As a former bishop and now a YSA branch president, many members have asked me, “How long will it take me to repent?” And I usually answer, “Well, that depends—it depends on you and on the Lord.” Some people are able to repent rather quickly, while others take a long time.
What’s the difference? One factor, of course, is the magnitude of the sin—especially if we commit serious sins after making sacred temple covenants. But ultimately, the time it takes to repent depends on the time we need to experience “a mighty change of heart”—the time we need to lose our desires to sin and to abhor our prior sinful ways (see Alma 5:12-14, Mosiah 5:2). When we find joy in righteousness and sincerely seek to bask in the continual peace and comfort of the Spirit, our hearts have changed, and we are ready to receive divine forgiveness.
So how do we begin to change our hearts so that we can repent more quickly in the future? Here are three keys that can help any of us get a head start in the repentance process:
The first key to repentance is to be humble. Jesus Christ is the supreme example of humility. During His mortal life, His only desire was to do the will of the Father, taking none of the glory for Himself. He was perfect in that desire and, therefore, unable to sin. Even though He had agency, He kept every commandment with exactness. He never did, or even thought of doing, anything contrary to the will of God.
Satan, on the other hand, is the ultimate example of being ruled by complete and utter pride. He opposes God in all things and in all ways. He rejects submission, humility, and meekness as weakness. He is, therefore, unable and unwilling to repent.
Our pride—though we might not recognize it—pits us against God and can prevent us from repenting. With prideful hearts, we want to do things our way and may even try to dictate to the Lord the conditions of our repentance. We may want to rationalize our sins or to hide them. Perhaps we feel too embarrassed to confess them or we want to attempt to avoid paying the penalty for our transgressions or making restitution. In short, we are looking after our own interest and desires, not God’s.
If we are humble, however, we refrain from excusing our transgressions. We take full ownership of our sins and we desire to immediately correct our wrongdoing. We are anxious to be accepted of the Lord, to diligently and willingly do whatever He requires of us to be forgiven, and to serve Him completely.
The longer we hold onto our pride, the longer it takes us to repent. Thankfully, our Father in Heaven, who loves us perfectly, will help us to become humble. He’s told us, “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). We will receive subtle invitations from Him through the Spirit, the scriptures, friends, or “coincidences” that will help us to recognize the need to change.
If we are so blinded by our pride that we are unable to see our sinful ways, the Lord will use more direct methods to call us to repentance. For example, an angel warned Alma the Younger to stop persecuting the members of the Church, saying, “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God” (Alma 36:9). Though we might not see an angel, the Lord has other ways of chastening us to make us aware of our sins. When we humbly respond to His call, we can repent and reach our divine potential.
The second key to repentance is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We can attempt to repent without faith, but it won’t work. I have seen members try, but every time, they ultimately fail. With little or no faith, they either try to save themselves instead of relying on the Atonement, or they lack the resolve to overcome their sins because they don’t believe God still loves them or has the power to save them. Only after developing a “faith unto repentance” have I seen these members successfully repent (Alma 34:15).
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ helps us to keep the commandments because we are able to depend on Him even when we don’t fully understand His designs or purposes. Christ taught, “All things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). This includes repenting and obeying all God’s commandments.
Faith also gives us confidence that our Father in Heaven loves us, He wants to forgive us, and He has something better in store for us. Faith provides us with the desire and a purpose for repenting and striving to become more Christlike. Similarly, our faith gives us the conviction that Jesus Christ willingly paid for our sins and desires to redeem us.
If we allow Satan to make us feel unloved and unredeemable—which he will certainly try to do—we are, in essence, putting our “faith” in the devil. We are believing his lies instead of trusting in the Lord who will not and cannot lie.
Resisting the Desire to Hide
The third key to repentance is to never hide from God. Our desire to hide can come from embarrassment, shame, a lack of hope, doubt, selfishness, a lack of self-worth, or a lack of desire—all manifestations of pride or a weak faith.
Satan wants us to be estranged from God and to be afraid of Him. He wants us to hide from Him. After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they concealed themselves among the trees of the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3:8). They had heard the Lord’s voice and were afraid. But even though they had transgressed, God sought them out. The same will happen to us. Just as the Lord will warn us before we sin, He will seek us out and invite us to repent after we have sinned.
Unlike Adam and Eve, we hide today not in a physical way, but by removing ourselves from places and situations where we can feel the Spirit—places such as church meetings and situations such as daily earnest scripture study and prayer for heavenly guidance. In a way that’s just as damaging, we may also hide by simply going through the motions and treating each one of these items as a checklist to maintain the image of righteousness without investing our hearts.
Hiding puts our repentance in jeopardy. We need the companionship and influence of the Spirit—we are literally “sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 27:20). The Holy Ghost purges our hearts of evil and fills us with desires to become more like our Savior. He motivates us to change.
For example, when we listen intently to our prophet and other Church leaders in general conference we want to become better people. Those feelings and promptings come from the Holy Ghost as He sanctifies us. Our hearts are softened, and we are being prepared to repent.
But, we must all learn to go beyond merely resisting the desire to hide from the Lord and go one step further to open our hearts and souls to Him. He has sacrificed everything, given everything, understands everything, and desires to give us everything—“all that [the] Father hath” (D&C 84:38). In order to grow closer to Him and allow His Atonement to work within our lives, we must do the same in return, showing and giving our all to the Lord.
Repentance is a beautiful and saving doctrine. Through repentance and the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, we can be washed clean of all our sins and find true peace and happiness. Our hearts will change more quickly when we are humble, have faith, and seek the Lord with open hearts.
For more great insights on how to repent more quickly and effectively by using the Atonement, check out David Fisler’s new book, His Redeeming Power: Cleansed on Conditions of Repentance.