The Gospel of Repentance
October 1982

“The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 2

First Presidency Message

The Gospel of Repentance

Just as the prodigal’s father received him, our Father in Heaven eagerly desires to forgive all those who repent.

We are so grateful that our Heavenly Father has blessed us with the gospel of repentance. It is central to all that makes up the gospel plan. Repentance is the Lord’s law of growth, his principle of development, and his plan for happiness. We are deeply grateful that we have his definite promise that where there has been sin and error, they can be followed by sincere and sufficient repentance that will in turn be rewarded with forgiveness.

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” said the Master. (Matt. 11:28.)

The glorious thing about the whole matter of repentance is that the scriptures are as full of the Lord’s assurances that he will forgive as they are full of his commands for us to repent, to change our lives and bring them into full conformity with his wonderful teachings.

God is good. He is eager to forgive. He wants us to perfect ourselves and maintain control of ourselves. He does not want Satan and others to control our lives. We must learn that keeping our Heavenly Father’s commandments represents the only path to total control of ourselves, the only way to find joy, truth, and fulfillment in this life and in eternity.

Thus, the Lord has told us who have been given these truths anew in this last dispensation to “say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments.” (D&C 6:9.) “Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.” (D&C 18:14.) And when the early Saints were going into Missouri, the Lord instructed the leaders:

“Let them preach by the way, and bear testimony of the truth in all places, and call upon the rich, the high and the low, and the poor to repent.

“And let them build up churches, inasmuch as the inhabitants of the earth will repent.” (D&C 58:47–48.)

Today is our day for repentance. It is a day for each of us to take stock of our situations and to change our lives as necessary.

When we make mistakes, we need to travel the road of repentance. We need to have a personal testimony of this miracle that brings forgiveness. Each one of us needs to understand that repentance can be properly applied in his life as well as in the lives of others. Thus, the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to call people everywhere to repentance so that they might know the joys of gospel living. The cry of repentance is to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

We make no apology for raising our voices to a world that is ripening in sin. The adversary is subtle. He is cunning. He knows that he cannot induce good men and women to do major evils immediately, so he moves slyly, whispering half-truths until he has his intended captives following him.

Because the age-old sins continue with us today, the Lord has spoken anew:

“Thou shalt not kill. …

“Thou shalt not steal. …

“Thou shalt not lie . …

“Thou shalt not commit adultery. …

“Thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor. …

“If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments.

“And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them. …

“Thou shalt not be proud in thy heart. …

“Thou shalt not be idle. …

“Thou shalt live together in love. …

“Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church;

“And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue.” (D&C 42:18–60.)

Sexual sins are some of the great sins of our generation. Tragically, movies, television, popular music, books, and magazines all seem to glamorize sex. They seem to preach that nothing is holy, not even marriage vows. The lustful hero is made out to be incapable of doing wrong; the lustful woman is presented as the heroine and is justified. It reminds us of Isaiah who said, “Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil.” (Isa. 5:20.)

Our Heavenly Father’s fundamental teachings are the same yesterday, today, and forever. Even though the world has turned to much evil, the Lord’s church cannot and will not change the Master’s teachings.

How grateful we are that our Heavenly Father has given us the gift of repentance. And how sad it is if we do not recognize that each day is the time for us to make needed improvements: “But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!” (2 Ne. 9:27.)

As repentance gets under way, there must be a deep consciousness of guilt, and in that consciousness of guilt may come suffering to the mind, the spirit, and sometimes even to the body. In order to live with themselves, people who transgress must follow one or the other of two alternatives. The one is to sear their conscience or dull their sensitivity with mental tranquilizers so that their transgression may be continued. Those who choose this alternative eventually become calloused and lose their desire to repent. The other alternative is to permit remorse to lead one to total sorrow, then to repentance, and finally on to eventual forgiveness.

Remember this, that forgiveness can never come without repentance. And repentance can never come until one has bared his soul and admitted his actions without excuses or rationalizations. He must admit to himself that he has sinned, without the slightest minimization of the offense or rationalizing of its seriousness, or without soft-pedaling its gravity. He must admit that his sin is as big as it really is and not call a pound an ounce. Those persons who choose to meet the issue and transform their lives may find repentance the harder road at first, but they will find it the infinitely more desirable path as they taste of its fruits.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation.” (2 Cor. 7:10.) Once we understand how we have injured ourselves and others and are deeply sorry, we are ready to follow the process that will rid us of the effects of the sin.

The next step in the process of repentance is to abandon the sin. The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:43.) And to the adulteress, the Master said, “Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11.)

Prayer is important throughout the entire process of repentance, but it is vital now. In the process of abandoning a sin, it is often necessary to abandon persons, places, things, and situations that are associated with the transgression. This is fundamental. Substitution of a good environment for a bad can hedge the way between the repenting person and his past sin.

The next step, confession of the sin, is a very important aspect of repentance. We must confess and admit our sins to ourselves and then seriously begin the process of repentance. We must also confess our sins to our Heavenly Father. Especially grave errors such as sexual sins must be confessed to the bishop as well.

