22 July 2021

Repentance Means Change for the Better

My readings in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants have inspired me to use this blog to repeat and repeat the charge to all that we must repent. I woke today thinking that it might be useful to help people understand what I interpret repentance to actually is and, perhaps more importantly, what it looks like.

Repentance is a change of heart and behavior that better aligns us with Christ and his commandments.

It is a short statement, but there is plenty packed into it.

First, it is important to gain a personal understanding of God, his Christ, and what they command us to do. Jesus did what his Father (and our Heavenly Father) told him to do, even the difficult things. Much of what we know of God comes to us from the example and teachings of Christ and his prophets throughout time. Jesus went about doing good and we should do the same. I know it would have been very useful for Jesus to have rallied his followers into an army, taken control of local government, and forced the people of Judea to behave better, but that isn't the right way to effect a change of heart. Christ lived the life more like an itinerant preacher, moving from place to place, teaching and healing and serving as an individual man and encouraging his followers to do likewise. A lasting change of behavior only comes with a authentic change of heart, not just some display or pretense.  It cannot be forced externally but cultivated internally.

Second, Christ is perfectly aligned with God - Jesus commits himself fully what is commanded of him and he follows through on that committment, even when it is difficult.  The act of taking on himself all the sins of the repentant and dying on a cross as a young man was a tremendous sacrifice that God required of him.  God has other work for us to do to show our devotion to him, certainly less dramatic.  Primarily, he asks us to put aside desires and devotion toward wealth and fame and instead "impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally.” (Mosiah 4:26) In doing these things, we align our lives with Christ's and do the good works God commanded us to do.

Again, repentance is a change of heart and behavior. As we read of the doings and teachings of Christ and the words of God's prophets, we let them affect our hearts and begin to feel more charity and love toward others. We desire to help those in need, both physically and spiritually.  I think it is useful to begin helping others even if we don't yet feel much love toward them - our service will soon bring on such feelings. As we do this, we will begin to feel toward others as Jesus does and behave more like him. Worldly concerns will fade in comparison to the service we can do. God will bless our efforts with resources and further opportunities to continue to serve others in meaningful ways that bless rather than coerce. We will feel greater joy in life, no matter what troubles we may personally face.

Our mortals lives are like a schooling opportunity: as we come to understand God and Christ and obey them, we learn how to become our best selves and qualify for the greater opportunities that they enjoy and desire to share with us. It all starts with changing our hearts and actions, which is repentance.