By Eric Johnson
Forgiveness according to Mormonism is available to those who are completely obedient to the covenants made at baptism, in sacrament services, and at the temple. Let’s take a closer look at all that is required.
According to the Doctrine and Covenants, there are several aspects to receiving forgiveness of sins. For one, D&C 1:32 says that the person who “repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.” How is it possible to know if a person has truly repented? According to D&C 58:42-43, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”
Forsake, of course, means to stop sinning. For someone who may have been temporarily forgiven but reverts back to the same sin again, old sins could return, as D&C 82:7 says, “And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.”
What Did Spencer W. Kimball Teach
Perhaps no leader in the LDS Church has dealt more with the issue of forgiveness of sins than 12th President Spencer W. Kimball. In his classic work The Miracle of Forgiveness as well as in other writings, he wrote,
“…There cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God. …” (1 Ne. 15:34.) And again, “… no unclean thing can dwell with God. …” (1 Ne. 10:21.) To the prophets the term unclean in this context means what it means to God. To man the word may be relative in meaning-one minute speck of dirt does not make a white shirt or dress unclean, for example. But to God who is perfection, cleanliness means moral and personal cleanliness. Less than that is, in one degree or another, uncleanliness and hence cannot dwell with God (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 36. Ellipses in original)
To be forgiven one must repent. Repentance means not only to convict yourselves of the horror of the sin, but to confess it, abandon it, and restore to all who have been damaged to the total extent possible; then spend the balance of your lives trying to live the commandments of the Lord so he can eventually pardon you and cleanse you (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 200).
God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 203. See also Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 231 and 232, p. 41).
This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209. See also The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 1979, p. 386).
And incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 212).
Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could he weeks, it could he years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 324-325).
We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect repeated forgiveness. The Lord anticipated the weakness of man which would return him to his transgression, and he gave this revelation in warning: And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God. (D&C 82:7.) (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 360. See also Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 231).
Those laden with transgressions and sorrows and sin may be forgiven and cleansed and purified if they will return to their Lord, learn of him, and keep his commandments (The Miracle of Forgiveness , p. 368. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 36).
It is unthinkable that God forgives sins which are serious after just a few prayers. He is likely to wait until there has been a long, sustained repentance as shown by a willingness to live all his commandments (Repentance Brings Forgiveness (an unnumbered tract), under the subheading “Confession of Sin”).
What Does the Bible Teach
Christianity has a much better offer than anything suggested by President Kimball or his religion. The Bible says that humans come to the table with nothing but sin-stained motives and behaviors. Even though they had nothing to offer, the believers are able to be forgiven of their sins. As 1 John 1:9 puts it, “if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sin.” It is only through faith in Him, not anything we can do, that provides for this forgiveness. Romans 10:9-10 says,
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Romans 3:28 says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” And Galatians 3:11-12 assures that “no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Verse 24 adds, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”