No one but Jesus Christ has ever lived a sinless life on earth. However, the Bible makes it very clear we must keep the commandments in order to return to God’s presence. Because He is fair and loving, and wants us to return, He has created a way for us to return to God’s presence without being perfect. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who came voluntarily, to atone for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and then to die for us. Through grace, given to us as part of the atonement, all people can be resurrected and live forever, and have the ability to repent and to be forgiven for their sins. Through the atonement, people can also become worthy of a place in God’s kingdom by keeping the commandments for the right reason-their deep love for God.
Repentance is a critical part of God’s plan. He, like any good parent, expects His children to do their part in fulfilling their responsibilities on earth. While Jesus’ atonement made complete forgiveness possible, we must take responsibility for our actions and repent for the mistakes we made. This is true in life, and in eternity. Responsible people take responsibility for their actions.
Repentance is an ongoing process. Although someone who is joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes known as Mormons) goes through a repentance process and is baptized to receive forgiveness of his sins, he is not going to be perfect from that moment on. Nor is he then given a free pass to go ahead and sin. Mormons are expected to do the best they can to live a good life, but God understands we aren’t perfect. When mistakes happen, repentance is the way God provided for us to resolve them.
The person who has sinned must first recognize his sin and have true sorrow for them. This process must be sincere and difficult, involving the heart and the mind, both. Going through the motions does not satisfy the demands of justice.
Next, the person must make retribution as far as possible. He needs to ask forgiveness of those he’s hurt and try to fix whatever damage he has caused. This might include returning a stolen item, paying for something damaged, making a special effort to be kind to a child after a parent has lost his temper, or paying the fine without complaint after breaking a traffic law. If he can’t undo the damage, he must find another way to repay the person he’s hurt.
Once the person has made things right with his fellow man, he must make things right with God. He must ask God’s forgiveness and take whatever steps are needed to get his spiritual life back in order-perhaps realizing he needs to spend more time in prayer or scripture study, or more time in serving others.
Finally he must do, as the Savior told the woman who was about to be stoned for sin, go forth and sin no more. He must forsake that particular sin forever. This is the true test of whether or not the person really was repentant. If he can easily return to the sin, his sorrow and his love for God were not yet enough to help him overcome his mortal weaknesses. He will continue to work to develop self-control and to improve his relationship with God and then start the process again, as many times as it takes to completely forsake the sin.
In this way, we work step by step toward becoming more like our Father in Heaven. We were created in His image, and every day we work to become more like Him.