By Eric Johnson
Repentance in Mormonism describes the process by which a church member receives forgiveness. The goal is ceasing all sin. As a church manual reports, “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). While some might think that only the major sins must stop, a church manual says otherwise.
Help the young men to see that major transgressions such as murder, adultery, or theft are not the only sins that require us to repent. We also need to repent of small things we do every day. Such things as dishonest actions, losing our tempers, showing disrespect to our parents, gossiping, or failing to follow through on an assignment all weaken our characters and keep us from enjoying the companionship of the Holy Ghost and becoming like our Heavenly Father (Aaronic Priesthood Manual 1, 2002, pp. 82-83).
Perhaps there is no better go-to source on this topic than twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball. According to this leader, “forgiveness can never come without repentance” (“The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, Oct 1982, p. 4). With that being the case, he denied that desire, trying, and doing one’s best–no matter how sincere–could ever result in the forgiveness of one’s sins. For instance, he wrote in his classic work The Miracle of Forgiveness:
Desire Is Not Sufficient. In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his way and started on a new path. Someone has said that there is only one way to quit a bad habit and that is to stop. The saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life. True repentance prods one to action . . . .Trying Is Not Sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. . . . To try is weak. To do the best you can is not strong. You must always do better than you can. This is true in every walk of life (pp. 164-165. Italics mine).
Also consider this:
Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. A reforming adulterer who drinks or curses is not repentant. The repenting burglar who has sex play is not ready for forgiveness. 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. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 43).
And this, which is also cited in several church manuals:
There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 163. See also Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 231 and 232, p. 40. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 39).
The Uniform System for Teaching Investigators manual agrees, saying on page 55, “We repent by no longer sinning.” Then, on pages 324 and 325 of The Miracle of Forgiveness, Kimball stated,
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 idea that abandonment of sin is required for true repentance is supported by Doctrines and Covenants 58:43, which reads, “By this ye man know if a man repenteth of his sins–behold he will confess them and forsake them.” At the end of his book, Kimball cited Alma 13:11-12 and says even the desire to sin must be wiped away for true repentance to occur. He explained:
This passage indicates an attitude which is basic to the sanctification we should all be seeking, and thus to the repentance which merits forgiveness. It is that 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 (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 354-355.See also the Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 78).
A church manual provides further exposition on this passage:
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 and 325, 2001, p. 120. Bold and ellipsis in original).
Another manual states,
Put up the wordstrip, “Abandon our sins.” Ask the young men what it means to abandon our sins. Help the young men understand that a truly repentant person will not repeat his sin (Aaronic Priesthood Manual 1, 2002, p. 83).
In addition, Kimball taught that one’s former sins could return if the same sin was committed again. In a church tract titled “Repentance Brings Forgiveness,” he wrote,
The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again…The Lord said: “Go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.” (D&C 82:7).
What does the Bible Teach
The Bible says that repentance (Greek: metanao) means to turn from one’s sins and seek to do what God commands. However, repentance comes as a result of faith, for the Bible teaches that sinners are saved by grace through faith along and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9).