I started my study today with the question, “How can I forgive myself?” I wanted to better understand how to avoid dwelling on mistakes made in the past and long since abandoned, which might hold me back from losing myself in service today.
But I’ve rephrased the question. Here’s why:
The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that, when we discover we have done something wrong, we must seek forgiveness from God. Sin is sin, and we can’t simply wish it away. Alma taught that “the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16). He also warned his son Corianton, “Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins” (Alma 42:30). So “forgiving myself” seems like an ineffective activity. The goal is to receive forgiveness from God.
We often think of faith as preceding repentance, and it does. Why would we put forth the effort to repent if we didn’t believe that God could forgive us? Amulek urged the Zoramites to “begin to exercise [their] faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:17). But faith also follows repentance and enables us to accept the gift we receive from God. Consider Enos’s response to God’s assurance that he was forgiven:
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away (Enos 1:5-6).
Or consider Alma’s experience after being “racked with torment” and “harrowed up by the memory of [his] many sins:”
I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more (Alma 36:12-13, 17-19).
And here is the experience of the people of King Benjamin, after they prayed to receive forgiveness:
The Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come (Mosiah 4:3).
So when I find myself dwelling on past misdeeds, allowing them to “harrow me up” or to distract me from selfless service, I need to exercise more faith in Jesus Christ. I need to remember, as Enos did, that God cannot lie. I need to trust Him when I receive an assurance of forgiveness from Him.
Today, I will “exercise faith unto repentance,” including repentance completed in the past. I will believe the promises God has given to me. I will not allow past misdeeds to discourage me nor to distract me from the work He has given me to do today.