In Mosiah 4 we read how the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is applied to our life. King Benjamin taught that when we truly apply the atonement of Jesus Christ, our views change. We see ourselves, others, and the Lord in a different light. The word repent is filled with meaning: the Greek word for repent, metanoia, denotes a change of mind- we gain a fresh view about God, about ourselves, and about the world.
When those within King Benjamin’s presence heard his address, they “viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth” after which they asked that the Savior have mercy on them and “apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive a forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified…” (Mosiah 4:2) This new look at themselves, their God, and others had the effect that King Benjamin wanted. They realized the importance of the atonement and that they were in need of a savior.
Am I forgiven?
Over the years I have had many young people ask me how they can tell if they are forgiven of their sins. The account from Mosiah takes this on when we read that, “after they had spoken these words 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…” (Mosiah 4:3).
This verse tells us a couple of things. When we are forgiven, we should experience joy, as well as peace. Later in King Benjamin’s address the people who are forgiven find that they have “no more disposition to do evil” (Mosiah 5:2). The question still may hang in the air, “But what if I am not feeling these things? How can I know if I am forgiven?”
One thing that will help us to feel the forgiveness of the Savior is to put ourselves in places where his Spirit can be felt and where we can receive an assurance of his forgiveness. One such place where this could happen is by partaking of the sacrament each week. 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.” 1
Repentance is a central teaching 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.” 2
We all know people who have changed their lives. Some have done this through their own efforts, others have credited the Savior for helping them to overcome their bad habits or addictive behavior to see significant improvements in their lives. King Benjamin spends significant time discussing how to retain a remission of our sins. Like cancer, sin can go into remission. Even though a person may be filled with the Spirit and living a wonderful life free of deep sin, because we are fallen we are always susceptible to the temptations of the adversary. This is one reason why the scriptures use the term remission- it (sin) is still ever present, always waiting to rear its head. In order to retain a remission of sins, King Benjamin gives several examples how we can stay in a place where the Spirit will be ever present in our lives: through service, giving of our financial resources, taking care of those who are in need, etc. I believe he is expressing the process of sanctification.
I believe that the Savior is quick to forgive. This is usually an event- he forgives us for our past sins when we sincerely ask. We know that he is full of grace and wants to forgive us! What we really are after is more than this. We want to be changed by the atonement. We read in Mosiah that it is a “mighty change” (Mosiah 5:2). This process of changing, I call sanctification. Elder Eyring worked with a fellow many years ago who struggled to know if he was forgiven for his past sins. While this story does not outline the entire process of sanctification, it does give us enough insight to see that this process has much to do with our attitude.
I learned a long time ago that it is hard to know how you are doing in being born again, and why it is not easy. Once, as a bishop of a ward, I worked with a young man who had made great mistakes, but he had been moved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to make long and painful repentance. We were down to the weeks before he was to be married in the temple. I had long before forgiven him in the name of the Church and had given him his temple recommend. But he remembered that I had said, “The Lord will forgive you in his own time and in his own way,” and now he was deeply concerned. He came to my office and said: “You told me that the Lord would someday let me know that I was forgiven. But I am going to the temple to marry a wonderful girl. I want to be the best I can be for her. I need to know that I am forgiven. And I need to know now. Tell me how to find out.” I said I would try.
He gave me a deadline. As I recall, it was less than two weeks away. Fortunately, during that period of time I went to Salt Lake City and found myself seeing Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, at a social function. It was crowded, and yet he somehow found me. He walked up to me in that crowd and said, “Hal, I understand that you are now a bishop. Do you have anything you would like to ask me?”
I said that I did, but I didn’t think that was the place to talk about it. He thought it was. It was an outdoor party. My memory is that we went behind a shrub and there had our interview. Without breaking confidences, I outlined the concerns and the question of this young man in my ward. Then I asked Elder Kimball, “How can he get that revelation? How can he know whether his sins are remitted?”
I thought Elder Kimball would talk to me about fasting or prayer or listening for the still small voice. But he surprised me. Instead he said, “Tell me something about the young man.”
I said, “What would you like to know?”
And then he began a series of the most simple questions. Some of the ones I remember were:
“Does he come to his priesthood meetings?”
I said, after a moment of thought, “Yes.”
“Does he come early?”
“Does he sit toward the front?”
I thought for a moment and then realized, to my amazement, that he did.
“Does he home teach?”
“Does he go early in the month?”
“Yes, he does.”
“Does he go more than once?”
I can’t remember the other questions. But they were all like that—little things, simple acts of obedience, of submission. And for each question I was surprised that my answer was always yes. Yes, he wasn’t just at all his meetings: he was early; he was smiling; he was there not only with his whole heart, but with the broken heart of a little child, as he was every time the Lord asked anything of him. And after I had said yes to each of his questions, Elder Kimball looked at me, paused, and then very quietly said, “There is your revelation.”
Sufficiently humble. Stripped of pride. Stripped of envy. Never making a mock of his brother.
When I went back to the young man and told him what I then knew, he accepted it. But he may have simply had to take my word for it. You see, it’s hard to feel that you are sufficiently humble. If you did, you might not be. He went forward with his marriage. I’ve seen him since. To me he still looks as he did on the front bench before a priesthood meeting.
My guess is that he has retained a remission of his sins. I don’t know if he knew then or if he knows now with the certainty he wanted, but I am sure of something. When that change of heart comes to me and to you, when we are cleansed and blameless before God, it will be because we have been made pure by the blood of Christ. And I know what I can and must do. I must be baptized by a servant of God holding the true priesthood, I must have received the gift of the Holy Ghost by that same power, and then I must have exercised faith in the Savior long enough and carefully enough that his grace will be sufficient for me. And I know at least one way to know that is happening in my life—or in yours. 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. 3
1. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 239.
2. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, However Long and Hard the Road, p. 6 emphasis added. See also C. Robert Line, Pure Before Thee, p. 15.
3. Elder Henry B. Eyring, To Draw Closer to God, p. 55-57.