Only through repentance do we gain access to the atoning grace of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Mormon contains the account of a man named Nehor. It is easy to understand why Mormon, in abridging a thousand years of Nephite records, thought it important to include something about this man and the enduring influence of his doctrine. Mormon was seeking to warn us, knowing that this philosophy would surface again in our day.
Nehor appeared on the scene about 90 years before the birth of Christ. He taught “that all mankind should be saved at the last day, … for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4).
About 15 years later, Korihor came among the Nephites preaching and amplifying the doctrine of Nehor. The Book of Mormon records that “he was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies … concerning the coming of Christ” (Alma 30:6). Korihor’s preaching was to the effect “that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime” (Alma 30:17). These false prophets and their followers “did not believe in the repentance of their sins” (Alma 15:15).
As in the days of Nehor and Korihor, we live in a time not long before the advent of Jesus Christ—in our case, the time of preparation for His Second Coming. And similarly, the message of repentance is often not welcomed. Some profess that if there is a God, He makes no real demands upon us (see Alma 18:5). Others maintain that a loving God forgives all sin based on simple confession, or if there actually is a punishment for sin, “God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 28:8). Others, with Korihor, deny the very existence of Christ and any such thing as sin. Their doctrine is that values, standards, and even truth are all relative. Thus, whatever one feels is right for him or her cannot be judged by others to be wrong or sinful.
On the surface such philosophies seem appealing because they give us license to indulge any appetite or desire without concern for consequences. By using the teachings of Nehor and Korihor, we can rationalize and justify anything. When prophets come crying repentance, it “throws cold water on the party.” But in reality the prophetic call should be received with joy. Without repentance, there is no real progress or improvement in life. Pretending there is no sin does not lessen its burden and pain. Suffering for sin does not by itself change anything for the better. Only repentance leads to the sunlit uplands of a better life. And, of course, only through repentance do we gain access to the atoning grace of Jesus Christ and salvation. Repentance is a divine gift, and there should be a smile on our faces when we speak of it. It points us to freedom, confidence, and peace. Rather than interrupting the celebration, the gift of repentance is the cause for true celebration.
Repentance exists as an option only because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is His infinite sacrifice that “bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:15). Repentance is the necessary condition, and the grace of Christ is the power by which “mercy can satisfy the demands of justice” (Alma 34:16). Our witness is this:
“We know that justification [or forgiveness of sins] through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;
“And we know also, that sanctification [or purification from the effects of sin] through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength” (D&C 20:30–31).
Repentance is an expansive subject, but today I would like to mention just five aspects of this fundamental gospel principle that I hope will be helpful.
First, the invitation to repent is an expression of love. When the Savior “began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), it was a message of love, inviting all who would to qualify to join Him “and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life [itself] in the world to come” (Moses 6:59). If we do not invite others to change or if we do not demand repentance of ourselves, we fail in a fundamental duty we owe to one another and to ourselves. A permissive parent, an indulgent friend, a fearful Church leader are in reality more concerned about themselves than the welfare and happiness of those they could help. Yes, the call to repentance is at times regarded as intolerant or offensive and may even be resented, but guided by the Spirit, it is in reality an act of genuine caring (see D&C 121:43–44).
Second, repentance means striving to change. It would mock the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross for us to expect that He should transform us into angelic beings with no real effort on our part. Rather, we seek His grace to complement and reward our most diligent efforts (see 2 Nephi 25:23). Perhaps as much as praying for mercy, we should pray for time and opportunity to work and strive and overcome. Surely the Lord smiles upon one who desires to come to judgment worthily, who resolutely labors day by day to replace weakness with strength. Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving. Divine forgiveness and healing flow quite naturally to such a soul, for indeed “virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; [and] mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own” (D&C 88:40).
With repentance we can steadily improve in our capacity to live the celestial law, for we recognize that “he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22).
