Finding Joy through Repentance

Elder Renlund ended conference with a poignant call to embrace the healing power of repentance.

He mentioned several aspects of repentance that we do not often think about.

First of all, in addition to changing our behaviors, Repentance “also includes a turning of our heart and will to God and a renunciation of sin.” However, renouncing sin by itself is not sufficient without “the power that makes repentance possible, the atoning sacrifice of our Savior.”

Real repentance must involve faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith that He can change us, faith that He can forgive us, and faith that He will help us avoid more mistakes. This kind of faith makes His Atonement effective in our lives. When we “perceive afterwards” and “turn around” with the Savior’s help, we can feel hope in His promises and the joy of forgiveness. Without the Redeemer, the inherent hope and joy evaporate, and repentance becomes simply miserable behavior modification. But by exercising faith in Him, we become converted to His ability and willingness to forgive sin.

Next, Elder Renlund focused on how repentance is a gift that “will never be imposed on us” even though it is “infinite in breadth and depth.”  We must voluntarily make the choice to accept it.  Yet, we are prone to rationalize our choices, blame others, or minimize our mistakes rather than accept the healing power of Christ’s atonement into our lives.

Instead of making excuses, let us choose repentance. Through repentance, we can come to ourselves, like the prodigal in the parable,16 and reflect on the eternal import of our actions. When we understand how our sins can affect our eternal happiness, we not only become truly penitent but we also strive to become better.

Finally, Elder Renlund emphasized something that I found extraordinary. He explained that “[r]epentance is not only possible but also joyful because of our Savior.”  We do not often associate repentance with joy, but Elder Renlund understands that ultimately it is the only path to true joy and happiness.

I loved that his final invitation also focused on joy:

Brothers and sisters, as we conclude this conference, I invite you to feel more joy in your life: joy in the knowledge that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real; joy in the Savior’s ability, willingness, and desire to forgive; and joy in choosing to repent. Let us follow the instruction to “with joy … draw water out of the wells of salvation.”27 May we choose to repent, forsake our sins, and turn our hearts and wills around to follow our Savior. I testify of His living reality. I am a witness and repeated recipient of His incomparable compassion, mercy, and love. I pray that the redeeming blessings of His Atonement may be yours now—and again and again and again throughout your lives,28 as they have been in mine. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Do they Know that we Know?

One of the greatest joys of parenthood is seeing my older daughter begin to learn about Jesus. Recently, she has begun reciting something that she either learned at home or at primary, “Jesus was born a baby like me.”  She also enjoyed singing “I am a child of God” at the top of her lungs. And at times, she can say things that are astonishingly deep or profound.

Watching her grow makes me so grateful for the Gospel and for the ability that I have to raise her in the Church. It also impressed upon me the importance of finding every opportunity to share my witness with her. Last conference, Elder K. Brett Nattress spoke of the importance of making sure our children know what we know:

Brothers and sisters, I have recently been pondering this question: “If all that your children knew of the gospel came from you—as their only source—how much would they know?” This question applies to all those who love, mentor, and influence children.

Is there any greater gift that we can impart to our children than a memory burned deep into their hearts that we know that our Redeemer lives? Do they know that we know? And more important, have they come to know for themselves that He lives?

I try hard to take this advice to heart. I love looking for opportunities to speak about some eternal truth. I especially love speaking about our eternal family and about my faith that I will be with my daughter forever. I don’t know for sure what the future holds. She is still so young and has so many trials and challenges ahead.  But I know my testimony will somehow stick with her and help her to stay fast despite those pitfalls along the way.

Christ Heals our Wounds

Elder Schmutz gave a beautiful sermon about how faith in Christ can help us overcome our trials and challenges in life. I especially loved his discussion of the life of Paul the Apostle:

The Apostle Paul, himself no stranger to affliction, drew from his own experience to teach with depth and beauty the eternal perspective that comes when we endure well and with patience. He said, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” In other words, we can know in the midst of our afflictions that God has provided an eternal compensating reward.

Paul’s ability to speak of the trials, persecutions, and sorrows of his life as “light” afflictions belies the severity of his suffering, which was for him swallowed up by the eternal perspective of the gospel. Paul’s faith in Jesus Christ made all things bearable. Five times he was beaten with stripes, thrice with rods; once he was stoned; thrice he suffered shipwreck; often he was put in peril of death by drowning, by robbers, and even by false brethren; he suffered weariness and pain, hunger and thirst, and was imprisoned in the cold and in nakedness.

