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Monday, May 6, 2013

01. Re-Learn What Repentance Is (and Is Not)

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the first examining the phrase "forsake his sins".

As was mentioned in a recent post (here), D&C 93:1 contains the Lord's promise that we can see His face -- a promise contingent on five conditions which are also listed in D&C 93:1.

The first of those conditions invites you to forsake your sins.

Now, before you conclude that this post (about repentance) is going to be a downer, or display an online version of hell, fire and brimstone, or will leave you feeling guilty or upset, I'd like to invite you to hear me out. The true message of repentance is a prime component of the Lord's gospel of happiness (not the gospel of pain, suffering or guilt).  In fact, repentance is (or can be) highly motivating, inspiring, uplifting and can (by itself) trigger some touching, sincere, understanding, non-judgmental conversations with God. 

The bottom line: celestial concepts, if understood correctly, should never, ever generate telestial emotions.

So please, keep reading.  I promise you that this may end up being the blog post on repentance you've never read, that will leave you encouraged, motivated and spiritually energized.

The Significance of Repentance

So fundamental is the principle of repentance that the Lord stressed its importance 71 times in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Two of those revelations, one following the other in the Doctrine and Covenants, are identical and conclude with these words:

“And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.” (D&C 15:6; D&C 16:6; italics added.)

Why would the Lord give two identical revelations and have them published in the Doctrine and Covenants, one following the other?  The Lord is a Master Teacher; he knows the value of repetition in learning.  It may be that these revelations were intended not only for those to whom they were given, but also for all of us.  If these revelations indeed apply to you and to me, they would help us understand that what is of greatest worth to each of us is to declare repentance to others and to practice it ourselves.

So, just what is repentance?

Actually, in some ways it is easier to understand what repentance is not than to understand what it is.

It is not "Poenitere"

Elder Theodore M. Burton was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy when he gave a devotional address at Brigham Young University on March 26, 1985 (the talk is here).  In it, he said,

"When the New Testament was translated into Latin for the use of the common people who spoke that language, an unfortunate choice was made in translation. “Metaneoeo” was translated into the word “poenitere.” The root “poen” in that word is the same root found in our English words punish, penance, penitent, and repentance. So the beautiful meaning of Hebrew and Greek was changed in Latin to an ugly meaning involving hurting, punishing, whipping, cutting, mutilating, disfiguring, starving, or even torturing. Small wonder then that most people have come to fear and dread the word repentance which they were taught and now understand to mean repeated or neverending punishment. People must somehow be made to realize that the true meaning of repentance is that we do not require people to be punished or to punish themselves, but to change their lives so they can escape eternal punishment. If they have this understanding, it will relieve their anxiety and fears and become a welcome and treasured word in our religious vocabulary."

What it is not -- Latter-day Validation

Elder Burton continues...

"My present assignment as a General Authority is to assist the First Presidency. I prepare information for them to use in considering applications to readmit transgressors into the Church and to restore priesthood and/or temple blessings.
Many times a bishop will write: 'I feel he has suffered enough!' But suffering is not repentance. Suffering comes from lack of complete repentance. 
A stake president will write: 'I feel he has been punished enough!' But punishment is not repentance. Punishment follows disobedience and precedes repentance. 
A husband will write: 'My wife has confessed everything!' But confession is not repentance. Confession is an admission of guilt that occurs as repentance begins. 
A wife will write: 'My husband is filled with remorse!' But remorse is not repentance. Remorse and sorrow continue because a person has not yet fully repented. 
But if suffering, punishment, confession, remorse, and sorrow are not repentance, what is repentance?"

It is "Shube"

"To answer this question, let us go back to the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the word used for this concept of repentance is 'shube:' Let me read a passage from Ezekiel 33:8–11 and insert the word 'shube' along with its English translation to help us understand what repentance is:

When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to [shube, or] turn from it; if he do not [shube, or] turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

When a person despairs and says: 'There is nothing left for me!' 'All hope is gone!' 'I can’t be forgiven!' 'What purpose is left in life?' 'I might as well be dead!' God instructs the 'watchman on the tower' to

'Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked [shube, or] turn from his way and live: [shube, shube!] turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?' (Ezekiel 33:8–11)

Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near;

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him [shube, or] return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon [if he will only shube]. [Isaiah 55:6–7]

Throughout the Old Testament, a fundamental theme is forsaking or turning from evil and doing instead that which is noble and good. Not only must we change our ways; we must as well change our very thoughts which control our actions. Repentance is a turning back to God!"

It is "Metaneoeo"

"Let us now turn to the New Testament which was written in Greek. How did those Greek writers translate the word 'shube' into Greek and still retain its concept of repentance? They used the word 'metaneoeo,' which is a compound word of two parts. The first part, 'meta,' we use as a prefix in our English vocabulary. When we eat we convert food by a process of metabolism into fat, muscle, and connective tissue. When we see a crawling caterpillar stop, attach itself to a limb and spin a cocoon, the insect inside its silken case undergoes metamorphosis. It changes its form into a moth or a beautiful butterfly. The prefix 'meta,' then, refers to change.

