[Given by Chris Juchau at the Saturday evening of Stake Conference, October 2016.]
The Saturday Evening session of Stake Conference always brings together a wonderful group of people. I am saddened by the absence of those who are not here and I hope that all of us will reach out in appropriate ways especially to those who are not here for no other reason than it just not interesting them. But I am delighted to be with you tonight.
I once heard it said that spiritual maturity can be measured by the number of contradictions—or apparent contradictions—we are able to reconcile. Like the fact that I am, as the scriptures say, “less than the dust of the earth” and, at the same time, as the scriptures also teach, a child of God with potential to become like Him. I don’t know if it’s true that that’s how we should measure spiritual maturity, but it’s an interesting thought.
One of my concerns for the members of our stake is that we don’t reconcile very well the reality of our fallen state and carnal natures with the reality of the Atonement and its impact on us. We can get too sad and discouraged by our shortcomings, inadequacies, and imperfections and not take enough joy in the blessings of the Atonement, in the promises of our covenants, in the effectiveness of the Plan of Salvation, and in the myriad reasons for us to be joyful and at peace, even during a mortal experience that includes tragedies and great disappointments.
Yesterday I found myself singing along in my car with the Tabernacle Choir. Not to make light of life’s real tragedies but I often turn to the Tabernacle Choir following a close BYU football loss. I got curious about the song titled “This Is My Father’s World,” which I was singing along with and I googled it when I got to work. It’s a popular Christian hymn, included in a Methodist Hymnal and, I would imagine, many others. Let me share with you the last two stanzas:
This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!
Tonight I would like to speak about a great source of joy and peace that we sometimes think of in unjoyful terms, but it is, in fact—or at least can be—joyful and that is repentance.
What is repentance and what is joyful about it?
I remember learning as a child, both at Church and at home, that repentance is a process with a number of discreet steps or aspects to it which can be specifically named and which all start with the letter R. How many of these steps or properties are there? I googled the “R’s of repentance” this week also and found a number of lists: I found 3 R’s, 4 R’s, 5 R’s, 6 R’s, 7 R’s, and 8 r’s. I may have found more than that if I’d looked harder, but I got tired of looking after I could find 9 R’s.
In my youthful mind, I saw these as sequential steps. First I needed to recognize, then I needed to experience remorse, then I need to recommit, and so on… I would need to go through this process for every sin of commission. Then I would need to recognize all my sins of omission and do the same. If I ever completed the steps for a particular sin but then committed the sin again, I would have thereby proven that Step 5, Reform, had not adequately happened after all, and then I would have to start again at Step 1.
Logically, to succeed at all that, I would essentially have to land at a place of perfection—where I never again repeated any sin and had paid at least some price for every sin I had committed. It almost seems like I wouldn’t even need the Savior in such a scenario, because I would repent myself into becoming just like Him in the end!
While the various R’s of repentance are all more or less present in genuine repentance, I no longer think of repentance in those terms. Nor do I think that Judgment Day will consist of me standing before the Lord while He reviews a very lengthy list of my debits and a short list of my credits.
When Enos and Alma the Younger received forgiveness of their sins in the Book of Mormon, had they gone through 4 or 6 or 8 discreet steps for every sin in their past? When Jesus declared forgiveness to the paralyzed man lowered through the roof or to the woman who bathed his feet in her tears and washed his feet with her hair, had those people gone through these steps?
Let me mention something else from my childhood that I now think of differently. I grew up around a lot Evangelical (or “Born-Again”) Christians who, thankfully, had a large impact on me. Two of my Jr. High School teachers used to try to convince me that I wasn’t a Christian because Mormons place so much emphasis on “works.” That introduced me to the whole debate about faith versus works and what saves us and what doesn’t and I learned to look down upon the protestant emphasis on faith and their downplaying of works. After all, “faith without works is dead,” I learned. We cannot be saved by faith alone. Our actions matter. I might have even thought at one point that our works will save us.
My views on this have matured since my youth. I now believe my protestant friends understood some things better than I did. Do my works matter? Of course they do. I have covenanted to be obedient. And the Savior said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” But if my works are going to save me, I’m doomed—even in spite of good efforts—and even if I can remember every step of repentance for every sin I commit.
Faith in Jesus Christ, however, is the first principle of the gospel and to love God is the first commandment. I believe more than ever today that the good works, the obedience, and the commandment-keeping that matter most are the ones that emerge from sincere faith in the Savior and genuine love for our Father in Heaven. I believe that our good works and efforts are more of a reflection of the depth of our faith in the Savior who will save us, than they are the things that will save us, themselves.
