"If we work hard to do what's right, keep the commandments, apply the atonement in our lives and endure to the end, we can be saved."
Jesus Christ makes our lives possible. He lends us breath, He is the very energy that sustains our lives from moment to moment.
And so, when someone says, "apply the atonement", I want to cry out that Jesus' Victory--His GLORIOUS atoning sacrifice, death and resurrection, that which caused Enoch to cry "The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world," is not a tool for us to handle, nor a cosmetic to apply when our own virtues run short. Jesus's completed work, His absolute dominion and the fullness of love He offers, are not amelioratives to spruce us up that last little bit so we are saved.6 [Christ is] He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.
We receive the gift He offers, and it works upon us as we submit ourselves to Him. We do not "use" the atoning blood of the Lamb of God, as one tool amongst others. We open ourselves to it, let it wash into and through and over us, and we are born again, totally new creatures in Christ.
Jesus SAVES. His gift to us, when truly received, leaves nothing the same. No part of us untouched, no dark corner undisturbed. When you receive Christ into your soul, you know He has seen it all, every last thing you have been ashamed of, every last sin and foolishness. And He loves you anyway. It is the firsthand witness, the knowledge of that love, that full and complete acceptance, that makes us new. That is what changes us, and what allows us to receive the Holy Ghost, to be one with the mind of God, as Jesus is one with the Father.
And that's just the beginning.