When I served as the bishop of a young single adult ward, I worked with so many young adults to help them repent and become clean from sexual sin. If you are going through this journey, this article isn’t about the steps of repentance—it’s about how the healing power of Jesus Christ and the blessings of His Atonement apply to you. I pray that you feel hope in knowing how much He and your Heavenly Father love you.
Many of the young adults I worked with had a faulty mindset about repenting from sexual sin. They would say things like, “No one will ever want to date or marry me because I was once sexually active,” “I feel like I’m not worthy of anyone because I’ve struggled with pornography,” “My chance for a temple marriage is ruined because of my mistakes,” or, “I will never be able to teach the law of chastity to other members or to my future kids because I broke it.”
Essentially, they didn’t believe that the Savior could truly take their “scarlet sins” and make them “white as snow” (see Isaiah 1:18). They incorrectly concluded: “With a lot of repenting on my part and a lot of forgiving on the Savior’s part, He can change my sins from crimson red to a light shade of pink.”1
These types of thoughts are not from Heavenly Father. They are from Satan, who wants you to think your future is a lost cause because of your mistakes. Conversely, Heavenly Father wants you to feel hope through the Savior. He wants you to understand the doctrine for exactly as it is: “your sins shall be white as snow”—not pink.
Lessons about God’s Love
The truth of how Heavenly Father feels about you when you repent from sexual sin can be seen in the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11–32). The prodigal son is a dramatic example of multiple sins, but the Savior teaches this parable as a worst-case scenario so we can all know that Heavenly Father loves us no matter what and that the Atonement of Jesus Christ applies to each of us.
Here are three lessons we can learn from the prodigal son:
Know That Realizing You Need to Repent Is the First Step
Like the prodigal son, you may have had a moment of honest self-reflection when you “came to [your]self” (see Luke 15:17) with a realization that you needed to change or repent. These moments are not shameful; they are God-given moments that can offer you hope that you will be forgiven. This is your first step toward the Savior.
Understand That Your Worth Has Not Changed
I imagine that the prodigal son, not understanding the power of the Savior and the blessings of His Atonement, predetermined that his potential, worth, and future had changed because of his sins. He assumed he would return as nothing more than a “hired servant.” But truly, he was still a beloved son, just as you will always be a divine and beloved daughter or son of God.
Realize That Heavenly Father and the Savior Are Waiting to Forgive You
Our Savior describes how the father responded when the prodigal son returned to teach how Heavenly Father feels about you when you reach for Him: “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:22).
I believe the father’s response stunned the prodigal son. I imagine him sobbing, looking into his father’s eyes, and saying, “I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son” (Luke 15:21). But then the father put a robe on his son’s shoulders and a ring on his finger. He didn’t shame his son, he wasn’t cold, he didn’t force him to grovel, and he didn’t even give him a lecture—he only rejoiced that his son had experienced a change of heart and returned to him.
This is a powerful moment that helps demonstrate how Heavenly Father responds when you take that first step toward repentance. He is waiting for you and wants to forgive you. Both He and the Savior are overjoyed when you reach for Them to help you overcome your sins.
The Blessing of Repentance
My role as bishop was to help young adults draw on the Savior’s power and the blessings of His Atonement. I tried to follow Heavenly Father’s example of love for the brave young adults (some whom I consider my heroes) who were willing to open up to me about their sins, wanting to be refined by the Savior. And I saw that refinement happen.
But I also saw so many of these young adults battling Satan, who told them lies to keep them in bondage. Satan doesn’t only win when you sin—he also wins if he can make you believe that you are worthless, that you are exempt from God’s love, and that your situation is so hopeless that the Savior’s Atonement doesn’t apply to you. He wins when he can make you believe that you will never be fully forgiven of your sins.
But that is never true.
President Russell M. Nelson explained 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.”2
Repentance is an individual process that begins with Godly sorrow and ends with a change of heart —and behavior. It’s not a mechanical process or a checklist process, and it’s available to all.
If you need to repent from sexual sin, I invite you to begin by praying to Heavenly Father and working with your bishop or branch president. Approach repentance with a positive attitude. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift that has ever been given. With Him, you can put your sins behind you and become once again as “white as snow.” With Him, you can become better than you once were. With Him, you can move forward with hope and confidence for a great life that lies ahead of you.