God’s plan for His children, given to us before the earth was created, required someone to atone for our sins. However, to perform that atonement, the person who did it had to have lived a sinless life, and none of us would be able to do that. Jesus offered Himself for that role, following God’s plan, living sinlessly, atoning for us, and then suffering death and being resurrected. It was an amazing offering of love.
What is an atonement? In the Biblical sense, it means to reconcile or return to harmony. Jesus’ atonement on our behalf met the demands of justice-reconciled our lives with the requirements of Heaven-and allowed us to return to God in harmony with spiritual laws.
“He lives, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind, whose Atonement came as an act of grace for the entire world. … He has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He has brought meaning to our mortal existence. He has given us the gift of eternal life. … God be thanked for the gift of His Son, the Redeemer of the world, the Savior of mankind, the Prince of Life and Peace, the Holy One” (”A Testimony of the Son of God,” by Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of the church, Liahona and Ensign, Dec. 2002, 4-5).
The atonement was necessary because of the Fall of Adam and Eve. The Savior’s atonement wipes away that debt and everyone-absolutely everyone who lives on earth-is resurrected and lives forever. However, although Jesus atoned for that sin, we are not free to do anything we want as a result. God is a good Father, and good fathers teach their children self-discipline and responsibility. For this reason, God holds us accountable for our own sins. When we do something wrong, we must repent. The atonement makes repentance possible, but we must do our share as well.
Repentance involves several steps. First, of course, one must acknowledge that a sin has occurred and feel true sorrow for it. When our heart aches over our imperfections and mistakes, we’re demonstrating a true testimony of the principle involved. We have to make restitution as best we can for whatever we’ve done, apologizing to those we’ve hurt and trying to undo the damage. We have to confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness from Him and from those we hurt. Finally, we have to completely forsake the sin.
Mormons consider grace-the ability to live forever due to the atonement-to be different from the fullness of the gift. Living forever is good, but we can, if we choose, have more. We can have eternal life. Eternal life means the ability to live in God’s presence. God can’t be in the presence of sin, and we would not want to spend eternity with people who are not entirely committed to living according to the will of God. This means we must prepare ourselves to be the kind of person who is comfortable in God’s presence, and happy living His lifestyle. Our time on earth is the time to prepare for this. It’s our responsibility to do our part-Jesus did His part, and we must do ours.
The stronger our testimony and love, the easier it becomes to live the way God wants us to live. We can’t achieve perfection in this life, but in time, we will be entirely worthy to enter God’s presence for eternity.
It should be easy to find in our hearts the longing to do right when we understand what the Savior endured for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. The pain of each of our individual sins was so great He bled from His pores. It was by far the greatest gift anyone had ever given, and He did it for each one of us individually, and He did it voluntarily. No one could force Him to do it, and He could have stopped it at any moment in the process. No one could make Him endure what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, and no one could take His life. This was His choice, His gift.
It’s our responsibility to show Jesus Christ how much that gift really means to us.