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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 5: Principles of True Repentance

Chapter 5: Principles of True Repentance

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 76–88

During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

“For those who pay the price required by true repentance, the promise is sure. You can be clean again. The despair can be lifted. The sweet peace of forgiveness will flow into your lives.”

From the Life of Ezra Taft Benson

In his first general conference address as President of the Church, President Ezra Taft Benson stated: “As I have sought direction from the Lord, I have had reaffirmed in my mind and heart the declaration of the Lord to ‘say nothing but repentance unto this generation.’ (D&C 6:9; 11:9.) This has been a theme of every latter-day prophet.”

The issue of repentance is important to Latter-day Saints. It’s absolutely vital for Christians as well. When Benson refers to “the sweet peace of forgiveness,” though, it must be understood that this is something Mormonism does not—even can not—offer, as I’ll explain later in this review.

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson

To truly repent, we must first realize that the gospel plan is the plan of happiness.

In the usual sense of the term, Church membership means that a person has his or her name officially recorded on the membership records of the Church. …

But the Lord defines a member of His kingdom in quite a different way. In 1828, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He said, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” (D&C 10:67; italics added.) To Him whose Church this is, membership involves far more than simply being a member of record.

I would therefore like to set forth important concepts that we must understand and apply if we are to truly repent and come unto the Lord.

In the first point of this chapter, Benson says that a member of the church is not just baptized but must also repent and “come unto me.” It is agreed that repentance plays a major role in Mormonism.

Faith in Jesus Christ precedes true repentance.

A second concept that is important to our understanding is the relationship of repentance to the principle of faith. Repentance is the second fundamental principle of the gospel. The first is that we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Why must faith in the Lord precede true repentance?

To answer this question, we must understand something about the atoning sacrifice of the Master. Lehi taught that “no flesh … can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.” (2 Ne. 2:8.) Even the most just and upright man cannot save himself solely on his own merits, for, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23.)

If it were not for the perfect, sinless life of the Savior, which He willingly laid down for us, there could be no remission of sins.

Therefore, repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. Many men and women in the world demonstrate great willpower and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh. Yet at the same time they give no thought to the Master, sometimes even openly rejecting Him. Such changes of behavior, even if in a positive direction, do not constitute true repentance.

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which sincere and meaningful repentance must be built. If we truly seek to put away sin, we must first look to Him who is the Author of our salvation.

Benson says “faith in the Lord” necessary before repentance can take place, which sounds very similar to what is believed in Christianity. Of course, Christians believe that repentance and faith in God go hand in hand. The word repent literally means to “turn away from sin” and is an attitude beginning at conversion. As the Christian song goes, “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

In Mormonism, however, there are two different meanings when it comes to defining salvation: Individual or personal salvation (more correctly termed “exaltation“) and general salvation that everyone receives through the Atonement and grace. According to tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith:

Salvation is twofold: General – that which comes to all men irrespective of a belief (in this life) in Christ- and, Individual – that which man merits through his own acts through life and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel (Doctrines of Salvation 1:134).

The road to individual salvation begins with a belief that Joseph Smith was a true prophet sent by God.  Smith stated that there is “No Salvation Without Accepting Joseph Smith” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:189). Exaltation requirements include living a life of good works and temple participation. Keeping the whole law is absolutely essential, as Smith said, “Those who gain exaltation in the celestial kingdom are those who are members of the Church of the Firstborn; in other words, those who keep ALL of the commandments of the Lord” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:41). General salvation, otherwise called salvation by grace, was obtained through the death of Christ and is nothing more than universal resurrection, which occurs to all people regardless of their beliefs or lifestyle.

