Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that repentance is important. Therefore it is also important to define it carefully and accurately. This is not a place to be slipshod or careless.
The Greek word translated repent literally means to change your mind. That is also an accurate description of repentance. In modern terms, it is a change of mindset, a changing of your paradigm. Biblical repentance is the gigantic shift from trusting in your own works to be right with God to trusting in Jesus’ works to make you right with God. It is rooted in the recognition of two important facts: 1) how utterly unable I am to do anything to make myself right with God; and 2) how fully and completely Jesus made me right with God. Repentance is seeing the light – it is nothing less than a new birth.
There are a number of things that naturally follow repentance. Once our eyes are open to the ugliness and seriousness of sin, we abhor it. Even though we abhor it, we see that we are still very weak in the face of it. Therefore, even though we try not to sin, we know we will sin. Down through the centuries, millions of repentant people have joined Paul in saying, “For the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19)
But not only does repentance open our eyes to our sinfulness, it also opens them to the greatness of God’s forgiveness. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1) A repentant person doesn’t think he has to quit sinning to remain in God’s good graces – he knows he can’t. Rather he remains trusting 100% in what Jesus has already done for him. Repentance, through and through, is turning completely away from trust in one’s goodness and works to trust in Jesus’ works.
That, however, is not the message of Mormonism. Its Inspired Version (JST) translates Psalm 32:1 this way: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and who have no sins to be covered.” Consistently it describes repentance as a long process – a process that focuses not on a change in thinking but a change of action.
One part of Mormonism’s process of repentance that startles many Christians is the “abandonment of sin”. “Maintain an unyielding permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression. When you keep this commandment, you will never experience the pain of that sin again.’ (True to the Faith, p. 135) Over the years, I have had Mormons expand on this in two different ways. I have had some echo what this says and say that repentant persons will never repeat the sin again. If they do, that shows that they weren’t truly repentant. More often, however, are the Mormons who say that all this means is to try – but they don’t have to actually abandon the sin. I, however, have never found any official statement that watered it down in that way.
The second part of Mormonism’s process of repentance that strikes many Christians is the requirement of full obedience. “President Kimball said: ‘First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness.” (Gospel Principles, p. 11-112) Again many Mormons insert the word “try’ – in “try to live the commandments”. But that is not what it says. Consistently it says obey the commandments. In fact, I have read official statements which say to try is a statement of weakness.
I, for one, would despair if I believed that I would have to not only abandon sin but keep all the commandments in order to secure God’s forgiveness. That is way, way, way, beyond my capability. That is why I am so glad that this is not what biblical repentance is. I am so glad that true repentance is abandoning not sin but all thoughts that I can do something like that and instead placing all trust in what Jesus has done. Because of Jesus, I am truly blessed as a repentant, forgiven man.