Rethinking Repentance

Raymormon, Mormons, repentance 41 Comments

A guest post by our friend Ray:

The Bible Dictionary defines “repentance” as: “a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world”. It goes to say, “Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.” That is absolutely fascinating, since it describes repentance without mentioning any particular “process” at all. It leaves it simply as the turning of our heart and will to God.  In that light, I submit the following:

Being poor in spirit is, essentially, recognizing one’s dependence on God and turning to Him in true humility — knowing that He provides not what we deserve (justice) but what He desires to give as a reward for our effort (mercy). “Perfection” is defined as being “complete, whole, fully developed”. (Matthew 5:48 – Footnote “b”) Therefore, being “imperfect” means being “incomplete, part, partially developed” — being, to some degree, an unfinished work — a “natural (wo)man”. This leads to an interesting meaning of repentance that is radically different than what was taught in ancient Israel (the Law of Moses perspective), with its emphasis on the Law (works).

The “classic” definition of repentance can be summarized in the following way: “feel sorry for your mistakes and stop making them”. It is, in a very real way, a process of surgery — attempting to cut out and discard the “bad” from within us, so that we will stop making mistakes. This can be incredibly destructive for three reasons:

  1. It can confuse “sin” (things we choose to do, knowing we should not) with “transgression” (mistakes or violations of a law that are not intentional actions, often through ignorance) — which means that people can spend enormous time and energy beating themselves up about and trying to rid themselves of weaknesses that often are beyond their control without outside help — things that have been paid for already by the Atonement (see 2nd Article of Faith);
  2. it assumes that we are competent surgeons (which deserves an entire thread all by itself);
  3. it takes one’s focus away from the powerful nature of true repentance (the changing of one’s mind and view, which changes one’s very nature, which changes one’s actions) — a process that is outlined clearly in the life and words of Jesus.

I need to step back at this point and emphasize a critical point: Repentance *is* a process of change that involves ridding ourselves of those tendencies that keep us from being Christ-like. It *does* include gaining control over those things that cause our transgressions. However, it does not need to be a guilt-inducing, depression-causing, overwhelming chore. That happens when repentance is viewed as the companion to the type of Mosaic perfection that means being “mistake-free” — when repentance comes to mean eliminating mistakes and walking completely in lock-step with a detailed list of do’s and dont’s without ever stumbling. That type of repentance is impossible and debilitating. 

Let me emphasize again that “repentance” means changing one’s *view* about God, oneself and the world. It means *seeing* the process differently — I would argue in the empowering way taught by Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount.

To illustrate what I mean, consider again that the admonition in Matthew 5:48 to be perfect means to be whole, complete and fully developed, but also consider that it comes at the end of a chapter that lists specific attributes and actions — and that the admonition itself begins with the word “therefore”. What does this mean? It means “because of what has come before” — or “through what has come before”. In that light, Matthew 5:48 says:

“Be ye (through what I have said so far) complete, whole, fully developed, even as your Father which is in heaven is complete, whole, fully developed.”

This changes the entire focus of repentance — since it says that reconciling to God is a process of acquiring the characteristics listed by Jesus as leading to perfection — adding them to your character — NOT cutting out pieces of yourself and assuming the holes will be filled somehow. It means repentance is the process of closing the gap between what we are naturally (incomplete, part, partially developed) and what He has commanded us to become (complete, whole, fully developed). It is a process of addition (becoming more) — not subtraction (becoming less). It is a process of acquisition, not elimination.

Think of a bucket full of liquid that is, to some degree, impure. The goal is to make the liquid in the bucket pure. You could attempt to do so by identifying the impurities and trying to remove them with just the use of your hands while not removing the pure liquid. Such an attempt would be frustrating, to say the least. The other option is to allow an expert chemist to add pure liquid to your bucket that will isolate the impurities and force them to spill from the bucket — replaced by the liquid that was added. Each is an effort to change the composition within the bucket, but the first is destined to produce frustration and heartache, while the other heals and fills and never depletes.

To make this practical:

If you struggle with a temper that manifests itself through yelling at your kids, you can try to “overcome” this tendency in one of two ways. You can take the classic approach and exert tremendous effort to recognize when you are about to lose it and, in that moment, exert even more effort to control that tendency by suppressing it — assuming that if you suppress it often enough you will gain total control over it. The problem is that the temper has not been eliminated; it simply has been suppressed, which means it still is there. When that effort to suppress fails and the temper flares again, you feel like a failure, since your effort couldn’t stop the outburst.

On the other hand, with a different VIEW, you can look more deeply than just at the manifestation (your temper) and focus on the cure (becoming poor in spirit) in ALL aspects of your life. You can focus on developing the character trait that Jesus has identified as part of becoming perfect (in this case, being poor in spirit) and allow Him to help you rid yourself of the underlying cause of the action. You repent by giving Him your burden (a temper) and agreeing to carry his yoke instead (walking humbly with Him). You repent by giving Him your heart and letting Him change your actions. You repent by forgetting about what you want to do and accepting what He wants you to do. You repent by ceasing to try to lessen who you are (eliminate part of yourself) and allowing Him to increase who you are (add perfecting characteristics). In short, you repent by “losing (your view of) yourself” and “finding (His view of) yourself”. 

