The word aphesis (ἄφεσις) appears 17 times in the Greek New Testament. It literally means “letting go” or “setting at liberty.” When Jesus reads the prophecy from Isaiah 61 that the Messiah would “preach deliverance to the captives, and…set at liberty them that are bruised,” He used the word aphesis twice. (See Luke 4:18 on biblehub.com.)
The word is often used to represent deliverance from sin. In that context, it is sometimes translated as “forgiveness.” But in the King James Version of the Bible, it is most frequently translated as “remission.”
The word “remission” comes from two Latin roots:
- re-, which means “back” (in the sense of “undoing,” putting something back the way it was before)
- missionem, meaning “sending,” “dispatching,” or “setting free”
When God remits our sins, He is sending them back to us instead of holding them against us. He is setting us free again, with the burden of our sins no longer hanging over our heads.
The word “remission” appears 28 times in the Book of Mormon, always in the context of our sins. People in the Book of Mormon “preach” remission of sins (3 Nephi 7:23, Moroni 3:3), “beg for” a remission of their sins (Mosiah 4:20), “look forward” for a remission of their sins (Mosiah 15:11, Alma 7:6, Alma 13:16), “receive” a remission of their sins (Enos 1:2, Mosiah 4:3, 11, Alma 38:8, 3 Nephi 12:2), and “retain” a remission of their sins (Mosiah 4:12, 26, Alma 4:14).
King Benjamin taught his people, who had received a remission of their sins, that they could retain it by remembering God and by giving to those in need (Mosiah 4:12, 26). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland summarized Benjamin’s message in these words:
We obtain a remission of our sins by pleading to God, who compassionately responds, but we retain a remission of our sins by compassionately responding to the poor who plead to us.
(“Are We Not All Beggars?” General Conference, October 2014)
So God frees us from our burdens, and then allows us to stay free as we free others of their burdens.
How is it possible for imperfect people to retain a remission of their sins over time? Elder David A. Bednar reminds us that, when we partake of the sacrament each Sunday, God promises that we can always have His Spirit with us:
And by the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion, we can always retain a remission of our sins.
(“Always Retain a Remission of Your Sins,” General Conference, April 2016)
Today, I will be grateful for the freedom that is possible through the grace of God. I will remember that, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, my sins can all be remitted. I will be grateful that the Savior came to “preach deliverance” to me and to set me free.