The angel who appeared to King Benjamin had a joyful message for him: The Atonement of Jesus Christ blesses us in two ways:
- It overcomes the effects of sins we commit in ignorance.
- It also overcomes the effects of our intentional sins, if we exercise faith in Him and repent.
Included in the first category are “sins” committed by small children. The angel doesn’t claim that children are error-free, but he only hesitantly applies the term “sin” to their mistakes:
Even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.
Why are children blameless for their errors? Because they don’t understand. They aren’t making those mistakes intentionally. And the same principle applies to adults. When we make mistakes because we simply don’t know better, the Savior’s Atonement overcomes the effects of those mistakes:
His blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
But there’s good news on the other side as well. The Savior also provides us a way to overcome the effects of the things we do wrong on purpose. The angel frames this statement as a warning, but it is part of his good news:
Wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Unlike small children who “ignorantly sin,” those of us who have intentionally sinned have to do something to access the Savior’s power; it doesn’t happen automatically. What do we need to do? We have to become like those children—we need to emulate the people who effortlessly receive God’s grace. The angel lists a number of attitudes and attributes which we must adopt in order to achieve the appropriate state of heart and mind:
…submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
I have, at times, wondered about this list of attributes. I have certainly seen small children who seemed anything but submissive, meek, and patient! But as I’ve thought about this passage today, I’ve begun to see it in a different light: The angel didn’t say that a child submits willingly to his or her parents, only that he or she submits. But for those of us who have intentionally sinned, who have rebelled against God (Mosiah 3:12), it is necessary to deliberately place ourselves into the role of that child. Children have to wait for their parents, have to adapt to their parent’s decisions, and have to submit to their parents’ tutelage. If we want to receive the grace that those children receive from the Savior, we must choose to place ourselves into that same position. We invite God to repair our intentional errors by intentionally submitting our will to His.
This is a glorious doctrine to me: We don’t have to fix everything we’ve broken, but we do need to recognize that God can fix it and stop fighting against Him. Here’s how Elder James A. Rasband put it:
Not only does the Savior heal and restore those who sin in ignorance, but also, for those who sin against the light, the Savior offers healing on the condition of repentance and faith in Him….
The magnificent, peace-giving promise of the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel is that the Savior will mend all that we have broken. And He will also mend us if we turn to Him in faith and repent of the harm we have caused.
(“Ensuring a Righteous Judgment,” General Conference, April 2020)
Today, I will remember the twin blessings we all receive from the Savior: forgiveness for mistakes we have committed unintentionally and forgiveness for intentional sins when we turn to Him and repent. I will strive to approach Him humbly and submissively, as though I were a little child, so that I can receive the same grace that little children receive spontaneously from Him.