If Paul could endure so much heartache and suffering, and yet look on hisafflictions as light, then that says a lot about the kind of faith he had. He knew and understood that in Christ all of the hardship in life shall be made right. No trials or sorrow can endure or overcome the power of his Atonement.

I am so grateful for my knowledge of Christ and his atonement. It helps me so much. It helps me to gain eternal perspective and to overcome sorrow and tragedy. I have faith that every tear will be dried and every wound will be healed. 

Redemption and Revelation

For me, the Church’s teaching about the redemption of the dead through vicarious temple ordinances is the primary doctrine that sets us apart and above all other Churches. Perhaps above all else, this doctrine is sweet to my soul. I believe my deep love for the temple is linked to my reverence for that Doctrine and the sacred work that is done in that hallowed space.

When I was a teenager, I began learning about Christ thanks to the strong influence of Christian friends. As I read the Mesisanic prophecies of the Old Testament, I became convinced that Jesus was the Christ. Yet, I could never get a straight answer regarding what happened to those who had known about Christ or had not been baptized. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that it can’t be that important to accept Christ and be baptized if so many people never would have that opportunity. My loss of faith came about because I could find no satisfying answer to the question of the redemption of the dead.

In October 1975, President Boyd K. Packer spoke about this conundrum that faces most of the Christian world:

Now there is another characteristic that identifies His Church and also has to do with baptism. There is a very provoking and a very disturbing question about those who died without baptism. What about them? If there is none other name given under heaven whereby man must be saved (and that is true), and they have lived and died without even hearing that name, and if baptism is essential (and it is), and they died without even the invitation to accept it, where are they now?

That is hard to explain. It describes most of the human family.

There are several religions larger than most Christian denominations, and together they are larger than all of them combined. Their adherents for centuries have lived and died and never heard the word baptism. What is the answer for them?

That is a most disturbing question. What power would establish one Lord and one baptism, and then allow it to be that most of the human family never comes within its influence? With that question unanswered, the vast majority of the human family must be admitted to be lost, and against any reasonable application of the law of justice or of mercy, either. How could Christianity itself be sustained?

When you find the true church you will find the answer to that disturbing question.

If a church has no answer for that, how can it lay claim to be His Church? He is not willing to write off the majority of the human family who were never baptized.

Those who admit in puzzled frustration that they have no answer to this cannot lay claim to authority to administer to the affairs of the Lord on the earth, or to oversee the work by which all mankind must be saved.

Since they had no answer concerning the fate of those who had not been baptized, Christians came to believe that baptism itself was not critical in importance, and that the name of Christ may not be all that essential. There must, they supposed, be other names whereby man could be saved.

Our intuitive sense of justice and mercy makes clear to us that it simply can’t be that all those who are not baptized here are lost. Such a God would not be one worth worshiping. There is no greater truth that was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, than knowingly  of God’s infinite mercy and compassion.

I say that no point of doctrine sets this church apart from the other claimants as this one does. Save for it, we would, with all of the others, have to accept the clarity with which the New Testament declares baptism to be essential and then admit that most of the human family could never have it.

But we have the revelations. We have those sacred ordinances.

I’m so grateful for my knowing of sacraes Temple ordinances, and for the opportunity to help redeem my ancestors and participate in the work of salvation.

“Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; …

“Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! …

“Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple … a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.” (D&C 128:22–24.)

Other posts based on this session of conference:

  • The Blessings of the Faithful by Jan Tolman
  • Rest and Work by Marilyn Nielson
  • Remember How You Felt

    Human memory is an incredibly fickle phenomenon. With matters of the spirit in particular, it is so easy to forget the things that we have experienced and believed. Having now, for instance, been a member of the Church for nearly 8 years, it is difficult at times to remember how I thought felt and acted before. Fortunately, I can still remember the incredible joy I felt when I was converted, because I took to heart advice similar to that given by Elder Rasband at conference to strive to remember our sacred experiences. 

