Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why Repentance Brings Hope

Repentance is probably one of the most poorly understood terms in all of the gospel, despite the fact that it is among the first principles and ordinances that form the basis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many people are afraid of repentance; some are afraid of the consequences that are likely to occur if they were to admit to any wrong doing, and others dread the potential loss in social standing and status that can come with an admission of sin. There are those who resent the notion that they need to repent, because they insist that they do not sin and they therefore resent the implication that they might be a sinner.  Others will not accept that they even need to repent, because they do not think that what they are doing is wrong and they therefore resent those that suggest that they might need to change.  Almost all of these people mistakenly think that repentance involves punishment and suffering, and therefore they tend to react badly when someone (a loving family member, a bishop, or a general authority) counsels them to repent.  The reasons why people may have a problem with repentance are many, but principal among them is surely a fundamental misunderstanding of what actually constitutes true repentance.  However, when one takes the time to contemplate and comprehend the true meaning of repentance, it becomes a sublime doctrine of love and forgiveness and relief from the burden of sin.

"[Repentance is] 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." (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Broken Things to Mend,” Ensign, May 2006).

Where Does the Word 'Repent' Come From?

When repentance is taught in the Old Testament, the original writers used either of two Hebrew verbs, nacham and shub. According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, nacham means “to be sorry, come to regret something, to repent.”  Repentance is more than just feeling sorry for one’s actions though, and the prophets who wrote the Old Testament knew that, which is why they also chose to employ the verb shub. "Shub means ‘to turn from’," as Elder Theodore M. Burton explains:

“The message of the Old Testament is to shub, or to turn from transgression and back to our loving Father in Heaven—to leave unhappiness, sorrow, regret, and despair behind and turn back to our Father’s family. There we can find happiness, joy, and acceptance among his other children.

Prophet after prophet writes of shub to let us know that if we are truly repentant and forsake sin, we can be received with joy and rejoicing. The Old Testament teaches repeatedly we must turn from evil and do instead that which is noble and good. This means that we must not only change our ways, we must change our very thoughts, which control our actions.” (Elder Theodore M. Burton, "The Meaning of Repentance," Liahona Nov. 1988).

Repentance has a similar meaning in the New Testament, and the Greek writers that recorded the teachings contained in it employ the word metanoeo when the concept of repentance is taught.

“When Jesus said “repent,” His disciples recorded that command in the Greek language with the verb metanoeo. This powerful word has great significance. In this word, the prefix meta means “change.” The suffix relates to four important Greek terms: nous, meaning “the mind”; gnosis, meaning “knowledge”; pneuma, meaning “spirit”; and pnoe, meaning “breath.” (Russell M. Nelson, Repentance and Conversion, Ensign May 2007)

Theodore M. Burton similarly asserts that: “Metanoeo means a change of mind, thought, or thinking so powerful that it changes one’s very way of life.” (Elder Theodore M. Burton, "The Meaning of Repentance," Liahona Nov. 1988).

These concepts are beautiful and easy to understand, so why do people get so touchy when told to repent? Where did the confusion come from?

“Confusion came, however, when the New Testament was translated from Greek into Latin. Here an unfortunate choice was made in translation; the Greek word metanoeo was translated into the Latin word poenitere. This word is related to the words punish, penance, penitent, and repentance. The beautiful meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words was thus changed in Latin to a meaning that involved hurting, punishing, whipping, cutting, mutilating, disfiguring, starving, or even torturing! It is no small wonder, then, that people have come to fear and dread the word repentance, which they understand to mean repeated or unending punishment.” (Elder Theodore M. Burton, The Meaning of Repentance, Liahona Nov. 1988)

Due to the unintended stigma that has come to be associated with the principle of repentance, many people fail to apply the healing power of the atonement in their lives because, ironically, they want to avoid the pain and suffering that they are sure must accompany repentance.  Unfortunately these people do not understand how repentance truly works; pain, while it may be a part of the repentance process, is not the point nor is it the purpose of repentance.

“The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord’s Way [1991], 223; emphasis in original).

