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To Not Have Sinned

By Melissa Young

I plead with you, my brothers and sisters, my young friends and my older friends, avoid transgression! The idea that one is better off after one has sinned and repented is a devilish lie of the adversary.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Sin and Suffering,” BYU Speeches, Aug. 5, 1990

She was our guest speaker in Young Women’s that week, the older sister of a friend of mine who had become pregnant and given her baby up for adoption. I listened to her, my twelve-year-old mind unable to comprehend the pull of passion, the illusions of love. She walked us through her experience–the shock of the positive pregnancy test, how she stayed in the garage for hours because she was afraid to tell her parents, the wrenching process of deciding how to proceed. And then she described her healing, her life since then, her gratitude for the Atonement.

The takeaway message I got that day was perhaps not the one my leaders would have wanted: I felt like I would never come to know Christ, would never fully understand the Atonement, unless I sinned and sinned big.

Time has taught me a few things since then. I’ve learned about passion, illusion, shock, all in my own way.

I know that I am a sinner and come short of the glory of God. I am, at times, acutely aware of my shortcomings and failures. I cling to the Atonement and to grace.

But I’m also aware (as misguided as it may sometimes feel) of the cultural hierarchy of sin, and that my burden of sin would be regarded as rather garden variety. There are still times when I feel the shadow of inexperience, the same one I felt as a Beehive that Sunday. Among my friends are those who have walked the thorny paths of substance addiction, infidelity, abuse. There are those who have both chosen sin and those who have been affected by the sins of others. Some have yet to find peace, but those who have and can witness of its Source often express a certainty that the thorns have formed a fabric of growth, empathy, and depth. I’m not sure if any of them would erase the experiences if it meant erasing the character acquired because of it. It feels like my faith is mist-thin next to their iron and rock.

I don’t covet hardship, and I recognize that sin forms only a portion of the trials of mortality. But I also wonder about messages and how to balance them. How do we extend confidence in the ability to fully know God through the keeping of His commandments as opposed to breaking them? How do we instill a surety of the need to follow the path without creating the type of rigidity that drives people from it? How do we convince our children that it is truly better to not have sinned while still confessing the infinite hope available through the Atonement?

About Melissa Young

(Emerita) is a native of Utah and lives in Cache Valley, Utah, with her husband and three of her four children in their emptying nest. She has an MA in TESOL from Brigham Young University and currently volunteers with the English Learning Center.

61 thoughts on “To Not Have Sinned”

  1. Melissa,

    This is a profound question. I have thought about this too. I remember feeling so naive to the things of the world as a Freshman in college and with my "sinner" boyfriend (one of those bad boy/good girl relationships where I helped him get off drugs and recover from past sexual sins…) But I also felt a satisfaction that my knowledge was all about the things of God, and saw his naivete as to things of righteousness.

    Fast forward twenty years, and I've still always been the good girl, but life has shown me opportunities to fine tune my character, to try to rip the pride out as I go about my church-boundaried life.

    I've had to turn to the Lord as I've struggled to love my husband in hard times, to care for and serve my children, to overcome selfishness and serve the people I'm assigned to serve at church and to learn my own purpose and mission. And I've had health issues that brough me to my knees.

    And my faith is solid, my gratitude growing, the wake of my actions mostly positive. And I've learned to let go of my pride in my own righteousness as I've seen others struggle with sin and seen my own limitations.

    I've had temptations I never would have expected, but didn't act on because of my faith in Christ.

    So, my answer is that the straight and narrow way has depth, albeit more slowly arrived at than the sinner's path–because my sins are just as real. My biggest obstacle has been pride. And that is mighty hard to give up, the ripping sound in my heart is my feeble effort aided by the gracious hand of my Savior.

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  2. The thing is, God can turn anything around into something good. I volunteer at a local crisis pregnancy center and I see many "tragedies" turned around and many of the girls come to know God through the kind and sensitive counselors at the center.
    Ann

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  3. I wonder if part of the answer to your questions is by recognizing that the Atonement has broader applications in our lives than just helping us recover from our own sins. That role is not trivial or insignificant–as Sage said, sins of the "righteous" are just as real and sometimes harder to identify and change (pride is a great example of that!). But as you said in your piece, Melissa, the atonement can help heal us from the sins of others. It can also make up for times when our hearts are broken from life's circumstances and no one has sinned. As I learn more about the atonement, I see that it should be an active, living part of my daily life, and not just something I save for the "big sins." That is what we need to teach each other and our children.

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  4. My greatest lesson about the reality of the healing powers of the Atonement came, not because my greatest agony was the cause of sin, or because another, involved in my pain, had sinned against me, but because a dear family member and I had a gap we simply could not bridge, until we met in the middle, through the Savior. The at-one-ment isn't necessarily about sin, it's about making broken things whole. Other trials, besides sin, leave us with holes in our hearts that only at-one-ment with Christ can fill. At-one-ment is the filling of our hearts with Charity (Christ's pure love for US), and "Charity Never Faileth."

