I like to take notes while I listen to people speak in church. It helps me to focus and often I find myself learning something as I jot down notes of what comes to my mind as people speak. A few weeks ago, we had some excellent speakers talking on the topic of repentance. During one of the talks, I drew this kind of rough diagram in my notes
Often when we teach about repentance, we talk about repenting of our sins. That phrase, for me, automatically brings to mind a kind of check-list repentance (like in the top of my image above). In this somewhat inaccurate view of repentance, it is easy to think that we have to repent for each and every bad thing that we do in life. Perhaps we may assume that we need a literal list of all the bad things we do which we then have to review in prayer daily and try to repent of. This perspective, while helpful, may risk us misunderstanding the role of repentance. Our act of repenting of a sin, is not what has power in and of itself to result in our being cleansed from that sin. Repentance is the quest that Christ asks us to embark on — but it is Jesus Christ who erases the sin through his power and grace.
I believe that repentance is, therefore, much more than a daily checklist of actions to perform to keep ourselves right with God. Repentance is the process by which we become more like God. It is the way that we strive to focus ourselves on Christ and connect to His power. This connection allows that power to flow into us and change our natures.
God’s ultimate goal for us in this life is to become perfect as He is. This perfecting, or sanctifying, does indeed come through repentance; however, simply striving to check of a list of actions misses the broader goal. I love the following from Russell M. Nelson that teaches this principle.
Thus, when Jesus said “repent,” He asked us to change—to change our mind, knowledge, and spirit—even our breath….Yes, the Lord has commanded us to repent, to change our ways, to come unto Him, and be more like Him. . . . To repent fully is to convert completely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His holy work.Repentance and Conversion, Russell M. Nelson, April 2007 (churchofjesuschrist.org)
I hope this perspective is helpful for someone. I am still learning about these principles myself and there is a lot to learn. I have definitely learned that a focus on Jesus Christ brings other church and gospel topics into sharp focus.
If you’re interested, here are a few other talks from Russell M. Nelson and others that deal with repentance. They are all fantastic. I’ll include some of my favorite scriptures on the topic as well.
References from Modern Apostles & Prophets
- Repentance and Conversion, Elder Russell M. Nelson General Conference April 2007
- We Can Do Better and Be Better, President Russell M. Nelson, General Conference April 2019
- The Power of Spiritual Momentum, President Russell M. Nelson, General Conference April 2022
- Cleansed by Repentance, President Dallin H. Oaks, General Conference April 2019
- Born of God, President Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference Octobe r 1985
- “Repent … That I May Heal You,” Elder Neil L. Anderson, General Conference October 2009