Paul’s letter to the Romans may very well contain the highest concentration of my favorite scriptures. I love Paul’s imagery and his powerful testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Romans 5 offers a beautiful explanation of Christ’s role in the salvation of the human race. As always, my reading of these scriptures is grounded in revealed, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doctrine.
Paul’s teachings about Christ’s role in salvation rely on the foundational doctrine of the Fall which explains the necessity of a redeemer. The Fall describes Adam and Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Their choice to disobey the commandment not to eat that fruit resulted in not just their dismissal from Eden but it brought upon mankind the conditions of physical death and spiritual death (separation from God through sin) (see v. 12). Paul describes sin as an ubiquitous condition of mortality: it is taken as granted that humans will sin (v. 19). A divinely ordained law establishes the shape of sin and, by so doing, necessitates consequences.
The consequences, however, are not insurmountable nor are they eternally damning if we follow Jesus Christ. His law requires the performance of specific ordinances and daily behavior in order to qualify for salvation. He will help us keep the law while providing forgiveness if we fall short of the law’s requirements. He justifies us according to our faith (v. 2) and repentance. One of Paul’s beautiful images relates to his conception of salvation as returning to harmony with God. Where mortality and sin put us into conflict and discord with God, Christ brings us back into harmony with God the Father by providing forgiveness of sins as well as resurrection (v. 1, 10). This is the crux of Christ’s Atonement, that He provides redemption from sin and death, the blessings of salvation which “abound unto many” “through our Lord by whom we have now received the atonement” (v. 15, 11). Christ puts as at-one with God.
Where sin is a given condition of mortality, pervasive, and sure to lead to spiritual death, we can find relief in Christ’s grace which does “much more abound” (v. 20). His grace is more ubiquitous than sin. Personal righteousness (i.e. performance of ordinances, keeping commandments, repentance) will insure that grace reigns “unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21).
The war chapters of Alma continue to enlighten me! I’m coming away with a lot of new insights and applications to my own life. In Alma 54 Captain Moroni calls out Ammoron in a letter proposing a prisoner exchange. Moroni doesn’t pull any punches as he accuses Ammoron of “murderous purposes” and warns him to repent. It got my thinking that Amalikiah initiated the war and Ammoron continued it out of greed. Amalikiah wanted to be a king, he divided Nephite society, he murdered the Lamanite king, he riled up the Lamanites, and he waged war against a peaceful people, all for the sake of his ambitious greed.
Moroni seems to really despise the brothers, especially for the incredible loss of life they caused. Taken in a Gospel perspective, treating people as expendable goods is like an ultimate evil. Being careless of other people, disregarding the worth of a soul, or focusing on oneself to the detriment of others all run contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ revolves around the worth of souls and God’s desire to bring back to Him as many of His children as possible. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate example of the ultimate good when He laid down His life for us, so that we may live. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NT).
Alma the younger’s conversion provides one of the finest examples in the scriptures of the power and mercy of God. Alma the younger was on a collision course with eternal damnation but, through the faith and prayers of his father (as well as family and friends), Alma was given an opportunity to change directions. He went from “vilest sinner” (Mosiah 28:4)––intent on destroying the Church––to preacher, high priest, and missionary. God showed Alma great mercy in sending an angel to call Alma to repentance.
When Alma revives after being struck dumb as a result of the angel’s visit, he arises and testifies of his conversion, the mercy of God, and the Plan of Salvation, as in verses 25-26:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-26)
I love the phrasing in verse 25, that the Plan of Salvation applies to “all mankind”; lest you think that excludes anyone, “yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.” No one is excluded from God’s plan for the eternal happiness and salvation of His children. And furthermore, we are ALL His children! He loves each of us––regardless of where mortality has placed us, regardless of the differences of culture, language, color, or political affiliation that have become distinguished on earth––and He wants us to succeed in qualifying for the greatest blessing He has to offer.
The Book of Mormon (and all of scripture) uses the word “joy” in a variety of contexts. Mosiah 4:3 describes one aspect of joy that I think has a very specific meaning and application. A little background: King Benjamin has spent the last several chapters teaching his people in a beautiful “farewell address” before his turns the kingship over to his son, Mosiah II. Benjamin is considered a prophet-king. He is a righteous man, he has received instruction from divine visitors, and he is filled with charity––he desires the salvation of his people so he teaches them the Plan of Salvation and prophesies of Jesus Christ. In relating to the people what would happen to their souls if left untreated in a state of sinfulness, King Benjamin paints a miserable picture. The people feel the weight of an eternity of damnation (i.e. not living forever in the presence of God). But he tells them of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who will come to earth in several hundred years to suffer and die for the sins of every person. No one has to suffer an eternal damnation because Jesus Christ will make it possible for them to repent, become clean from their sins, and qualify for eternal life. The people cry out, “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” (v. 2).
“And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins…” (v. 3). “Joy” here indicates a special kind of happiness, more than happiness, that can only be achieved through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and forgiveness of sin. It is a taste of what we can experience in the Celestial Kingdom, living with God and our qualifying family members. This particular use of joy, so clear here in Mosiah 4:3, helps us understand the use of the word “joy” elsewhere in scripture. True joy can only be achieved through the remission of sins.