The second part of the word 'metaneoeo' is subject to various spellings. The letter 'n,' for instance, is sometimes transliterated as 'pn,' as in the French word 'pneu,' meaning an airfilled tire. We also find 'pneu' in our word pneumatic, as, for instance, a pneumatic hammer or a pneumatic drill, which are air-driven tools. It is also found in our word pneumonia, which is an air sickness of the lungs. There are several spellings of this root and many meanings attached to this word which can mean air, mind, thought, thinking, or spirit, depending on how it is used.

In the context where 'meta' and 'neoeo' are used in the New Testament, the word 'metaneoeo' means a change of mind or thought or thinking so powerful and so strong that it changes our very way of life. I think 'metaneoeo' is an excellent translation of 'shube.' The meaning of both these words is to turn or change from evil to righteousness and God."

The Three Steps of Repentance

Let's read again from Ezekiel 33, which outlines three main steps of repentance which include (1) commitment, (2) restitution, and (3) forsaking sin.

"If the wicked (1) restore the pledge, (2) give again that he had robbed, (3) walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity: he shall surely live, he shall not die." (Ezekiel 33:15; numbers mine)

In my next post, we'll examine these three steps in light of the true definitions of repentance (shube and metaneoeo)...


  1. Thank you so much for this! I have often struggled with seeing the difference between how much Jesus Christ loved and freely forgave those that were willing to listen and turn to Him in the New Testament and how often we in the church want to make others suffer. Our missionary message is one of love and compassion and invitation. I sometimes wonder if we lose new members when they come face to face with a lot of judgmental behavior in the members. I have some inactive children who have left the church because of viewing this judgmental type of behavior in members, even though I have warned them to not reject the principles of the gospel because of imperfect people. I hope that sending them a copy of this will help them in their journey to return.

    I have so loved this blog and the practical advice you have shared with us. I have my cell phone set to remind me to stop what I am doing to pray and meditate for a few minutes throughout the day. This simple thing has made a tremendous difference in my life. I can get so busy throughout the day. This simple time out to spend with Heavenly Father is helping me to repent throughout the day--to turn to Him throughout the day. The closeness and increase in the spirit has been such a blessing in my life. Sometimes the time together is a longer visit, and sometimes it is a quick "touching base" with Him, depending on what is going on during the day. But either way, each time I stop to direct my attention to Him, I am open to the Spirit which allows me to receive little messages of love from Heavenly Father, and sometimes profound insight and direction. I find that I am thinking about the Lord more and more throughout the day, which continues bless my life. I feel happier and more loved. Change in life is getting easier as I rely more on the Lord's influence and gifts. Thank you so much for pointing out the importance of knocking three times at the door of God.

    1. Gayle,

      A few comments --

      Gayle: "I have often struggled with seeing the difference between how much Jesus Christ loved and freely forgave those that were willing to listen and turn to Him in the New Testament and how often we in the church want to make others suffer."
      Perfect Day: I see this too -- *often*. When we witness such judgmentalism, I believe what we're seeing the symptoms of a condition which stems from not clearly understanding Christ's characteristics and implementing them in our lives. One of the best solutions I know of is to visualize him in the scriptures (see here: I think ALL of us would be shocked to see just how magnanimous (a perfect word for it), how merciful, how giving and loving the Lord is -- quite the converse from the judgmentalism we so often see about us. Adopting such a characteristic should be our goal, something we pray for daily.

      Gayle: "I sometimes wonder if we lose new members when they come face to face with a lot of judgmental behavior in the members."
      Perfect Day: Definitely. I've witnessed this myself.

      Gayle: "I hope that sending them a copy of this will help them in their journey to return."
      Perfect Day: Please let me know how I can be of assistance!

      Gayle: "I have so loved this blog and the practical advice you have shared with us."
      Perfect Day: Thanks! All attribution goes to the Lord. I'm just the lucky stenographer of the concepts he's teaching me.

      Gayle: "I have my cell phone set to remind me to stop what I am doing to pray and meditate for a few minutes throughout the day..." --> "...I rely more on the Lord's influence and gifts."
      Perfect Day: I totally relate. I have a dear friend who hardy hears from her grown-up son, whom she was so close to while raising him. It pains her a great deal not hearing from him. Conversely, I've seen her face when he calls her and touches bases with her, even if its a quick call or text. That's taught me a lot.

      Gayle: "Thank you so much for pointing out the importance of knocking three times at the door of God."
      Perfect Day: The three knocks post (here: was just the warmup. More cool stuff is coming...

  2. Thanks for this post. I remember the scriptural definition of repentance: Confess and forsake. I believe it really is that simple. It worked for Alma's youngest son, as it had for his father, and it did not take a year of following the bishop/stake president's repentance plan and prove to him and the high council that you are okay to return.


  3. I really learned a lot about repentance than ever before. It really is a way to draw closer to Christ.

  4. Thanks for this. I was trying to find this post for awhile now. I have had a mighty change of heart and was lifted out of a really awful state of darkness almost 2 years ago. It has been amazing. It really is about turning away from sin with everything I am. Come out of the world, love God above all and let His love change you into someone who has no more disposition to do evil but to do good continually. Holy is His name! Light of the (my) world. Thanks for this post.