What Does It Mean to “Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ?”

Near the end of his life, King Benjamin gathered his people to the temple. They came to hear his words and also “that they might give thanks to the Lord their God.” To that end, they brought animals with them: “the firstlings of their flocks.” They were following the law of Moses, and this was an appropriate occasion for them to “offer sacrifice and burnt offerings” (Mosiah 2:1-4).

The procedure for burnt offerings is laid out in the first chapter of Leviticus:

  1. The animal must be a male without blemish (Leviticus 1:3).
  2. It must be offered willingly by the owner at the tabernacle (later the temple) (Leviticus 1:3).
  3. The owner should put his hand on the animal’s head, which symbolizes that the animal is being sacrificed on behalf of the owner (Leviticus 1:4).
  4. The animal should be killed, and the priests should “sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar” (Leviticus 1:5).
  5. The entire animal should be burned (Leviticus 1:6-9).

The importance of blood in this ceremony is emphasized later in the same book: “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).

During King Benjamin’s speech, he taught the people some things which he had learned from an angel of God. The angel taught that “salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” He went on to teach that “the natural man is an enemy to God,” and that we must submit our will completely to the will of God in order to “become a saint through the atonement of Christ, the Lord” (Mosiah 3:18-19, italics added). The connection between this doctrine and the sacrifices they had just made must have been evident to the people as they listened.  In response, they cried, “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified.” Immediately, they were filled with the Spirit of the Lord, and their sins were forgiven. They felt “peace of conscience” (Mosiah 4:2-3, italics added).

About 100 years later, the prophet Helaman urged his sons to remember the words of King Benjamin: “there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ” (Helaman 5:9, italics added).

We no longer follow the law of Moses, so the imagery of blood is not as vivid for us as it was for the people of King Benjamin. What can we do to apply the atoning blood of the Savior in our own lives?

Shortly after the destruction which accompanied his death, the Savior spoke to some of the inhabitants of the American continent. He identified Himself as “Jesus Christ, the Son of God…the light and the life of the world…Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (3 Nephi 9:15-18). Then, He said:

Ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit (3 Nephi 9:19-20).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught that we apply the Savior’s atonement by striving to emulate Him and to develop His attributes:

Christ paid such an enormous, enabling price for us! Will we not apply His Atonement in order to pay the much smaller price required for personal progress? (see Mosiah 4:2). Being valiant in our testimony of Jesus…includes being valiant in our efforts to live more as He lived (see D&C 76:79). We certainly cannot enter His kingdom without receiving the restored ordinances and keeping their associated covenants, but neither can we enter His kingdom without having significantly developed our charity and the other cardinal attributes (see Ether 12:34). Yes, we need the essential ordinances, but we also need the essential attributes. Yes, we need to keep our covenants, but we also need to develop our character. Do we not sing, “More holiness give me,” pleading that we can be “more, Savior, like thee”? (Hymns, no. 131)
(“Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ,” General Conference, October 1997).

Today, I will strive to follow the example of the people of King Benjamin, who pleaded with God to “apply the atoning blood of Christ” to them. I will pray with “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” I will strive to develop the attributes and character of Christ. I will strive to receive the full power of the gift He has given me through His atoning sacrifice.

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