It is because of the value of our faith and love that Elder Holland’s recent teaching makes most sense to me. He said, “The great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.” Where our works fall short, our faith and love can still qualify and validate our effort. Six times—in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants—the Lord refers to the “thoughts and intents of the heart.” Because many times the sincerity of our hearts will trump the failures of our efforts.
But back to the question of “What is repentance?” The LDS Bible Dictionary says “repentance” means “a turning of the heart and will toward God and a renunciation of sin.” It also alludes to a change of mind and a new view about God and ourselves.
Sin is when we willfully disobey God or fail to act the way we know He wants us to. Just as righteous actions reveal faith in God and love for God, sin reveals a heart that is not turned toward God, that is not soft toward Him, that is not sufficiently broken and contrite.
Repentance occurs when our hard hearts soften, when they break in a sense, and seek to realign themselves with God—followed by our behavior and/or our valiant, sincere attempts to change our behavior. As Elder Holland indicated, God is patient with the sincere heart which earnestly strives, even when the desired result is not yet accomplished. To repent is to turn—our hearts, our wills, our minds, our behaviors.
As I’ve gotten older and learned more, there are three interesting things I’ve come to believe about repentance and forgiveness.
One is that we cannot really repent of just one sin at a time. We may focus on changing a particular behavior, we might even change one behavior at a time, but repentance includes a broken heart, a contrite spirit, an effort to realign my whole self with God. Seeking to give God part of my heart while holding back another part doesn’t make the first part very sincere. Perhaps this is why we remember hearing the Savior declare people’s sins forgiven, as in all of their sins; we don’t hear him saying that just some of their sins are forgiven them.
Another is that God is patient with the serial sinner who keeps on trying. In Luke he instructed his disciples, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Similarly, I believe that as many times as we sincerely turn our hearts again toward God, He extends forgiveness to us. Satan will seek to discourage us by tempting us to think that we will not be forgiven and to shrink with discouragement. The Godhead, however, whisper to us to get up and keep going and they will stay with us while we continue forward.
The third is that I believe God’s forgiveness comes at the speed of a changed heart. Our attempts to reform our thought and behavior patterns may take a little time even with great effort, but the Lord requires—and judges—the heart even while he allows our behaviors to demonstrate the sincerity of our hearts.
Is there joy in repentance? Of course! Enos and Alma experienced joy!
That’s like asking whether it is good to return to a home we love after an absence. It’s like asking if lost sheep are glad to be found. It’s like asking if the prodigal son felt the warmth of his father’s embrace.
It might seem strange that a process filled with “godly sorrow” can also be joyful. But where does the joy come from?
The joy comes from completing the process. If I made a list of R-words to describe the repentance experience, I would end with “receive,” as in “receive the love and forgiveness of the Lord through faith in Him and His atonement.” You see, faith and repentance are completely intertwined. My faith in God motivates me to turn and re-turn my heart to Him again and again. My faith drives me to repent. And it is that same faith that allows me to receive the blessings of the Atonement and of forgiveness and of standing clean before the Lord (even now and not just “some day”) because I believe now and trust now in the good news of the Gospel. Our joy is in the Savior and it is both present and future.
Now one more point before I close…
Some sins are bigger than others and sometimes our sins are particularly egregious, making the repentance experience particularly acute with regards to personal sorrow, even pain. At the same time, our joy from those experiences can also be particularly specific. Many people experience a joyful sense of relief when confessing an egregious sin to their bishop. Joy continues in such circumstances as people progress with behavioral changes and efforts to make restitution. It culminates when a person exercises faith to believe that they have truly demonstrated a heart changed toward God and that God has responded.
But what about you and most of us most of the time when we are dealing only with myriad personal shortcomings and smaller-ish mistakes? What about the soul—like most here tonight—who is generally and quite constantly striving to the do the right things and is not rebellious or willfully neglectful toward God? Do we repent? And do we experience joy?
My purpose tonight, knowing that I am speaking to many such people, is to invite you to a lifestyle which practices and experiences both a constantly broken and contrite spirit which constantly and over-and-over-again turns itself toward God—and simultaneously experiences the joy of knowing that the Lord accepts your sincerely humble and submissive heart and does, in fact, just as our baptismal covenant with Him indicates, cleanse us through the Holy Ghost, and forgive us of our sins. I am inviting you to experience both contrition and joy at the same time, which may seem like two contradictory things, but they’re not. They are more “cause and effect.”
Let us not understand repentance merely as the string of steps we go through when we have done something particularly bad. Let us live repentance as a lifestyle, with a heart that is constantly contrite, with a consistent love of God; and while we do that, let us enjoy the promise of an ongoing cleansing of our souls by the Holy Ghost and with complete faith and trust that the promises of the Atonement apply to us both now and in our futures. Let us live joyfully contrite, at least comforted, if not ecstatic about the reality of the Atonement and the reality of its effects on us. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference April 2016.]