This is not just theoretical.  I have been pursuing this as a New Year’s Resolution, and it has been an amazing experience thus far.  (This month, I am working on being more merciful.) 

Comments 41

  1. Aren’t you just describing here the protestant view of repentance? When you mention the “classic” definition of repentance, you really mean the classic MORMON definition of repentance, right?

    What you call “absolutely fascinating” and “rethinking repentance” seems to be just getting back to a mainstream Christian view of repentance.

  2. Bill – how can you call “mainstream Christian” the same as “protestant” when it comes to repentance? Roman Catholic repentance is vastly different from most protestant denominations (this is one underlying reason for many schisms), and many of the protestant denominations differ from one another in terms of the necessity and the method of repentance.

  3. #3–“how can you call “mainstream Christian” the same as “protestant” when it comes to repentance?”

    You are right. “Mainstream” was a poor word choice. I meant to be talking about protestant views.

    #3–“many of the protestant denominations differ from one another in terms of the necessity and the method of repentance.”

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that most protestant denominations are fairly similar in this regard. And their view of repentance is largely what Ray was describing in his post.

    #2–“What do you see as the difference between Mormon repentance and mainstream Christian repentance?”

    I don’t think there is a true difference–that is what my point was in #1. I think that Ray does a good job of describing repentance. The problem, though, was that for Ray to generate this post, he had to “rethink” repentance. The “classic” Mormon view of repentance is different (as described by Ray). After you rethink the classic mormon view, you advance to the view that Ray describes–which seems a lot like the protestant view.

  4. “The problem, though, was that for Ray to generate this post, he had to “rethink” repentance.” I don’t see “rethinking” as a problem. (Fwiw, I chose the title (out of three that Ray gave me)).

  5. This attitude certainly puts the emphasis back on becoming more like Christ, instead of just trying to “be” like Christ–one a process, the other a state (tho’ impossible, and thus guilt-ridden).

  6. Bill – sorry, which protestant view exactly? Some Evangelicals don’t see the need for repentance, just the need to believe to be saved. This concept of change of heart to make one whole doesn’t jibe with that. Are you referring to non-Evangelical protestant groups? Any in particular? Calvin (protestant reformer) specifically taught that corporeal mortification coupled with a spiritual vivification was necessary. Ray’s definition seems to miss a couple key points in the “classic” process: confession, restitution, and lastly forsaking. He skips right to the forsaking.

    But the changed definition he proposes is a good one: stop trying to eliminate the symptoms of sin one by one and instead change your disposition to sin by starting with a presumptive affirmation: I am a willing vessel for the Lord to perfect on a daily basis. A great thought, and a very practical approach. It’s always better to focus on adding positives than on hunting down and removing the negatives.

  7. President Kimball outlined what I would call the “classic” Mormon view of repentance as a process, a series of steps you go through in order to truly repent (remorse, confession, forsaking, restitution, doing God’s will). While I believe that all of these things are indeed necessary, the unfortunate consequence of teaching repentance as a series of steps is to make it a bit too cold and automatic in some people’s minds. Repentance is not a checklist. Too often people forget the depth of soul required in each aspect of true repentance. As President Kimball himself taught about what he called the last step in repentance, “When necessary, we seek a total transformation in thoughts, ideals, standards, and actions in order that we may fulfill the assignment given us by the Savior: ‘I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.’ (3 Ne. 12:48.) This step requires no holding back” (“The Gospel of Repentance,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 2–6).

  8. #8 – I agree, seeing it as steps tends to be cold and automatic. In a general sense, I don’t think anyone can ever fully repent in this life (“total transformation”). That is why I like the focus on repentance as becoming rather than a check list. We can go make an attempt at the steps, but most likely we’ll fail again, thus the emphasis on growth rather than sinning, then seeking to be perfectly clean, then sinning again.

    Another problem I have with the “steps” is the idea of forsaking. At least the way I was taught it growing up, i.e. “promise never to do it again.” Perhaps that isn’t the idea behind forsaking but I can’t seem to shake what I was taught in primary. 🙂 Personally, I don’t like promising that I won’t do something again, because I usually do sin again, and then I have not only sinned but also broken my promise.

  9. Thanks, everyone, for your input. I will try to address each point one-by-one:

    #1 & #4 – Bill, I really don’t see this as the Protestant approach to repentance. This approach focuses specifically on acquiring the characteristics outlined by Jesus (and the apostles and prophets) as the means of changing our nature. I know Christian theologians have spoken of this in general terms, but the “practical motivation” for Mormons is literally the growth necessary to become like God. It’s not “simply” an emulative process of praise; it’s a developmental process of receiving His true glory.

