Elder Dale G. Renlund was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 2015. Before his call to the Twelve he served as an Area Seventy since April 2009. Professionally, he was a cardiologist.
Such joy is one of the inherent results of repentance. The word repent connotes “to perceive afterwards” and implies “change.” In Swedish, the word is omvänd, which simply means “to turn around.” The Christian writer C. S. Lewis wrote about the need and the method for change. He noted that repentance involves “being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right,” he said, “but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.” Changing our behavior and returning to the “right road” are part of repentance, but only part. Real repentance also includes a turning of our heart and will to God and a renunciation of sin. As explained in Ezekiel, to repent is to “turn from … sin, … do that which is lawful and right; … restore the pledge, … [and] walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity.”
Yet even this is an incomplete description. It does not properly identify the power that makes repentance possible, the atoning sacrifice of our Savior. Real repentance must involve faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith that He can change us, faith that He can forgive us, and faith that He will help us avoid more mistakes. This kind of faith makes His Atonement effective in our lives. When we “perceive afterwards” and “turn around” with the Savior’s help, we can feel hope in His promises and the joy of forgiveness.
Without the Redeemer, the inherent hope and joy evaporate, and repentance becomes simply miserable behavior modification. But by exercising faith in Him, we become converted to His ability and willingness to forgive sin.
President Packer said: “The Atonement leaves no tracks, no traces. What it fixes is fixed. … It just heals, and what it heals stays healed.”
“The Atonement, which can reclaim each one of us, bears no scars. That means that no matter what we have done or where we have been or how something happened, if we truly repent, [the Savior] has promised that He would atone. And when He atoned, that settled that. …
“… The Atonement … can wash clean every stain no matter how difficult or how long or how many times repeated.”
The reach of the Savior’s Atonement is infinite in breadth and depth, for you and for me. But it will never be imposed on us. As the prophet Lehi explained, after we “are instructed sufficiently” to “know good from evil,” we “are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death.” In other words, repentance is a choice.
We can—and sometimes do—make different choices. Such choices may not seem intrinsically wrong, but they prevent us from becoming truly penitent and thus preclude our pursuit of real repentance. For instance, we may choose to blame others.
Another choice that impedes repentance is minimizing our mistakes.
But minimizing our mistakes, even if no immediate consequences are apparent, removes the motivation to change. This thinking prevents us from seeing that our mistakes and sins have eternal consequences.
Yet another way is to think that our sins do not matter because God loves us no matter what we do. It is tempting to believe what the deceitful Nehor taught the people of Zarahemla: “That all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, … and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.” But this seductive idea is false. God does love us. However, what we do matters to Him and to us. He has given clear directives about how we should behave. We call these commandments. His approbation and our eternal life depend on our behavior, including our willingness to humbly seek real repentance.
Additionally, we forgo real repentance when we choose to separate God from His commandments.
We should be wary of discounting sinful behavior by undermining or dismissing God’s authorship of His commandments. Real repentance requires recognizing the Savior’s divinity and the truthfulness of His latter-day work.
Instead of making excuses, let us choose repentance. Through repentance, we can come to ourselves, like the prodigal in the parable, and reflect on the eternal import of our actions. When we understand how our sins can affect our eternal happiness, we not only become truly penitent but we also strive to become better.
The fact that we can repent is the good news of the gospel! Guilt can be “swept away.” We can be filled with joy, receive a remission of our sins, and have “peace of conscience.” We can be freed from feelings of despair and the bondage of sin. We can be filled with the marvelous light of God and be “pained no more.” Repentance is not only possible but also joyful because of our Savior. I still remember the feelings that washed over me in the branch president’s office after the firecracker episode. I knew I had been forgiven. My feelings of guilt vanished, my gloomy mood lifted, and my heart felt light.
Brothers and sisters, as we conclude this conference, I invite you to feel more joy in your life: joy in the knowledge that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real; joy in the Savior’s ability, willingness, and desire to forgive; and joy in choosing to repent. Let us follow the instruction to “with joy … draw water out of the wells of salvation.” May we choose to repent, forsake our sins, and turn our hearts and wills around to follow our Savior. I testify of His living reality. I am a witness and repeated recipient of His incomparable compassion, mercy, and love. I pray that the redeeming blessings of His Atonement may be yours now—and again and again and again throughout your lives, as they have been in mine. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
My dear brothers and sisters, while living in Africa, I sought advice from Elder Wilford W. Andersen of the Seventy about helping Saints who live in poverty. Among the remarkable insights he shared with me was this: “The greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement.”
