Making Bad Folks Good and Good Folks Better

I’ve written already about how overwhelmed I am by Christ’s suffering from Gethsemane to Golgotha. Today, some thoughts about the daily value of that suffering on our behalf. David A. Bednar (an LDS theologian) writes:

I suspect many Church members are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming and cleansing power of the Atonement than they are with the strengthening and enabling power. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us–that is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us– not only to direct us but also to empower us.

Most of us know that when we do wrong things, we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives. The Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to become clean through His redeeming power. Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints–for good men and women who are obedient, worthy, and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. We may mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves, through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.

The gospel of the Savior is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming good. And the Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good. Help from the Savoir is available for the entire journey of mortality–from bad to good to better and to change our very nature.

I am not suggesting that the redeeming and enabling powers of the Atonement are separate and discrete. Rather, these two dimensions of the Atonement are connected and complementary; they both need to be operational during all phases of the journey of life. And it is eternally important for all of us to recognize that both of these essential elements of the journey of mortality–both putting off the natural man and saint, both overcoming bad and becoming good–are accomplished through the power of the Atonement. Individual willpower, personal determination and motivation, effective planning and goal setting are necessary but ultimately insufficient for us to triumphantly complete this mortal journey. Truly, we must come to rely upon ‘the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.’

-from “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality”

Bednar goes on to talk about the Lord’s grace and empathy, and cites examples from different people’s lives. When I am overcome by the enormity of the Atonement, comments such as Bednar’s put things into perspective for me. Christ reaches out to us wherever we are and improves us, making us, in time, more and more like Him, if we let Him. Even people who experience instantaneous conversion, like Paul or Alma the Younger, still get better, still increase in light and truth as their lives continue. I can’t hold all of the Atonement in my soul at once– that’s way too big for me. But I can understand it better when I approach it one piece of my soul at a time.

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