The good news is that there is repentance. Repentance is a great gift from God; indeed, the scriptures teach us that Christ “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!” (D&C 18:12–13). But it is only through our entering into a covenant with God through baptism that repentance becomes truly effective. Many times in scripture the prophets and the Savior Himself use the phrase “baptized unto repentance. (See Matthew 3:11; Mosiah 26:22; Alma 5:62; 6:2; 7:14; 8:10; 9:27; 48:19; 49:30; Helaman 3:24; 5:17; 5:19; 3 Nephi 1:23; 7:24, 26; Moroni 8:11; D&C 35:5.) Alma, for example, taught, “Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Alma 7:14).
Alma makes two points clear, the first being that forgiveness of sins does not come simply through repentance alone but that baptism is also necessary. Second, he shows that it is not the waters of baptism that cleanse us but rather the Lamb of God. Nephi clarifies that the remission of sins comes “by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 31:17). Thus, we are cleansed from our sins only when the Holy Ghost places the stamp of approval upon us.
President Brigham Young taught: “Has water, in itself, any virtue to wash away sin? Certainly not; but the Lord says, ‘If the sinner will repent of his sins, and go down into the waters of baptism, and there be buried in the likeness of being put into the earth and buried, and again be delivered from the water, in the likeness of being born—if in the sincerity of his heart he will do this, his sins shall be washed away.’ Will the water of itself wash them away? No; but keeping the commandments [p.72] of God will cleanse away the stain of sin.” (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses (Liverpool: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–86), 2:4.)
Our sins, therefore, are remitted by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost following our repentance and baptism by water. Continued repentance is then available only to those who have entered into a covenant with the Lord through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinance of baptism. Since the fruits of repentance (forgiveness and cleansing) are available only through the administration of the Aaronic Priesthood, the Aaronic Priesthood “holds the keys of . . . the gospel of repentance” (D&C 13:1; see also Joseph Smith—History 1:69).
If one agrees with Mr. Woodbury, some interesting implications arise. Non-Mormons have never had God forgive even one of their sins. Mormons are the only people on earth currently receiving forgiveness of sins. In other words, Christians are deluded in thinking they are right with God.
No one has the right to call themselves a Christian if they have not had all their sins forgiven, let alone if they have not had any sins forgiven. Instead of oozing the gushy sentiment of “we are both Christians who love Jesus and experience the grace of divine forgiveness”, Mormons should be forthrightly telling evangelicals the honest truth about our condition. We have never been forgiven by God. Not even once. Not ever.
I remember being at the first “National Student Dialogue Conference” in a discussion between Mormons and evangelicals at a round table. I told a sweet Mormon woman about my experience of receiving the total forgiveness of sins as a free gift, of embracing the realistic view of repentance that the Bible speaks of. I spoke of how this forgiveness liberated me to love people in a way I had never before done. She smiled and said she was happy for me. She said she was glad that I had experienced God’s grace and love and she thanked me for bearing my testimony of how God had forgive me for my sins.
Later, the Miracle of Forgiveness came up. I contrasted my view of repentance with Spencer W. Kimball’s overwhelming, burdening six-step process of the permanent, successful, comprehensive, perfect repentance which brings forgiveness. Since she sided with Kimball’s view, I informed her that I had not yet perfectly and permanently and comprehensively abandoned the sinful habits from the urges of my mind (which, according to Kimball, indicates you have not yet been forgiven). I asked her, “Since I have not yet fulfilled Mormonism’s absolutely prerequisite steps required for forgiveness, am I wrong to believe I have had all my sins forgiven?” She nodded. “Then why did you tell me you were happy for me?” She sheepishly smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
I find this very offensive. If you think I’m deluded and deceived into thinking all my sins have been forgiven, don’t patronize me by commending and celebrating my testimony of God having forgiven my sins. Tell me the truth. Tell me that while it is good that I seek forgiveness, I have yet to receive what I think I have already received.
Do Mormons really love evangelicals? If so, then why aren’t we hearing more of the clear truth about our true condition? If completing Spencer Kimball’s six-step prerequisite process for receiving forgiveness isn’t enough—if being properly baptized by the proper Mormon authorities is absolutely prerequisite to the forgiveness of sins before God—then shouldn’t a Mormon be a good doctor and tell me what real condition I’m in? If no non-Mormon has ever been forgiven by God for any sin (having not received proper baptism), then isn’t it unloving to lock hands with us and try to sing Kumbaya? If Mormons love evangelicals, then should they really be engaging evangelicals in quasi-ecumenical kissing contests, celebrating some superficial common ground of believing in a Jesus that has yet to even absolve us of one thing?
Remember, your best friends are the ones who tell you the most vital truth.
Depending on Romans 4:4-8 and the real blessedness of having been forgiven,