What is the Role of the Atonement in My Life?

This is a question I’ve been pondering lately. On one hand we have our beliefs about Christ, namely that he accomplished the Atonement by suffering for all of mankind and rising on the third day. On the other hand we have the burdens of life: Our sins, of course, but also our trials, questions, and illnesses; all of the challenges of mortality. The concern is whether I consistently connect my needs with what I claim to believe about Christ and his capacity to help with our problems through his Atonement.

I’m not sure why the disconnect. Pride, distraction, doubt, probably all play a part. But there is a consistent plea from prophets ancient and modern to understand that the atonement is about more than overcoming sin and death. Here is a powerful summary of the doctrine:

Not only does the Atonement of Jesus Christ overcome the effects of the Fall of Adam and make possible the remission of our individual sins and transgressions, but His Atonement also enables us to do good and become better in ways that stretch far beyond our mortal capacities. Most of us know that when we do things wrong and need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has made it possible for us to become clean through His redeeming power.

But do we also understand that the Atonement is for faithful men and women who are obedient, worthy, and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully? I wonder if we fail to fully acknowledge this strengthening aspect of the Atonement in our lives and mistakenly believe we must carry our load all alone—through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline and with our obviously limited capacities.

It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to the earth to die for us. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to enliven us—not only to guide but also to strengthen and heal us.
— Elder David A. Bednar, “Bear up Their Burdens With Ease, April 2014

 This is the topic of Elder Dallin H. Oaks' entire October 2015 General Conference talk. Here is an excerpt:

"I know these things to be true. Our Savior’s Atonement does more than assure us of immortality by a universal resurrection and give us the opportunity to be cleansed from sin by repentance and baptism. His Atonement also provides the opportunity to call upon Him who has experienced all of our mortal infirmities to give us the strength to bear the burdens of mortality. He knows of our anguish, and He is there for us. Like the good Samaritan, when He finds us wounded at the wayside, He will bind up our wounds and care for us (see Luke 10:34). The healing and strengthening power of Jesus Christ and His Atonement is for all of us who will ask. I testify of that as I also testify of our Savior, who makes it all possible."

Multiple scriptures underpin Elder Bednar and Elder Oaks. (And many other modern prophets. This doctrine is not new.) Elder Oaks points to Alma 7:11-13 as "the clearest scriptural assurances that the Savior also experienced the pains and sicknesses and infirmities of His people." (Fun fact: these verses have been referenced in General Conference 85 times.)

Because of this truth about Christ’s capacity, the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets are filled with invitations to rely on the Atonement of Christ. Not just use, or apply or access, but rely. Consider the power of the verb “rely” as repeated in these verses:

  • 2 Ne. 31:19
  • 1 Ne. 10:6
  • D&C 3:20
  • D&C 30:1-2
  • Moroni 6:4

While I claim to know all this cognitively, how often am I like Abraham and Sarah, who laughed at the thought of God helping them with their most pressing problem? In their case, it was Sarah’s barrenness. Recently, I saw multiple seminary students literally laugh when I suggested that they pray about their most challenging class at school. Why? Do they not understand that God cares about their schooling, or do they not believe it? Are they too proud or discouraged?  Whatever the reason, it appears that we are not always living up to the privileges provided by the Atonement of Christ.

Not only is this living beneath our privileges, but it also carries a dangerous risk. Failing to recognize the power of Christ in day to day life can lead us to put our allegiance elsewhere. Whatever we might rely on in our mortal challenges instead of Christ, whether sin, talent, money, family, friends… whatever it is, all of it will eventually fail us one day. Sin leads to further suffering. Talents fade with age. Money runs out. Family and friends make mistakes despite good intentions. When Nephi taught that Christ was the way, he was stating a fact, not just promoting a good option. Christ is the option. Everything else will eventually fail.

 To make relying  on the Atonement more tangible, I asked:

Which best represents the role of the Atonement in my life?

rely

Is the Atonement like medicine, something we use from time to time when we are spiritually sick, or is it like bread and water, sustaining our spirits daily?

While I would never downplay the Savior's power to heal the spiritually sick, he placed just as much or even greater emphasis on his power to sustain us daily. He gave daily manna to the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. He called himself the Living Water (John 4:6-14) and the Bread of Life (John 6:31-35). His consistent invitation is to come to him with all of our burdens, to serve him with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength.

How do we know if we are relying on Christ? One simple indicator is our daily devotion. May I submit that if our prayers, scripture study, and church worship feel shallow and meaningless, we are probably not connecting our needs to Christ. Consistently seeking the Savior's help eliminates robotic and empty acts of “devotion.”

Here are a few more questions that helped me evaluate my reliance on the Atonement of Christ:

  1. What are my top three challenges today? Have I searched, pondered, and prayed for the Savior's help with each?
  2. Where do you turn to comfort, strength, or help? Do you naturally turn to the Savior, or elsewhere?
  3. Do I teach my children to rely on Christ daily, or do I inadvertently teach them the Atonement is something we access from time to time when we make mistakes?
  4. What elements of your life right now could be blessed by a greater reliance on the Atonement? (work, school, callings, relationships, habits, etc.)
  5. What would be the most valuable thing for you to do or change today in your quest to rely on the Atonement of Christ?