It is only through the Holy Ghost that a person’s heart can change. President Henry B. Eyring taught, “If you teach doctrinal principles, the Holy Ghost will come” (“Discussion with Elder Richard G. Scott and Elder Henry B. Eyring” [Church Educational System satellite training broadcast, Aug. 11, 2003]).
Today we talk about the doctrinal principle of repentance. Now don’t sigh with disappointment or roll your eyes because you feel you’re getting another lecture on repenting. For this is not a lecture and it is far from disappointing. This is a doctrinal principle of great worth, it is a gift that brings joy, peace, comfort, and a feeling of self-worth you cannot gain from any other source. Today is a great day for a good talk on how to more completely connect with the Savior and feel His love so we discuss Doctrine and Covenants 18–19 and the commandment to preach nothing but repentance with a hope that you see and know that repentance is not a visit to the principal’s office, it is not a beating down of self, it is life-changing, a humbling, glorious gift from the Father, given by His son because he loves you so…
History and Background
The revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 18 was given in June 1829, shortly after Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Their visitation emphasized the important role of Apostles in the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. Doctrine and Covenants 18:1–16 focuses on the calling Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer received to be servants of Jesus Christ and preach repentance to others. Doctrine and Covenants 18:17–47 teaches the importance of taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ. The Lord also mentioned the forthcoming call of the Twelve Apostles and the desire they would have to take upon themselves the name of the Savior “with full purpose of heart” (D&C 18:27). The Lord gave Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer the unique responsibility to “search out the Twelve” (D&C 18:37).
In June 1829, Joseph Smith hired the printer Egbert B. Grandin to print 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon at a cost of $3,000. However, Grandin would not start the printing or even buy the type until he was guaranteed payment for the job. In the revelation contained in Doctrine and Covenants 19, likely given in the summer of 1829, the Lord commanded Martin Harris to “impart a portion of thy property … [and] pay the debt thou has contracted with the printer” (D&C 19:34–35). Using a portion of his farm as collateral, Martin Harris personally guaranteed payment of the cost of printing if sales of the Book of Mormon did not cover the cost.
President Joseph Fielding Smith described this revelation, with its teachings on the Atonement, as “one of the great revelations given in this dispensation; there are few of greater [importance] than this” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2 vols. , 1:85).
Part One: Being Spiritually Prepared to Repent Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–19
When reading Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–19 though hard for our human minds to understand, it is not hard to feel the Savior’s love for us. Here He tells of the suffering He personally experienced as He atoned for our sins and also teaches us why He did so and why he was willing to suffer so greatly. It was for us, “that [we] might not suffer if [we] would repent.” Repentance is not a sentence, it is not visit to the principles office, it is a blessing made possible by the Savior. It should be for each of us a constant, daily effort to turn away from sin and turn to God. It is part of Heavenly Father’s plan to help us return to Him, and understanding how to repent, can help us be cleansed of our sins, change our hearts and minds, and draw closer to God.
We are taught from the New Testament that every person needs repentance Romans 3:23. Each one of us knows that we need to repent, it's the only way to find true joy and peace. That’s because it comes through the power of Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice Alma 36:24. We’ve also learned that putting off repentance is a really bad idea Alma 34:32–34. Yet often times many of us do put it off. Why?
The main reason I believe many of us put off repentance is due to fear. Whether it is for a serious sin or something we need to change such as attitudes, habits, or behaviors Satan has placed in us that repentance is something we should fear or something that restricts our freedom. It was that way for me at first when I knew in my heart that repentance was the only way to find happiness and a peaceful life. After many months of prayer, scripture study, and heart-to-heart talks in my journal between the Lord and myself I began to understand that repentance is not to be feared, rather it is a gift.
Many people misunderstand what it means to repent. They may dread repentance or think it applies only to serious sins. Here are seven fears or concerns that can cause us to put off repentance:
- Embarrassment: If I tell my bishop what I’ve done, he’ll be so disappointed—and I’ll be so embarrassed. What if I have to tell my parents? What if others find out? I personally had to overcome this fear in order to progress in my journey. My main concern was what would the bishop think of me. I already had what I felt was a tainted reputation I had worked for many years to change from my sins and be a new person, but there was one piece to my efforts that was missing and that was a full confession and willingness to fully cleanse. In counseling with the Father in Heaven daily concerning this matter, the feeling came to me so strong that I could not deny that this is what I needed to do to complete the process. This was not asked of me because I needed to be reprimanded or for any other reason that to one, show the Lord of my willingness to come and follow him and two, to be able to forgive myself. Though the things that I would reveal would indeed be embarrassing to me the Lord already knew these things and he would strengthen not only me but also my bishopric to understand and guide me. And it was indeed true when my full confession came, relief came and I need not fear because I had followed the Savior. Whatever happened to me at this point in my life, Heavenly Father knew I had come to him with full purpose of heart and laid my sins before him to give them up. That is what is most important, not the embarrassing act itself.
