By Eric Johnson
Posted June 6, 2022
In a general conference filled with commands by the leadership for the membership to keep their covenants to God, seventeenth President Russell M. Nelson spoke on Sunday morning, April 3, 2022 on “The Power of Spiritual Momentum.” The talk was transcribed in the May 2022 Liahona magazine on pages 97 to 100.
Referring to the war between Russia and Ukraine, Nelson said that “none of us can control nations or the actions of others or even members of our own families. But we can control ourselves.” (97). He added,
We are followers of the Prince of Peace. Now more than ever, we need the peace only He can bring. How can we expect peace to exist in the world when we are not individually seeking peace and harmony? Brothers and sisters, I know what I’m suggesting is not easy. But followers of Jesus Christ should set the example for all the world to follow. I plead with you to do all you can to end personal conflicts that are currently raging in your hearts and in your lives (97).
Saying he wanted to provide specific actions so that a Latter-day Saint could “maintain positive spiritual momentum,” Russell gave five points. Let’s take a closer look at the first two.
Get on the Covenant Path and Stay There
Nelson began his first point with these words:
Not long ago, I had a vivid dream in which I met a large group of people. They asked me many questions, the most frequent of which was about the covenant path and why it is important. In my dream, I explained that we enter the covenant path by being baptized and making our first covenant with God. Each time we partake of the sacrament, we promise again to take the name of the Savior upon us, to remember Him, and to keep His commandments. In return, God assures us that we may always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us (98).
The italics are his. It seems that the goal should be for the Latter-day Saint to stop the sin after repenting. Then there would be no need to “again” repent at the next sacrament service. If the Latter-day Saint “keeps his commandments,” Nelson promises that the Spirit of the Lord will “always” be with that person.
A few years ago, Nelson taught,
Obedience to the sacred covenants made in temples qualifies us for eternal life—the greatest gift of God to man” (“Prepare for the Blessings of the Temple,” Ensign Special Issue Temples, October 2010, 42).
This teaching is different from what the Bible says, as a gift is different from a “wage.” As Romans 4:4 puts it, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” When a person becomes a Christian through faith (and faith alone), the Spirit never leaves. There are many verses to support this concept, including:
- John 10:28 (Jesus): “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
- Ephesians 1:13-15: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
- Phil. 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
- 2 Timothy 1:12: “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”
There are many other verses I could give. But the idea that a person who has the Holy Spirit could, based on disobedience, lose his or her salvation is not a biblical concept. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always.” And Christians prefer to take Him at His word.
After mentioning making covenants in the temple, Nelson said, “The covenant path is the only path that leads to exaltation and eternal life.” A covenant is a promise to keep God’s commandments. How many commandments? Every Latter-day Saint knows the answer: All of them. How often must they be kept? Of course, all the time. As D&C 25:15 puts it, “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.”
Discover the Joy of Daily Repentance
Calling the “covenant path” “the only path that leads to exaltation,” Nelson taught that “there are no exceptions” for those “who desire eternal glory” than to repent.” In fact, he says that Jesus “love us always but especially when we repent.”
His point that there is “joy” in daily repentance and that Jesus “especially” loves us when we repent does not make sense to a Christian outsider such as myself. If the commandments of God are supposed to be kept continually, then what “joy” could there possibly be in repentance. A 21st century church manual cited fourth President Wilford Woodruff as saying,
And what is repentance? The forsaking of sin. The man who repents, if he be a swearer, swears no more; or a thief, steal no more; he turns away from all former sins and commits them no more. It is not repentance to say, I repent today, and then steal tomorrow; that is the repentance of the world, which is displeasing in the sight of God (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 71-72).
Sixth President Joseph F. Smith stated,
True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution, so far as it is possible, for all the wrongs we have done, to pay our debts, and restore to God and man their rights—that which is due to them from us. This is true repentance, and the exercise of the will and all the powers of body and mind is demanded, to complete this glorious work of repentance; then God will accept it (Gospel Doctrine, 1986, 100-101. See also Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 231 and 232, 40).
Hugh Brown, a member of the First Presidency, explained,
When we speak of the continual need of repentance, let it not be understood that we refer to a cycle of sinning and repenting and sinning again. That is not complete repentance. We must see the right and follow it, recognize the wrong and forsake it with a ‘Godly sorrow’ if we would obtain the blessings of complete repentance (Eternal Quest, comp. Charles Manley Brown [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956], 99, 102) Cited in Young Women Manual 1, Lesson 22: Repentance (2002), 99).
Perhaps it can be summed up by one church manual from six decades ago: “We repent by no longer sinning” (Uniform System for Teaching Investigators, 1961, 55).
The way I read these citations, there ought to be great angst in the Latter-day Saint’s repentance when God has made it clear that
a) no unclean thing can dwell with God (D&C 1:31-32; Moses 6:57);
b) a person is capable of keeping all the commandments (1 Nephi 3:7)
c) Nobody is doing what they are supposed to be capable of doing.
Imagine, Joseph F. Smith even admitted he was not keeping the commandments as they were given:
Who can say in his heart, in the presence of God and man, “I have truly repented of all my sins.” . . . I have many weaknesses and imperfections. I have as many weaknesses as many of you, and I do not know but what I have more than a great many of you. . . . I have not been able yet to live up to and honor this second principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ; and I would like to see the man who has. I would like to see the human preacher who has done it. But I am trying, I want you to understand, my brethren and sisters, I am still trying (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 61-62. Ellipses in original).
As I said, Mormonism teaches that a person who truly repents must not repeat the sin again, so trying is nothing more than just an admission of failure. As twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball put it:
There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 163. See also Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 231 and 232, 40. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 39).
And he also said, “Trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. . . . To try is weak. To do the best we can is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 163-64).
According to Mormonism, the key to staying on the so-called “Covenant Path” is to repent. To repent is to stop the sin, permanently. Yet though easily stated, this is quite impossible to accomplish. Instead of moving closer to grace, Russell M. Nelson has drawn a line in the sand and agrees with traditional Mormonism. If repentance is merely admitting that you didn’t do what you were supposed to do the first (and second time, the third time, etc.), then why even “try”? The Bible provides a much easier message, and it is a shame that LDS leaders don’t teach this.
To see 10 reasons why a person ought to consider being a Christian, click here.
For other articles from this same general conference. click here.