I had a question on sin that I’m unsure about. Do you have to repent of every single sin you do, that is at age 9 and up? In terms of new members who had to give up a lot of old habits, do they have to remember and forsake every sin they committed? And if there are some sins you did long ago that you can’t remember, and thus don’t repent of, are you going to go to a lesser kingdom in Heaven? I know that 2 Nephi 7:9 it says “And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God – he will justify in committing a little sin…” Of course, the people who say that are wrong, but does that mean we have to be perfect and always completely sin-free? Thanks.
I am so glad you asked that question. There is a lot of confusion about repentance that stems from people looking for a series of steps or a checklist instead of following what the scriptures teach. If it were true that every individual sin required repentance, Jesus would be the only child of our heavenly parents to reside in the Celestial kingdom. Scripture and my own experience indicate that there is both much more and much less going on here. Consider the nature of sin. All sin occurs as rebellion. When we rebel we necessarily hurt ourselves and others. We are hurt by becoming alienated from God. This is manifested in several ways including a withdrawal of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is the process of becoming reconciled to God again through the Atonement. Here is the crux. The reconciliation is a free gift. It has to be. You cannot earn it. We are truly saved by grace…after all we cans do. The reconciliation that takes place is not about erasing an event (the actual sin). It is about changing our rebellious hearts. When we humble ourselves due to our recognition of both having a rebellious heart and of wanting it to be rooted out of us (Alma 22:15) so that we can be reconciled, we will show a willingness to right that which we have done wrong. It is not part of a repentance checklist, but a natural consequence of seeing ourselves in our fallen state and pleading for our hearts to be purified which is reconciliation (Mosiah 4:2). The answer to your question is that you do not need to remember every sinful incident that ever occurred in your life in order to repent. That has never been the requirement. When you want to be reconciled, you will have a strong desire to right the wrongs that you can remember. Righting those wrongs may continue long after you have had a change of heart. I suspect that Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah worked on reparation long after their hearts were changed and had become pure.
Some of the most spiritual experiences of my life have come as I have worked with people who wanted to have their hearts changed. The Holy Spirit blesses that activity in such abundance that I have often been unable to speak, and I have been filled with joy. Because of the importance and centrality of reconciliation to God’s plan of happiness for you and me, the Holy Spirit powerfully testifies of the efficaciousness and wonder of true repentance. I invite you to try it. The next time you repent, do not do it to erase an event, but do it to have your heart changed and become a new man. I would love to hear how it goes for you.