Speaking of repentance and remission of sins at the 2020 Mission Leadership Seminar, Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, cited the first recorded statements spoken to by John the Baptist and Jesus Christ in the New Testament
In Matthew 3:2, John the Baptist proclaimed, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And in verse 17 of the next chapter, Jesus begins to preach with nearly the identical line, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Said Elder Bednar: “Please notice that the first word spoken by John as recorded in the New Testament is repent. … Again, notice that repent is the first recorded word of the Savior’s public ministry.”
Elder Bednar highlighted a similar phrase found in the earliest revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants: “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation” (6:9).
“The sequences of sacred events in the scriptures, in the Lord’s restored Church and in our personal lives often is instructive,” he said. “Studying and pondering sequences can invite deeper spiritual understanding and additional inspiration.”
What is repentance?
Repenting is the first and natural consequence of placing one’s faith, trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior, on His name and in His redemptive mission and promises, Elder Bednar said.
“Described most simply, repentance is turning away from evil and turning to God. As we exercise faith in and on the Lord, we turn toward, come unto and depend upon Him. Thus repentance is trusting in and relying upon the Redeemer to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
Repentance as the process of turning to God is an encouraging, hopeful and recurring theme in numerous scriptures, he said
“As we study the scriptures, our understanding of this principle can be increased by mentally inserting the phrase ‘turn unto the Lord’ each time we encounter the word repentance.”
In teaching the new mission leaders about repentance, Elder Bednar detailed three fundamental truths about the principle.
Truth No. 1: Repentance requires the Redeemer
Repentance produces changes in attitudes and behavior, but simply changing attitudes and behavior is not repentance, Elder Bednar said.
Recognizing and forsaking sin, feeling remorse and making restitution for sin, and confessing sins to God — and to priesthood leaders, when needed — are necessary elements but do not constitute a behavioral checklist one can mechanically, quickly and casually complete.
“If we do these things and fail to recognize and depend upon the Redeemer and His atoning sacrifice, then even our best efforts are in vain.”
“Remorse motivated only by personal embarrassment or social pressure is superficial. Confession without contrition is shallow. Restitution without a personal renewal and a true change of heart is hollow.”
Sometimes Church members may memorize the various repentance steps — recognition, remorse and restitution — and omit the most important consideration of all, the Redeemer. “Turning away from evil does not bring spiritual healing without turning to Christ,” he said.
He noted the Savior’s symbolic title of Great Physician, adding that local priesthood leaders — the Redeemer’s commissioned representatives — are like physician’s assistants, providing essential help in the repentance and healing process.
Serious spiritual wounds take both sustained effort and time to heal completely and fully; the healing process can be painful, he said. “The results of sincere repentance are peace, comfort, and spiritual healing and renewing.”
Truth No. 2: Repentance requires an honest heart and real intent
Elder Bednar highlighted Book of Mormon verses where the words intent and heart are linked to the repentance process.
“As we repent and turn to the Lord, it is important that we are honest with ourselves. We must work to overcome the excuse making, blaming and rationalizing that can divert us from truly turning to the Lord,” he said.
“And as we repent and turn to the Lord, we must have real intent and be honest with Him whose forgiveness we seek. Genuine confession to God, and when necessary to priesthood leaders, must be full and complete.”
He cautioned against the false belief of one sinning in a calculated and planned way, expecting to conveniently confess to the bishop and then proceed to the temple, mission field or other spiritual destinations.
“Such premeditated and planned prodigality mocks the Atonement of Christ and constitutes in part what is referred to in the scriptures as trampling ‘under their feet the Holy One.’ Forgiveness from such sin surely is possible, but the pathway one must follow is not easy and the journey is not short.”
Truth No. 3: Repentance, sacred covenants and ordinances, the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, and always retaining a remission of sins
Members of the Lord’s restored Church receive an initial cleansing from sin through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, said Elder Bendar, adding that a potential ongoing cleansing from sin comes through the constant companionship and sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost.
The sacrament ordinance is a holy and repeated invitation to repent sincerely and be renewed spiritually; it is central in the process of ongoing sanctification, but the partaking of the sacrament itself does not remit sins, he said.
“As we repent, prepare conscientiously and participate in this holy ordinance with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, the promise is that we may always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us. And then by the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, we can always retain a remission of our sins.”
He called the sequence of discipleship “simple and straightforward”: exercise faith in the Savior, repent, receive essential covenants and ordinances, change, strive to always retain a remission of sins, and press forward faithfully on the covenant path.
“The Father’s plan, the Savior’s Atonement, and the first principles and ordinances of the gospel provide the grace we need to progress line upon line and precept upon precept toward our eternal destiny.”
Spiritual assurance and confidence
Elder Bednar related when, as a stake president, he worked with a young man needing to repent prior to entering the temple and serving a mission. The process took many months, and the young man asked if it wouldn’t be better if he were in the mission field, serving the Lord.
Elder Bednar responded: “Your repentance and the resulting forgiveness will bring a peace of mind that will enable you to serve with great faith and diligence and inspiration. You deserve the spiritual assurance and confidence that come from true repentance. You will not have to wonder if you belong there.”
Eventually, the young man worthily entered the temple and started his mission. Six months into his service, he received permission to call Elder Bednar, expressing his appreciation for the Atonement, the principle of repentance and personal lessons learned. “President, I am glad I had to wait,” he said. “I have never once wondered if I belong here.”
Said Elder Bednar: “Trusting in and turning to the Savior are the ultimate sources of spiritual confidence, assurance and enduring joy.”
Concluding, he added: “Repentance and remission of sins are supernal blessings made possible through the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. These principles are real, and they are true.”