Finding Hope in Christ’s Atonement Justification, Sanctification & Grace

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Elder David A. Bednar once told me that “the ‘R’ for Redeemer in the Repentance process … is the most important of all the ‘Rs’!”[1] Indeed, when we hold on to love of the Redeemer of Israel, we can obtain divine help in becoming better disciples. Christ stands with His arms stretched out to us in a love so sublime that we cannot comprehend. We are never alone. I hope to explain how Christ’s expiatory and redeeming sacrifice can help us begin to make positive changes today. I will do so by explaining the role of justification, sanctification and grace in this process.

It took me over forty years after I was baptized to begin to get a grip on the topics of justification, sanctification and grace. Forty is a very significant number in Hebrew [אַרְבָּעִים], much like the number fifty, or cincuenta in Spanish (from sin cuenta, without count). In addition, it has been aptly suggested that the Biblical number forty is frequently associated with a period of “testing, probation or [trial followed by a blessing]” (Amazing Bible Timeline).

Justification and sanctification were difficult concepts for me to get a grip on, intellectually. Grace, on the other hand, was even harder to comprehend. I rejected the idea of “cheap grace” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) or the simplistic idea that I could remain the way I was and still be exalted. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is to “make bad men good and good men better” (President David O. McKay, quoted by Elder Franklin D. Richards, October 1965 General Conference). That, of course, does not happen without effort on our part (“The Inconvenient Messiah,” BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland, 2 February 1982).

I was under the mistaken assumption that grace only came into play after we died. This article shows how I came to a more correct understanding of grace, as a power that can help us make the changes we need to make presently, while we are still alive—which of course does not negate the grace we will need after we cross the veil. While I felt pangs of hopelessness before, I am now full of joy. My journey of understanding has been one of “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:13b).

Elder Gerald L. Lund wrote: “The terms sanctification and justification and their cognate words are used hundreds of times in the four standard works. However, as important as they are, nowhere does any scriptural writer attempt to formally define either concept. Thus, we are left to derive their meaning from how the terms are used in various contexts or from the effects which result from their application.”[2]

It is hard to know where to begin since justification, sanctification and grace are so intimately related. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught: “While justification and sanctification may be viewed as distinct topics, in reality I believe they are elements of a single divine process that qualifies us to live in the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ.”[3]

This “single divine process” mentioned by Elder Christofferson is the atonement, with justification, sanctification and grace forming essential parts of the same. Elder Lund explains: “Both [justification and sanctification] are made possible because of the atoning sacrifice … of Christ, but the actual medium or means for both sanctification and justification is the Holy Ghost. His very influence burns out the effects of sin and purges out the unholiness that comes upon us when we sin. However, we can only do so because Jesus Christ met the demands of justice and made it possible for mercy and grace to operate in our behalf.”

Justification, sanctification and grace are ongoing processes rather than a single event—although there appears to be a time when these will be imparted to a fuller extent upon the faithful who have endured to the end. I will focus on that portion of justification wherein the Holy Ghost puts a stamp of approval on our behaviors; sanctification as the positive transformation of who we are; and grace as the invitation to follow Christ—along with the needed faith,[4] strength, and tender mercies we need so we can become increasingly faithful disciples of our Redeemer. 

I get quite emotional as I think of the Lord’s tender mercies [חֶסֶד] towards me. I particularly like Swanson’s definition of tender mercies: “loyal love, unfailing kindness, devotion, i.e., a love or affection that is steadfast based on a prior relationship.”[5] What is this prior relationship? The one we had with our Father and His Beloved Son before we were born. Surely, “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

I had done nothing to deserve the testimony I received of the Godhead (when I was about thirteen) or of the Book of Mormon (shortly before my sixteenth birthday). These were gifts of grace received when I had not asked. I was given the moral agency to reject or to accept. Although they were offered freely, it would take a few years before I would embrace this truth. In time, they led to my baptism and confirmation (at nineteen, in 1974)—and thereafter beginning the process of partaking of the ordinances of salvation. Joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the most important choice of my life, one which has brought me joy untold.

Justification

Justification [from the word צדק][6] is often used by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[7] and by other Christians,[8] [9] [10] to declare that a person is made right with God—and involves a remission of sins.[11]  In Scripture, the word justification is also used in relation to specific events—in which a person is either vindicated [צַדִּיק] or not found guilty before God.