    Based on my own study and discussions with Protestant friends over the years, I suspect many of them (and especially their ministers) would find this approach blasphemous – since it says there is a way for our own decisions and actions to play a large part in transforming us into gods. My response is that such an approach is totally consistent with the Bible admonitions and is, in fact, the central message of the Bible, but they don’t see it that way – at all.

    I DO AGREE, however, that the terminology I use sounds quite familiar to Protestants – more so than to many Mormons who were raised with the “steps of repentance”. I don’t disagree necessarily with the idea behind the step approach; I simply believe that most of those steps happen almost simultaneously – so focusing on them one-by-one ends of feeling artificial and forced – and that it usually makes the process much, much longer than it need be in order to reach the final “step”. The “rethinking” part really is just focusing on the classic “last step” right from the start – **being PROACTIVE in the process of change rather than REACTIVE to the occurrence of sin**. I believe developing the characteristics of godhood will eliminate future sin from our lives in ways that reactively working through a 12-step program simply can’t do.

    In other words, “repentance” in this approach means change of NATURE, not just change of ACTION – and that really is a “fresh view” (as worded in the Bible Dictionary).

  10. #6 – Neal, I personally wish Matthew 5:48 would have been translated thus:

    “Become ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.”

    Again, this admonition comes at the end of Matthew 5 – after the beatitudes and other character development injunctions. We often forget that, and it is critical to understand what it means to be “perfect”. If we could ditch one common interpretation in the Church, that would be my suggestion, since the old, INCORRECT definition of perfection (never making mistakes) leads directly to the old, INCOMPLETE definition of repentance.

    Let me make this clear: I should reword the post to make it clear that there is a place for the “steps” version of repentance – particularly when we are discussing sins that have inflicted real harm on others and that have become habitualized. If someone truly is like an alcoholic (addict) and needs the more structured “program”, I cannot deny the power of a 12-step program. Those who are not like alcoholics (addicts) in this regard, however, generally feel out of place in such meetings, where confession and sponsorship are do critical.

  11. #7 – Hawkgrrrl, I also believe that acquiring a characteristic can eliminate **multiple** “manifestations” of the same basic sin. Iow, pride can be manifested in contempt for others, in defensiveness and an unwillingness to learn, in an unyielding insistence on position and a pursuit of authority, etc. The “classic” approach requires a recognition of each symptom and an effort to “overcome” that symptom – which leaves the root cause (pride) untouched and breeding other symptoms.

    If, otoh, you become more poor in spirit, that process can eliminate all of those symptoms simultaneously – or, at least, through that same process of development.

    Above and beyond that, I just go back to the idea that you can’t eliminate by suppression.

  12. #8 – mm, you nailed it. That “total transformation” is our goal – the object of our repentance. I just think the concept of transformation can be a positive, pro-active process of acquisition instead of always a negative, reactive, surgical process. You can cut out all kinds of malignancies from the human body, but if you don’t counteract them with some form of treatment (antibiotics, or example), they generally return – often more virulent than ever. Yes, get rid of the sin, but do it by transforming the very nature of the former host.

    The bucket of water analogy came to me, because I know how hard it is to remove impure liquid from a bucket without dumping the entire contents all over the ground. Nearly everyone, however, can understand the concept of isolating impurities by adding chemicals (liquid characteristics) that will push those impurities out of the bucket without ever spilling the pure water. The other analogy might be the cloth ranchers use to strain the milk they get from a cow (humility, for example, being a cloth that strains out all impurities of pride), but the bucket is what stuck in my own mind.

  13. #9 – “In a general sense, I don’t think anyone can ever fully repent in this life (”total transformation”).”

    Adam, I used to think so, but I’m not so sure anymore. I wish I had started this process in my childhood, since that would have given me multiple decades to work on it in this manner. I have a LONG way to go, but I can say honestly that I believe I have progressed more in this regard in the last 5 months than in the 10-15 years prior to this year. It is amazing what happens when you really focus on one characteristic intensely – even if it is only for a month at a time, like it has been in my resolution. I really look forward to continuing this effort.

    I am beginning to view repentance on a characteristic-by-characteristic basis – that, with real prayer, study and sincere effort, I really can become perfectly (completely and wholly) poor in spirit, and meek, and merciful, etc. Perhaps I will never reach “total perfection” (“full repentance”) in this life, but I am less sure it is impossible than I was last year. Can I ever become “mistake-free”? I doubt it, but that’s not the pure definition of “perfect” in the first place, since the Atonement covers our transgressions wrought by the Fall – along with the mistakes caused by it.

    I’m beginning to believe that Matthew 5:48 is more than just a nice platitude – a worthy goal for which to strive. I’m beginning to wonder if it really is an attainable commandment.

  14. One more point, just to dominate the recent comments sidebar even more completely:

    The definition of perfection that focuses on never making mistakes by suppressing natural inclinations is a spot-on description of two systems:

    1) the ancient Law of Moses, which structured life so fully as to dictate how many steps were permissible on the Sabbath;

    2) Satan’s plan, which would have returned us to our Father mistake-free – but not one bit closer to perfection.

