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.

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

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  1. Hello Paul, my name is Bonnie Hamilton and I live in Twin Falls, Idaho. I’m an active member of the church. I “stumbled” upon your blog when I googled the question “how do you apply the atoning blood of Jesus.” I also found Elder Maxwell’s talk “Apply the Atoning Blood Christ.” I’ve often wondered about this phrase and just how do you do that. I’ve heard it tossed around rather loosely at church. In response to a discussion of trials, people often say, “just apply the atoning blood of Jesus.” I’ve heard people also say that we need to access the Atonement. I think it’s a very deep subject. King Benjamin’s people prayed that God would apply the atoning blood of Christ in their behalf so that they could receive not only a forgiveness of their sins but a pure heart. The result was that they received a remission of their sins and peace of conscience. So, is it something we ask God to do for us through our repentance and seeking to live a Christ-like life?

    I have a married daughter and her family who have left the church. Her husband’s a returned missionary and they were married in the temple. They have 3 beautiful children. They have joined a non-denominational church. They now believe that once you accept Christ all of your sins, past, present and future are already forgiven. You don’t need any kind of “work”. You don’t need any ordinances. Repentance and baptism are considered “works.” Applying the atoning blood of Christ seems rather easy to them. To me, it is much more complex. It seems like something more is required of me more than just a verbal acceptance of Christ.

    I appreciate your blog. I’m now following you and am going to explore more of your posts. You ask good questions.

    Like

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