“True repentance is about transformation, not torture or torment.”  (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “You Can Do It Now!,” Ensign, November 2013, 56)

While pain and suffering are almost always a part of the journey towards repentance, repentance is NOT punishment, and suffering is NOT repentance. Theodore M. Burton taught this truth clearly when he said:

“As a General Authority, I have prepared information for the First Presidency to use in considering applications to readmit repentant transgressors into the Church and to restore priesthood and temple blessings. Many times, a bishop will write, “I feel he has suffered enough!” But suffering is not repentance. Suffering comes from the lack of complete repentance. A stake president will write, “I feel he has been punished enough!” But punishment is not repentance. Punishment follows disobedience and precedes repentance.” (Elder Theodore M. Burton, "The Meaning of Repentance," Liahona Nov. 1988).

If repentance is not about punishment, then why are sorrow and suffering so often associated with the repentance process?  This is because Christ's atonement makes it possible for us to become cleansed of our sins and to be forgiven for our transgressions, but it does not free us from the responsibility to face the consequences of our own poor choices.

"It is a fundamental truth that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can be cleansed. We can become virtuous and pure. However, sometimes our poor choices leave us with long-term consequences. One of the vital steps to complete repentance is to bear the short- and long-term consequences of our past sins."(Richard G. Scott, "Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ," Ensign October 2013, 84).

Sometimes facing the consequences of our mistakes and sins can bring us much heartache, grief, and embarrassment but each of us can take comfort in the knowledge that, through the gift of repentance which comes to us by means of the atonement of Jesus Christ, God has given to His children a way to be happy and eventually to return to live with Him in eternity.  When we understand that humble repentance is required in order for us to experience the joy and blessings that the Lord holds in store for us, then no amount of embarrassment, sorrow, or personal suffering should be able to deter us from seizing the opportunity to repent of our sins and become clean through Christ.

"Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, each of us can become clean and the burden of our rebellion will be lifted. Remember, repentance is not punishment. It is the hope-filled path to a more glorious future."  (Richard G. Scott, "Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ," Ensign October 2013, 84).

The "Steps" of Repentance

Now that we have examined the linguistic origins and doctrinal underpinnings of what repentance actually is (and isn’t), let’s examine what it actually means to repent (in the verb sense). Preach My Gospel (the LDS church’s guide to missionary service) is an excellent source for simple statements about basic doctrines of the gospel. It provides the following insights on the doctrine of repentance:

“Our faith in Christ and our love for Him lead us to repent, or to change our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that are not in harmony with His will. Repentance includes forming a fresh view of God, ourselves, and the world. When we repent, we feel godly sorrow, then we stop doing things that are wrong and continue doing things that are right. Bringing our lives in line with God’s will through repentance is a central purpose of our lives. We can return to live with God the Father only through Christ’s mercy, and we receive Christ’s mercy only on condition of repentance.” (PMG p. 62)

The Preach My Gospel manual goes on to teach that in order “To repent”

1) “We recognize our sins”

2) “feel remorse, or godly sorrow” This is also referred to as having “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

3) “We confess our sins to God. We also confess very serious sins to God’s authorized Church leaders, who can help us repent. We ask God in prayer to forgive us.”

4) “We do all that we can to correct problems our actions may have caused; this is called restitution.”

5) “we turn away from our sins and do them no more.” In other words, we forsake our sins.

Lest someone accuse me of relying upon an “un-scriptural” source in order to describe and set forth the conditions of sincere repentance, let us make a cursory examination of the scriptural basis for each of these points:

1) Recognize

But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Alma 36:12-13

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Psalms 51:1-3

2) Remorse

Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10

And it came to pass that when I, Mormon, saw their lamentation and their mourning and their sorrow before the Lord, my heart did begin to rejoice within me, knowing the mercies and the long-suffering of the Lord, therefore supposing that he would be merciful unto them that they would again become a righteous people. But behold this my joy was vain, for 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. Nevertheless they would struggle with the sword for their lives. Mormon 2:12-14

Feelings of guilt and remorse are natural consequences of sin, however as we have already seen, they can be turned to Satan’s ends.  Satan can use our feelings of guilt, and the sorrow that accompanies that guilt, to destroy us if we choose to wallow in them unproductively.

"Satan will try to use our memory of any previous guilt to lure us back into his influence. We must be ever vigilant to avoid his enticements."  (Richard G. Scott, "Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ," Ensign October 2013, 84).

