Misconceptions about the atonement

Here is a list correcting common misconceptions about the atonement. Notes explaining these corrections follow.

1. The atonement does not work by taking whatever good we have at baptism and combining it with Christ’s goodness, which then sums up to 100% perfection!

2. We do not obtain perfection by taking what Christ has, and then adding it by covenant to what we have.

3. In deciding how much of the 100% perfection we have from baptism onward is from Christ and how much is our own goodness, we should not conclude that our part is really zero, because Christ has already paid the whole price.

4. If we are faithful members we will not find ourselves to be very nervous at the judgement bar hoping for some extra credit or some extra good deed to be remembered, and then have Christ correct us.

5. If we live disobediently, we will not find Christ at the judgement bar begging for us to accept his atonement and stay in the Celestial Kingdom.

6. If a girl goes too far on a date and feels a terrible sense of failure, it is Not because she doesn’t understand the atonement.

All of these are examples of the protestant version of the atonement teachings that are becoming increasingly prevalent among our members, but which are completely false.

Reasons for the list of corrections.

1. The atonement does not work by taking whatever good we have at baptism and combining it with Christ’s goodness, which then sums up to 100% perfection!

When we enter in at the gate of baptism, not only are we not perfect, we are not even prepared for the Celestial Kingdom (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Bruce R McConkie all taught this). There is a reason Joseph Fielding Smith’s book entitled “The Pathway to Perfection” doesn’t just say “get baptized so your goodness plus Christ’s goodness adds up to 100% perfection”, and then end there. We are not forgiven of what we have not yet repented of. We are sufficiently cleansed at baptism to enjoy a measure of the gift of the holy ghost. When we are confirmed we are commanded to receive the Holy Ghost, which we do over our lifetime as we grow in obedience and consequently into a greater measure of the gift of the Holy Ghost. We are not perfect at the gate of baptism, rather we have entered in at the gate that leads to perfection. There is a huge difference.

Those in Alma 13 only became “holy, without spot” after exceeding faith and repentance. That just isn’t compatible with saying they were 100% perfect at baptism by taking their goodness and adding it to Christs. And that isn’t how the atonement works. At all. The atonement works by in part by making repentance and change possible along with resurrection. These are universal gifts to all mankind. For those who will enter the gate of baptism, the atonement opens the path to eternal life. The atonement works by giving us covenants, forgiveness for sins on condition of repentance, and spiritual endowments such as the gift of the Holy Ghost. Keeping our covenants changes us, which prepares us for greater covenants, greater repentance, greater cleanliness through the atonement, and greater spiritual endowments. This continues from baptism, possibly until we are prepared to enter the celestial kingdom. We become perfect by, well, becoming perfect. Yes, the spiritual endowments make a great difference. We must behave to have the gift of the Holy Ghost, but with the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can also behave so much better. Growing into that gift may well be the greatest part of what becoming perfect is really all about. That fits with our experiences as members, far better than the “perfect at baptism” description does anyway. This is something that we expect to continue well into our time in the spirit world.

2. We do not obtain perfection by taking the perfection Christ has, and then adding it by covenant to whatever goodness we have.

Same as Number 1.

3. In deciding how much of the 100% perfection we have from baptism onward is from Christ and how much is our own goodness, we should not conclude that our part is really zero on the basis that Christ has already paid the whole price.

This one is problematic because the whole idea of taking our perfection and adding it to Christ’s to get a “total joint perfection” is total bologna. It isn’t that we aren’t completely dependent on Christ for forgiveness and spiritual blessings. We are. The problem with this statement is that it is a totally false description of how the covenant works in the first place.

It is also basically the same as number 1, but with a note that the fact that Christ paid for our sins does not mean that we gain blessings above and beyond what we merit by our current behavior.

The atonement doesn’t offer perfection by a slight of hand in spiritual accounting. It offers perfection by offering mankind repentance and forgiveness and through those the opportunity to work out our own salvation by fear and trembling.

