Summary: The scriptures are replete with references to the need for us to repent, and the reason why is because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Since no unclean person can live in heaven, then no one who has sinned can live there and must therefore live with Satan, the father of sin. However, the good news is that all of us can be saved from this fate because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, but only under condition of repentance. This article examines what that condition is and why it is necessary.
The Lord instructed Joseph Smith to “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed” (D&C 6:9). The Lord explained the reason for this when he said, “And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent… Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven” (D&C 1:2,32).
The scriptures are replete with references to the need for us to repent, and the reason why is because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It was Jesus who taught that “no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end” (3 Nephi 27:19).
If we have all sinned then all of us are unclean, and if nothing unclean can enter into the kingdom of God, then none of us can enter into the kingdom of God. In that case, “our spirits must have become like unto him (Satan), and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself” (2 Nephi 9:9).
That is the fate of everyone who has ever been born into mortality. However, the gospel (i.e., the good news) of Jesus Christ is that all of us can be saved from that fate and live in everlasting glory because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and that atonement was made by the shedding of his blood. Therefore, it is because of the blood of Jesus Christ that our sins can be removed or washed away, as it were, and we can become clean and spotless, and our garment made white, which then allows us to enter into the kingdom of God. However, for that washing process to take place in our life, there is something we must do. To understand why, we have to understand the law of justice.
If someone steals one dollar from someone else, justice requires that the person who took the dollar return one dollar to the person from whom they took it. It isn’t right or fair to only return 99 cents, nor is it right to return a dollar and one cent. If one dollar was taken, then exactly one dollar must be returned, no less and no more. In this way, it’s as though the dollar was never taken. The purpose of the law of justice it to restore everything back to its proper place.
But what if taking that one dollar caused the person losing it to suffer emotionally? How do you return or restore that person’s feelings to the point where it was as though they never suffered for what happened to them? The answer is, you can’t. It’s as impossible to do as going back in time and undoing the past. When someone has broken the law of justice in a way that can never be repaired, then that person will forever remain an unjust person. In a situation like that, the demands of justice can never be satisfied, and such a person will therefore be subject to the penalties of justice forever.
To illustrate this, suppose you broke a beautiful family heirloom vase that belonged to someone’s great-great grandmother and had been carefully preserved through decades of time. It would be impossible to restore that vase back to its original condition at the time it was broken. In that case, the vase would be broken forever.
In the same way, when we break a law of justice that cannot be restored to its original condition, then we forever remain a violator of justice, with no way to correct that situation. When that happens, we cannot live in a world where there are no unjust people. Instead, we must live with others who are likewise eternally unjust. That is only fair and right.
The good news is that in some way we can’t fully understand, Jesus satisfied the demands of justice for every sin that any mortal has ever made, or will someday commit, and in doing so, he has made each and every one of us clean from all of our sins. Because of that, each and every person can enter into the kingdom of God.
Does that mean we can do whatever we want without worrying about the consequences? The apostle Paul answered that question when he said, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid” (Romans 6:15).
Just because Christ paid the price for our sins, doesn’t mean he’s done away with the law of justice. For example, if I owe someone ten thousand dollars and can’t pay it, but someone else makes the payment for me, I still owe ten thousand dollars, but now I owe it the person who paid my debt. That is only just, fair, and right because that’s the only way to restore this situation back to its original condition.
However, it’s now up to the person who paid my debt to decide how they want me to repay them, because that’s their right. They can choose to have me pay it back in cash all at once, or a little at a time, or pay it in goods or services, or they could forgive all or part of my debt to them. It’s completely up to them how they want to be repaid.
Since Jesus died to save all of us from our sins, then all of us are in debt to Jesus and are obligated under law to repay that debt, If Jesus is fair and just, there has to be some sort of law he follows to determine how he wants us to pay back the debt we owe him, and the way he has provided for us to do that is through a process called repentance.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus “hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance” (D&C 18:12, italics added). That means everyone has to repent. This is not an option. It’s an absolute requirement for everyone. The only choice given us is how we choose to repent.
The Lord explained this principle when he said, “Therefore 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; Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit. (D&C 19:15-200).
There are two ways available for us to repent. There’s the easy way and there’s a hard way, but either way requires us doing something to pay off our debt to Jesus.
Because Jesus is fair and just, his requirements for repentance are firm and unchanging. That means, they apply to everyone, not just to a select few. Anyone who meets these requirements, Jesus guarantees they will be forgiven of their sins. As he himself has stated, “he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven” (D&C 1:32). That’s an iron-clad guarantee.
What Christ wants for us is the same thing his Father in heaven wants, which it to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of God’s children, and repentance is the means by which Jesus seeks to accomplish that goal.
The purpose of repentance isn’t to punish us for the things we’ve done wrong. The purpose of repentance is to help us become more like God, our eternal heavenly Father. We came here to be taught both, by precept and by experience, how to become an exalted, glorified being ourselves, who can someday be an eternal king, presiding over their own kingdom, which is what the commandments are designed to teach us to do.