If we allow ourselves to become convinced of our worthlessness and elect not to repent out of some misguided idea that we aren’t good enough to repent, then we are lost and Satan has his victory.  Satan likewise rejoices if we, like the wicked Nephites of Mormon's day, only sorrow "because the Lord would not always suffer [us] to take happiness in sin" and do not allow our sorrow to lead us to true repentance and change.  Fortunately each of us can repent if we so choose and, through Christ, repentance is available to all who are willing to embrace it (especially those who feel lost in sin).  In order to combat Satan's designs, we must take those feelings of guilt and remorse, and turn them into “godly sorrow”, but what exactly is godly sorrow?  President Dieter F. Uchtdorf explains the principle of godly sorrow, and teaches us the difference between the worldly sorrow that can only lead to “death,” and the “godly sorrow” that is so vital to true repentance.

“Of all the principles taught by prophets over the centuries, one that has been emphasized over and over again is the hopeful and heartwarming message that mankind can repent, change course, and get back on the true path of discipleship.  That does not mean that we should be comfortable with our weaknesses, mistakes, or sins. But there is an important difference between the sorrow for sin that leads to repentance and the sorrow that leads to despair.

The Apostle Paul taught that “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation … but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” Godly sorrow inspires change and hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Worldly sorrow pulls us down, extinguishes hope, and persuades us to give in to further temptation.  Godly sorrow leads to conversion and a change of heart. It causes us to hate sin and love goodness. It encourages us to stand up and walk in the light of Christ’s love. True repentance is about transformation, not torture or torment. Yes, heartfelt regret and true remorse for disobedience are often painful and very important steps in the sacred process of repentance. But when guilt leads to self-loathing or prevents us from rising up again, it is impeding rather than promoting our repentance.

Brethren, there is a better way. Let us rise up and become men of God. We have a champion, a Savior, who walked through the valley of the shadow of death on our behalf. He gave Himself as a ransom for our sins. No one has ever had greater love than this—Jesus Christ, the Lamb without blemish, willingly laid Himself on the altar of sacrifice and paid the price for our sins to “the uttermost farthing.” He took upon Himself our suffering. He took our burdens, our guilt upon His shoulders. My dear friends, when we decide to come to Him, when we take upon ourselves His name and boldly walk in the path of discipleship, then through the Atonement we are promised not only happiness and “peace in this world” but also “eternal life in the world to come.”

When we make mistakes, when we sin and fall, let us think of what it means to truly repent. It means turning our heart and will to God and giving up sin. True heartfelt repentance brings with it the heavenly assurance that “we can do it now.””  (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “You Can Do It Now!,” Ensign, November 2013, 56)

3) Confess

By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them. D&C 58:43

Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death. D&C 64:7

“Repentance is individual, and so is forgiveness. The Lord requires only that one turn from their sin, and “[He] will forgive their iniquity, and … remember their sin no more.””  (Boyd K. Packer, “The Key to Spiritual Protection,” Ensign, November, 2013, 28).

C. S. Lewis added this crucial insight into what constitutes true repentance, and forgiveness humbly sought; and he includes a compelling warning about the dangers of being too casual and flippant in our appeals to God for His forgiveness.  Lewis warns that there may be times in which we may think that we have sought forgiveness, when all we have actually done is to enable ourselves to rationalize and excuse our transgression instead (at least in our own minds.)  While making excuses for our actions may allow us us feel better about ourselves in the short run, there can be no satisfaction, and indeed there can be no forgiveness unless we choose to return in humility to God in order to beg for His forgiveness without seeking to be excused from responsibility for our transgressions.

"I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what seemed at first to be the sins turns out to be really nobody’s fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven....But the trouble is that what we call “asking God’s forgiveness” very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some “extenuating circumstances.” We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don’t cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves."  (C.S. Lewis, “On Forgiveness,” The Weight of Glory, 178-179)

4) Restitution

If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour; Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering. Leviticus 6:2-5

5) Forsake

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. Proverbs 28:13

By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them. D&C 58:43

But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Ezekiel 18:21-22, 27-28

Christ's Atoning Grace Is What Makes Repentance Possible

I have presented certain steps and conditions of repentance which are essential to the process, but it should also be emphasized that these aspects of repentance do not represent a checklist of rote requirements, or a series of achievements to be unlocked, whereupon the repentance process is completed.  Furthermore, none of these conditions of repentance can be even remotely effective without the power and redeeming grace of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

"Formulas have been crafted to help remember some of the essential actions required for full repentance. While these can be helpful, generally they ignore the most fundamental aspect of repentance—that it is centered in Jesus Christ and in His Atonement, that it has efficacy because He willingly paid the full price through His redeeming sacrifice, motivated by a perfect love of His Father and of each of us."  (Richard G. Scott, "The Path to Peace and Joy," Ensign, November 2000).

