May 28, 2017

The Blessings of Continual Repentance


A talk I gave today in church.

500 years ago this fall, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the Catholic parish in Wittenberg, Germany. This act ignited the country of Germany and eventually the world, leading to what we now call the reformation. Luther's first of ninety-five theses reads: "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, he called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." This first of many points that Luther made was to show that repentance should be a lifelong pursuit, not a single momentary fleeting thought of becoming clean before God. The Catholic Church was known for death bed repentance, penance tied to simple prayers, and indulgences. Repentance to a priest, or Bishop, often is an important part of our process of becoming one with God. Yet, if we see repentance as a simple checklist of things to do, and more importantly, something we do infrequently and irregularly, we miss the true purpose behind the gift and blessing of continual repentance.

Why Continual Repentance?

To better understand the reason we need continual repentance, let us first examine why we even need to repent. The obvious answer is because God has asked us to. But why? Why does God need our repentance? What does it do for us? According to the scriptures, no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. This means that each time we sin, we spiritual cut ourselves off from God. This is, at least in part, why the Lord commanded early Israel to make sacrifices of an animal in connection with repentance. It was to teach them that the consequence of sin is death, spiritual death. It also of course was to symbolize the future death of the Lamb of God, who by His death, would allow for repentance to occur. As part of the process, the Israelite would bring their animal to the priest before the altar, and the offeror, not the priest, would kill the animal by slitting the throat. This was meant to be a vivid teaching moment to the offeror, that they were the one responsible for the death of the animal because of their sin. Likewise, we in all reality are just as responsible for the death of the Savior because of our sins.

With death being the consequence of sin, we must have a way to make amends, or to once again gain the favor of God. This is where repentance comes in to play. As we repent, we show our willingness to accept the will of God, and to allow for the atonement of Christ to be efficacious in our lives. As we repent, we learn, little by little, to align our wills with God. As we do so, we begin to become more like our Father in Heaven. This is where continual repentance becomes important. Infrequent or once in-a-lifetime repentance does not help with the process of allowing God to shape our lives. We do not learn to make daily, minor alterations, but instead are required to make major, often difficult changes.

Imagine, for example, trying to drive across the country while only making a few adjustments to the steering wheel. A road trip of this magnitude requires constant checking, corrections, and verification of the paths you have taken. If you make a mistake, you correct it early, which allows for the least amount of time required to make it to your ultimate destination. When thinking of a trip like this, we don't think even twice about making course corrections, and would laugh at the very thought that we should be able to just set the steering wheel once and make it all the way. Yet, on our eternal road trip back home, we seem to suggest that anyone who needs to make course corrections is just weak, or not a true saint. It seems we want to show our spirituality by not needing to repent. Without the constant course corrections, we make it harder and harder to become at one with God. Without these changes, repentance only becomes an act of cleansing, but not an act of seeking to actually change our lives.

These constant opportunities to repent are in reality, one of the greatest blessings the Lord has given us. It shows us that not only does He trust us immensely, but wants us to be able to make constant corrections until we get it right. It is as if we have a final exam that we can take as many times as it takes until we pass. How many of us would complain to a teacher that allowed for this? Yet, we often see repentance as more a form of punishment then a form of learning. How grateful I am to the Lord for allowing me to daily repent, and course correct.

The Sacrament and our Continual Repentance

So if continual repentance is actually a great blessing, then how can we better utilize it and develop it in our lives? Well, the easy answer is just to repent. This, however, is easier said than done. As humans we are quick to forget the Lord in our daily walk. We are commanded to remember the Savior, but how many of us actually remember Him always? Well, the simple answer is none of us. We all have fallen short. Once again, our Father, knowing the best way to help us return to His home, provided the incredible ordinance of the Sacrament for this exact reason.

In my opinion, there is no other ordinance that has so much beauty, symbolism, and power as the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Of all the ordinances of the gospel, it is the only one that is performed on a weekly basis, and performed on behalf of an individual more than once in their life. We are only given a baby blessing once, we are only baptized once, we are only endowed and sealed once in the temple. We may return often to the temple to perform work for the dead, but once we have received one of these ordinances, we no longer receive them for ourselves again. Yet the ordinance of the Sacrament is performed every week, and is for our benefit each time. It is the only ordinance that we are commanded to observe more than once in our life (see D&C 59:9-12).

Ordinances have been a part of the gospel since the foundation of the earth. They are an essential part of the process that must be completed in order to become one with Christ. Ordinances are a representation of an inner-change that must occur within ourselves prior to becoming truly unified with Christ. They are a sign or witness of the eventual destination that we each must have. Ordinances, such as baptism, in and of themselves, are not enough to bring us to exaltation, they are only a symbol of what we are to become. When we truly have faith in Christ, repent of our sins, and have been baptized of water and of the spirit, then we are truly born again as Christ commanded us to become.

The simple act of partaking of the Sacrament, in and of itself, will do nothing for us. The actual saving power comes when the change represented by the Sacrament, actually takes place in our lives.

As asked by Elder Orson F. Whitney: “Is there any sacred efficacy in the bread or water, taken alone? No; there is not water enough in the ocean nor bread enough in all the bakeries of the world, to constitute the Lord’s Supper. What, then, makes it effective as a Sacrament? It is the blessing pronounced upon it by the Priesthood and the symbolism whereby those elements are made to represent something greater than themselves, namely, the body and blood of the Savior. What is done then becomes a holy ordinance, full of force and effect” [1]

As I mentioned earlier, the symbolism behind ordinances are to represent the true inner-change that is to take place within our hearts. For example, at baptism we are lowered into the water and out again by one representing the Savior. This is to symbolize that it is in the Lord in whom we are to place our trust, and that it is His power that lowers us and lifts us out of the waters of baptism. It is Jesus Christ alone that lifts us out of sin unto a new life.

The act of partaking of the Sacrament likewise has powerful symbolism that is to represent the inner-change in our lives. What is this inner change? Jesus, after feeding the five thousand, taught us of this important key to understanding the symbolism of the Sacrament. In the Gospel of John it reads: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.” (John 6:53-57).

What is the partaking of the Sacrament to represent if we truly want the blessings of eternal life? We must partake of the atonement of Christ and make it part of us, just as the bread and water nurtures us and provides strength, so too the atonement must become part of us and give us strength. When the atonement becomes part of us, just as literal as the bread and water becomes part of our very being, then too, the Sacrament has fulfillment, and we are sanctified and purified through the Pascal Lamb, the Lamb of God.

So how does the Sacrament relate to our continual repentance? The Sacrament gives us a way to remind ourselves on a weekly basis of the spiritual feasting upon the atonement of Christ that we must do to be forgiven. The weekly reminder helps us make constant course adjustments as we navigate through life. It helps us to see the need of repentance on at least a weekly basis as we prepare to be fed by the Lord. These constant course corrections help us become more like Jesus, not just become clean, which is why we were sent to this earth. If becoming clean was our only purpose, then the once in-a-life repentance would suffice. But God wants us to become like Him, to have His joy, and to experience the blessings He has. This requires more then just becoming clean.

Conclusion

My hope is that we can see in repentance, as Martin Luther wrote 500 years ago, the need for continually repentance and change. My hope is that we can view repentance as a means of learning, not a punishment. A way that our Father shows His love and trust in us. How grateful I am to the Savior for going through what He did, so that I can repent on a continual basis. To make course corrections that will lead me back to Their presence to live with Them again.


[1] Orson F. Whitney, as quoted in The Sacrament, by Truman G. Madsen, pg. 23 (2008)

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