There is a phrase that appears several times in the scriptures, a few times in the Doctrine and Covenants and a few times in the Book of Mormon, that I have always found extremely interesting. “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation” or in the Book of Mosiah, 18:20, “Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people. “
When I think about what we teach in the Church and how we, as members of the Church, talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I do not think that we follow these commandments from the Lord to “say nothing but repentance”, and because we do not I do not think we have a correct understanding of what repentance is and the role it should play in our daily lives.
I have been thinking about this for a while and have started writing this post, gathering my thoughts on this subject and a couple of things that were said at Church yesterday reminded me of this and furthered the discussion.
What does it mean to cry nothing by repentance? How often do we talk about repentance in the Church?
Why is it when we talk about repentance or the Atonement it is usually about great sins, almost shaming people, filling them with guilt? I think part of it might be the language that we use — I have never liked the word repentance. Etymologically it is derived from the Latin poena which means penalty and also gives us the words penance, penitence, and punish. These are all very negative words focusing on the consequences of sin and not, as repentance should be, focused on returning to God and reconciling ourselves with him. In the Hebrew Bible one of the words that is translated as repentance is שוב shuv which means ‘to return’, which is similar in German where the word used is Umkehr, which quite literally means to turn around. The idea is that we stop what we are doing, stop going down the path we are going down, turn around and return to God.
If we can lose the negative connotations of repentance and learn to embrace repentance as a returning to God, as a positive step towards becoming like our Father in Heaven, then I believe we can speak more openly and more often about repentance in our Church meetings without everybody feeling like they are being punished. We need to change the way we speak about repentance to encourage everyone to be repenting daily, of everything that separates us from God. We need to be constantly turning and returning to God, working our way back to him, becoming more like him on a daily basis.
The Atonement exists for everything, repentance exists for everything that stops us from being like God. Moroni teaches us that we must “deny yourselves of all ungodliness” (Moroni 10:32), we need to remove all things that are not godly about our behavior and our conduct. The beautiful thing about this process is that if we remove everything that is ungodly about ourselves, what remains is godliness. That is how we become as God is, by simply ‘denying ourselves all ungodliness.’ Repentance is the process by which we become godly, the process by which we “lay aside every sin which doth so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1). It is not just for great sins and evil deeds, it is for the small, little actions that we take every day which remove us from the presence of the Lord. It is for thoughts in our minds and our hearts that keep us from being perfectly godly. It is for everything, and needs to be used and applied daily — multiple times a day.
A speaker in Sacrament meeting, in discussing the Atonement provided a great analogy. He said that the Atonement is NOT like our food storage, which we dip into only in emergencies, but mostly ignored during our day-to-day. We do not need the Atonement only during emergencies, only during great sins or misdeeds. The Atonement needs to become part of our daily lives, a staple of our diet.
Which tied in rather nicely to the Sunday School lesson we had on John chapter 6 where Jesus feeds the multitude with a few loaves and fish and then teaches the spiritual principle that He is the bread of life and if we feast upon Him and his Atonement then we shall never be hungry again. We had a great discussion during Sunday School about what it means to feast ung the bread of life, what is involved in the process of eating and the many different metaphors and analogies that use eating terminology. We talked about tasting and chewing and swallowing as part of the eating process with the phrases that we use almost daily about having a taste as a metaphor for trying new things, chewing as in”chew on that” – to really ponder and mull it over, and swallow, as in “I could not swallow that idea” – to not be able to understand or accept. All of these ideas are part of coming to Christ and partaking of his Atonement.
One brother, who likes to read several different versions and translations of the Bible and read different commentaries pointed out that the Greek word that is translated as “eat” when Christ asks his disciples to eat of his flesh has a habitual meaning to it, in the way we say that some animals eat nuts and berries — implying that they survive off those foods, that is how they live, it is not just something they eat once or twice, but that is what they eat consistently to survive. We need to eat of the bread of life, we need to partake of the Atonement of Christ in a habitual way, in an ongoing way, as part of our daily diet and not, as pointed out earlier, only as emergency food storage to be used when we absolutely need it.
I think part of our conversation problem in the Church is that we do put so much emphasis on the works part of the gospel, we rightly teach people of the things they need to be doing in their lives to keep the commandments of God, we speak so much about ordinances and performances that we overlook or relegate the idea of Grace and Mercy to the back burner. We teach so much about the things we must be doing — reading and praying and going to Church and paying our tithing and doing our Home Teaching and . . and . . . and . . . et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I think we forget that Lehi also teaches “Salvation is free” and that the Atonement of Christ applies to all.
What made yesterday all that much better was the lesson we had in Elder’s Quorum where we discussed the talk from October 2014 General Conference by Jörg Klebingat, “Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence”. He said,
Because the Atonement of Jesus Christ is very practical, you should apply it generously 24/7, for it never runs out. Embrace the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance as things that are to be welcomed and applied daily according to the Great Physician’s orders.Establish an attitude of ongoing, happy, joyful repentance by making it your lifestyle of choice . . . spiritual confidence increases when you voluntarily and joyfully repent of sins, both small and great, in real time by applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Atonement of Christ is real and it really applies to each and every one of us in countless ways every day. I have said this before but I firmly believe that there is really only one commandment, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). All other commandments exist to help us achieve that commandment. OR, in other words, as Moroni stated, “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness” (Moroni 10:32). We can each of us be a little better today than we were yesterday, and be a little better tomorrow than we were today. That is all the God asks of us. That we are striving to approach him, and he has promised us, through his Son, Jesus Christ, that we can be better, that we can be perfect. The Atonement, as part of our daily lives, will improve is in every aspect of our lives and our relationships with others.
We need to repent more often. And we need to say nothing but repentance unto those of this generation. Nothing else can reconcile us to the Father and allow us to enter into his presence and live with him again. Repentance through the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift given to man, and we need to exercise the faith necessary to repentance so that we may also approach the throne of God with confidence and know that He is our Father and that we have become like Him.