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  5. Confession: as one who has sinned big (as a teenager) and had to find my own rocky road back to the gospel, I have wondered, sometimes, about my non-big-sinned friends: how do they know? I have my testimony because of the experiences I put myself through and because of the coming back, because of the repentence process. I don't know that I would feel what I feel if I hadn't experienced what I experienced. You're right, Melissa: I wouldn't erase my experiences.

    Here is the thing, though. I believe that while free agency and choice have an immense impact upon what sins we make (of course!) they are also, to an extent, a product of our life's experiences. I think you are brought to experiences (good or bad) because YOU need them. Maybe I (with my stubborn, find-out-for-myself soul) needed to sin in order to figure it out. Maybe you didn't need that and could learn a gentler way. Does that make any sense?

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  6. Beautiful post. While I haven't had to deal with harnessing the power of the atonement for something big I have felt Heavenly Father's love and power through it. The atonement is there for all those things in life that we do wrong, I know that IS true. The atonement is also there for those things in life that happen that are unfair. I have felt Heavenly Father's love for me as I struggles with miscarriage after miscarriage and a husband, while supportive, who just didn't seem to feel the same way I did. It was hard to walk through that alone. After sometime I knew that my Savior was walking with me as I passed through each one. His atonement is there for everyone for we are all sinners and to face those things in life that just aren't fair.

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  7. I have a few thoughts about this.
    1. I was always "good" and it took me years to realize that I wasn't the good son in the Prodigal Son. When you aren't going around sinning big, you might think you don't actually need the atonement.
    2. Just because you sin big, doesn't mean you repent. Plenty of sinners out there miserable without repenting.
    3. You will be judged based on your own circumstances. If I have great light and knowledge, or greater ability to resist, God expects more from me.
    4. Sin hurts. It hurts yourself and others, sometimes those you love. The consequences are there, sometimes you don't hear it in the version that is given which emphasizes the good parts but they are there. For instance, it is possible for adultery to help you and your spouse access the atonement, but how much pain and hard work and damage is caused before and during and after the repentance process.
    5. True repentance means you truly regret the sin.
    6. I've had my share of difficult experiences that helps me understand the Atonement. Mostly, it hasn't been sin to help me see. There have been other heartaches and circumstances.
    7. You haven't sinned "big" perhaps because you know that the sin isn't worth it. You know that it is risky to cross a line and how hard/impossible it might be to cross back. It is far better to NOT take that first drug. It is far better to NOT flirt with a cute guy when you are married. What if you crossed that line and didn't come back? So many people don't…..
    Seriously, think about the big sins you could commit in your life right now: ABUSE YOUR CHILDREN, STEAL YOUR PARENT'S CREDIT CARD NUMBERS AND USE THEM, HAVE AN ABORTION WITHOUT TELLING YOUR HUSBAND, etc. I assume you recoil at the thought of these sins. Why would you destroy yourself or your children and family in these ways? Repentance is for those you are in the midst of all that pain to be healed. Be thankful that you already know that these things are wrong and have the strength to not be tempted, or to resist temptation.

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  8. Amy So, definitely be grateful for your own spiritual experiences. I am grateful for mine which are unique to me. I did find my testimony through other types of experiences other than repentance while I was a teenager.

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  9. I think some of the answer lies in the fact that we tend to focus so much on the Atonement as saving us from sin. Hence, your feelings that to truly feel God's love and apply the Son's Atonement in your life, you had to commit a huge sin.

    I recently read a talk given by Elder Bednar at a BYU devotional regarding grace and the Atonement. He said that while it is important to know that the Atonement is for the sinner to repent and become whole, it is equally important to know that the Atonement is also for those good people who are just trying to make their lives better. The part of his talk that has stayed in my mind is that the Atonement is so that Christ can live in us.

    I have often struggled with this concept–the Atonement being for good people just trying to make their lives better. Somehow, I foolishly thought that because my life was not full of some great trial or tribulation that Heavenly Father didn't think my faith was strong enough to handle such things. And then I began to wonder what was wrong with me? What did I need to do to show my Heavenly Father that I was good enough?

    I realize now what crazy thinking that was. First, who goes around asking to be tried and tested just to prove that you can handle it? Second, and more importantly, I realized that "men are that they might have joy" and I needed to spend more time being grateful for what I had and focusing on improving the "shining moments" rather than worrying about not appearing to be suffering as much as others. Does #2 make sense?

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  10. I think we need to remember the brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. We see him as a whiner, complaining because his father celebrated the prodigal's return, and he isn't an attractive role model. But his father loved him and rewarded him for his steadfastness as a son — he inherited everything the father had!

    We need to find a way to understand and be happy about the very real blessings of remaining faithful. The repentant prodigals may get the attention and may have learned from hard experience, but isn't there a way to be joyful and secure in our Father's love even if (especially if?) we haven't ever strayed far from his side? We don't do a very good job of teaching or even feeling that, when the prodigal is the one who gets the fatted calf.

