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BYU Education Week: ‘Christ freely, frequently and fully forgives’

‘There are too many “pink” Saints who don’t think they can be as white as snow,’ says Anthony Sweat, professor of religion at BYU

PROVO, Utah — A difference between faith and hope — as seen by Anthony R. Sweat, a Brigham Young University professor of Church history and doctrine — is that the gift of faith is to believe in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and Their existence, while the gift of hope is that people believe it on a personal level and not just informational.

“The gift of faith says ‘God answers prayers,’ the gift of hope says ‘God answers my prayers,’” Sweat said. “The gift of faith says that ‘God loves His children,’ the gift of hope says, ‘God loves me.’ The gift of faith says ‘Jesus is the Christ,’ the gift of hope says ‘Jesus is my Christ.’”

Christ comforting Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus.
Christ comforting Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sweat spoke Tuesday, Aug. 22, in a crowded Marriott Center on the first day of BYU Education Week.

When Sweat was a teenager, he couldn’t understand why he needed Jesus Christ “every hour” as the beloved hymn suggests. He knew he needed Christ during difficult moments or with sin, but didn’t understand the daily relevance of Jesus Christ.

Now that he’s older, he wishes he could change the hymn’s words to say: “I need thee every second.”

Christ’s first miracle wasn’t restoring sight or life, it was turning water into wine, Sweat described. From the start, Christ shows that He can change the nature of things — he can take a “common substance and make it great.”

Mary tells Jesus there is no more wine to be served.
Mary tells Jesus there is no more wine to be served. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

He can also take common people and make them great, said Sweat.

“This forms the title of Christ,” he said. “‘Christ’ is not Jesus’s last name, it’s a title. It means ‘the Anointed One.’”

And what is He anointed to do? He is anointed to cleanse people, restore people, identify with people, and strengthen and restore people. “That is how He can bless us every hour of every day and become our personal Savior and Redeemer.”

Anthony Sweat | Bella Torgerson, BYU

Shorting comings and trusting Jesus Christ

Sweat mentioned how society has gone from one extreme to another — from believing that people are low and filthy to having a carefree attitude of “you are fine just as you are.”

Although there is some benefit in both of those ideas, “neither one is the complete truth.”

Sweat also paraphrased a point made by President Ezra Taft Benson who taught that “nobody will ever understand why they need the Savior if they don’t think they’re fallen.”

People need to understand their fallen nature, otherwise they approach life from an area of weakness.

Describing Luke 15:7, he asked the audience: “Why would God be happier with one sinner who repents than with 99 who never need a repentance?”

“In case we are missing the message,” he answered, “there aren’t 99 people who need no repentance. That doesn’t exist. There are only 99 people who don’t know they need to repent. And the one person who recognizes it is the one who is justified.”

The chief priests question Christ’s authority.
The chief priests question Christ’s authority. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

However, Sweat warned, it is important to understand that thoughts of failure or feeling like one’s mistakes have let God down or made Him displeased are not of the Lord.

“Our Lord never approaches people that way in holy scripture. … He never diminishes the seriousness of sin and the need to repent and to grow; but He’s always encouraging, He’s always hopeful, He’s always forgiving for those that desire it.”

Christ freely forgives

In his current calling as a bishop, Sweat has learned of the forgiving nature of Heavenly Father. “The overwhelming feeling from the Spirit that has come to me time and time again is how much God loves a repentant person — how much hope He has for that person, how much He wants to help that person, and how much He is willing to forgive them.”

“Christ freely, frequently and fully forgives,” Sweat continued. “There are more than 20 occasions in the Doctrine and Covenants mentioning God forgiving the person’s sins regardless of what they petitioned Him for. “He forgives liberally and generously.”

Sometimes people have the mentality that if they fall below a certain mark, it will forever follow them. “There is no celestial CARFAX report that marks in 2008 that there was a spiritual fender bender,” said Sweat. “That doesn’t happen.” 

Jesus reaches out to help the woman taken in adultery.
Jesus reaches out to help the woman taken in adultery. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Showing Isaiah 1:18 on a slide, he read it with a little twist: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be a shade of light pink forever.” It received a chuckle out of the audience.

Quoting S. Michael Wilcox, Sweat continued, “We have too many ‘pink’ Saints who don’t think they can be as white as snow through the Savior’s complete cleansing power.”

He concluded, “Because of Christ, there is no sin that cannot be everlastingly erased, fully forgiven and completely cleansed.”

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