When one develops faith in Jesus Christ and begins to understand the purpose of mortal life, he or she will desire to repent. Repentance is the second principle of the Gospel in Mormon doctrine. Repentance is required for salvation: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Everyone that has ever lived upon the earth, except for Jesus Christ, has sinned in some way. The scriptures refer to sin as “all unrighteousness” (1 John 5:17) and those who commit sin as “him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not” (James 4:17). These outline that there are sins of commission (committing disobedient acts against the commandments of God) and sins of omission (neglecting to obey the commandments of God). Whether intentional or not, everyone must repent of their sins to inherit the kingdom of God. However, as the prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (Articles of Faith 1:2). Mormons do not believe that original sin is inherited, but once humans reach the age of accountability, eight years old, all people inevitably sin and must repent.
Repentance is the process through which we can be forgiven of our sins and transgressions. In Mormonism the soul is on an eternal journey of which this life is only a part. The stain of sin blocks our eternal spiritual progression and prevents the full blessings and glory possible in the plan of salvation. Repentance is possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because He lived a life without sin, He is able to meet the demands of justice and mercifully grant forgiveness to those who obey His commandments.
The steps of repentance begin with recognizing our sins. This requires both knowledge of the sin, and an admission of guilt by the sinner. The more serious sins are usually obvious, though there are many that “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). To know all that the Lord has commanded takes regular study of the words of the prophets in both ancient and modern scripture. The leaders of the Mormon Church, modern-day prophets and apostles, give current counsel to identify and avoid those sins plaguing the world. In addition to personal weakness apparent to us, the less obvious sins of omission need careful self-examination to correct.
We must also feel sorrow for our sins. A transgressor caught red-handed is quick to apologize but is not necessarily sincere. This sorrow will intensify as faith in Jesus Christ grows and the sinner realizes the burden and terrible consequence of sin. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Once we feel godly sorrow for our sins we will want to forsake them. If the transgressor is repeatedly caught for the same misdeed, the apology is certainly insincere, and the mounting transgressions will stand against them. The Lord warns, “that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:7). The habit of sin is powerful, and to stop is easier said than done, but repentance is a process, so whether forsaking the sin is done in a moment or is a progression, it is necessary to leave our sins behind.
We must also confess our sins. Confession requires the humility necessary for forgiveness. We must confess all our sins to the Lord. In Mormonism, confession to a church authority is necessary for the more serious sins, such as adultery, or those in violation of the law of chastity. Sins of this degree may affect one’s standing in the Church. However, the continual process of perfecting oneself is between the individual and the Lord. If another has been offended by our sin, confession to those against whom we have sinned is part of repentance.
Finally, restitution is a part of repentance. Where something was taken, it is returned. Perhaps more difficult are the intangible wrongs. An evil word must be covered by apology and words of goodness. Although an individual cannot erase a sin from the offended person’s memory, that individual must surpass the evil with good works. To receive forgiveness of sins, we must attempt to right any wrongs we have committed. This is why fornication, adultery, and murder are such serious sins. Restitution for these sins is nearly impossible.
Forgiving others is a necessary part of receiving forgiveness too. After delivering the Lord’s Prayer Jesus Christ teaches, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). Repentance is a renovation of the soul; it changes our entire character. We abandon evil and replace it with good works. We also gain a desire to obey the commandments and live a virtuous life. In Mormonism, repentance is more than a regular confessional to apologize to the Lord and Church for wrongdoings. It is the constant conversion process of the individual toward Jesus Christ. Repentance is required every day to progress toward perfection, with the Lord’s help.