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  11. So far as we know, Nephi wasn't guilty of any "big" sins either, but his heart was certainly tried through his life experiences. It is the same for each of us. The fact of the matter is, sin is damaging. Definitely the way out of it is repentance through the atonement but Elder Oaks is right–it IS better not to walk into it in the first place–the stretching, growing experiences we need in life will happen regardless of whether we make it harder on ourselves through "big" sins.

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  12. I appreciate all of the thoughtful comments. I do recognize the huge scope of the Atonement and how it essential it is to everything in my life, not just aspects that relate to sin.

    I suppose it's the visibility of sin that accounts for the attention it receives. The feelings I had as YW reflected my immature understanding of the Atonement, but they also reflected the heavy attention placed on sin and its affects. We did not hear from guest speakers addressing how their faithfulness had blessed their lives or from people who had accessed the power of the Atonement to recover from other trials. It seems to be all about sin when you're young, and I want to find a way to teach my kids about the grand wonder of the Atonement in a way that puts sin in the proper perspective.

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  13. i have never had the desire to experience the hard sins in life. so maybe i'm not the right person to answer…but…i grew up in a town where my family was the only lds family there. i like to think i was righteous because i wanted to be, but sometimes i wonder if i was because everybody expected me to be. however, i saw the decisions my friends and others around me where making and the way their lives turned out because of them. it never made any sense to me to go out and get so drunk that you couldn't remember anything, and then spend the next day or so puking your guts out. recently i had a health condition that completely debilitated me…and i thought over and over again…why would you choose to feel this way on purpose? why would you take drugs to feel this crappy?
    anyway, for me and my own life, i didn't need to experience those sins because i could see how messed up my friends lives were because they did.
    that said, i have no idea how to teach my children. my husband partook a little of greater sins than i, so i wonder, will my kids feel that is justification for them to do the same? or do we tell them at all?
    good thing we have the spirit as our constant companion to help us along the way.

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  14. While forgiveness and being made clean from sin is possible because of the Atonement, while people are enmeshed in sin and on that path, and through the long road back, the one thing the Atonement can't do is give them missed spiritual opportunties; missed time in church activity, service and sacrifice – all the experiences, growth and blessings from being obedient, serving in callings in the Church, temple experiences, etc that come from righteous obedience.

    For me, the Atonement fills the emptiness of not having an L.D.S. family (parents and siblings) with whom to share those experiences that are so integral in my life. But with the compensation of the Atonement my sight is enlarged to see how I can serve them and value them, beyond an L.D.S. context. It covers my stumbling over and over again with weaknesses, even while I'm striving to follow the pattern of my Elder Brother, even Jesus Christ. It fills the holes that are in me – over and over again.

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  15. the one thing the Atonement can’t do is give them missed spiritual opportunities

    I think the one thing we may be missing here is that if we choose one, we miss what GOOD the other might have brought. The road not taken.

    We all have regrets in life, and I'm having regrets of my own that don't have anything to do with sin, but have everything to do with not having had enough life experience/wisdom/clarity/courage to buck authority when I *felt* I should've–the road not taken.

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  16. I had a experience once which taught me that even though I had never committed a "serious sin," I need the Savior just as much as those who have because I have fallen short in so many other areas. The place on the hierarchy of my sin didn't matter because they would separate me from God without Christs atonement just as much as a "serious sin."

    I had missionary companion admitted she had gone through a rebellious stage and then saw the light. She would tell me that her testimony was more genuine than mine because I had never visited the dark side like she had. Oh yes and she also said that those who grew up in an LDS community don't really have strong testimonies, we just do what we do out of social pressure. As I look back at it, I'm positive she said such things out of insecurity. In the meantime she was very irritating.

    Sin is always a step backward. Through the grace of Christ, He can turn it to our good, but sin is always a step back from returning to the Father.

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  17. We all sin – there is no point in rating sins as big or little because "little" ones will keep you out of the celestial kingdom just as much as "big" ones will if you don't repent of them. I think the key is really feeling the weight of these "little" sins. I rememebr that talk by Pres. Faust when he recalled that he neglected to help his grandmother bring in firewood. That seemingly "little" sin tore him up and he felt it immensely. That is how we can and I think should feel about all our sins. It shows that we humbly realize that we have far to go to become perfect and we are in desperate need of the atonement.

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  18. Also the atonement is powerful and we can be forgiven of sin but there are some pain and troubles caused by sin that will never be made right in this life. I would not wish that on anyone.

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  19. I wouldn't erase my most shameful and sinful experiences if it would erase what I've learned from them. And while there surely is an opportunity cost to life off the strait and narrow path, the redemption process brings its own rich rewards.

    I would argue that those who "sin big" and repent aren't any better off, but ultimately they aren't any worse off, either. The sanctified receive the same reward, no matter what their individual pathways to sanctification might have been.