The concept—“the greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement”—also has profound spiritual applications. Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are the ultimate Givers. The more we distance ourselves from Them, the more entitled we feel. We begin to think that we deserve grace and are owed blessings. We are more prone to look around, identify inequities, and feel aggrieved—even offended—by the unfairness we perceive. While the unfairness can range from trivial to gut-wrenching, when we are distant from God, even small inequities loom large. We feel that God has an obligation to fix things—and fix them right now!
Because they were distant from the Savior, Laman and Lemuel murmured, became contentious, and were faithless. They felt that life was unfair and that they were entitled to God’s grace. In contrast, because he had drawn close to God, Nephi must have recognized that life would be the most unfair for Jesus Christ. Though absolutely innocent, the Savior would suffer the most.
The closer we are to Jesus Christ in the thoughts and intents of our hearts, the more we appreciate His innocent suffering, the more grateful we are for grace and forgiveness, and the more we want to repent and become like Him. Our absolute distance from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is important, but the direction we are heading is even more crucial. God is more pleased with repentant sinners who are trying to draw closer to Him than with self-righteous, faultfinding individuals who, like the Pharisees and scribes of old, do not realize how badly they need to repent.
When we figuratively transport ourselves to the Bethlehem stable, “where God in the nighttime hours already rests upon the straw,” we can recognize better the Savior as a gift from a kind, loving Heavenly Father. Rather than feeling entitled to His blessings and grace, we develop an intense desire to stop causing God further grief.
To draw closer to the Savior, we must increase our faith in Him, make and keep covenants, and have the Holy Ghost with us. We must also act in faith, responding to the spiritual direction we receive. All of these elements come together in the sacrament. Indeed, the best way I know of to draw closer to God is to prepare conscientiously and partake worthily of the sacrament each week.
Jesus did not say “if rain descends, if floods come, and if winds blow” but “when.” No one is immune from life’s challenges; we all need the safety that comes from partaking of the sacrament.
The sacrament truly helps us know our Savior. It also reminds us of His innocent suffering. If life were truly fair, you and I would never be resurrected; you and I would never be able to stand clean before God. In this respect, I am grateful that life is not fair.
At the same time, I can emphatically state that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, ultimately, in the eternal scheme of things, there will be no unfairness. “All that is unfair about life can be made right.” Our present circumstances may not change, but through God’s compassion, kindness, and love, we will all receive more than we deserve, more than we can ever earn, and more than we can ever hope for. We are promised that “God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
As you do [partaking of the sacrament], I promise that you will feel nearer to God. Natural tendencies to childish whining, disgruntled entitlement, and derisive skepticism will dissipate. Those sentiments will be replaced by feelings of greater love and gratitude for Heavenly Father’s gift of His Son. As we draw closer to God, the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ will come into our lives. And, as with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we will find that the Savior has been nearby all along. I so witness and testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
To effectively serve others, we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes.
I now realize that in the Church, to effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes. Only then can we begin to comprehend the true worth of a soul. Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them. We cannot completely fulfill our covenant obligation to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort unless we see them through God’s eyes.This expanded perspective will open our hearts to the disappointments, fears, and heartaches of others. But Heavenly Father will aid and comfort us, just as Chad’s parents comforted me years ago. We need to have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that know and feel if we are to accomplish the rescue so frequently encouraged by President Thomas S. Monson.
Only when we see through Heavenly Father’s eyes can we be filled with “the pure love of Christ.” Every day we should plead with God for this love.
Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying
This statement—“a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying”—should reassure and encourage members of the Church. Although we are referred to as “Latter-day Saints,” we sometimes flinch at this reference. The term Saints is commonly used to designate those who have achieved an elevated state of holiness or even perfection. And we know perfectly well that we are not perfect.
