Chapter 14: Repentance

“Chapter 14: Repentance,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (2000), 38–41

“14: Repentance,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, 38–41

Chapter 14



The word gospel means good tidings, or good news—the ultimate hope for all the children of God. An important part of the gospel is repentance, which makes hope for eternal life viable for all who will exercise it. Unrepented sin, however, brings despair (see Moroni 10:22).

“When souls are reborn, when lives are changed—then comes the great miracle to beautify and warm and lift. When spiritual death has threatened and now instead there is resuscitation, when life pushes out death—when this happens it is the miracle of miracles” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 362).

Doctrinal Outline

  1. Repentance is an eternal principle of progress.

    1. Repentance is the process through which we are transformed from unworthiness to worthiness (see Ezekiel 18:19–32; 33:7–20; D&C 58:42–43).

    2. The principle of repentance is an essential part of God’s plan of redemption and salvation (see 2 Nephi 9:20–24; 3 Nephi 9:21–22).

    3. Repentance has been a commandment since the beginning (see 3 Nephi 11:32; D&C 133:16; Moses 5:8, 14–15).

  2. To return to God’s presence, an individual must repent.

    1. No unclean thing can enter God’s presence (see Moses 6:57; Alma 11:37; 3 Nephi 27:19).

    2. Everyone sins and comes short of the glory of God (see 1 John 1:8–10; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).

    3. Repentance must not be procrastinated (see Alma 34:31–35; 13:27; Psalm 119:60).

    4. If we do not repent, we will suffer (see D&C 19:15–20; Alma 42:22–24).

    5. The Lord rejoices when we repent (see 2 Peter 3:9; Luke 15).

  3. Repentance involves performing certain actions and working to develop Christlike qualities.

    1. Repentance is the natural result of increasing faith in Jesus Christ (see Acts 2:37–38; Enos 1:1–8; Mosiah 4:1–3; Alma 34:15).

    2. Everyone who would repent must feel remorse or godly sorrow for his misdeeds (see 2 Corinthians 7:10).

    3. We must confess our sins (see D&C 58:43; 64:7; Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; Mosiah 26:29–30).

    4. We must forsake our sins (see D&C 58:43).

    5. Each individual must make restitution for his wrongs to whatever degree possible (see Ezekiel 33:15; Leviticus 6:4–5; Numbers 5:7).

    6. All who sin must be willing to forgive others who transgress (see Matthew 6:14–15; Mosiah 26:31; D&C 64:8–10).

    7. Repentant people become transformed people—in feeling, in thought, in action (see Enos 1:1–11; Mosiah 27:24–26; 28:1–4).

    8. Retaining a remission of sins depends on continuous love and service to God and man (see Mosiah 4:26; Moroni 8:25–26).

Supporting Statements

  1. Repentance is an eternal principle of progress.

    • “Every principle and ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ is significant and important in contributing to the progress, happiness, and eternal life of man; but there is none more essential to the salvation of the human family than the divine and eternally operative principle, repentance. Without it, no one can be saved. Without it, no one can even progress” (David O. McKay, Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, 43).

    • “Repentance is part of the process of progress, of learning, of maturing, of recognizing law, of recognizing results; it is a process of facing facts. Every correcting of a mistake is a kind of repentance; every sincere apology is a kind of repentance; every improvement is a kind of repentance; every conquering of an unhealthful habit” (Richard L. Evans, “Repentance—a Foremost Principle,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1965, 43).

    • “God had decreed that all who will not obey His voice shall not escape the damnation of hell. What is the damnation of hell? To go with that society who have not obeyed His commands” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 198).

    • “What progress can there be for a man unconscious of his faults? Such a man has lost the fundamental element of growth, which is the realization that there is something bigger, better, and more desirable than the condition in which he now finds himself. In the soil of self-satisfaction, true growth has poor nourishment. Its roots find greater succor in discontent. …

      “The first step to knowledge is a realization of the lack of it; and the first step towards spiritual growth is the belief in a higher and better life, or conversely, a realization of the meanness of one’s present state. Repentance is the turning away from that which is low and the striving for that which is higher. As a principle of salvation, it involves not only a desire for that which is better, but also a sorrow—not merely remorse—but true sorrow for having become contaminated in any degree with things sinful, vile, or contemptible.

      “It is not uncommon for people to have remorse for mistakes made, for follies and sins committed, but to have no turning away from such frailties and evils. They may even feel penitent; but ‘penitence,’ we are told, ‘is transient, and may involve no change of character or conduct.’ Repentance, on the other hand, ‘is sorrow for sin with self-condemnation, and complete turning away from the sin.’ It is, therefore, more than mere remorse; ‘it comprehends a change of nature befitting heaven.’” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, 12–13).

