We often teach doctrinal principles in isolation and that certainly has its time and place. Sometimes, however, it is instructive to teach the relationship between these principles since they all have the same underlying goal, namely, to help us obtain eternal life.
Accordingly, doctrinal principles tend to supplement, complement, overlap, and reinforce each other in this pursuit. Understanding the correlation between doctrinal principles can give us a new and broader perspective—somewhat like looking at a completed puzzle rather than viewing each piece individually. For example, some might ask: “How do the following three doctrinal principles relate to each other: The plan of salvation, the Savior’s Atonement, and the doctrine of Christ?”
As we gain an understanding of these doctrinal relationships, we realize that each doctrinal principle is an essential component of the same “gospel puzzle” rather than each serving as its own “gospel puzzle.” In fact, each doctrinal principle of the gospel is dependent upon the others for its ultimate success. One principle, absent the others, cannot fully accomplish the goal for which it is intended.
The Plan of Salvation
The plan of salvation is the divine program that sets out the way to return to God’s presence and become more like Him so we might experience a fulness of joy. It reveals our divine origin and destiny. The author of this plan is God the Father.
In one sense this plan might be compared to a map that shows us the only possible way to return to God and become like Him. In and of itself, however, this plan or map cannot get us to the desired destination, hence the need for the Savior’s Atonement, an integral part of such plan.
The Savior’s Atonement
The Savior’s Atonement makes it possible for us to achieve the crowning aim of the plan of salvation—to return to God’s presence and become like Him. In other words, it is the means of accomplishing the desired end. In order to become this means, the Savior performed His Atonement which generated the necessary powers to overcome the obstacles that hinder us in our quest for eternal life, namely: physical death, sin, afflictions, and weaknesses.
The first two obstacles mentioned can be overcome by what might be called the redemptive powers of Christ’s Atonement, as He redeemed us from death by His resurrection and also redeems us from the stain of our sins by making available the condition of repentance. The last two obstacles can be overcome by what might be called the enabling powers of Christ made possible by His Atonement, as His suffering endowed Him with the power to strengthen us in our afflictions (see Alma 7:11) and the power to help us overcome our weaknesses so we might become more godlike (see Moroni 10:32-33).
The author or contributor of the Atonement is of course, Jesus Christ. In one sense, Christ’s Atonement might be compared to a spiritual vehicle that has the power to transport us along the divine path designated by the plan of salvation. But this vehicle, in and of itself, cannot get us to the desired destination without a driver, hence the need for the doctrine of Christ.
The Doctrine of Christ
This doctrine commands us to have faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, feast upon the words of Christ, and endure to the end (see 2 Nephi 31:15-21), all made purposeful because of Christ’s Atonement.
But this doctrine only becomes fully efficacious when we also contribute to the equation—when each of us put these principles and ordinances into operation. As we apply this doctrine, we become the spiritual driver, who can then draw upon the full powers of Christ made possible through His Atonement (the spiritual vehicle that makes our progress possible). This enables us to return to God’s presence and become more like Him.
In this way the doctrine of Christ becomes the key that unlocks the powers of the Savior’s Atonement so the plan of salvation can become a reality in our lives not just an idealistic dream.
Summary in chart form
From one perspective, the interrelationship among these three doctrinal principles might be summarized in chart form as follows:
None of these doctrinal principles working alone can save us, but when working in harmony, the goal of salvation, even exaltation, is possible. That is why it is so important to not only understand the individual doctrinal principles of the gospel but also how they relate to each other. This enhances our vision of the entire “gospel puzzle.” And with that enhanced vision comes enhanced faith and motivation to walk the path to eternal life.
Perhaps, this is in part, what Paul was speaking of when he said, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he [Christ] might gather together in one all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). All things certainly includes the doctrinal principles and ordinances of the gospel. Therefore, as we better understand their interrelationship we help “gather together in one all things in Christ.”
— Tad R. Callister is an emeritus General Authority and former Sunday School general president.