Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

How Do I Repent? Part 4

By: John Bytheway

From the Book: What I Wish I’d Known in High School: The Second Semester

Confession of Sin

The confession of sin is an important element in repentance. Many offenders have seemed to feel that a few prayers to the Lord were sufficient and they have thus justified themselves in hiding their sins. The Proverbs tell us:

“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13.)

“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:43.)

Especially grave errors such as sexual sins shall be confessed to the bishop as well as to the Lord. There are two remissions that one might wish to have: first, the forgiveness from the Lord, and second, the forgiveness of the Lord’s church through its leaders. (Page 181)

Okay, let’s talk for a minute. All sins, great or small, must be confessed to the Lord. As you’ve probably already figured out, the Lord knows what your sins are. You’re not going to surprise him or tell him anything new. But you still need to acknowledge to the Lord that you have sinned. You also need to confess to anyone you may have hurt or injured because of your sin. And, as President Kimball mentioned, especially serious sins need to be confessed to the bishop. Why? Well, the Lord said to Alma, “If he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also” (Mosiah 26:29).

Why does the bishop have to be involved? The simple answer is that the bishop can help guide you through the repentance process. But there’s more; let’s take another look at my excellent Book of Mormon Student Manual:

When a member’s sins have been discovered by or reported to Church leaders, they are duty bound to take action for three reasons: [1] to preserve the good name of the Church [to show the world that it does not condone sin], [2] to help the sinner, [3] and to assure the righteous that Church leaders are not trying to hide or overlook the sins of some while punishing the sins of others. A confession of guilt is required on these occasions as part of the proof of repentance. 3

In case you’re still not sure why the bishop needs to be involved, I’ll put it another way. One time I had a persistent sore throat. I tried everything to get rid of it: gargling, lozenges, plenty of liquids, throat sprays, everything! But it wouldn’t go away. Finally I got smart and went to the doctor. He had medicine that I couldn’t get on my own. Did you hear that with your spiritual ears? He had medicine that I couldn’t get on my own, and he had authority to get that medicine for me. Can you imagine me saying, “Well, I’d like to get rid of this sore throat but I just can’t go see a doctor.” Think of it this way: saying, “I can’t go see the bishop, I’m too ashamed!” is like saying, “I can’t go see the doctor, I’m too sick!”

Of course, anyone grappling with major sins may feel reluctant to confess to the bishop. But everyone I know who has actually followed through, confessed to the bishop, and repented has said that although it was difficult, it was a wonderful and positive experience. And they always came out of the bishop’s office rejoicing, feeling renewed gratitude for the Atonement, and feeling like a tremendous load had been taken from their shoulders. Most of them say, “I wish I had gone sooner.” And so does the Lord. He invites us to repent, to procrastinate no more, and says, in effect, “Put the weight on my shoulders.”

Oh good, here’s another question from out there in reading land:

Exactly what sins have to be confessed to the bishop?

Good question. As a rule of thumb, if you think a sin is serious but you’re not sure if you should talk to the bishop, talk to the bishop. In another book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, President Kimball gave a fairly specific list:

The confession of . . . major sins to a proper Church authority is one of those requirements made by the Lord. These sins include adultery, fornication, other sexual transgressions, and sins of comparable seriousness. 4

As you can see, for the most part, the sins involving sexual purity are the ones that need to be confessed to the bishop. Oh, here’s another comment from the class:

I feel like I need to talk to my bishop, but I’m too embarrassed. He’s my relative, and I’m afraid my whole family and everyone else will find out.

These are some of the toughest issues to deal with, and the answers may sound harsh, but they are true and crystal clear. First of all, the bishop is under a sacred obligation to keep confessions confidential, and to discuss them only with those who were directly involved. (Now, I know we’ve all heard horror stories, but if those stories are true, they are the exception and not the rule.) If your personal situation makes you feel that it is not possible for you to go to your bishop, then make an appointment with the stake president and clear things up. Don’t procrastinate and stew and figure out all the worst things that could happen. The worst has already happened, and now it’s time to seek forgiveness and put it behind you.

And about the embarrassment thing—you can have a little embarrassment now or a lot of embarrassment later. Brace yourself; this is harsh, but it’s the way things are.

And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed. (D&C 1:3)

And those who are not pure, and have said they were pure, shall be destroyed, saith the Lord God. (D&C 132:52)

If you need to repent, this is no time to try to hide your sins. It won’t work. It’s the height of foolishness to think you can hide your sins from God. If you really want repentance, if you really want to feel clean, no amount of anticipated embarrassment will keep you from the bishop’s office. And once you are there, tell him everything! Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone has said:

A bishop may be deceived, but the Holy Ghost cannot. . . . What a tragedy when someone finally gets enough courage to go to the bishop and then leaves his office having only partially confessed. 5

President Kimball continues:

The bishop may be one’s best earthly friend. He will hear the problems, judge the seriousness thereof, determine the degree of adjustment, and decide if it warrants an eventual forgiveness. He does this as the earthly representative of God, who is the master physician, the master psychologist, the master psychiatrist. If repentance is sufficient, he may waive penalties, which is tantamount to forgiveness so far as the church organization is concerned. The bishop claims no authority to absolve sins, but he does share the burden, waive penalties, relieve tension and strain, and he may assure a continuation of church activity. He will keep the whole matter most confidential. (Page 182)

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