As an example, we see D&C 132:1b, “I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants …” (emphasis added). Because David and Solomon are also included here, we can see that a specific behavior was justified. The Lord tells us that they did not act unrighteously in this matter.

Since we are in a constant need to be made right before God (and have our sins continually remitted) may I suggest yet another meaning for justification? The focus of my remaining observations on justification is in regard to the role of the Holy Ghost as the Holy Spirit of Promise. Justification, in this context, is the stamp of approval of the Holy Spirit. An approval that also is often accompanied with the remission of sins.

Elder McConkie taught: “What then is the law of justification? It is simply this: ‘All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations’ (D&C 132:7), in which men must abide to be saved and exalted, must be entered into and performed in righteousness so that the Holy Spirit can justify the candidate for salvation in what has been done (1 Nephi 16:2; Jacob 2:13-14; Alma 41:15; D&C 98; 132:1, 62.) An act that is justified by the Spirit is one that is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, or in other words, ratified and approved by the Holy Ghost.”[12]

I am so grateful for my two daughters-in-law, both of whom love the Lord and His Word and often share their observations with me. Heather wrote: “We are justified through humility and reliance in Christ. To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable [and then quoted Luke 18:9–14]: “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”[13] The publican’s prayer was justified before God.  

Justification, in this context [צַדִּיק], then, seems to be related to specific human acts revolving around what we do, say and think. When we put forth our best effort—or often with a righteous desire which falls short of righteousness (through God’s tender mercies and loving kindness)—we may be justified by the Holy Ghost. This is, once again, a stamp of approval put on by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Nothing I have said should be interpreted as diminishing the role of grace in our life. At the contrary, it is when we permit grace to act in us that we do that which is good and right in the sight of God. “Where is boasting then?” (Romans 3:27).

Any action we take, such as offering a heartfelt prayer, giving a talk at Church, bearing a testimony, partaking of the Sacrament worthily, forgiving someone who has hurt us, speaking a word in kindness, feeding the poor, listening to others with empathy, or showing mercy may receive such approval. Longer efforts may, in the same way, be justified or accepted by the Lord, such as serving a mission, magnifying a Church calling, being faithful in our employment, or having a temple sealing ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Of course, we are not aware of all the positive effects of our actions in this life. Once again, this is not about boasting, but rather, it requires we continually accept grace in our life. It is not a one-time gift. Grace is offered liberally, but we have the moral agency to receive it—or discard it.

Zechariah 7:11 paints an accurate word picture of what we do in those instances when we discard the invitation to turn to Christ: “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.” Gladly, the Holy Spirit is ever ready to invite us again and again.   

When we do right, we feel the stamp of approval from the Holy Ghost and sense the strong presence of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22). We no longer feel it is us who are praying, testifying, teaching or giving service, but rather that we are one with God.

In Christ’s intercessory prayer to the Father He emphasized this oneness. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:20–22).

When we share a testimony humbly and teach by the Spirit “the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say” (D&C 100:8b). I would suggest that we will often receive a confirmation by that same Spirit, “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).

Forgiveness of sins. As we mentioned, justification is often accompanied by a remission of sins. In James 5:14–15 we read: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” And in James 5:19–20 we further read: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”

Elder Carlos E. Asay shared a particularly touching story: “I’ll never forget an experience I had at a mission conference in Australia a few years ago. One young man had such a special glow upon his face that my wife said to me, ‘I’ve never seen anyone sparkle with the truth as he does.’” After the conference was over, Elder Asay had the opportunity to speak to that young elder. This young man had been sent home from the mission field because of serious unconfessed transgression. But now he was back and had served honorably. Elder Asay had not recognized the missionary. [I suspect that it was because “the image of God [was] engraven upon [his] countenance” Alma 5:19—GB.]

But returning to Elder Asay’s account, “Well, after he had recalled all of that to my memory, he said, ‘Elder Asay, it thrilled me to know that you were coming. You see, next week I go home, and I just wanted to tell you that for two years now I haven’t stretched or bent or broken a single rule or commandment.’ Then he added, ‘I may not be the best missionary in this mission, but I’m awfully close.’ I loved that. I embraced him and thanked him, and then after a tear or two, he turned to leave. As he stood there, he looked at me again and said, ‘Elder Asay, for the first time in many, many years I feel perfectly clean.’ ‘You are,’ I said. ‘You have been sanctified by your service.’”[14] And I would add, not only sanctified or changed but also justified wherein his sins were forgiven.