Third, repentance means not only abandoning sin but also committing to obedience. The Bible Dictionary states, “Repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, [as well as] a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.”1 One of several examples of this teaching from the Book of Mormon is found in the words of Alma to one of his sons:
“Therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities;
For our turning to the Lord to be complete, it must include nothing less than a covenant of obedience to Him. We often speak of this covenant as the baptismal covenant since it is witnessed by being baptized in water (see Mosiah 18:10). The Savior’s own baptism, providing the example, confirmed His covenant of obedience to the Father. “But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:7). Without this covenant, repentance remains incomplete and the remission of sins unattained.2 In the memorable expression of Professor Noel Reynolds, “The choice to repent is a choice to burn bridges in every direction [having determined] to follow forever only one way, the one path that leads to eternal life.”3
Fourth, repentance requires a seriousness of purpose and a willingness to persevere, even through pain. Attempts to create a list of specific steps of repentance may be helpful to some, but it may also lead to a mechanical, check-off-the-boxes approach with no real feeling or change. True repentance is not superficial. The Lord gives two overarching requirements: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).
Confessing and forsaking are powerful concepts. They are much more than a casual “I admit it; I’m sorry.” Confession is a deep, sometimes agonizing acknowledgment of error and offense to God and man. Sorrow and regret and bitter tears often accompany one’s confession, especially when his or her actions have been the cause of pain to someone or, worse, have led another into sin. It is this deep distress, this view of things as they really are, that leads one, as Alma, to cry out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18).
With faith in the merciful Redeemer and His power, potential despair turns to hope. One’s very heart and desires change, and the once-appealing sin becomes increasingly abhorrent. A resolve to abandon and forsake the sin and to repair, as fully as one possibly can, the damage he or she has caused now forms in that new heart. This resolve soon matures into a covenant of obedience to God. With that covenant in place, the Holy Ghost, the messenger of divine grace, will bring relief and forgiveness. One is moved to declare again with Alma, “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I [do] behold; yea, my soul [is] filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:20).
Any pain entailed in repentance will always be far less than the suffering required to satisfy justice for unresolved transgression. The Savior spoke little about what He endured to satisfy the demands of justice and atone for our sins, but He did make this revealing statement:
“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;
“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup” (D&C 19:16–18).
Fifth, whatever the cost of repentance, it is swallowed up in the joy of forgiveness. In a general conference address entitled “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” President Boyd K. Packer provided this analogy:
“In April of 1847, Brigham Young led the first company of pioneers out of Winter Quarters. At that same time, 1,600 miles [2,575 km] to the west the pathetic survivors of the Donner Party straggled down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains into the Sacramento Valley.
“They had spent the ferocious winter trapped in the snowdrifts below the summit. That any survived the days and weeks and months of starvation and indescribable suffering is almost beyond belief.
“Among them was fifteen-year-old John Breen. On the night of April 24 he walked into Johnson’s Ranch. Years later John wrote:
“‘It was long after dark when we got to Johnson’s Ranch, so the first time I saw it was early in the morning. The weather was fine, the ground was covered with green grass, the birds were singing from the tops of the trees, and the journey was over. I could scarcely believe that I was alive.
“‘The scene that I saw that morning seems to be photographed on my mind. Most of the incidents are gone from memory, but I can always see the camp near Johnson’s Ranch.’”
Said President Packer: “At first I was very puzzled by his statement that ‘most of the incidents are gone from memory.’ How could long months of incredible suffering and sorrow ever be gone from his mind? How could that brutal dark winter be replaced with one brilliant morning?
“On further reflection I decided it was not puzzling at all. I have seen something similar happen to people I have known. I have seen some who have spent a long winter of guilt and spiritual starvation emerge into the morning of forgiveness. When morning came, they learned this:
“‘Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more’ [D&C 58:42].”4
I gratefully acknowledge and testify that the incomprehensible suffering, death, and Resurrection of our Lord “bringeth to pass the condition of repentance” (Helaman 14:18). The divine gift of repentance is the key to happiness here and hereafter. In the Savior’s words and in deep humility and love, I invite all to “repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). I know that in accepting this invitation, you will find joy both now and forever. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
2. The Book of Mormon speaks repeatedly of being “baptized unto repentance” (see Mosiah 26:22; Alma 5:62; 6:2; 7:14; 8:10; 9:27; 48:19;49:30; Helaman 3:24; 5:17, 19; 3 Nephi 1:23; 7:24–26; Moroni 8:11). John the Baptist used the same words (see Matthew 3:11), and Paul spoke of the “baptism of repentance” (Acts 19:4). The phrase appears in the Doctrine and Covenants as well (see Doctrine and Covenants 35:5; 107:20). “Baptism of or unto repentance” simply references the fact that baptism with its covenant of obedience is the capstone of repentance. With full repentance, including baptism, one is qualified for the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and it is by the Holy Ghost that one receives the baptism of the Spirit (see John 3:5) and forgiveness of sins: “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 31:17).
