Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then a member of the Seventy, wrote: “The atonement of Jesus Christ is the foreordained but voluntary act of the Only Begotten Son of God. He offered his life, including his innocent body, blood, and spiritual anguish as a redeeming ransom (1) for the effect of the Fall of Adam upon all mankind and (2) for the personal sins of all who repent, from Adam to the end of the world. Latter-day Saints believe this is the central fact, the crucial foundation, the chief doctrine, and the greatest expression of divine love in the plan of salvation. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that all ‘things which pertain to our religion are only appendages’ to the atonement of Christ ([Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith], p. 121)” (“Atonement of Jesus Christ,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. , 1:82–83).
In Romans 4–6Paul declared that justification comes through faith in Jesus Christ by His atoning power. Paul cited the example of Abraham and recounted the doctrine of the Fall to help illustrate this principle. Paul also discussed the ordinance of baptism. By studying this ordinance and its symbolism we can come to understand the steps we must take to enjoy the full blessings of the Atonement.
Prayerfully study Romans 4–6and consider the following principles before preparing your lessons.
Salvation comes not through faith and obedience alone but by the Lord’s grace through the Atonement. Through Christ we can be forgiven and become justified, or made clean (see Romans 5; see also Galatians 2:16; 2 Nephi 10:24).
Baptism is symbolic of the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also represents the symbolic death and burial of our sins and our rebirth as we covenant to follow the Savior (see Romans 6:1–13; see also Mosiah 27:24–26; D&C 76:50–52).
The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 318–23.
Choose from the following ideas, or use some of your own, as you prepare lessons for Romans 4–6.
Display a glass of ice-cold water. Invite the students to imagine that they are in the desert dying of thirst. On a nearby hill is this glass of lifesaving water. Ask: Which of the following will save your life: your confidence that the water will save you, your effort to crawl up the hill to get the water, or drinking the water in the glass? Allow students to express their opinions. Do not comment on the correctness of their responses. Ask:
How could this situation be compared to our need for spiritual salvation?
What could the water represent? (The Atonement, the grace and love of Jesus Christ; see John 7:37.)
What could the effort to crawl up the hill represent? (Repenting, keeping the commandments.)
What could confidence in the saving power of the water represent? (Faith, trust.)
What would it take to save your life?
Tell students that it is the water that has power to save our lives. But we must have confidence that the water will save us so that we will make the effort to climb the hill. We must climb the hill to get the water. And we must drink the water for it to save us. The same conditions are necessary in the gospel. It is Jesus Christ’s Atonement that gives us salvation. But for His Atonement to be of full effect in our lives, we must have faith in the Lord and do what He requires.
Explain that just as we need water when we are dying of thirst, so we need a Savior to overcome the effects of sin and death. Read Romans 5:12–14and ask:
Why is a Savior needed for all mankind?
In what ways did Adam’s Fall affect each of us?
How many people sin? (see Romans 3:23).
Invite students to silently read Romans 5:15–20and mark the words death and sin each time they appear. Read Romans 5:21looking for how both sin and death can be conquered. As time permits, you may also want to share some of the following scriptures that show why we need a Savior: 1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 9:21; Alma 12:22; Ether 12:27; Doctrine and Covenants 20:19–25.
Explain that just as having confidence that the water will save us leads us to seek it, so we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. True faith will motivate us to keep God’s commandments so we can partake of the Atonement. Read Romans 4:1–3looking for phrases that show us Abraham had faith. Ask:
Why do you think Paul chose Abraham as a model of faith?
What actions can you recall from Abraham’s life that show his faith led him to do works of righteousness?
Invite students to read Romans 4:17–25and look for other evidence of Abraham’s faith and works. Ask: Why do you think these details of Abraham’s life were written down? Read James 2:14–18; 2 Nephi 25:23; and the Joseph Smith Translation of Romans 4:16, and then discuss the balance between faith and good works. Share the following statement by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve:
“Poorly defined, faith not only produces little conviction but also is difficult to nurture and increase.
“Faith has several specific dimensions. Each facet is important. President Brigham Young illustratively taught that we must have ‘faith in [Jesus’] name, character, and atonement … faith in his Father and in the plan of salvation.’ Only such faith, said Brigham, will produce steady and enduring ‘obedience to the requirements of the Gospel.’” (Lord, Increase Our Faith , 2).
