Mormonism’s Process of Being Forgiven by God

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A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how Mormonism talks much more about people’s duty to forgive each other than it does about God’s forgiveness of people. This week I look at how God’s forgiveness was explained in the last General Conference.

Following are some excerpts from a talk by Elder Francisco J. Vilas, a LDS leader.

“It is important that we realize that just like the remission of sins, repentance is a process and not something that happens at one particular moment.”

“The moment we begin to remember Him and keep His commandments every day – and not just on the Sabbath day – is when the remission of our sins begins to gradually take effect and His promise of having His Spirit with us begins to be fulfilled.”

“What might be some of those vanities that can interfere in the process of receiving a remission of our sins and that are associated with keeping the Sabbath day holy?”

His emphasis on the process of having God remit sin and that it gradually takes effect reminded me of a couple of quotes from the classic LDS book, The Miracle of Forgiveness.

“To every forgiveness there is a condition. The plaster must be as wide as the sore. The fasting, the prayers, the humility must be equal to or greater than the sin. There must be a broken heart and a contrite spirit. There must be “sackcloth and ashes.” There must be tears and genuine change of heart” (p. 353).

“It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be 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” (p. 324f)

Over the years I have been surprised that more Mormons haven’t been bothered by such statements. One reason why is that Mormonism often labels only blatant sins as sins. As one of their apostles said, “In teaching the Saints not to accuse one another, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, ‘What many people call sin is not sin’ (Teachings, p. 193). I believe the large category of actions that are mistakes rather than sins illustrates the truth of that statement”. (Dallin H. Oaks, “Sins and Mistakes”).

But then there are the Mormons who are burdened by this. More than one inactive Mormon told me the reason they were inactive was because they had given up on Mormonism. It was just too hard!

Such Mormons desperately need to hear what the Bible has to say about God’s forgiveness - that it is not a process! I love how the Bible emphasizes this when David confessed his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die’” (2 Samuel 12:13). As soon as David confessed Nathan, the prophet of the Lord, announced forgiveness. It is true that Nathan proceeds to inform David of the earthly consequences he would suffer because of his sin. But that doesn’t negate the fact that David was forgiven instantaneously – and not after a long process.

Or think of the men who brought a paralytic to Jesus. Before anything else, Jesus said: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).  Where is the process there?

The Bible’s message is clear. God does not make us work to be forgiven. Jesus has already done all that work. Neither does God condition his forgiveness on what we do. Nor does he make us sweat it out, wondering if he has forgiven us. Instead of being filled with doubt -wondering if we are forgiven, God wants us to be filled with praise – knowing that we are forgiven through Christ.

No one said it better than David in Psalm 103.

8  The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

     slow to anger, abounding in love.

9   He will not always accuse,

      nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve

      or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

     so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

     so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

To God be all glory!