We latter-day Saints seem to be able to understand our responsibility to demonstrate and support our faith with daily effort and work. It is a much harder concept to embrace the truth that we fallen mortals are not capable of changing ourselves, through works, into Christ-like souls. No amount of effort, no amount of good works, no amount of service or temple attendance, or tithing or teaching Sunday School can affect the transition. We are kind of like puppies who think that by working very, very hard, we can grow up into horses.
The law that “the natural man is an enemy to God”, has stood since the moment Adam and Eve transgressed the law and were driven from the garden of Eden. The effect of the fall cannot be overcome by man by determined effort.
But, provision is made, for all the wee puppies, through the atonement of Christ, that if we hearken to His voice, and obey Him, and submit to His will, that He will change us into the ponies we yearn to become. We are disciplining ourselves to obedience to any path or process or purification the Lord sees fit, which process may take us through many other experiences than obvious evolution toward ponyhood.
This is the domain of faith, wherein we, by submitting to His will, allow ourselves to be led into pathways whose destination we can’t possibly predict. We allow ourselves to be disciplined, humbled, changed and stripped of pride. We submit to whatever schooling or lessons or pathways of pain we must – and we let obedience, not self-will and determination, chart out course.
Elder Bednar explained it this way:
“If I were to emphasize one overarching point this morning, it would be this: I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us–not only to direct us but also to empower us. I think most of us know that when we do things wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power.
Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints–for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us “get it” concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.”
(David A. Bednar, BYU Devotional at Ricks College October 23, 2001)