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On the 31st of August of 1965, I attended a meeting of the Christian Congregation of Brazil in the city of Sorocaba. My sheltered Utah upbringing had acquainted me with churches that had pianos or organs to accompany their hymns. But this church had a forty-piece brass band: tubas and trombones, clarinets and drums, and a cymbal section.
I can tell from the tone of my journal entry that day that I felt like those decibel-drenched Christians did not understand much about real Christianity. In support of those feelings, I added this comment to my journal: “One of the Protestant churches in town had its members out writing on the gutters in the neighborhood, Jesus veio ao mundo para salvar o pecador. [Jesus came to the world to save the sinner.]”
I hope I was more concerned with the esthetics of that message than the message itself. I was wrong to feel as I did—that it was inappropriate to mention the Savior anywhere near a gutter. I remembered that experience during a religious service. A ward member spoke of his favorite verse of scripture, Luke 15:2, which says, “This man receiveth sinners.”
I have read and written about Luke 15 many times, but I have always been so focused on the lost sheep and the lost coin and the lost son that I have skipped over that insight, which is the foundation for the whole chapter: “This man receiveth sinners.”
Of course He does. He searches for them and seeks them and waits for them and rejoices when they return, and we ought to write it everywhere, perhaps even on gutters: Jesus came to the world to save the sinner. He certainly did not come to save those who aren’t sinners. Where would he find anyone to save?
Jesus wants to turn all of us into saints. But we are all sinners (see Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8), and he came to save us.
The suffering of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross was the payment of a divinely mandated penalty for the mistakes of sinners. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows . . . for the transgression of my people was he stricken” (Isaiah 53:4,8).
The gift of that suffering is the promise of forgiveness for sinners who repent. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
That is much of the meaning of the Atonement: This man receiveth sinners. And then He forgives them on conditions of repentance. That forgiveness is complete and infinite.
He said, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins” (Isaiah 44:22). He will put our sins out of sight.
He has promised that he will “cast all [our] sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). He will put our sins out of reach.
He declared, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). He will put out sins out of His mind.
He said, “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live” (Ezekiel 18:21-22). He will put our sins out of consideration.
And finally He covenants to put our sins out of existence: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake” (Isaiah 43:25, See also Psalm 51:1,9, and Acts 3:19).
This well of welcoming forgiveness that flows from the love and atonement of the Savior will never run dry. Any sinner who will come will be received. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
I love the promise that he will “abundantly pardon.” Those words remind me of the Lord’s declaration about anyone who will come to him and believe his gospel. “Him,” the Savior says, “I will freely forgive” (Mosiah 26:22).