Having a Good Grasp on Repentance

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What is repentance? This is not as simple a question as it first appears. Mormons and Christians define it drastically different. Even among Christians, however, there is a lot of confusion.

Repentance, in the original language of the Bible, literally means “change of mind”.  The Bible talks about this change of mind in two different ways: in a broader and a more limited sense. Sometimes it limits it to the way people change their mind in regard to sin. They become sorrowful over their sins. Other times it is broader, describing not only a person’s change of mind over sin but also a change of mind about Jesus. It describes a person’s paradigm shift from trusting in their works and goodness to trusting in Jesus’ works and goodness. In this sense, it is equivalent to a person converting.

The thing which surprises many Christians is that the broader use is much more common in the Bible. Many Christians often emphasize sorrow over sin much more. But the broader use is what needs to be emphasized when talking with Mormons because it covers roughly the same ground as the Mormon view of repentance does.

But it covers it in a much different way. “Repentance is a painful process, but it leads to forgiveness and lasting peace” (True to the Faith, p. 133). Yes, this sentence does mention forgiveness and lasting peace. What the rest of the article emphasizes, however, is the painful process of repentance as it continues by listing six steps to repentance. I want to zero in on just one other statement.

The fourth step is entitled: Abandonment of Sin. It quotes D&C 58:43 which talks about forsaking sin. Abandon and forsake are two very strong words. And nowhere is the word “try” used. It doesn’t say try to abandon or forsake. To be truly repentant, according to official Mormonism, a person must not try to abandon or forsake the sin. They must do it! This is emphasized in the manual. “Maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression.

Imagine trying to live up to that. Imagine repenting of worrying and never worrying again. Imagine repenting of not treating your spouse lovingly and never being unloving again. Imagine repenting of speaking evil about the government, and never doing it again. Imagine how you would feel if you repeated the sin? Repeating it meant you weren’t truly repentant.

These are not only words on a page. I know many Mormons who have endured this painful process – a process which lasted not just a few days but sometimes, years. I know of others who have despaired of ever completing the process.

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The biblical picture of repentance is so different! One of the best biblical examples of repentance is the story of Zacchaeus, recorded in Luke 19. It wasn’t a painful process for Zacchaeus. It was a moment filled with joy. When Jesus called him, he responded with immediate and enthusiastic joy.  Just like that he repented – he changed his mind from trusting in himself to trusting in Jesus.

Joy, however, is not what Mormons think of when they hear the word repentance. And sadly, many Christians don’t either. But we need to. We need to see and then reflect the tremendous blessing which is repentance.

Instead of the painful process of LDS repentance, share with Mormons the joy people experience when they realize Jesus came to do what we couldn’t do. Jesus lived a life empty of sin because we couldn’t. Through faith, we receive all the credit. Then, because we couldn’t abandon sin, he paid the price for all sin on the cross – as his gift to us. This repentance, when I trust in Jesus’ work and not my own work, is liberating and joyful. It is what puts a smile on our face. 

May God help us share this joy so others can smile with us.


Mark Cares3 Comments