For me, this is a difficult discussion on sin, and how we perceive sin in our life. Am I a sinner, or am I just imperfect, and need to do better?
There are those who are painfully aware of the sins in their life that are keeping them down and holding them back from the joy they seek. There are also those who can’t name a single sin in their life. As far as they can tell they are being a good person, so when asked what they need to repent for, they give you a blank stare. Does this “lack of need” to repent make them sinless or just blissfully unaware of their sins? Here are a series of questions about this topic that have occurred to me. And yes, I do repeat myself, but in a different context.
If I consider myself just imperfect:
If I can’t name a deliberate sin or practice that goes against the commandments, does that make me sinless?
Can a person truly be sinless in mortality?
What if I am naturally cooperative with all of God’s commandments? Does that mean I am sinless, because I am not openly rebelling against God’s commandments?
Since the scriptural definition of what it means to be perfect is to be whole or complete, would this make me perfect?
Job was described as a perfect man, yet he had to repent. How does that work?
Can a person be “perfect” yet still need to repent?
I wouldn’t dare call myself sinless, yet I can’t name a single sin for which I am guilty. What if I can’t pinpoint any sins I am committing in my life, does that still make me a sinner?
If my sins are all too apparent in my life:
I am painfully aware of the weaknesses I have identified. How long do I have to live with this constant awareness of my need to repent?
It seems I repent of one thing only to have to choose from a list of weaknesses for the next repenting task. Does it ever end?
These are just some of the questions that have pushed their way to the top of my mind as I have considered this subject. If you haven’t already thought of more questions, I’m sure you will as you try to answer the questions already posed. It feels like the more questions I ask, the more questions present themselves. I have certain scriptures come to mind in answer to some of the questions, but the answers they provide seem too cut and dried, leaving me with even more questions.
What follows are simply some observations and discussions about sin. Answering all the questions about sin in your own life will have to come as you take your own questions to the Lord and seek the inspiration of the Spirit.
Is being good good enough to satisfy the Lord? Is the Lord only concerned with whether or not we are good or does He want something more from us? When I was much younger I can remember thinking to myself that I had no sin. I kept all the commandments, went to Church, was good to others, paid my tithes and offerings, served my mission – in short, I was doing everything I had been taught I was supposed to do to be obedient to God. So what was I missing? Anything? It didn’t seem all that difficult to do. I had always been a cooperative soul, and being good was a joy that came naturally.
It was in this state of mind that I determined that I didn’t see a need for the Savior. I was doing just fine. His atoning sacrifice was for those who needed to repent, and I wasn’t doing anything for which I needed to repent. It appeared to me that I was able to keep the commandments all by myself. When I looked at the checklist of do’s and don’ts I felt like I had checked all the boxes and was passing with flying colors. I guess I felt like the rich young man in the New Testament story that had kept all the commandments and wanted the Savior to tell him what else was needed. Why didn’t I feel like I had accomplished what I was supposed to? What was missing?
The scriptures tell us that no one is perfect, and that we all have need to repent, yet I couldn’t think of anything that required repenting in my life. Why was that a problem? Isn’t that the goal – to get to the point where we have nothing left for which we need to repent? Once you are whole or complete, you are scripturally perfect. Mission accomplished, right?
“You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others. …
“In this world so filled with problems, so constantly threatened by dark and evil challenges, you can and must rise above mediocrity, above indifference. You can become involved and speak with a strong voice for that which is right” (Brigham Young University devotional, Marriott Center, 17 Sept. 1996).
There are things this statement says, and things this statement implies. It openly states that just being good isn’t good enough. God expects more from us than to just be good. God wants us to spread goodness wherever we go. What this statement implies is that just being good means we are stagnant. He uses the words “mediocrity” and “indifference” to describe the person who is happy with just being good. So God also wants an attitude of seeking to be better. He wants us to be improving ourselves, and to be influencing others to also be good along the way. Hmm, sounds a lot like the concept of eternal progression, to be always trying to accomplish something new, and not being satisfied with resting on our laurels or past accomplishments.
I guess we should ask the question – How does God handle goodness? Is He satisfied with just being good, or does He seek to spread goodness any way He can, wherever He can. Does that mean that true happiness doesn’t come from just being good, but in spreading goodness?