To summarize, then, it is what we do, say or think as we yield our will to the promptings of the Spirit (these instigations are given to us through grace)—together with the eternal effects of the atonement of Christ wherein the imperfection of our offering is coupled with the perfection in His Holy offering—that brings about the seal of approval of the Holy Ghost, which is often accompanied with a remission of our sins.   

Before reading on, can you remember a time when you felt such approval? When you sensed that it was not you who was teaching or bearing testimony, but the Holy Ghost through you? These are instances of justification.

Sanctification

Sanctification comes from the word קָדַשׁ, to be made holy, “to be set apart”[15] (e.g., from the world) or to be holy. See, for instance, Isaiah 6:3b, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts [קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת].”

While justification [צַדִּיק] has to do with the process of being made right before the Lord—or the acceptance of our offering before the Lord—sanctification appears to be the long process wherein we are transformed into different, holier beings. We begin to become like the person we hope to someday be—as we pattern our lives after Christ. Just like justification, we can never do this on our own merits. Rather, it is also through the grace of Christ, as the result of His holy expiatory sacrifice.

One of many reasons for receiving baptism and confirmation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under the hands of an authorized priesthood holder, is to begin the process of sanctification through the Spirit—this is especially so as we accept the gift of the Holy Ghost and retain His constant companionship.  

One of my favorite Scriptures comes from Mosiah 18:5–6; 8–11; 16b (emphasis added): “Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither … And it came to pass that as many as believed him went thither to hear his words… And it came to pass that [Alma] said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people,[16] and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;[17] Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” I love the enthusiastic response of the converts: “And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.” Then we read: “… and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God.” 

With discipleship, we are slowly changed or sanctified so we may, in time, enter into the presence of the Father. Satan (שָׂטָן, meaning, the accuser in Hebrew) attempts to discourage us by pointing to our weaknesses. President Brigham Young taught: “Serve God according to the best knowledge you have, and lay down and sleep quietly; and when the Devil comes along and says, ‘You are not a very good Saint, you might enjoy greater blessings and more of the power of God, and have the vision of your mind opened, if you would live up to your privileges,’ tell him to leave; that you have long ago forsaken his ranks and enlisted in the army of Jesus, who is your captain, and that you want no more of the Devil (JD 4:270).”[18]

While Satan tries to discourage us, the Holy One of Israel is continually inviting us to return [שובו] unto Him, put our trust in Him, and follow Him. As with justification, we also have manifestations of the spirit—such as a great joy and feelings of gratitude—that help us understand that indeed this transformation is beginning to take place. Because of the difficulty and length of the way, we do not always see these transformations.

The Spirit reminded me of one such change in my life. When I was a teenager and even a young adult, I had the ugly habit of breaking those things that I most cared about when I was upset. I particularly remember breaking a ceramic statue of a horse that I had carefully crafted. Now the Spirit reminded me that for decades I had given up that unattractive habit. What is more, through the grace of God I no longer had the desire to destroy what I loved. At least in this thing, I am a different person today than fifty years ago. We are, then, in the process of becoming better people with God’s help.

Before reading on can you think of ways you have changed in your life, either large or small? Ask the Father, in the name of His Beloved Son, for help in seeing your transformation as a disciple of Jesus Christ. 

Grace

What Elder Lund said about the difficulty of defining justification and sanctification according to usage also applies to grace [χάρις].[19] In attempting to understand the atonement, one of the most challenging tasks is comprehending the role of grace in our lives. This has been a tough journey for me. There were some vital lessons I had to learn. I trust you will see in them a message of hope. I begin with some difficult quotes that seem to require perfection of us; and then move on to propose how we can begin our transformation by accepting Spirit-given invitations to make small changes now—or when we are ready. Our moral agency will never be violated.  

I would suggest that the emphasis on the word after in the following quotes most probably refers to the final judgment: “… for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23, emphasis added). And furthermore: “… grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts” (Grace, Bible Dictionary, emphasis added).  

Grace invites us to repentance now. The scriptures teach us that true repentance means forsaking our sins (Mosiah 4:10; Alma 39:9; Ether 11:1; D&C 93:48) and from Doctrine and Covenants: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).

