Turn Ye, Turn Ye Unto the Lord Your God

Elder David A. Bednar

Ricks College Devotional

January 9, 2001


Brothers and sisters, welcome to a new semester and a new year at Ricks College. This is an exciting time of transition and change, both for you as an individual and for this great institution. Sister Bednar and I urge you to take full advantage of the spiritual and intellectual opportunities you will have to learn, to grow, and to develop. 

In the first devotional of the fall semester last year, I talked with you about the principle of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Today I will discuss the companion principle to faith in the Savior—the principle of repentance. I believe, brothers and sisters, this fundamental principle of repentance is one about which we talk frequently and little understand.

The Savior’s atonement simultaneously provides both a redeeming power that helps us to overcome sin and a strengthening power that helps us to become better disciples than we ever could be relying only upon our own strength. Thus, the infinite and intimate atonement is for sinners and for saints. The redeeming aspect of the atonement and the related principle of repentance are the primary topics of my message. I pray for and invite the Holy Ghost to be with me and with you this afternoon as together we learn about these eternal and essential truths. 

What is repentance? 

Let us begin by simply asking the question, “What is repentance?” Elder Neal A. Maxwell describes repentance as “. . . turning away from evil and turning to God . . .” (Ensign, November 1991, p. 30). And the Bible Dictionary (pp. 760-761) indicates that repentance is “ . . . a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin . . . .” Now please note both the simplicity and the power of the word “turning” in these two statements. Repentance is turning to God. As we learn about and focus our faith in the Redeemer, then we instinctively and naturally turn toward and come unto Him. 

Please turn with me in the Book of Mormon to the seventh chapter of Helaman. In this chapter, Nephi, the son of Helaman, is warning of impending destruction and calling upon the people to repent. We will begin reading in verse 16. 

Yea, how could you have given way to the enticing of him who is seeking to hurl away your bodies down to everlasting misery and endless wo?

O repent ye, repent ye! Why will ye die? Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God. . . . 

In these and numerous other scriptures in the standard works, we find a consistent theme of repentance as the process of turning to God. I can think of few gospel principles that are as positive and encouraging as repentance and the process of turning to God. As we study the scriptures, our understanding of this principle will be increased by mentally inserting the phrase “turn ye unto the Lord” each time we encounter the word repentance.

I now want to highlight two fundamental realities about the principle of repentance: (1) repentance requires the Redeemer, and (2) repentance requires an honest heart and real intent. 

#1 — Repentance requires the Redeemer. 

The principles of faith in the Savior and repentance both flow from the doctrine of the atonement. As President Ezra Taft Benson has explained: 

Repentance is the second fundamental principle of the gospel. The first is that we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Why must faith in the Lord precede true repentance?

To answer this question, we must understand something about the atoning sacrifice of the Master. Lehi taught that “. . . no flesh . . . can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah . . .” (2 Nephi 2:8). Even the most just and upright man cannot save himself solely on his own merits, for, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “. . . all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

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. 

Therefore, repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. Many men and women in the world demonstrate great will-power and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh. Yet at the same time they give no thought to the Master, sometimes even openly rejecting Him. Such changes of behavior, even if in a positive direction, do not constitute true repentance.

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which sincere and meaningful repentance must be built. If we truly seek to put away sin, we must first look to Him who is the Author of our salvation (“A Mighty Change of Heart,” pp. 2-3 in Repentance, Deseret Book, 1990). 

To emphasize for us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the important relationship between the atonement and repentance, I want to alter slightly the statement of President Benson.

Repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. Many men and women in the . . . [Church ] . . . demonstrate great will-power and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh. Yet at the same time they give no thought to the Master . . . . Such changes of behavior, even if in a positive direction, do not constitute true repentance.