“I promise you [that the bishop] will not condemn you. As a servant of the Lord, he will be kind and understanding as he listens to you. He will then help you through the repentance process. He is the Lord’s messenger of mercy to help you become clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” Elder C. Scott Grow of the Seventy, “Why and What Do I Need to Confess to My Bishop?” New Era, Oct. 2013, 29.
2. Fear of Consequences: If I tell my bishop about my sins, there might be consequences—not taking the sacrament, not blessing or passing the sacrament, not leaving on a mission when I want to. That would mess up my life too much. I too had fear of consequences when contemplating my repentance. I feared losing my standing in the church, I feared losing friends and family, I feared losing the Lord and the Holy Ghost. But what I most feared was what if I had to sit in sacrament meeting and people saw me not taking the sacrament. Sounds kind of silly maybe but this is a fine tactic of Satan to keep us from repenting. Again I sought the Lord through mighty prayer day and night constantly to face my fear and what I learned was that yes, there would be consequences for my actions, I even had the privilege of those consequences being revealed to me during my prayers; but what I was taught was to be not afraid, the consequences of not repenting are far worse than what I would need to go through and the Lord would not leave me comfortless. In my experience, I was not allowed to partake of the sacrament for a long period of time but what I found was that I was not afraid, rather I was completely humbled, and I felt the spirit as I had never felt before because I chose to come unto Christ and follow him even in the hardest of times. This continues to be one of the greatest gifts of my life and sustains me during times of trouble, hardship, and also daily repentance.
“The fact that we can repent is the good news of the gospel! Guilt can be swept away. We can be filled with joy, receive a remission of our sins, and have peace of conscience. We can be freed from feelings of despair and the bondage of sin.” (Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Oct. 2016 general conference.)
“If you have sinned, the sooner you repent, the sooner you begin to make your way back and find the peace and joy that come with forgiveness.” (For the Strength of Youth (2011), 28.)
3. Fear of Effort: Daily repentance is a hard thing, it takes too much time, thought and preparation. Making changes is hard and it's not fun. Putting forth effort for something that can be so time-consuming and hard sometimes puts us out and so we pass it by. But we all know that anything worthwhile takes effort. We put effort into hobbies, work, school, which all can be noteworthy worthwhile choices. If we can do so for these temporal things how much more important is it for our spiritual welfare to put forth the same effort. Forgiveness and spiritual peace are the most worthwhile of all our efforts, it's something we all desire greatly. Those things we desire greatly require work, hard work. Repentance is no different, when we put in the effort to try our best to understand that repentance is not just about the serious sins it's about daily effort in improving, growing, and changing; our minds, hearts, and lives will change. The effort then becomes not an effort at all but a great blessing.
“Repentance means striving to change. It would mock the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross for us to expect that He should transform us into angelic beings with no real effort on our part. Rather, we seek His grace to complement and reward our most diligent efforts (see 2 Nephi 25:23). Perhaps as much as praying for mercy, we should pray for time and opportunity to work and strive and overcome.” (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Oct. 2011 general conference.)
4. Fear of a Shattered Self-Image: I’m one of the “good kids.” If I admit that I’ve made mistakes, that’s it—I wouldn’t be a “good kid” anymore. What would I be? Who would I be? I’d rather just try to forget it and move on as though everything were the same. Now, this is the big one, at least it was for me. My self-image due to my sins had already been disintegrated, I had worked hard to come back to church and make myself right and undo the image created into something better. If I came forth would there be anything left of me to change? It was kind of surprising to me that when I sought my bishop to start my process of repentance and he told me of the great courage I had in seeking him out and expressed a deep respect. He told me that I had been such a good member of the church that it was hard to give the consequences that would come, he told me he couldn’t do that to me. I heard myself telling him that it had to be this way, please do this for me, its the only way I can be right with the Savior. I remember the tears in his eyes, and the great love he expressed for me and for the Savior in teaching me how repentance is full of love and not rejection. Knowing that was a crushing blow to the battle and made me better than I ever could have been. However, this does not stop Satan from his tactics and even today I suffer from issues dealing with self-image and repentance. I do not fear repenting, I fear the pain that comes from my sins and I tend to beat myself up because I should know better, or I am not trying hard enough. What I have to remember, what we all should remember is that God sees us as we are, our image is not shattered and it is not bad when repenting, in fact, it is the opposite. When we humbly acknowledge our sin before God so that He can “make weak things become strong” Ether 12:27 the image of ourselves that we should see is the one that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have of us. We are children of God who, though imperfect, have infinite and divine potential through Their help.