“It is not repentance per se that saves man. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that saves us. It is not by our sincere and honest change of behavior alone that we are saved, but “by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). True repentance, however, is the condition required so that God’s forgiveness can come into our lives. True repentance makes “a brilliant day [out] of the darkest night” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 362)” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Point of Safe Return,” Ensign, May 2007, 101).

Who needs to repent?

I mentioned that many people do not think they need to repent. Many people hold this mistaken notion because they do not believe that their actions and choices are wrong, much less that they might constitute any kind of sin. Other people say “But I’m a good person, good people don’t need to repent! Only sinners need to repent, and I’m certainly no sinner!” A smaller group of people think that they can’t repent-or more to the point they think that cannot be forgiven.

The people in each of these groups are being deceived (or perhaps some are deceiving themselves), and they are allowing themselves to be lulled away into carnal security by Satan. This is just one weapon in the arsenal that the devil uses to cheat our “souls, and [lead us] away carefully down to hell.” (2 Nephi 28:21) Fortunately, God has given us the scriptures which provide the light of revelation and the prophecy that shines as “a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn” (2 Peter 1:19) and the truth is revealed.  In this light it becomes clear who exactly does (or does not) need to repent.

First, all men have sinned, and therefore require the blessing of repentance:

Romans 3:10, 23
As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

1 John 1:8-9
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

More than that however, ALL men must choose to repent of their sins or they cannot be saved:

D&C 20:29
And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

3 Nephi 27:19-21 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;

Who can repent?

There are many who, upon committing a sin, or series of sins, mistakenly decide that they are a lost cause and that repentance is forever out of their reach.  Others assume that they have used up all of their chances to repent, and that they have struck out in the game of life.  In the certainty that they are "not good enough," or "not worthy" enough to repent of their sins, many make the fatal error of giving up and surrendering to a life of sin and error.  Satan delights at those who make this mistake, and he does everything in his power to promote this idea in the minds of those who have committed sin.  For those for whom repentance seems out of reach the message is that everyone can repent!  You are never beyond the reach and power of Jesus Christ and His atoning grace!  The power of His redemption is infinite and eternal, which means you can never use up your chances to repent and you can never 'strike out' or fail in life unless you decide to give up and forsake God.  You are never so far gone that Christ cannot reclaim you, if you will only let Him!

“Those who make one serious mistake tend to add another by assuming that it is then too late for them. It is never too late! … The discouraging idea that a mistake (or even a series of them) makes it everlastingly too late, does not come from the Lord. He has said that if we will repent, not only will He forgive us our transgressions, but He will forget them and remember our sins no more. (See Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17; D&C 58:42; Alma 36:19.) Repentance is like soap; it can wash sin away” (Boyd K. Packer, “To Young Women and Men,” Ensign, May 1989, 59).

"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 distance 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).

D&C 58:42 Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.

Isaiah 1:16, 18 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 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.

Isaiah 55:6-7 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Ezekiel 18:21-22, 27-28 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Why do I need to repent?
The scriptures make it clear that you need to repent in order to be saved. When I phrase it like this it makes it sound like you are the one that does the saving, because in this context salvation appears to be based upon your initiative alone, but that is not the case. A better way to talk and think about repentance is to simply say: “I need the atonement in my life”. Why do we depend on the power of Christ’s atonement in order to be saved? There are two reasons: first we sin way too much, and second we all die (to paraphrase my mission president). What do these two factors have to do with anything? Primarily, they are obstacles that keep us from going and living in God’s presence right now, or for that matter, ever. Please allow me to explain; first, as Isaiah declared in Isaiah 59:2, sin separates us from God:

But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that he will not hear.

This is because sin makes us unclean:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

We are told repeatedly by the prophets in the Book of Mormon and the Bible and by Jesus Christ Himself that “No unclean thing can dwell with God”

1 Nephi 10:20-21 Therefore remember, O man, for all thy doings thou shalt be brought into judgment. Wherefore, if ye have sought to do wickedly in the days of your probation, then ye are found unclean before the judgment-seat of God; and no unclean thing can dwell with God; wherefore, ye must be cast off forever.

3 Nephi 27:19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

Psalms 24:3-5 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

Second, God lives forever, and we don’t. (I'll talk more about that later.)

