Archive for the 'repentance' Category

11
Jul
13

LDS Forgiveness

Recently when I was in Salt Lake City, I stopped by the LDS Church’s Distribution Center.  It has a bookstore where you can purchase all the latest church manuals and materials.  I was somewhat surprised to see a tract, first printed in 1984, still on sale.  It is entitled “Repentance Brings Forgiveness”.

The setting for the tract is a visit by a young couple to their bishop to confess having pre-marital sex.  After confessing their sin, they ask:  “Can we ever be forgiven?”  The bishop replies:  “Yes, the Lord and his church can forgive, but not easily.” The rest of the tract expands on the difficult and painful path to forgiveness.  Following are some excerpts that emphasize that point:

“When we say that the sexual sins are forgivable, this does not mean it is easy to gain forgiveness. Even though it is hard to gain forgiveness, it is something that must be done.”

“The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one.  True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.”

“It is unthinkable that God forgives sins which are serious after just a few prayers.  He is likely to wait until there has been a long, sustained repentance as shown by a willingness to live all his commandments.”

“The Lord, in his preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, gave us the fifth and one of the most difficult requirements to forgiveness.  He says, ‘For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with least degree of allowance.  Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.’ (D&C 1:31-32).  The repenting person must start on the never-ending task of keeping the commandments of the Lord.  Obviously this can hardly be done in a day, a week, a month, or a year, but must go on all one’s life.”

“Now the phrase ‘with all his heart’ is vital.  There can be no holding back.  If the sinner neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant.  The Lord knows, as does the individual, the degree of sorrowful repentance, and his forgiveness will be as great or as little as the person deserves.”

“James indicated that each good deed, each testimony, each missionary effort, each help given to others is like a blanket over one’s own sins, or like a deposit against an overdraft in the bank.”

I don’t know about you, but all I can say is “Wow”.  As this tract not only states, but also emphasizes over and over, LDS forgiveness does not come easily.

The Bible talks about forgiveness so differently!  Yes it also often connects forgiveness with repentance but biblical repentance is not this long painful process.  Rather it is changing our mindset (the Greek word for repentance literally means a change of mind).  It is the switching from trusting in our own goodness and works to be accepted by God to trusting in Jesus’ goodness and works as the basis for being accepted by God.  And when that happens, forgiveness comes instantaneously as David experienced.  “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.  And Nathan said unto David, The Lord hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13).  Instead of pain, that brings great joy as David said in Psalm 32:  “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Ps. 32:1)

It’s all about God’s grace and what Jesus has done for us.  “”In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”  “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity? (Micah 7:18)  It’s all about God’s pardoning us, not our works becoming “a blanket over one’s own sins”.   Not our works, but Jesus’ blood – that is what blankets our sins.  To Jesus be all praise and glory!

18
Jan
13

Forsaking Sin

Chapter two of the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow deals with baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost.  The following paragraph occurs towards the end of this chapter.

     “To obtain religion that will save us in the presence of God, we must obtain the Holy Ghost, and in order to obtain the Holy Ghost, we must believe on the Lord Jesus, then repent of our sins, that is, forsake them, then go forward and be immersed in water for the remission of sins, then receive the laying on of hands.” (emphasis mine)

In Mormonism, as is clearly stated in this paragraph, repentance involves the forsaking of sins.  In fact, as President Snow says above, it is the very essence of LDS repentance as he makes forsaking sin synonymous with repentance. Another word that is often used in Mormonism to express this idea is abandonment.  Repentance means abandoning sin.

Forsaking and abandon are two very strong words.  Most marriage vows include the idea of forsaking all others.  We talk about abandoning ships when they are sinking. Even more serious is the idea of people abandoning their children.  Whatever the context is that they are used in, forsake or abandon carry the idea of permanency.  Woe to the spouse who interprets “forsaking all others” as doing that just most of the time.

That is also how repentance was explained to me a number of years ago by a member of the local stake presidency.  He told me that if he repented of a sin, but then committed that sin a couple of years later – his repetition of the sin revealed that he wasn’t truly repentant the first time and thus was not forgiven for either sin.

Recently, however, some LDS members have weakened the meaning of abandon and forsake by saying that if they repeat the sin they just have to repent again.  Whenever they say something like that I ask them how that jives both with official LDS teaching and the meaning of the words abandon and forsake.

I totally understand why they are weakening the meaning of these words.  Abandoning sin is an impossible standard for anybody to keep.  (Although I have had some LDS members tell me that they believe some LDS people have already achieved that.)

That is why the message of the Bible is so comforting.  The Bible clearly acknowledges our inability to rid ourselves of sin.  St. Paul’s confession:  “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19) is one I so identify with.  An honest evaluation of each day reveals many instances of sin on my part.  No matter how much I try, I can’t keep myself clean.

That in itself is not comforting.  But what is extremely comforting is the biblical message, that because we can’t do it, Jesus did it all for us.  He obeyed each and every commandment perfectly and he did that for us.  He paid the terrible price of each and every one of our sins.  He has washed all our sins away and has clothed us in his perfect righteousness.  The message that screams off the pages of Scripture is that it is not all about us – it’s all about Jesus.  And thank God for that.  Because of Jesus, I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that I will live forever with Heavenly Father.

Because of Jesus, you can have that same confidence.  Turn away from trusting in your works and turn to trusting in Jesus’ works for you.  That, my friends, is what true repentance is all about.

15
Dec
12

How Much Do We Sin?

One of the many significant differences between Mormonism and biblical teaching centers on how much a person sins.  The December issue of the Ensign contains an article that clearly illustrates Mormonism’s view.  It is entitled, “Repentance: Making the Inside Clean”.  The author summarizes the need for repentance this way:  “As we go about our lives, we occasionally com­mit sins. But if we want to live with our Heavenly Father again, we cannot be unclean. We need to repent, which includes forsaking sin, replacing it with righteousness, and cleansing ourselves from the effects of sin.”

Later in the article, to make his point about repentance, he gives this illustration.

    “During my time as a bishop, I used the following visual to help explain what we need to do after we forsake a sin. Picture in your mind a bucket of water. That bucket represents you and me, and the water represents the Spirit, which can reside within us. The water can also represent our pure, worthy state.

    Now imagine that you have a brick and have dropped it into the bucket. That brick is like sin—it’s hard and rough and impure. As soon as it enters the bucket, it causes some of the water to slosh out. When we sin, we displace some of the good things in our life, like our peace of mind and some of our capacity

to feel the Spirit.

     Repenting is like taking that brick out of the bucket of water and making the water pure and clean again. But the repentance isn’t complete by just removing the brick, because the bucket is still not full. We must add more water to fill the bucket again.”

The Bible speaks so differently.  Look at Romans 3.

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

Note how all-inclusive these words are:  “none, none, none, all, together”.  There is no idea here of sinning occasionally; or of being in a pure state; or having just one brick at a time dropped into the bucket.  From the Bible’s standpoint the water in the bucket is already filthy and a veritable downpour of bricks falls continually into the bucket.  None are righteous – they have together become unprofitable.

That is emphasized throughout the Bible.  The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6 laments about how unclean he is.  The apostle Paul in Romans 7 talks about how wretched he is because of his failure to do the good.  The Bible pictures people not as occasionally sinning, but as constantly sinning.

This is no minor difference either.  If we think that we only sin occasionally then much of the burden falls on us to stop sinning and to make right the wrongs we have committed.  That is exactly what Mormonism does.  In the last analysis, even though it talks about Jesus’ atonement, Mormonism places the emphasis on what we have to do.

But when we see ourselves as the Bible pictures us, all we can do is plead for mercy and help.  We realize that all we can do is make the problem worse by piling up more and more sins!  And that is why Christmas is so special.  Christmas is God’s answer to our pleas for help.  Jesus came to earth so that we could go to heaven.  Jesus came to do everything for us.  He kept all the commandments perfectly – not just to give us an example to follow – but much more importantly as our substitute – in our place.  Because Jesus kept the commandments perfectly for me, I can know say that I have kept the commandments perfectly.  And then he died to wash away all our sins.

Turning from emphasizing what I have to do and instead trusting that Jesus has done it all for me is what true repentance is all about.  This Christmas see that Jesus came – not to show you what you have to do – but to do it all for you.  See that and have a most joyous Christmas.

 

08
Jun
12

Saved in Sin

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 23 covers chapters 8-12 in Alma in the Book of Mormon.  In that section the statement is made that the Son of God cannot save people in their sins. (Alma 11:34 -37)  The teacher’s guide explores this with the following question and answer.

“What is the difference between the false idea of being saved in our sins and the truth that we can be saved from our sins?  (If we are unrepentant and remain in a state of sin, we cannot be saved.  If we repent, Jesus Christ can save us from our sins.)”

At first glance, that answer looks pretty good.  The manual, True to the Faith, gives a little more thorough explanation.  “Note that you cannot be saved in your sins; you cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring your belief in Christ with the understanding that you will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of your life (see Alma 11:36-37).” (p 151f)  Whoa.  So if it is wrong for me to have the understanding that I will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of my life, doesn’t that mean that I should have the understanding that, at some point in my life, I will no longer sin?

That is strengthened by how True to the Faith continues.  “Through the grace of God, you can be saved from your sins (see Helaman 5:10-11). To receive this blessing, you must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, strive to keep the commandments, forsake sin, and renew your repentance and cleansing through the ordinance of the sacrament.”  Note that one of the qualifications listed is that of forsaking sin.  Forsaking sin is also one of the elements consistently listed as part of repentance.  That brings us full circle back to the answer in the teacher’s guide.  Part of repenting, according to Mormonism, is forsaking sin.