    • “Repentance is indispensable to the growing life, since in all growth there is constant adjustment, taking on and sloughing off. We cannot replace a bad life with a good one by any single word or act; there must be a continuing process of replacing error and wrong-doing with truth and right-doing; of going from bad to good and from good to better. …

      “… Sincere repentance will lead to the waters of baptism and forgiveness; but the need for repentance will continue while life lasts. Through baptism we may obtain forgiveness for past sins but it does not guarantee against future folly. Repentance is a vital requisite to the growing life. …

      “When we speak of the continual need of repentance, let it not be understood that we refer to a cycle of sinning and repenting and sinning again. That is not complete repentance. We must see the right and follow it, recognize the wrong and forsake it with a ‘Godly sorrow’ if we would obtain the blessing of complete repentance. A growing conception of the good life must be accompanied by constant adjustment thereto if one would achieve harmony with the will of God” (Hugh B. Brown, Eternal Quest, 99, 102).

    Man in white shirt and tie praying in anguish
  2. To return to God’s presence, an individual must repent.

    • “It is my judgment that any man or woman can do more to conform to the laws of God in one year in this life than they could in ten years when they are dead. The spirit only can repent and change, and then the battle has to go forward with the flesh afterwards. It is much easier to overcome and serve the Lord when both flesh and spirit are combined as one. This is the time when men are more pliable and susceptible. When clay is pliable, it is much easier to change than when it gets hard and sets” (Melvin J. Ballard, in Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, 241).

    • “The road of life is plainly marked according to the divine purpose, the map of the gospel of Jesus Christ is made available to the travelers, the destination of eternal life is clearly established. At that destination our Father waits hopefully, anxious to greet his returning children. Unfortunately, many will not arrive.

      “The reason is forthrightly stated by Nephi— ‘… There cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God …’ (1 Ne. 15:34.) And again, ‘… no unclean thing can dwell with God …’ (1 Ne. 10:21.) To the prophets the term unclean in this context means what it means to God. To man the word may be relative in meaning—one minute speck of dirt does not make a white shirt or dress unclean, for example. But to God who is perfection, cleanliness means moral and personal cleanliness. Less than that is, in one degree or another, uncleanliness and hence cannot dwell with God” (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, 19).

    • “Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God” (Smith, Teachings, 148).

    • “We should take warning and not wait for the death-bed to repent, as we see the infant taken away by death, so may the youth and middle-aged, as well as the infant be suddenly called into eternity. Let this, then, prove as a warning to all not to procrastinate repentance, or wait till a death-bed, for it is the will of God that man should repent and serve Him in health, and in the strength and power of his mind, in order to secure his blessing, and not wait until he is called to die” (Smith, Teachings, 197).

    • “It is true that the great principle of repentance is always available, but for the wicked and rebellious there are serious reservations to this statement. For instance, sin is intensely habit-forming and sometimes moves men to the tragic point of no return. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness, and without forgiveness all the blessings of eternity hang in jeopardy. As the transgressor moves deeper and deeper in his sin, and the error is entrenched more deeply and the will to change is weakened, it becomes increasingly near-hopeless, and he skids down and down until either he does not want to climb back or he has lost the power to do so” (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, 117).

    • “Repentance becomes more difficult as sin is more wilful; it is by humility and contrition of the heart that sinners may increase their faith in God, and so obtain from Him the gift of repentance. As the time of repentance is procrastinated, the ability to repent grows weaker; neglect of opportunity in holy things develops inability” (James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 114).

    • “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” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 2).

    • “I do not believe that any man lives up to his ideals, but if we are striving, if we are working, if we are trying, to the best of our ability, to improve day by day, then we are in the line of our duty. If we are seeking to remedy our own defects, if we are so living that we can ask God for light, for knowledge, for intelligence, and above all, for His Spirit, that we may overcome our weaknesses, then, I can tell you, we are in the straight and narrow path that leads to life eternal. Then we need have no fear” (Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, 184–85).

    Woman pondering
  3. Repentance involves performing certain actions and working to develop Christlike qualities.

    • “Repentance is a result of contrition of soul, which springs from a deep sense of humility, and this in turn is dependent upon the exercise of an abiding faith in God. Repentance therefore properly ranks as the second principle of the Gospel, closely associated with and immediately following faith. As soon as one has come to recognize the existence and authority of God, he feels a respect for divine laws, and a conviction of his own unworthiness. His wish to please the Father, whom he has so long ignored, will impel him to forsake sin; and this impulse will acquire added strength from the sinner’s natural and commendable desire to make reparation, if possible, and so avert the dire results of his own waywardness. With the zeal inspired by fresh conviction, he will crave an opportunity of showing by good works the sincerity of his newly developed faith; and he will regard the remission of his sins as the most desirable of blessings” (Talmage, Articles of Faith, 109).