Our theology does teach us, though, that we may be perfected by repeatedly and iteratively “relying wholly upon” the doctrine of Christ: exercising faith in Him, repenting, partaking of the sacrament to renew the covenants and blessings of baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost as a constant companion to a greater degree. As we do so, we become more like Christ and are able to endure to the end, with all that that entails. In less formal terms, God cares a lot more about who we are and who we are becoming than about who we once were. He cares that we keep on trying.
In His mercy, God promises forgiveness when we repent and turn from wickedness—so much so that our sins will not even be mentioned to us. For us, because of the Atonement of Christ and our repentance, we can look at our past deeds and say, “’Twas I; but ’tis not I.” No matter how wicked, we can say, “That’s who I was. But that past wicked self is no longer who I am.”
President Thomas S. Monson has taught, “One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final.” Even if we’ve been a conscious, deliberate sinner or have repeatedly faced failure and disappointment, the moment we decide to try again, the Atonement of Christ can help us. And we need to remember that it is not the Holy Ghost that tells us we’re so far gone that we might as well give up.
God’s desire that Latter-day Saints keep on trying also extends beyond overcoming sin. Whether we suffer because of troubled relationships, economic challenges, or illnesses or as a consequence of someone else’s sins, the Savior’s infinite Atonement can heal even—and perhaps especially—those who have innocently suffered. He understands perfectly what it is like to suffer innocently as a consequence of another’s transgression. As prophesied, the Savior will “bind up the brokenhearted, … give … beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, [and] the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” No matter what, with His help, God expects Latter-day Saints to keep on trying.
As God encourages us to keep on trying, He expects us to also allow others the space to do the same, at their own pace. The Atonement will come into our lives in even greater measure. We will then recognize that regardless of perceived differences, all of us are in need of the same infinite Atonement.
My invitation to all of us is to evaluate our lives, repent, and keep on trying. If we don’t try, we’re just latter-day sinners; if we don’t persevere, we’re latter-day quitters; and if we don’t allow others to try, we’re just latter-day hypocrites. As we try, persevere, and help others to do the same, we are true Latter-day Saints. As we change, we will find that God indeed cares a lot more about who we are and about who we are becoming than about who we once were.
Preserving the Heart's Mighty Change
Through the Atonement of Christ and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, we undergo this ultimate operation, this spiritual change of heart. As a result of our transgressions, our spiritual hearts have become diseased and hardened, making us subject to spiritual death and separation from our Heavenly Father. The Lord explained the operation that we all need: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”
Just as with heart transplant patients, however, this mighty change of our spiritual hearts is just the beginning. Repentance, baptism, and confirmation are necessary but not sufficient. Indeed, equal, if not greater, care must be taken with a spiritually changed heart than with a physically transplanted heart if we are to endure to the end. Only by doing so can we be held guiltless at the time of judgment.
Enduring to the end can be challenging because the tendency of the natural man is to reject the spiritually changed heart and allow it to harden. No wonder the Lord cautioned to “even let those who are sanctified take heed.”
We all know of individuals who had this mighty change of heart but subsequently yielded to the natural man. They became casual in their worship and devotion to God, their hearts became hardened, and they thereby jeopardized their eternal salvation.
Their zeal towards God likely reflects an eagerness to please God and worship Him with fervor and passion. Their zeal towards men suggests an ardent interest in helping and serving others. Being perfectly upright and honest in all things suggests that they held their covenants firmly and did not rationalize their commitments to God or man. We further know that they taught their children the gospel in their homes. We know that they buried their weapons of war, distancing themselves from temptations.
They must have frequently assessed the condition of their spiritually changed hearts. They did not simply assume that all was well. By figuratively examining their changed hearts, they could identify any early hardening or rejection and treat it.
We must identify temptations that easily beset us and put them out of reach—way out of reach. Finally, we need to frequently biopsy our mightily changed hearts and reverse any signs of early rejection.
Please consider the state of your changed heart. Do you detect any rejection setting in as a result of the tendency of the natural man to become casual? If so, find a place where you too can kneel. Remember, more than mortal years on this earth are at stake. Do not risk forfeiting the fruits of the ultimate operation: eternal salvation and exaltation.