3. Noel B. Reynolds, “The True Points of My Doctrine,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 5, no. 2 (1996): 35; emphasis added.
4. Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1995, 21; see also “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 18.
First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency
Plead for a desire to be filled with the gift of charity, the pure love of Christ.
My husband and I recently visited the city of Nauvoo, Illinois. While there we sat in the upper room of the Red Brick Store, where the Prophet Joseph Smith had an office and a business. We listened intently to the guide, who outlined some of the historical events of the Restoration which took place there.
My thoughts turned to the founding of the Relief Society and to some of the teachings that the Relief Society sisters received from the Prophet Joseph in that very room. Those teachings became the foundational principles upon which the Relief Society was built. The purposes of increasing faith, strengthening the homes of Zion, and seeking out and helping those in need were established from the beginning. They have always been consistent with the teachings of our prophets.
In one of those early meetings, the Prophet Joseph quoted from Paul’s writings to the Corinthians. In his powerful discourse on charity, Paul makes reference to faith, hope, and charity, concluding with, “But the greatest of these is charity.”1
He describes the qualities embodied in charity. He said:
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
“… Seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Speaking to the sisters, the Prophet Joseph said: “Don’t be limited in your views with regard to your neighbors’ virtues. … You must enlarge your souls toward others if you [would] do like Jesus. … As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand—let them be enlarged towards others—you must be longsuffering and bear with the faults and errors of mankind. How precious are the souls of men!”3
The scriptural declaration “Charity never faileth” became the motto of Relief Society because it embraces these teachings and the charge that the Prophet Joseph Smith had given the Relief Society sisters to “relieve the poor” and to “save souls.”4
These foundational principles have been embraced by Relief Society sisters throughout the world, for such is the nature of the work of Relief Society.
What is charity? How do we obtain charity?
The prophet Mormon defines charity as “the pure love of Christ,”5 while Paul teaches that “charity … is the bond of perfectness,”6 and Nephi reminds us that “the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love.”7
In reviewing Paul’s previous description of charity, we learn that charity is not a single act or something we give away but a state of being, a state of the heart, kind feelings that engender loving actions.
Mormon also teaches that charity is bestowed upon the Lord’s true disciples and that charity purifies those who have it.8 In addition, we learn that charity is a divine gift which we must seek and pray for. We need to have charity in our hearts in order to inherit the celestial kingdom.9
With the understanding that the Lord has asked us to “clothe [our]selves with the bond of charity,”10 we must ask what qualities will help us develop charity.
We must first have the desire to increase in charity and be more Christlike.
The next step is to pray. Mormon exhorts us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love.” This godly love is charity, and as we are filled with this love, so “we shall be like him.”11
Reading scriptures daily can bring our minds to the Savior and to a desire to be more like Him.
In my office I chose to hang a painting by Minerva Teichert titled Rescue of the Lost Lamb. It depicts the Savior standing among His sheep and tenderly holding a small lamb in His arms. It helps me reflect on His entreaty: “Feed my sheep,”12 which to me means minister to all those around you and give special attention to those in need.
The Savior is the perfect example of how to extend charity. During His mortal ministry He showed compassion for the hungry, for the sinner, for the afflicted, and for the sick. He ministered to the poor and to the rich; to women, children, and men; to family, friends, and strangers. He forgave His accusers, and He suffered and died for all mankind.