    • “We are to confess all our sins to the Lord. For transgressions which are wholly personal, affecting none but ourselves and the Lord, confession to ourselves and him would seem to be sufficient. …

      “For misconduct which affects another, confession should also be made to the offended one and his forgiveness sought.

      “Finally, where one’s transgressions are of such a nature as would, unrepented of, put in jeopardy his right to membership or fellowship in the Church of Christ, full and effective confession requires confession by the repentant sinner to his bishop or other proper presiding Church officer—not that the Church officer could forgive him the sin (for this power rests in the Lord himself and those only to whom he specifically delegates the power), but rather that the Church, acting through its duly appointed officers (the power is not in the officer but in the Church), might with full knowledge of the facts take such action with respect to Church discipline as the circumstances require and merit.

      “One having forsaken his sins and, by proper confession, cleared his conduct with the Lord, with the people he has offended, and with the Church of Jesus Christ, where necessary, may with full confidence seek the Lord’s forgiveness and go forth in newness of life, relying upon the merits of Christ” (Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Oct. 1980, 71; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, 48).

    • “There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin. Providing that a person discontinues his sin with the right motives—because of a growing consciousness of the gravity of the sin and a willingness to comply with the laws of the Lord—he is genuinely repenting” (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, 163).

    • “True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution, so far as it is possible, for all the wrongs we have done, to pay our debts, and restore to God and man their rights—that which is due to them from us” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 100).

    • “It is extremely hurtful for any man holding the Priesthood, and enjoying the gift of the Holy Ghost, to harbor a spirit of envy, or malice, or retaliation, or intolerance toward or against his fellowmen. We ought to say in our hearts, let God judge between me and thee, but as for me, I will forgive. I want to say to you that Latter-day Saints who harbor a feeling of unforgiveness in their souls are more guilty and more censurable than the one who has sinned against them. Go home and dismiss envy and hatred from your hearts; dismiss the feeling of unforgiveness; and cultivate in your souls that spirit of Christ which cried out upon the cross, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ This is the spirit that Latter-day Saints ought to possess all the day long. The man who has that spirit in his heart and keeps it there will never have any trouble with his neighbor; he will never have any difficulties to bring before the bishop, nor high council; but he will always be at peace with himself, at peace with his neighbors, and at peace with God. It is a good thing to be at peace with God” (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 255–56).

    • “If the time comes when you have done all that you can to repent of your sins, whoever you are, wherever you are, and have made amends and restitution to the best of your ability; if it be something that will affect your standing in the Church and you have gone to the proper authorities, then you will want that confirming answer as to whether or not the Lord has accepted of you. In your soul-searching, if you seek for and you find that peace of conscience, by that token you may know that the Lord has accepted of your repentance” (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 177; or Ensign, July 1973, 122).

    • “Will we ever forget our sins? How can life ever be right if we continue to remember and suffer for our transgressions?

      “Alma knew about sorrowful memories—and he said a supremely significant thing to his son Corianton:

      ‘And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.’ (Alma 42:29.)

      “Corianton had committed a serious evil and had been sorely rebuked by his father. Alma’s loving account of the atonement of Christ—his payment made in advance for our sins—humbled Corianton, and his father’s good counsel set him on the path to restoration. But he still had his bad memories, and the problem of living with them.

      “Alma didn’t promise that Corianton would forget. He taught him how to live with his memories, productively, humbly, continually appreciative for the mercy and long-suffering and forgiveness of God.

      “‘You’ll remember your sins,” we can almost hear Alma saying. ‘You probably won’t ever forget. But remember in the right way for the right reasons.’

      “Don’t let the sorrows that inevitably result from sin disqualify you from your blessings or your contribution. Don’t shrivel inside when you hear the pointed sermon or lesson; don’t turn from the brotherhood of the Saints or the path of the Lord because you’ve made mistakes. Don’t give up and die, spiritually. Christ ‘suffered these things’ that we might not eternally suffer, on condition of our repentance.

      “Let your memories ‘bring you down unto repentance’; let them ‘trouble you’ only with that trouble which will keep you repentant. Remember—in order to keep fully alive the gratitude of your heart for the love of God and for what Christ has done for you” (Marion D. Hanks, “Will I Ever Forget?” Improvement Era, Mar. 1966, 246).

    • “It appears to me the most extreme folly to believe, much less to teach, that the atonement of Jesus Christ merely paved the way for the remission and forgiveness of the sins of those who truly repent; and after one has truly repented and been baptized, he still must pay the price to some extent for his transgressions. This means that the man has not been truly forgiven, but is placed on probation with a penalty attached. This idea, which has so often been taught by saying that the holes remain after the nails are withdrawn, is a false doctrine when applied to the atonement for the truly repentant sinner” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:332).

    • “Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. A reforming adulterer who drinks or curses is not repentant. The repenting burglar who has sex play is not ready for forgiveness. God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life” (Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, 203).