Tuesday, March 23, 2010

You Are Never Beyond The Reach of God's Love

Even in the depths of sin, hope comes through the Savior. Don't give up, and don't give in to despair.

I read an article the other day about a young woman who was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her high school teacher. Her parents, who were already devastated, are broken-hearted because she is convinced that she is meant to be with this teacher (who is now in prison), and she apparently has come to despise her parents because they won’t let her be with him. She has left home, she smokes and drinks and does drugs (whereas she apparently didn’t do so before), and she won’t talk to her parents. Apparently she has gone a little wild in these and other ways.

It is my opinion that this unfortunate girl believes that she is lost and damned forever, and that it doesn’t matter anymore what she does with her life. I believe that, despite her apparent devotion to her abuser, deep down she feels as if she is a sinner because of what he did to her.

Firstly, I would like to declare unequivocally that victims of abuse (sexual or otherwise) are just that: victims. Despite feelings of guilt and shame that accompany such abuse, the victim is never responsible for the abuse, and they are certainly not guilty of sin where the abuse is concerned. I cannot state this strongly enough. When I was a child I was the victim of long-term physical and emotional abuse, and I was informed by several of my fellow church members on several separate occasions that I should not have provoked my abuser, or they merely made implications that there must have been something wrong with me because I was abused. More often I was just treated like a liar because they did not want to believe that this person that they knew and respected could beat his wife and children.

The actions of these church members were in complete disharmony with the stated policy and doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as explained on the official church website lds.org:

“Victims of abuse should be assured that they are not to blame for the harmful behavior of others. They do not need to feel guilt. If they have been a victim of rape or other sexual abuse, whether they have been abused by an acquaintance, a stranger, or even a family member, victims of sexual abuse are not guilty of sexual sin.”

It is not my intention to dwell on the issue of abuse today (a subject for another day perhaps). I chose to share this tragic story in order to examine the self-destructive choices that are being made by a girl that is undoubtedly confused and hurting in the wake of this horrendous incident. The reason I chose to address this subject today is that the story of this unfortunate girl who is making a whole slew of bad choices in the wake of what she apparently perceives to be one major sin (as I stated above, she didn't commit a sin, but she doesn't understand that), is altogether too common. As I read her story, I was strongly reminded of people that I know and have known who feel that they are hopeless cases who are beyond the reach of the Savior. I speak now of those people who generally have not been abused but rather who, through their own human weakness, have committed a serious sin, and instead of seeking the solace of forgiveness through repentance and the atonement of Jesus Christ, they choose instead to sink deeper and deeper into sin. I see this happening around me almost continually. I have friends who, for whatever reason, have fallen into the depths of transgression. Some of them have managed to find their way back to happiness and righteousness, others still struggle with sin, and still others may never free themselves from the snare of sin. Some of my friends and acquaintances have become so hardened, through sin, that they might not come back even if they felt like they could. Many of these people were raised in good homes in which they were taught the principles of the Gospel, and yet they have chosen to reject all that they learned as a child. What motivates such a departure from what they must know is good and right?

I believe that many people come to an actual decision in the wake of a major sin to forsake God and religion and virtue because they feel that God has forsaken them. A decision such as this can only lead to suffering and regret and never leads to happiness. The motives behind this decision are perhaps more complex than I am capable of describing in writing, however I believe that such a decision proceeds from bad information and faulty assumptions, and I intend to provide good information so that people will know that there is hope, even in the depths of sin, if they choose “a more excellent way”.

Let’s use a hypothetical situation as an example. Jimmy is a typical LDS kid. He went to seminary in high school, and he goes to church more or less every Sunday. He doesn’t always stay awake in church or seminary, but at least he’s there, right? He fulfills his Aaronic priesthood duties much as many boys his age do, and he enjoys scouting. He is no scriptorian (not a word, but nevertheless a term that a person like Jimmy would use), and he knows that he should be praying more often, but he’s always too busy or too tired to be very diligent about prayer or scripture study. He has vaguely considered a mission, but that’s still in the future for him.

Let’s say that one weekend Jimmy commits a serious sexual sin with his girlfriend. He has been taught multiple times that such sin is extremely serious, and that according to the scriptures such sin is next to murder in the Lord’s eyes. In the wake of this unfortunate lapse in judgment, Jimmy is racked with guilt. He should know better, but he believes that he is now going to hell. Growing up he has never managed to gain a deep understanding of exactly how the atonement works, but he has been informed about how painful and unpleasant repentance can be. In Jimmy's weakened state, Satan tries to tell him one or all of the following lies:

1) "You’re damned now, you’re nothing but a filthy sinner, and there can be no redemption for you. You are beyond forgiveness. What you did was so bad that there can be no repentance."