When discussing this issue with Latter-day Saints, it’s vital to provide precise definitions or we end up talking past each other. A Christian who says that salvation comes by grace might have his Mormon friend completely agree, as general salvation does come by grace and the atonement. Yet there is a deeper meaning to the word salvation, which results in exaltation. Grace does not mean the same thing to a Mormon as it does a Christian. President David O. McKay warned that “the fallacy that Jesus has done all for us, and live as we may, if on our deathbed, we only believe, we shall be saved in his glorious presence, is most pernicious.”(Gospel Ideals, comp. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953), 8). Ironically, some Latter-day Saints have even told us that they believe they can make up for lost time after death. Such thinking undermines the LDS concept of a mortal probation, which is the short time on this earth “linking the eternity past with the eternity future.”

Benson can say that Jesus is “the Author of our salvation,” but when it comes to individual salvation (exaltation), this simply isn’t true.

Repentance involves a mighty change of heart.

The third important principle for us to understand if we would be true members of the Church is that repentance involves not just a change of actions, but a change of heart.

Can human hearts be changed? Why, of course! It happens every day in the great missionary work of the Church. It is one of the most widespread of Christ’s modern miracles. If it hasn’t happened to you—it should.

When we have undergone this mighty change, which is brought about only through faith in Jesus Christ and through the operation of the Spirit upon us, it is as though we have become a new person. Thus, the change is likened to a new birth. Thousands of you have experienced this change. You have forsaken lives of sin, sometimes deep and offensive sin, and through applying the blood of Christ in your lives, have become clean. You have no more disposition to return to your old ways. You are in reality a new person. This is what is meant by a change of heart.

As mentioned above, Christians hold that a person becomes, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, a “new creation; behold, all things are passed away, behold all things have become new.” I agree that it is important to “forsake lives of sin” and “apply the blood of Jesus in your lives,” but these are not things we do in order to attain justification from sin. Good works taking place after justification of sins is called sanctification, and yes, a true conversion heads a person in a new direction.

Godly sorrow leads to true repentance.

The fourth concept I would like to stress is what the scriptures term “godly sorrow” for our sins. It is not uncommon to find men and women in the world who feel remorse for the things they do wrong. Sometimes this is because their actions cause them or loved ones great sorrow and misery. Sometimes their sorrow is caused because they are caught and punished for their actions. Such worldly feelings do not constitute “godly sorrow.”

In the Eastern Hemisphere, the Apostle Paul labored among the people of Corinth. After reports came of serious problems among the Saints, including immorality (see 1 Cor. 5:1), Paul wrote a sharp letter of rebuke. The people responded in the proper spirit, and evidently the problems were corrected, for in his second epistle to them, Paul wrote: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner. …

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Cor. 7:9–10.)

In both of these scriptures, godly sorrow is defined as a sorrow that leads us to repentance.

Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” (See 3 Ne. 9:20; Moro. 6:2; D&C 20:37; 59:8; Ps. 34:18; 51:17; Isa. 57:15.) Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance.

On the surface, a Christian would not have problems with Benson’s words. Godly sorrow leads to repentance. Yet when quotes are taken from all over the place and placed into a manual like this, perhaps the context of what Benson was saying has become distorted.

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are anxious to see us change our lives, and They will help us.

The next principle I would like to discuss is this: No one is more anxious to see us change our lives than the Father and the Savior. In the book of Revelation is a powerful and profound invitation from the Savior. He says, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.” (Rev. 3:20.) Note that He does not say, “I stand at the door and wait for you to knock.” He is calling, beckoning, asking that we simply open our hearts and let Him in.

Inspired by this verse found in Revelation, some portray Jesus patiently waiting for the sinner to open the door to his or heart. This is the interpretation given by Benson. However, this misunderstands the meaning intended by Jesus. This portion of the Book of Revelation was written to Christians (not unbelievers) in the church at Laodicea. These believers had become complacent in their attitude toward Jesus. As James 2:20 teaches, good works are the necessary sign that accompany true faith, but the Christians at Laodicea fell into the bad habit of produced value-free works. They had lost their zeal for Christ and their works proved it. Rather than leave Christians to this diminished life, Jesus persists patiently, calling them to realize our error and return to a close walk with Him.

We must not lose hope as we seek to become Christlike.

The sixth and final point I wish to make about the process of repentance is that we must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible.