“God sees us as we truly are—and He sees us worthy of rescue. …“… With each step of faith on the path of discipleship, we grow into the beings of eternal glory and infinite joy we were designed to become.” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, “He Will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home,” Apr. 2016 general conference.)
5. Fear of Losing Your Personality: If I conform to the Church’s standards, I’ll be giving up some of the things that make me me, like my favorite movies, TV shows, music, and ways of expressing myself. I’ll just be another cookie-cutter Latter-day Saint. I’d rather just be me. For me this was not fear, I did not want to be the old person I was I wanted a change I wanted to be the cookie-cutter Latter-day but I did not want to lose myself. I was a dance teacher at the time so things like music and costuming played a big part in life. I loved movies, I liked being funny with jokes and humor some of which, were off-color at times. I wrote poetry and short stories for self, competition, and publication, sometimes the content was suggestive. Though I had a great desire to be a “Latter-day Saint” that desire did not make it easy to change. It took a while for me to see that this type of change is important but when I did, it rocked my world. After the experience of following a path of repentance, I was readmitted into full fellowship, my first calling as second counselor in the primary presidency. That is when it hit. I was incredibly humbled that the Lord would see fit to call one such as I, to such an important calling. This meant that I needed to change, if I were entrusted with such an important role in the lives of children I did not want to mess that up as I had done in the past. I had to lead a life that showed my willingness and ability to live as though the Savior were in my presence. One day I began going through all of my albums, CDs, movies, writings, and many other things. I became embarrassed at some of the music and movies I had used in dance performances. I “purged” my house of everything that I did not think fit in a gospel centered life. My mom became so worried about my behavior she called my sister to tell her I had lost it and was throwing out everything in the house. Indeed it must have seemed so for things like the movie Grease, which are acceptable in the world, for me were not acceptable anymore and I was ashamed at inducing it into the lives of my children. If I were going to be a leader in the Lord’s church I must see that might life was in harmony with His teachings. What is the takeaway from this story? I no longer wanted to be defined by my sins, and I did not want to teach others to be that way. I found new ways to express myself that are even deeper and more meaningful than ever before. I didn’t have to stop being me I just had to change some of the aspects such as choosing better music, costuming and movies. When I did I discovered that living the standards of the Church is not conforming, it is liberating.
“Satan would rather that you define yourself by your sins instead of your divine potential. … Don’t listen to him.” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Four Titles,” Apr. 2013 general conference.)
“There is more individuality in those who are more holy. Sin, on the other hand, brings sameness; it shrinks us to addictive appetites and insubordinate impulses.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Oct. 1991 general conference.
6. Fear of Failure: I’ve tried to change so many times but keep making the same mistakes. Maybe I’ve had all my chances. Maybe I’ll never be able to change. If I try one more time and fail, won’t that prove it? I have found this to be one of the things I struggle with today more than ever. Not due to serious sin, but sins of omission. Such can be studied in the book of James in the New Testament which teaches us that we should be slow to wrath, James 1:19–20, doers of the word not hearers only, James 1:22–25, do not be double-minded James 1:8 and do away with hatred or bitterness toward another James 1:21. We may not struggle with all of these of course, but in the time we live in now its hard to not take offense, to be slow to anger, to not be negative, or to improve our language, thoughts and actions. Its hard to change these things, they are hard to practice for we are human and we will not be perfect in this life, yet we do not need to fear trying to be more perfect. I have found that with a great desire to change habits and ways it did not come overnight and repeated my mistake time and again. But the more I counseled with the Lord, the more I continued to daily repent and strive, the better it got and one day a change would just happen. I would take notice weeks or months later that I had indeed made great strides and did change. There is no limit to sincere repentance Mosiah 26:30. Christ was the infinite and eternal sacrifice to atone for our sins so that we can be forgiven if we have faith and repent Alma 34:9–16. Infinite and eternal are the keywords here, for we are not beyond the bounds of His Atonement because it has no bounds. Thus we must keep trying. Over and over!
