Some form of the phrase “baptized unto repentance” appears twelve times in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 26:22, Alma 5:62, Alma 6:2, Alma 7:14, Alma 9:27, Alma 48:19, Alma 49:30, Helaman 3:24, Helaman 5:17, 19, 3 Nephi 1:23, 3 Nephi 7:26). John the Baptist also used this phrase to describe the baptisms he performed (Matthew 3:11). What does it mean?
Nephi taught that, when we are baptized, we enter the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:18). The path is narrow, but our journey along it can be more of a zigzag pattern. Every time we stray from the path, we have the opportunity to make a course correction by repenting. As Elder Lynn G. Robbins has taught:
Repentance is God’s ever-accessible gift that allows and enables us to go from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm. Repentance isn’t His backup plan in the event we might fail. Repentance is His plan, knowing that we will. This is the gospel of repentance, and as President Russell M. Nelson has observed, it will be “a lifetime curriculum” (“Until Seventy Times Seven,” General Conference, April 2018).
In the familiar list of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, repentance precedes baptism (Articles of Faith 1:4). And it is true that individuals should repent of their sins in preparation for baptism. In fact, Mormon tells us that baptism follows naturally from repentance (Moroni 8:25). But the phrase “baptized unto repentance” suggests that baptism also leads toward repentance. A person who has chosen to be baptized, who has taken upon themselves the name of Christ and made sacred covenants with God, but who is still imperfect and mortal, has chosen to live a life of repentance. Not a life of making the same mistakes over and over again, but a life of continuous improvement, of constant refinement. The best people I know are really good repenters. They recognize quickly when they’ve done something wrong. They fix the problem. And they change, so that they can avoid making the same mistakes again. They do this proactively and promptly, without waiting for the consequences of their error to appear, so that the problem doesn’t fester. They make constant course corrections in order to stay on the path.
Today I will remember that the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is a life of repentance. I will be grateful that I have been “baptized unto repentance,” that I have made covenants with God which obligate and inspire me to correct my mistakes—to apply the atoning blood of Christ—so that I can grow and progress until I come “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).