(Note the classic cliches of LDS Talks the world over)
I'm speaking today on repentance... and I've had to do a lot of thinking, a lot of reading and a lot of praying so that I could speak to you about this.
When President Dalton assigned me this topic, I said, "I think I need to hear this talk..."
And he quickly replied, "We all do, Joe... you don't have to feel you're alone in this."
Which was comforting... Because in my particular situation, it's easy to feel alone and out of touch. In these last couple of years, I've found the single life to be very overrated... despite what some of my married coworkers have to say.
How many of us have looked heavenward and said, "Heavenly Father, why do you put up with me?" I look around at the people that I live and work with... particularly those who call themselves Christians... And I have to ask, "Is repentance a part of their lives?"
They've professed their beliefs, whatever they may be, and have come to their conclusions and their theories of what salvation is and they go along with their lives... usually not knowing that there is so much more out there.
In preparing this talk I asked myself two questions: "What leads us to Repentance?" and "After repentance, What?"
The Fourth Article of Faith reads: "We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Much of the "Christian" world today has done away with certain ordinances that were taught by the Savior... and others have simply changed them. Since leaving Utah, I have met a number of people who hold the belief that all one needs, to be saved, is to confess that Christ is their personal savior and that they appreciate him for it... and that's it.
I spoke with a man recently about the teachings of Christ. He was familiar only with the Bible, but we found common ground on a number of things until he spoke of the importance of having faith in Jesus Christ. "That's the first step toward salvation," I told him, assuming that he had read of the need for repentance and baptism... But he said, "No, that's the only step."
He is not the first person that I have met to say that all one needs is faith... believing that we are saved by grace alone and that it doesn't matter what else we do.
James Talmage, on the Nature of Faith and it's relatioship to Belief, said:
"The predominating sense in which the term faith is used throughout the scriptures is that of full confidence and trust in the being, purposes, and words of God. Such trust, if implicit, will remove all doubt concerning things accomplished or promised of God, even though such things be not apparent to or explicable by the ordinary senses of mortality; hence arises the definition of faith given by Paul: 'Now faith is the substance [i.e., ...assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [...] of things not seen.' It is plain that such a feeling of trust may exist in different persons in varying degrees; indeed, faith may manifest itself from the incipient state which is little more than feeble belief, scarcely free from hesitation and fear, to the strength of abiding confidence that sets doubt and sophistry at defiance...
"The terms faith and belief are sometimes regarded as synonyms; nevertheless each of them has a specific meaning in our language, although in earlier usage there was little distinction between them, and therefore the words are used interchangeably in many scriptural passages."
I looked at a number of references to faith in the scriptures and found that oftentimes accompanying the word faith was the word, Hope.
Spencer W. Kimball once said, "Hope is indeed the great incentive to repentance, for without it no one would make the difficult, extended effort required..."
In a lot of these people that I see who say they have faith, the last thing that they say they have, if they say it at all, is hope...
The other day, when I was relieved of my duties at work, I was waiting for the my ride back to the barracks... as I waited, a young woman, the wife of a friend of mind, waited with me. As I waited, I was reading the Articles of Faith by Talmage... as she watched me read, she said, "You look happy."
I said, "I do?" It was just another day really, but I thought about what she said... Generally I am a fairly happy person. Apparently, it shows a little more when I'm studying the scriptures and reading the words of our modern day prophets. I am so thankful for the restoration of the gospel... so thankful that we have prophets and apostles today that help us to answer questions about the gospel, so that we may know how we can truly repent of our sins and live our lives the way Christ would have us live them.
Spencer W. Kimball put it best when he said, "What relief! What comfort! What joy! Those laden with transgressions and sorrows and sin may be forgiven and cleansed and purified if they will return to their Lord, learn of him, and keep his commandments...
"Can we not understand why the Lord has been pleading with man for these thousands of years to come unto him?"
And yet we still sin. We still stumble... and it can be discouraging. Sometimes we ask ourselves, "Why try? It's too difficult! What's the use in repenting? I'm just going to do it again." With that sort of attitude, what is the use? The apostle Orson Pratt once said, "It would be of no use for a sinner to confess his sins to God unless he were determined to forsake them; it would be of no benefit to him to feel sorry that he had done wrong unless he intended to do wrong no more; it would be folly for him to confess before God that he had injured his fellow man unless he were determined to do all in his power to make restitution. Repentance, then, is not only a confession of sins, with a sorrowful, contrite heart, but a fixed, settled purpose to refrain from every evil way."