“Sometimes in our repentance, in our daily efforts to become more Christlike, we find ourselves repeatedly struggling with the same difficulties. As if we were climbing a tree-covered mountain, at times we don’t see our progress until we get closer to the top and look back from the high ridges. Don’t be discouraged. If you are striving and working to repent, you are in the process of repenting.” (Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Oct. 2009 general conference.)
“With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Apr. 2016 general conference.)
7. Fear of Success: What if I really am able to change my life? There might be a lot more expected of me then. Maybe it’s just better to be flawed and mediocre so I won’t be expected to take on more responsibility. Being afraid of higher expectations or more responsibility may come from laziness or insecurity. But Heavenly Father’s plan is one of improvement and progress. You accepted that plan before this life; embrace it now by being diligent and having faith. Try to see the kind of person Heavenly Father wants you to become and the kind of life He wants you to have. If you could actually see the person you have the potential to become, it would be difficult for you to even believe it. With Heavenly Father’s and the Savior’s help, it’s within your grasp. (7 Things We Fear about Repetance and Why We Shouldn’t David A Edwards Ensign March 2017)
“Our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement. Our task is to become our best selves.” (President Thomas S. Monson, “The Will Within,” Apr. 1987 general conference.)
Part Two: We Can Do It Better Doctrine and Covenants 19:15–19
All prophets since the beginning have called upon people to repent. However, perhaps no invitation to repent is as poignant as the Savior’s found in Doctrine and Covenants 19:15–19
15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I asmite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your bsufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
16 For behold, I, God, have asuffered these things for all, that they bmight not suffer if they would crepent;
17 But if they would not repent they must asuffer even as I;
18 Which asuffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might bnot drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and afinished my preparations unto the children of men.
What do you learn about the Savior from these verses?
What do these verses say about the importance of repentance in the Lord’s eyes?
In addition to forgiveness of sin, what other blessings come from repentance? Click to Watch the Video
President Russel M Nelson teaches us that when it comes to repentance, “We Can Do Better and Be Better” Specifically he teaches that:
- Too many people consider repentance as punishment—something to be avoided except in the most serious circumstances. But this feeling of being penalized is engendered by Satan. He tries to block us from looking to Jesus Christ, who stands with open arms, hoping and willing to heal, forgive, cleanse, strengthen, purify, and sanctify us.
- The word for repentance in the Greek New Testament is metanoeo. The prefix meta- means “change.” The suffix -noeo is related to Greek words that mean “mind,” “knowledge,” “spirit,” and “breath.” Thus, when Jesus asks you and me to “repent,” He is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our wives, teach our children, and even care for our bodies. Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance.
- Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Whether you are diligently moving along the covenant path, have slipped or stepped from the covenant path, or can’t even see the path from where you are now, I plead with you to repent. Experience the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day.
- When we choose to repent, we choose to change! We allow the Savior to transform us into the best version of ourselves. We choose to grow spiritually and receive joy—the joy of redemption in Him. When we choose to repent, we choose to become more like Jesus Christ!….
- We need to do better and be better because we are in a battle. The battle with sin is real. The adversary is quadrupling his efforts to disrupt testimonies and impede the work of the Lord. He is arming his minions with potent weapons to keep us from partaking of the joy and love of the Lord. Repentance is the key to avoiding misery inflicted by traps of the adversary.
- The Lord does not expect perfection from us at this point in our eternal progression. But He does expect us to become increasingly pure. Daily repentance is the pathway to purity, and purity brings power. Personal purity can make us powerful tools in the hands of God. Our repentance—our purity—will empower us to help in the gathering of Israel.
How has repentance helped you come closer to Heavenly Father? How can you have a deeper desire to repent? How can better see that repentance is a daily effort and not just reserved for serious sins? President Dallin H Oaks reminds us that: The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ opens the door for “all men [to] repent and come unto him” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:11; The book of Alma reports repentance and forgiveness even of those who had been a wicked and a bloodthirsty people Alma 25:16; 27:27, 30 My message …is one of hope for all of us…We are all sinners who can be cleansed by repentance. “To repent from sin is not easy,” Elder Russell M. Nelson taught in a prior general conference. “But the prize is worth the price.” (“Cleansed by Repentance” (Ensign or Liahona, May 2019, 91–94)
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