Recognizing and forsaking sin, feeling remorse and making restitution for sin, and confessing sins to God and, when needed, to our priesthood leaders, are all necessary and important elements in the repentance process. However, these essential steps do not constitute a mere behavioral checklist we can mechanically, quickly, and casually complete. If we do these things and fail to recognize and depend upon the Redeemer and His atoning sacrifice, then even our best efforts are in vain. Remorse motivated only by personal embarrassment or social pressure is superficial. Confession without contrition is shallow. Restitution without a personal renewal and a true change of heart is hollow. Turning away from evil without turning to Christ does not bring spiritual healing. I must admit that I have sometimes wondered if we as members of the Church memorize the Rs of repentance, such as recognition, remorse, and restitution, and omit the most important R of all—the Redeemer.

One evening while I was serving as a stake president, I received a telephone call from an angry member of the Church who had just finished talking with his bishop. This brother attended church sporadically and had not paid his tithing in many years. Earlier the same evening this man had walked into the bishop’s office, rather matter-of-factly written out a check for his tithing, and then indicated that he wanted to obtain a temple recommend. One of this man’s children was to be married in the temple soon, and he wanted to attend the wedding. As the bishop and the man had counseled together, it was clear the man believed that simply paying the money was all that was necessary to obtain a temple recommend. This wise bishop had commended this brother for starting to pay his tithing; the bishop also told the man that they would talk about worthiness to worship in the temple when the man understood and had repented for the sin of disobedience. The man was not pleased with this counsel from the bishop. The man had said to his bishop, “I wrote out the check. What more do you want?” The bishop responded, “My dear brother, writing a check is not repentance. You must recognize and repent of your sin and change your heart. The Lord requires your heart.” Following his conversation with the bishop, the man called me to complain about the treatment he had received from the bishop. The man was even less pleased with my response. I told him, “Your bishop has counseled you correctly. I advise you to heed his counsel and truly repent.”

The Savior is often referred to as the Great Physician, and this title has major symbolic significance. Brothers and sisters, all of us have experienced the pain associated with a physical injury or wound. When we are in pain, we typically seek relief and are grateful for the medication and treatments that help to alleviate our suffering. Now please consider sin as a spiritual wound that causes guilt or, as described by Alma to his son Corianton, “remorse of conscience” (Alma 42:18). Pain is to our body what guilt is to our spirit—a warning of danger and a protection from additional damage. From the atonement of the Savior flows the soothing salve that can heal our spiritual wounds and remove guilt. However, this salve can only be applied through the principles of faith in the Lord and repentance. The results of sincere repentance are peace, comfort, and spiritual healing and renewing.

It is important to remember that the extent and intensity of our repentance must match the nature and severity of our sins. Serious spiritual wounds take both time and assistance to heal completely and fully. And the healing process itself can be painful. As President Spencer W. Kimball has taught:

To every forgiveness there is a condition. The plaster must be as wide as the sore. The fasting, the prayers, the humility must be equal to or greater than the sin. There must be a broken heart and a contrite spirit. There must be “sackcloth and ashes.” There must be tears and genuine change of heart. There must be conviction of the sin, abandonment of the evil, confession of the error to properly constituted authorities of the Lord. There must be restitution and a confirmed, determined change of pace, direction, and destination. Conditions must be controlled and companionship corrected or changed. There must be a washing of robes to get them white and there must be a new consecration and devotion to the living of all of the laws of God. In short, there must be an overcoming of self, of sin, and of the world (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 84). 

Brothers and sisters, how grateful we should be as we read and ponder the scriptural promises that Christ

. . . shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings; and all those who shall believe on his name shall be saved in the kingdom of God . . . (2 Nephi 25:13; 26:9; Malachi 4:2; emphasis added). 

And this healing power is real and available to each of us. Please know and understand that it is available to you! 

I now want to emphasize one final point about repentance requiring the Redeemer. We all understand that certain physical injuries or illnesses require the specialized care of a qualified health professional. None of us here today would be foolish enough to undertake open-heart surgery on ourselves, and you and I would certainly not write our own prescriptions for potent medication. For such surgical procedures and prescriptions, you and I need help. In like manner, serious spiritual wounds can only be healed with the assistance of a properly authorized servant of the Lord. A bishop is a commissioned representative of the Redeemer and a spiritual physician who can assist in the repentance and healing processes. By virtue of his calling and ordination and the priesthood keys he received at the time of his setting apart, a bishop, as a common judge, can help diagnose spiritual illness and prescribe the necessary treatment and medication.

