Some version of the word “repent” appears 360 times in the Book of Mormon. In comparison, in the King James Version of the Bible, the word appears 46 times in the the Old Testament and 66 times in the New Testament. Clearly, repentance is a major theme in the Book of Mormon.
Nephi opens the book by telling us that there were “many prophets” in Jerusalem, “prophesying unto the people that they must repent” (1 Nephi 1:4).
At the end of the book, the prophet Mormon links the destruction of his people with their unwillingness to repent (Moroni 9:3, 22).
After the natural disasters which coincided with the death of Jesus Christ, the survivors heard His voice, saying;
O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? (3 Nephi 9:13)
I think it’s significant that the Savior delivered this message to the righteous (or at least to the people who were relatively more righteous). Repentance is not just for bad people. It’s also for good people.
I’ve always thought of repentance as a contingency plan when things go wrong. My concept was something like this: As a baby, I was clean and pure. And immediately after baptism, I was clean again. But at some point, I would commit a sin. When that happened, I would no longer be clean. I would need to repent to get back on track. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I could become clean again through repentance, and everything would be fine again, until I committed another sin and needed to repent again.
This view of repentance may be useful, but I think it is incomplete. Do we only need to repent when we commit a sin? A few weeks ago, President Russell M. Nelson asked the question, “Does everyone need to repent?” His answer: “Yes.” Then, he provided the following clarification:
Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Whether you are diligently moving along the covenant path, have slipped or stepped from the covenant path, or can’t even see the path from where you are now, I plead with you to repent. Experience the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day (“We Can Do Better and Be Better,” General Conference, April 2019).
President Nelson pointed out that the Greek word for repent—metanoeó (μετανοέω)—means “to change one’s mind.” Repentance is changing for the better, and we should all be engaged in a process of continuous improvement as disciples of Jesus Christ, because we all want to become more like Him.
So repentance isn’t just what we do when we slip off the path; repentance is also the process of moving forward along the path. Repentance isn’t the exception; it’s the rule. Repentance isn’t just a contingency plan to follow if something goes wrong; it is the plan: a process of continuous improvement, every day becoming more like Jesus Christ with His help.
So it’s not surprising that the Savior would invite a group of relatively righteous people to repent. Of course they needed to repent. We all do.
Today, I will consciously strive to do better and to be better. I will diligently work on improving myself, trusting that the Savior will help me. I will remember that daily repentance is an essential part of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.