John 8:1-11 and Luke 7:36-50 teach a powerful lesson about the Savior’s willingness and ability to forgive sin. In the scriptures, when people genuinely cry out to Jesus to be forgiven, He always responds with a granting of this request. I asked the students if they could think of other examples of when people cried out for redemption and here are some of their responses:
1. The 10,000 talent debtor – Matthew 18:23-35
2. Alma the Younger – Alma 36:18-19
3. Lamoni – Alma 19:1-13
We read Alma 34:31 in class which states:
“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not yoru hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.”
The message is that when we approach the Savior, He stands ready to forgive. This is called justification. Justification is an event. The process whereby we become perfected in Christ is called sanctification. Both are required for exaltation. But the idea that we somehow have to have “everything fixed” in order to approach God and ask for forgiveness actually causes young people to not repent, because they think that they are not worthy or ready to make a change.
By emphasizing these two stories in the New Testament, I believe a major intent of the author(s) is to stress the importance that we believe in a merciful ten thousand talent (Matt 18:24), ring on the finger (Luke 15:22), seventy times seven (Matt 18:22), compassionate (D&C 64:2), filled with lovingkindness God (Psalm 107:43).
Knowing this truth will motivate young people to repent of their sins, even in their imperfection. This doctrine will give them the courage to ask for the saving grace necessary to conquer addictions, bad habits, or anything else which makes them feel unworthy. I challenged the youth to go to Heavenly Father in prayer today – to seek His loving grace and plead for help in their personal struggles, especially when it comes to our sinful natures. Knowing and believing that our Heavenly Father is wanting and willing to forgive us motivates us to seek Him out and do His will.
For the remainder of this post I will use examples which illustrate how both justification and sanctification work in our lives.
In its theological sense, justification is a forensic, or purely legal, term. It describes what God declares about the believer, not what He does to change the believer. In fact, justification effects no actual change whatsoever in the sinner’s nature or character. Justification is a divine judicial edict. It changes our status only, but it carries ramifications that guarantee other changes will follow. Forensic decrees like this are fairly common in everyday life.
Justification is more than simple pardon; pardon alone would still leave the sinner without merit before God. So when God justifies He imputes divine righteousness to the sinner (Romans 4:22-25). Christ’s own infinite merit thus becomes the ground on which the believer stands before God (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9). So justification elevates the believer to a realm of full acceptance and divine privilege in Jesus Christ.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson put it this way:
Christ removes our condemnation without removing the law. We are pardoned and placed in a condition of righteousness with Him. We become, like Him, without sin. We are sustained and protected by the law, by justice. We are, in a word, justified. 1
Justification is an event. An example of this event is the sacrament. What we want, what we are after is both justification and sanctification.
Partake Worthily of the Sacrament
Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated:
Baptism is for the remission of sins; it is the ordinance, ordained of God, to cleanse a human soul. Baptism is in water and of the Spirit and is preceded by repentance. The actual cleansing of the soul comes when the Holy Ghost is received. The Holy Ghost is a sanctifier whose divine commission is to burn dross and evil out of a human soul as though by fire, thus giving rise to the expression baptism of fire, which is the baptism of the Spirit. Forgiveness is assured when the contrite soul receives the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle.
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the ordinance, ordained of God, in which baptized saints are privileged, repeatedly and often, to renew the covenant of baptism. Those who partake worthily of the sacramental emblems, by so doing, covenant on their part to remember the body of the Son of God who was crucified for them; to take upon them his name, as they did in the waters of baptism; and to “always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.” (D&C 20:77.) Thus those who partake worthily of the sacrament—and the same repentance and contrition and desires for righteousness should precede the partaking of the sacrament as precede baptism—all such receive the companionship of the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle, they thus receive a remission of their sins through the sacramental ordinance. Through this ordinance the Lord puts a seal of approval upon them; they are renewed in spirit and become new creatures of the Holy Ghost, even as they did at baptism; they put off the old man of sin and put on Christ whose children they then are.