    Think about number two for a bit (mistake-free but just as imperfect as at the beginning) and I think you’ll see how that impacts how we need to change how we view repentance.

    Neither of those systems required repentance, since neither allowed mistakes. **Repentance, at its very core, is not defined ANYWHERE in our scriptures merely as “cessation (or no commission) of mistakes”; it is defined as “change”.** There is a HUGE difference between those two.

  15. While a the fact that abandoning the natural man can be only accomplished by surrendering one’s will to God is a good addition to discussing repentance, I think a discussion of repentance requires returning to the repeated description given in the scriptures.

    When I see repentance discussed in the scriptures a two step process is repeatedly given:

    1: Confess the Sin

    2: Forsake the Sin

    If these elements are not present, then based on the scriptures, repentance has not been achieved.

    Step 2 is obviously an essential element of repentance- meaning the “cutting out” the sin is expected of us.

    However, I think the concept that sometimes a more effective way of accomplishing this is by striving to add goodness into our lives is a good thing to consider.

    Often by doing good, we will suddenly find it easier to avoid doing bad.

    In short you bring up good points about repentance, but I think you are overstating the extent to which we should cease to be concerned about forsaking specific sins.

  16. Cicero, Excellent summary. I also think most of the steps process could be boiled down to confess and forsake.

    Just to be clear, I don’t think we should cease to be concerned about forsaking specific sins. Change DOES include forsaking. I just think we can do it in a way that focuses on forsaking sins in a way that actually works – not by suppressing the tendencies that lead to them.

    I guess in the end, I could embrace the steps process fully if it was made clear that it doesn’t have to be a rote, mechanical process that is the exact same for all sins and transgressions and all people in all situations – AND if it explained better how the “forsaking” actually can happen. The “fresh view” of character acquisition, I believe, concerns specifically **HOW to forsake** – NOT whether to forsake.

    Make sense?

  17. Well Ray, I think that suppression still plays an important role in changing who we are and in forsaking our sins.

    I don’t think your points are invalid. I just disagree with your emphasis. I simply feel that your joy at discovering this legitimate and wonderful aspect of repentance is skewing your perspective.

    That said- in some circumstances and for some people an emphasis on what you bring up here is the best way of approaching repentance. For others, a guilt stricken remorse that generates hatred of the sin you’ve committed can be more effective in bringing about change. Often those have committed serious sins will not allow themselves to feel forgiveness unless they first pass through remorse. Each person and each circumstance is different.

    Your emphasis for example would be very helpful in helping someone who has long struggled to choose righteousness and is feeling hopeless. For someone who has just decided to repent after a long period of open rebellion, it might not be as useful, and might even divert the prodigal from swiftly making changes that are needed.

    This is just my experience in dealing with people who are repentant. Each one needs an approach that works best for them- not the approach that works best for us.

    Indeed, one of the biggest differences I see between an effective Bishop and less effective ones, are that the less effective ones try to fit problems into their own experiences and then proscribe the solutions that would be good for them. If these prescriptions fail they tend to blame the petitioner rather then considering they might have an error in their prescription.

    The more effective Bishop tries to help a person find their own (scripturally based) solutions that will help them- and if he does give a prescription, checks back to make sure he didn’t make a mistake (usually due to the parishioner concealing some of the facts), so that he can correct his error if there is one.

    I’m not devaluing your sharing of this experience. I’m just suggesting the caveat that for many, what you term the “traditional” approach to repentance is quite valid and can also be useful.

  18. I agree with all of that, Cicero. Every bit of it.

    I just think the “traditional version” shouldn’t be the default we teach for all from the earliest years of their lives. As I’ve said, I have no problem with the “details” of that approach; my post is more about realizing that we can “repent” (change) in a very real and empowering way even when we aren’t out there committing egregious sins – IF we redefine repentance to what it says in our scriptures – “change” from the “natural man” to the “Christ-like man” that is described in the Sermon on the Mount (and other places). Suppression says, essentially, that I will be a more controlled version of me; replacement says, essentially, that I will become someone new. That should be the default we teach, with the “steps version” reserved for those who need that type of checklist to follow.

    Let me give you a sales analogy that only hit me just now:

    When I was a sales manager, one of the most difficult challenges I faced when training salespeople was getting them to move past the strict formula of identifying the steps of the sales cycle (the traditional pipeline progression that moved a prospect along an established line from 10% to 100%) to the point where they could realize that many people are ready to jump straight to 40-60% after the first meeting – and 100% very quickly after that. They were ready to make an immediate change, and it was OK to go ahead and have them “forsake their previous mistakes” by changing their actions immediately – rather than have to force them step-by-step through the “classic”, generalized sales cycle. I have seen more sales lost in a normally long sales cycle by salespeople who moved too slowly and cautiously than by just about any other pattern. The key is NOT to force them to square one then through each and every step, but rather to identify where they actually are and move them forward to change from there.

    (There is a missionary analogy in there, but I will skip it here.)

