Summary: It’s natural for us to sin and for this reason God has given us the principle of repentance. Furthermore, the Lord has told us that the way we know we’ve repented of our sins is that we “confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). But what if we repent of a sin and then make the same sin again and again? Does that mean we haven’t truly repented? How many times can we repent of the same sin before God stops accepting our efforts? This article seeks to provide the answer to that question.
Each Sunday as we partake of the sacrament, we hear the familiar words that say we “witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them… that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen” (Moroni 4:4; 5:2).
The word “amen” means “so be it,” therefore, when we say amen to the words that have just been spoken at the sacrament table, it’s as though we ourselves were the ones who said those words.
It’s in this way that we are renewing our promise and commitment to keeping the commandments God has given us and to remember him always. Yet, as we go throughout the week, we quite often do the very things we’ve promised God on Sunday that we would not do. Why is that?
The answer is, because we’re human, or what King Benjamin calls “the natural man.” It’s just natural for us to do what’s wrong. We don’t even have to try. It’s the easiest thing for us to do. Because of that, it takes effort to do what’s right, meaning that we have to struggle to keep God’s commandments, and if we don’t put forth enough effort, or if we slack off, we automatically slide back to our natural way of behaving.
For this reason, God has given us the principle of repentance. As the Lord has explained, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins–behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). But what if we repent and then make the same mistake again? Does that mean we haven’t truly repented?
What our church leaders have told us is that each time we make a mistake, or sin, we’re supposed to repent, but how many times can we repent of the same sin before God stops accepting our efforts? In other words, if we keep repenting of the same sin without any improvement in overcoming it, doesn’t God feel that our repentance is insincere and doesn’t forgive us of it?
When we repeatedly do something we know we shouldn’t, there are one of three reactions people usually have. One is to blame themselves. This is where we tell ourselves that no matter how hard we try, we just don’t have what it takes to someday become perfect. We tell ourselves we’re a failure and will always be a failure, and so we go around beating ourselves up and condemning ourselves as being worthless, hopeless, and useless.
This kind of attitude can then lead to the second kind of reaction, which is to give up. This mindset tells us that since we don’t have what it takes to keep God’s commandments, then there’s no point in even trying anymore. However, what usually happens with active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that they continue keeping the easy commandments (as whey image them to be, but what is easy for one person may be hard for another) but stop trying to keep the commandments they struggle with.
The third reaction is to take comfort in knowing that as children of God he still loves all of us despite our imperfections, therefore we look at repentance as something that is reserved for only serious sins and don’t worry about it for every day, minor transgressions. The reason for this kind of thinking is because they know they will only commit the minor same sin again, so they feel it’s useless to even try repenting. Therefore, they’re hoping that God will forgive their sins out of the goodness of his heart.
However, there is a major flaw in each one of these attitudes, which is that we focus on how many times we fail. By that I mean, we count success by how quickly we’re able to overcome our tendency to do something wrong. We know we’re not perfect, but we tell ourselves that if it takes us too many times to get something right then we adopt the attitude that we can never overcome that particular fault. When that happens then we consider ourselves to be a failure at repenting.
This attitude comes from the unreal expectation that if we’re really sincere about wanting to repent then we should be able to overcome our faults with relatively little effort, and when it takes longer than we’re expecting, then we tell ourselves we’ll never overcome that sin.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that God isn’t focused on how many times we fail but is focused on helping us become perfect no matter how long it takes. His goal is to see that we eventually become perfect rather than being interested in how many times it takes us to get there.
Let me illustrate it this way. When playing the piano, the secret to playing it well is in the fingering. The reason why people make mistakes is because their fingers hit the wrong keys, but to play a song perfectly takes practice, and the harder the music is the more practice it takes to get the fingering right.
If a pianist never made any mistakes, then there would be no need for them to practice, but even professional, concert pianists, practice constantly to make sure that they’re fingers always hit the right keys at the right time all the time. However, they don’t focus on how many times they make a mistake. Instead, their goal, and the sole focus of their practice is to be able to play their musical number flawlessly, and it doesn’t matter to them how many times they need to practice in order to get it right.
But even after they are able to play a piece of music perfectly, they still keep practicing, over and over again, to make sure they can always keep playing it right, and even then, they will still make mistakes now and then. And this same principle applies to any other endeavor, whether it be in art, mathematics, business, engineering, medicine, or anything else.
Yet, before they can get to the point where they can accomplish what they want and have it done perfectly, takes years and years of constant, applied practice. Only extremely gifted people can do things perfectly with very little effort and even then, they can only do that within a very narrow and specific field of endeavor.
For example, someone who is a highly talented musician may be a very poor artist, or gardener, or doctor, or athlete. And someone who is very talented at playing the piano may not be very good at playing the violin, or trumpet, or clarinet.
And this same principle applies to becoming as perfect as our Father in heaven. It takes more years than we have in this life of practicing to learn how to keep all of God’s commandment, and during all of that time we will make the same mistakes many, many times. But God isn’t keeping track of our failures. Instead, he is more concerned with how much effort we’re putting into our practicing, because he knows if we keep at it, we will eventually become just like him.
