Transformation through the Atonement of Christ

. . . and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 11:19

“People don’t change.”

Outside of “Can we get some pineapple on that pizza?” I can think of no more soul-destroying sentence. The idea that people are behaviorally and spiritually “locked in” and have no hope of change makes life purposeless. We are simply marking time towards death, with our present dictated by our past and our future fixed by our present.

As often as we hear people say it, our actions demonstrate that many, if not most of us, instinctively reject this notion. We believe we can change. We attend church services, we pray, we spend countless dollars on self-help books and self-improvement seminars. We resolve, promise, and covenant to be better people. We stare in the mirror, convinced of the notion that, in the words of that great philosopher Mufasa, “You are more than what you have become.”

Then we fail again. Or someone else betrays us again, disappoints us again, or hurts us again. Instinctively knowing the energy that it takes to try to change, we can fall back on this notion that it is a wasted effort, and people just can’t change.

On our own, that probably is true. The “natural man” described by King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon is more interested in inertia than personal growth. Left to our own devices, spiritual atrophy is not only likely, it is certain.

So it’s a good thing that we are not left to our own devices.

The atonement of Jesus Christ is not just a “then and there” concept, promising us a pristine eternal mansion after an earthly life of misery. Yes, that is the ultimate promise of the atonement, that we can be reconciled to God and dwell with Him in the eternities as joint heirs with Christ But there is also the “here and now” aspect of the atonement which promises us transformation in this life into something better than we would become on our own.

The scriptures are replete with discussions of what I think of as the “mortal resurrection,” the process by which our old selves are buried and we rise up as new people. We are promised new hearts, new spirits, new minds, and new birth. The symbolism of baptism is only half understood if we see it as a shadow of our eventual physical resurrection. It also symbolizes us transforming during mortality into a new person, a holier person, a child of Christ.

The scriptures also provide us of vivid examples of how that change operates in people. A privileged prince of Egypt becomes the liberator of enslaved Israel. A man who denies Christ thrice becomes a rock of testimony, the head of the New Testament church, and eventually a brave martyr. An abuser of the church becomes an apostle. In the Book of Mormon, an apostate son of a prophet reverses course and leads one of the most impactful lives ever etched in the golden plates. An entire kingdom set aside murderous hearts and become people of peace. All of these occurred only because something sparked their faith and turned them towards the Redeemer: The voice of God; a pillar of light; the touch of the Master’s hand.

More importantly, there are the moments that we have seen with our own eyes when a person is transformed from mendacity to magnificence, or more often just to a place a little bit better than they were. Thanks to the influence of Christ in my life, I am a different (and I hope better) person than I was in decades past. The desires of my heart have changed, and the focus of my action has come a little closer into harmony with the desires of the Savior. I would hope that a year or five years from now I will be able to look back at 2020 and see a change.

None of us is condemned to remain the person we are today. Although we may feel confined to cages of disappointment, underachievement, or sin, all of us hold the key to our own release: Turning our hearts to Christ and letting Him mold us into something new.

When we choose to repent, we choose to change! We allow the Savior to transform us into the best version of ourselves. We choose to grow spiritually and receive joy—the joy of redemption in Him. When we choose to repent, we choose to become more like Jesus Christ!

Russell M. Nelson

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