    Likewise, most school districts that didn’t buy from us chose to do that NOT because they didn’t have the financial ability but rather because they didn’t have the political ability to focus on identified best practices and make the instructional and spending changes necessary to implement what we were selling. Rather, they were stuck in the mire of trying to change their results while continuing to perform the same activities – by applying more pressure on their teachers and administrators to do what they already were doing better. They were trying to suppress the problem within their current system, rather than building an environment more conducive to learning – especially by applying new technologies and teaching methods that would have eliminated multiple educational problems simultaneously.

    I know this is not a perfect analogy, but it highlights the same basic point: That suppression rarely works long-term for things that have not reached the level of deeply embedded addictions (where suppression might be the only option), and the constant need for suppression often brings resignation and giving up on one’s self – especially when each occurrence is seen as “sin” or “failure”.

  19. Ray – You’ve been reading my thoughts again. I used to say all the time “Repentence is more a process of addition than subtraction.” It isn’t so much, for instance, that the angry man needs to lose his capacity for anger as he needs to add the capacity to forestall his anger. We could say the same thing about various lusts, ignorances, etc. God is _more_ than we are, and the process of becoming like Him is the process of becoming more. More knowledge, more understandings, an ever increasing repetoire of behaviours, of being. Like the man with ten talents.

    I also agree with Cicero. Recently in Sunday School someone brought up the idea that one of the main functions of the Holy Spirit is that in ‘convicts us of sin.’ My initial reaction was to resist that, but as I’ve thoought about it I’m more sure he is basically right. What he meant was that when we receive the Spirit, we deeply intuit that there is a better way to live and it pains us that we are not living it – we understand through the contrast that we are living in a sinful state. Hence the great lengths the natural man will subconsciously go to to resist the Spirit.


  20. As a Protestant I would call repentance a process too—that is, when speaking of the repentance which has moral perfection as its goal during the life of sanctification. The rub I most have with Kimball (and a lot of Church-published literature) is the description of the prerequisite repentance which is required for forgiveness. The “repentance which brings forgiveness”, as put forth by Kimball, is heart-wrenching, and a large part of my evangelical ministry to Mormons involves ironically calling them to repent of Kimball’s hope-destroying model of the prerequisite repentance which is required for forgiveness.

    I recommend John Piper’s, “Thoughts on Jesus’ Demand to Repent”

  21. Aaron – I have to assume your Kimball reference is based largely on MoF. I will just add that this approach has become largely passe in the church. General Conference talks for the last 10-15 years are focused on a hope-based repentance approach. Yet, Kimball’s approach certainly has a Bible basis. The change is, IMO, pragmatic and not doctrinal.

  22. Repentance is one of the first steps necessary to conceive of the kingdom of God. We as believers in Christ are, however, required to achieve that total transformation that has been discussed. From 3 Nephi 27 we read:

    “19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.”

    While this seems insurmountable, the next verse tells us how we can accomplish this:

    “20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.”

    It is interesting to me to note how the conditional phrases in this verse line up:

    First, we must repent, come unto Christ and be baptized.
    This opens the door to be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost.
    This leads to being spotless before God.

    If we are to be saints, we must be sanctified. In Moroni chapter 6, we see a similar set of conditions which must be met before we are numbered with His Church:

    “1 AND now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.
    2 Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
    3 And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
    4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.”

    Before “they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ” those will had to:

    1. Bring forth fruit indicating their worthiness for baptism
    2. Demonstrated a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit’
    3. Witnessed before the church that they had truly repented of all their sins
    4. Baptized with a determination to serve Him to the end.

    This is NOT where the scripture ends.

    5. After they were baptized, they were wrought upon and cleansed by the Holy Ghost.

    This last step, which is required to belong to His church, is the true transformation that we should be seeking. We must seek to be sanctified. How is one sanctified? The best reference in my opinion is found in 2 Nephi 31:17:

    “17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
    18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate…”

    We are sanctified by receiving a remission of our sins by fire and the Holy Ghost. As you see in the scripture, this is the GATE to the strait and narrow path. This is a challenge to all of us to receive a total remission of our sins just as the people of King Benjamin and Alma demonstrated in the scriptures and begin our walk on the path to the kingdom of God. Repentance is a necessary step toward sanctification. Sanctification is granted through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. That concept is what was restored with the fulness of the gospel. That is what sets us apart from the Christians of our day.


  23. #23 – Spektator, I agree and think it illustrates my point – if you are saying that after baptism repentance is what is inspired by the Holy Ghost and can be termed the process of sanctification. Your “sanctification” would be my “continuing repentance” – and I am fine with either term, since they both mean the same thing to me.

    If, however, you are saying that repentance (the forsaking of sin) only occurs prior to baptism (must occur fully prior to baptism), then we disagree.

  24. #21 – Aaron, my post is a direct contrast to MofF **for most members** – those who have not sinned in egregious ways.

