Posted by: Ascentury | Monday, 9 June 2008

Forgiveness, repentance, and grace

This week I’d like to share a little bit of my recent impressions on repentance, forgiveness, and application of the Atonement.

Sin is the introduction of a division between us and God. We are all in this state, having long ago acted waywardly, and we are all in need of the Atonement. Jesus Christ reminded us in several places of our mutual need to repent and forgive, as in the parable of the unworthy servant, which ends thus:

Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: ∙Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? ∙And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
–Matthew 18:32-34, KJV

This parable clearly illuminates the divine expectation that in expecting grace, we must extend it. By withholding forgiveness from my sister or my brother, I signal not that I have, but that I would deny them the Atonement if I could. It signals that my desire for “justice” outweighs any claim that they may make for mercy.

Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, or if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, ∙leave thou thy gift before the altar, and go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
–Matthew 5:23-24, IV

There is a proscription apparent on tacit repentance, or that we might try to repent only before the Lord when our brother or sister is also offended. By openly acknowledging our error and our repentance, we invite both their forgiveness and their repentance for withholding it. We invite them to be more Christlike, as well as progressing towards that ideal ourselves.

Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time thine adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. ∙Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
–Matthew 5:25-26, IV

We invite grace, or to have the uttermost farthing paid in our stead, by participating in the means of repentance, the Atonement.

Jeffrey R. Holland, in his concluding discourse as Commissioner of Church Education, stated:

Unless we indeed understand the message of the baptismal covenants in this kingdom, and bear one another’s burdens; and the way you can bear mine…it’s an ironic thing, the atonement is ironic…is to take the sin back that I gave you. You shoulder the fact that I despitefully used you. Forgive me of it. Take it on your shoulders. …
I see this as the one way we consciously, conspicuously, dramatically present ourselves as members of the body of Christ; that we actively participate in the atonement. That is the sacrifice for sin, to bear the burden of somebody else’s problems because whosoever else’s they are, they were not His. Those were not His problems for which that flesh was torn and that blood ran.
–Jeffrey R. Holland, “What is the Heart of the Atonement?”

Perhaps this offers a better way for us to understand the apparent dichotomy between faith and works. Works become a way of making our peace with the Lord, as it were, not for his sake so much as for ours. Any work that we could perform, of course, is limited in its utility: “If ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants (Mosiah 2:21).” As Robert L. Millet once said, “Show me faith without works.” (On a side note, having true faith is itself a work consistent with the will of the Lord.)

It is thus incumbent upon us to promote the application of the Atonement, in my life and in that of others, by inviting forgiveness and repentance through humble, sincere forgiveness and repentance.  I know I’ve a long way to go to reach this level of authenticity in my interpersonal relationships, but I hope that Elder Holland’s reminder that “those were not His problems for which that flesh was torn and that blood ran” will help me to remember the Savior more during the week and beyond.


  1. I still have that talk by Elder Holland. It is still the best one I have read on that subject. I have passed it on to a few others. If more people understood that facet of the Atonement, how much happier would we be?

  2. I actually posted that talk under the Documents page, since I’ve never been able to find it anywhere and I thought it should be available. The only thing about it is his thoughts on repentance seem a little heterodox, but if understood as a principle and not as doctrine, they still work.

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