Through the atonement we can repent and be forgiven. From 2 Nephi 9 we learn that without Christ’s atonement real change and repentance wouldn’t be possible, as we would all eventually become devils and angels to devils without the atonement. That gift of the ability to repent and change is universally given to all. All people can repent and change. To obtain remission of sins we must be baptized. But it isn’t baptism for the 100% perfection. It is baptism for the remission of sins. And there is no condition ever under which we are forgiven for things we haven’t and won’t repent of. We commit to enough at baptism to ensure we are worthy to have the gift of the holy ghost. Further repentance and change beyond that allows us to grow into that gift.

Honestly we already know this. This whole “we add our goodness to Christ’s goodness at baptism which makes us perfect” garbage goes against our own experience. If that is how baptism works, you should enjoy the fullest measure of the gift of the holy ghost ALL THE TIME. Frankly God and his angels could not be restrained from being our associates right after baptism if that was really how things worked.

But it isn’t, and we know it from our own experiences with the gift of the Holy Ghost. Taken as a whole we slowly but surely find we enjoy the Holy Ghost more now than we used to as we simultaneously find we are better now than we used to be.

4. If we are faithful members we will not find ourselves to be very nervous at the judgement bar hoping for some extra credit or some extra good deed to be remembered, and then have Christ correct us.

Just read from the book of Mormon:

2 Nephi 9:13 …all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.
 14 Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.

5. If we live disobediently, we will not find Christ at the judgement bar begging for us to accept his atonement and stay in the Celestial Kingdom.

Same as 4, along with the fact that this is the day of our probation. Christ won’t be offering last minute chances at the judgement bar. This is the day of our salvation.

6. If a girl goes too far on a date and feels a terrible sense of failure, it is Not because she doesn’t understand the atonement.

We live in a day where the commonness of immorality has made us put aside our faith about what prophets have said about the seriousness of it. Is repentance and forgiveness through the atonement the answer to the girl’s plight? Yes it is. But there is a tendency now to simply treat the atonement as a magic credit card to go commit moral transgression with, as long as the bill of mourning is paid, then go spend some more on it next month. Moral transgression has been being treated as less and less serious. Spencer W Kimball would not have said the deep sense of failure was out of place at all. In fact, from what we can read it seems clear he would have said it was a first step in real repentance so the atonement can actually be applied. Just read “Miracle of Forgiveness” in which he describes various couples and individuals he dealt with. Just read “Miracle of Forgiveness” in which he describes various couples and individuals he dealt with.

Among the most common sexual sins our young people commit are those of necking and petting. Not only do these improper relations often lead to fornication and abortions – both ugly sins – but in and of themselves they are pernicious evils, and it is often difficult for youth to distinguish where on ends and another begins. …Paul wrote as if to modern young people who deceive themselves that their necking and petting are but expressions of love: “Wherefore God also gavem them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.” (Rom 1:24)

How could the evils of petting be more completely described?

Too often, young people dismiss their petting with a shrug of their shoulders as a little indiscretion. Too many of them are shocked, or feign to be, when told that what they have done in the name of petting was in reality fornication. (Spencer W Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, page 65-66)

President Kimball also taught

All those who have slipped into the disgraceful and most reprehensible habit of transgressing through petting should immediately change their lives, their habits, and their thought patterns, repent sorely in “sackcloth and ashes,” and be confession get so far as possible a clearance from the Lord and the leaders of his Church so that a measure of peace may accompany them through their lives. (Spencer W Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, page 67)

Or turn to a conference talk of his on the matter. One such talk is here:

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1980/10/president-kimball-speaks-out-on-morality?lang=eng

Can you read this and believe such a girl feels a deep sense of failure only because she doesn’t understand the atonement? Quite the contrary. A recognition of the severity of such matter must not be pushed out of our society one more jot than has already been done by the advocates of this sort of thinking.  Failure to teach the full seriousness of moral transgression or the difficulty in repenting of it makes it harder for people to really repent and consequently robs the individual of the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of the atonement.

Yes, if she repents, she shall be forgiven, but as a generation we are pretty bad at estimating the price of repentance in a way that sounds anything like the miracle of forgiveness. And it is not Spencer W Kimball who is in error.

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Published by

John Robertson

I am nothing more than a regular member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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