We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope.

For those who pay the price required by true repentance, the promise is sure. You can be clean again. The despair can be lifted. The sweet peace of forgiveness will flow into your lives.

 “True repentance is based on and flows from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way.”

I hope we will not live in the past. People who live in the past don’t have very much future. There is a great tendency for us to lament about our losses, about decisions that we have made that we think in retrospect were probably wrong decisions. There is a great tendency for us to feel badly about the circumstances with which we are surrounded, thinking they might have been better had we made different decisions. We can profit by the experience of the past. But let us not spend our time worrying about decisions that have been made, mistakes that have been made. Let us live in the present and in the future.

As I have mentioned in other places of this review, the language given by Benson seems very biblical. On face value, it is. But what I have found interesting about this chapter is that it is missing some of the nuances given by other leaders. I have not done a complete check of Benson’s writings on this topic, but it feels like this is a chapter that is meant not to rock the boat. The following paragraphs in the manual seems to sound more like the heart of Mormonism than what has been presented so far.

My beloved brothers and sisters, as we seek to qualify to be members of Christ’s Church—members in the sense in which He uses the term, members who have repented and come unto Him—let us remember these six principles. . . . .

If we will strive to incorporate these principles into our lives and implement them on a daily basis, we shall then qualify to be more than members of record in the Church of Jesus Christ. As true members, we have claim to His promise: “Whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.” (D&C 10:69.)

My prayer is that we may all win that promise for ourselves.

Here it says that it is necessary to “seek to qualify to be members of Christ’s Church” and how it is important to “strive” to make this happen. To accomplish this, a person must endure to the end. This sounds more like the language typically given by other LDS leaders when this topic is discussed. Based on Benson’s closing, let’s take a closer look at what Mormonism’s repentance is all about.

First of all, Mormonism teaches that the work necessary to attain exaltation must be accomplished in this life. Alma 34:32–33 in the Book of Mormon states,

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

Referring to this passage in Alma, one LDS student manual shows the importance of obedience:

Amulek made it clear that we are, by our daily choices, ultimately giving ourselves over to the control or influence of either the Spirit of the Lord or the spirit of the devil. President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) gave the following explanation of Alma 34:34: “To those who die in their wicked state, not having repented, the scriptures say the devil shall seal them as his own (see Alma 34:34), which means that until they have paid the uttermost farthing for what they have done, they shall not be redeemed from his grasp. When they shall have been subjected to the buffetings of Satan sufficient to have satisfied justice, then they shall be brought forth out of the grasp of Satan and shall be assigned to that place in our Father’s celestial, terrestrial, or telestial world merited by their life upon this earth.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed., Clyde J. Williams [1996], 59). Elder Melvin J. Ballard (1873–1939) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized the importance of repenting during mortality: “This life is the time in which men are to repent. Do not let any of us imagine that we can go down to the grave not having overcome the corruptions of the flesh and then lose in the grave all our sins and evil tendencies. They will be with us. They will be with the spirit when separated from the body. Amulek made it clear that we are, by our daily choices, ultimately giving ourselves over to the control or influence of either the Spirit of the Lord or the spirit of the devil. . . . [Mortality] is the time when men are more pliable and susceptible” [Sept 22, 1922], 11–12. (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 230–31; ellipses in original)

Benson’s predecessor, Spencer W. Kimball, stated:

Only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality. Someone once said: “A fellow who is planning to reform is one step behind. He ought to quit planning and get on with the job. Today is the day.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 210).

Kimball also said:

Because men are prone to postpone action and ignore directions, the Lord has repeatedly given strict injunctions and issued solemn warnings. Again and again in different phraseology and throughout the centuries the Lord has reminded man so that he could never have excuse. And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 9-10)

When Mormons are confronted with the fact that they cannot keep all of the commandments, many find refuge in their ability to repent. Repentance, they say, erases the transgression and makes everything all right. This attitude is certainly frowned upon in church teachings. For instance, “abandonment of sin” is continually stressed: “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’ (D&C 58:43).” (True to the Faith, 134). Utilizing this D&C verse, Gospel Principles states on page 110,

Our sincere sorrow should lead us to forsake (stop) our sins. If we have stolen something, we will steal no more. If we have lied, we will lie no more. If we have committed adultery, we will stop.