It seems like we get a raw deal doesn’t it? How did we get stuck in this situation? It started at the beginning with Adam and Eve:

Romans 5:12, 14 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

This verse is Paul’s short way of telling you the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, and more to the point, it’s consequences. When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden they dwelt in the presence of God. Lehi teaches us (in 2 Nephi 2:22) that if Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen they would have remained in the garden forever, having “no end.” However because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and partook of the forbidden fruit, they sinned, and because sin separates us from God they got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Christ, speaking to Joseph Smith, describes the consequences of the fall in terms of two kinds of death, and here he describes separation from God through sin as spiritual death:

Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation. Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed. (D&C 29:40-41)

Paul (in Romans 5:12) tells us that “death came by sin”. This is an accurate statement because the Lord warned Adam and Eve if they ate the forbidden fruit they would “surely die” (see Genesis 2:17). His warning proved true, and once they were out in the world and no longer in the presence of God, they became subject to physical or temporal death, which basically means that instead of living forever like they would have if they had stayed in the garden, their bodies would wear out, and/or get sick, and die. These are the words that God uses to describe the terms of their (and our) mortal state:

Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art and unto to dust shalt thou return.

The preacher describes this temporal death as a separation of the body from the spirit:

Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Why is it such a bad thing that our spirits be separated from our bodies? Because without Christ there is no way for our body and our spirit to reunite, and unless we can do that, we cannot be reunited with God. Jacob explains in 2 Nephi 9:8-9:

O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.

To summarize, as a consequence of the fall we are all subject to sin and death, or spiritual and temporal death.

Sin, or spiritual death, separates us from God.

And physical, or temporal, death separates our spirits from our bodies (which also effectively separates us from God). Nephi, in paraphrasing his father Lehi, tells us where this leaves us:

1 Nephi 10:6 Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.

Fortunately, we do have a Redeemer to rely upon, and because of him all is not lost. God has a plan in place to aid us in obtaining salvation through that Redeemer, Jesus Christ:

2 Nephi 9:10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave. And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.

1 Corinthians 15:20-22 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Alma 7:12-13 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

“But wait”, you say, “I still sin, and I certainly will still die! If Christ overcame these things for us, why do we still have to go through them?” To answer this, I first refer you to Romans chapter 5, in which Paul explains that because of Adam’s transgression, sin is in the world. Sin is in the world because the whole point of the forbidden fruit is that it bestowed upon Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil. Thanks to Adam and Eve, we all know the difference between right and wrong, and armed with this knowledge and our God given agency (the ability to CHOOSE between right and wrong), we are each capable of sin. More than that, Paul tells us in Romans 3:10 and 23 all men have sinned, which is why even those who have not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression are still subject to the consequences of his fall.

Second, yes we still die but thanks to Jesus Christ and his atonement, mortality is not a punishment, but rather a blessing. This is all according to God’s eternal plan for his children. We are taught this repeatedly throughout scripture:

D&C 29:42-43 But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son. And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation—that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe;

Alma 12:24-25 And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead. Now, if it had not been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead; but there was a plan of redemption laid, which shall bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, of which has been spoken.

I wish to highlight exactly what it is that makes it so that death and mortality are not a curse: REPENTANCE. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we are allowed time in this life to repent and prepare to meet God. I went into all this detail on the fall just to make the point that the reason that we all need to repent is because our receiving a chance to repent is the whole point of a mortal life. Yes we all sin, but we also get the chance to change and to stop sinning. Moreover, we can’t be saved without it:

D&C 20:29 And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

Many people find it disconcerting or even insulting to be told that they need to repent and stop sinning. It is comparable to insulting their mother. This is certainly because repentance has been indelibly (and unfortunately) attached to the fire and brimstone sermons that we have all heard, that take the tone that all men are depraved sinners, and as such we are all condemned to miserable punishment in hell. Those that preach such sermons seem to throw repentance at you like a hanging judge throws the book. I want to make it very clear, that just because everybody needs to repent doesn’t mean that we are all depraved, and the call to repentance is certainly not one of harsh judgment or miserable condemnation. It is rather an offer of true freedom and happiness through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The Power of Repentance

When we talk about the power of repentance, we are really talking about the power of the atonement, because without the saving power of the Savior we could repent endlessly, and it would do us no good. The word 'atonement' has an interesting etymology. The word atonement appears only once in the entire King James New Testament (in Romans 5:11), and the translators use it in place of the Greek word katalaggen, which means 'reconciliation.' William Tyndale is often credited with coining the term 'atonement', however many of my sources maintain that it may have been in use before he employed it in his publication of the English New Testament 1525-6. It is my understanding that it was considered bad grammar in the 1500s to employ the same word twice in a row, and during my preparations to teach Romans 5 for Bible study, I found that some scholars ascribe Tyndale's use of "atonement" for the Greek katalaggen in Romans 5:11, which is rendered elsewhere in the same chapter as "reconciliation", to his desire to conform to 16th century grammatical conventions. The King James translators borrowed heavily from Tyndale's translation, and so the term stuck.