2) "Since you’re going to hell anyway, you might as well live it up on your way down. Commit as much sin as you can before you get there, after all it doesn’t matter what you do anymore since you’re already damned."

2 Nephi 28:7
Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.

3) "God will be no help, since he probably doesn’t exist anyway, so it really doesn’t matter what you do-there is no heaven so you don’t have to worry about hell."

2 Nephi 28:22
And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.

4) "A loving God would never so capriciously punish his children. God loves you no matter what you have done, and he will let you into heaven because he loves you regardless of anything you have done. There was nothing really wrong with what you did anyway, and the church just wants to control you by making you feel guilty about what you have done. Besides, the repentance process is no fun."

2 Nephi 28:8
And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.

5) "Mormon kids are so sheltered, how can you claim to have lived unless you have experienced both the light and the dark? Aren’t you so much happier now that you have seen something of the world?"

These are just some of the lies that Satan tells because he knows that we are at our most vulnerable when we have been weakened by transgression, despair, and self-loathing.  He desperately attempts everything in his power to obscure the light and knowledge that might help us to experience true joy, lasting happiness, and freedom from sin and despair.

If Satan’s lies are all the information that Jimmy has available to make his decision, he is in considerable danger of making a decision that will warp the rest of his life, and eventually lead to spiritual death. On the way there he stands a very real chance of becoming an enemy to God. However, let’s say that Jimmy is smarter than that, and he opens his scriptures for help. What can he find there that will help him?

1)  God loves us, even if we are unlovely or unloveable, and even if we feel we are beyond His reach

As is Satan’s way, there is a tiny bit of truth hidden in the storm of lies that he throws at Jimmy. God does love Jimmy, no matter how wretched and unworthy of that love he may feel.  This is the truth that Satan wants us to forget or misunderstand: that God will never give up on us, and that He loves us unconditionally.  He loves us so much that he sent His son to die for us so that we would have a way to overcome even the most repugnant sin.  Satan wants us to become lost in despair and in the bleak assurance that God has forsaken us because He could not love so filthy a sinner.  Nothing could be more far from the truth!  We are never beyond God's reach, and God loves us so much that He sacrificed all so that we can be happy if we will just "go, and sin no more!"

“God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there” (Thomas S. Monson, in Jeffrey R. Holland, “Like a Broken Vessel,” Ensign, November 2013).

1 John 4:9-10  In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4:19  We love him, because he first loved us.

We are fortunate that no matter how far we have strayed, no matter how unlovely we have become (be it physically or spiritually), and no matter how unlovable we feel or which we have made ourselves, God still loves us, because God is love, and that is what He is about.

“The message of the gospel brims with compassion, with a love that willingly “suffers with,” even with those we do not naturally like. Jesus reveals to us through His words and actions, but most of all through His life and death, that God is love, even toward the unlovely and unlovable. Jesus calls us to make this divine love the basis of our lives. ‘This is My commandment,’ said Jesus, ‘that you love one another as I have loved you’” (Father Henri J.M. Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing, 86).

“It takes the whole of the gospels to tell of the marvelous, wonderful love of Jesus…. [His love] was without respect of persons. He did not love people who were nice to love, as we do. He chose to love the unlovely: people who were rejected, difficult to love, looked down upon, held in contempt by society. He loved them, not because he wanted the good feeling of love, but simply because they needed love, and his love responded. This is the characteristic of his love. It goes out to people who need love regardless of what they are like, no matter how dirty, leprous, hurtful, proud or arrogant they may be. It goes out because they need love, without respect of persons” (Ray C. Stedman, “The One Commandment,” www.raystedman.org).

Romans 5:5-11  And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.  For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

“God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is Love. It may be that He loves all equally—He certainly loved all to the death—and I am not certain what the expression means. If there is equality, it is in His love, not in us” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and other Addresses, 170).

"Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.

"I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines" (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012, 31).