Kimball said,

The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again. (Repentance Brings Forgiveness, 1984).

Brian D. Garner of the Church Correlation Department utilized a number of LDS scriptural verses to show how “this principle with a promise” requires both repentance and good works, as he italicized the word and in each reference to emphasize how forgiveness does not happen without both parts. (Ensign (December 2013): 43). Verses he cited are D&C 1:32, 3 Nephi 9:22; 10:6; 21:22; Moses 6:52; D&C 5:21. For example, when speaking about D&C 1:32, he writes, “He that repents and does the commandments of the Lord.”

A student manual explains,

D&C 58:42–43. The Lord Promises Complete Forgiveness to Those Who Truly Repent. The Lord forgives those who truly repent of their sins. This blessing comes through the Atonement of Christ, who “suffered . . . for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent” (D&C 19:16). The Lord promises that He will no more remember the sins of those who repent (see Ezekiel 18:21–22). Repentance, however, requires that we forsake and turn completely from our sins and confess them. (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual: Religion 324–325, 122; ellipses in original).

While Seventy Claudio D. Zivic told an April 2014 general conference audience that “there is a need of constant repentance” (Ensign (May 2014): 40), such a philosophy seems self-defeating because a person who has to constantly repent must not be doing what should be possible in the first place. After all, the Mormon prophet Nephi supposedly said in 1 Nephi 3:7 how “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

Another verse that ought to bring consternation to the sincere Latter-day Saint is D&C 82:7, which 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.” A Doctrine and Covenants resource provides guidance for the instructor:

Doctrine and Covenants 82:7. We are commanded to forsake sin. If we sin again after repenting, our former sins return. (5–10 minutes) Bring several rocks to class that are all labeled with the same sin (for example, breaking the Word of Wisdom). Tell students a story about an imaginary person who commits this sin. Invent details to embellish your story. Each time the imaginary person commits the sin, pick up a rock, until you are holding several of them. Set all the rocks you are holding aside and ask: What might setting the rocks aside represent? (Repentance.) What happens to our sins when we repent? (The Lord forgives them.) Read Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 and look for what happens when we sin again. Ask: How many rocks would a person need to pick up if he sins after repenting? (All that you were previously holding plus a new one.) Why do you think our former sins return? What does that teach you about the importance of forsaking sin? How can knowing this doctrine help you avoid sin? (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, 134)

There is no doubt that, in Mormonism, keeping commandments after repentance is made is not just a suggestion but a concrete requirement. Quoting D&C 1:31, a reference handbook states,

The Lord has said that He “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). The result of sin is the withdrawal of the Holy Ghost and, in eternity, being unable to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father, for “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21). (True to the Faith, 163).

Referring to this same D&C passage, Kimball said,

In his preface to modern revelation, the Lord outlined what is one of the most difficult requirements in true repentance. For some it is the hardest part of repentance, because it puts one on guard for the remainder of his life. . . . This scripture is most precise. First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 43.)

In an article written to Mormon youth, Jay E. Jensen, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, said,

Another prerequisite or condition to repentanceis to know that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see 1 Ne. 10:21;1 Ne. 15:34; Alma 7:21; Alma 40:26; and Hel. 8:25). You can hide sins from your bishop, you can hide them from your parents and friends, but if you continue and die with unresolved sins, you are unclean and no unclean thingcan dwell with God. There are no exceptions. (“The Message: Do You Know How to Repent?” New Era, November 1999, 7).

Kimball also said that the “repentance which merits forgiveness” is the kind in which the former transgressor must have reached a “point of no return” to sin

wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin—where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life. (Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 170. See also the First Presidency Message, “God Will Forgive,” Ensign (March 1982)).