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  20. I had this discussion with a good friend of mine a few months ago. We are both serving as YW presidents in our individual wards and she confessed that she actually feels…inadequate somehow because she has never committed any of the "major" sins. She grew up wanting to be good and never found it much of a challenge to choose those good thing. Now, she wonders, as a leader, if she can really understand what the girls under her care are going through.

    As someone who really struggled even wanting to be good, I envied her spiritual gift. I do believe that for some, being obedient comes naturally and I told her that while some girls, like I did, will struggle with sin and obedience, others, like her, will thrive under her example and steadfastness.

    I love the quote from Elder Oaks because, aside from being wrong, sinning turns into a high-stakes gamble. You never know where you'll be be, spiritually, mentally, physically or emotionally, when and if the moment of sin passes. I know lots of people like myself who just feel grateful and lucky that something induced us at some point to turn back.

    That being said, I have an unwavering testimony of the atonement that I'm not sure I would trade for anything. Like Alma, I had a moment in my life when the power of forgiveness and love overwhelmed me and I felt a physical difference throughout my entire being. I lean on that experience more times than I probably should, especially when callings become annoying or marriage gets hard or sacrament meeting talks are bad. Because I know the gospel is true. I felt it. I know it.

    That doesn't take away the consequences of sin, however. I have lived the rest of my life, while infinitely happier than my sinning self, plagued by consequence. So, without a doubt, I think it is better to have never sinned. But what a beautiful thing repentance is.

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  21. I'm with Sharon, deciding to take the path of sin means that you don't take the path of righteousness and happiness. There are opportunities I will never have because of major mistakes in my past.

    A very minor example- during my "sinful" days I failed a high school class. The next semester I wanted to be on a team and couldn't because of that grade. Who knows where might life would have gone, friends I might have made, character I could have built if I had been on that team. I have a wonderful life now because of the Savior, but it isn't the life I would have had without those sins.

    Not to mention the ways that sin can continue to haunt you even after you have repented. As an example – an alcoholic considers themselves an alcoholic even after they no longer drink because of the lingering nature of some sin.

    As wonderful and eternal as the atonement is, there are some things that God allows us to suffer so that we learn good from evil. The atonement isn't a retroactive blank check. You never get it all back. Maybe in some future God plans to give that back to us, but it seems contrary to His nature. Every day is a gift, one you can never fully regain.

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  22. This is beautiful, thought provoking and inspiring. Its always slightly uncomfortable, thinking about how lacking I am. But everyone is, and that is why God's love is such a miracle. We can't regain what we have lost, but we can always get back on track. Thank you for this.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  23. deciding to take the path of sin means that you don’t take the path of righteousness and happiness

    Tell that to Eve.

    Sin and righteousness are indeed opposites, which means we must experience both to know either. We're not supposed to sin, and yet we will and we must. It's paradoxical, as all essential truths are.

    Consider the fact that the Savior, the only sinless person, deliberately experienced the fulness of sin in order to gain knowledge–specifically, that he might know, according to the flesh, how to succor his people. His righteousness and goodness and light is inextricably bound up with his experience with sin and evil and darkness.

    It is better for us to pass through sorrow that we may know the good from the evil, and this must come to pass through our own experience. There's a limit to what we can learn through observation, and while opportunities on earth are indeed lost through sinful choices, I emphasize again that the experience of redemption has its own compensating effects.

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  24. Very interesting post and comments.

    While I realize that some who have committed some of the larger sins may have experiences accessing the atonement which I cannot begin to fathom, as has been mentioned in some of the comments above, there are definitely scars and footprints left behind by some of the more serious mistakes. I have a brother-in-law who has been extraordinarily promiscuous for more than a decade. There have been many women he has hurt and babies he has abandoned. Those effects will last for years. My own dad had a pornography habit that drained his marriage for years. My dear friend nursed a relative through the devastating effects of AIDS, which she contracted from her husband who had had an affair and picked up HIV years before. Yes, I believe in the power of the atonement. Yes, I believe that these people can repent and change. Yes, I believe that the people they've hurt can be healed and comforted by Jesus' love. Yes, in the eternal scheme of things, all will be made right and will be restored. But, those aching hearts could have been spared so much pain had others made different choices along the way.

    We will all have different points in our lives when we will feel a desperate need to turn to the Savior. That is mortality. Whether it is because of the death of a loved one, the decay of our mortal bodies, a grave mistake or a series of little ones, or an aching heart, we all need His grace in our lives, and at some points more keenly than others.

    Thanks for the discussion.

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  25. We all have to go through the refiner's fire. I'm grateful for the atonement that allows us to repent and walk back to a place of peace.

    But I hestitate to think that because I haven't "sinned big" means that I don't understand the atonement or have gained knowledge and experience in my life.

    I believe that God makes sure we have the experiences we need to refine us, to perfect us and to help us grow closer to Him. Those experiences come in a myriad of forms, illnesses, family trials, struggles with faith, etc.

