As I reflect on the people I have encountered while serving in the Canada Toronto Mission, one person stands out to me. He lived in Sudbury. There was a lot that was challenging in his life. He was a recovering drug addict; he was HIV positive; he had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. His life was surrounded by a lot of sadness and misery.
No matter how hard things were for him personally, he was always willing to help anyone. Because he was a street outreach worker, he was continually assisting the downtrodden, the homeless, or those struggling with addictions. He never questioned why someone was in need; instead, he simply tried his best to support everyone. To me, he was a perfect example of charity: impartial love.
In some ways, he reminded me of the following verses from the Parable of the Prodigal Son: “And when he came to himself, he said… I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:17-20).
Understanding the Principle of Repentance
When we started to teach him the gospel, the principle of repentance was difficult for him to grasp. Initially, he thought that repentance was to be avoided at all costs. In his mind, repenting was something negative that made a person feel miserable. He simply did not understand why anyone would want to repent.
As we continued to teach him, he began to understand that repentance is not something negative, but a positive part of God’s plan of happiness. It is sin that leads to unhappiness. As we repent, our guilt is swept away through the atoning grace of Jesus Christ.
Repentance leads to more happiness because we bring our thoughts, actions, beliefs, and behaviors to be in line with God’s will. By keeping God’s commandments, He blesses us with the peace that we will “always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (Doctrine & Covenants 20:77). The joy of having the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit is what makes repentance joyful.
In an October 2017 General Conference talk entitled “Repentance is Always Positive,” Elder Stephen W. Owen, the Young Men General President, taught: “We can try to change our behavior on our own, but only the Savior can remove our stains and lift our burdens, enabling us to pursue the path of obedience with confidence and strength. The joy of repentance is more than the joy of living a decent life. It’s the joy of forgiveness, of being clean again, and of drawing closer to God. Once you’ve experienced that joy, no lesser substitute will do” (Ensign, November, 2017).
These simple truths of the gospel touched his heart. He became excited to repent. That night, he prayed for forgiveness from his many faults. He received an answer that God loved him and wanted him to be better.
He still struggled with some of his temptations; however, he had such a desire to share the joy of repentance that he went out and started talking about it with all the people whom he was helping.
Being able to teach the importance and power of repentance was a testimony builder for both him and me. Repenting of our sins really does lead to joy.
This truth was clearly confirmed in a June 1829 revelation wherein the Prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed the following words of God: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance. And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10-13).