To help students more fully appreciate our reliance on the Savior, point out that faith itself is a gift from Christ. So is the strength to be able to perform good works. (See Bible Dictionary, (“grace,” p. 697.) In other words, we could not even have the confidence needed to desire the water, nor could we walk up the hill toward the water, if it were not for Jesus Christ. Explain that the water represents the divine help given by God through the Atonement. This gift provides us with the power needed to repent, to keep the commandments, and to become like God.
Drink some of the ice-cold water. Testify that it is not just our faith or good works that save us. Faith and works are the keys that unlock the door to salvation, but salvation comes only in and through Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 3:17; Alma 38:9; Moses 6:52). Invite students to read Romans 5:1–11 and look for how Paul taught the Saints that salvation comes through the Atonement and grace of Jesus Christ.
Which of Paul’s phrases most impressed you?
How does a deeper understanding of the Atonement help us love the Savior?
Remind students that although Jesus agreed in the premortal life to be our Savior, He did not owe it to us to die for us. It was an act of love. Sing the hymn “I Stand All Amazed” (Hymns, no. 193) and ask students to ponder the significance of the words.
Invite a student to read to the class the following excerpts from a talk by Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve:
“All of us can remember times in our lives when we felt a pull to be better than we were, to rise higher. The feeling may have come at about the same time we had the thought ‘There must be something better in life than this.’ Sadly, there are also times when we felt like giving up. And then the thought was something like ‘Maybe this feeling of being miserable is what life is really like. Maybe I need to learn to live with it. It looks as if that’s how everyone else feels.’ …
“But everyone who I have come to know well, even the most discouraged and the most miserable, will tell you that some time in their lives, maybe just once that they can remember, they felt that upward pull, that thought that there just had to be something better and higher” (Covenants [CES fireside for college-age young adults, 6 Sept. 1996], 1).
Ask students to contemplate times when they have experienced feelings of discouragement or despair as Elder Eyring described. Invite any who would like to discuss how they dealt with these feelings to do so. Ask: What did you do to find hope?
Invite students to read the following scriptures and look for the comfort and hope they offer: Isaiah 40:30–31; Mosiah 4:6–7; Moroni 10:32–33. Ask: By whose power are we able to become perfected and receive salvation? Tell students that many people Paul was writing to were still committed to the law of Moses and did not understand that the Atonement had fulfilled it. They needed someone to teach them that they could overcome sin through Jesus Christ, not through the law. Have students read Romans 6:8–23and look for what Paul taught about sin and about who helps us overcome its effects.
Elder Eyring continued:
“Heavenly Father does more than allow you to feel that upward pull. He has provided a way to rise higher—almost beyond our limits of imagination—not by our own powers alone, which would not be nearly enough, but through the power of the Atonement of his Son, Jesus Christ. …
“Our Heavenly Father not only provided a Savior and a gospel of Jesus Christ, which teaches us the purpose of life and gives us commandments, but he also provided covenants we could make with him. And with those covenants he provided ordinances where he could signify what he promised or covenanted to do and we could signify what we promised or covenanted to do” (Covenants, 1).
Testify that we receive the power of the Atonement in our lives as we make and keep sacred covenants.
Explain to students that Romans 6:1–2teaches us to turn away from our sins. Have them read verses 3–7 looking for the initial ordinance and covenant that allows us to do this. Show students a shovel or draw one on the board. Teach that baptism is a time when we covenant to “bury” our sins and our sinful nature and that we gain access to the power to have our sins “covered” through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Discuss some of the following questions:
What does baptism symbolize? (Death, burial, and resurrection; see D&C 128:12–13.)
If baptism is a time when we covenant to “bury” or give up our sins, why is it important that we be baptized by immersion?
What events from Christ’s life does baptism also symbolize? (His death, burial, and Resurrection.)
How are our lives better if we choose to put off our sinful selves and be baptized?
Make sure students understand that while the covenant of baptism symbolizes that we can become clean from sin, baptism does not actually wash our sins away. Baptism is a time when we commit to become clean and walk in a newness of life, a time when we prepare to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is through the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost that we are actually cleansed from sin. The following statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, may be helpful:
“Sins are remitted not in the waters of baptism, as we say in speaking figuratively, but when we receive the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Spirit of God that erases carnality and brings us into a state of righteousness. We become clean when we actually receive the fellowship and companionship of the Holy Ghost. It is then that sin and dross and evil are burned out of our souls as though by fire” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 290; see also 2 Nephi 31:17; Moroni 6:4; 8:25–26.)