God loves Jimmy (and the rest of us) unconditionally, and so sinner or not, Jimmy (we) should know that God still loves him (us). Does that mean he’s automatically going to get into heaven? Not exactly.  While Christ did not condemn the woman taken in adultery, he did not excuse her sin.  He called upon her, as He does with each of us, to "go, and sin no more."  Sorry Jimmy, God's great love for you, while it is a source of great hope and happiness, does not excuse you from the responsibility to repent for your mistakes.  God loves each of us unconditionally, but he has also asked us to show our love for him by keeping his commandments (see John 14:15).  This understanding is actually a source of great hope, because now Jimmy should be a able to see past Satan's cloud of deception and despair, to glimpse a means of freedom and redemption and escape from Satan's grasp.

2) You are not beyond redemption or forgiveness. There are only one or two sins so bad that they cannot be forgiven, and you haven’t come close to committing them.

Isaiah 1:18
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Matthew 12:31
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

“Satan would have you believe that serious transgression cannot be entirely overcome. The Savior gave His life so that the effects of all transgression can be put behind us, save the shedding of innocent blood and the denial of the Holy Ghost” (Richard G. Scott, “Finding Forgiveness,” Ensign, May 1995, 75).

3) You are not beyond redemption because God sent his Son Jesus Christ to Earth to die for your sins, and to be resurrected and in so doing, to redeem you, and to save you from your sins. This sacrifice was the ultimate expression of love from a Heavenly Father who loves us so much that the Apostle John was moved to declare that “God is Love” (in 1 John 4:16).

John 3:16-17
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

1 John 4:9-10, 14
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

4) “God will force no man to heav’n” (see Hymn 240, "Know This, That every Soul Is Free" in the LDS hymnbook). Jesus Christ will not save us against our will. We must choose to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Savior. We can only do this if we have the broken heart and contrite spirit that comes from true repentance.

Helaman 5:9-11
O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world. And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins. And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.

2 Nephi 2:6-8
Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

The ability to repent is a gift that comes to us through the atoning grace of the Savior.

“We must change anything we can change that may be part of the problem. In short we must repent, perhaps the most hopeful and encouraging word in the Christian vocabulary. We thank our Father in Heaven we are allowed to change, we thank Jesus we can change, and ultimately we do so only with Their divine assistance.” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Broken Things to Mend”, Ensign , May 2006, 70).

"You can change anything you want to change, and you can do it very fast. That’s another satanic suckerpunch—that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say, “I’ll change”—and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend—indeed you had better spend—the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as for Alma and the sons of Mosiah. Even if you have serious amends to make, it is not likely that you would qualify for the term, “the vilest of sinners,” which is the phrase Mormon uses in describing these young men" (Jeffrey R. Holland, "For Times of Trouble," BYU Devotional, March 18, 1980).

5) How do I gain forgiveness for this terrible sin that I have committed?

"Here your most crucial challenge, once you have recognized the seriousness of your mistakes, will be to believe that you can change, that there can be a different you. To disbelieve that is clearly a satanic device designed to discourage and defeat you. When you get home tonight, you fall on your knees and thank your Father in Heaven that you belong to a Church and have grasped a gospel that promises repentance to those who will pay the price. Repentance is not a foreboding word. It is following faith, the most encouraging word in the Christian vocabulary. Repentance is simply the scriptural invitation for growth and improvement and progress and renewal. You can change! You can be anything you want to be in righteousness" (Jeffrey R. Holland, "For Times of Trouble," BYU Devotional, March 18, 1980).

“Forgiveness comes through repentance. What is repentance? How is it accomplished? What are its consequences? These may seem to be simple questions, but it is clear that many do not know how to repent.

In The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer W. Kimball gives a superb guide to forgiveness through repentance. It has helped many find their way back. He identifies five essential elements of repentance.

Sorrow for sin. Study and ponder to determine how serious the Lord defines your transgression to be. That will bring healing sorrow and remorse. It will also bring a sincere desire for change and a willingness to submit to every requirement for forgiveness. Alma taught, “Justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.”

Abandonment of sin. This is an unyielding, permanent resolve to not repeat the transgression. By keeping this commitment, the bitter aftertaste of that sin need not be experienced again. Remember: “But unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.” Joseph Smith declared: “Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not … pleasing in the sight of God.”

Confession of sin. You always need to confess your sins to the Lord. If they are serious transgressions, such as immorality, they need to be confessed to a bishop or stake president. Please understand that confession is not repentance. It is an essential step, but is not of itself adequate. Partial confession by mentioning lesser mistakes will not help you resolve a more serious, undisclosed transgression. Essential to forgiveness is a willingness to fully disclose to the Lord and, where necessary, His priesthood judge all that you have done. Remember, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Restitution for sin. You must restore as far as possible all that which is stolen, damaged, or defiled. Willing restitution is concrete evidence to the Lord that you are committed to do all you can to repent.

