Chapter 5: Principles of True Repentance

There are only two videos as part of this lesson, the longest being just over a minute.  Probably not long enough to be used in a classroom, but the video of ETB himself talking about change working from the inside out offers great insight into this lesson and is the quote that ends the section on the Life of ETB.

Notes on Timing.  There is a lot of information to cover in this lesson, with an introduction and 6 sections to go over in a 35-40 minute class, the discussions will have to stay on topic and kept moving along.  I personally, will try to cover the Life of ETB and the first 2 sections in 5-6 minutes and will try to divide the remaining time between the last 4 sections as equally as possible.  If I linger on a section, it will be the 3rd section involving a mighty change of heart.

There are lots of resources and much in the way of additional information available for this lesson.  One of my favorites is the Miracle of Forgiveness by President Kimball.  Chapters 10-15 provide a very indepth look at the process of Repentance.

“For those who pay the price required by true repentance, the promise is sure. You can be clean again. The despair can be lifted. The sweet peace of forgiveness will flow into your lives.”

From the Life of Ezra Taft Benson

In his first general conference address as President of the Church, President Ezra Taft Benson stated: “As I have sought direction from the Lord, I have had reaffirmed in my mind and heart the declaration of the Lord to ‘say nothing but repentance unto this generation.’ (D&C 6:9; 11:9.) This has been a theme of every latter-day prophet.

D&C 6 is the instruction given to Joseph Smith and his new scribe, Oliver Cowdery and these same words were given to Hyrum later in Chapter 11.  I will  then paraphrase the instruction George Albert Smith gave ETB regarding his mission when he was called to be an Apostle.

“Your mission from now on is to find ways and means to disseminate the truth and warn the people that you come in contact with in as kind a way as possible that repentance will be the only panacea for the ills of this world.”

I particularly like the phrase, “in as kind a way as possible”.  People don’t like to be reminded that they are doing something wrong and need to repent.

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. …

“Yes, Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world.”

This will be covered in much more detail in Section 3 and I will defer any discussion on this point until that time.

1 – To truly repent, we must first realize that the gospel plan is the plan of happiness.

There is a brief discussion on the difference in what we think and what God thinks about membership in his church.  We tend to believe that since we are baptized and our names are recorded, we count as members no matter what.

But the Lord defines a member of His kingdom in quite a different way. In 1828, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He said, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” (D&C 10:67)

One of Satan’s most frequently used deceptions is the notion that the commandments of God are meant to restrict freedom and limit happiness. Young people especially sometimes feel that the standards of the Lord are like fences and chains, blocking them from those activities that seem most enjoyable in life. But exactly the opposite is true. The gospel plan is the plan by which men are brought to a fulness of joy. This is the first concept I wish to stress. The gospel principles are the steps and guidelines that will help us find true happiness and joy.

If we wish to truly repent and come unto Him so that we can be called members of His Church, we must first and foremost come to realize this eternal truth—the gospel plan is the plan of happiness. Wickedness never did, never does, never will bring us happiness [see Alma 41:10]. Violation of the laws of God brings only misery, bondage, and darkness.

2 – Faith in Jesus Christ precedes true repentance.

I am surprised that the 4th Article of Faith is not quoted here and I will ask someone to recite it (If the primary children can be expected to have this memorized, I would expect it won’t be much of a challenge for the High Priests, but you never know. 🙂 )  When it has been recited, I will turn to the question from the manual,

Why must faith in the Lord precede true repentance?

Repentance is only possible because of the Atonement.

If it were not for the perfect, sinless life of the Savior, which He willingly laid down for us, there could be no remission of sins.

We could change our lives, make ourselves better with or without an Atonement, but we can not receive forgiveness of our sins if we do not acknowledge the role of Jesus Christ in making this possible.

3 – Repentance involves a mighty change of heart.

The third important principle for us to understand if we would be true members of the Church is that repentance involves not just a change of actions, but a change of heart.

When King Benjamin finished his remarkable address in the land of Zarahemla, the people all cried with one voice that they believed his words. They knew of a surety that his promises of redemption were true, because, said they, “the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, [and note this] that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)

I will ask at this point what is the difference between merely changing our actions, and a change of heart?

I will recount the story of Alma giving up his role as a Judge in order to focus on the church, which was failing to make progress (Alma 4 and 5).  As in the lesson, I will follow up with this question within a scripture:

“I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14.)

(There are several GREAT stories in Elder Condie’s conference talk back in October, 1993, that could be used in this section.  For a more literal talk about a Change in Hearts, this speech by Brent W. Webb is fantastic and very relevant.)

