Is a person better off if he rebels and then repents or if he never rebels at all?

“Is a person better off if he rebels and then repents or if he never rebels at all?” New Era, Apr. 1972, 9–10

“Is a person better off if he rebels and then repents or if he never rebels at all?”

Answer/Lowell L. Bennion

This is an interesting question. Most of us have known individuals who have sunk low, spending their days, like the Prodigal Son, in riotous living, and who have then come back into the fold, been penitent, chastened, humbled, compassionate, and had a deep commitment to the gospel. One such person said to me once, “There are just two principles of the gospel that are important: repentance and forgiveness.”

As much as I rejoice to see a person “come to himself” and turn from shallow or evil ways to honest living, and even though I believe that complete forgiveness comes to a believer who turns to Christ in true repentance, I still believe it is better to strive to live righteously than to give way to weakness and have to fight to come back. The following are my reasons:

1. I have never known a truly penitent person who was glad for his sins. They are never a pleasant memory, and memory is part of the stuff of which life is made. I do not rejoice over my own sins and weaknesses, whether I have overcome them or whether they still plague me.

2. When one rebels against God and his laws, he is out of harmony with the laws of life and the universe. Repentance restores the harmony, but it does not necessarily repair the damage one may have done to himself and to others. A drunken driver who takes a life on the highway cannot restore that life. An unfaithful husband usually does irreparable hurt to his wife and family.

3. Life is a precious gift. When it is wasted in shallow, superficial, or evil pursuits, worthwhile things are not accomplished; talents go undeveloped; the mind is untrained; service is not given. Life is too short and too precious to squander our years.

4. Sometimes the repentant life appears to be so beautiful, one is tempted to rationalize his weakness or desire in order to be a penitent hero. The danger here is that one never knows his strength or how he might feel in a different style of life. He may lose his will to repent once involved in the passing pleasures of unwholesome living.

5. The truth is that all people are sinners. Scripture testifies to and experience verifies this fact. The only life free of sin known among men was that of the Savior. Did his life suffer from its strength and purity?

The rest of us will know weakness and sin without seeking them out. In fact, despite our best efforts, there will be failures and sinful acts of omission and commission. There is a German proverb to the effect that the sins of men, when added up, come out equal. In other words, all of us have plenty to be repenting of. All of us have reason to know the joy of repentance and forgiveness and to experience the compassion and love of our Heavenly Father.