Mormons frequently talk about our need to do "as much as we can do" to improve ourselves, to repent of our sins and to perfect ourselves, before expecting Christ's Atonement to work on us and for divine grace to make it possible for us to be completely cleansed of sins. This emphasis on works is one of the defining differences of Mormonism from other Christian sects. Mormons do believe in grace, but we're expected to work hard at doing good. This has led me ultimately to wonder if I have to wait until I've worked harder, done more, become more, before Christ can love me. Do I have to wait until grace has kicked in at some later point, after the resurrection, or can Christ love me now, even in my currently sinful and imperfect state?
I think that there is this fear that if we tell people that Christ loves them now, as they are, in their miserable and sinful state, that they won't change. To me this seems about the same model as parent who says that they won't tell their child "I love you" because if they did so, the child wouldn't grow and develop into a responsible, productive adult. Of course, this is ridiculous. People need love, period. Without love, it is nearly impossible for anyone to do anything of any value. So why would any religion survive on the idea of a punitive God who denies us love until we prove we are worthy of it?
As a Mormon, I don't believe in "original sin," that is, in the idea that we as humans are born into a state of sin because of the mistake that Adam and Eve made in the Garden of Eden. I believe, as we say in our First Article of Faith, "men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression." Believing that we are damned from the beginning, from the first moment of taking breath, from the moment of conception even, without Christ, seems to me like an unfair proposition. What kind of God would knowingly send us to our mortal bodies, knowing that we would be damned?
On the other hand, Mormons are sometimes accused (perhaps rightly) of not believing in the importance of grace, and of believing that we perfect ourselves in our works. I don't think this is true, either. It denies the power of Christ's Atonement and His divinity, His mission on earth. In addition, it simply boggles my mind. Anyone who has lived on this earth for any length of time knows very well that none of us have any real chance of perfecting ourselves in any meaningful way. Can we become better than we are? Yes, incrementally. But every time we make a tiny change, we are immediately reminded of the infinite number of other changes that we need to make, the infinite amount of knowledge we have yet to acquire, and the infinite patience and love we are incapable of developing perfectly.
And so we are back to my question: Does Christ love us in our sins?
I may not believe that I was born into original sin, but I was born into a mortal body with a limited capacity. And to imagine that "sin" only covers sins of commission, which some people may have in higher degree than others, and not also sins of omission, which we all share in their infinite infinities, seems foolish. Mormons believe that we all must improve "line upon line, precept upon precept" for eternity to better ourselves. Is that different than the idea of original sin? Maybe, but only a fraction.
The point is that Christ must love us in our sins because if He doesn't, then we will never have any benefits of His love until we don't need it anymore. I take comfort in this every day when I am reminded of all the mistakes I made, all the things I didn't do because I was afraid or unaware or limited in my capacity. Christ loves me even so. He doesn't love me because He's waiting for me to be better. He loves me just as I am, in my pitiful, fallen state. He loves me not because He knows that there is a better person inside of me waiting to come out (though I believe this is true for everyone). He loves me not because He hopes to make use of me to help others (though this may be part of His plan). He loves me only because I am me and because He is full of infinite love and because I am in need of His transforming love to become better.