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  26. May I suggest we be very careful here. Both Eve and Nephi broke a lower law in order to bring about Heavenly Father's and the Savior's purposes on earth. The Savior never sinned; because of being half-God, He, in some way not understood by us, was able to suffer the effects, the pain and sorrow of all sins – WITHOUT ever committing one of them, so He would know to an infinite depth, what we suffer. LOVE BEYOND COMPREHENSION

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  27. I think life holds enough hardships without adding sin on top of it.

    If everything we go through is necessary to refine us the way we are meant to be- the common burdens of life illness, loneliness, pain from the sins of others, etc- are enough to do that refining. There are enough opportunities to come unto Him without messing up. Even if we lived perfectly, those burdens of humanity would be enough to drive us to our knees for succor.

    When we sin we take a step back, or sideways and it becomes necessary for us to repent in order to get back on the normal track. Could we have done it w/o the sin? Yes. We just made life harder for ourselves. (At least that is my understanding).

    I think the real lesson here is how amazing His love is. He doesn't shortchange us due to our sinfulness- he teaches us, and then loves us so much after that we can't help but feel it.

    It reminds me of the scripture that says that if you must chasten, follow it with a double measure of love. That is how the Savior works-I love Him!

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  28. Exactly, Sharon. He experienced sin without ever committing sin so that he could fully know and love us. I believe that, on a much smaller scale, our own experiences with sin enable us to know and love God and each other.

    All the scriptures which warn against the consequences of sin are absolutely true. So is Luke 7.

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  29. This is going to be long. I'm sorry!

    But I just want to testify that we are NEVER better off for sinning. That is a sneaky lie that Satan uses to ensnare countless people.

    I had a dear friend as a teen who was into "big" trouble. It hadn't been so long since he'd been living righteously that he'd forgotten what he knew was true, though. One conversation stands out in my mind as he said that he kind of thought that in a way it wasn't "all bad that he was doing what he was doing, because someday when he was a bishop or something, he'd be able to understand and relate to those people who were struggling with the same thing."

    It can sound good at first blush…but Satan got the better of him eventually, and he is so long gone from the church, and lost himself in that underworld of sin. It is horribly difficult to escape from some sins…though not impossible.

    From an early age I've pondered the truth that "no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God". It doesn't matter if the sin is "little" or "big", we are all utterly dependent on the Savior's atonement. Whether it's the sin of pride or murder, both must be repented of in full.

    I've also considered how the atonement can restore even the worst sinner to a state of purity and wholeness. I know this is a true principle. But aside from a few scriptural accounts of this happening, where a mighty change of heart has turned someone around, it's not too often that we hear about those caught up in gross sin who become repentant, being incorporated as though the sin had never taken place.

    And sadly, in today's world, that's kind of how it has to be. EG: If you have ever abused a child, you are no longer eligible to work with children or youth in the church. If you become a registered sex offender, even if you do your jail time, repent and turn from that way and are no longer anywhere close to repeating those acts, that label follows you wherever you go for the rest of your life.

    The atonement can take away the PAIN of our sins, and we can be no longer HARROWED UP by them, and the LORD will "remember them no longer" when it comes to the final judgement, but the atonement doesn't undo the consequences of our sins.

    I think one of the main reasons it's better to not have sinned in the first place is because of the consequences that are out of our control. Alma and Mosiah's sons spent the rest of their lives earnestly striving to undo the impact of their sins on their fellow beings. They'd caused great damage…which he describes as committing "murder"…because he'd killed their spirits. Just because they had a change of heart didn't mean that all those they'd influenced had. That's a big weight to carry…but again, the atonement made it possible for them to move forward and spend their lives in the service of God.

    Like someone mentioned before, it's the things we miss out on when we're busy sinning or living out of the influence of the Holy Ghost that we can't ever get back. The good we didn't do, the wisdom we didn't gain, the service we didn't offer. We will all have every opportunity the Lord needs us to have in life to learn what we need to learn. We can gain powerful testimonies through other means besides sin. Tests come in all flavors and sizes…health, financial, relationship, aging, actions of others, etc. Sufficient is the day to the evil thereof…we don't need to add any of our own sins to have "stronger" or "more real" testimonies. The Lord will bless those who stay true with all that they need, and more.

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  30. (I typed my comment hours ago, finishing right before the school called to tell me my kid had fallen and broken his arm…I ran off without posting it, and now several other comment have essentially said what I said so I'm sorry for the repetition.)

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  31. Please don't apologize for your beautiful and insightful words, Blue. That was one of the wisest comments I've ever read.

    I too have learned that I am a sinner even if I never commit a 'big sin,' but as for the big sins committed against me? I can't say I'm grateful for them. Not yet.

