Picture this: you’re scrolling on your Facebook feed for the twentieth time today. Amid the cat pictures, absurd memes, and political posts, you see an ad. The ad probably says something like “Have Whiter Teeth in 3 Easy Steps” or “Get Clearer Skin in Just 2 Weeks!” We live in a society that values being the best we can be, and we want that ASAP (see, I didn’t even write out “as soon as possible” because even I want you to get to the end of this article quickly).
While we should have clean teeth and skin, do we have that same attitude towards the more important things? Do we want to become the best person possible in the least amount of time possible?
“Now wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “self-improvement is a lifelong endeavor. You can’t just become a better person in a matter of days!” And I agree with you. Growth is a never-ending, lifelong process. We should find ways to improve whether we’re nineteen or ninety.
But what if I told you there was one single step that can make you a great Latter-day Saint? One simple remedy to turn you into the model Latter-day Saint everyone dreams of becoming? (And no, I’m not here to take your money in exchange for a product that might not even work. But if you feel an ounce of gratitude for changing your life after reading this article and would love to financially help this poor college student, I wouldn’t say no to that).
But what is this step? You might say obedience to God’s law. Others might think it’s their personal spirituality, the ability to feel the Holy Ghost in their lives. I personally feel like love would be a strong contender, as Christ Himself said the two great commandments are loving God and our neighbors, and by developing charity we seek to serve those around us. Or maybe something we’ve heard the General Authorities repeat in General Conference (like we did this past weekend), like ministering or tithing.
So is the skill obedience? Spirituality? Love? Service?
I don’t think it’s any of them. The one skill needed to be a good follower of Christ is repentance.
“Now wait a minute,” you might be thinking (again), “didn’t you just say that Christ declared love to be the greatest commandment.” Yes, you are correct. But the reason I argue for the importance of repentance above all else is that repentance is a synthesis of every aspect of the gospel; love, obedience, spirituality, service, faith, on and on.
The first great commandment is to love God. But how exactly do we do that? We have the 5 love languages to show our love for friends and family, but those don’t directly translate to show our love for God. Fortunately, Christ offers a solution. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Simple and to the point. Christ tells us that if we love Him, we need to keep His commandments. This scripture combines loving God and obedience into one. And when we strive to follow the counsel the General Authorities give us, pay tithing, do our ministering, honor the Sabbath day, we are obeying divine counsel.
Then in Mosiah 18, we learn that those who are baptized “[enter] into a covenant … that [they] will serve him and keep his commandments.” Then from Matthew 25, we learn that to serve God, we need to serve our neighbors. So already we have loving God, loving neighbors, obedience to covenants, and service here. Then as for spirituality, Helaman 4 says “the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples,” so if we obey—and by extension have love and serve—we will have the Holy Ghost to guide our lives.
So these major gospel principles ultimately lead into each other. So what’s the one step to becoming a great Latter-day Saint?
Granted, people might be terrific at loving others, at serving, being obedient, having the Spirit with them, and following our leaders’ counsel. But can they be perfectly loving, spiritual, obedient, and spiritual all of the time? No. That would be expecting someone to juggle half a dozen balls every single second of the day without being able to take a single break.
That’s where repentance comes in. Whenever someone falls, like a juggling ball, even in minor sins, repentance offers the opportunity to wash away our sins and pick ourselves back up … like a juggling ball (I really need to find another metaphor). The Lord offers us an invitation in Isaiah 1:18:
We live in a fallen world. It’s only natural for us to fall into sin and temptation. But God provided a single step to move past our human faults. Additionally, the ability to repent first requires us to recognize our own faults. Seeing where we are failing personally and being able to improve ourselves takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness and discipline. Granted, this is a step we will need to take daily throughout our entire lives. But that’s the beauty of repentance. That no matter what we do, no matter how fallen we think we are, the moment we’re willing to take that step closer to God through repentance, He will be there for us.
So the next time you want to make a To-Do list to improve your life, just put down this one simple step and you will be set: Repent.