Israel was continually commanded to repent. The Mosaic Law included rituals for individual repentance as well as repentance for the whole congregation of Israel. Isaiah described personal repentance this way:
“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment… Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” — Isaiah 1:16-18
Before Christ, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Mark 1:4) During His earthly ministry, the Savior compared good fruit to things of eternal worth. He said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16) “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17) He encouraged us to gather “fruit unto life eternal.” (John 4:36) He commanded us to“Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)
This precious fruit symbolizes the wondrous blessings of the Savior’s incomparable Atonement that comes to us through a daily turning to God through repentance. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, our repentance, and our keeping the commandments, we can be forgiven of our sins and one day stand clean and pure before our Father and His Son.
Peter taught that repentance is a commandment and that it had two parts, a turning our hearts to God and doing the works of repentance.
“God… commandeth all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30) “That they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:20)
“Repentance is one of the most vital and merciful doctrines of the kingdom. It is too little understood, too little applied by us all… each of us must employ repentance as the regular means of personal progression. Personal repentance is part of taking up the cross daily. (See Luke 9:23.) Without it, clearly there could be no “perfecting of the Saints.” (Eph. 4:12.)” — Neal A. Maxwell
“True repentance is not an event. It is a never-ending privilege. It is fundamental to progression and having peace of mind, comfort, and joy.” — Russell M. Nelson
What is the process of repentance that brings about spiritual progression? What are the fruits of repentance?
# 1: Recognition That we Have Sinned
Remorse for our sins: Real remorse quickly brings forth positive indicators, “fruits meet for repentance.” (Matt. 3:8; see also Acts 26:20; Alma 5:54, Book of Mormon) “In process of time,” these fruits bud, blossom, and ripen.
#2: Confession of Sin
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” — Proverbs 28:13
“Now therefore make confession unto the Lord God of your fathers.” (Ezra 10:11.) One with a broken heart will not hold back. As confession lets the sickening sin empty out, then the Spirit which withdrew returns to renew.
“Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner… For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation…” — 2 Corinthians 7:9-10
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light… the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” — 1 John 1:7-9
#3: Forsaking of Sinning
“Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” (Ezek. 18:30.) Thus, when “a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:43.)
Through His atonement all who come unto Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit, believing in Christ, will have their sins forgiven. This is the transformation that makes bad men good. Through regular, even constant repentance, and a sincere striving to “sin no more,” (John 8:11) the once sinful can be kept clean through Christ.
The purpose for the cleansing and justifying powers of the atonement is to bring the sinful man into a redemptive relationship with Christ, referred to as a covenant relationship, a relationship that has the power to make good men better until we are made perfect through Christ.
The scriptures refer to a person who lives their life in the active redemption of Christ, as a saint. This disciple of Christ grows from “grace to grace” (Doctrine & Covenants 98:13) through the Holy Spirit, activating the sanctifying powers of the atonement. This grace strengthens and enables them to “do all things through Christ,” (Philippians 4:13) not the least of which is to maintain themselves in obedience to the commandments of God. This progression from bad to good, and from good to better, is why the Lord refers to his faithful disciples as righteous rather than sinful.
Christ’s atonement was not only that we might not suffer for our sins, but so that we might be full of His Spirit, having our characters molded in His image, that we may become able to stand against the fiery darts of the adversary while sojourning in this fallen world, walking uprightly before God, having our very natures changed through our daily walk with Christ.
#4: Restitution of Sin, When Possible
“Because he hath sinned, … he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found.” (Lev. 6:4.)
Restitution is not always possible, but when it is this final step is very important. A sincere repentance followed by a recommitment to walk in the Lord’s way provides a complete covering and allows us to move forward unburdened by sin and clear of conscience.
To keep the third commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain we must take his atonement into our lives daily and use it to repent as often as needed and continually be turning our hearts to God and our works to his glory.