Sunday, September 11, 2016

Helaman 13:11-12 -- On Repenting All the Way Through

"But if ye will repent and return unto the Lord your God I will turn away mine anger, saith the Lord; yea, thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me, but wo unto him that repenteth not.
Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla; for behold, it is because of those who are righteous that it is saved; yea, wo unto this great city, for I perceive, saith the Lord, that there are many, yea, even the more part of this great city, that will harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord."
Helaman 13:11-12

When it says "repent and turn unto me," the distinction between those two things is interesting.  I think sometimes we try to separate them, and think of repentance as purely a physical or behavioral change.  We understand the need to stop taking some action... or the need to take a certain action... but we don't see the inherent connection with who we are, and how we feel and think about things.

True repentance goes further than refraining from sin, or taking a positive action that we have been commanded to take.  Not saying that the action itself isn't good, but it isn't enough by itself.  Think, for instance of a kid who has been ordered by his parents to apologize.  He doesn't feel it, doesn't believe in it, but he does it, grudgingly, because he was ordered to and wants to get it over with.  Clearly there is something lacking in that sort of "repentance," right?

It is the same when God asks us to do things.  For example, God tells us that it is better to choose to humble ourselves, rather than being compelled (Alma 31:14), and that we should give to others cheerfully, because we choose to, and not grudgingly (2 Corinthians 9:7).  God talks in this selection about people hardening their hearts against him.  Clearly, our hearts are required, as is a willing mind (D&C 64:34).

Repentance is hard, but sometimes we make it harder with the way we approach it.  We think that all of it is just willpower--the ability to resist giving in to something that we want.  We think it is okay to keep buying the (symbolic) chocolate cake, but just not eat it.  But God asks for more.  He asks us to learn not to want it, or buy it in the first place.  He wants us to stop falling into the same hole, and then digging ourselves another just so we can do it over again.

Changing our hearts and minds is a bigger challenge in some ways, but there is also a lot of hope and a bigger reward in doing it right, because if we change our hearts, and become new people who don't want to sin anymore, then we are stronger.  It isn't about only willpower at that point, but about growing beyond that limitation, and finding out who we are when we are free of it.

At the end of our lives, our accumulated stuff isn't going to matter.  But the knowledge and relationships we've built will matter, and what will matter most of all is who we have become.  God's admonition to repent and turn unto him in order to avoid destruction isn't just to Zarahemla, or even just to society in general.  It is to each of us.  As we repent *and* turn to God, we become our own self-building trophy and reward for a successful life.  Working with God, we become the people we've always wanted to be.  The people we never knew we could be... but God knows, and he helps us get there.

Today, let's soften our hearts and reach beyond behavioral changes.  Let's turn to the Lord, and be willing to repent all the way down to the core of who we are.

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