You have already been asked tonight to do a couple of things. I’m going to ask you to do one more thing, which is to believe the gospel. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
The word gospel very literally means “good news.”
In the first chapter of Mark, King James Version, the first words we hear from the Savior are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (In many other translations, those last words read: “repent and believe the good news.” In the New Century Version, the Savior says, “Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!” – exclamation point!)
We need to believe the good news. We need to receive it and accept it.
What is the good news? The good news is that, because of the Savior, His Atonement, and His Grace, we have a clear path back to our Father in Heaven. But there is more. The good news includes that this path is not impossible. It does not require perfection in this life—nor does it require us to be constantly or even frequently weighed down and disheartened by our shortcomings and weaknesses. The good news is that the one who will ultimately judge us is the same one who will be our advocate. The good news is that to all of life’s other challenges we do not need to add the burdens of feeling inadequate, unworthy, and imperfect—even though we are all inadequate, and imperfect. Rather, we are free to embrace the Good News and all the joy, positive anticipation, and buoyancy that comes from believing it.
Am I suggesting that we get a free pass and don’t have to do anything? No, but between the lie that you don’t have to do anything and the lie that you have to do and be everything (which is the lie I’m trying to address here) is the truth that the Lord wants our commitment to our covenants and He wants our hearts to be humble, contrite, sincere, and—in a wonderful and liberating sense—broken. He requires our striving, but He does not require our perfection right now and he does not require you to beat yourself up over your imperfection. In fact, what He wants is for you to believe the gospel—the good news—which is that if you give him your sincere, broken heart and your sincere effort in support of your covenants (and surely many here today do), then He has you and your inadequacies and deficiencies covered. His grace is sufficient.
Consider D&C 88:33. I talk about this little verse a lot, but I don’t think I’ve been teaching it very effectively, so I’m going to keep trying. In this verse, the Savior asks this question:
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices no in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
Alternatively: For what doth it profit a woman if a gift is bestowed upon her, and she receive not the gift? Behold, she rejoices not in that which is given unto her, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
A gift has been and is being offered to you and me. It is a gift of kindness, a gift of generosity, a gift of mercy, a gift of grace, a gift of perfect love. Will we receive it? Will you—do you—really believe the gospel, the good news? Jesus once dined with a man named Zacchaeus and said to him: “This day is salvation come to this house.” Brothers and Sisters, salvation has come to your house. The question is whether you will receive it. And to fully receive it, you’re going to have to “drop your burden at His feet and bear a song away.” You’re going to have to believe that He has taken your burden. You will have to be yoked with Him, but His burden is light.
A few weeks ago, I decided to read Pilgrim’s Promise by John Bunyan, written in England in the 1600s. It is an allegory about a man and his wife making the difficult journey to heaven. At the beginning, the hero (his name is Christian) labors down the strait and narrow path with a heavy sack on his back that he is unable to shed. But there comes a point early in his journey when he encounters the traditional symbol of the Savior: the cross; and when he comes to it and worships there, his burden miraculously falls from his back. He is not done facing adversity. He still faces difficulties and tests and he still has to avoid making major mistakes along the way, but from that point on, he does so without being crushed by the weight of his own imperfection.
It is a good allegory. You and I will have plenty of adversity and difficulties and tests during our life. Repentance from all of our sins should be constant, lifelong effort. If we sin in particularly egregious ways, we should turn to the bishop for help right away and he will help. But there is no need to face life’s many challenges with the unnecessary burden of our defects and petty sins weighing us down.
In our particularly intense LDS culture in Utah County, we are especially adept at setting aside the good news in favor of the bad news which we tend to heap upon ourselves which weakens the quality of our lives. We do things like this:
- We insist on comparing ourselves to others as a means of depressing ourselves almost like we’re addicted to it. In doing so, we reject the truth that the standard we really need to measure up to is the generous and compassionate one the Lord offers us.
- We insist on appearing as near-perfect as we can toward each other. We over-stress about our outward physical and spiritual appearance and the appearance of our things and we keep our challenges so private that we create the destructive illusion of being virtually problem-free. We sort of air-brush the outward appearance of our lives to others lest we will not be accepted.
Two siblings will sometimes play a game of “villain and victim.” One pokes the other and then the other screams and whines about being poked. Mom gets upset with one who then blames the other and everybody gets lots of attention from Mom. We sometimes make a similar arrangement with each other. I decide I’ll try to look perfect and you decide to believe that I’m perfect. I get to enjoy the pride of someone thinking I’m really great and you get to enjoy the misery of feeling inadequate. Like the two children, neither of us really ends up happy.