Having approached a number of LDS leaders , including those in Salt Lake City, and having them agree with his definition, former Mormon Mark Champneys succinctly summarized Mormonism’s teaching with just two sentences:

In Mormonism, before you can be forgiven of a particular sin by the atonement, you must successfully stop that sin permanently. So, in order to be forgiven of all sin for time and all eternity, you must successfully stop all sin permanently.

Saying that “after doing all they can to repent, some [Mormons] worry whether they have been forgiven,” Brian D. Garner of the Church Correlation Department said it’s possible for Mormons to know that repentance has taken place. How? He says that “when we regularly feel the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives, we can be assured that the Lord has forgiven us.” (Ensign (December 2013): 43) However, the Bible says that our feelings can mislead us, no matter how sincere we are. (See Jeremiah 17:9, for instance.)

Let’s be honest, no sinner who has lived has found success in permanently ceasing from sin. For any Mormon to think it is possible to consistently obey God’s commandments is to demonstrate the epitome of prideful arrogance. Pride, it should be pointed out, is a sin, showing that an individual has violated celestial law. (See Proverbs 16:18; 29:23; Obadiah 1:3; Zephaniah 2:10; Mark 7:22; 1 John 2:16.) To such a person comes the condemnation of Alma 5:27–28 in the Book of Mormon:

Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.

Other Book of Mormon passages, including 2 Nephi 28:12–15 and Jacob 2:13–22, also warn against the dangers of pride.

According to the LDS Church, as a person gets older, the desire to sin ought to lessen. One teacher’s manual says,

Explain that the last step in repentance is striving to keep all the commandments of God (see D&C 1:32). Repentance is a process that we will have to use throughout our lives, but as we become more perfect in keeping the commandments, we will do less for which we need to repent. (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 65.)

Of course, maturity in the faith is important, but the desire to sin is not something that just goes away with time. Consider what the apostle Paul said in Romans 7:15, 18–20:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (ESV)

Some, like Kimball, have insisted that the “second estate,” or this mortality, is the time to accomplish all that needs to be done. “This Life Is the Time,” Kimball titled chapter 1 in The Miracle of Forgiveness. In a section titled “Dangers of Delay,” he warned church members:

Because men are prone to postpone action and ignore directions, the Lord has repeatedly given strict injunctions and issued solemn warnings. . . . And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 286)

Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “This life is the most vital period in our eternal existence.” (Book of Mormon Teacher Manual: Religion 121122, 109. See also Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:69.) Kimball warned, “This earth life is the time to repent. We cannot afford to take any chances of dying an enemy to God.”(The Miracle of Forgiveness, 15). Kimball especially criticized his people for procrastination:

There are . . . many members of the Church who are lax and careless and who continually procrastinate. They live the gospel casually but not devoutly. They have complied with some requirements but are not valiant. They do no major crime but merely fail to do the things required—things like paying tithing, living the Word of Wisdom, having family prayers, fasting, attending meetings, service. . . . The Lord will not translate one’s good hopes and desires and intentions into works. Each of us must do that for himself. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 8).

The list of requirements is many. When it comes to tithing, for example, the Mormon Church has emphasized its necessity in relation to repentance and forgiveness. President Kimball gave a First Presidency message in October 1982 where he said,

If one neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant. The Lord knows, as do we, the degree of full and sufficient compliance we make with these fundamental aspects of the law of repentance, which is really God’s law of progress and fulfillment. (“The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, October 1982, 5).

Referring to Kimball’s final point in his “five essential elements of repentance” given in The Miracle of Forgiveness, Apostle Richard G. Scott told a general conference audience,

Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into your life with strength to focus on the abandonment of specific sins. It includes things you might not initially consider part of repentance, such as attending meetings, paying tithing, giving service, and forgiving others. The Lord said:“He that repents and does the commands of the Lord shall be forgiven.”(“Finding Forgiveness,” Ensign, May 1995, 76. Scott was quoting D&C 1:32).

