One of the three priorities in the Africa Southeast Area plan for 2017 is to “increase faith in Heavenly Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement.” But what exactly does this mean? How do we increase faith in Jesus Christ, and what exactly is His Atonement? Let me try to address these three questions, one at a time:
• How do I increase faith in Jesus Christ?
• What is the Atonement of Jesus Christ?
• How do I increase my faith in the Atonement?
How do I increase faith in Jesus Christ?
Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Elder David A. Bednar has taught that “true faith is focused in and on the Lord and always leads to righteous action. ‘Faith [in Christ is] the first principle in revealed religion, . . . the foundation of all righteousness, . . . and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.’1 Because acting in accordance with the correct principles the Redeemer proclaimed is central to receiving and exercising true faith, ‘faith without works is dead.’2 We are to be ‘doers of the word, and not hearers only.’3,4'
From Elder Bednar we learn that true faith requires that we focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and that we act in faith. In other words, we do what He asks us to do. As we act in faith, we receive increased faith. As Moroni taught in the Book of Mormon, “You receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”5
What is the Atonement of Jesus Christ?
From the Guide to the Scriptures, we start with this definition:
“To atone is to suffer the penalty for an act of sin, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinner and allowing him to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ was the only one capable of making a perfect atonement for all mankind. He was able to do so because of His selection and foreordination in the Grand Council before the world was formed (Ether 3:14; Moses 4:1–2; Abraham 3:27), his divine Sonship, and his sinless life. His atonement included his suffering for the sins of mankind in the Garden of Gethsemane, the shedding of his blood, and his death and subsequent resurrection from the grave (Isaiah 53:3–12; Mosiah 3:5–11; Alma 7:10–13).”
The Atonement of Jesus Christ, then, is the process by which Jesus Christ suffered for our sins so that we might not have to pay the full price. It began in the Garden of Gethsemane, continued on the cross at Calvary, and culminated with His resurrection.
The Atonement of Christ touches every person who humbles him or herself and has a broken heart. No one is beyond the reach of the Atonement of Christ. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said: “However many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made . . ., I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”6
How do I increase my faith in the Atonement?
Sister Julia Mavimbela joined the Church in 1981 as one of the pioneers of the Church in Soweto, South Africa. She had been a widow for many years after her husband, John, was killed in a head-on collision when another car drifted into his lane. Unfortunately, as a black man in racially divided 1955 South Africa, he was blamed for the accident. This caused great bitterness in the heart of Sister Mavimbela as she felt the burden of racial injustice.
In 1976 her hometown of Soweto was wracked with violent riots, and many lives were lost. Sister Mavimbela said of that time, “I knew that I was still bitter over my husband’s death, but I also knew where I was and that perhaps the Lord could use me.” So she started a gardening project for the youth in Soweto to help them to see that good things could grow in Soweto. She taught them lessons from nature and would say to them, “Let us take the soil of bitterness, throw in a seed of love, and see what fruits it can give us.”
During the time of the riots, she met two young missionaries and invited them into her home. She felt that they were messengers from God. The missionaries learned of the death of her husband some 25 years earlier, and they taught her the plan of salvation, especially the doctrine of baptism for the dead. They taught her that she and her husband could be sealed together for eternity in the temple. She was touched by the Spirit and was subsequently baptized and confirmed a member of the Church.
This marked a turning point in her long spiritual journey, and Julia became an influential early black member of the Church in her Soweto branch. She was always teaching and lifting other new members as she helped them to become future leaders in the Church.
One such leader is the current Soweto stake president, Thabo Lebethoa. Of Sister Mavimbela he says, “I never sensed any bitterness in her. I sensed somebody who was filled with hope for the future, a hope that the gospel would make a difference in the lives of the . . . people of Soweto.”
Near the end of her life, Sister Julia Mavimbela said this: “The Church is true. It has changed me from being bitter to loving other people. It has made me to understand that we are all children of our Heavenly Father.”7
Through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, Sister Mavimbela’s bitterness and despair were “swept away.”8 The Atonement of Jesus Christ, accessed through the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, can heal hearts, bind up wounds, and wipe away tears. It is through increased faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement that we can be healed.
Elder David A. Bednar, has said, “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. . . . The Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good.”9 We increase faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement as we humble ourselves and call upon God.
We increase our faith as we rely on His promises and ask for His enabling grace. We increase our faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement as we come to believe that he is mighty to save and that we can trust in Him.
This Easter season, I pray that we might all move forward in faith, even increased faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
1. Lectures on Faith (1985).
2. James 2:20.
3. James 1:22.
4. David A. Bednar, “If Ye Had Known Me,” Liahona or Ensign, Nov. 2016, 102.
5. Ether 12:6.
6. Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Liahona or Ensign, May 2012, 33.
7. This story is taken from a Church History video on the life of Sister Julia Mavimbela containing interviews with her and her family. Her story will also be featured in the July 2017 issue of the Liahona.
8. Enos 1:6.
9. David A. Bednar, “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality,” Ensign, Apr. 2012, 42; Liahona, Apr. 2012, 14.