- We take the concepts of self-reliance and works too far. Are you supposed to do all that you can do? Of course. Are you supposed to give it your all? Of course. Should good works accompany your faith? Of course. Will you save yourself? No chance. Will your good works save you? No chance. None. It is good to humbly do our very best while living a religion of complete and total surrender to and reliance on Him who becomes the father of our rebirth. We are totally dependent on Him and we ought to acknowledge that and rejoice in His perfect reliability.
- We pound ourselves with what seems to be the literal meaning of Matthew 5:48: be ye therefore perfect. I reject the apparent meaning of that verse as it stands alone. Do I hope to become perfect one day like my Father in Heaven? Do I think that I should strive to become perfect? But I believe the rest of the doctrine taught in the scriptures about perfection, which includes the fact that He will perfect me; He will make me whole and complete as I yield my heart to Him. I cannot insist on my own immediate perfection and, at the same time, receive the gift He offers me, which gift is the very means of letting go of the burden of my imperfection.
- Lastly, we judge others too harshly. We forget that the gift that is offered to us is also offered to them and that the Lord sees things in their hearts we’ll never see. He also knows all the background and backstory. His bowels are filled with compassion and mercy toward the broken-hearted. We would do well to judge enough to keep ourselves safe—and little or no more than that.
Why is it that so many good people trying so hard hesitate so much when asked the temple recommend question, “Do you feel worthy to enter the temple?”
I was so thrilled to hear Elder Bednar’s talk in this last General Conference. Quite frequently I have asked people during interviews, “Is it possible that you could be sitting here with me right now just as clean as you were when you exited the waters of baptism?” Many people seem confused by the question. It does not seem to register that they could be spiritually clean today. But how else could any of us possibly have a hope of making it to heaven, into which no unclean thing may enter?
Elder Bednar taught that it is possible, as King Benjamin taught, for us to always retain a remission of our sins. You and I can be retaining a remission of our sins right now, at this very moment. Surely a great many here are doing exactly that. Yet too many are unwilling to believe the Good News and say with humble confidence, “Yes, I am worthy to enter the temple.”
Notice that in the same verse from King Benjamin which references “always retaining a remission of your sins,” these two phrases are also present: 1) “[ye shall] be filled with the love of God” and, 2) “ye shall always rejoice.”
We frequently teach that covenants are “two-way promises” and we correctly focus on the promises we make through covenants. But the Lord would like us to receive the gift of his promises to us and He would like us to rejoice in them. Remember, that when we receive the gift, He also rejoices “who is the giver of the gift.”
We have a tendency to under-appreciate the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He will testify to us of the Savior. He will help bring all things necessary to our remembrance. He may provide warnings to us on occasion. But He also sanctifies and cleanses us as we remember and follow the Savior. Elder Bednar speaks of the Holy Ghost providing “ongoing cleansing” for us. In that we may rejoice, indeed, and be of good cheer.
In the time I have spent outside of Utah County, mostly in Seattle, I have been close to two groups of notably religious people: Mormons and Evangelical (or “born-again”) Christians. I have long noticed and been impressed by the smiles and happiness of my born-again Christian friends. I have also been impressed, though not in a particularly good way, by the muted happiness of so many Mormons. Clearly, the true doctrine and restored authority within the LDS Church should make us the most Christian people on the earth. And therefore nobody should have a greater understanding of the reasons why—or greater reasons to embrace the reasons why—we may feel so much joy inside ourselves that it is also outwardly noticeable.
Brothers and Sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of joy and peace. That joy and peace isn’t just for disciples of the Savior who have no problems. All disciples of the Savior have problems. Some of them are very acute. You may have worries and struggles right now that are just eating you inside out. You may be struggling with health, with employment and finances, with testimony, with addiction, with your marriage, with loneliness, discouragement or depression—or perhaps even more difficult, you may be intensely hurting for loved ones who are struggling with those things and whose struggles you cannot remove.
The good news of the gospel extends both to you and to the ones you love and worry about the most.
The message of the gospel includes hope and optimism and trust. I join so many of you when I say that when we place our trust in God, when we lean on Him, when we receive His gift and drop our burden at His feet… in those moments our trust is well placed. It is, in fact, perfectly placed.
May each of you feel a great sense of joy and life and hope and buoyancy through the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May you receive the gift with both humility and confidence in Him. May we trust in Him who is perfectly trustworthy and who has your very best interests (and those of your loved ones) as His interests.
I testify that John the Baptist, Joseph Smith, President Monson and 14 other living special witnesses—and the Savior, Himself—have come bearing Good News. I pray that you and I will believe it, accept it, and allow Him to lift the burden of our shortcomings and failures from off our backs. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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.