Obedience to all the commandments. Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into your life with strength to focus on the abandonment of specific sins. It includes things you might not initially consider part of repentance, such as attending meetings, paying tithing, giving service, and forgiving others. The Lord said: “He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.”

I would add a sixth step: Recognition of the Savior. Of all the necessary steps to repentance, I testify that the most critically important is for you to have a conviction that forgiveness comes because of the Redeemer. It is essential to know that only on His terms can you be forgiven. Witness Alma’s declaration: “I was … in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But … I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul.” You will be helped as you exercise faith in Jesus Christ. That means you trust Him and you trust His teachings. Satan would have you believe that serious transgression cannot be entirely overcome. The Savior gave His life so that the effects of all transgression can be put behind us, save the shedding of innocent blood and the denial of the Holy Ghost.” (Richard G. Scott, “Finding Forgiveness,” Ensign, May 1995, 75)

When I was on my mission I taught the following 5 principles of repentance according to what I read in the missionary guide "Preach My Gospel":

"To repent, we recognize our sins and feel remorse, or godly sorrow. We confess our sins to God. We also confess our very serious sins to God's authorized Church leaders, who can help us repent. We ask God in prayer to forgive us. We do all we can to correct the problems our actions may have caused; this is called restitution. As we repent, our view of ourselves and the world changes. As we change, we recognize that we are children of God and that we need not continue making the same mistakes over and over. If we sincerely repent, we turn away from our sins and do them no more. We resist any desire to commit sin. Our desire to follow God grows stronger and deeper." (Preach My Gospel, 62)

Here are those 5 points or true repentance boiled down for you:

1) Recognize our sins

2) Feel remorse, or godly sorrow

3) Confess our sins to God (and to his authorized church leaders if necessary)

4) Make Restitution, i.e. Do all we can to correct the problems our actions may have caused.

5) Forsake our sins. We turn away from our sins and do them no more, and we resist any desire to commit sin.

"Sincere repentance brings several results. We feel God's forgiveness and His peace in our lives. Our guilt and sorrow are swept away. We feel the influence of the Spirit in greater abundance. And when we pass from this life, we will be more prepared to live with Heavenly Father and His Son." (Preach My Gospel, 62)

6) Why do I feel so terrible? Is the church trying to make me feel guilty so they can run my life?

First of all, the church has nothing to do with it. You feel so bad because you are feeling guilt that comes out of doing something that YOU knew in your heart was wrong. Feelings of guilt and remorse are natural, however as we have already seen, they can be turned to Satan’s ends. If he can get us to deceive ourselves into looking for an outside scapegoat (like the church, or our parents) to blame for our inner pain, to say "I'm not the one who's wrong, you're wrong for condemning me!" Then he can use our pride to destroy us. Satan can use feelings of guilt and the sorrow that accompanies guilt to destroy us if we choose to wallow in them unproductively, and allow ourselves to become convinced of our worthlessness and so choose not to repent out of some misguided idea that we aren’t good enough to repent, or that repentance is too difficult.

"Do not misunderstand. Repentance is not easy or painless or convenient. It is a bitter cup from Hell. But only Satan, who dwells there, would have you think that a necessary and required acknowledgment is more distasteful than permanent residence. Only he would say, “You can’t change. You won’t change. It’s too long and too hard to change. Give up. Give in. Don’t repent. You are just the way you are.” That, my friends, is a lie born of desperation. Don’t fall for it"  (Jeffrey R. Holland, "For Times of Trouble," BYU Devotional, March 18, 1980).

In order to combat Satan's designs, we must take those feelings of guilt and remorse, and turn them into “godly sorrow”. What exactly is Godly sorrow? President Ezra Taft Benson explained what godly sorrow actually is, and taught us the difference between worldly sorrow, and the “godly sorrow” that is so vital to true repentance.

“It is not uncommon to find men and women in the world who feel remorse for the things they do wrong. Sometimes this is because their actions cause them or loved ones great sorrow and misery. Sometimes their sorrow is caused because they are caught and punished for their actions. Such worldly feelings do not constitute “godly sorrow…Godly sorrow is vividly portrayed in two places in scripture. In the final days of the Nephite nation, Mormon said of his people: “their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.

