The third article of faith of Mormon basic belief states “We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
Adam’s Fall cut off mankind from the presence of God. To bring mankind back into the presence of God required a Savior. Because fallen mankind was bound to sin and be unable to bring themselves back into God’s presence on their own, someone perfect would have to do what they could not do.
Before the beginning of the world, Jesus Christ was chosen to be our Savior, chosen to redeem us from our sins, chosen to bring us back to God.
Both physical and spiritual death (being cut off from God’s presence) came into the world as a result of the Fall of Adam. As our Savior, Jesus Christ saved our bodies from physical death and showed us the way to save our souls from spiritual death. Because Christ was resurrected, resurrection is a gift given to all mankind, whether good or evil. The Atonement of Christ saves us from spiritual death. Jesus Christ suffered for our sins to give us the power to repent from them and return to live with God. Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the only perfect man to walk the earth, the only person who could save us from both physical and spiritual death.
Mormons believe that Jesus Christ’s suffering began in the Garden of Gethsemane and that His agony was so great that He literally sweat blood. His divine parentage gave him power over death, however – He did not die from his agony. His death on the cross was a voluntary giving up of the ghost. The atonement was completed upon His resurrection from the dead on the third day after his burial. The First Presidency of the Mormon Church testify that Jesus Christ’s life did not begin in Bethlehem or end on the cross. He lives on, the Redeemer of the World.
Mormonism teaches that, like the resurrection, the atonement of Jesus Christ is universal. Christ died for everyone. His voluntary sacrifice was done on the behalf of all. Mormons believe that as we have the only responsibility for our sins (it’s not anyone else’s fault), we also have the responsibility to accept Christ’s atonement and repent. We accept the responsibility to follow Jesus Christ – to live our lives as He would live and obey God’s commandments. The Book of Mormon states that we are saved by Christ’s Atonement after all we can do – this is the Mormon balancing of faith and works. We are saved by grace, but we must follow God’s commandments.
More specifically, the first principles of following Christ, in Mormon doctrine, are faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Mormons also believe that other promises (covenants) must be made with God in sacred buildings called temples to receive the highest blessings. However, it’s also a Mormon belief that these promises can be made after death.
Jesus Christ freed the spirits from prison, or Hell, in the three days between His death and resurrection. The Atonement is eternal and universal. And Mormons believe that those who had no opportunity to learn of Christ in their lifetimes will have the opportunity to accept Him after death. In a way, Mormon missionary work also continues after death.