(It will be tempting to use the stories of some great conversions here (Alma (Alma and Alma the younger), Paul, Enos, etc.).  If time is running short this is a good place to jump ahead to section 6.

4 – Godly sorrow leads to true repentance.

Discuss the difference between guilt, sorrow at being caught, and godly sorrow?

Mormon describes sorrow that is not godly.

In the final days of the Nephite nation, Mormon said of his people: “their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.

“And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die.” (Morm. 2:13–14.)

Then ETB uses the story of Paul with the people of Corinth to describe godly sorrow.

In the Eastern Hemisphere, the Apostle Paul labored among the people of Corinth. After reports came of serious problems among the Saints, including immorality (see 1 Cor. 5:1), Paul wrote a sharp letter of rebuke. The people responded in the proper spirit, and evidently the problems were corrected, for in his second epistle to them, Paul wrote: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner. …

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Cor. 7:9–10.)

In both of these scriptures, godly sorrow is defined as a sorrow that leads us to repentance.

Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”  Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance.

5 – Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are anxious to see us change our lives, and They will help us.

In Moroni’s great sermon on faith, the principle is even more clearly taught. He was told by the Lord, “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.” It matters not what is our lack or our weakness or our insufficiency. His gifts and powers are sufficient to overcome them all.

Moroni continues with the words of the Lord: “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.)

What a promise from the Lord! The very source of our troubles can be changed, molded, and formed into a strength and a source of power.

Why do you think this is?  How can our weak things become strong?  My personal belief is that as we repent and learn from our mistakes, our capacity for empathy increases, our ability to teach improves as we have a deeper understanding of the pain sin can bring into our lives, and our love for our Savior increases to a point that we want to demonstrate this love by doing better in all things.

6 – We must not lose hope as we seek to become Christlike.

The sixth and final point I wish to make about the process of repentance is that we must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.

But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment.

I will stress the day by day part of this process, our daily habits are a reflection of how well we are doing in both repentence and having the mighty change of heart that is our proof that our repentance is being accepted.

I hope we will not live in the past. People who live in the past don’t have very much future. There is a great tendency for us to lament about our losses, about decisions that we have made that we think in retrospect were probably wrong decisions. There is a great tendency for us to feel badly about the circumstances with which we are surrounded, thinking they might have been better had we made different decisions. We can profit by the experience of the past. But let us not spend our time worrying about decisions that have been made, mistakes that have been made. Let us live in the present and in the future.

Move on from our past mistakes, once we have foresaken them and repented of them.  No need to refer to them again except in very limited situations.  Too often people brag about their past in a way that makes it seem like they almost miss the good old days.

We must not lose hope. Hope is an anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope.

The lesson concludes by summarizing the 6 points, if there is time I will have this section read.

My beloved brothers and sisters, as we seek to qualify to be members of Christ’s Church—members in the sense in which He uses the term, members who have repented and come unto Him—let us remember these six principles. First, the gospel is the Lord’s plan of happiness, and repentance is designed to bring us joy. Second, true repentance is based on and flows from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way. Third, true repentance involves a change of heart and not just a change of behavior. Fourth, part of this mighty change of heart is to feel godly sorrow for our sins. This is what is meant by a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Fifth, God’s gifts are sufficient to help us overcome every sin and weakness if we will but turn to Him for help. Finally, we must remember that most repentance does not involve sensational or dramatic changes, but rather is a step-by-step, steady, and consistent movement toward godliness.

If we will strive to incorporate these principles into our lives and implement them on a daily basis, we shall then qualify to be more than members of record in the Church of Jesus Christ.


A good portion of this lesson came from a Conference Talk by ETB in 1989 – A Mighty Change of Heart.  The talk is well summarized on LeadingLDS with a good discussion on Grace.  This summary can be found here.

Elder Bednar gave a great speech while President of BYU-Idaho back in 2001.  The section of his talk about Grace and the enabling power of the Atonement is well worth reviewing as part of this lesson.  This talk can be found here.  This speech was the foundation for an Ensign article in March of 2013.

Elder Christofferson gave a great talk at the Oct 2011 Conference – The Divine Gift of Repentance.

Every Conference seemingly has multiple talks about Repentance, there is no shortage of resources available.  As always I try to call attention to something in the most recent conference.  My favorite (by far) from last October’s conference was Elder Klebingat’s talk on Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence.  Point number 4 about repenting is well worth repeating.





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