The purpose of nearly every talk in General Conference, every talk in sacrament meeting, and every gospel doctrine class we attend is to help us come unto Christ and be perfected in him.
The prophet Joseph Smith said:
“When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation”.
In the 4th Article of Faith Joseph Smith enumerated the first four principles of the gospel:
- Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
- Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins
- Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost
When we understand and properly apply the principles of the gospel we come unto Christ. In other words, we are ascending the ladder Joseph Smith referred to above; we’re becoming perfected in Christ.
The first two principles: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance are principles of that we grow in over a lifetime, whereas the last two principles: baptism and laying on of hands are ordinances that are given one time. Once we’re baptized and confirmed by the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the process of increasing in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ occurs as we repent. Repentance is the key to coming to Christ and being perfected in him.
The standing and status of repentance was revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith in these words, “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation” (D&C 11:9). In another place the Lord again says, “I command you that you preach naught but repentance” (D&C 19:21). This emphasis on repentance is significant.
The Savior came into mortality to die so we could repent. No wonder the Father laments, even angers when we fail to recognize the depth of the sacrifice made by his sons in our behalf so we can repent.
“Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son” (Alma 33:16).
The Savior revealed to Joseph Smith some details of the Atonement, why he did it, and the price he paid:
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must 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—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:16–18).
There is a revealing account in the Book of Mormon that helps us understand the power that repentance can have for those who are diligent followers of Christ. The people of king Benjamin, “viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins” (Mosiah 4:2).
How does one repent? Offering a sincere prayer will start the process of repentance.
How long does it take to repent?
For many sins, repentance is accomplished quickly. Too often we think of forgiveness in terms of months or years. Elder Hugh W. Pinnock said, “The Lord forgives us in a millionth of a millisecond.”
What if I repent, then later commit the same sin again, and then again?
This is a common problem. For some sins, it takes time and patience. We need to be wise and not fall into the trap of thinking God is like we are, impatient and easily discouraged. When we get tired of repenting of the same thing over and over, we think God gets tired too. We need to be careful about measuring God with the measure of a man. In other words, God is perfect. If we think of God as an imperfect man, then we can fall into the trap of judging God.
Elder Neil Anderson wrote: “Don’t be discouraged. If you are striving and working to repent, you are in the process of repenting.”
Elder Cornish taught:
“If we will sincerely repent, God really will forgive us, even when we have committed the same sin over and over again. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said: ‘However many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made …, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.’”
There are many more questions about repentance that could be asked. If you have questions about repentance, meet with the Bishop, have confidence that the Lord will guide the Bishop in answering your question(s). Remember, the Savior’s gift to us is the atonement, our gift to him is sincere repentance.
“Whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved” (3 Nephi 9:22).
Often, church members believe in Christ, but struggle to believe him when he says he is merciful and forgiving. I know by experience that God is quick to forgive and far more merciful than we understand. The Savior of the world knows each of us and will lead us by the hand into the Kingdom of God to be joint-heirs with him if we will come unto him and be believing.