The scriptures repeatedly teach that repentance is crucial (Ezekiel 18:30; Luke 13:3; Acts 3:19; 3 Nephi 9:13-14; Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43). I have always tried to repent of my sins but in the last couple years I have realized that my repentance was incomplete. As a result, I have to question if I was really repenting.
When I did something I knew was wrong, I would feel really bad about it. I would express my sorrow to the person I had sinned against and I would express sorrow to God. I didn't want to do that sin, but over and over again I would find myself repeating the same mistakes and sins. Sometimes I excused myself in my sins, thinking I was repenting despite repeating the sin, and other times I felt really frustrated by the fact that again I had become offended or impatient.
As I have walked the path of sanctification, I have come to learn the importance of forsaking my sins (never committing the sin again) when I repent. Repentance involves so much more than repeatedly saying, “I am sorry!” to the Lord. Although I have known that this was part of repentance, I rarely seemed to do so. Now, when I repent, I am very determined to no longer commit the sin.
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. (Proverbs 28:13; emphasis added)
Think about some of your sins for a moment. Perhaps you occasionally become impatient with others. Or maybe you struggle with a temper? Other times perhaps you say a white lie? Or maybe you feel prideful or judgmental at times? If you are repenting, why do you continue committing these sins? Why aren't you forsaking them? I think sometimes we lack faith that we can overcome our sins and other times we consider our sins not that bad and that surely because we become cranky every now and then, God isn't going to keep us out of His presence. Nephi wrote:
And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 28:8)
However, there are several places in the scriptures where it is written that we cannot be saved in our sins. God "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31). Isaiah wrote, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Alma wrote:
O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility. (Alma 42:30)
Paul similarly wrote that when we repent we ought to become dead to sin, meaning we no longer commit the sin. Our old sinful self is crucified and we are freed from the sin, but this can only happen when we forsake the sin. Without forsaking the sin our old self isn't crucified yet and we are still under the bondage of that sin.
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. (Romans 6)
Sometimes forsaking a sin can be immediate. God once told me that there were certain situations in which I became malicious. The moment I saw that in myself, I stopped. I felt freed from that sin. Other times forsaking the sin can take a long time, but repentance demands that we constantly be making progress. I have several things in my heart that I need to change. I am aware of them and I have been working on them for a long time. I have been able to forsake facets of the weaknesses, but I still have aspects of it that just take time. My desire to overcome these things is great. I think about it a lot. I pray and fast about it constantly. I know that over time I will “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24).
Paul wrote, “…our old self was crucified with him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6) As we forsake our sins, we become “a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Not only are we no longer committing those same sins, but we become the type of person who is incapable of doing those things any longer. They no longer are a temptation.
True repentance involves forsaking our sins. In some cases, forsaking our sins will take time, but as long as we are working on it and making progress, we are repentant. In time we become freed from those sins and we become a new person who is incapable of committing those sins. As time goes on, God will reveal new sins and weaknesses to us. These may be outward acts (such as gossiping, lying, or criticizing another) or states of our hearts (such as pride, envy, jealousy, greed, a focus on worldly possessions or appearances, and so on). As we overcome these things (as well as develop the attributes of Christ) we will eventually become pure and holy before God. It is at this point that we can be in the presence of Jesus. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8; see also Hebrews 12:14).