    Fwiw, I have no problem with Pres. Kimble’s MofF **for those who HAVE sinned egregiously and assume that repentance will be easy and quick. They tend to define repentance as “feeling bad about something and saying, ‘I’m sorry’.” For those people, it really can and needs to be a painful and difficult process. Ask any alcoholic if quitting is “easy” – and every honest one will shake their head vigorously. Their families will be even more vehement in their responses. When “sin” reaches the level of addiction, forsaking it can be brutally hard – and require a step-by-step approach and deep, deep, painful remorse for specific actions prior to any attempt to develop godlike characteristics.

    I believe Pres. Kimball wrote MofF with that in mind – that the drug and free sex movement of his time influenced his perspective greatly. I think when you read MofF with that in mind, it becomes clear that his qualifiers point to that “easy repentance” mentality. The problem is that the extreme he was addressing got lost in the “norm” – and the steps of repentance view came to dominate all discussions of repentance. That is unfortunate, imo – and I believe it is why the official statements now tend to focus less that construct.

  25. #24
    I agree that repentence is something we do throughout our lifetime. My point is that the gospel requires it up front. After the people of King Benjamin received a remission of their sins, King Benjamin gave them counsel on how to ‘retain a remission of their sins.’ This is found in Mosiah 4:9 and running through chapter 5. We ‘retain a remission of our sins’ by maintaining a broken heart and a contrite spirit, humility, prayer, and faith. This is followed by the promise found in Mosiah 4:12:

    “I asy unto you that is ye do this ye shall always rejice and be filled with the love of God and always retain a remission of your sins…”

    Based on this and the other examples of sanctification/baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, I posit that this is a singular event in a person’s life. Once we have been ‘born again (baptism of fire the the Holy Ghost)’ we then continue to strive to retain this blessing. King Benjamin gives us good advice. Once we have received and retain our remission of sins, we are able to enter into a convenant with God and become the children of Christ (Mos. 5:57)

    The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is as real and substantive as the baptism of water. Both are required for entry into the kingdom of God. Just ask Enos. He will tell you of the struggle he had with God before he received a remission of his sins…


  26. Ray, I enjoyed this post very much. You were able to express some ideas that have been bouncing around my head lately but that I haven’t yet been able to put into the written form you have here. This was my favorite paragraph:

    “This changes the entire focus of repentance — since it says that reconciling to God is a process of acquiring the characteristics listed by Jesus as leading to perfection — adding them to your character — NOT cutting out pieces of yourself and assuming the holes will be filled somehow. It means repentance is the process of closing the gap between what we are naturally (incomplete, part, partially developed) and what He has commanded us to become (complete, whole, fully developed). It is a process of addition (becoming more) — not subtraction (becoming less). It is a process of acquisition, not elimination.”

  27. Ray, I don’t see anywhere in Kimball’s book where he limits his prerequisite six steps of repentance to forgiveness as pertaining only to “egregious” sins. On page 25 he seems to list the range of sins in his purview:

    “Murder, adultery, theft, cursing, unholiness in masters, disobedience in servants, unfaithfulness, improvidence, hatred of God, disobedience to husbands, lack of natural affection, high-mindedness, flattery, lustfulness, infidelity, indiscretion, backbiting, whispering, lack of truth, striking, brawling, quarrelsomeness, unthankfulness, inhospitality, deceitfulness, irreverence, boasting, arrogance, pride, double-tongued talk, profanity, slander, corruptness, thievery, embezzlement, despoiling, covenant-breaking, incontinence, filthiness, ignobleness, filthy communications, impurity, foolishness, slothfulness, impatience, lack of understanding, unmercifulness, idolatry, blasphemy, denial of the Holy Ghost, Sabbath breaking, envy, jealousy, malice, maligning, vengefulness, implacability, bitterness, clamor, spite, defiling, reviling, evil speaking, provoking, greediness for filthy lucre, disobedience to parents, anger, hate, covetousness, bearing false witness, inventing evil things, fleshliness, heresy, presumptuousness, abomination, insatiable appetite, instability, ignorance, self-will, speaking evil of dignitaries, becoming a stumbling block; and in our modern language, masturbation, petting, fornication, adultery, homosexuality; and every sex perversion, every hidden and secret sin and all unholy and impure practices.” (p. 25)

    Then later on he writes:

    “There is never a day in any man’s [or woman’s] life when repentance is not essential to his well-being and eternal progress. But when most of us think of repentance we tend to narrow our vision and view it as good only for our husbands, our wives, our parents, our children, our neighbors, our friends, the world—anyone and everyone except ourselves. Similarly there is a prevalent, perhaps subconscious, feeling that the Lord designed repentance only for those who commit murder or adultery or theft or other heinous crimes. This is of course not so. If we are humble and desirous of living the gospel we will come to think of repentance as applying to everything we do in life, whether it be spiritual or temporal in nature. Repentance is for every soul who has not yet reached perfection.” (p. 32–33)

    Earlier on page 16 he wrote:

    “And let us not suppose that in calling people to repentance the prophets are concerned only with the more grievous sins such as murder, adultery, stealing, and so on, nor only with those persons who have not accepted the gospel ordinances. All transgressions must be cleansed, all weaknesses must be overcome, before a person can attain perfection and godhood.”