The point that I am trying to make is that when the New Testament writers talked about what we call “The Atonement” they generally spoke of it in terms of a reconciliation of man (who through sin has become estranged from God) to his loving Heavenly Father. This understanding of the atonement is consistent with the teachings on the subject on the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

“The word describes the setting “at one” of those who have been estranged, and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin...Jesus Christ, as the Only Begotten Son of God and the only sinless person to live on this earth, was the only one capable of making an atonement for mankind”

Jesus Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins in order that he might effect a reconciliation between ourselves and our Heavenly Father. Sin (spiritual death) and Physical (or Temporal) death separate us from God, and this can be termed an estrangement from our Heavenly Father (see Isaiah 59:2, 2 Cor.5:6). In our sinful state it is impossible for us to return to God’s presence, therefore it becomes necessary to seek to become justified by faith in Christ and sanctified by the shedding of His blood, in order to be allowed to enter into God’s presence. Or in other words, each of us must be “washed clean by the blood of the Lamb” and have our sins remitted and our natures changed through the grace of Christ (see 3 Nephi 27:19-20).

When Christ suffered, bled, and died for us, both in the garden and on the cross, he overcame the obstacle presented to us by sin by blotting out the sins of those who truly repent (with a broken heart and a contrite spirit) and accept him (see Psalms 51:1, 9 and Alma 7:13). When Christ was resurrected, he overcame the obstacle created by physical death, and made it possible for everyone to stand before God once more to be judged (see Alma 7:12,1 Corinthians 15:20-26, and 3 Nephi 27:19-20). If we are truly justified through the merits of Christ, and sanctified by the shedding of his blood, we will be able to enter God’s presence, and dwell with him eternally. Thanks to the infinite atoning sacrifice of our elder brother Jesus Christ, our reconciliation with our loving Heavenly Father will then be complete, and we will never be separated, or estranged, from God again.

“Just as chalk can be removed from a blackboard, with sincere repentance the effects of our transgression can be erased through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. That promise applies in every case.”  (Boyd K. Packer, “The Key to Spiritual Protection,” Ensign, November, 2013, 28).

This doctrine is set forth with great clarity in the New Testament, and the apostle Paul taught it with great eloquence:

Romans 5:9-11
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.

Colossians 1:20-23
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

2 Corinthians 5:18-19
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

I wish to point out that God is the injured party in all of this. He has done no wrong, and it is us who have sinned against Him, and yet He chooses to reach out to us through His Son, to encircle us about in the arms of mercy, to bring us back into His presence, and in so doing to free us from the bondage of sin (to say nothing of the misery, pain, and suffering that comes from a life of sin).

Sin is truly slavery of the worst kind. Many in the scriptures, including Jesus Christ, describe sin in this way.

John 8:34
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

Yet Christ declared many times, both in the New Testament, as well as through such Old Testament prophets as Isaiah, that He was sent to “proclaim liberty to the captives”.

Isaiah 61:1
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

John 8:36
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

The point that I want to make is that repentance is not a thing to be dreaded, a punishment imposed upon us from outside. It is the chance to be freed from the terrible captivity of sin, and welcomed back into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. These incredible gifts can only come to because of the atoning sacrifice of the Savior.

"[Repentance is] 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. Certainly not everything we struggle with is a result of our actions. Often it is the result of the actions of others or just the mortal events of life. But anything we can change we should change, and we must forgive the rest. In this way our access to the Savior’s Atonement becomes as unimpeded as we, with our imperfections, can make it. He will take it from there."  (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Broken Things to Mend,” Ensign, May 2006).

“The gospel teaches us to be happy, to have faith rather than fear, to find hope and overcome despair, to leave darkness and turn toward the light of the everlasting gospel.

