Having grown up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have believed in agency my whole life. While our Heavenly Father has given us commandments to follow, He has also given us the ability to choose to follow those commandments or not. For some reason, it never occurred to me that choosing to repent has always been a part of our agency. In the October 2016 General Conference, Elder Dale G. Renlund said, “The reach of the Savior’s Atonement is infinite in breadth and depth, for you and for me. But it will never be imposed on us.” He then shared some verses from the Book of Mormon that explain how we have the ability to choose repentance.
“And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.
Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.”
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” ( 2 Nephi 2:5-6, 27)
According to those verses, we have been given the knowledge to know good from evil, we have been given laws, but we cannot be saved by the law alone. We have to use Jesus Christ. Following Jesus Christ and obeying His laws are choices, and we already know the outcome of those choices: liberty and eternal life, or captivity and death. Deciding what outcome we want, will help us determine if we want to choose to repent or not when we make a mistake.
If the final outcome of our choices has already been laid out before us, why do we sometimes choose not to repent? We oftentimes are tempted to come up with an excuse as to why full repentance is not necessary for something that we did. We can also be tempted to nitpick the details until we convince ourselves that we are not at fault. Elder Renlund gave four examples of excuses that keep us from true repentance.
- Blaming others
Sometimes it may be tempting to blame someone else as the reason why we have sinned in the first place. Since it was their idea (or example, or leadership, etc.), and we are sorry, we shouldn’t have to go through the full repentance process. Of this excuse, Elder Renlund said,
“Blaming others, even if justified, allows us to excuse our behavior. By so doing, we shift responsibility for our actions to others. When the responsibility is shifted, we diminish both the need and our ability to act. We turn ourselves into hapless victims rather than agents capable of independent action.”
I would also like to add that when we blame others we make ourselves untrustworthy in the eyes of those who we are blaming, as well as those who are listening to our excuse.
- Minimizing our mistakes
We minimize our mistakes when we say things like, “No one was hurt” or “It only affects me”. Elder Renlund explained that when we make excuses like that, we prevent ourselves from understanding that our mistakes have eternal consequences. When we understand that every choice we make has an eternal consequence, we can have an easier time choosing the right.
This is probably one the most common excuses against repentance. Because God loves us, it does not matter what we do, right? This understanding of God’s love has been misconstrued. Elder Renlund said,
“God does love us. However, what we do matters to Him and to us. He has given clear directives about how we should behave. We call these commandments. His approbation and our eternal life depend on our behavior, including our willingness to humbly seek real repentance.”
- Separating God from his commandments
If we fail to see the sacredness in God’s commandments, we can easily break them and choose not to repent. Elder Renlund explained that we need to understand and accept that God is the author of His commandments. He said that we will be able to truly repent when we recognize the divinity of Jesus Christ and the truthfulness of the gospel.
These four excuses fall under one natural man weakness: pride. When we are proud and we do something wrong, we don’t want to repent. Pride causes us to find a reason why we don’t have to repent, and we convince ourselves that everything is okay. However, if we humble ourselves, we will choose repentance instead of excuses. And when we choose repentance, we are one step closer to the liberty and eternal life that has been promised to us.
I would like to end by encouraging you to ask yourselves these four questions if you find yourself struggling to choose repentance:
- Am I blaming someone else?
- Have I minimized my actions?
- Am I using God’s love to justify my decision to not repent?
- Have I forgotten the sacredness of God’s commandments?
I am so grateful that we have the choice to repent. I testify that the power of repentance is real, and the feeling of forgiveness is wonderful and true. When we choose repentance we truly choose liberty and eternal life.