Let’s start with a multiple-choice quiz question. “How many R’s are there in repentance?” I’ll give you six options to choose from:
- Five: recognize, remorse, relate, resolve, and restore.
- Myriad dozens. To the five above, we could add: realize, regret, recite, report, renounce, restitution, repair, repay, recommit, restart, rely, reform, receive, reconcile, renewal, and on and on and ON… (If you don’t believe me, just try Google. There are at least a bazillion R’s.)
- One. There is literally one “R” in the word repentance. Ha ha
- Zero. There are no R’s in “change.”
- One. There is one “R” in “Christ.”
- Four. There are four R’s in “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
I’m really not a fan of the traditional lists of R’s associated with repentance. They certainly have value in helping us identify and discuss important concepts and some of those concepts are extremely important. But they’re often presented as “steps” in the repentance “process,” but the idea of “steps” invites thinking of repentance as a checklist, which seems like a mistake; and the idea of a process, while not incorrect reminds me of a flowchart and moving from one stage to another… which brings us right back to steps and checklists. No good.
I do like simplicity, though. Here are a few simple repentance-related concepts we discussed this last Thursday which seem important.
Christ. Just as Christ must be at the center of our faith if we want our faith to do anything for us salvation-wise, so much Christ be at the center of our repentance. For those who insist on lists of R’s, they key is to relate every R to the Savior. Checklist repentance often omits the most important things: the Savior, his atonement, our relationship to him, godly sorrow that relates to him… If he isn’t at the center of our repentance, our repentance will not work salvation.
Change. If we reduce the definition of repentance to a single word (I like to think that “faith” = “action,” for example), my choice would be “change.” We repent because we sin. Sin moves us away from God. To remedy that, we must change. Three things must change: our hearts (to replace pride with humility and rebellion with submission), our minds (to eliminate the erroneous thinking and rationalization that led us to accept sin as a desirable path), and our behavior (sins of commission must be stopped, sins of omission but be replaced with action; even sins involving thinking require behavioral changes).
Confession. No, I’m not trying to replace the R-words with C-words, but I would like to say three things about confession. First, we need to regularly discuss our sins and shortcoming with Heavenly Father in prayer; we need to ask for forgiveness frequently. Second, when confession to a priesthood key holder is necessary, it is almost always a source of profound and immediate relief—if taken! (Bishops, by the way, are far more inclined to respect and appreciate, rather than be critical of or disappointed in, those who confess sins.) The alternative of shouldering our burden alone is a tragic one—completely unnecessary. Third, confession is best when it is complete. Sort of kind of confessing or mostly confessing is a lost opportunity which lengthens the bearing of the burden and retards healing.
Receiving. This is an R-word I really love. I am often reminded of D&C 88:33: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” Faith and repentance work together and faith, by definition, includes confidence. Faith in Christ, includes confidence in Christ. When I combine faith and repentance, I know that sincere efforts to change and correct my ways are received by our Father in Heaven; and I know that because my efforts alone are insufficient, the Savior does indeed make up the difference. I may receive the gift of forgiveness with humble confidence—and humility and confidence in the Savior may very harmoniously coexist.
I mentioned in class on Thursday that I had 13 repentance-related questions to pose for consideration and discussion. Having already commented on some of them above, I present them here as 10 questions. I won’t necessarily claim to know the answers, but if you have ideas, please drop a comment below!
- Which sins must I specifically repent of? Just the big ones? Are some (“smaller”) sins repented of in some kind of batch or general fashion? Do I need to repent for just being human and carnal by nature of my fallen state?
- Is it possible to just repent of one sin at a time? I can’t truly repent of one sin while holding on to another, can I? Is repentance an experience that involves all our sins?
- Sincere repentance includes godly sorrow and some level of pain, does it not? If so, how much work is the Savior doing and how much of it am I doing?
- Should active, worthy members of the Church who are careful covenant keepers also be engaged in daily, active, conscious repentance? If so, how?
- Is repenting of the same thing over and over again really repentance? The Savior commands us to forgive all people, even when they seek forgiveness for the same thing repeatedly. He also said, “As often as my people repent, I will forgive them (Mosiah 26:30).” How does the Lord feel about repeated attempts interrupted by repeated failures? How do we feel about those things we see in loved ones?
- Was the woman taken in adultery repentant? If so, she was definitely forgiven, right? Was she forgiven?
- Was the prodigal son repentant? If so, he was definitely forgiven, right? Was he forgiven?
- How do you convince someone who thinks they’re too far gone for the blessings of the atonement that they are wrong?
- Is it really true that an omniscient God literally forgets our sins when we repent or is that just a figurative expression to indicate that there will be no negative consequences from Him?
- When we repent, what is the actual mechanism that converts our repentance into God’s forgiveness? Is it a decision He makes according to His agency—His grace? Or is it automatic because He is bound?
I know of few things that bring joy and build testimony like repentance. Whether for sins relatively small or large, repentance is a sweet opportunity for each of us right now. Repentance is, in fact, a necessary ingredient for living after the manner of happiness.
Lastly, appreciation to Rod Terry for reminding us Thursday that the Sacrament ordinance each Sunday combines with our faith and repentance and the workings of the Holy Ghost to renew our baptism and its effects each Sunday. Sacrament meeting is sacred. We can indeed walk out of it each week reconciled to God and qualified for salvation, even for exaltation.