This is Part 1 in a series of articles on repentance. They are based on my experiences. I am writing with the hope that others who are seeking the Lord will find something meaningful to aid them in their journey towards obtaining a remission of their sins.
I haven’t always been a serious follower of Christ. As a boy, holidays recognizing the Savior were just another holiday, like Halloween or Presidents day. The joy of being out of school, receiving gifts, and eating all the goodies at Christmas and Easter were at the top of my list. The significance of the holiday didn’t matter; a fun time with a lot of goodies was the important thing.
Later, as a worldly teenager, I still enjoyed holidays because of the “goodies”—however my definition of goodies had changed from food and candy to “partying”.
Nowadays, as a follower of Christ, I travel memory lane, thinking of the events that took me from a boyhood fascination with holiday goodies, to teenage keg parties, and lastly to an abiding appreciation of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. The transition from a worldly teenager to a follower of Christ was, and continues to be, an incredible journey. I’d like to share a few things I’ve leaned on this journey with the hope that it will help others who are making transitions in their lives.
I’d been drafted into the army and was preparing to go to war. This forced me to take a serious look at life. I reflected upon my life, all nineteen years of it. I recalled the time as a young deacon being thrilled to hear the Joseph Smith story and how the Book of Mormon came to be. I decided to ask God if he was there, and if so, was there anything to these stories. I offered a brief, but sincere prayer.
One night, shortly after getting into bed, my prayer was answered. I had just lain down; rolled over on my left side, when suddenly I found myself in the presence of an evil spirit (he cursed and swore at me, I couldn’t escape his hold). His intentions were clear, he wanted to take my life, and I had no power to resist him. I knew the only way I would be delivered was to pray, I didn’t know what to say so I began to recite the Lord’s Prayer. The instant I thought the first word of the Lord’s prayer I was delivered from his power. I watched him walk away.
In the hours and days that followed I did some soul searching. I knew enough about things of the Spirit to realize I had been living my life in such a way that I was being influenced by those who had fallen from heaven—Lucifer and company. I also realized that God had answered my prayer for deliverance. I made the decision to follow God.
Transitioning from a natural man to a follower of Christ wasn’t easy for me. I struggled to change my way of life. I wanted to stop smoking and drinking, but when I tried, I failed. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to find a whole new way of life. This meant I needed to associate with those who were followers of Christ. I ask Heavenly Fathers for help and gradually I broke away from the powers of habit and the powers of darkness. I was learning what repentance was all about. In the early months of my transition I didn’t think in terms of the scriptures. I didn’t tell anyone about my experience or see a church leader for help. I just showed up at church. I meant the missionaries and spent as much time with them as I could.
It wasn’t easy living up to the standards of the church in those early days of my return to the narrow path. As a soldier most of the men I lived and worked with weren’t interested in living the standards I was determined to live. I was in a barracks with several hundred men. I prayed and asked Heavenly Father to bless me to find a place where I could be away from the distractions of army life. Within a few days I was reassigned to a new location. It was perfect; there were just two of us at the new location. My work allowed me a lot of free time to study the gospel. I drank in the doctrines of the Book of Mormon.
I did my best to resist the temptations that surrounded me. After a few months I had made some progress. I was living the word of wisdom and enjoyed my new found friends at church. I got acquainted with a lot of wonderful people. I’m so thankful for their examples and help.
Looking back from the vantage point of forty years, I would like to write a few things I’ve learned about repentance, with the hope it might be helpful to those who read my words.
I’m aware that some of you who are reading my words have done a good job keeping the commandments—all of your life. I think of you as Nephi kind of people. Others, like me, for a variety of reasons, haven’t done a very good job keeping the commandments. I think of us as Alma kind of people. Both Nephi and Alma (the younger) were sons of prophets. They were brought up in families that taught them the ways of the Lord. Both of them needed to repent of their sins. Of the two, Alma was referred to as a very “vile” sinner. The word vile only appears once in the Book of Mormon. I think the use of this word makes the point that you and I would probably blush if we understood the extent of the sins Alma was guilty of. It might be that Alma is the archetype sinner for those of us who are like him—to show that a man can be called the very vilest of sinners on one page in scripture, and then called a holy man a few pages later. That’s quite a transition! A wonderful message of HOPE! An incredible testimony of the power the Savior acquired when He accomplished the ATONEMENT!
The question that all this brings up is: how does one tap into the power of the atonement? My answer is prayer. Most people don’t have dramatic answers to prayer as I related above, but all sincere prayers are answered. There is no message repeated more often in the scriptures than the promise that our prayers will be heard and answered. Some readers may think they can “repent” without troubling Heavenly Father. For those who think this way, and at one time I did, it’s important to know that changing our behavior without God’s help is not repentance. I hope you will reread the last sentence if you doubt or don’t understand what I’ve stated.
In other words, there are two kinds of “repentance”, the Lord’s way, and the world’s way. The Lord’s way includes the atonement, the world’s way doesn’t. The Lord’s way requires that we:
1. Have Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
3. Receive Baptism
4. Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost
The world’s way is to reform behavior through the arm of flesh. This can be accomplished in many different ways, but never includes the Savior atoning sacrifice.
The question asked above: how does one tap into the power of the atonement? The first and most important step is prayer—sincere heartfelt prayer. This is the first step, it is a clear manifestation on our part of having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I learned this simple, yet profound truth, and it changed the course of my life.
There are many other elements pertaining to repentance that I plan on writing about based on my experience with the Savior. I’ve learned that repentance is as essential to following Christ as breathing air is for our body. When we correctly repent we are made “alive in Christ”.