How do I know I’m forgiven? I’m a missionary and have confessed so many things to my Mission President, I’ve obsessed over possible sins I could have done. My Mission President tells me I’ve been out a year and I have nothing to worry about. I still feel guilt and I didn’t have sex before I left but how do I know I’m in line with God like my MP says I am? I can’t feel the spirit like everyone says they do either so that’s what has been so hard this past year
On my mission, I asked myself a similar question and I felt similar to how you felt. I wanted so bad to know that I was forgiven, and yet I couldn’t shake the same feeling you have shared. As you are now, I was also very aware that certain sins would put my membership in God’s kingdom at risk. I wanted to make sure, as you have, that I sufficiently followed the commandment to confess and forsake my sins.
I was aware of the following scriptures, as I am sure you are too:
D&C 58:42-43, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
Isaiah 1:18, “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.
And yet despite my knowledge of these two scripture passages, and the direct statements from the Lord specifying if I have confessed and forsaken my sin I am forgiven. I still harbored feelings of guilt due to the sins of my past. The adversary would not allow me to heal, or better said, I would not allow the atonement to cleanse me! I was not allowing myself to reason with the Lord (Isaiah 1:18) in order to feel his forgiving grace and mercy. The adversary knew this and he plagued my feelings with thoughts of despondency and despair. When we come unto Christ, Harrison, there is a spirit who desires our misery — for sure.
The Lord’s beloved prophet Nephi understood this. Nephi, from what I can tell from scripture, was a stalwart young man who loved the Lord. Despite his obedience, we have a chapter in the Book of Mormon that shares his laments of not being perfect. He was harrowed up in his mind by “the sins which do so easily beset [him].” We find these words of Nephi in 2 Nephi 4 and how he desired to rejoice but felt much sorrow for his sins when he said, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.” And upon saying this, although is heart and mind were in turmoil he declared these inspired words, “nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”
When I returned home from my mission I had the fortunate opportunity to serve with a wonderful bishop. I always felt this bishop of mine was very close to the Lord’s Spirit. One day I decided I had had enough and thought again I needed to confess to my bishop (although I already had a long time ago). With charity in his heart he listened to my every word. He then asked me the following questions:
1) Have you been inspired to learn anything knew from scripture study or through prayer? To which I answered in the affirmative.
2) Have you received revelation from your Father in heaven through the power of the Holy Ghost? To which I answered in the affirmative.
He then said the following words in hopes of bringing comfort to my heart and mind. The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead. As a God, he can not dwell in unholy temples, just as no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God. When the Holy Ghost resides with us, when we receive the Holy Ghost as our constant companion, this is only possible if we are clean. If we are clean he remains with us and sanctifies us. If you have received revelation from the Holy Ghost. If you have felt the inspiration that comes from God through the Holy Ghost, then you can know you are clean through your faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement.
At first, I must admit, I really didn’t take my bishop seriously. There is no way it could be this easy after confessing and forsaking our sins. There had to be more. My heart and mind told me there was more. This principle my bishop taught me in such a wonderful way, and yet I still remained skeptic. One evening though, I was reading the sermon given from King Benjamin in chapter four of Mosiah. This chapter highlights the notion how we are all beggers before the Lord. We are begging for a remission of sins, and surely this was me, and it appears this is you also. We are both begging the Lord for a remission of sins, and for the knowledge we are forgiven!
As I read this chapter I read this verse of scripture, “And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.”
Please note Harrison the sign this scriptures gives as to how we know we are forgiven! “Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you…” Immediately my mind reflected the words of my wonderful bishop, “Have you been inspired…have you received revelation from your Father in heaven through the power of the Holy Ghost”? Oh what joy did the Spirit then bring into my heart. I knew I had been forgiven, and like Nephi, for the first time “I knew in whom I trusted”! Not the devil who seeks my misery. Not the devil who wants me to continue to be in remorse for my past. No, not the devil. The Spirit bore witness of a truth, and through my faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement I knew I was forgiven. The Lord reasoned with me, and I knew the crimson red was now white as wool — through my Savior!
As pertaining to your feelings as you compare how you feel the Spirit and how others feel the Spirit, I want you to know that you are not alone in this either. For a long time I was very discouraged about hearing all these wonderful witnesses of the “burning in the bosom” which I still to this day (as it is described by others) have never felt.
A scripture that helped me understand something I needed to learn was the following verse of scripture, “and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” Not only does the doctrine distill upon us as the dews from heaven, understanding how the Lord speaks to us through his Spirit is distilled upon us similarly. The dew in the morning just doesn’t appear in an instant. The dew settles, or distills, over a period of time. As we strive to be more like our Savior we will grow (if we are patient with ourselves) line upon line, precept upon precept, until we truly come to know God’s voice, or as they say, we obtain a more sure word of prophecy. Be patient with yourself, Harrison. Do not compare your understanding of the Spirit with others’ and their personal journey. As you accept where you are and do not compare yourself to others, you will one day look back thanking the Lord for his blessings as you remain true and faithful to the covenants you have made before God, angels, and witnesses.