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Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson Lesson 5: Principles of True Repentance

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The Great Plan of Happiness

When we lived with our Father in Heaven we were happy. All of us lived within his laws and were able to be as happy as was possible for someone without a body to be. But we saw that our Father was happier still, and we wanted a body so we could be that happy. His happiness comes from living in harmony with the laws that govern all things. When we violate those laws, the laws that generate happiness, what else can we expect to experience but sorrow and suffering. Violating laws of happiness can have no other outcome. The commandments are laws of happiness.

One of Satan’s greatest lies is to convince us that all of the commandments are restrictive and confining, cheating us of the freedom we could have if we did what we wanted because it feels good to do so. This is the nature of our mortal bodies. They come with desires and wants that are naturally often in opposition to the commandments, the laws of happiness. Our task in mortality is to bring our physical desires in line with the spiritual commandments that generate happiness. The longer this process takes, the longer we suffer from the unhappy consequences of sin.

The poison in Satan’s argument is that by accepting this deception, we actually give up a portion of our agency, our freedoms, and we are brought down into sorrow. We are left wondering where we went wrong. The answer to that question is that we believed in, and acted on a lie.

The Need for Faith

We never hear about repentance and faith, it is always faith first, then repentance. Without faith in Christ, repentance is not possible. When we decide that we want to change our lives and be better than we are today, it is not enough to will ourselves into submission to the commandments. This may bring us into alignment with what God wants us to do, but it doesn’t create the change in our hearts that helps us love and appreciate what God has done for us. An obedient slave can will himself into obedience, but our Father in Heaven wants us to want to be where He is and to be like He is. That is the only way we will find the true joy in being like Him.

In order for us to want to change and stay changed forever, we need Christ to change the desires of our hearts. Only his atonement can do that. We do not have the capability to change our own hearts. That power is only held by God. We must exercise our faith in Christ’s atonement, that is, place our hope that by humbling ourselves before Him and confessing our sins, He will help us gain a greater desire to do good. The greater our desire to do good, the less we crave doing the evil. Little by little, He changes the very nature of our characters to be more like Him, more Christ-like.

In the scriptures we read about wonderful stories of people who pray and have a miraculous experience where their hearts are changed and they no longer have any desire to do evil. These are the exceptions to the rule. For most of God’s children this change of heart is a process that happens over the course of a lifetime. Here is a quote from President Benson about this change of heart:

"When we have undergone this mighty change, which is brought about only through faith in Jesus Christ and through the operation of the Spirit upon us, it is as though we have become a new person. Thus, the change is likened to a new birth. Thousands of you have experienced this change. You have forsaken lives of sin, sometimes deep and offensive sin, and through applying the blood of Christ in your lives, have become clean. You have no more disposition to return to your old ways. You are in reality a new person. This is what is meant by a change of heart."

Sometimes we experience a change of heart but are so caught up in our new life we don’t realize it has happened. It is just the way we are. Sometimes it takes a personal inventory to realize that we aren’t the same today as we were 15 or 20 years ago.

Two Kinds of Sorrow

In the Book of Mormon when Mormon is writing about the destruction of the Nephites we are told that the people are experiencing great sorrow, but it is the sorrowing of the damned. They are only sorry that they can no longer find any joy in their sin. This kind of sorrow doesn’t create any desire for change, only resentment that they cannot continue in their wicked ways. These are the people who cursed God and wished to die (Mormon 2:13-14).

The other kind of sorrow is godly sorrow. Godly sorrow is what you experience when you realize that you have offended your Father in Heaven. Your heart breaks, knowing that you have caused him offense and that you have estranged yourself from him. This kind of sorrow causes us to want to plead for forgiveness. We want to change and be better and are willing to work hard to see that our particular offense does not happen again. This is the sorrow that leads to forgiveness and a change of heart.

God Will Help Us

Our Father in Heaven and Jesus know better than we do how important it is that we do things of our own free will. They have promised never to tamper with our agency. So no matter how much They desire that we come back and live with Them, They will not do anything that forces us to choose Them over Satan. That choice is all up to us. Christ stands at the door and knocks, hoping we will open our hearts to Him, but all He can do is knock. We must choose to go to Him, He will not come to us. God is perfect and immovable; we must accommodate Him.

It is vital that we know that the Lord will always be there for us. Whether we choose to repent and change today or 30 years from now, God will always be there. There is no sin that is too dark or so staining that Christ’s atonement cannot expunge it from our record if we are willing to suffer whatever price He sets for us to have it cleaned away. If we have sullied our virtue, Christ can restore it. If we have blackened our name and lost our honor, Christ can wipe the slate clean and give us back what we have lost.

We may leave mortality battle scarred and weary, but if we leave victorious, who cares? As we repent we will come to learn that our Lord’s love for us has no limits. He is and always has been willing to do anything necessary to rescue us and lift us up. We have but to choose to let Him do it.

Read President Ezra Taft Benson's teachings at lds.org.

Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.