“Some years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley told something of a parable about a one room school house in the mountains of Virginia where the boys were so rough no teacher had been able to handle them.
Then one day an inexperienced young teacher applied. He was told that every teacher had received an awful beating, but the teacher accepted the risk. The first day of school the teacher asked the boys to establish their own rules and the penalty for breaking the rules. The class came up with 10 rules, which were written on the blackboard. Then the teacher asked, ‘What shall we do with one who breaks the rules?’
‘Beat him across the back ten times without his coat on,’ came the response.
A day or so later, … the lunch of a big student, named Tom, was stolen. The thief was located—a little hungry fellow, about ten years old.
As Little Jim came up to take his licking, he pleaded to keep his coat on. ‘Take your coat off,’ the teacher said. ‘You helped make the rules!’
The boy took off the coat. He had no shirt and revealed a bony little crippled body. As the teacher hesitated with the rod, Big Tom jumped to his feet and volunteered to take the boy’s licking.
‘Very well, there is a certain law that one can become a substitute for another. Are you all agreed?’ the teacher asked.
After five strokes across Tom’s back, the rod broke. The class was sobbing. ‘Little Jim had reached up and caught Tom with both arms around his neck. ‘Tom, I’m sorry that I stole your lunch, but I was awful hungry. Tom, I will love you till I die for taking my licking for me! Yes, I will love you forever!’”
–James E. Faust, “The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope,“ General Conference, October 2001
Jesus Christ took our beating for us. We deserved the beating. We are the ones who sinned, but he volunteered to take the punishment. How I love my Savior, Jesus Christ! Isaiah explains Christ’s gift beautifully. I like to substitute the words “my” and “I” in place of “our” and “we” in these verses:
“Surely he hath borne my griefs, and carried my sorrows…
…He was wounded for my transgressions, he was bruised for my iniquities: the chastisement of my peace was upon him; and with his stripes I am healed.”
Why do we need to cleansed from sin?
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. All of us have sinned and, therefore, none of us could live with God again if it weren’t for the Atonement. Christ can make us clean from sin.
Sin is like quicksand. It’s as if we are walking along, trying to get back to God, but along the way, we make a few wrong turns, and end up in quicksand! No matter how hard we struggle, we can’t get out. We are trapped. We look around and notice there are a lot of other people in the quicksand, but no matter how hard we try to work together, we realize it is no use. We are stuck deep with no power to free ourselves. Along walks Jesus Christ, the only person who has ever lived who has never ended up in quicksand. Because He is outside the quicksand, He can get us out.
Satan wants us to believe that we can’t get out. That there’s a point of no return – a point where you have sunk too far to be forgiven by the Savior. That is simply not true.
“For a number of years I found relaxation in carving and painting songbirds, at times spending a full year on a single carving….Once, I had a newly finished carving on the back seat of a car driven by Elder A. Theodore Tuttle. He hit the brakes suddenly and the carving was thrown to the floor and damaged.
Elder Tuttle felt terrible, supposing he had ruined a year’s work. When I waved aside his apologies, he said, ‘You sure don’t seem to be upset about it.’
To reassure him I said, “Don’t worry. I made it; I can fix it.” Actually, it had been broken and fixed many times while I was working on it.
Later, Brother Tuttle likened that experience to people with lives broken or badly damaged – supposedly ruined with no hope of repair – who do not know that there is a Maker, a Creator, who can fix any of his creations no matter how hopelessly broken they seem to be.”
–Pres. Boyd K. Packer, The Plan and the Plan, 6-7
The Atonement is like the ultimate soap. It can clean any sort of grime or dirt, but soap is useless unless you USE it! The Savior reaches out His hand to us, holding the soap, but we have to stretch out our hand and take it. He won’t start scrubbing us against our will! He simply offers us His gift. Although the soap is a free gift, we must do our part and scrub ourselves clean. Repentance is work! Repentance is CHANGE! But repentance leaves us sparkling clean and feeling like we can conquer the world!
Returning to our cliff analogy from 4 Purposes of the Atonement – Part 1, there are 2 cliffs (obstacles) we must overcome to return to live with God. The first obstacle is physical death. The second obstacle is spiritual death or sin. Christ overcame sin through the Atonement, but it is up to build the bridge. He built the first bridge for us (the Resurrection), but we must build, repair, and fortify the second bridge throughout our lives. Again, Christ conquered sin (brought us soap), but we must use it (build the second bridge).
How Do We Build The Second Bridge?
“And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end [enduring to the end].
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church…”
(3 Nephi 27:19-21, emphasis added)
Faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end in keeping the commandments are the five key components in building the bridge. These five things make up the gospel of Jesus Christ (see also Preach My Gospel, lesson 3). It is a continual process. We must constantly build our faith, practice repentance, keep our baptismal covenants, follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and stand “steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God.” (Alma 1:25)
We can’t be fully grateful for the Atonement unless we realize the absolutely desperate situation we would be in without it. Going along with our cliff analogy, Jeffrey R. Holland relates a sobering, touching story illustrating just how desperately we need our Savior. He tells the story of two brothers, Jimmy (age 14) and John (age 19) who went rock climbing without any safety equipment – no ropes, harnesses, or climbing gear of any kind. As they reached the top, they came to a protruding ledge that was impossible to climb over. They were stuck – they couldn’t climb up and they couldn’t get back down. Fortunately, John was able to find enough of a foothold to hoist his younger brother up to safety.
John desperately tried to find enough finger and toe holds to be able to climb up and over, but the more he moved around, the more his muscles began to cramp. He realized he couldn’t hold on much longer and that his only option would be to jump and try to grab the top of the overhanging ledge.
In his own words, he said:
“Prior to my jump I told Jimmy to go search for a tree branch strong enough to extend down to me, although I knew there was nothing of the kind on this rocky summit. It was only a desperate ruse. If my jump failed, the least I could do was make certain my little brother did not see me falling to my death.
“Giving him enough time to be out of sight, I said my last prayer—that I wanted my family to know I loved them and that Jimmy could make it home safely on his own—then I leapt. There was enough adrenaline in my spring that the jump extended my arms above the ledge almost to my elbows. But as I slapped my hands down on the surface, I felt nothing but loose sand on flat stone. I can still remember the gritty sensation of hanging there with nothing to hold on to—no lip, no ridge, nothing to grab or grasp. I felt my fingers begin to recede slowly over the sandy surface. I knew my life was over.
“But then suddenly, like a lightning strike in a summer storm, two hands shot out from somewhere above the edge of the cliff, grabbing my wrists with a strength and determination that belied their size. My faithful little brother had not gone looking for any fictitious tree branch. Guessing exactly what I was planning to do, he had never moved an inch. He had simply waited—silently, almost breathlessly—knowing full well I would be foolish enough to try to make that jump. When I did, he grabbed me, held me, and refused to let me fall. Those strong brotherly arms saved my life that day as I dangled helplessly above what would surely have been certain death.”
–Jeffrey R. Holland, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” General Conference April 2015
Just as physical death is a separation (a separation of our spirits from our bodies), spiritual death is also a separation (sin separates us from God). Without the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the ability to repent and become clean of all of our sins, we would be cut off from the presence of God forever. Our brother, Jesus Christ, saved us from certain death and made eternal life with God possible. This is what Paul was talking about when he said, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Elder Holland then compared our plight to that of John’s:
“What a plight! The entire human race in free fall—every man, woman, and child in it physically tumbling toward permanent death, spiritually plunging toward eternal anguish. Is that what life was meant to be? Is this the grand finale of the human experience? Are we all just hanging in a cold canyon somewhere in an indifferent universe, each of us searching for a toehold, each of us seeking for something to grip—with nothing but the feeling of sand sliding under our fingers, nothing to save us, nothing to hold on to, much less anything to hold on to us? Is our only purpose in life an empty existential exercise—simply to leap as high as we can, hang on for our prescribed three score years and ten, then fail and fall, and keep falling forever?”
–Jeffrey R. Holland, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” General Conference April 2015
How grateful I am for a Savior who loved me enough to die for me! He saved me from an awful death and suffered so that I won’t have to if I will simply repent. He wipes away my tears when I am sad. He finds me when I feel lost. He gives me courage when I’m afraid. He gives me strength when I’m at the end of my rope. Truly, he is called the Savior because he SAVES.