What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Forgiving Others?

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel feel remorse for something they have done to their brother Nephi. They plead with him to forgive them. Nephi tells us that he “did frankly forgive them all that they had done.” He encourages them to pray to God for forgiveness, which they do (1 Nephi 7:20-21).

Sometime later, after experiencing the power of God at Nephi’s hand, Laman and Lemuel fall down at his feet and are about to worship him. Nephi forbids them to do so, saying, “I am thy brother, yea, even thy younger brother.” He instructs them to worship God and to honor their father and their mother (1 Nephi 17:55).

About 500 years later, the prophet Alma prayed to know what to do when some members of the church broke the commandments and refused to repent. God responded that the church is made up of people who want to follow His voice. If people are willing to repent, they should be received into His church. But if they are unwilling to follow Him and to repent of their sins, they should not be part of His church. He reiterated that He is always willing to forgive those who choose to repent: “As often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me” (Mosiah 26:30).

But then, the Savior added an important addendum:

And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation (Mosiah 26:31).

These words mirror the words of the Savior to the prophet Joseph Smith: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10).

Moroni later reported that the church was welcoming and forgiving to those who sincerely wanted to be a part of it. Speaking of church members who had sinned, Moroni said, “As oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven” (Moroni 6:8).

When the Savior visited the American continent, He told the people that He wanted them to welcome everyone to their church meetings:

Hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do….
Ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me…; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation (3 Nephi 18:25).

During His visit, the Savior shared with the people the Lord’s Prayer, which He had also shared during His mortal ministry in the land of Israel. Included in that prayer is an important principle about forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, 3 Nephi 13:11).

After sharing the prayer, the Savior explained:

If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15, 3 Nephi 13:14-15).

From all of these passages, I have learned the following principles about forgiveness:

  1. God wants us to forgive each other and to be welcoming and inclusive.
  2. It is understood that people will make mistakes and will fall short of perfection. When they repent sincerely, disciples of Christ ought to treat them as He would, forgiving their misconduct, and remembering their sins no more. (See D&C 58:42.)
  3. It’s ideal when forgiveness is instinctive, as it was for Nephi. We can forgive more easily when we are humble and when we have faith in God.
  4. A failure to forgive others will deny us God’s forgiveness, will lead us into temptation, and may ultimately result in our condemnation.

Why must we forgive in order to be forgiven? Because the prerequisite to receiving God’s grace is a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20, 2 Nephi 2:7). An unforgiving heart is a closed heart, a defensive heart, a heart that is unwilling to receive the grace which God wants to bestow upon all of His children.

Today, I will forgive others. I will strive to be inclusive and welcoming. I will remember that my ability to receive God’s blessings, including His forgiveness, is directly linked to my willingness to forgive other people.

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