One begins the process by going to the Lord in “mighty prayer” as did Enos. Then, if appropriate, one goes to the bishop. The Lord has a consistent, orderly plan to bless us in this great law of growth and development, the law of repentance. Every member of the Church is given a bishop or branch president who through his very priesthood ordination or calling is a “judge in Israel.” In these matters, the bishop is our best earthly friend. He is one who works with the Spirit of the Lord in blessing our lives and he keeps all matters completely confidential.

After these steps of sorrowing for sin, abandoning sin, and confessing sin, comes the great principle of restitution. One seeks to restore insofar as possible that which was damaged. If he has stolen, he returns that which was stolen. If he has injured through lies or evil-speaking, he does all that is possible to establish the truth.

Perhaps one of the reasons murder is so serious is that having taken a life, the murderer cannot restore it. Restitution in full is not possible. Similarly, it is not possible to give back robbed virtue. But as fully as he can, the truly repentant person will make restitution. The prophet Ezekiel taught, “If the wicked … give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live.” (Ezek. 33:15.)

The last step, doing the will of the Father, is vital. The Lord informed the Prophet Joseph Smith in these last days:

“I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;

“Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.” (D&C 1:31–32.)

The Lord’s promise is sure: “If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God.” (D&C 6:13.)

When one seeks to bring his life into full conformity with our Heavenly Father’s teachings, then his life of good works is evidence of his repentance. The Savior truly said:

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? …

“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. …

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:16, 18, 20.)

When necessary, we seek a total transformation in thoughts, ideals, standards, and actions in order that we may fulfill the assignment given us by the Savior: “I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” (3 Ne. 12:48.) This step requires no holding back. If one neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant. The Lord knows, as do we, the degree of full and sufficient compliance we make with these fundamental aspects of the law of repentance, which is really God’s law of progress and fulfillment.

This transformation should cause us to be more concerned about others, even to wanting others to have the blessings we enjoy. In fact, the Lord has lovingly told us that our sins are forgiven more readily as we bring souls unto him and remain diligent in bearing testimony to the world. (See D&C 31:5; D&C 84:61; James 5:20.)

Repentance is a glorious and merciful law. Millions of our Heavenly Father’s children throughout the history of the world have successfully applied this wonderful principle, to their benefit and joy. Shall we not go and do likewise? Millions of Saints have found peace along this path and lived beautiful and satisfying and abundant lives with the gospel of repentance as their guide to personal improvement and to harmony with God.

But if we do not repent, then the Lord clearly lets us know that there will be discipline and a denial of blessings and advancement. The Lord teaches that he cannot forgive people in their sins; he can only save them from their abandoned sins. The Lord clearly says, “My blood shall not cleanse them if they hear me not.” (D&C 29:17.) Hear in this instance means to accept and abide his teachings.

“Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence.” (Moses 6:57.) The great and wonderful and miraculous benefit of the Savior’s atonement cannot have its full saving impact on us unless we repent. This, the Master lovingly yet candidly lets us know in unmistakably clear detail:

“Therefore, I command you to repent—repent, lest … your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer even as I;

“Which suffering 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 …

“Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” (D&C 19:15–19.)

How grateful we should be that the Lord finished his preparation in our behalf! Now it is up to us to finish our preparations in our own behalf—by partaking of his loving forgiveness, which is the reward he eagerly desires to give all who truly repent.

If we have felt disheartened or inadequate, we need only turn to our Heavenly Father and plead for his help. He will give it! It is a promise he has made to us that he will not break. Thus, so long as the Spirit is striving with us, there is always hope. But when we attempt to excuse our actions by saying, “This is the way I wish to live” or “I am different” or “God made me this way” or “My parents or society are responsible,” then we have arrived at a tragic state in our relationship with ourselves and with God.

If we will earnestly seek our Heavenly Father’s help and apply the steps that constitute the doctrine of repentance, then we will find peace and joy both in this life and in eternity.

It is our great opportunity to experience the peace of repentance and the joy of forgiveness, and then to proclaim that pathway to others. Once we have found that peace, we are to bear witness of it and teach others how they can obtain it. This we do by being long-suffering, gentle, meek, and by having the pure love of Christ for all we meet. This is our calling as Latter-day Saints. This is our great joy and our blessing.

Ideas for Home Teachers

Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:

1. God is eager to forgive. He wants us to perfect ourselves and maintain control of ourselves.

2. In the process of abandoning a sin, it is often necessary to abandon persons, places, and things that are associated with the transgression.

3. We must confess and admit our sins to ourselves and to Heavenly Father. Especially grave errors must be confessed to the bishop as well.

4. As fully as we can, we should make restitution.

5. The Lord cannot forgive us in our sins; he can only save us from our abandoned sins.

Discussion Helps

1. Relate your personal feelings or experiences about the blessings of repentance. Ask family members to share their feelings.

2. Are there scriptural verses or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?

3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house?

Painting by J. Roed, Courtesy of Globe Photos, Inc.