It’s said that Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times in his effort to create the incandescent light bulb, but when asked about his many failures, he replied, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” He invented the light bulb in 1879 and today nobody cares how many times he failed before he perfected his invention. The only thing people care about is that they have lights in their homes thanks to Thomas Edison.
And the same is true for us. God doesn’t care how many times we fail in our efforts to keep his commandments. The only thing that matters to him is that we keep trying, because he knows that as long as we don’t quit, just as Edison finally was able to perfect making a light bulb, so we too will eventually become as perfect as God.
However, one of the crucial ingredients of practice is patience. Notice what the scriptures have to say about this.
“To those who do well in continually being patient will receive glory and honor and immortality and eternal life” (see Romans 2:7). “And so, after he had patiently endured, [then] he obtained the promise” (Hebrews 6:15). “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted [because of] your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer [because of your faults, and] ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Peter 2:20). “[Therefore] rejoicing in hope; [and be] patient in [your faults]” (see Romans 12:12).
It is only after we have “patiently endured” in striving to overcome our faults, weaknesses, and shortcomings that we will then “obtain the promise” of eternal life. Our rejoicing comes in the hope that when we are buffeted because of our faults, and if we are patient in doing well, that “this is acceptable with God.”
Without patience we will give up, and when that happens then there is no hope of receiving the glory and honor God promises to those who endure to the end. Yet, even though most people know this, unfortunately, patience is a trait that many people struggle with. When that’s the case, then the solution is to continually remind ourselves to be patient every time our patience wears thin.
And each time we become impatient with ourselves, we need to remember that patience is one of God’s traits, which means that God is patient with us when he sees that we’re trying to overcome our faults, no matter how many times we may stumble and fall in our efforts. Therefore, if we want to become like God, then we too need to learn how to be patient with ourselves, just as God is patient with us.
But just because God is patient when we fail to do what’s right doesn’t mean he condones our faults. What he praises is our efforts to overcome them.
However, we also need to recognize that God doesn’t expect us to struggle on our own. As long as we’re willing to put forth an effort to improve ourselves, he will be there to give us all the help he can. The Lord has explained, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent” (D&C19:16). Jesus suffered unimaginable pain to pay the price for each and every one of our sins so that we could have the opportunity to repent, because it’s through repentance that he can then extend his mercy to us, and he died precisely because he wants to show us mercy.
But when we fail to repent, he is prevented by eternal law from being merciful to us. Therefore, when we fail to repent, then Christ suffered for nothing for our sins, in which case we must suffer as he did for our sins. In addition to this, the Lord has also explained that “No unclean thing can dwell… in his presence” (Moses 6:57) and it’s repentance that allows Christ to cleanse us so we can then dwell with God forever. Therefore, he begs us to take advantage of his atoning sacrifice and repent.
Because Jesus wants us to return to live in heaven, he is committed to our success. For that reason, he will do everything he can to help us, but he can’t make us repent. He will remind, encourage, persuade, comfort and strengthen us, but without our willingness to listen to him, we cut ourselves off from this help.
The Hebrew word for repent is shoob, which means mean “to turn back, come back, return, or restore.” The scriptures tell us that to repent means to turn unto God and hearken unto his voice. Sin is when we turn our back on God and no longer listen to what he wants us to do, while repentance is when we come back or return to God and listen to and follow his commandments.
Jesus said, “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22) and the reason why he asks us to do that is because if we will follow him, he will lead us to eternal life. He knows we’re going to stumble and fall along the way, and.in fact, that was the very reason why God provided a Savior before the earth was ever made. But what he wants us to do is to turn back to him and follow him no matter how many times we get distracted by the things of the world or we allow the natural man to take precedence over the spiritual man.
However, to do that requires us to first have a change of heart where we “have no more disposition to de evil but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). As stated before, it’s natural for us to sin. It’s like the person who wants to lose weight but can’t give up the desire to eat sweets. This is why people keep going on diets only to keep failing to stay on them.
Those who go on a diet and stay with it are those who make a commitment to themselves that they are going to lose weight. They may occasionally give into their desire to eat something they know they shouldn’t, but then they recommit themselves to getting back onto their diet regiment and sticking with it.
In the same way, in order to be successful at repenting, we have to have what Alma calls a mighty change of heart, and when that happens, then we find that keeping the commandments of God is something we want to do instead of something we have to do. With this kind of an attitude, when we repent, we not only acknowledge that we made a mistake but that we want to correct it.
The reason why God is willing to forgive us when we sin is because we’re willing to keep trying to overcome each sin we’ve made. And it doesn’t matter how many times we fail at doing that because genuine repentance means that we’re sincerely striving to keep working at overcoming our sins.
On the other hand, when that desire is missing, then it becomes easy for us to give up trying when we find that keeping God’s commandments is too difficult. Thus, repentance, or turning back to God, is a continual process rather than a single event. It involves coming back to God each and every time we turn our back on him. It’s when we don’t even try to do that is when God becomes displeased with us.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation.