Missionaries Declare Repentance, Says Elder Christofferson
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
The doctrine of repentance is an all-inclusive, glorious message of salvation that is offered to all. Missionaries—and all who reflect Christ’s love—are about “the great work of persuading all men” to repentance.
That was the message Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve shared June 25 at the 2013 Seminar for New Mission Presidents.
In several passages found in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord stresses the importance of the doctrine and message of repentance.
“In Doctrine and Covenants 6:9, 11:9, 14:8, and 19:21, the Lord repeats the command, ‘Say nothing but repentance unto this generation,’ ” taught Elder Christofferson. “He tells several brethren that the thing of most worth to them ‘will be to declare repentance unto this people.’ In section 18, as He eloquently declares the worth of souls, the Lord speaks repeatedly of repentance—that He suffered the pain of all that they might repent, what joy He has in the soul that repents, and the blessings that come to us in crying repentance.”
Elder Christofferson asked, “Why is repentance so central?” He answered, saying that as Alma taught, it implies the existence of divine law. Second, repentance implies that all accountable persons have violated or broken at least some of these laws instituted by God. Third, and most important, the call to repent implies that there is a benefit to be gained by repentance—the forgiveness of sins.
“Forgiveness means there is a Savior who atoned for sins and can extend mercy. Without such a Redeemer, repentance would avail little,” he said.
Repentance alone, he added, cannot satisfy justice.
“[Repentance] does not itself pardon past sins; it does not cleanse and sanctify the sinner. The power that achieves these things is the grace, mercy, and merits of Jesus Christ that flow from His infinite Atonement, and it is repentance that grants access to that power.”
Repentance must be understood as a “fundamental change of direction in life and a transformation of character.” It is essential to achieving one’s divine potential.
“Repentance is, therefore, not simply the abandonment of past sins, but a renunciation of sin as a way of life and replacing it with the godly way of life, putting off the natural man and becoming a saint.”
Baptism witnesses one’s covenant to replace a life of sin with a “godly walk”—becoming the “crowning step” that completes the process of repentance.
“By baptism, we witness to the Father, as Christ by His baptism witnessed to the Father, that we will be obedient to Him in keeping His commandments,” he declared. “Having entered in at the gate, we are assured that ‘then cometh a remission of [our] sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.’ Thereafter, one need not be rebaptized to renew the covenant of obedience and qualify for a further remission of sins. The covenant once established requires only further repentance to reinvigorate it. In this way we happily endure to the end.”
Forgiveness of sins, however, is not the sole object of repentance. “Repentance is the pathway to perfecting our obedience and, therefore, the development of a Christlike character.”
Elder Christofferson said missionaries will need to understand and convey to their investigators that repentance means much more than completing a checklist.
“There is a tendency at times for some investigators, and even some missionaries, to see preparation for baptism and thereafter Church membership as a set of tasks and activities, not thinking about the fruits that all of it is supposed to yield in their lives—not thinking about becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Missionaries must themselves understand and follow the doctrine of repentance. In planning and preparing lessons, missionary companions will pray about and discuss what to teach so that their investigators will understand the need for repentance and what that repentance entails in their lives.
“Always missionaries will retain the larger focus on achieving not just the resolution of a specific sin or failing, but on the grand transition from ‘natural man’ to ‘saint,’” he said.
A repentant person ceases violating and begins obeying the laws of God. “He or she is now in harmony with the law, the debt of past offenses is satisfied by divine grace, and it is only just that he or she be redeemed from sin. Mercy is extended in a manner that preserves justice.
“Even small transgressions must be resolved, he added. But when one does repent, the Lord is quick to forgive. A crucial element of repentance is to forgive others. The very failure to forgive another is itself a sin.
Missionaries not only offer that “incomparable promise” of God’s forgiveness “but also the reassuring witness that they can count on divine assistance to help them repent. We are not required to act alone; rather, there is help along the way—help from missionaries and members who care and help from above through the Holy Ghost.”
Elder Christofferson concluded by testifying that “the foundation of repentance is the reality of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that He lives, and that He atoned for the sins of the world. The doctrine of repentance is the testimony of Christ.”