“And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die.” (Morm. 2:13–14.) (Ezra Taft Benson, “A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, Oct 1989, 2).

There is another aspect to the sorrow of the world, in which one who has sinned begins to wallow in regret, self-loathing, and self-recrimination over past mistakes, and so becomes trapped in an endless cycle of guilt and worldly sorrow that leads nowhere (but to death).  Often these people tend to dwell on their sins without considering the ways in which they ought to change their lives.  This is what Elder Neal A. Maxwell called "false remorse": 

"False remorse instead is like fondling our failings. In ritual regret, we mourn our mistakes but without mending them” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Repentance,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 31).

These people often attempt penance through self-inflicted suffering, but they mistake unproductive misery, guilt, self-loathing for repentance.  To these people I have often been heard to say, "You can't change the past, but you can choose to change yourself, through the Savior."  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdrof said something similar to church members in General Conference:

“If we have sinned or made mistakes—if we have made choices that we now regret—there is the precious gift of Christ’s Atonement, through which we can be forgiven. We cannot go back in time and change the past, but we can repent. The Savior can wipe away our tears of regret and remove the burden of our sins. His Atonement allows us to leave the past behind and move forward with clean hands, a pure heart, and a determination to do better and especially to become better” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Regrets and Resolutions," Ensign, November 2012, 24).

"In the Eastern Hemisphere, the Apostle Paul labored among the people of Corinth. After reports came of serious problems among the Saints, including immorality (see 1 Cor. 5:1), Paul wrote a sharp letter of rebuke. The people responded in the proper spirit, and evidently the problems were corrected, for in his second epistle to them, Paul wrote: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner. …

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Cor. 7:9–10.)

In both of these scriptures, godly sorrow is defined as a sorrow that leads us to repentance.

Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (See 3 Ne. 9:20; Moro. 6:2; D&C 20:37, 59:8; Ps. 34:18;Ps. 51:17; Isa. 57:15.) Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance.” (Ezra Taft Benson, “A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, Oct 1989, 2)

Elder Boyd K. Packer "testified that we can apply the atonement of Jesus Christ to remove our guilt (Book of Mormon Student manual):

"For some reason, we think the Atonement of Christ applies only at the end of mortal life to redemption from the Fall, from spiritual death. It is much more than that. It is an ever-present power to call upon in everyday life. When we are racked or harrowed up or tormented by guilt or burdened with grief, He can heal us. While we do not fully understand how the Atonement of Christ was made, we can experience “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” We all make mistakes. Sometimes we harm ourselves and seriously injure others in ways that we alone cannot repair. We break things that we alone cannot fix. It is then in our nature to feel guilt and humiliation and suffering, which we alone cannot cure. That is when the healing power of the Atonement will help. The Lord said, “Behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.” [D&C 19:16]....The Atonement has practical, personal, everyday value; apply it in your life. It can be activated with so simple a beginning as prayer. You will not thereafter be free from trouble and mistakes but can erase the guilt through repentance and be at peace." (Boyd K. Packer, “‘The Touch of the Master’s Hand’,” Ensign, May 2001, 22) 

7) In order to truly repent, we must forsake our sins.

While redemption is available to all on condition of repentance, it is the height of iniquity and arrogance to commit sin (or continue to commit sin) with the idea that you can simply repent each time, or when you are done. Joseph Smith taught: “Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not … pleasing in the sight of God.”

Along these same lines, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland begs us not to take this attitude toward sin, and gives us a warning:

“Please, never say: "Who does it hurt? Why not a little freedom? I can transgress now and repent later." Please don't be so foolish or so cruel. You cannot with impunity "crucify Christ afresh.” [See Hebrews 6:4-6]. (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Personal Purity”, Ensign, Nov. 1998, 760

The Apostle Paul agrees, and says further (in Hebrews 10:26):

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

Elder Richard G. Scott taught that to sin with this attitude is a grave error:

“The thought of intentionally committing serious sin now and repenting later is perilously wrong. Never do that. Many start that journey of intentional transgression and never make it back. Premeditated sin has greater penalties and is harder to overcome. If there is sin, repent now—while you can.” (Richard G. Scott, “Serious Questions, Serious Answers,” New Era, Oct 1995, 4)

The Apostle Peter emphasized how disgusting it is for someone who has come to a knowledge of the Savior to then knowingly return to sin, in 2 Peter 2:20-22:

For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

If you elect to follow the path of sin even in the face of all that you have been taught, you cannot expect to do so with impunity. The prophet Alma declares that people who have had the enlightenment of the spirit and subsequently have fallen away into transgression will become more hardened than they were before they learned the truth and, in an echo of Peter's words, "their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things" (see Alma 24:30). King Benjamin warns us that if we choose to come out in open rebellion against God, not only will we suffer the loss of the Holy Spirit, but we will begin to be directed by "the evil spirit" in it's place. He adds that if we persist in this state of rebellion we will become an enemy to all righteousness, and ultimately an enemy to God. He warns that if we remain in this state upon death, that God's mercy will have no claim on us.