Paul and others warned about the trials of our time and the days yet to come. But peace can be settled in the heart of each who turns to the scriptures and unlocks the promises of protection and redemption that are taught therein. We invite all to turn to the Savior Jesus Christ, to His teachings as found in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.”  (Boyd K. Packer, “The Key to Spiritual Protection,” Ensign, November, 2013, 28).

This sublime and supernal gift wouldn’t be available to us without the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, and we certainly cannot bring about any kind of atonement of our own. However the true spirit of repentance must come from within each individual. To quote the hymn Know this, that every soul is free, “God will force no man to heaven.” No one will be saved against their will. What I mean by that is that unless we exercise our own free will, our personal agency, and CHOOSE to repent, there is no force on earth or in heaven that can save us. The scriptures bear this out:

Alma 42:13 Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.

Helaman 5:10-12 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.

It is because of repentance that the Savior has power given to him by the Father to bring about the salvation of our souls! Lest I be misunderstood, I am not saying that we have power over the Savior, I am merely pointing out that God chooses not to take away our agency because He loves us, and just as important-he respects us, enough to let us make our own choices. Nevertheless, God has placed the opportunity to repent in our path, and moreover he has given us everything we need, including our freedom, to choose “Liberty and eternal life” or “captivity and death”:

2 Nephi 2:27-28
And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

I need to emphasize that repentance is not an end unto itself, but is rather a means to move forward, a way to progress in the Gospel, and so to grow closer to God until one day we can be reunited with Him. Mormon explained the function of the principle of repentance in the larger context of the gospel to his son Moroni in Moroni 8:25:

And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;

This is what Paul was saying when he joyfully declared in Romans 8:1-2:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

What I want you to take from this is that repentance is a wonderful blessing from God. A gift bought with the blood and sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ. Instead of being afraid of repentance, we should be overjoyed that we CAN repent at all. If you think that you aren’t worthy to repent, because you feel that you are unclean, remember that making you clean again (so you can progress and become like God) is the whole point of repentance, the gospel as a whole, and ultimately the atonement of Jesus Christ. Christ explained that except where it concerns one particular sin, namely blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, forgiveness is available to all who seek it:

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.

No matter who you are, you can be clean again. You can be whole again. You can be pure again. Isaiah taught this beautifully in 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.

Now that you understand repentance a bit better, I call upon you, with Paul, to be reconciled to God!

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.

When a prophet or another priesthood leader (or a parent or a friend) tells you that you need to repent, don’t get angry and don’t get defensive. Just repent! They are asking you, urgently and fervently-even imploring you, to be reconciled to God, “as though God did beseech you by” them. They aren’t trying to criticize you, or make you feel bad, and they certainly aren’t looking to punish you! Be humble enough to recognize that a call to repentance is another way of saying “I love you, and the Lord loves you too! Your Father in heaven wants you back!”  They understand, as you should that Repentance is absolutely essential to your eternal well-being and salvation, and that there is no other way, nor means by which you can return to the presence of God except it be through that repentance that comes through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

“The invitation to repent is an expression of love. When the Savior “began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), it was a message of love, inviting all who would to qualify to join Him “and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life [itself] in the world to come” (Moses 6:59). If we do not invite others to change or if we do not demand repentance of ourselves, we fail in a fundamental duty we owe to one another and to ourselves. A permissive parent, an indulgent friend, a fearful Church leader are in reality more concerned about themselves than the welfare and happiness of those they could help. Yes, the call to repentance is at times regarded as intolerant or offensive and may even be resented, but guided by the Spirit, it is in reality an act of genuine caring (see D&C 121:43–44).”  (D. Todd Christofferson, “The Divine Gift of Repentance,” Ensign, Nov. 2011).

“Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose:  it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like.  If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back.  It cannot happen”  (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 57).

Listen to the counsel that your loving friends and leaders try to give you. Kneel before the Lord and ask him to help you to recognize what you need to change, and then change it! If it seems too hard, that’s because it is hard, but it might also be because you are trying to do it alone! We have the Savior and His atonement (and His grace) to help us to have the power to change our lives. In some cases you may need the assistance and counsel of your priesthood leaders to help you along the path to repentance. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help, it’s what they are there for, and they want to help you. Don’t forget that if you want to live with God again, repentance is the beginning of the way back to Him, and you can’t get there without it. The Lord is standing outside your door and knocking, but unless you choose to let him into your life he cannot help you:

Revelation 3:19-21  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Web Statistics