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  32. I worry about my own spiritual blinders if I begin to take comfort in ranking sins and feeling content in having avoided a "biggie." I wonder, if we could see clearly, how we would compare

    a lapse in a moment of passion & years of compounded snide remarks to a sibling

    a season of experimentation with drugs vs. years of neglecting to visit sisters who (in God's wisdom) could have benefited vitally from our care (if we had only known)

    I mourn for those I have failed to comfort and aide, and I wonder how that compares to those how overtly harm. Makes my head hurt. In balance, sheep are neglected, souls are not healed. I am astoundingly grateful that God's Math is not our math and that the scope of grace is beyond my understanding.

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  33. What a great, thought-provoking post! Two things keep coming to mind as I read the post and the comments: first, I'm not sure that we can so easily delineate "big" and "little" sins–any sin (great or small) can keep us from God if we let it. Second, I'm grateful that I'm not responsible of determining the magnitude of anyone's sins but my own–and those are enough to keep me fully occupied (and in fact, this post reminds me that I could and should do better).

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  34. About "big" sins. When I was in college, one of my roommates was raped. The impression I had at the time (among other things) is that there ARE grades of sin. If I am grouchy to my family at one point in the day, it is a MUCH different deal than something like rape. Yes, both need to be repented of before returning to live with God but they are NOT the same in degree.

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  35. And yet, forgiveness and redemption are just as complete for one as the other. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Not pinkish.

    I know it's a really troubling concept that those who commit grievous sin can be on equal spiritual standing with those who do not. But they can, if they pay the price.

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  36. I think we too often forget that within our faith, salvation is on some level of a communal nature. We can't really delineate too much between the big sinner and the little sinner. Our job as a community is to embrace one and all on equal terms. When we are viewing others and ourselves as the "big" sinners versus the "little" sinners, we are not really seeing each other (or ourselves) as God sees us. It sounds a little too much like 2 Nephi 28:8.
    Although we are punished for our own sins (indeed it is we who suffer the most when we sin), we suffer (or should be) with those that sin, hurting with them because of their pain. It's not that we have to have sinned in the same way, but we all hurt people, and we are all hurt by others. We are one with them in their suffering.
    I think if we are worried about who is sinning and on what level, we are diffentiating ourselves as better, or cleaner, or more righteous. Not only is that nonsense, that thought process in a sin not loving others as ourselves.

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  37. We can all be cleansed white. Yes.

    But if we don't repent the unrepentant rapist is telestial material. The grouchy mom, terrestrial (assuming that we're only talking about these two sins and not the sum of an entire life). The degree of personal repentance and soul-searching for one sin is much deeper and weightier than the other sin.

    I don't think it's helpful to sit around and evaluate others' sins, to worry as mmiles said about who is sinning and on what level. At the same time, I don't think it's accurate to say that there aren't sins that, if you personally commit them, will wound you more deeply and take far greater strength for you to heal from.

    The attitude is always "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner," without worrying about the sins of people around you, without differentiating ourselves, yes.

    But I don't think it's wrong when you're teaching about repentance to teach that there are really serious sins, that when you commit adultery you're going to have to do a degree of repenting that is far more involved than when you are rude. It's wrong to teach that the adulterer can't be cleansed white, but it's also, in my opinion, wrong to teach that the way back is as easy as sins that simply don't have the same weight.

    I don't think that's what you're saying, Kathy–I'm not deliberately misreading you or anything, just elaborating on something I think is important. In emphasizing that all can be white if they pay the price, I think it's also good to explain that some sins do carry a heavier price than others.

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  38. Whenever I feel the least bit righteous or superior to another, I remember the teaching of the Savior found in 3 Nephi: 21-22: "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, and it is also written before you, that thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment of God;
    But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

    I cannot judge the heart of another, but I know my own. I am imperfect, I am a sinner, and yet God loves me infinitely. He forgives perfectly.

    We discover the path to peace when we realize that all of us make mistakes–some of them big ones–and yet God willingly forgives and forgets when we repent. This knowledge motivates me to be kinder to myself and others. It inspires me to forgive. It gives me hope for the future, grace for the past, and comfort for the present.

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  39. Emily,
    Well said. Our wounds will not be the same. But then it circles right back to Melissa's question, if we have a deeper wound because of sin, then will we value the atonement more when that wound is healed? Or is there a need to understand the deep wounds of others like Christ did?

    I think there is. I think the atonement gives us that.

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  40. This conversation reminded me of this wonderful talk by Elder Eyring called Do Not Delay: http://lds.org/general-conference/1999/10/do-not-delay?lang=eng

    In it, he speaks of a man hardened by sin who lost his wife and children and reached bottom before repenting.

    He goes on to say,

    "Later, he was my more-than-70-year-old district missionary companion. I asked the people we were teaching, as I testified of the power of the Savior’s Atonement, to look at him. He had been washed clean and given a new heart, and I knew they would see that in his face. I told the people that what they saw was evidence that the Atonement of Jesus Christ could wash away all the corrosive effects of sin.

    "That was the only time he ever rebuked me. He told me in the darkness outside the trailer where we had been teaching that I should have told the people that while God was able to give him a new heart, He had not been able to give him back his wife and his children and what he might have done for them. But he had not looked back in sorrow and regret for what might have been. He moved forward, lifted by faith, to what yet might be."

