About six hundred years earlier the prophet Nephi expressed the common condition of all who have felt the sorrow of sin: “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities” (2 Ne. 4:17).
But Nephi also knew that there was hope. He knew that joy and peace were possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ:
“When I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. …
“Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. …
“Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation” (2 Ne. 4:19, 28, 30).
Heavenly Father knew that all of us would sin, so he gave us the gift of repentance. The sorrow we feel when we come to a knowledge that we have broken one of God’s laws and thwarted his plan for our happiness helps us begin the repentance process. This sorrow may include feelings of embarrassment, shame, remorse, or even agony. It is the kind of sorrow that must trouble us “with that trouble which shall bring [us] down unto repentance” (Alma 42:29), “for godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10; see also 2 Cor. 7:9).
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said that repentance is “more than a word. It is an act that means sorrow, godly sorrow, and remorse and restitution and resolution. It involves pleading prayers for forgiveness, and promises, sincere and honest, to do better” (Ensign, Sept. 1994, p. 76).
The closer we are to our Heavenly Father, the more we are able to feel this kind of sorrow. As we seek the Holy Ghost and try to understand and live the gospel, we see more clearly the consequences of sin, which include the absence of the Holy Ghost. One sister learned this principle as she earnestly prayed for direction in her life. “As I prayed,” she said, “I began to feel sorry for many ‘little’ sins that I had overlooked or rationalized away. I began to see that these little things were keeping me from being as close to my Heavenly Father as I wanted to be.”
When we repent, we not only forsake our sins but we also turn to Jesus Christ, seeking his cleansing, healing power. President Howard W. Hunter invited us all to feel this peace and joy: “To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say come back. The path of repentance, though hard at times, lifts one ever upward and leads to a perfect forgiveness” (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 8).
In the Book of Mormon, Alma’s repentance lifted him upward when he remembered his father’s teachings about the atonement of Christ: “Oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:20.) The Savior’s atonement gives us hope when we know that he has already paid the necessary price for our sins.
Peace, hope, and joy can be ours when we avail ourselves of the atoning and forgiving power of Christ. And thus cleansed of our sins, we become more like the Savior.
How does feeling godly sorrow for sin lead us to repentance?
How can understanding and accepting the atonement of Jesus Christ bring us peace, joy, and hope?