Many LDS members have told me that forsaking sin doesn’t mean that won’t commit sin again.  But that explanation doesn’t do justice to the work, “forsake”.   My dictionary defines forsake in this way:  “to give up, renounce.  To quit or leave entirely SYN – abandon.”  Or think of the marriage vow of forsaking all others.  What are we telling our spouse if we water down the meaning of forsake?  I come back to what is written in True to the Faith.  Mormonism teaches that to be saved people need to forsake sin – that people, to be saved, cannot have the expectation that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives.

I thank God that this is not how the Bible describes salvation.  Salvation, in the Bible, is all about what Jesus has done for me – not about what I have to do.  Yes, it does tell me to bring forth fruits of repentance.  But fruits are the result, not the essence of repentance.  Repentance itself is a change of mind.  It’s the abandoning not of sin, but of trust in anything I do and replacing that with trust in what Jesus has done for me.  That change of mind motivates me, out of gratitude, to try and lead a life pleasing to God.  But even then it doesn’t say or even give the impression that I will be able to do this perfectly.  Rather, as it shows me how deeply sin has infected me, it gives me the understanding that yes, I will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of my life.  But that doesn’t disqualify me from salvation – because my salvation doesn’t depend on what I do. Contrary to the message of the Book of Mormon, I thank God that he has saved me in my sins!

 

30
Dec
10

What is repentance?

      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.

30
Mar
10

REPENTANCE AND SUFFERING

   The April 2010 Ensign contains an article by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, one of the 12 apostles of the LDS Church.  It is entitled “The Atonement and Faith”. One emphasis he makes is that suffering is an important part of repentance.  Following is an excerpt from his article.

    “Does it also mean that a person who repents does not need to suffer at all because the entire punishment is borne by the Savior?  That cannot be the meaning because it would be inconsistent with the Savior’s other teachings.

    “What is meant by Alma 34:16 is that the person who repents does not need to suffer even as the Savior suffered for that sin.  Sinners who are repenting will experience some suffering, but because of their repentance and the Atonement they will not experience the full, exquisite extent of eternal torment the Savior suffered for those sins.

    “President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985), who gave such comprehensive teachings on repentance and forgiveness, said that personal sufferings is a very important part of repentance. ‘One has not begun to repent until he has suffered intensely for his sins. . .If a person hasn’t suffered,’ he said, ‘he hasn’t repented.’”

     I will be the first to admit that there is often sorrow connected to repentance.  Once our eyes are open to how repulsive sin is to God – especially the sin of thinking that we can contribute anything to our salvation – we naturally are sorrowful.  Once we see all the things that God considers sinful – sins of both omission and commission – sins residing in our thoughts and not just expressed in actions – we are sorrowful. 

     But then when we hear the wonderful news of the Atonement – that Jesus did suffer the full price for our sins – the overwhelming emotion is not sorrow but joy – the overwhelming experience is not one of suffering but of relief, of a huge burden lifted.  It is the joyous reaction of Zacchaeus recorded in Luke 19:1-10.  He repents and throws a huge party.  He repents and becomes a joyful philanthropist.   But, according to Spencer W. Kimball and the LDS Church, he wasn’t repentant.  I can just hear them sternly telling Zacchaeus: “One has not begun to repent until he has suffered intensely for his sins.”

     Thank the Lord that is not what Jesus told him.  “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

     This coming Friday the Christian church will again observe Christ’s death.  Yes, there will be a tone of somber sorrow as we again see the price Jesus had to pay for our sins.  But even more importantly there will be quiet joy as we again hear Jesus, “It is finished.”  With those words Jesus is reassuring me that he suffered for all my sins – that he alone suffered for them and therefore I don’t have to suffer for them.  That is why down through the centuries Christians have called this Friday, Good Friday.

23
Feb
10

The Sin of Not Rejoicing

 

     “Rejoice in the Lord alway:  and again I say, Rejoice.”  (Philippians 4:4)  Here we are commanded to rejoice always.  That means that when we are not rejoicing, we are not doing what God commands.  We are sinning. 

     That’s not a sin we talk about very much.  In fact, some people might think that I’m being extreme in calling it a sin.  But this is clearly a command.  And sin is breaking one of God’s commands. If you didn’t know God told you to rejoice always, you do now.  Therefore James 4:17 applies every time we aren’t rejoicing:  “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

     When you think about it, it’s understandable why this is a sin.  God has so richly blessed us!  For us not to rejoice is like a child who has everything pouting because one of his toys broke. 

     I don’t know about you, but there’s many a time I’m not rejoicing.  Sometimes it takes only one little cloud in the sky to make me feel overcast.  No matter how much I fight it, I often find it easier to complain than to rejoice.

     This once again demonstrates to me how impossible it is for me to forsake this or any sin.  There is no way that I can do what True to the Faith says in its discussion of repentance.  “Maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression.  When you keep this commitment you will never experience the pain of that sin again.” 

     Rather than trying to maintain a permanent resolve never again to repeat the sin of not rejoicing – something that is beyond my ability, I’m going to rather maintain the confidence that God forgives me freely through Jesus.  And you what?  That gets me closer to rejoicing always more than anything else.




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