Growing up in the LDS church, I recall learning a certain number of ‘steps’ in the repentance process, all of which conveniently started with R. Such a brilliant mnemonic ensured that you would never forget this formula for reconciling (another R!) yourself to God. I can’t recall how many Rs there were; I thought it was 4 or 5. But based on the Google search I just did, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus. Furthermore, I couldn’t find something official on the lds.org site. So, here’s something I found on a blog called Mormon Momma: The Seven R’s of Repentance.
Can you believe that? Seven Rs! This must be the ultra deluxe plan for obtaining divine favor. Here they are: Recognition (realizing and acknowledging you have done wrong), Remorse, Relating (another way of saying confession), Restitution (making things right – this never fails to remind me of that old TV show ‘Quantum Leap’ and the tag line “putting right what once went wrong“), Resolution (resolving never to commit the sin again), Reformation (changing our behavior), and Realization (realizing the blessings that come from living righteously). The first four Rs jive with what I remember learning. You need to realize that you’ve done something wrong, feel remorse for having done it, confess (although I could never remember the R for this) and then try to right as much of the wrong you may have caused by your sin(s) i.e. restitution.
Now, I want to throw into the mix a verse that’s famous in modern Mormonism: “…we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25.23) Despite the mention of grace in this verse, almost invariably it seems we focus on the latter part: “…after all we can do.” Combine this with the Rs of repentance (especially the enhanced super deluxe 7-Rs program) and it may give the impression that there’s a whole lot of work involved in earning God’s grace (I’ll discuss another possible interpretation of ‘after all we can do‘ in a little while).
Ironically, the Book of Mormon itself seems to present quite a different picture of repentance that, to me, emphasizes how quickly God is willing to forgive the humble soul who cries out for His mercy and grace. And it is a far more beautiful process than the 4, 5, 6 or even 7 Rs. What I observe from the following accounts in the Book of Mormon is that recognition, remorse and longing or desire for forgiveness certainly precede grace and forgiveness. But everything else follows naturally as a result of having tasted God’s overwhelming love for us. We no more need to grovel and scourge ourselves to obtain God’s grace than a small child needs to beg and plead for a parent’s love after a temper tantrum. All of those other Rs – restitution, resolution, reformation, etc. – they are the fruits of God’s forgiveness and love.
Enos (Enos 1.3-6): “…the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul…And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.”
People of King Benjamin (Mosiah 4.2-3): “…they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men. And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ.”
Alma the Younger (Alma 36.18-20): “Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins 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!”
In all of these examples, the most striking commonality (in my opinion) is that God’s forgiveness came right after the individual cried out in the agony of their soul for grace. Their guilt was swept away immediately. Such complete forgiveness, grace and love, when it is experienced, motivates the recipient to devote their life to God. It is one of the fruits of repentance.
Okay, so what else could it mean that “…it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do“? Could it mean that after all our song and dance, after all our many efforts to come into God’s good graces, to placate him, to turn away his wrath, etc. that in the end, it was nothing more than grace – the grace that God is so willing to give freely to us if we’ll just give our hearts to him and desire to do his will – that saved us?
King Benjamin says the following: “…in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay.” (Mosiah 2.23-25)
It is not a matter of paying off the debt to make ourselves square with the Lord and obtain his approval. We are always indebted. And yet He blesses us.
Elsewhere, King Benjamin says: “…I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily….”
It is not a matter of making ourselves worthy. We are always unworthy. And yet he blesses us.
As a last thought, it is important for us to know what God is like. It’s important to know that he is full of grace, love, forgiveness and patience. Without learning this, we can’t exercise faith in him. If we believe he is an angry God, difficult to please, then there is no foundation for us upon which we can trust him and have faith in him. Here’s something from the lectures on faith that used to be in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants:
“Unless he was merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering, and full of goodness, such is the weakness of human nature, and so great the frailties and imperfections of men, that unless they believed that these excellencies existed in the divine character, the faith necessary to salvation could not exist; for doubt would take the place of faith, and those who know their weakness and liability to sin, would be in constant doubt of salvation, if it were not for the idea which they have of the excellency of the character of God, that he is slow to anger, and long-suffering, and of a forgiving disposition, and does forgive iniquity, transgression and sin. An idea of these facts does away doubt, and makes faith exceedingly strong.”