If you had only a few minutes to tell someone about the gospel of Jesus Christ, what would you say? Of all the profound and rich doctrines of the fulness of the gospel, which one would you share?
A few years ago, I was sitting in Sunday School class when the teacher began his lesson by asking a similar question: “What is the most important message of the gospel?” Hands shot up, and many answers were given: Christ died for us, we will be resurrected, the gospel has been restored, we have a living prophet, priesthood power is again on the earth, we can talk with God through prayer, scriptures are the revealed word of God. Other worthy comments were made. I sat pondering which principle of the gospel I would select as the most important. When the comments slowed, and after a moment of silence, a middle-aged brother who had experienced many of life’s heartaches, including an extended period of inactivity, said thoughtfully, “I believe that the most important message of the gospel is that we can change.” How true.
Although every principle of the gospel is important, and we each need different aspects emphasized at different times in our lives, what message could be more central and more universal than this: Through faith in Jesus Christ and by the enabling power of the infinite Atonement, we can change, repent, and move forward into a new future. Bad people can become good, and good people can become better.1 We can become new creatures in Christ.
That is the central message of the gospel, the doctrine of salvation, the whole point and purpose of life: to change, to become different, and to walk in newness of life (see Romans 6:4). In fact, it could be argued that this sublime truth is the gospel—the “good news” that Jesus Christ came to proclaim and of which every prophet before and after Him has borne witness. When John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness, preparing the hearts of the people to receive the Messiah, he quoted this passage from the writings of Isaiah: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth” (Luke 3:5; see also Isaiah 40:4).
Why this passage? What do valleys and mountains have to do with the Savior’s impending ministry and Atonement? It seems unlikely that John was talking only about geography or topography. Perhaps these metaphors tell us more about Jesus’s mission than we might realize. It’s as if he were saying, “Change is coming. Think of something that seems permanent to you—like a mountain. That mountain can be flattened. That’s the degree of change that is possible through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are there things in your life that seem insurmountable? They can be made possible. Does your life seem rough or unstable? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all of that can be made smooth. Anything can change. You can change.”