Although the Savior has already suffered for all our iniquities, if we do not turn to Him we will have to suffer also: “Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit” (D&C 19:15-20).

I freely admit that I am in the process of forsaking. I have not forsaken. Gladly, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”[20]

Sometime around 1991, I was feeling quite despondent because of all my weaknesses. Then I read a newspaper report about someone who had been dishonest. “At least,” I reasoned, “this is one good quality I have, I am honest!” No sooner had I thought this, I had an open vision, or life review, in which I viewed the many times in my life when I had been dishonest—from both before and after my baptism. One of these scenes particularly lingers in my mind.

As a young lad I was near the outside gate of our home in Santiago when a needy old woman asked to see my mother. My mother is a very generous person who always gives to the poor—although a few times complained about this duty. (One time, we were walking and passed a beggar. We had not gone far when my mother sent me back with money for the man. She could not stand the idea of not giving.) I thought I would be doing my mother a favor by telling the destitute old woman that my mother was not home. The beggar’s words still ring in my ears, “¡mentiroso! (liar!).” I could see this and many other disturbing scenes pass by me.

I was quite ill after the “bright recollection of all [my] guilt” (Alma 11:43). Not long after this vision, I recall finding a walnut in our back yard and despairing because I felt I had to go around the neighborhood and determine who was the owner of the walnut tree, so I could return the nut! Glady, I realized how silly this was. I share this to show just how little I had understood the purpose of my life review. I now know that God was trying to teach me something about grace. Even in the areas where I thought I was “doing well” I would need the grace offered to us through Christ’s atonement. Note that the Spirit only showed me the one area I felt I was having success in. I shudder to think of all that I might have to see in my areas of known imperfection. The point of the vision was to teach me of my dependence on the atonement of Jesus Christ—and of His grace. We will never be good enough on our own merits.    

A little over a decade later I experienced a revelation of a completely different nature. One that for a long time I did not understand any better than the first. I was blessed with being able to spend each of my sabbatical leaves from the University of California in Chile, working on various work projects. During my second sabbatical I translated one of my books into Spanish. Once a week I also went out with the missionaries. As the six-month period came to a close, the Spirit of God unexpectedly, through an act of grace, manifested that my sins had been forgiven. I did not understand at the time that this was the Holy Ghost putting a mark of approval, of justification, on what I had done by faithfully going out with the Elders. The Spirit had accepted my offering.

What should have been a moment of great joy was not. Sadly, instead of dropping to my knees in gratitude, all I could think about was the uselessness of it all. “What good does it do me to be cleansed of my sin,” I murmured, “when I sin every day?” The Lord was instead trying to tell me, “Yes, I know your weaknesses, but I also can see the desire of your heart and your effort to follow the promptings of the Spirit.”

I can now hear the Lord saying: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). We also have: “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things” (Jacob 4:7, emphasis added).

So perhaps we can speak of a repentant attitude along with repentance. We may also focus on the fruits of repentance, such as joy and peace and the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. These also are part of the gift of grace. If we have a great desire to study the word, share the gospel with others, do temple work for our deceased ancestors, improve, do good, choose the right, serve in our callings and answer affirmatively the question that Alma poses: “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26), perhaps these are indicators that the grace of God is working within us now despite our imperfections. We have no reason to believe that the grace required for exaltation is something different than the grace we receive in this mortal existence to help us here and now in our efforts to become men and women of God and true disciples of Jesus Christ.

In 2017 I came across a podcast, a devotional and a book[21]  by President Brad Wilcox, a former Mission President in Chile. Wilcox says he is often asked by Christian friends from other faiths, “Have you been saved by grace?” After answering in the affirmative, Brad asks them a question of his own, “Have you been changed by grace?” This question made all the difference in my life; it was the beginning of my spiritual comprehension of grace. This was truly an inspired one-liner.  

I understood that some commandments which are hard for others may be easy for me to keep and vice versa. I also recognized that there are some things that we will not conquer in this lifetime, such as pride, impatience, selfishness and fully putting our trust in God at all times. And it is these matters which we cannot fully overcome that had led me to feelings of despair—despite the great joy I felt as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  

I have come to the realization that I was making it an all of nothing proposition with my weaknesses. I was not trying as hard as I could and thus was blocking grace because of the impossibility of fully conquering now. “So why try?” I thought. Yet I had now come to the realization that grace had been playing a role in my life all along without my comprehending it. Now that I was finally on the right track, the Spirit taught me some specific additional lessons.

