Every now and then someone will announce that Mormons don’t believe they can be forgiven. They will even insist this to Mormons, as if they know our beliefs better than we do. Mormons, obviously, know whether or not their faith believes in repentance and even five minutes spent on one of the official Mormon websites would prove the rumor false.
Mormons have an outline of thirteen primary beliefs that was written by the first Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, in the 1800s. They are called the Articles of Faith. The fourth says:
“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Since repentance is the third principle of the gospel, it is pretty obvious Mormons believe they can be forgiven of their sins. If they did not, they would not bother with baptism, either.
Mormons begin formally teaching the principle of repentance in church at the age of eighteen months. Toddlers have a lesson about feeling sorry when they’ve done something wrong. When they move into the regular Primary program, they learn how repentance works and how to be forgiven for their sins. It is taught in their lesson manuals, in the songs they sing, and in their homes.
Mormons believe that through the atonement of Jesus Christ all mankind may be saved—this is another Article of Faith—and the atonement is what makes it possible for us to repent and to be forgiven. We could never save ourselves. Only Jesus Christ met the requirements of a Savior for all mankind and so Mormons worship Him as their Savior. When they are baptized, they repent and are forgiven for their past sins. After baptism, they can repent and be forgiven.
Repentance requires a true change of heart. It begins by recognizing that we have done wrong and sinned against God’s commandments. This recognition must be accompanied by true sadness, not for getting caught or because of the consequences, although those feelings may exist, but because we have hurt God and others and harmed our own relationship with God. Once we are truly sorry for our sins, we acknowledge them and apologize to God and to anyone else who was harmed by our choices or to anyone else who needs to know about them.
We need to try to make restitution for our sins. We should do our best to pay the price, to fix what we’ve damaged and to “make it up” to those we hurt. We need to recommit ourselves to God and His commandments so that we strengthen our ability to make moral choices.
Finally, we need to stop committing the sin. This is often the hardest part of the process and may require a number of restarts. However, unless we have completely mastered the sin, we have not fully repented.
The repentance process demonstrates that Mormons have a clear understanding of the ability to repent and to be forgiven for our sins. We know we can only fully work through these steps by asking the Savior for help and by humbling ourselves, putting Him first before ourselves.
Once we have repented, we know God wipes away the sin as if it never happened and accepting that forgiveness is part of the process. The atonement is at the heart of Mormonism.