Repentance: the Renewal of the Mind

Mar 28, 2021
9 min read

The word repentance may stir a variety of thoughts and feelings within our minds; fear or relief, perhaps terror or joy. Noah Webster, who published the first American dictionary in 1828 defined repentance in two ways:

The first is Legal Repentance:

the sorrow proceeding merely from the fear of punishment, as being excited by the terrors of legal penalties, and it may exist without an amendment of life.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

The second is Evangelical Repentance:

(evangelical meaning “according to the doctrines and precepts of the gospel”) Real penitence; sorrow or deep contrition for sin, as an offense and dishonor to God, a violation of his holy law, and the basest ingratitude towards a Being of infinite benevolence. This is called evangelical repentance and is accompanied and followed by amendment of life.

Repentance is a change of mind, or a conversion from sin to God.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

The Greek word of which this is the translation (metanoeo, met-an-o-eh’-o) denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.

In the experience of Alma the younger we can observe legal and evangelical repentance.

…so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.

Alma 36:14-15

Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

vs. 18-19

We have all struggled with sin, and have felt guilty, unworthy, or far from God in many respects. 

Even the great Nephi cried out:

O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins;

2 Nephi 4:17-19

King Benjamin taught that the “natural man” is an “enemy” to God unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. (Mosiah 3:19)

Nephi asks the question: “why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations…” (2 Nephi 4:28)

Why do we do this over and over?

Repentance is not about fighting our way through sin, it is, however, a struggle to see differently.

How many of you in this room, above the age of two, struggle with the temptation of reaching under the table at a restaurant and finding a nice piece of hard, pre-chewed gum under the table that you can enjoy free of charge? It might even still have some flavor left.

I can tell by many of your faces that you are disgusted at the thought – as you should be. But many of us as children were gum hunters and we saw nothing wrong with it until we had a change of mind, we grew in knowledge and as we saw differently, we then did differently, easily, and by choice.

It wasn’t a massive struggle or fight, we changed because we knew better.

This is the key problem with sin; if we continue to struggle with it, one of our main problems is that we see the sin through our own eyes instead of God’s. When our parents tell us not to eat the gum under the table, we get a sense it is wrong, and we fear the punishment of getting caught, but we don’t yet see or understand why it is wrong.

True repentance requires seeing our sin and struggles through divine eyes.

But how is this possible?

Seeing through another lens

In the scriptures, God has many titles, and you can gain additional insights into the Word of God by using those titles interchangeably in various verses.

For instance, the name Jesus and the title The Lamb of God can be used interchangeably as they mean the same thing. 

Take Matthew 27:1, let’s swap out Jesus’ name with this title. “When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against [The Lamb of God] to put him to death:”

It is easy to see how Christ was fulfilling his divine role here and fulfilling prophecy.

We are studying the Doctrine and Covenants this year, and, originally, the Doctrine portion of that work consisted of what we call today the Lectures on Faith.

Lecture five teaches that Jesus shares “the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit” In the question and answer portion that follows this lecture states: “Do the Father and the Son possess the same mind? They do. What is this mind? The Holy Spirit.”

Remember at the beginning we learned that “Repentance is a change of mind, a fresh view”?

An alternative title for the Holy Spirit could be “The Mind of God.”

And by using this title in the title Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, we can learn some profound things about repentance.

Alma explained to Zeezerom:

Now they, [the high priests] after being sanctified by the [Mind of God], …could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence…

Alma 13:12

They didn’t want to eat the gum under the table anymore.

The people of King Benjamin cried out in one voice:

Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; we know of their surety and truth, because of the [Mind of God] which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

Mosiah 5:2

Consider again King Benjamin’s words in this light:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the [Mind of God]

Mosiah 3:19

Even in our ordinances, we can gain insights: 

During confirmation, we hear the words: “I confirm you a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and say unto you, ‘receive the [Mind of God].”

Confirmation ordinance

We can also apply this to the sacrament prayers:

“…that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his [Mind] to be with them. Amen.”

Blessing on the water

Encountering God

We must encounter God; there is no other way.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to a new life. We must be born again, baptized with fire, and come to, in the words of Jethro from the animated classic the Prince of Egypt, “Look at your life through heaven’s eyes.”

This next part about the truck is inspired by a sermon given by a Baptist pastor, Paul Washer.

What if I told you that this morning, I got a flat tire, and as I got out to change it, I stumbled out into the road and was hit head-on by a semi-truck doing at least 70 miles per hour?

You’d probably think that me standing here before you now is either a miracle or I’m a dirty liar. You would say that there is no way that I could be impacted by something as powerful as a semi-truck and then stand here looking completely normal and unchanged.

So what is greater, a semi-truck, or God?

How can any of us say that we have been impacted by something as powerful and immense as God and yet remain unchanged?

Are you tired from battling your demons? Eating that hard, stale gum from under the table? Put down the weapons of rebellion and yield to the enticings of the Spirit; the Mind of God.

Paul wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) It is the gift of the Holy Ghost, a gift of the Mind of God. Gifts are given and received, not wrested from the hands of the giver.

Spencer W. Kimball once said:

I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength…

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 67

What better place to cultivate the Spirit of God than the holy scriptures that contain actual thoughts from the very mind of God himself.

Paul said to the Romans:

Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God […] And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind

Romans 12:1-2

Whatever sin, attraction, temptation, etc. troubles us or keeps us in a cycle of guilt and despair, examine it through the lens of the written word of God: the scriptures.

Then, examine it through the lens of what the Lord’s servants have spoken or written.

Finally, after you have pondered it out in your mind, invite the Spirit of the Lord to further enlighten your mind and bring you a fresh understanding that can lead to a mighty change of heart.

I want to say to each of you that no matter where you find yourself at this moment, no matter how far you may feel or how dark or hopeless the way forward may seem, that incomprehensible joy is right there, just outside your view, but still very real and very there.

I’ve been there. I know what it feels like to feel the last drop of hope slip from my mind. I know how numb, cold, and deep that hole feels.

But I also know how it feels to step out of the mist of darkness and taste the fruit of the tree of life.

Many times I thought of how easy it would be to simply give up. Thank God I didn’t. 

I testify in the name of Jesus Christ that each of us can feel to sing the song of redeeming love and experience the loving embrace of God and the knowledge that we are truly redeemed. Amen.

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