(Happy) Atonement – Grace – Law – Sin – Shame (Sad) & March Madness

The Gospel is literally “good news.” However, a study by Mental Health America ranked Utah the most depressed state in the country.  How can that be? Mormons have the keys to happiness in the Restored Gospel. Let’s talk about the relationship between the Atonement/Grace and works/sin as I have interpreted it through Adam Miller’s new book, Grace is Not God’s Backup Plan.  I’ve only read excerpts (copy on its way), but he highlights his position in this post in Times and Seasons.

Perhaps our framing of the Atonement, also known as, grace, sets our minds in a frame to see the good news as bad news. The happiness of the Atonement is derived from God’s grace to help mankind from the misery of sin, which sin causes us to feel bad and leads Utah to overdose on antidepressants.

Romans 3:23-24

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

Often in Mormonism, grace is described as a bridge. Adam’s fall brought about physical death (mortality) and spiritual death (sin). The only way to overcome the pits of death and sin are through grace.


When we talk about grace as a bridge, we’re still thinking about grace as a response to sin. A common analogy used in Mormonland is the Parable of the Bicycle:

A five year-old girl wants a to buy a bicycle costing $100, clearly out of her price range. Her father says if she saves all she can, he will pay for the rest. So she saves all the money she can, $1.50, but she doesn’t have enough to pay for the bike. As promised, her dad pays for the difference. This little parable has been used to show how like the dad, Jesus uses His grace to make up the difference between our sinful state and the cleanliness in heaven. (1 Nephii 10:21 no unclean thing can dwell with God.) In other words, our $1.50 + grace’s $98.50 = $100.

This is a common misunderstanding of how grace and sin are related. Here’s why:

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Our works do not contribute to the overall cost of the bicycle. It’s a mistake to think grace covered $98.50. Grace paid $100. Our $1.50 gets put in an eternal piggy bank for some future, unknown use.

Adam Miller best describes sin in his March Madness basketball analogy:

Thinking that religion is about sinning (or not sinning) is like thinking basketball is about fouls. You should stop fouling but you can’t make the game be about fouls. That’s an impossible way to play basketball. And, more, it’s an impossible way to be religious. (ref)

We spend a lot of time focusing on commandments and rules. By focusing on too much on obedience, we totally miss the concept of grace, and we turn the law into a way to sin.

Ecclesiastes 7:20

For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

Since we cannot keep all the commandments given to us, we get frustrated and overwhelmed.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

God knows we are weak and does not expect perfection. Progress in our personal quest demonstrates our appreciation for grace.

John 8:3-11 (verses omitted)

And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

God’s grace does not exist because we sin. Grace is God’s gift of love. It’s always there. Have hope in the future and don’t be ashamed about the present. Let your obedience be a display of gratitude for God’s free gift of grace.

Adam Miller:

Unencumbered by a fear of failing, secure in the perfect love passing through you, you put your shoulder to the wheel, you whistle while you work, and the work itself becomes a more perfect expression of an already perfect love. (ref)

4 thoughts on “(Happy) Atonement – Grace – Law – Sin – Shame (Sad) & March Madness

  1. Thanks for giving me material for my general conference talk on Sunday morning.


  2. Thank you for that, Richard. The piano parable is much more accurate and rich. I hope it replaces the bicycle parable as the go-to simplification of the Atonement: grace/sin.


  3. I think the parable of the piano practice is better than the bicycle.

    “Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

    When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13). (7:29 – )”

    Brad Wilcox

    Listen to the whole talk it is great.


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