RS/MP Chapter 5: Faith and Repentance (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)
Posted by Robert C. on March 6, 2014
The lesson can be found online here.
My earlier (finished) draft of this lesson got deleted, so this will be briefer than usual, since I don’t have time to retype everything.
From the Life of Joseph Fielding Smith
“All is well in Zion.” In the third paragraph in this section, Pres. Smith quotes from 2 Nephi 28 about some people declaring “all is well in Zion.” But aiding and abetting an all-is-well attitude does no one any favors in the long run. “Tough love” is a term we sometimes use to refer to a similar idea, or “painfully honest.” In the next paragraph, the manual talks about Pres. Smith’s simultaneous “stern warnings” and “tender concern.” I love how this section ends with an emphasis on Pres. Smith counseling to “err on the side of love and mercy.” We might be tempted to think about these are mutually exclusive traits, to offer stern warnings and also being loving and merciful—but, in fact, they are complementary traits.
1. The first principle of the gospel is faith
“By faith we come to God.” We live in a world where it is increasingly strange to talk about God. But we draw close to God by obeying his commandments—this is how we “come to God,” and this is how “we are brough into harmony with His truth and have a desire in our hearts to serve Him” (see the penultimate paragraph in this section). I will discuss desire more in later parts of the lesson.
2. Faith means action.
“Faith is stronger than belief.” I like this phrase at the end of the second paragraph in this section. Oftentimes we think of faith and belief as the same thing. But I think Pres. Smith is suggesting that faith is more like being faithful to a spouse than having holding to some belief in an abstract statement about the way God is or the world is. (Adam Miller has an excellent discussion of this in his high recommended book Letters to a Young Mormon.)
3. Repentance is the second principle of the gospel
“There is no place in Zion for the wilful sinner.” In this phrase, from the 4th paragraph of this section, is interesting because of the word “wilful.” I like this way of thinking about the tension we all experience w/r/t our recurrent inability to live free of sin and yet our ongoing desire to avoid sin. What matters is that we don’t sin wilfully!
4. In the principle of repentance mercy is made manifest
“The love and gracious willingness . . . of Jesus Christ to suffer for our sins.” That the Savior loved us enough to suffer for us is the very essence of the Gospel. Remembering this softens my heart like nothing else, and instils in me a deep desire to repent and serve God and others.
5. Repentance includes sincere sorrow.
“Our conscience and the scriptures tell us . . . what habits we should change. I like to think during the sacrament about the choices and actions I chose during the following week, and the habits that I thereby cultivated that week. I try to think of both good and bad choices I made. I reflect on the good examples to keep from getting discouraged, and I reflect on the bad examples to help me repent. If I keep reflecting on bad examples, I get worried that my desires are not truly as I had thought or hoped they were. Poor choices too easily become habits. But this is precisely why we are supposed to read the scriptures and take the sacrament and pray, to remind ourselves of what we need to repent of—and doing so before such behavior becomes an entrenched habit is much easier than after.
6. The time to repent is now.
“Just a few stripes.” Pres. Snow, referring again to 2 Nephi 28, refers to the rationalization to sin because God will only punish us a little. The problem with this attitude is that it remains rooted in a desire for sin. With most sins, I’ve found it possible to actually cease having a desire for the sin, and I’ve found this to be, at least in most cases, a symptom of true and complete repentance.
7. Raise a voice of warning
“Selfishness, greed, and the wickedness that is in their hearts.” This quote, from the first paragraph in this section, names the particular things that we need to be warned about, and that we need to warn others about. Interestingly, each of these 3 sins are related to desire. If we truly come to desire righteousness, instead of remaining chained to selfish desires, or desire for money, then we can experience a deep and true sense of joy that surpasses any kind of joy or pleasure that comes from money or selfish pursuits. That, it seems to me, is the central message of the Gospel, and the reason we are called to repent of these desires live faithfully in accordance with the call to serve God and our neighbors.
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