    When I have counseled individuals such as my friend, I have explored their decisions made over the years which led them to forget sacred experiences, to weaken, and to doubt. I encouraged them, as I encourage you now, to recall, especially in times of crisis, when you felt the Spirit and your testimony was strong; remember the spiritual foundations you have built. I promise that if you will do this, avoiding things that do not build and strengthen your testimony or that mock your beliefs, those precious times when your testimony prospered will return again to your memory through humble prayer and fasting. I assure you that you will once again feel the safety and warmth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Sacred memories can powerful tool in the fight against doubt and confusion from the adversary. We need to cast our minds frequently on our sacred moments and treasure them. As we do so, we will have confidence that God is operative in our lives. We will know that we were led by him to have certain experiences. We will have confidence that he will be with us no matter what.

    When I remember my sacred conversion experiences, I am filled with incredible joy. Remembering helps me to know that I am still on the right path. It helps me to know that God loves me. It helps to heal wounds and silence doubts. 

    On the other hand, Satan can use our memory to cast doubt and to push us away from God. He can draw to our recollection moments where we have fallen short or felt distant from God. He can lead us to doubt those sacred moments. We can and must prevent him from leading us to question or forget what we have felt. 

    No Man who Comprehends Falls Away

    Priesthood Session during the October 1975 conference was filled with talks about bringing less active members back to the fold and retaining those who are struggling. I especially loved when Elder Marriott G. Romney spoke of the power thatunderstanding our Covenants and our relationship with God can have. He made a rather bold declaration:

    No man who comprehends, believes, and lives according to gospel covenants will be inactive in the Church. When one understands the gospel of Jesus Christ—which is the Lord’s new and everlasting covenant—and realizes that he himself accepted it in the spirit world, fought for it in the war in heaven, and entered mortality pursuant to the Lord’s promise that if he here proves faithful he shall inherit eternal life—anyone who understands that has the needed background to understand the covenants entered into here in mortality.
    I am persuaded that failure to appreciate the significance of the “new and everlasting covenant” of the gospel is the root-cause for the inactivity of thousands of our Church members. If you pres;id(ents of elders quorums w;ill “teach” your inactive members “according” to the covenant and convert them, you will have little trouble in teaching the covenants entered into in this life. Without such knowledge one has no goal in life, no objective. Therefore, other covenants have no meaning.

    Elder Romney boldly promises that no man who understand his Covenants will fall away. But that bold proclamation is filed with truth. Ultimately, most inactivity comes due to a lack of ultimately understanding of the true significance of membership in the Church.

    I really do believe that if we truly had an eternal perspective and knew who we are and where we are going, that it would not be hard to be baptized and to remain active.

    So often, we know about the plan in abstract and then lose sight of it. We forget it as soon as temptations come. We are fareweather believers in the Plan of salvation. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t good enough. We need the fortitude to overcome struggles and trials. And that only comes through abiding faith and knowledge by the spirit. 

    The transformative power of service

    Elder Carl B. Cook spoke of the power of service. I loved his focus on the transformative nature of service:

    The opportunity to serve is one of the great blessings of membership in the Church. The Lord has said, “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me,” and we serve Him by serving others.

    As we serve, we draw closer to God. We come to know Him in ways that we otherwise might not. Our faith in Him increases. Our problems are put into perspective. Life becomes more satisfying. Our love for others increases, as well as our desire to serve. Through this blessed process, we become more like God, and we are better prepared to return to Him.

    Service is ultimately how we become more like God. When we put others first, that act transforms and elevates us. We love more and therefore become more like our loving Heavenly Father.

    Nor is service simply a temporary activity.

    As President Marion G. Romney taught: “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

    Heavenly Father’s very essence is service. He does nothing save it be for the purpose of serving us. In doing so, he has great joy but also sorrow at times. I recently read a post from a friend who works with Syrian refugees describing the joy but also the grief that she has experienced. I felt that same potent combination as a missionary. She has tapped into the empathy and charity of the savior. She is drawing closer to Heavenly Father because she is experiencing a modicum of what he experiences.

    It’s so easy to put off service and to make excuses that now isn’t a good time in life. Truthfully, with two small children sometimes it really isn’t the right time for me. But nevertheless, we must have an attitude and willingness to put aside the natural man and engage in soul enriching service.

    The natural man or woman in all of us is inclined to allow us to excuse ourselves from serving for reasons such as “I am not ready to serve; I have more to learn,” “I’m tired and need a break,” “I’m too old–it’s someone else’s turn,” or “I am simply too busy.”

    I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in Church and use my talents. I’m grateful for the invitation to try to serve in ways large and small.