Second chances and the blessings of the Atonement

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of second chances and hope no matter what has come before.

Sometimes it is easy to get discouraged by past mistakes and flaws. Even though I have only lived 24 years, there have been a great number of mistakes I have made, people that I have hurt and flaws that I have yet to perfect. Sometimes, it is easy to begin to believe that because of my past, I do not deserve true happiness and that I have lost that opportunity already. I think that to a greater or lesser degree these feelings are commonly felt by each of us.

Really, that’s how Satan works. Through fear and despair he begins to make us feel that all is hopeless or lost. He wants us to completely disregard the atonement of Christ and depend only on our own merits (or lack thereof) and shortcomings. He wants us to believe that God will judge us purely based on our mistakes and mercilessly punish us when we have fallen short.

Yet, that is not how God works!

One of the sublime acts of divine mercy comes from the conversion of Alama the younger in the Book of Mormon

12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
15 Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. (Book of Mormon, Alma, Chapter 36)

For me, verses 19 an 20 are truly the key. Alma had been responsible for the spiritual “murder” of so many souls. He had wounded the conscience of so many others. Yet, his forgiveness was sweeping and complete

death.
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

Often, we have repented, but our own feelings of inadequacy or comments of others tend to “harrow” up in our memory our past mistakes, but we need to hold fast to our certainty that

42 Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, Section 58)

Interestingly, Neal A Maxwell has commented

The scriptures do not say that we will forget our forsaken sins in mortality. Rather, they declare that the Lord will forget

The forsaking of sins implies never returning. Forsaking requires time. To help us, the Lord at times allows the residue of our mistakes to rest in our memory. It is a vital part of our mortal learning.
As we honestly confess our sins, restore what we can to the offended, and forsake our sins by keeping the commandments, we are in the process of receiving forgiveness. With time, we will feel the anguish of our sorrow subside, taking “away the guilt from our hearts” and bringing “peace of conscience.”
For those who are truly repentant but seem unable to feel relief: continue keeping the commandments. I promise you, relief will come in the timetable of the Lord. Healing also requires time.
(2009 October General Conference, “Repent … That I May Heal You”, Sat. Afternoon Session – Neil L. Andersen)

Thus, while we must be patient and willing to pay the price in terms of sincere repentance, we need to have confidence in our ability to change and put off the natural man. Without Christ and the spirit this is impossible, but with Christ it is entirely feasible. Whatever rough parts in our character or flaws we have can be smoothed by the grace of the savior.

Some of Elder Bednar’s comments on sanctification have always stuck with me

Let me suggest that hands are made clean through the process of putting off the natural man and by overcoming sin and the evil influences in our lives through the Savior’s Atonement. Hearts are purified as we receive His strengthening power to do good and become better. All of our worthy desires and good works, as necessary as they are, can never produce clean hands and a pure heart. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that provides both a cleansing and redeeming power that helps us to overcome sin and a sanctifying and strengthening power that helps us to become better than we ever could by relying only upon our own strength. The infinite Atonement is for both the sinner and for the saint in each of us. (2007 October General Conference, Clean Hands and a Pure Heart, Sun. Morning Session – David A. Bednar)

I testify that this is possible! As I have served on a mission, I have felt the sanctifying power of the savior and I know that the lord has forgiven me of past errors. I know that I am still far from perfect, but I also know that I deserve happiness despite past errors and that the lord will help me be worthy of that happiness!

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