    It's always better not to have sinned, but as Elder Eyring says, "With the Lord’s help and the miracle of that book in the bottom of a trunk, it had not for him been too late nor the way too hard."

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  41. Yes, for sure, Emily–the price of redemption varies significantly, for the sinner and for the God who made that redemption possible.

    And yes, while repentance removes the spiritual burdens of sin, it does not erase the other consequences, which can be grievous indeed.

    It's beyond foolish to deliberately sin for the sake of experience. I maintain, though, that sin is a necessary element of mortality. We're here in part to learn what evil is, not just sorrow. Illness brings sorrow, but it doesn't come of evil. Other natural adversities can bring great difficulty, but they don't require you to grapple with darkness.

    It's true that the sins of others which affect us can leave us well acquainted with darkness, but that still points to the necessity and spiritual benefit of experiencing sin in one way or another.

    And I submit that there is a significant difference between the knowledge that comes from sinning and the knowledge that comes from being sinned against, and that this weightier knowledge can yield precious spiritual fruit.

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  42. One thought that keeps coming back to me is that life is not a contest. God does not judge us in comparison to others but for some reason we cannot stop comparing ourselves to others. Whether we compare and come to the conclusion that we aren't as good as others or compare and some how feel bad that we didn't sin as big as others and therefore somehow missed out on a deeper understanding of the atonement is just silly.

    Have you ever gotten the feeling that some of the "big sinners" who repent and come back somehow attain a rock star status in our mormon culture. We somehow think that they are more spiritual than the rest of us with just the common every day sins? It almost seems that a bit of pride ("I really know what I am talking about because of my "big sins"") seems to creep in, which is kind of ironic.

    Do we really think that Alma the Younger had a deeper understanding of the atonement than Nephi did? That just doesn't seem right to me. And I don't think it is. I suggest that we can all have a Alma the Younger experience with repentance and the atonement without committing an Alma the Younger sin. The key is to feel ourselves a sinner, because we all are. It is not a matter of the magnitude of our sins but the depth of our humility that gives us access to the atonement.

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  43. KLS, I disagree when you said that "Illness brings sorrow, but it doesn’t come of evil. Other natural adversities can bring great difficulty, but they don’t require you to grapple with darkness."

    I have suffered from lupus for 7 years now. Nothing brings to light my pride, my daily sins, and ambition like this illness. That's darkness right there. I've never had anything in my life, reveal so intimately, my deepest sins, than struggling with this disease. It's ironic that I may never have a cure from lupus. But I hope and pray that I may someday be forgiven for my enormous pride which is like a millstone hanging around my neck.

    I absolutely understand your point that we learn and gain much from our experiences with sin. But it is only as we apply the atonement that knowledge and wisdom is gained.

    I believe that whatever our experiences may be, whether we grapple with serious sin or struggle with our private sins that don't seem big in comparison, or whether personal trials and tribulations reveal to us our hidden sins, that the atonement cleanses, heals, and brings us wisdom and knowledge.

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  44. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post, Melissa! I love this discussion. It has really made me think about this from different angles. In discussing it with my sister this morning, she reminded me of a lovely quote from C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity:

    "A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down."

    Certainly the journey through the repentence process can bring with it a unique personal experience. (Perhaps a function of more intimately understanding the opposition in all things?) But, certainly the journey of fighting the temptation comes its own lessons, as well.

    The refiner's fire comes with all types of flame, doesn't it?

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  45. This has been a really interesting post and also very thought provoking comments.

    I've thought about the concept of sinning, obedience, and gaining knowledge a lot. I've come to the conclusion that I kind of hate it when people say, "I'm glad that I made that mistake because then I learned [fill in the blank]." I think that we should, instead, "I'm glad that I made the mistake and repented because then I learned [fill in the blank]. Learning only comes through obedience.

    We can't receive a witness until after the trial of our faith. – The trial of our faith may come in the form of straight obedience without repentance (such as the commandments that we, personally, may find easier to keep). Other times, the trial of our faith may come as a result of a sin we've committed and the full repentance process that follows. Then there are times when a trial of faith comes when someone sins against us (such trials can be quite devastating, too). And finally, there are times when a trial of faith comes because of completely uncontrollable conditions (ie: illness). Any way you look at it, we receive no witness, no knowledge until the trial of faith.

    —oh, and I want to say that I found this post especially interesting – as I currently hold a calling in the Young Women's organization. I think that we do kind of feel like we need to have a "big" story to make the atonement really meaningful. I'm hoping that by taking the young women I teach to the scriptures more often (rather than reading some of the sensational stories), they won't feel like they need to have some "big" sin in order to experience the atonement.

    Really – any experience with the atonement is a big deal.

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  46. It seems to me that life hands out enough refining fire experiences without adding sin to the mix.