However, no matter how much we learn to be like God, if we can’t live in heaven because of our sins, then all of that knowledge and experience we’ve gain here is useless. On the other hand, if we didn’t come to earth, then we wouldn’t have gained the knowledge needed to become like God. In that case we would be totally unprepared to inherit all that he has.to offer us.
Therefore, what Jesus is most concerned about is how willing we are to keep his commandments, because he knows that as long as we continue doing that, then we will eventually become worthy of obtaining eternal life. Since that is his goal, when he sees we’re trying to become more like him, then he’s willing to be patient with us and forgive our mistakes, weaknesses, shortcoming, faults, and failures.
This is one way to repent and receive forgiveness for our sins, but since this takes constant work on our part to obtain it, some consider this the hard way. But there is another way provided for us to repent, that’s also designed to help us become a more righteous person. Jesus Explained, “And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent” (D&C 1:27).
The scriptures tell us that “no chastening for the present seemth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). The New International Version renders this a little clearer when it says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
No child likes to be punished, even when it’s for something they’ve done wrong, and most parents don’t punish their children out of meanness. Rather they use it as a teaching tool, with the hope that their children will learn to behave better the next time because of the things they suffer.
However, most parents don’t impose harsh punishment on their children the very first time they make a mistake. Usually, they’ll first talk with their child, hoping that’s all it will take to correct their bad behavior. If that doesn’t work, perhaps the next time the child makes the same mistake, the parents will talk a little more sternly to them. It’s generally after a child continues to misbehave after repeated warnings that more severe punishment is applied. Of course, the greater the misdeed, the greater the punishment becomes.
Our Father in heaven is the perfect parent and he uses this same teaching technique with his children. At first, he reminds his children what he expects them to do. When he sees that they are still willfully disobeying him, he’ll talk to them a little more sternly, but after such repeated attempts, if the child continues to misbehave, then punishment is applied. But in all cases, the goal is to help the child learn the error of their ways so they become willing to behave in the proper way.
When we’ve been told what God expects of us and then deliberately and consciously disobey him, and if repeated attempts to give us warnings don’t change our behavior, then God allows us to repent through the use of suffering the negative consequences of our actions. As Jesus put it, “But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I.” In other words, if someone doesn’t want to repent the way Christ offers, then they’ll have to repent by suffering for their own sins just like Christ suffered for them. To some, this may seem like the easy way to repent because they don’t have to do anything, It is God who does all the work by applying the punishment without the person having to put forth any effort on their own.
However, the longer it takes someone to learn their lesson through this method, the longer, and many times the greater their suffering becomes. When this happens, it’s not that God is being mean or vindictive to us for disobeying him, but rather his goal is to get us to repent.
The word “repent” means “to change the mind or course of conduct and develop new mental and spiritual habits.” It means, “to be convinced of a better way,” which results in a change in the person’s mind and heart, which then produces a change in their actions. The prefix “re” means to “go back to the original place.” It conveys the idea of changing direction and heading back to where we came from.
Thus, when God gives punishment, whether through the use of natural consequences or having it deliberately imposed upon us, his goal is to change our mind and heart so that we become convinced it’s better to return to obeying God and following his ways than it is to continue on the course we’ve chosen to follow.
But this discipline doesn’t happen just in this life but is more fully felt in the next. Alma, the younger, taught his son Corinaton about the principle when he said, “Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all” (Alma 41:14,15).
What we do in this life will be restored, or given back to us, in the next life. If we do good in this life, then justice requires that we have good restored to us. If we have shown mercy to others, then mercy must be restored to us because this is in fulfilment of the law of justice.
But this principle of “restoration more fully condemnth the sinner” because if “their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil” (Alma 41:4). In this life we make excuses for the things we do wrong, but in our next life “we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness” (2 Nephi 9:14). The purpose of properly repenting in this life is so our sins will not be held against us in the next life because of the mercy of Christ.
But what if we don’t properly repent in this life? In speaking about those who will inherit the Telestial glory, which is the least glorious part of the kingdom of God, we’re told “These are they who are thrust down to hell. These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work” (D&C 76:84,85). These are they who “shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (Matthew 5:26).
It was revealed to Joseph Smith that even those “who are thrust down to hell,” who are those “who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie” (D&C 76”103), that even they will eventually be saved because they will eventually come to have a change of mind or a course of conduct and develop new mental and spiritual habits where they will have finally become convinced of a better way to behave. That doesn’t mean they will have accepted Christ as their Savior, but they will “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).
As such, in the end, even the worse of mankind will be saved, howbeit in the lowest glory of heaven, because they too will have repented, but it will be because of the things they have suffered. The choice we’ve been given is that we can either humble ourselves and repent on our own or be humbled by God’s Almighty power and be forced to repent through the law of restitution.
It’s in this way that all of mankind will come to repent and thereby be saved, but either way, the only reason why repentance can save us is because Jesus Christ has paid for our sins.
Related articles can be found in The Nature of Salvation