    His discussion is broad and sweeping.

    I heartily welcome the abandoning of Kimball’s six-step view of repentance, but I of course would like to see that abandonment done with integrity. That would require saying that Kimball was wrong. Unfortunately, I still read things like this in correlated literature:

    “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, p. 67

  28. “Ray, I don’t see anywhere in Kimball’s book where he limits his prerequisite six steps of repentance to forgiveness as pertaining only to “egregious” sins.”

    I must not have been clear; I apologize.

    I didn’t mean that Pres. Kimball limited the steps to egregious sins. I meant that he was speaking in a time of wide-spread egregious sin. Much of the definition of “prophet” in the fundamental, OT sense is the act of reading the signs of the times and warning the people of that time about them. I see Pres. Kimball’s prophetic role in this case in that light – addressing the rising, rampant immorality of his time – the egregious breaking of central commandments.

    Again, when we are aware of sins, I believe the essential elements of his step repentance are valid. There isn’t one step that I believe is “wrong”. (e.g., I have a hard time believing that we can repent (change) without understanding what it is that we are changing and feeling bad that we need to change.) I just believe that there is a more positive way to get to that change than waiting to sin and then striving to forsake that sin by suppressing it. (Btw, I’m not convinced Pres. Kimball thought of his construct as “suppressing sin”, so that terminology might not be fair to him. It more likely is the bastardized translation of it by readers.)

    I would be fine, for example, with restructuring the steps to include “pray for and develop the characteristic of godliness that will remove your tendency to submit to the sin” – or something like that. Again, at its very root, “repentance” means “change”. From the Bible Dictionary:

    “Since we are born into conditions of mortality, repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.”

    I’m just saying that there can be different steps that lead to that renunciation – and they don’t always have to **follow** the commission of specific sins. If I can change my very nature by developing a characteristic of Christ and no longer feel inclined to commit certain sins (multiple), why wouldn’t I do so? Trying to control my natural man by suppressing my natural inclinations simply won’t work for me. I know that; I’ve tried that. Changing my actual spiritual orientation does work for me. I know that; I’m seeing the results.

  29. One more thing to consider:

    A prophet who lives in a time of self-scourging and self-mortification of the flesh (or other such efforts to change by inflicting pain on one’s self) might be more likely to emphasize grace and character-building, while a prophet who lives in a time of “easy grace” and “beat with a few stripes” and “don’t worry; be happy” mentality probably will speak more of our own responsibility in the process.

    I don’t think either approach is “wrong”; I just think each is incomplete – that when one is dominant, the other should not be forgotten.

  30. Hrmm… Ray, your thoughts remind me of a popular Puritan sermon amongst my friends, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection“, by Thomas Chalmers. You might really like it.

    Whether one chooses to overcome sin by suppressing external behaviors or by correcting internal character traits or by seeking superior pleasures, it seems incredibly discouraging to be taught that one cannot be actually forgiven until a sin is permanently and successfully abandoned, even comprehensively from the urges of the mind (as Kimball taught). The implication is that one can only be truly forgiven once for a kind of sin-problem.

    I opt for the view that genuine repentance can be repeated over and over for the same kinds of sins. The only repentance which brings immediate and permanent forgiveness in this life is a weak and yet-to-be-perfected repentance that is authentic and sincere. This kind of repentance can often be repeated, it is never absolutely pure, and it is always tainted till the day we die. Popular pastor Tim Keller has a nice short MP3 on this here, called “Does God forgive sins you continue to repeat?

    He touches on, like you do, the issue of finding the root cause of our sin. It’s one of the big reasons repentance can always be further perfected in our lives. The big difference is that Keller believes (contra Kimball) that imperfect repentance (i.e. repentance that hasn’t seen the completion all of Kimball’s six steps) can still bring immediate forgiveness if we trust God for it.

    Seventy times seven, right?

    Take care,


  31. Hi, somehow, someone found my bolg from this post, but I do not see how, as there is no link to it on the page.

    My name is Paul Quillman, my blog is at I am a protestant (conservative Presbyterian, specifically). I noticed that another protestant recommended John Piper (always an excellent choice). I would also like to recommend a sermon by the late Scottish Presbyterian minister, Dr. Thomas Chalmers; The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. Dr. Chalmers wrote this sermon in the mid 1800’s, and he lived in Scotland, so the sermon is long, and the language is rather dense, but well worth the read. He posits that sin, in the here and now, cannot be disowned, but it can be dispossed, by placing our affections on Jesus. Perhaps a more modern way to state it is that we do not love Jesus by sinning less, but we sin less by loving Him more.

    You can read Dr. Chalmers sermon here:

    Paul C. Quillman

  32. Ray, I just read this in the Tao Te Ching and thought of you and the idea of repentance as “becoming”:

    “The highest good is not to seek to do good, but to allow yourself to become it. The ordinary person seeks to do good things, and finds they cannot do them continually.”

