What does it mean to be saved by Jesus Christ? Is it like receiving a presidential pardon, with the consequences of our actions eliminated by a legal authority? Or like amnesty, where we get a clean slate and a chance to start over?
Both of these descriptions tell part of the story. But Jesus doesn’t simply shield us from the consequences of our past sins. Instead, He changes us into the kind of people who don’t commit those sins any more.
When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, he was troubled, but an angel came to him with a message: “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” The angel then instructed him to name the baby Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, italics added).
As several passages in the Book of Mormon explain, the preposition in that phrase is important.
For example, when Alma traveled to various cities calling people to repentance, he was very clear that the Savior’s intent is to remove sin from our lives, not merely to rescue us from its effects. In Zarahemla, he said:
There can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.Alma 5:21, italics added; see also verse 27
He invited the people of Gideon to be “baptized unto repentance:”
…that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.Alma 7:14, italics added; see also Alma 6:8
And in Ammonihah, when Alma’s missionary companion Amulek was asked if God would save His people “in their sins,” he responded:
I say unto you he shall not, for it is impossible for him to deny his word….
And he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.Alma 11:34, 37, italics added
Alma’s grandson Helaman later reminded his sons of this event:
Remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.
And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.Helaman 5:10-11, italics added
To be redeemed in our sins would be to forever have the Savior cleaning up our messes, to never quite get things right but to have Him come in behind us and fix our mistakes. He does that for us sometimes in the short run, as part of our learning process, but that’s not His ultimate goal.
To be redeemed from our sins is to be changed, to let those sins go, to learn to act in ways that result in positive outcomes. Being redeemed from our sins is a big deal. It means that the Savior can ultimately turn us into people who don’t sin any more.
As Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained:
Some are wont to say, “The Savior loves me just as I am,” and that is certainly true. But He cannot take any of us into His kingdom just as we are, “for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence.” Our sins must first be resolved.“The Love of God,” General Conference, October 2021
The good news of the gospel is not just that Jesus will accept us as we are, but that He is willing to help us become far more than we could on our own.
Today, I will remember that Jesus has the power to save me from my sins. I will turn to Him to help me become better, to help me let go of my sins and learn to act in more productive ways.