the Epistle of Paul to the Romans in the New Testament for a more in-depth discussion of these principles).

What then is the role of repentance? We understand that our spiritual development is measured not by just what we do, but by who we become through our life’s experience. The word repentance signifies a new way of thinking, and feeling, a change in values and priorities that embraces truth, and turns our heart to God, and those around us. Through the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and the enabling power of the Atonement, our desires for goodness lead to a “mighty change of heart, whereby we have no more desire to do evil, but to do good, continually”. This is the end and purpose of God’s plan for His children, to help us to love the same things that He loves, so that He might share them with us, in His presence. It is the process of “becoming perfected” that begins in this life and continues through the eternities.

Hope is the beginning of virtue. It leads to faith by which “all things are possible”. The principles of the Atonement are the foundation upon which our hope rests, and from which our faith grows. May the principles of hope and faith in all religions lead us to the peace that God, the Father of us all, surely desires for His children.