Some people falsely believe they can heal themselves from deep spiritual wounds, or that their serious sins can be kept between themselves and God. And some people mistakenly postpone their repentance because they do not feel comfortable with or like the bishop to whom they have been assigned. It is true that some bishops may seem easier to talk with than others. Some bishops may appear to be more friendly and fun. But, brothers and sisters, the personality or the popularity or the leadership style of a bishop does not really matter. What does matter is a bishop’s priesthood keys and the authorization to receive revelation to assist those individuals within his ward who need spiritual help. We do not shop around for or pick or choose a bishop who agrees with us or pleases us as we might select an ordinary consumer product; rather, we sustain and accept the authority of the bishop who presides over the ward in which we live and wherein our church membership record is retained. Only he is authorized to represent the Redeemer in matters of spiritual illness and healing.

Repentance is possible because of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Simply changing our behavior without relying upon Christ is not repentance. Repentance is a principle that helps us know “what” we must do as disciples of the Master. The atonement is the doctrine that helps us understand “why” we must have faith in the Savior and repent of our sins. And this doctrine and these principles bring hope and provide peace for our souls. I testify of the reality and of the power of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice and of the blessings His offering makes available to us. 

#2 — Repentance requires an honest heart and real intent. 

In the scriptures we find a powerful relationship among three important words: repent, intent, and heart. Let us review together three verses from the Book of Mormon that highlight this important relationship, and please note how both intent and heart are linked to the repentance process. 

First, please turn with me to 2 Nephi 31:13. 

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost . . . (emphasis added).

The second scripture we want to examine is found in Mosiah chapter 4, verse 10.

> And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them (emphasis added).

And finally, please turn with me to Moroni chapter 6, verse 8.

But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven (emphasis added).

These verses clearly teach the importance of real intent and a sincere and an honest heart in the process of true repentance.

As we repent and turn to the Lord, it is important that we are honest with ourselves. You and I must work to overcome the excuse making, the blaming, and the rationalizing that can divert us from the goal of turning unto the Lord. As President Kimball has plainly taught: 

No one can ever be forgiven of any transgression until there is repentance, and one has not repented until he has bared his soul and admitted his intentions and weaknesses without excuses or rationalizations. When one admits that his sin is as big as it really is, then he is ready to begin his repentance; and any other elements of repentance are of reduced value, until the conviction is established totally. Then repentance may mature and forgiveness eventually come (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 81).

And, brothers and sisters, as we repent and turn to the Lord, we must have real intent and be honest with Him whose forgiveness we seek. That is, ours must be a full and complete and genuine confession to God, as well as to our bishop. While our Heavenly Father obviously knows of our sinful actions, it is vital that we discuss our feelings extensively with Him. Some people who lack understanding about the nature of repentance believe they can commit sin in a calculated and planned way, expecting that at the right time they can quickly and conveniently confess to the bishop and then continue along the strait and narrow path to the temple, to the mission field, and to other destinations. My dear young brothers and sisters, I raise a voice of warning and plead with you with all of the energy of my soul—please do not be influenced or seduced by such false thinking. Premeditated and planned prodigality (see Luke 15:11-32) brings an anguish of soul you cannot imagine. How can you or I repent and seek forgiveness with real intent when in fact our real intent was to sin? How can we turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart when our repentance is casual or superficial or timed to avoid public embarrassment? Such scheming and dishonesty mock the atonement of Christ and constitute, in part, what is referred to in the scriptures as “. . . trampling under their feet the Holy One . . .” (Alma 5:53; Helaman 12:2). Forgiveness from such sin is possible, but it is not obtained easily.

