As I attended seminary in high school, I had a friend who sat across the aisle from me. She was intelligent and kind, and had a warm personality. We rarely saw each other outside of seminary. Through my senior year of high school, we got to know each other in seminary class and discussed many things that were meaningful to us.
My friend seemed to have a desire to do right and to keep the commandments, but at the same time she had trouble with consistently being obedient to the commandments. In seminary, she would speak of her love of God and of the gospel, but then, often on Monday morning, I would learn of her weekend activities and her difficulties following the Word of Wisdom and keeping other standards of the Church. Sometimes she would talk to me about her weekends. She seemed sorry for what she had done and wanted to do better. I would encourage her by talking about willpower, choosing the right friends, not getting in certain situations, and being able to say no. She seemed to appreciate the encouragement, but she continued doing the same things month after month. She spoke of wanting to change and repent, but it never seemed to happen.
If I were talking to her today, I would speak less to her about the steps that would be required for repentance, and much more about the source and power of her ability to change, to repent, and to be forgiven. I would speak about her faith in Jesus Christ.1 I would try to help her realize that if she would build her knowledge and belief in Christ, and strengthen her faith in Him, then her trust and confidence in Him would bring power—His power to help strengthen her in changing her behavior.2
Repentance Begins with Faith in Jesus Christ
In order to repent, we need to believe that God will forgive us, and then take the actions needed for us to change. President Henry B. Eyring said, “Faith is not simply to know God could do something. Faith is to know He will.”3
Repentance must begin with faith in Jesus Christ. The prophet Alma taught the Zoramites how faith in the word—which is in Christ—as it is nurtured, will grow from a seed, to a seedling, to a powerful tree of faith in Christ.4
Faith is multidimensional; it has depth and breadth. Your faith is growing or diminishing. Faith grows and strengthens within us as we desire to believe, as we ponder the word of God, as we increase the sincerity and frequency of our prayers, as we repent and keep the commandments, and as we experience the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. Alma begins his teaching on faith in chapter 32 with these words: “If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if you can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”5 He then talks about planting that seed in your heart, not dismissing it by unbelief, and allowing it to enlarge your soul and enlighten your understanding.6
Alma asks, “Would this not strengthen your faith? . . . because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.”7 Next, Alma ties our experience to the growth of the spiritual knowledge inside us: “Is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible.”8
Faith is something that grows, and as it grows, you receive heavenly gifts, power, and the ability to do what you could not do without it.
The author of Hebrews said, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”9 Faith brings assurance. As we nourish our faith by taking righteous action, the evidences of its reality come into our life; we know it is real. Those evidences that we acknowledge as spiritual gifts that we did not have previously allow us to have greater faith. Our faith in Jesus Christ builds upon itself, experience after experience, feeling after feeling, confirmation after confirmation.
President Henry B. Eyring explained how this knowledge moves us to action: “It will take unshakable faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to choose the way to eternal life. It is by using that faith we can know the will of God. And it is by exercising that faith in Jesus Christ that we can resist temptation and gain forgiveness through the Atonement.”10
Jacob and Enos
Consider the moving example of Enos. The teachings of his father, Jacob, “sunk deep into [Enos’s] heart.”11 Jacob had been born “in the wilderness” and in his “childhood . . . suffered afflictions and much sorrow.”12 Jacob’s father and Enos’s grandfather, Lehi, described his son Jacob as knowing “the greatness of God” and promised him that God would “consecrate [his] afflictions for [his] gain.”13
Jacob had been visited by the premortal Jesus,14 and he became a great advocate for the cause of Christ, declaring that “we knew of Christ and his kingdom, which should come” and “we labored diligently . . . that we might persuade [all] to come unto Christ.”15
Think of the teaching and testimony that sunk deep into Enos’s heart: “Remember [the greatness of] the Holy One of Israel . . . turn away from your sins; shake off the chains of him that would bind you fast; come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation.”16
Think of how Enos was taught about the Savior long before there was a babe at Bethlehem. He knew of His character and attributes, His infinite Atonement,17 and the promise of His Resurrection. Enos, through the teachings of his father and through his own efforts to be a follower of Jesus Christ, was full of faith in Christ.
Acting on the faith he had developed and the teachings implanted deeply into his heart, he knelt and prayed with real intent.
After praying through the night, “there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
“And I . . . knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away. And I said: Lord, how is it done? And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen.”18
Faith in Christ Brings the Power to Ignite True Repentance
Experiencing the miracles of God, and experiencing the profound repentance that leads to forgiveness, begins by building a sure foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ brings the necessary power to ignite true repentance. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “If we really understood and could feel even to a small degree, the love and gracious willingness on the part of Jesus Christ to suffer for our sins we would be willing to repent of all our transgressions and serve him.”19
If you find yourself making the same mistakes, struggling to be firm in your desire to change, express to your Heavenly Father your love for Him and strengthen your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Learn of Him, study about His sacred Atonement, and think deeply about what He suffered for you. Keep His commandments with more exactness. As you do your part to build your faith in the Savior, I promise you that heaven will compound this gift of faith, and you will have the spiritual strength to repent of your sins and not return to them.
With your faith growing and with the power and gifts of God working within you, you will sense deep within yourself the ability and divine help to change your behavior. You will have a greater desire and strength to keep the commandments, to discard those things that do not bring goodness into your life. As you do these things, suddenly there is another power: the power of Christ and His Atonement, bringing increasing forgiveness for past sins. You begin feeling His approval because of what you are doing. Then, miraculously, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, you feel the gift of His forgiveness. I confirm that the Savior’s love for you is certain. He never retreats from His promise to you. As you do your part day after day and forsake your sins, I promise you that the guilt and pain that have been so much a part of your spirit because of the wrong actions you have taken will be lifted and you will feel clean and pure before Him.20
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In this book, Elder Neil L. Andersen writes especially to those who are "awakening" unto God—those who are just beginning to discover or who seek the divine gifts and power of repentance and forgiveness in their lives. Filled with powerful doctrine along with stories and experiences, this book will help all readers become more devoted disciples of the Savior. The Divine Gift of Forgiveness is available now for 20% off at DeseretBook.com.
1. See 2 Nephi 31:19–21.
2. See Mosiah 3:19; Philippians 4:13.
3. Henry B. Eyring, “We Must Raise Our Sights,” address to religious educators at a conference on the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young University, August 14, 2001.
4. See Alma 32.
5. Alma 32:27.
6. See Alma 32:27–28.
7. Alma 32:30, 33.
8. Alma 32:35.
9. JST Hebrews 11:1.
10. Henry B. Eyring, “Spiritual Preparedness: Start Early and Be Steady,” Ensign, November 2005.
11. Enos 1:5.
12. 2 Nephi 2:1.
13. 2 Nephi 2:2.
14. See 2 Nephi 11:3.
15. Jacob 1:6–7.
17. See 2 Nephi 2.
18. Enos 1:5–8.
19. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (2013), 89.
20. See Mosiah 4:2–3.