Thursday, September 3, 2015

What Is Repentance?

Holman Hunt's "Christ Knocking on the Door"
(of your heart)
from "The Infinite Atonement" by Tad R Callister

           President David O McKay declared: “Every principle and ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ is significant and important…, but there is none more essential to the salvation of the human family than the divine and eternally operative principle, repentance. Without it, no one can be saved. Without it, no one can progress.” Why? Because it is the key that unlocks the cleansing power of the Atonement. That is exactly what Helaman taught, “He [Christ]  hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance” (Helaman 5:11; emphasis added).

            Repentance is not a negative principle, but rather a positive, most glorious one. It did not come from an angry, overbearing parent, but from the most loving Father of all. It is not for the wicked alone, but for every good and great person who wants to be better. It is for every individual who has not yet reached perfection. It is the only road to peace of mind, forgiveness of sin, and ultimately godhood itself.

WHAT IS REPENTANCE? What, then, is true repentance and how does it relate to the Atonement? It is not just a 5-step or 7-step process through which we mechanically advance. It is not merely the cessation of wrongdoing, the passage of time, or the expression of sorrow. None of these alone is true repentance. Almas the Younger described true repentance when he spoke to the people of Zarahemla. He recountd the life of his father, Alma the Elder, who had been one of the wicked priests of Noah. One day the prophet Abinadi entered the scene. Something about Abinadi’s message penetrated the heart and soul of Alma’s father. Alma the Younger observed, “According to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart.” Alma then added, “[My father] preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts.” Then his sermon reached its climax: “And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, …Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:12-14).

            That is true repentance. It is a melting, softening, refining process that brings about a mighty change of heart. It is manifest by those who come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits. Such a change means “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Lamoni and his servants experienced such a change. As they awoke from their spiritual slumber “they did all declare unto the people the self-same thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil” (Alma 19:33).

            What about those who do not experience this change but nonetheless obtain a temple recommend? What of those with dire sins who escape reprimand or disciplinary action where another in similar circumstances has borne his cross? President Harold B Lee spoke directly to this point: “There are no successful sinners.”

            Years ago a father shared with me some concerns he had about his teenage daughter. She had shared with him her plans. She wanted to “live it up” for a while, sowing her oats, and then 3 months before it was time to get married she would “clean up her act” and obtain a temple recommend. He was severely disappointed, and rightly so. One might appropriately ask, “Is that a broken heart and contrite spirit—a resolve to make amends with God at any cost?” Did she really believe that a bishop or stake president would sign a recommend for someone with an attitude such as that? Even if they did, it would fail to be a blessing in her life. Her attitude reflected the mentality of the Pharisees and Sadducees who looked upon the Jewish law as a long list of mechanical rules—so many steps to walk—so much time to pass. It had become a matter of form over substance. Ezekiel gave the key to the truth: “Cast away from you all your transgressions, …make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31). Sanctification finally came to the Nephites “because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:35). Repeatedly throughout the scriptures repentance is associated with the heart. It is a new heart, a broken heart, a changed heart, a contrite heart.

            Elder Spencer W Kimball told of Holman Hunt, the artist. Who one day showed a friend his painting of Christ knocking at the door. Suddenly the friend exclaimed, “There is one thing wrong about your picture.”

            “What is it?” inquired the artist.

            “The door on which Jesus knocks has no handle,” replied his friend.

            “Ah,” responded Mr Hunt, “that is not a mistake. You see, this is the door to the human heart. It can be opened only from the inside.” Elder Kimball then continued: “And thus it is. Jesus may stand and knock, but each of us decides whether to open.” Priesthood leaders may warn, counsel, discipline, and lovingly encourage, but all this will be in vain unless there is sometime, somewhere, an inward change of heart.

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