Last year while Elder David S. Baxter and I were driving to a stake conference, we stopped at a restaurant. Later when returning to our car, we were approached by a woman who called out to us. We were startled by her appearance. Her grooming (or lack of it) was what I might politely call “extreme.” She asked if we were elders in the Church. We said yes. Almost unrestrained, she told the story of her tragic life, swamped in sin. Now, only 28 years old, she was miserable. She felt worthless, with nothing to live for. As she spoke, the sweetness of her soul began to emerge. Pleading tearfully, she asked if there was any hope for her, any way up and out of her hopelessness.
“Yes,” we responded, “there is hope. Hope is linked to repentance. You can change. You can ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.’”1 We urged her not to procrastinate.2 She sobbed humbly and thanked us sincerely.
As Elder Baxter and I continued our journey, we pondered that experience. We recalled the counsel given to a hopeless soul by Aaron, who said, “If thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, … then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.”3
Now, at this closing session of general conference, I too speak on repentance. I do so because the Lord has commanded His servants to cry repentance unto all people.4 The Master has restored His gospel to bring joy to His children, and repentance is a crucial component of that gospel.5
The doctrine of repentance is as old as the gospel itself. Biblical teachings from the books of Genesis6 to Revelation7 teach repentance. Lessons from Jesus Christ during His mortal ministry include these warnings: “The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel”8 and “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”9
References to repentance are even more frequent in the Book of Mormon.10 To the people of ancient America, the Lord gave this commandment: “Again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”11
What does it mean to repent? We begin with a dictionary’s definition that to repent is “to turn from sin … to feel sorrow [and] regret.”13 To repent from sin is not easy. But the prize is worth the price. Repentance needs to be done one step at a time. Humble prayer will facilitate each essential step. As prerequisites to forgiveness, there must first be recognition, remorse, then confession.14 “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”15 Confession is to be made to the person who has been wronged. Confession should be sincere and not merely an admission of guilt after proof is evident. If many persons have been offended, confession should be made to all offended parties. Acts that may affect one’s standing in the Church or the right to its privileges should be confessed promptly to the bishop, whom the Lord has called as a common judge in Israel.16
The next step is restitution—to repair damage done—if possible. Then come steps to resolve to do better and refrain from relapse—to repent “with full purpose of heart.”17 Thanks to the ransom paid by the Atonement of Jesus Christ, full forgiveness is given to the sinner who repents and remains free from sin.18 To the repentant soul, Isaiah said, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”19
The Lord’s imperative emphasis on repentance is evident as we read from section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants: “I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I.”20
While the Lord insists on our repentance, most people don’t feel such a compelling need.21 They include themselves among those who try to be good. They have no evil intent.22 Yet the Lord is clear in His message that all need to repent—not only from sins of commission but from sins of omission as well. Such is the case in His warning to parents: “Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost … , the sin be upon the heads of the parents.”23
The doctrine of repentance is much broader than a dictionary’s definition. When Jesus said “repent,” His disciples recorded that command in the Greek language with the verb metanoeo.24 This powerful word has great significance. In this word, the prefix meta means “change.”25 The suffix relates to four important Greek terms: nous, meaning “the mind”;26 gnosis, meaning “knowledge”;27 pneuma, meaning “spirit”;28 and pnoe, meaning “breath.”29
Thus, when Jesus said “repent,” He asked us to change—to change our mind, knowledge, and spirit—even our breath. A prophet explained that such a change in one’s breath is to breathe with grateful acknowledgment of Him who grants each breath. King Benjamin said, “If ye should serve him who has created you … and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath … from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.”30
Yes, the Lord has commanded us to repent, to change our ways, to come unto Him, and be more like Him.31 This requires a total change. Alma so taught his son: “Learn wisdom in thy youth,” he said. “Learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God. … Let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.”32
To repent fully is to convert completely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His holy work. Alma taught that concept when he posed these questions: “I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”33 That change comes when we are “born again,” converted and focused upon our journey to the kingdom of God.34
The fruits of repentance are sweet. Repentant converts find that the truths of the restored gospel govern their thoughts and deeds, shape their habits, and forge their character. They are more resilient and able to deny themselves of all ungodliness.35 Moreover, uncontrolled appetite,36 addiction to pornography or harmful drugs,37 unbridled passion,38 carnal desire,39 and unrighteous pride40 are diminished with complete conversion to the Lord and a determination to serve Him and to emulate His example.41 Virtue garnishes their thoughts, and self-confidence grows.42 Tithing is seen as a joyful and protective blessing, not as a duty or a sacrifice.43 Truth becomes more attractive, and things praiseworthy become more engaging.44
Repentance is the Lord’s regimen for spiritual growth. King Benjamin explained that “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”45 Brothers and sisters, that means conversion! Repentance is conversion! A repentant soul is a converted soul, and a converted soul is a repentant soul.
Each living person can repent. But what about those who have died? They also have opportunities to repent. Scripture declares that “the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance … among those who are … under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead.
“The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,
“And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, [they] shall receive a reward according to their works.”46
The Prophet Joseph Smith further revealed that “the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children. … We without [our dead] cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. … [This] dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place.”47
“Jesus wants me for a sunbeam”?48 Yes! And you too! He also wants us as bonding blacksmiths—creating celestial welding links—to curb the curse49 of family fragmentation. The earth was created and temples provided so that families can be together forever.50 Many, if not most, of us could repent and be converted to more temple and family history work for our ancestors. Thus, our repentance is necessary and essential for their repentance.
For all our kindred dead, to the 28-year-old woman mired in the swamp of sin, and to each one of us, I declare that the sweet blessing of repentance is possible. It comes through complete conversion to the Lord and His holy work.
I know that God lives. Jesus is the Christ. This is His Church. His prophet today is President Gordon B. Hinckley. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.