The purpose of this lesson is to help us understand how repentance can prepare us to return to our Heavenly Father.
The Prophet Joseph Smith gave this challenge: “Let us this very day begin anew, and now say, with all our hearts, we will forsake our sins and be righteous” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 364).
Because all of us are on the earth to learn and to grow, we all make mistakes. There are many kinds of mistakes. Sometimes we do things we know we should not do, such as being unkind or taking something that does not belong to us. Sometimes we fail to do the things we know we should do, such as paying our tithing or being good home teachers.
The Need for Repentance
When we know we have done wrong, we cannot be happy. We feel ashamed of our mistakes and find we cannot serve the Lord properly. Sometimes, our unhappiness may even cause us to treat others unkindly. Our Heavenly Father does not want us to be unhappy. He wants all of us to receive the blessings He has for us, but He will not give us blessings we don’t deserve. This does not mean that He has turned away or loves us less. It simply means that He wants us to overcome our weaknesses. Repentance can help us overcome our weaknesses and thereby become worthy to live with our Heavenly Father.
For this reason we need to examine our lives to discover where we need to improve. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “It is our duty to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today. Why? Because we are on that road … to perfection, and that can only come through obedience and the desire in our hearts to overcome [our sins]” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:18–19).
How Does a Person Repent?
Sin is like dirt on our bodies. It makes us spiritually unclean. Repentance is like washing off the dirt. After repenting, we feel refreshed and clean. Elder A. Theodore Tuttle explained it this way:
“Repentance is like soap. It is the soap of life. Like soap, it washes away the sins of life. It is to be used as frequently as necessary. One must keep in mind, however, that misuse—lack of thorough cleansing and half-hearted effort—may result in ‘tattletale gray.’ Properly used, however, the soap of life cleanses thoroughly, completely, and permanently. …
“One day we … will be ushered before the judgment bar of the Lord. There we shall stand either besmirched, dirty, and unclean, or by acceptance and application of the great and marvelous gift of cleansing—by the soap of life—we may stand clean, forgiven, and pure before the Lord. The next time you use soap, you might also want to think of cleansing your spirit by applying the soap of life, the universal law of repentance” (“Repentance,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1968, 64, 67).
In order to repent, we must follow certain steps.
Discuss the seven parts of repentance as explained in the Gospel Principles manual, chapter 19. If possible, let several brethren each take one part, prepare to discuss it, and then present it to the class. Display a poster which lists the seven parts of repentance while they are being discussed, or refer to them on the chalkboard. (The seven parts are recognizing sin, feeling sorrow for sin, forsaking sin, confessing sin, making restitution, forgiving others, and keeping the commandments of God.)
Display visual 28-a, “True repentance takes time and effort.”
True repentance is not easy. It takes time and effort. For this reason, we cannot put off the day of our repentance (see Alma 13:27).
The Joy of Repentance
Show visual 28-b, “Repentance is possible because Jesus Christ has paid for our sins.”
We repent to gain forgiveness of our sins. But if Jesus Christ had not paid for our sins and died for us, we could never be forgiven. It is only through His atoning sacrifice that mercy can satisfy justice and we can have our sins cleansed from us (see Alma 34:10–16). This is a great blessing, and we should always be thankful for it.
Jesus paid for our sins, but they are not removed from us unless we repent. When Alma was describing how he recognized and repented of his sins, he said:
“I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell. …
“… I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
“Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me. …
“And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more. …
“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain” (Alma 36:13, 17–20).
Briefly review the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11–32). What did the prodigal son feel as he began the process of repentance? What did his father feel?
The story of the prodigal son is often repeated in modern life, as in the following story:
Share the following story of a modern prodigal son. Have the class members silently identify the steps of repentance as the story is told.
“Until I was 17 years of age, I stayed close to the Church, attending all my meetings and carrying out my priesthood responsibilities. It did not occur to me to do otherwise. I loved the Church and its programs.
“At 17, however, I began to ‘flex my teenage muscles,’ rebelling against family direction and demanding my ‘free agency.’ One of my best friends was of another faith, and I fell into the trap of trying some of the things he offered—alcohol, tobacco. I dated non-LDS girls and soon fell in love with a wonderful young lady. Her parents invited me to their summer cabin on many weekends, and this, of course, kept me from church activity.
“Then World War II came along, and when my bishop asked me if I wanted to go on a mission, I said I would rather join the military and serve my country. I still believe serving one’s country is important, but I know now that I would have been wiser to serve a mission for my Heavenly Father first.
“Also, about this time, I began finding out that some Church members whom I admired greatly were not observing all the standards of the Church. I let myself become their judge, and to me they were hypocrites. I covenanted with myself that if I ever failed to live our standards, rather than be a hypocrite by teaching one thing and doing another, I would stay away from the Church. This was another serious error, for this is just what I did and just what the adversary wanted.
“Four years as a Navy pilot and 15 years of traveling in the sales profession made it easy for me to remain inactive, yet all during these years I believed the truths that were deeply implanted in my soul. When I was 38, my youngest brother, Tom, moved in with us for six weeks. Each Sunday morning he went alone to his priesthood and other meetings, and my conscience began to prick me. I wasn’t happy, I knew something was wrong, and this feeling kept coming back with greater frequency. In the past I had been able to give up smoking whenever I wanted, but now I found I could not. I would visit Tom in his office and find myself striking out at the Church in criticism, and afterwards, although I would never tell him so, I felt guilty.
“I was building up to my hour of crisis, and it came one night after a cocktail party and dance at the country club. I retired to my bed late but could not sleep, almost unheard of for me. Finally I arose so as not to disturb my lovely wife, and for the first time in my life I paced the floor, finally realizing I had to change.
“I had never been able to show emotion through tears and humility, but the next thing I remember I was on my knees pleading with my Heavenly Father for help for the first time in 19 years. As I prayed, an overwhelming feeling of love and compassion and happiness filled my being, and the Holy Ghost encompassed me with such power that I sobbed convulsively for a considerable time. When I arose, I felt good. Gratitude and thankfulness filled my heart. Never in my life had I known such a feeling of warmth, and an inner burning filled my entire being with such intensity that I thought I was going to be consumed.
“I went to our bedroom and awakened my wife. I was still crying, and she asked me what was wrong. I told her of my desire to change my life and encompass the gospel of Jesus Christ, and she told me instantly that she would support me. From that moment I have never had a desire for a cigarette, a drink of any type, or a cup of coffee.
“The Lord began blessing me, and he has never stopped to this day. Within a year it was my privilege to baptize my children and, soon afterward, my wife. A year later we went to the Logan Temple to be married for eternity and to have our children sealed to us.
“I testify that the Lord is pleased when his lost sheep come home. He shows his love and kindness to all of us when we repent of our sins and keep his commandments” (Lewis W. Cottle, “The Return of the Prodigal,” Ensign, Mar. 1974, 43–44).
We all need to repent if we are to become like our Heavenly Father and live with Him again. For this reason Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and made it possible for us to repent. When we do repent of our sins, we bring joy to ourselves and to our Heavenly Father.
President Harold B. Lee taught: “The most important of all the commandments of God is that one that you’re having the most difficulty keeping today. If it’s one of dishonesty, if it’s one of unchastity, if it’s one of falsifying, not telling the truth, today is the day for you to work on that until you’ve been able to conquer that weakness. Then you start on the next one that’s most difficult for you to keep” (“Californians Hear President Lee,” Church News, 5 May 1973, 3).
Plead with the Lord in your personal prayers to help you overcome the problems you are working on. Report to Him each day on your progress, and as you endeavor to improve, continue to pray for forgiveness for past mistakes.
Isaiah 1:16–18 (we are commanded to repent)
Luke 15:7 (heaven rejoices over those who repent)
2 Corinthians 7:10 (godly sorrow brings repentance)
Mosiah 4:1–3 (sins are forgiven because of Christ’s Atonement)
Alma 12:14–15 (faith and repentance bring salvation)
Alma 34:8–9 (Christ atoned for the sins of the world)
Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–17 (Christ suffered for those who repent)
Doctrine and Covenants 76:40–42 (Jesus died to atone for the sins of the world)
Before presenting this lesson:
Read Gospel Principles chapter 19, “Repentance.”
Prepare the poster suggested in the lesson, or write the information on the chalkboard.
Prepare the lesson so as to avoid discussions of quorum members’ personal problems.
If you desire, assign several class members to discuss the seven steps of repentance identified in chapter 19 of the Gospel Principles manual.
Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.