There are also numerous other sacred occasions when the saints may get in tune with and receive the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The receipt of this heaven-sent boon always attests that the recipient has forsaken the world and is no longer encumbered by its wicked ways. One of these occasions may attend a proper anointing and blessing of the sick. “Is any sick among you?” James asks. “Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” (James 5:14-16.) If the Spirit of the Lord rests upon one who is being blessed by the elders, in connection with this or any other ordinance, it automatically follows that the one blessed receives a remission of his sins; otherwise the Spirit would not be present. We do not want for occasions upon which sins may be remitted. Our problem is one of so living that we are worthy to have the companionship of the Spirit in our lives. 2
I will add that the final thought here shared by Elder McConkie leads us to the idea of being sanctified. It is through having the Spirit in our lives that our very nature is changed. You might say that that the process of sanctification is found in a seemingly endless series of justification events.
A common mistake
Repentance is a principle of the gospel that some of us mistakenly think will take a our entire lives to achieve, that somehow forgiveness is only available after an eternity of personal effort and toil. Such a thought is enough to discourage anyone. Fortunately, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once explained the following:
You can change anything you want to change, and you can do it very fast. (A) Satanic sucker punch is that it takes years and years and eons to repent. That’s just not true. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes for you to say, “I’ll change”- and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend- indeed, you had better spend- the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the sons of Mosiah. 3
Sanctification is a process, not an event. Church members are in a covenant relationship with God. Justification and sanctification are gifts from God because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is important that we don’t get the idea that justification and sanctification are a reward we earn when we change our behavior by exercising our will power. That would be like a man thinking that by disciplined eating and exercising he could earn the resurrection. We’re not justified or sanctified through exercising will power. We’re justified and sanctified by “yielding [our] hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:35).
What if I am repeatedly struggling?
Sometimes in our repentance, in our daily efforts to become more Christlike, we find ourselves repeatedly struggling with the same difficulties. As if we were climbing a tree-covered mountain, at times we don’t see our progress until we get closer to the top and look back from the high ridges. Don’t be discouraged. If you are striving and working to repent, you are in the process of repenting. As we improve, we see life more clearly and feel the Holy Ghost working more strongly within us. 4
As we move along the gospel path, we will continue to find that we are changing. This changing of our natures, this process, is sanctification. As we experience justification events in our lives- reading the scriptures, receiving revelation, taking the sacrament, experiencing the guidance of the Holy Ghost in our lives, we become more holy, losing our disposition to do evil. This is what it means to be sanctified. Our hearts change, and we find that we are more and more like our Savior because we have experienced what it means to listen to His voice and follow in His ways.
The Parable of the Canning Jars
The way that sanctification and justification work in our lives is illustrated in the following parable by Bob George:
The process of canning is an excellent illustration of the two parts of the gospel. Let’s say that you are going to preserve some peaches. What is first thing you have to do? Sterilize the jars. Why the process of sterilization? So that the contents of the jars (the peaches) will be preserved from spoiling.
Imagine a husband coming home and finding his wife boiling jars in the kitchen.
“What are you doing, honey?”
“Why are you doing that?” the husband asks.
“I just like clean jars,” she answers.
The husband is clearly at a loss. “What are you going to do next?” he asks.
“Keep them clean!”
This story doesn’t make much sense, does it? You have never seen anyone decorate his kitchen with a sterile jar collection. No, the only reason to sterilize jars is because you intend to put something in them. We would never expect to find a person involved in only half the process of canning, just cleansing jars. But we have done this exact thing with the gospel! We have separated God’s sterilization process… from His filling process- Christ coming to live in us…
The Christian world, to a large extent, has been guilty of teaching half a gospel- that is, the cross of Christ which brought us forgiveness of sins. But by separating forgiveness of sins from the message of receiving the life of Christ, we have not only missed out on experiencing life, but we have lost sight of the purpose of forgiveness in the first place…
As a matter of fact, there is one final part of the canning process. After sterilizing the jars and filling them with fruit, the jars are sealed. Sealing keeps the good things inside and the bad things that would spoil the contents outside. 5
1. Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Justification and Sanctification, Ensign, June 2001, p. 18.
2. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 239.
3. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, However Long and Hard the Road, p. 6 emphasis added. See also C. Robert Line, Pure Before Thee, p. 15.
4. Elder Neil L. Andersen from “Repent . . . That I May Heal You” General Conference October 2009.
5. Classic Christianity: Life’s Too Short to Miss the Real Thing, Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1989, 59-60.