I was listening to a podcast and I heard a phrase similar to one that I often hear in church:
You gotta repent from all your sins…
I think you’ll see similar language to this in the scriptures. You read of people being washed from their sins (Alma 7:14) and people “cleansed from sins” (D&C 76:52). You see people “turn away from sins” (2 Ne. 9:45) and even the phrase “repentance from sin” (138:33) and “repentance from dead works” (Hebrews 6:1).
In that sense, I don’t think that such language is wrong per se.
However, right when I heard this phrase I thought about my understanding of the principle of repentance and the underlying doctrines.
I can’t help but think of the Bible Dictionary and what it says: “The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.”
There is a “to” and a “from” with repentance. I think we spend more of our time on the “from” but a change of mind indicates leaving something behind for something new.
It seems like we are always talking about repentance as escaping something. Surely many have escaped the clutches of sin like Alma the younger who was very vivid in his description.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
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.Alma 36:17-19
Note that this is all happening within Alma’s mind. He fears the consequences of what he has done and likely wants to escape from those consequences.
But his mind catches hold of another idea, something that he rushes to. The pivot point is when his mind changes and that “fear from” drives him toward a striving to something else.
I think that it is wise to remember that repentance is a change that happens in the mind.
Simply stopping a sinful behavior is good, but if your mind changes, you strive toward something else and leave the sinful behavior behind. If your mind doesn’t change, then you’ll just keep fighting the sin with sheer will and probably fail time and time again.
I don’t eat hot dogs.
I used to, I used to think they were great, I’d pile on sauerkraut, red onion, deli mustard, and jalapeños. Grill ’em up or over a fire, they are juicy and delicious.
But then on my mission, I lived next to a hot dog factory. The smell coming from it was death and I saw carcasses like rib cages, piles of mystery meat all coming out of trucks on conveyor belts in the open-air with flies and bugs going straight into the factory. The smell still haunts me. I rode my bike near there almost every day; that smell made me sick and that was the beginning of a change of mind.
Time went on and I saw videos on how hot dogs were actually made. More and more I realized that these meat tubes weren’t food, but an illusion of food. Leftover animal parts are ground into a gross-looking paste infused with tons of spices and liquid smoke to mask what it is you are eating.
I could eat one right now and it would be delicious, but I won’t.
So even though my tastebuds, my body, my flesh, are all attracted to the taste and the physical sensation especially when adorned with other sauces and toppings, which in and of themselves may be perfectly healthy, my mind can choose to do differently.
My flesh’s attraction to the spices and flavors which contribute to the Frankenmeat may very well remain constant and unchanging until the day I die. After all, it isn’t the flavor of the meat of the hot dog that anyone likes, I doubt anyone has tasted that meat paste without all the spices they put in it.
I don’t live every day worried that I might be tempted to eat a hot dog and fall back into my old ways, go buy a grill and stock up on toppings.
There is no temptation at all, because deep within my mind, my understanding, my perceptions, a change has happened.
This change would make no sense to someone that hasn’t experienced it. In fact, you may be reading this angry at what I’m saying about hot dogs.
While it is true that I haven’t had a hot dog in 20 years, right now it’s the metaphor that matters.
I’m speaking of hot dogs, but swap them with whatever you like. Maybe old gum under the table that you used to eat as a kid before you understood how the gum got there or knew what germs were. Think of a sin you are struggling with now.
The reason most people sin is because of what they don’t see.
All of us have unholy attractions to things that physically and spiritually harm us. We are told what sin is, often we experience the consequences first hand, but many times there aren’t any consequences other than some guilt or shame we may feel. We may hate that attraction to the sin seems fused to us or even a part of us.
We should not be surprised when the flesh continues to want what it wants, but we are not our flesh. We make many choices to act in opposition to what our flesh may want.
Fasting can train us in part how to do this.
We see with our own limited understanding or through a distorted lens borrowed from another person or group preaching an ideology.
God can provide us the missing pieces as we receive his Mind or the Holy Spirit. We can think differently because we have a change of mind.
The key is not to keep fighting to escape the flesh’s attraction to the hot dog but gain the ability to see the hot dog with new eyes so our minds can choose differently, strive toward something instead of fearfully avoiding something.
Alright, that’s enough about hot dogs, I’m getting nauseous.
What do you think?
- What other ways can a metaphor like this help us to understand sin and repentance?
- If repentence is a change of mind, what is the catalyst?
- With repentance, where does one begin the process of changing their mind?