Throughout his life the Prophet Joseph Smith also practiced charity as he extended brotherly love and respect to others. He was well known for his kindness, affection, compassion, and concern for those around him.
Today we are blessed to have a prophet who embodies charity. President Thomas S. Monson is an example to us and to the world. He wears the mantle of charity. He is kind, compassionate, and generous, a true minister of the Lord Jesus Christ.
President Monson teaches: “Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.”13
When we have charity, we are willing to serve and help others when it is inconvenient and with no thought of recognition or reciprocation. We don’t wait to be assigned to help, because it becomes our very nature. As we choose to be kind, caring, generous, patient, accepting, forgiving, inclusive, and selfless, we discover we are abounding in charity.
Relief Society provides countless ways to serve others. One of the most important ways to practice charity is through visiting teaching. Through effective visiting teaching we have many opportunities to love, minister, and serve others. Expressing charity, or love, purifies and sanctifies our souls, helping us become more like the Savior.
I marvel as I witness the countless acts of charity performed daily by visiting teachers all over the world who selflessly minister to the needs of individual sisters and their families. To these faithful visiting teachers, I say, “Through those small acts of charity, you follow the Savior and you act as instruments in His hands as you help, care, lift, comfort, listen, encourage, nurture, teach, and strengthen the sisters under your care.” Let me share some brief examples of such ministry.
Rosa suffers from debilitating diabetes and other ailments. She joined the Church a few years ago. She is a single mother with an adolescent son. She frequently has to be hospitalized for a few days at a time. Her kind visiting teachers not only take her to the hospital, but they visit and comfort her at the hospital while also watching over her son at home and school. Her visiting teachers serve as her friends and family.
After the first few visits to a particular sister, Kathy discovered that this sister didn’t know how to read but wanted to learn. Kathy offered to help her even though she knew it would take time, patience, and constancy.
Emily is a young wife who was in search of the truth. Her husband, Michael, was less interested in religion. When Emily became ill and spent some time in the hospital, Cali, a Relief Society sister who is also her neighbor, took the family meals, watched their baby, cleaned the house, and arranged for Emily to receive a priesthood blessing. These acts of charity softened Michael’s heart. He decided to attend Church meetings and to meet with the missionaries. Emily and Michael were recently baptized.
“Charity never faileth. … Charity … is kind, … seeketh not her own, … beareth all things, endureth all things.”14
President Henry B. Eyring said:
“The history of the Relief Society is filled with accounts of such remarkable selfless service. …
“This society is composed of women whose feelings of charity spring from hearts changed by qualifying for and by keeping covenants offered only in the Lord’s true Church. Their feelings of charity come from Him through His Atonement. Their acts of charity are guided by His example—and come out of gratitude for His infinite gift of mercy—and by the Holy Spirit, which He sends to accompany His servants on their missions of mercy. Because of that, they have done and are able to do uncommon things for others and to find joy even when their own unmet needs are great.”15
Providing service and extending charity toward others helps us overcome our own difficulties and makes them seem less challenging.
I now return to the teachings of the Prophet Joseph to the sisters in the early days of the Restoration. Urging the practices of charity and benevolence, he said: “If you live up to these principles, how great and glorious will be your reward in the celestial kingdom! If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates.”16
Like in the early days in Nauvoo, where the sisters went about seeking and helping those in need, so it is today. Sisters in the kingdom are great pillars of spiritual strength, compassionate service, and devotion. Dedicated visiting teachers visit and care for one another. They follow the Savior’s example and do as He did.
All women in Relief Society can be filled with love, knowing that their small acts of charity have a healing power for others and for themselves. They come to know with certainty that charity is the pure love of Christ and never faileth.
When you read the Relief Society history, it will inspire you to discover that this important gospel principle is a thread woven through the whole book.
I conclude with an invitation to all the women in the Church to plead for a desire to be filled with the gift of charity, the pure love of Christ. Use all your resources to do good, bringing relief and salvation to those around you, including your own family. The Lord will crown your efforts with success.
May our knowledge of the great love that the Father and the Son have for us, and our faith and gratitude for the Atonement, move us to develop and exercise charity toward all those around us. This is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.