Repentance: An Unusual Christian Concept?

One LDS person who talks with lots of people about religion told me that he likes to point to our emphasis on repentance as a primary factor distinguishing us from other faiths, and he often brings this up early in conversations on religion. I was initially surprised by his view, but I guess I will admit that in this part of the world, I don’t hear a lot of discussion about repentance coming from ministers of other faiths (and certainly not from members of their congregation), but I miss most of their sermons, to be sure.

But to the extent that repentance from sin is not emphasized in some other faiths, can that be taken as clear evidence of a doctrinal drift from the days of early Christianity? Frankly, I am sometimes amazed at how little the world understands sin and repentance, and wish a little more would be said to motivate people to come unto Christ through faith AND repentance.

Just for the record, I think y’all need to repent, myself included.

Of course, our approach to repentance is informed by the knowledge that humans do have sufficient free will to choose God or reject Him, and that we can choose to repent (with His help – in fact, only through the power of the Atonement) and come unto Christ. Repentance involves some effort on our part – it’s not automatic once the mind acknowledges the divine Sonship of Christ.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

5 thoughts on “Repentance: An Unusual Christian Concept?

  1. We’re talking about this on a thread at Millennial Star.

    It starts out as a “why people leave the church” topic, then around comment #35 changes to a grace-versus-works topic.

    To many in other churches, repentance is a ‘work’, and they say that grace/faith alone saves, not works.

    Another part is the accusation that some in other churches make towards us, “We strive to keep the commandments because we’re saved. You guys strive to keep the commandments in order to be saved.”

    I think that accusation is kind of unfairly judgemental.

    This ties in with your quesiton because repentance involves turning from sin and striving to keep the commandments. In the grace-versus-works debate (which I contest is a false dichotomy) people in other churches seem to use a broad definition of “works” as any effort or action other than a totally internal attitude or mind-set.

    It’s interesting to see the metaphors used. One of my favorites is that Christ throws us the life-preserver with rope attached to pull us up, but we still have to grab onto it.

    I forget which TV preacher it was, but while surfing the channels I came across one guy who said repentance was for those who aren’t saved yet, and those who are already saved don’t have to repent. He must have had some convoluted definitions of salvation and repentance to come up with that one.

  2. Thanks, Bookslinger. Excellent points. There are some convoluted definitions in play out there.

  3. For what it’s worth: I was a Presbyterian before I converted a few years ago, and every worship service had a part where we confessed our sins and asked for forgiveness. It typically went something like “please forgive us for not living up to your example, for what we have done, and what we have left undone, and help us to walk in your path in the future…”

    To me, that encompasses four of the five steps of repentance. It doesn’t specifically mention making amends for sins, but it captures the rest of the idea.

    But, overall, that’s been my experience as a convert- that Presbyterians had about half of the story, they just didn’t get the whole thing…

  4. I really like how C.S. Lewis described Grace and Works:”Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me likt asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.”

    I think any serious worshiper of Christ, whether LDS or not, can see clearly that neither extreme is going to get you into Heaven…In my experience what the restored Gospel gives us, however, is a clearer understanding 1) of repentance as a tool and a gift rather than as punishment. and 2) of what is right, what is wrong, and so what?–so we know what we need to repent of in the first place. There are so many moral lines being crossed, it might to easy to eventually delude ourselves into thinking that repentance is only for crazy axe-murderers.

    Actually on that note..I wanted to ask a question: What do people think about mental illness and repentance? If someone with Bipolar/Schizophrenia/Major Depressive disorder commits a sin, to what extent would grace extend to them? Or should they still be held accountable for their actions?

    Telling that person, they need to “repent” or “pray harder” might end up just exacerbating the symptoms of the illness because they might feel unworthy and condemned. Mental illness in the LDS community and relating to the Gospel really hasn’t been discussed much (at least what I’ve seen) and I was wondering about everyone’s thoughts on the subject.

  5. I think that part of the answer to what Madelene asked is related to our personal capabilities. We’re required to do only what we can do, and some people simply can do more (or, perhaps it is better to say, different things) than others.

    Something I was told before I joined the Church is that it doesn’t really matter where we are in life — what matters is which direction we’re headed in. The more I’ve studied, the more that makes sense.

    Actually, C.S. Lewis wrote about this a bit in “Mere Christianity,” answering the question of why not all Christians are good people. To oversimplify his answer, what matters is that they are better than if they hadn’t known Christ, and it isn’t our position to judge how far along the path someone is to becoming like Christ.

    We all face challenges, and they vary from person to person. For example, for me to live the law of chastity is no big deal. I’m not even tempted to commit adultery. But does that make be better than someone who struggles in this area of life? Not necessarily. I have my own struggles in life, one of them being to get myself organized enough to be a good steward of the financial resources God has given me. I really have to work on this part of my life, while someone who has a problem with the law of chastity may have this part of life all figured out. My lack of struggles (or overcoming of those struggles) doesn’t make me better, just different.

    In my view, the issue with mental illness isn’t much different. We need to do the best we can, whatever that may be, and let the grace of God through his son Jesus Christ take care of the rest.

    Back to the issue of repentance: I grew up in a type of Methodist Church, and I can’t say there was less emphasis on repentance there. Of course, the Methodists aren’t “once saved, always saved” people, and they traditionally have placed an emphasis on sanctification (becoming holy, or like Christ). There’s a reason, I believe, Joseph Smith once said he was partial to Methodism.

    From what I’ve seen in Protestant Christianity in recent years, there isn’t a lot of talk on repentance using that word. But many of them do talk about doing what is right, following the example of Jesus and turning away from what is wrong. So I think the message about repentance is there, but not expressed the same way we do.

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