We, in Christ's church, repent of our sins directly to God in prayer, there is no vocal confession to our clergy unless it is a serious sin... then we may seek out the council of our branch president or our bishop. When we repent, we do so in prayer to our Heavenly Father. My thoughts turn to the hymn "Prayer Is the Soul's Sincere Desire." The fifth verse reads, "Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice, Returning from his ways, While angels in their songs rejoice, And cry, 'Behold, he prays!'"
This approach toward our Heavenly Father can be difficult. When we feel the shame and guilt for the wrongs that we have committed. The words of our savior ring loudly in my mind, "Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me."
As long as I shall live, I don't know if I could understand the Lord's capacity for forgiveness. The hymn "I Stand All Amazed" speaks for me in the verse that reads, "I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine..." And then I consider what that verse really means. As our redeemer, he has felt our pain with us. From that night in Gethsemane to his affliction on the cross. And he did no wrong. Each verse of that hymn ends with the words, "Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me! Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!"
As we attempt to comprehend the forgiving nature of our Lord, we should try to be more forgiving ourselves.
James Talmage said "The Sinner Must be Willing to Forgive Others, if he hopes to obtain forgiveness. A man's repentance is but superficial if his heart be not softened to the degree of tolerance for the weaknesses of his fellows. In teaching His hearers how to pray, the Savior instructed them to supplicate the Father: 'Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.' He gave them no assurance of forgiveness if in their hearts they forgave not one another: 'For,' said He, 'if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.' Forgiveness between man and man, to be acceptable before the Lord, must be unbounded. In answering Peter's question: 'Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him -- till seven times?' the Master replied: 'I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven'; clearly intending to teach that man must ever be ready to forgive. On another occasion He taught the disciples, saying: 'If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him.'"
It is faith that leads us to repentance. But it doesn't stop there. After Repentance, the next principle of the Gospel is Baptism. But one cannot enter into the waters of baptism without having first shown their faith and repenting. Before John the Baptist commanded his followers to be baptized, he first commanded them to repent. Peter said, "...Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." When he met with his apostles as a resurrected being, Christ said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (emphasis added)
These first principles and ordinances of the Gospel do not stand alone... for there are other ordinances that must be performed... as well as other commandments that must be kept. Among these commandments is the commandment to renew the covenants that we make at baptism. The very reason we are gathered together today. The most important element of this meeting was our partaking of the sacrament... in remembrance of the sacrifice that the Savior made for us. And as we partook of those emblems, I pray that we did so in righteousness... with a repentant heart.
For this talk, I looked up the word Repent in the dictionary. Webster took the liberty of braking it down into its Latin components, of which there were two. re, meaning: again; and poenitere, meaning: repent. So, essentially, the word repent means repent again. Repentance is a continuing process. We will always fall short of the glory of God in this life, that's why the Savior made the sacrifice that he did... so that we could be closer to him. Our Heavenly Father knows that we make mistakes and that we stumble, and when we do, it hurts and separates us from him spiritually... that is why we have the gift of repentance with which we may bridge the gap that we create between ourselves and our God. We need to keep in mind our progression. It starts with our faith in Christ and continues as we live the commandments and follow the path of righteousness from the ordinance of baptism to the ordinances of the temple.
I wish to share with you a story that I've had in my possession for some time.
Pushing Against the Rock
There was a man who was asleep one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Savior appeared. The Lord told him he had a work for him to do, and showed him a large rock, explaining that he was to push against that rock with all his might. This the man did, and for many days he toiled from sun up to sun down; his shoulder set squarely against the cold massive surface of the rock pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.
Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture, placing thoughts in the man's mind, such as, "Why kill yourself over this, you're never going to move it," or "Boy! You've been at it a long time and you haven't even scratched the surface," etc. . . . giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was an unworthy servant because he wasn't even moving the massive stone.
These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man and he started to ease up in his efforts. "Why kill myself?" he thought. "I'll just put in my time, putting forth just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough."And that he did, or at least planned on doing until one day he decided to take his troubles to the Lord. "Lord," he said, "I have labored hard and long in your service, putting forth all my strength to do that which you have asked me. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?"
"My friend . . . when long ago I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you to push against the rock with all your strength, and that you have done. But never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it! At least, not by yourself. Your task was to PUSH! And now you come to me, your strength spent,thinking that you have failed and ready to quit. But is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled; your back sinewed and brown. Your hands are calloused from constant pressure and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your ability now far surpasses that which you used to have. Yet still, you haven't succeeded in moving the rock; and you come to me now with a heavy heart and your strength spent. I, my friend, will move the rock. Your calling was to be obedient and to PUSH, and to exercise your faith and trust in my wisdom . . . and this you have done."
Brothers and Sisters, I pray that we may all continue to push against the rock and that we keep in mind that our Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to do the best that we can. And when we fall short of what we should do... we remember not to despair and give up... but to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and continue to do as our Heavenly Father would have us do.