Since tithing appears to be one of the essential ingredients for forgiveness, one must wonder what the Mormon should do with the following words from Mormon 8:32: “Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.”

Another Book of Mormon passage, 1 Nephi 3:7, affirms that God gives no commandments to the “children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” If this is true, then we must assume that those Mormons who fail to repent of all of their sins are guilty of squandering their mortal opportunity and indeed have procrastinated their repentance. This is a perilous situation since, as Kimball stated, “Incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness.”(The Miracle of Forgiveness, 212). 

The faithful Latter-day Saint is continually admonished to “keep trying” to obey all of the laws of God. If it is impossible to be perfect, then it is wrong for the LDS Church to demand complete obedience to all of the laws of God in order to receive exaltation. It would be better and even more honest for Mormons to merely promise to do their best to keep God’s commands. BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson admits that the phrase “keeping the commandments” is a troublesome expression for Mormons, “particularly when they talk to non-Latter-day Saints.” (Believing Christ, 45).  In an attempt to clarify what he feels is the LDS position, he writes:

We generally say “keeping the commandments” when what we really mean is “trying real hard to keep the commandments and succeeding most of the time.” Defined in this way, the phrase describes the attempts at obedience that the new covenant requires as our token of “good faith.” Defined in this way, “keeping the commandments” is both possible and necessary; that is, trying to keep the commandments, doing the best we can at it, is a requirement of the gospel covenant, even though succeeding right now in keeping all of the commandments all of the time is not. (Ibid., 45–46).

Apostle Russell M. Nelson said trying was good enough. He stated, “Meanwhile, brothers and sisters, let us do the best we can and try to improve each day. (Ensign (November 1995): 88; emphasis added). This opinion flatly contradicts Kimball’s assessment:

It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults, who have gone through these learning periods, must determine what they will do, then proceed to do it. To “try” is weak. To “do the best I can” is not strong. We must always do better than we can. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 165. This section was quoted in “Q&A: Questions and Answers” in the church magazine New Era, April 1995, 17).

This comment takes on a much stronger meaning when Kimball gives a hypothetical dialogue between an army officer and a soldier to show that trying is “not sufficient”:

An army officer called a soldier to him and ordered him to take a message to another officer. The soldier saluted and said, “I’ll try, sir! I’ll try!” To this the officer responded: “I don’t want you to try, I want you to deliver this message.” The soldier, somewhat embarrassed, now replied: “I’ll do the best I can, sir.” At this the officer, now disgusted, rejoined with some vigor: “I don’t want you to try and I don’t want you to ‘do the best you can.’ I want you to deliver this message.” Now the young soldier, straightening to his full height, approached the matter magnificently, as he thought, when he saluted again and said: “I’ll do it or die, sir.” To this the now irate officer responded: “I don’t want you to die, and I don’t want you merely to do the best you can, and I don’t want you to try. Now, the request is a reasonable one; the message is important; the distance is not far; you are able-bodied; you can do what I have ordered. Now get out of here and accomplish your mission.” (Ibid., 164).

Kimball’s kick-in-the-tail pep talk hardly allows for failure. When Mormons insist they are trying, it is usually in the context of failing to succeed. Kimball’s analogy does not allow for this possibility. There certainly appears to be some theological double-talk among LDS leaders when it comes to this subject. On the one hand, members are told that they must “be ye perfect,” but on the other, they are told they can never achieve perfection. Some leaders say complete obedience is the requirement for exaltation, while others declare that partial obedience will suffice. At one point they are told trying is insufficient, but then they are taught that trying is satisfactory, as this manual states “if we will strive…we shall quality to be more than members of record.” How are Mormons to decipher the true teaching? And how can they know when they have done enough?

I believe this chapter on repentance, as reciting the comments from Benson, did not give a complete picture of what is really required in Mormonism for complete repentance (and hence, forgiveness). Thus, when this chapter ends by saying, “My prayer is that we may all win that promise for ourselves,” it must be understood that it would truly take a miracle according to the system wrought by traditional and authoritative Mormonism.


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