Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

The Missing Rs of Repentance

Posted by NathanG on May 6, 2012

Throughout my life, repentance has been taught many times by the 4 Rs: recognition, remorse, restitution, and resolve.  I was always pleased with myself for learning them quickly and being able to confidently explain the proper way to repent.  Occasionally I would be tricked with the 5 Rs.  During a fireside at the MTC, the speaker instructed us to turn to “Repentance” in the Bible Dictionary and write the 7 Rs:  recognize, remorse, renounce, resolve, restitution, reconciliation, and remission.  This is how I understood repentance.

Memory aids like this can be very useful, but they have hidden, unsuspected dangers as well.  I have recently realized that there are at least two missing Rs that are quite essential to repentance.  In saying this, I don’t want to imply that anyone who ever taught the 4 Rs of repentance doesn’t realize this, and you may argue they are actually embedded within the 4 Rs, but somehow, when it came to my personal efforts to repent, I had managed to compartmentalize these additional Rs in a way that kept them separated from repentance.

Bear with me and imagine a chalkboard demonstration getting the missing Rs.  The first missing ‘r’ is found by taking the lower case ‘r’, and conveniently raising it on a cross to form an ‘f’.  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first critical piece in repentance.  The second missing ‘r’ requires raising the stem and dropping the curve to the floor to form an ‘h’ for humility.

Were I a young missionary again, my segue into repentance would be something like, “As you learn more of Jesus, you will notice where you fall short of his example and have the desire to repent.”  However, I think faith in Christ is far more substantial than that statement. Faith in the Jesus Christ actually can provide the transforming power that will enable us to escape the trap of our sins.  Stories and sermons of repentance throughout the Book of Mormon show faith and humility in relation to repentance.

Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you; Alma 34:17  (see verses 15-16 as well, or the entire chapter for that matter)

Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed…And I said:  Lord, how is it done?  And he said unto me:  Because of thy faith in Christ…wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.Enos 1:5,7-8

Interesting to note that Enos did not introduce his story by saying he was burdened by his sins, but rather that “the words…concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep in my heart.” (v 3).  The Lord also did not say, you have sufficiently suffered before me, therefore thy sins are forgiven. Yet we know he wrestled, and after a time he received confirmation of being forgiven, but it is still attributed to his faith in Christ.

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth.  And they all cried…O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.  And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come.  Mosiah 4:2-3

(Limhi’s people) 13  And they did humble themselves even to the dust, subjecting themselves to the yoke of bondage, submitting themselves to be smitten…31  Now they would have gladly joined with them, for they themselves had entered into a covenant with God to serve him and keep his commandments.  Mosiah 21:13,31

And Aminidab said unto them:  You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ…and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.  Helaman 5:41

Somehow faith, Christ, and the healing power of the atonement, had somehow been placed as the end point repentance would lead me.  Somehow, after mastering myself, I would be able to finally show my fruits of repentance and approach Christ to ask for forgiveness.  These examples from the scriptures, however, place faith, Christ, and the atonement first and foremost, allowing many of them to be immediately freed (relatively speaking) from their guilt.  Their lives after that point of forgiveness became filled with resolve to forsake and whatever restitution they could make, not simply by determining the effect of a sin, paying back whatever debt they owed plus 20%, but by living lives dedicated to the service of God.  I find the story of the Lamanites’ conversion in Helaman, particularly meaningful for me, as Aminidab (who also needed to repent) told them to pray even until they had faith in Christ.  This was the critical turning point for me as well, to begin to pray for faith in Christ sufficient to repent.  In the past, I had prayed as Nephi “O Lord…wilt thou deliver me…even give me strength that I may burst these bands”  (1 Nephi 7:17).  I have learned, as Nephi learned, that there is a better way to be delivered, than through some mighty personal show of strength.  It came simply after praying for sufficient faith.

The most detailed account of repentance in the scriptures is quite instructive regarding the appropriate relationship of faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. Alma, after being racked with eternal torment for the space of three days, “remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.  Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart:  O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me…And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more.”  (Alma36:17-19).  No restitution could be made in this time.  No proof could be offered that he turned away from his sins.  Christ was there for him first, and he received peace.

Without faith and humility, the 4 Rs have the potential to become a Do-It-Yourself manual in repentance.  While we tout self-reliance in the church, we should be reluctant to believe that this applies to our spirituality.  Humbly pray for faith in Christ to lead to proper repentance.

4 Responses to “The Missing Rs of Repentance”

  1. BrianJ said

    “a Do-It-Yourself manual in repentance.” Ah, too true Nathan! Too true. I think for much of my growing up years, this is precisely the reason I never repented: at one or another of those steps (however many I thought there were at the time), I realized that it all felt so empty and disconnected and so I gave up. Faith and humility are truly key.

  2. sean said

    The mnemonic I’ve always used for repentance is “ABCD”– “Admit it”, “Beg Forgiveness”, “Correct the Problem”, “Don’t Do it Again.” However, I agree with the sentiment of what you have written. We do need to have faith and humility, and the repentance is hollow if the focus isn’t on Christ and the Atonement. Also, I love the scriptures from the Book of Mormon that you referenced.

  3. Robert C. said

    Nice thoughts, Nathan—thanks!

  4. Merritt said

    I’m new to this blog site and enjoy how much the posts, including this one, help focus the readers on the heart of the gospel. I know I am often like Martha (busy with all the eternal parts of church membership) and need to be more like Mary (staying close to and following Christ).

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