The purpose of this life is to become the best we can be. Ultimately we are aiming to become perfect, like our Father in Heaven. Because He is God, He “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16), so He holds us to a perfect standard, and every time we mess up, we fall short. Already you can easily see the predicament we’re in. But our loving Father would never send us here to fail. Even before the world was, He prepared a way for us to correct our mistakes (1 Peter 1:20), through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, so we could continually progress and have our weaknesses become strengths (Ether 12:27). “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Satan, who opposes everything our Father does, does NOT want us to progress and will do anything he can to hold us back, thus the word “damned” is applied to those who don’t repent. Damnation is being held back, not able to progress. But since progress is the purpose of our existence, being held back is torture to our spirits. In addition, when we disobey, we distance ourselves from Father’s Spirit and protection, leaving us vulnerable to the merciless influence of the adversary (Mosiah 2:36-37). Thus sin inevitably brings unhappiness.
But Christ, in accordance with the plan of mercy provided a way to escape and be restored to happiness. “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I. …Wherefore, I command you again to repent… lest you suffer these punishments …of which in the…least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit” (D&C 19:16-20). Our Savior, through the Atonement, provided a way out. “He loves us and understands us and is sympathetic to the fact that we face temptations” (Elder Theodore M. Burton, "The Meaning of Repentance," Liahona, November 1988). “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). If He is so willing to succor us, it is our choice to let Him. The condition is repentance.
In its simplest form: “by this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). To me that means when I recognize something in my life that is inconsistent with Heavenly Father’s expectations, I humbly acknowledge my fault to Him (and to others I may have wronged), and then do all I can to abandon that practice, and make it up to those I’ve wronged. It means constantly changing to become better.
Similarly, Elder Anderson said, “The invitation to repent is rarely a voice of chastisement but rather a loving appeal to turn around and to ‘re-turn’ toward God. It is the beckoning of a loving Father and His Only Begotten to be more than we are, to reach up to a higher way of life, to change, and to feel the happiness of keeping the commandments” (“Repent…That I May Heal You,” Ensign, November 2009).
All too often we DO think of it as chastisement and we fear that punishment is associated with repentance. On the contrary, punishment is the natural consequence of the SIN, and grows in severity for the unrepentant. Elder Theodore M. Burton of the First Quorum of the Seventy said, “The Lord does not punish us for our sins; he simply withholds his blessings. …The scriptures tell us again and again that the wicked are punished by the wicked” ("The Meaning of Repentance"). We bring that punishment, anguish and suffering to ourselves by dismissing the Spirit and giving the adversary power in our lives when we sin. God doesn’t punish us or make us suffer, rather, He seeks to save and protect us from those things. When He extends a pronouncement of misery, He is simply warning us of what the adversary will do if we don’t listen and obey God’s will.
Already you can see how Satan can twist this into a lie: that repentance brings suffering and punishment, when in reality it’s SATAN that’s doing the punishing before repentance is complete (“The Meaning of Repentance”). After all, wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10), and the only way to be restored from sin to happiness is through repentance—changing our ways to follow the Lord’s will.
Satan has no power over the righteous—but as soon as we give in to his temptation, the Spirit leaves and we are in the adversary’s power (Mosiah 2:36-37). The adversary will do anything to keep us from repentance because he covets that power over our lives. Consider the vice of any addiction as just an example of the power he craves, whereas our Father seeks to free us from those things. Satan will seduce us with pride, fear of punishment or humiliation, and try to convince us that covering up our mistakes or simply hiding them will save us from suffering the consequences. I learned from Sunday School a powerful lesson from the story of King David. As the Spirit taught me during that lesson, it became blatantly apparent to me how Satan uses his tools of deception to keep us from repentance, and that an unrepentant heart is more serious than the original transgression.
We all know the story of David and Goliath and we see David’s courage as an example of incredible righteousness. But Satan certainly doesn’t leave the righteous alone. Years later when David was faced with a temptation to look at something inappropriate, he gave in and didn’t turn away. I’m sure he felt little nudges inside to rid his mind of those thoughts—but he didn’t. Ignoring the impressions and letting those seductive thoughts dwell in his mind eventually led him to break the law of chastity. Terrorized by the wrong he had done, instead of repenting he let fear of being discovered run wild and did everything he could to cover up his sin. He ended up murdering someone he had wronged (2 Samuel 11).
Pride and fear are Satan’s #1 tools. He will use those to keep us from repentance, increase his power, and desensitize us to following him more. But when we hide from God, in reality what are we hiding from? We are hiding from miracles, healing, love, peace, compassion. Aren’t those all things we want in our lives? In King David’s case, was the problem the temptation or the sin? NO. Although giving into the temptation and committing the sin was wrong, it was his refusal to confess and forsake that brought greater consequences and led him to greater iniquity. We ALL sin. But the difference between the righteous and the wicked is that the righteous repent and ultimately sin less and less, until they “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).
