By Eric Johnson
According to Mormonism and the official church website, repentance is “one of the first principles of the gospel and is essential to our temporal and eternal happiness.” Because “no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven” (Alma 11:37), all people are “unworthy to return and dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father.”
To truly repent and receive forgiveness in Mormonism, there are several required elements:
- Faith in God and Jesus
- Sorrow for sin
- Abandonment of sin
- Righteous living
According to the church,
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). Source
Notice the words “full obedience,” which translates into the accomplishment of good works that are required for a person to truly repent. For the Mormon, sin must be willfully abandoned and never returned to, as D&C 58:43 says, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” One church manual cites this verse and explains,
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” (D&C 58:43). Maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression. When you keep this commitment, you will never experience the pain of that sin again” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, pp. 134-135).
Another manual states,
Our Father in heaven does not sin, and He does not allow people who sin to live with Him. To live with Him, we must repent of our sins. To repent means to feel sorry for our sins and stop doing them (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 67).
Numerous additional LDS sources–both general authorities as well as official church writings and manuals–can be cited to support the idea that forgiveness of sins is not available until a person successfully abandons all sins.
What Does the Bible Have to say About Repentance?
To explain Christianity’s definition of repentance, I’d like to utilize one source: Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Biblical Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), authored by Pastor John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue (pages 591-596). After providing the Hebrew and Greek words for repentance and explaining the nuances of the related words, the authors state on page 593:
To summarize the above lexical analysis, biblical repentance is not a mere change of thinking, though it does involve an intellectual acknowledgement of sin and a change of attitude toward it. Neither is it merely shame or sorrow for sin, although genuine repentance always an element of remorse. True biblical repentance is also a redirection of the human will, a purposeful decision to forsake all unrighteousness and pursue righteousness instead.
Here are several points they make in the following paragraphs:
- “Repentance begins with a recognition of sin”
- “Genuine repentance is marked by a sincere sorrow, remorse, and even mourning over one’s sin (cf. Matt. 5:4).”
- “Repentance involves a change of direction, a transformation of the will.”
A citation given on page 594 explains the difference between Mormonism’s version of repentance–again, a requirement for justification and forgiveness of sins–and Christianity:
. . . genuine repentance will inevitably result in a change of behavior. It is important to note, though, that the behavior change itself is not repentance. The call to repentance is not a call to clean up one’s life to fit oneself for salvation. That would turn repentance into a work of merit and would undermine the gospel of grace. Salvation is a sovereign gift of God’s grace that the sinner apprehends by faith alone (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8), precisely because it is impossible for sinners to satisfy the demands of God’s righteousness by their deeds (Titus 3:5). But while repentance is not to be strictly defined as a change in behavior, a changed life is the fruit that genuine repentance will inevitably bear. Though sinners are not saved by good works, they are saved for good works (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; 3:8) . . . In other words, there will be a sincere change in one’s conduct. A person who has genuinely repented will stop doing evil and will begin to live righteously. (pp. 594-595, italics in original. Ellipses mine).
The authors provide a concise summary on page 595:
In summary, then, the Scriptures teach that repentance begins with the sinner’s humble acknowledgment of his sin and need for forgiveness. Understanding the offensiveness of his sin before God produces great mourning, sorrow, and even shame and humiliation. His disgust with himself and his unrighteousness leads him to repudiate his wickedness and to decisively turn away from a life of sin. As he turns from his former way of life, he turns to trust and serve God who is worthy of all worship. In Christ he finds forgiveness and is restored to fellowship with his Creator. Finally, he does not regard that forgiveness as the final step but lovingly, from the heart, purposes to live in obedience to the revealed will of God, empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit. The evidence of his inward repentance is thus manifested in his external deeds.
In Christianity, then, repentance is not something one does to earn favor with God. Rather, one turns to faith in Christ and then turns from sin. This order is vital for the biblical model to make sense.
For additional articles on the LDS perspective on repentance: