As children and youth in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are often taught a list of things that must be done in order to accomplish true repentance. They are known as the Rs of Repentance, and there are usually about four to seven of them, depending on the teacher. They include things like recognition, remorse, restitution, reformation, resolution, etc. I rather dislike this method of teaching repentance, and here's why:
1. It makes repentance seem too hard. Think of all the bad things you've ever done. Imagine going through this extensive list for every one of them. Life is just too short! You'd never finish! And what about all the sins you don't remember committing? If the Rs are really the only way to go, we're all damned.
2. It makes repentance seem too easy. Any of us who have undergone real repentance laugh at the thought of repentance as a checklist. "Oh yeah, that was bad, I shouldn't have done that. I feel bad that I did that. I apologize for doing that. I won't do it again. I feel better now. Let's go get smoothies." If repentance were that easy, I sure would have sinned a lot more! Boiling such a deep and meaningful experience as repentance down to a catchy list trivializes it.
3. And what about Jesus? I don't hear anything about the Savior in this list. It paints repentance as something you can accomplish by yourself. For the record, there is no repentance without Christ; without Him we would all be damned. In the end, He is the one who fixes us, who throws out that old woman of sin and makes us a new creature . . . in Christ.
I propose a different, in my opinion better, way to teach repentance.
Confess and forsake. Confessing involves coming to God with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, humbling ourselves, acknowledging that God's ways are higher than our ways. It means asking, begging, pleading for forgiveness, for the mercy and atonement of Jesus Christ to be applied to our faults. Forsaking our sins means having a mighty change of heart, a complete turning away from our sins. Forsaking is having no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually. It is covenanting with God to do better. It is accepting that we are no longer the person who committed the sin, but that we are made anew through Christ's atonement. To me, this part is the most difficult. It is so easy to continue to beat ourselves up about what we did and what losers we are. We have to have enough faith in the atonement to realize that the people who sinned are not the people we are now. We have to accept that we have been forgiven. Then, if we live in a constant state of confessing, forsaking, striving to align our hearts with The Good, we live in a state of justification. The sacrament itself does not cleanse us from our sins; partaking of the sacrament signifies that we are living in a justified state. And eventually, after going through this process over and over, we will become sanctified; we will be made holy.
Now, tell me, which lesson on repentance would you rather have?