    There is more but I like the idea that repentance is about growth and becoming rather than trying to be perfect now, failing, feeling sorry, then trying again.

  33. Aaron – “Seventy times seven, right?” Yes, but that was Jesus’ instruction to us as disciples, not a description of God’s forgiveness of our sins. D&C 64:10: “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

  34. #34 – Adam, I really like that quote.

    #32 – Aaron, you nailed my biggest problem with the concept of forgiveness being conditioned on perfect repentance – whole and complete change. I understand it if you rephrase it to say that we can’t receive our ultimate reward (becoming like God) until we are fully transformed (changed) into someone like God, but that is just stating a given – it’s circuitous. It’s like saying our growth won’t be complete until we have no more room to grow. I don’t believe Pres. Kimball was “wrong” in his statements; I just believe it’s not productive to focus on the ultimate end in such a way that we feel guilty for not achieving it NOW. On this, you and I agree 100%.

    Personally, I read our canon and see God’s forgiveness as an extension of His mercy – which is never-ending and continuous. I believe strongly in the “broken heart and contrite spirit” promise that drives forgiveness. I also believe strongly in the blessings of baptism and the sacrament – that we really can be clean and pure on a regular basis, specifically because He will forgive us if our hearts and souls are turned to Him.

    Everyone else, thank you for your input. I am between work and church meetings tonight and don’t have time to respond at length, but I do appreciate your contributions.

  35. Aaron (32) — I like your points. Your seventy-times-seven comment made me recall when I was counseling with my pastor about some former friends who trespassed me deeply, and I was struggling with whether my forgiveness could be genuine when I still have so much pain surrounding this incident. He said that ultimate forgiveness is only God’s to give, and for me to consider if I was trying to perform the role of God by withholding forgiveness, which would be for my own benefit, because of the lack of their contrition, the sadness that still haunts me, etc. He explained how forgiveness is giving all the parties permission to go on with life. That doesn’t mean one necessarily can forget, that one doesn’t have memories or pain. It is merely a willed, intentional, conscious permission to go on with life and trust in God’s role and power. He told me how so many he counsels feel like “seventy times seven” means that a person who offends us will keep offending us with the same mistake over and over and over and we must just passively allow it to continue by forgiving it. He said he likes to think of it as illuminating how we must actively recommit ourselves to forgiveness over and over, often for the same thing, something in the past. Memories will still weigh on us, there may be hard consequences to deal with, relationships may never heal, life may forever be changed, etc. When we feel this we question how we could have truly forgiven when all these things still haunt us. But we reaffirm our forgiveness in our permission to keep moving on and trusting in God. Seventy times seven.

    Don’t mean to be so personal. I thought his was a fresh way to consider the “seventy times seven” paradigm.

  36. I can definitely see the value in mentally renewing our old forgiveness of others when memories pop up, when we have to re-internalize our past. Personally, I need a whole lot more than that. I can be a pretty big jerk to my wife. Again. And then again. There’s a whole lot of repeat-forgiveness that goes on in my house. Sanctification is a sure process for the Christian, but it involves a lot of falling flat on my face from failure. According to Kimball, repeat-repentance shows that previous repentance wasn’t sufficient enough for forgiveness. But my wife is a lot more gracious than that… forgiving over and over. And my God is even more merciful and forgiving than my wife.

    You’re right to find a point of connection between my concept of “forgiveness” and the Mormon concept of ultimate reward. In my Protestant worldview (which I believe in Biblical, of course), being justified and forgiven by God necessarily ensures that one will experience the ever-increasing joy of eternal life, replete with all the blessings thereof. If a person is right with God, there is nothing ultimately that will be withheld from that person. I wouldn’t make any sense in my view for a person to be forgiven but then be sentenced to the damnation of the Telestial or Terrestial kingdom apart from the presence of the Father.

    I’m not sure if I understand “we must just passively allow it to continue by forgiving it” as it relates to the seventy times seven passage. In Matthew 18, the passage in question is preceded with instructions on active conflict resolution (15-20), which doesn’t seem very passive at all. In spirit, however, I would agree that we often have to overlook the sins of others… and pick and choose our battles. I don’t think Jesus meant for us to engage in conflict resolution over every sin ever committed against us or another. We agree on that.

    hawkgrrrl, I’m not sure how you can limit the “seventy times seven” to forgiveness between disciples or fallen humans, for Matthew 18:22 is linked to parable that is supposed to help us connect our own forgiveness of other humans with our having been forgiven by God. One is supposed to flow from the other.

    Grace and peace in Christ, who justifies the ungodly by faith apart from works (Romans 4:4-8),


  37. Pingback: Rethinking Repentance « The Contrarian Mormon

  38. The LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program guide is an amazing (an in my case) life-changing resouce. Two things I want to emphasize: Christ has done most of the work in our repentance process and can’t be done without Him. The most important part of it all is our heart. Where is your heart at? There is a “checklist” so to speak, but without honesty and humility the “checklist is worthless.

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