To David’s credit, he did eventually realize that the only way out was repentance through the Atonement (Psalm 51). He realized he could find healing through the Savior. But repentance was much harder than if he had chosen to turn from his mistakes in the beginning. Similarly one day we will have to face our guilt and we will realize that we must repent (Alma 5:18, 21). I pray that day will be sooner rather than later so we don’t have to suffer as much as David, or Alma the Younger, or even Christ himself. For surely in the end we must “[choose] Christ’s manner of living or His manner of suffering” (Scott Woodward, EFY Session Director).
When the Spirit helps us identify something we should change, we have two options: follow the enticements, or rationalize them away. I’ve learned that rationalization = spiritual unhappiness and desensitization. Alma warned, “Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point” (Alma 42:30). When we rationalize, we’re not only forfeiting the opportunity to be better, but we’re shutting out the Spirit’s influence. Our hearts become hardened and are desensitized, bit by bit, until we are “past feeling” (1 Ne 17:45). The scriptures are full of stories that show the fate of the hard hearted. Instead, let us “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19) by responding to the invitation to change. The Lord promises, “if ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you…unto a remission of [your] sins” (Alma 12:33-34).
When I was a Young Woman I used to wonder, what if I’m trying as hard as I can to change but I keep messing up? Elder Anderson said, “Sometimes in our repentance, in our daily efforts to become more Christlike, we find ourselves repeatedly struggling with the same difficulties. As if we are climbing a tree-covered mountain, at times we don’t see our progress until we get closer to the top and look back from the high ridges. Don’t be discouraged. If you are striving and working to repent, you are in the process of repenting” (“Repent…That I May Heal You,”). Satan and those persuaded by him will lie to you that the process is not helping, that it does not work. Do not believe his lies. Do not abandon the process.
Another tool Satan will use is guilt to debilitate instead of motivate. Sometimes we believe we’ve done things so wrong in the past that the consequences haunt us every day. Surely we need to feel remorse for our choices, but we must not feel we are forever captive to the consequences. Do you think our loving Heavenly Father would want us to dwell on sadness and guilt? Certainly not. His is a gospel of hope. No matter how we have done things in the past we can change, and MUST change if we are to be relieved of those horrible feelings. Obviously you already recognize your mistakes and feel genuine sorrow. As we’ve learned, the next step is to abandon that behavior. That’s where the faith comes in—faith that it’s possible and that help will come, instead of accepting Satan’s lie and believing “nothing I do now will help.” Forgive yourself and move away from it. Have faith that your best efforts are sufficient for Christ’s grace and healing.
One of Satan’s nastiest tricks is to convince us “It’s just the way I am—I can’t change.” Or even more pridefully, “This is who I am. I have no need to change!” But these beliefs are contradictory to the Atonement! The very fundamental nature of the Atonement is to make change possible, to become better than we are, to rise to a higher level. We are made with imperfections and weaknesses, but don’t think for a moment there is a challenge you can’t or shouldn’t overcome (D&C 64:2; 1John 5:4-5; Romans 12:2).
Illuminated by the truth about repentance, don’t these lies seem silly? Like Nephi, I feel like saying, “Why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?” (2 Nephi 4:27-28). When you see clearly the tactics of the adversary it is so much easier to resist them and instead turn to the Savior for healing. Let us respond quickly and humbly to the enticements of the Spirit to change. Start NOW and do anything you must do.
The lyrics to one of my favorite songs read,
I testify that it is the process of repentance that refines us as the Atonement removes our guilt and shame and replaces it with joy and peace of conscience (Alma 24:10). I know this because I’ve experienced it in my own life. I know the Savior lives and loves us, and is continually reaching out to each of us. We only need to reach to him to feel of his love and healing power as we change our lives to do his will.
You might think that no one’s been through what you’re going through.
And you might think that nobody’s made the same mistakes as you.
You are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders—turn it over.
You’ve tried hard to hide from the past and to bury it deep.
You’re overwhelmed by all of the things that you know you should be.
Just believe, mistakes of the past don’t define you—He refines you.
Just have the courage to take one step.
Someone’s going be there to help with the rest!
To start is the hardest, but it’s something that only you can do.
Don’t carry the burden as the years go by,
You don’t need that crushing weight in your life.
Have faith to pray for the strength to finally see this through.
There’s One who knows youperfectly,
He can take the hurt away.
The healing starts within, just let Him in, and let it begin.
(“Let it Begin,” Courage to Stand Strong, EFY 2010)