Mormon Beliefs: Sin and Repentance
The Apostle John taught: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [Jesus Christ] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9). All people sin; Jesus Christ was the only sinless person ever to have lived on the earth. The Lord has made provision for the sinner. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, each person can repent and be forgiven of his sins.
The Lord has said that He “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31). Sin results in the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit. Sin dulls the conscience and makes repentance difficult, because sin causes people to substitute rationalizations for godly regret. It makes the one who sins unable to dwell in the presence of Heavenly Father, for “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21). The Lord’s own statement that He cannot look upon sin with the “least degree of allowance” shows that God must be just and His justice must be perfect. However, He is a God of Love, and the atonement allows mercy to be part of the judgment process. Christ pays the debt to satisfy the demands of justice, and He has already suffered the punishment for all of us, if we would but repent.
“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:7).
To commit sin is to willfully disobey God’s commandments or to fail to act righteously despite a knowledge of the truth (see James 4:17). The Lord makes allowances for those with little or no knowledge of the commandments:
“For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3).
“For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11).
There are innumerable ways to sin. Cultural mores and societal traditions can uphold moral behavior or encourage certain kinds of sin. When missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints enter foreign cultures to teach the gospel, they are made aware of these influences in order to increase understanding of the principles of heaven for those whom they teach. At different times and seasons of the earth’s history, societies have been more righteous or more wicked. Examples of righteous societies are the City of Enoch, which was taken into heaven, and the Book of Mormon peoples after they were visited by Jesus Christ:
“…and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost.
“And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4 Nephi 1:1-3).
The world is increasingly under the burden of sin. In the introductory section of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was dictated by the Savior to His prophet, the Lord says,
“And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;
“For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;
“They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:14-16).
Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel and is essential to our temporal and eternal happiness. It is much more than just acknowledging wrongdoings. It is a change of mind and heart that gives us a fresh view about God, about ourselves, and about the world. It includes turning away from sin and turning to God for forgiveness. It is motivated by love for God and the sincere desire to obey His commandments.
Repentance is sometimes a painful process, but it leads to forgiveness and lasting peace. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). In this dispensation the Lord has promised, “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42). Repentance includes the following elements:
Faith in Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The power of sin is great. To become free from it, we must turn to our Heavenly Father, pray in faith, and act as He asks us to. Satan may try to convince us that we are not worthy to pray—that our Father in Heaven is so displeased with us that He will never hear our prayers. This is a lie. Our Father in Heaven is always ready to help if we will come to Him with a repentant heart. He has the power to heal us and to help us triumph over sin.
Repentance is an act of faith in Jesus Christ—an acknowledgment of the power of His Atonement. We can be forgiven only on His terms. As we gratefully recognize His Atonement and His power to cleanse us from sin, we are able to “exercise [our] faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:17).
Sorrow for Sin. In order to be forgiven, we must first acknowledge within ourselves that we have sinned. If we are striving to live the gospel, such an acknowledgment will lead to “godly sorrow,” which “worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow does not come because of the natural consequences of sin or because of a fear of punishment; rather, it comes from the knowledge that we have, through our actions, displeased our Heavenly Father and our Savior. When we experience godly sorrow, we have a sincere desire for change and a willingness to submit to every requirement for forgiveness.
Confession. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Essential to forgiveness is a willingness to disclose fully to our Heavenly Father all that we have done. We must kneel before Him in humble prayer, acknowledging our sins. We confess our shame and guilt, and then plead for help.
Serious transgressions, such as violations of the law of chastity, may jeopardize a person’s membership in the Mormon Church. Therefore, such sins need to be confessed to both the Lord and His priesthood representatives in the Church. This is done under the care of a bishop or branch president and possibly a stake or mission president, who serve as watchmen and judges in the Church. While only the Lord can forgive sins, these priesthood leaders play a critical role in the process of repentance. They will keep confessions confidential and help throughout the process of repentance.
Abandonment of Sin. Although confession is an essential element of repentance, it is not enough. The Lord has said, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:43).
We must maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that we will never repeat the transgression. When we keep this commitment, we will never experience the pain of that sin again. We must flee immediately from any compromising situation. If a certain situation causes us to sin or may cause us to sin, we must leave. We cannot linger in temptation and expect to overcome sin.
Restitution. We must restore as far as possible all that has been damaged by our actions, whether that is someone’s property or someone’s good reputation. Willing restitution shows the Lord that we will do all we can to repent. Restitution is the core of the Law of Moses and a basic law of the gospel.
Righteous Living. It is not enough to simply try to resist evil or empty our lives of sin. We must fill our lives with righteousness and engage in activities that bring spiritual power. We must immerse ourselves in the scriptures and pray daily for the Lord to give us strength beyond our own. At times, we should fast for special blessings.
Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into our lives, including increased strength to overcome our weaknesses. This obedience includes actions we might not initially consider part of repentance, such as attending meetings, paying tithing, giving service, and forgiving others. The Lord promised, “He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:32) (Gospel Topics:Repentance).
“And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy….” (Mosiah 3:13).