In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck wrestles with issues of conscience and who he really is. The following statement from Huckleberry teaches all of us an important lesson about real intent and being honest with ourselves and with the Lord, even though in the story Huck himself has not yet truly learned the lesson. 

And I about made up my mind to pray and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It weren’t no use to try and hide it from Him . . . . I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I weren’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, . . . but deep down in me, I knowed it was a lie—and He knowed it. YOU CAN’T PRAY A LIE—I found that out (Penguin Books Ltd., 1985, p. 234). 

May I repeat once again these two fundamental realities about repentance: (1) repentance requires the Redeemer, and (2) repentance requires an honest heart and real intent. 

During my service as a bishop and as a stake president, I worked with a number of young men and women who came to more fully appreciate and understand the atonement of Jesus Christ and the principle of repentance. I recall one young man who had to repent and overcome some individual and personal weaknesses before he could worthily enter the temple to make sacred covenants and become a full-time missionary. We counseled together on a number of occasions over a period of many months. The anticipated dates for receiving his mission call and departing for the MTC came and went. This young man had to face the awkwardness of people asking him why he had not yet received his call and left for his mission. In one of our conversations this young man asked me why he had to wait so long? “Would it not be better,” he asked, “to overcome my personal weaknesses in the mission field and in the service of the Lord?” I responded: “Service as a missionary is about teaching the restored gospel, bearing testimony, and inviting investigators to receive the ordinances of salvation. You must have the companionship of the Holy Ghost to accomplish that work. You certainly should not expect to be perfect before you can serve. But you must overcome your particular, personal challenge if you are to be worthy of His spirit. If you truly repent with real intent and a sincere heart, then as you make sacred covenants in the temple, as you enter the MTC, and as you serve in the mission field, you will not have to wonder if you belong there! If you do not now learn how to repent properly, how can you possibly help your future investigators to repent? Your repentance and the resulting forgiveness will bring a peace of mind that will enable you to serve with great faith and diligence and inspiration. You deserve the spiritual assurance and confidence that come from true repentance. You will not have to wonder if you belong there!” 

Eventually this young man worthily did enter the House of the Lord. He did enter the MTC, and he served as a valiant missionary. After he had been in his assigned field of labor for about six months, he asked his mission president for permission to call me on the telephone. The mission president permitted the call, and late one evening this elder and I had a wonderful conversation. He joyfully told me about his investigators and his experiences in the mission field. He expressed his appreciation for the atonement, and for the principle of repentance, and for the personal lessons he had learned. As we concluded our conversation, he said, “President, I am glad I had to wait. I have never once wondered if I belong here. Thank you for your help.” 

And what this young man did, you can do. I want to emphasize that point in particular to those of you listening today who perhaps have concluded that you cannot or will not repent and turn unto the Lord. What this young man did, you can do! 

Brothers and sisters, there is great power in personal purity. Please remember that preparing to avoid and preventing serious sin is always better than repeatedly repenting and repairing our lives. Certainly we can be made clean; but as we recover from spiritual wounds, we, nonetheless, lose precious time that could have been devoted to being and doing good. And though forgiveness indeed comes, the inescapable consequences of our sins are not erased by repentance and can last a long time, even a lifetime. Thankfully, a loving Savior has provided a way for us to heal from spiritual wounds and illness by turning to and coming unto Him.

I conclude with a statement by President Ezra Taft Benson.

In the usual sense of the term, Church membership means that a person has his or her name officially recorded on the membership records of the Church. By that definition, we have . . . million[s] [of] members of the Church. 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” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:67). To Him whose Church this is, membership involves far more than simply being a member of record (“A Mighty Change of Heart,” p. 1 in Repentance, Deseret Book, 1990). 

My prayer, brothers and sisters, is that you and I will not simply be members of record in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. May we repent with sincerity of heart and truly turn unto the Lord and come unto Him. I testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and a living Savior. His atoning sacrifice indeed redeems us from sin and strengthens us to do and be good. He is real, He lives, and He loves each one of us. I so witness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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