Last week I started writing about the Fourth Article of Faith. Again, it reads:
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second,Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
These are the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the foundation of my faith and my religion. Faith must be the first step, which creates the desire and the understanding that the subsequent steps are not only possible, but necessary to return to our Father in Heaven. And if one has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, if one believes that he suffered and died and rose again, as part of an infinite and eternal sacrifice and atonement, then one knows that it is possible to repent and receive forgiveness for sins, to be washed clean and be once again worthy to enjoy the presence of God. That is what this is all about.
Faith, as the first step, leads naturally to the second step: Repentance. Because, why would someone want to repent if they did not have the faith in Jesus Christ that repentance was both available and the only way to qualify to enter into the Kingdom of God. God has said that “no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God” (Alma 11: 37, Alma 40:26), and we are, as natural men, unclean. There is no one of us who can make it through this life keeping every commandment of God with exactness, never making any mistakes, and thereby earning our place in heaven by right. The only one who could, by virtue of his holiness and perfection, claim the right to inherit the kingdom of heaven was Jesus Christ, who made himself a sacrifice for sin in order that we all might be able to join him. He becomes our “advocate with the Father“, and we are now indebted to him for our salvation. Salvation is free, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, but he has asked, and even commanded “all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 9:21-23).
And so, we know that we must repent, in order to be forgiven of our sins and to obey the commandment given. But what exactly does it mean to repent? I really love the German word used for repentance more than our English word. The English word repentance is derived from a Latin word which also gives us the words penitence, penance, and even punishment. But the German word is Umkehr, which literally means to turn around. It is the same word used in everyday conversation when giving directions and someone needs to turn around and go back the way they came. That is repentance — to stop going in the direction one is, to turn around, and to return to where one was. We stop our actions or behaviors or thoughts which are contrary to the will of the Lord, we turn around and return to doing what we know and feel through the Holy Ghost that we should be doing. To be honest, repentance is just that simple. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said recently in General Conference, “Stop it!”
In the book of Matthew, during Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, he also talks about how simple, yet how all-encompassing repentance needs to be. “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (Matt. 5:29-30)
That may seem a little dramatic, but sometimes we need to be drastic in our repentance. Too often we find ourselves with our little ‘pet sins’, those things we know we should not be doing, yet for some reason or another we find we cannot fully “stop it”. Sometimes these may be addictions, or they may be other behaviors that we particularly enjoy, they may have become a part of our lives, as much as an eye or a hand, but Jesus teaches us that we need to “stop it”, we need to ‘pluck out our eye’ or ‘cut off our hand’ if it offends us. We need to remove from our lives those things that keep us from enjoying the blessings that God wants to give us, even if they are as dear and precious to us as our eyes or our hands are, “for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” It is better for our eternal soul and salvation that we excise from our lives those things that are not worthy of the Kingdom of God, we need to repent of all our sins, no matter how painful or difficult that may be.
But, again, it really is that simple. We simply need to stop it, turn around, and return to the path of the Lord and he will again receive us with open arms and help us along the way toward heaven. One of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon reads, in part, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness” (Moroni 10:32). Think about that for a moment. If we take ourselves and deny ourselves of all ungodliness, as Moroni counsels, what would happen? If we take ourselves and remove everything that is not godly from our lives, what would remain? Godliness. That is what repentance is all about, it is about helping us remove all ungodliness from our lives so that we may become godly and be worthy to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Repentance is helping us receive forgiveness for all of the sins that we have already committed, so that we can be washed clean in the next step which is Baptism.
This is a beautiful gospel, it all works together so well. Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that he died for our sins which leads us to repent of our sins and receive forgiveness by virtue of the Atonement, and then we are washed clean in the waters of Baptism and prepared to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost who will be our constant companion as long as we are worthy of his presence. But, even when we do make mistakes and sin again, as we all will, for none of us are perfect, the atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to repent as often as we need to and still be forgiven. Every time we sincerely repent of our sins and ask our Father in Heaven for forgiveness, he will forgive us, no matter how many times we have repented of the same sin before. That is the most wonderful part of the Atonement of Christ, it is freely accessible to all as often as they need to make use of it. That is the testimony that I have, that is the faith that I adhere to. God loves his children and wants them to return to him, but “this eternal truth is giv’n, God will force no man to heav’n“. God allows us to learn and grow and discover things for ourselves, including the nature of right and wrong. He has given us guidance, in the form of commandments and prophets and the Holy Ghost, but he allows us to sin and make mistakes that we may learn by experience how sweet the joy of repentance is. And he makes repentance freely available to all. For that I am very grateful and thankful for Jesus Christ and his role in my life as I repent daily and work to draw closer to my God.