When I felt like I had arrived, that I didn’t need Christ’s Atoning sacrifice, because I didn’t have anything for which I needed to repent, what I required was an attitude adjustment. My mother set the example for me when she told me how she went to the Lord and asked what He would have her do to be better than she currently was. She promised to do whatever was needed to make the change that was surely to come with His revelation to her. Her answer came in the form of a young mother who was seeking the truth from a fundamentalist offshoot branch of the Church. That prayer turned Mom’s life upside down for almost ten years as she taught this young mother and her children the gospel, and helped them get baptized and converted to the gospel. It wasn’t just Mom who was called upon to step up her game, all of her children (me included) had a new “sister” in the family. This sister and her children were all but adopted into the family, being included in all important functions, and in every way that any of any of us siblings thought of what it meant to be a child of our mother.
Mom was true to her word to the Lord. She did everything she could to minister to this sister and her family. And like I said, the project lasted more than ten years. I still consider her to be one of my sisters, and her children my nieces and nephews. Mom’s next promise to the Lord was not as grand, but just as difficult. She promised to make whatever changes He required of her, and the answer was to lighten up on her lead foot. My mother was an inveterate speed demon on the road. It seemed so inconsequential, yet that is what the Lord told her she needed to work on. She no longer is able to drive, but for years she deliberately worked to bring herself to be consistently within the laws of the current speed limit. She says that was one of the most difficult things she ever had to do.
Apparently the Lord expects us to be constantly improving. I suppose this is why the scriptures tell us that repentance is an ongoing thing that we never outgrow. There is always something we can do or some way for us to be better than we already are. Once we have mastered any desires to rebel against the commandments, we quickly have to pass the complacency of just keeping the commandments and seek to find the joy in living the commandments and encouraging others to do the same. It is a process that happens for every aspect of our life.
Painfully aware of my sins
I’m not sure when it happened, nor how it happened that I became all too aware of my folly that I felt I did not need a Savior, and that I did, in fact, did need him desperately. Whenever or however that happened, I have been discomfited by my awareness of my sins ever since. Unfortunately, being aware of my need for help didn’t just erase my belief that I could save myself without the Redeemer’s help. I was going to do it by myself. It goaded me that I was so weak that I couldn’t do it myself. I chaffed at the thought that I needed to be helped. I believe the scriptural description of my attitude was “kicking against the pricks.”
Be that as it may, when we are all too keenly aware of our need for a Savior, life can become a very heavy burden to bear. The following video put out by the Church illustrates how oppressive life can get when we try to carry our burdens by ourselves. We need the Savior. His strength is where we get the necessary strength to repent and live with our weaknesses as we work to turn those weaknesses into strengths. We cannot go through this process by ourselves.
There may be a time in our life when we aren’t aware of our need to repent. We may feel really good about how we live each day. But the Prophet has referred to that attitude as indifference and living with mediocrity. The Lord expects more from us than that. He loves us too much to leave us at “good.” He wants us to experience the joys of being better than we ever thought it was possible to be.
The man in the video had a Bishop that gave him some good advice about using the Savior to help him in his quest to bear his daily burdens in life. I had a Stake President that once told me that to overcome sin requires filling our life with good constantly, so that we don’t have time for what might lead us off track. I have learned for myself that when I fill my life with doing good, actively, purposefully doing good, I lose my desire to do the things that caused me pain, and my attraction to thoughts and behaviors that worked against my spiritual happiness diminished.
Actively choosing to do and be good is different from just being good. Choosing to help others embrace goodness in any way promotes love. Demonstrating love to others imparts the Savior’s strength to our own efforts to resolve our own weaknesses. As the man in the video discovered, partnering with Christ during our time in mortality helps us refuel and have the strength we need to face the trials this life throws at us.
I can’t definitively answer the questions I asked at the beginning of this article. What I can answer is that whether you aren’t aware of any need to repent, or if you are painfully aware that you need to repent of something, Christ is the answer to moving forward with your life and progression. Becoming more like Christ is our goal. This is where our happiness and hope comes from.
Kelly is retired and living in Rexburg, Idaho, USA. He currently writes for gospelstudy.us. You can find articles by Kelly on ldsblogs.com, ldsliving.com, and moronichannel.org as well. He has also published multiple works, including Premortal Promises, and Contributions to the Kingdom, both available on Amazon.com.