Repentance is a fundamental part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because we know that we can be forgiven for the wrongs we have committed, we choose to repent as a demonstration of our faith in Him. As President Russell M. Nelson has taught recently, everyone needs to repent every day:
Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance….
Experience the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day….
Daily repentance is the pathway to purity, and purity brings power (“We Can Do Better and Be Better,” General Conference, April 2019).
But how can we know when we have been forgiven? The Book of Mormon tells multiple stories in which people received forgiveness of their sins. How could they tell that God had forgiven them?
- Enos heard the voice of God, assuring him that his sins were forgiven. Because he trusted God, he felt no guilt after receiving that message. (See Enos 1:5-6.)
- The people of King Benjamin received the Spirit of God. They were filled with joy and had “peace of conscience” (Mosiah 4:3).
- Alma the Younger saw light and was filled with joy. He could no longer remember the pain he had felt (Alma 36:19-20).
President Spencer W. Kimball taught that, even if an ecclesiastical leader like a bishop or stake president approves a person to participate fully in the church, that person “must also seek and secure from the God of heaven a final repentance” receiving confirmation directly from God that he or she has been forgiven (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 101, quoted in “Cleansed by Repentance,” President Dallin H. Oaks, General Conference, April 2019).
President Henry B. Eyring acknowledged that it can be difficult to know whether we have been forgiven. We read stories in the scriptures in which forgiveness seems to be received instantly, yet for many of us, it is a more gradual process:
“How do you know?” That was whispered to me by a woman after a stake conference, with tears running down her cheeks, when she said: “I’ve tried so long. I’ve done everything I know how. Why don’t I feel the peace of forgiveness? I want to feel forgiven. I want to feel clean again. I want to feel I can stay that way. How do I know?” It was asked in a letter that came to my desk recently. It was asked the other night on the phone in what began as a call about business. And with tears in his voice, a young man asked, “Well, how will I know? How do you know?” (“Come Unto Christ,” Brigham Young University Devotional Address, 29 October 1989).
President Eyring shared a story of a young man who desperately wanted to know if he had been forgiven for a sin he had committed in the past. The answer to his question was a function of his behavior over time: participating fully in church meetings, serving others wholeheartedly, humbly accepting every assignment given him by God. President Eyring concluded that it may be hard for us to know for sure whether we have been forgiven, but the ultimate test is our behavior and attitude over time:
You will have put yourself so often in the Master’s service, bringing the cleansing companionship of the Holy Ghost, that you will be on the front row, early, whenever and wherever the Master calls. It will be gradual enough that you may not notice. You will be humble enough that you may be reluctant to believe it is happening. But those with spiritual discernment who love you will know. And the Savior and our Heavenly Father will know. And that is enough.
Today, I follow President Nelson’s counsel to engage in daily repentance. I will remember that, when I have been forgiven, I can let go of the guilt associated with my sins and mistakes. Even though it may be hard for me to know when God has forgiven me, I will trust that the cleansing power of the Atonement will accompany my humble efforts to do the will of my Father in Heaven.