Early in 2018, I felt that I need to get up after Sacrament meeting and greet everyone. I just did not have the energy to do it. Something interesting happened as the meeting concluded. I felt an immense sense of vigor come over me and a desire to follow the promptings of the Spirit. When I was finished greeting everyone, I felt an abundance of joy. Of this experience, the Spirit whispered to my heart, “that is grace.”

Not long ago I was studying the Scriptures and the Spirit prompted me, “Go out and minister!” I often study the Scriptures for hours and was making some very interesting progress on the book of Zechariah. Although I love to minister, my reaction at the time was that I did not want to interrupt my study time. But I soon humbled myself and was grateful for the prompting of the Spirit which I followed. I was able to make the appointments and was soon out of the house. The hearts of those I visited were touched. They needed the visit and the attendant Spirit. That was grace in action.

About thirty years ago I said my nightly kneeling prayers but not my morning ones. I asked the Father for help with that. I have since gotten into the habit and there has not been a day go by that the Spirit has not reminded me. That is grace.

But returning to those areas of my life that have been so trying for me, and in line with the idea of not making it an all or nothing proposition, I have found strength and joy in following a single prompting to avoid temptation—in the here and now, without having to worry about tomorrow, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil [רַע, i.e., difficulties and challenges] thereof” (Matthew 6:34). In other words, I am beginning to find peace in realizing that I will struggle in these matters on a continual basis and that any small triumph is a good thing. As I follow the whisperings of the Spirit in matters that are challenging, I receive additional strength, resolve or grace to withstand temptation. Sometimes these efforts on our part are rewarded with greater strength than we ever thought possible. Truly, our weaknesses may be turned into strengths.  

Gladly, in His loving kindness, God does not give us just one chance to heed His Spirit. Once again, we must turn to Him daily to be succored by His grace—and refuse to give up because we cannot be made perfect now.

Paul taught: “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9a). May I suggest that Paul understood that he had to struggle with these things on a regular basis, for the Lord did not completely remove the weaknesses as he had at first hoped. Paul then glories in his weaknesses because they keep him humble—and thus not fall into the pride trap. Paul comes to understand that he must be succored by the Lord continually. As must we all.     

President Brigham Young explained: “Do not suppose that we shall ever in the flesh be free from temptations to sin. Some [incorrectly] suppose that they can in the flesh be sanctified, body and spirit, and become so pure that they will never again feel the effects of the power of the adversary of truth (JD 10:173).”[22]

My wife is a role model of generosity and selflessness. In a tour many had misunderstood the instructions and failed to fetch their own suitcases before boarding a bus. When Linda found out she alerted the other passengers even though we did not know them. I was impressed and wanted to be more like her. A month later we were at the airport when the gate for our flight was changed. I had my chance to be helpful as most of the passengers had not noticed. I got the strength to overcome the feelings of silliness about shouting it out in the terminal. That was grace. Half the people were taking our same flight and got up and moved with us to the correct terminal. A teenager approached me afterwards and thanked me. Not that I need the thanks, but this helped me realize how important it was that I did not stay quiet. I felt good. That was justification. I think that next time I will be less hesitant to alert others in similar circumstances. If I can incorporate this new behavior into my life so it seems more natural, that will be sanctification.

Conclusion

Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught: “Justification and sanctification are accomplished by the grace of Christ, which grace is a gift to man based on faith. But our moral agency is also a necessary element in this divine process… But, as Nephi implies, there is something we can do, something that all who are accountable must do. To have effect, the gift must be accepted: ‘For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift’ (D&C 88:33).” [23]

Elder Gerald N. Lund explained: “Perfection is not, as some suppose, a prerequisite for justification and sanctification. It is just the opposite … [they] are the prerequisites for perfection. We only become perfect ‘in Christ’ (see Moroni 10:32).”[24]

Nor should perfectionism be an excuse not to improve. Instead, every act of humility, patience, selflessness is our indication to the Spirit that we wish to take advantage of the great gift of the atonement through the grace that is offered to us.

“Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once expressed our obligation this way: ‘Everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom. We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. … The way it operates is this: you get on the path that’s named the ‘straight and narrow.’ You do it by entering the gate of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. … Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life—though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do—you’re still going to be saved’ (“The Probationary Test of Mortality,” Salt Lake Institute of Religion devotional, 10 Jan. 1982, 12).”[25]

Every time we avoid impure thoughts, competitive feelings, criticism of others, envy or any sort of negative behavior now, even though we are not perfect in these things, we are strengthened by the Spirit and our desire to partake of that great gift of grace increases—and thus we rely on, and are filled with gratitude for, the Savior’s atonement. Sometimes we make incorrect assumptions as to what our greatest weaknesses are. Some spiritual infirmities obscure other, perhaps more vital weaknesses. We can enlist the Spirit in asking for direction as to where we need to make our most urgent changes.

This is how we begin to climb that ladder that the Prophet Joseph Smith spoke about. The Spirit will be there to hold out His hand to us all along the way, through the principles of grace, justification and sanctification. The Lord reassures us: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness … For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:10; 13). As we heed these promptings, our journey will then truly be one of “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:13b). Can you contemplate ways that grace has already been working on your life? What commitments will you make today to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ?


[1] Personal correspondence. 9 September 2005.  

[2] Gerald N. Lund, “Sanctification and Justification Are Just and True,” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The New Testament, ed. Frank F. Judd Jr. and Gaye Strathearn (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 46–58. Emphasis added.

[3] Elder D. Todd Christofferson Justification and Sanctification, June 2001 Ensign.

[4] Faith is a principle of action, not just belief.

[5] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] Latter-day Saints are particularly familiar with the righteous Melchizedek, King of Salem: וּמַלְכִּי־צֶ֨דֶק֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ שָׁלֵ֔ם

[7] Elder D. Todd Christofferson Justification and Sanctification, June 2001 Ensign.

[8] Simon, D. W. (1911–1912). JUSTIFICATION. In J. Hastings, J. A. Selbie, A. B. Davidson, S. R. Driver, & H. B. Swete (Eds.), A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology (Vol. 2, p. 826). New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner’s Sons; T. & T. Clark.

[9] M’Clintock, J., & Strong, J. (1891). Justification. In Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Vol. 4, p. 1102). New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers.

[10] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[11] Lest there be any misunderstanding, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe that we must confess certain grievous sins to a judge in Israel, such as our Branch President or Bishop.    

[12] Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (2nd Edition), 1966, Bookcraft, p. 292.

[13] Heather Billikopf, personal correspondence.

[14] Elder Carlos E. Asay. “The Blessings of Sharing the Gospel.” October 1985 Ensign.

[15] The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament.

[16] This is an allusion to the great promises in Rain in Due Season, wherein we are taught that if Israel will be obedient to the Abrahamic Covenant, the Lord promises: “And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12). See Isaiah Testifies of Christ (3rd Edition), Gregorio Billikopf. 

[17] I testify that as we forget ourselves and help lift other’s burdens so they will be light, the Holy Ghost lifts ours.

[18] Discourses of Brigham Young by John A. Widtsoe, Brigham Young. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[19] For instance, see the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia under Grace.

[20] Joseph Smith, The King Follett Sermon.

[21] Brad Wilcox: LDS Perspectives Podcast, Episode 2; “His Grace is Sufficient,” BYU Devotional, 12 July 2011; and Changed through His grace, Deseret Book 2017.  

[22]  Discourses of Brigham Young by John A. Widtsoe, Brigham Young. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[23] Elder D. Todd Christofferson Justification and Sanctification, June 2001 Ensign.

[24] Gerald N. Lund, “Sanctification and Justification Are Just and True,” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The New Testament, ed. Frank F. Judd Jr. and Gaye Strathearn (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 46–58. Emphasis added. Furthermore, Elder Lund explains: “Both of these [justification and sanctification] are made possible because of the atoning sacrifice … of Christ, but the actual medium or means for both sanctification and justification is the Holy Ghost. His very influence burns out the effects of sin and purges out the unholiness that comes upon us when we sin. However, we can only do so because Jesus Christ met the demands of justice and made it possible for mercy and grace to operate in our behalf.”

[25] Elder D. Todd Christofferson Justification and Sanctification, June 2001 Ensign.

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