Mosiah 2:38-39
Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever. And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

8) Satan says: “Mormon kids are so sheltered, how can you claim to have lived unless you have experienced both the light and the dark? Aren’t you so much happier now that you have seen something of the world?”

The Prophet Isaiah has this to say in response (Isaiah 5:20):

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

The prophet Alma counseled his own son concerning this attractive lie in Alma 41:10, when he said:

Behold I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.

"Many people try to find happiness and fulfillment in activities that are contrary to the Lord's commandments. Ignoring God's plan for them, they reject the only source of real happiness. They give in to the devil, who 'seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself' (2 Nephi 2:27). Eventually they will learn the truth of Alma's warning to his son Corianton: 'Wickedness never was happiness' (Alma 41:10)....As you seek to be happy, remember that the only way to real happiness is to live the gospel. You will find peaceful, eternal happiness as you strive to keep the commandments, pray for strength, repent of your sins, participate in wholesome activities, and give meaningful service. You will learn to have fun within the limits set by a loving father in Heaven" (True to the Faith, 79-80)

You cannot expect to “have your cake, and eat it too” as the saying goes. You cannot commit sin in the name of “experiencing the world”, and expect to be happy, or for that matter, to be accepted of God. You must make a choice between righteousness and iniquity, between following the siren call of the world or heeding the still, small voice of the Lord.

John teaches in 1 John 2:15-17 that unlike the things of God, the things of the world do not last, and ultimate cannot bring meaning to your life in the way that obedience to God’s will does:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

James explains further (in James 4:4) that you cannot follow the call of the world, and remain faithful to God. According to James, this is because the aims of the world are not only exclusive from the will of God, but are in fact in direct opposition to it.

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Despite what some of our more worldly friends might tell us, there are not as many shades of gray in this as you might like to think. You can’t straddle the fence, as Christ declares to John concerning the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-17:

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Paul taught the Corinthians that they had to make a choice concerning who they would follow in 1 Corinthians 10:21:

Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.

The Savior said it best in Matthew 6:24:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

It is my fervent hope that no one who reads this will ever find themselves in a situation like the one that “Jimmy” fell into through transgression. It is possible (and most certainly better) to go through life without having experienced such sin, and yet to have experienced all the good that this life (and the next) has to offer. However, if you do find yourself in lost in the the depths of sin, I urge you to repent immediately. If you choose to repent, you are not damned and you are not doomed to a life of sin. Our Father in Heaven has made it possible for each of us to gain redemption from the stain and taint of sin. He has granted us the gift of repentance and "delivered us from the power of darkness"through the sacrifice of "his dear Son." (See Colossians 1:13)

"The Redeemer can settle your individual account with justice and grant forgiveness through the merciful path of repentance. Full repentance is absolutely essential for the Atonement to work its complete miracle in your life. By understanding the Atonement, you will see that God is not a jealous being who delights in persecuting those who misstep. He is an absolutely perfect, compassionate, understanding, patient, and forgiving Father. He is willing to entreat, counsel, strengthen, lift, and fortify. He so loves each of us that He was willing to have His perfect, sinless, absolutely obedient, totally righteous Son experience indescribable agony and pain and give Himself in sacrifice for all." (Richard G. Scott, “Finding Forgiveness,” Ensign, May 1995, 75)

If the nature of the sin requires it, seek the aid of your Bishop. Only the Lord can grant His forgiveness, but your bishop is authorized and inspired to help you know what to do in order to make a full and lasting repentance. You are not lost. You are not damned. The Lord knows you personally and He loves you-you are his sons and daughters. Your individual happiness and eternal welfare are more important to Him than anything else. He begs you to repent and to follow him. The Savior illustrated this principle beautifully with the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7:

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found [it], he layeth [it] on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together [his] friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

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