    And while we can be forgiven (and even forgive ourselves) for sinning, what has never quite gone away, for me, is the worldliness that I let into my consciousness during those college years when I tested my beliefs.

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  47. As a teenager/young adult it felt so unique to be an artist rebel. I didn't realize at the time that I'd become a pathetic mormon-girl- gone-bad cliche.
    Lots of painful repentance and twenty years later I have a sense that my life is more or less aligned with Heavenly Father's will, that forgiveness is sweet and complete. I also feel the compelling call to creativity that accompanies closeness to God. What I don't have is time to act on that feeling. The demands of raising a large family, heavy church callings, and general adulthood limit the time I can spend on creative pursuits. It is a sacrifice I make gladly, but I feel a deep sense of loss looking back at those early rebel years. Yes, my slate from that time is clean..but it is empty. That precious preparatory time was lost in the pursuit of what? Worthiness before the Lord can be restored, time can not.

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  48. This is my first post to this blog after lurking (and enjoying) it for some time. This particular topic is one that I’ve put a lot of thought and research into. If we all have “pet” gospel topics, this is mine. That said, you will have to forgive any overt enthusiasm that comes across in my comment. I’m a bit “fiery” on this topic.

    The idea that there is growth in sin is a lie. One of the most clever lies of the adversary, in fact, it is the first lie the adversary told to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. II think this lie was so important to Satan that he sought to protect it by causing it to be hidden through the mistranslation and misinterpretation of the creation story as found in Genesis. Now where is this lie that Satan told? It is in his line to Eve, that if she ate of the fruit, that she would be as the gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5). However in a more correct account found in the book of Moses, Heavenly Father is clear that result is not to know both good and evil, but to know good from evil (Moses 6:56). That is what makes us “like the gods” — not experiencing good and evil, but having a perfect knowledge of the difference. We should seek as Nephi “to shake at the appearance of sin” (2 Ne 4:31), in order to avoid it, not experience it. Why was this lie so important to Satan? I don’t think it was designed to bring down the average man; far simpler deceptions can do that; but instead, I think it was to bring down the followers of Christ, like Adam and Eve, and you and I.

    This deception, which had prevailed in many of the doctrines of the Christian churches during the Apostasy, was one of the first things corrected through Joseph Smith during the Restoration. Note the important differences shown in italics in the JST version of Romans 3:8 “And some affirm that we say, (whose damnation is just,) Let us do evil that good may come. But this is false.”

    A few more scriptures to consider :

    2 Ne 15:20 (Isaiah 5:20)
    Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

    Alma 41:10
    Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you,wickedness never was happiness.

    Thinking that the redemption from sin — as an experience — is better for our testimonies than obedience, is like saying that getting lost, wandering around, losing ground and time, only to eventually find your way back on course, is better than staying on course to begin with. It is not. No matter how much more sure you are of the correctness of the course after losing your way, you will always be behind where you could have been had you stayed.

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  49. Sorry, the comment form took out the italics that I referred to in quoting Romans 3:8. "but this is a lie" should have been in italics.

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  50. Very thoughtful comment, Tiffany. Thank you!

    Katie, glad you posted. I don't doubt the truth of any of the scriptures you quoted. My point is simply that those who repent of serious sin don't necessarily end up "behind" those who never commit serious sin.

    I'm curious: what do you think of the parable of the two debtors?

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  51. "Sin and righteousness are indeed opposites, which means we must experience both to know either. We’re not supposed to sin, and yet we will and we must. It’s paradoxical, as all essential truths are."

    Well, there's no risk that any of us are getting out of sinning. We all sin! Big or little, we sin, and we have need of the atonement.

    Another perspective: When you are older and your children are older and you reflect on the mistakes you've made as a parent (and you will make mistakes), you will yearn for the blessings of the atonement to heal your heart.

    Let us teach our children that the atonement allows us to improve. It allows us to overcome mistakes. It comforts us in our sorrow. AND it rescues us from sin.

    Great OP, by the way.

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  52. KLS, the Parable of the Two Debtors is very interesting to consider in light of this discussion. Thanks for bringing it up. I think I should start by saying that I think in some ways we are arguing two sides of the same coin. I completely agree with you that sin and repentance has nothing whatsoever to do with your position in relation to other people. Our spiritual journeys are completely individual and it isn’t a matter of being “in front” of or “behind” anyone else, it is only a matter of being behind where you could have been.

    Sin brings damnation– literally a stopping– to eternal progress and repentance allows us to once again move forward along the straight and narrow path, toward God and eternal life. What is lost in sin, and can never be recovered, is our eternal progression. In the end, no one will make it the entire way by their own merits, and then the mercies of the atonement will come in to make up the gap, but you will never get as far with sin stopping you at certain points, as you would have through obedience.

    Heavenly Father compares this progress to gaining more light and knowledge. Once you accept knowledge and understand its truth, you can not “forget” that truth, you can only act against it, which increases the gravity of your sin. This process continues until a soul has a full knowledge of God, even actually sees God, and becomes a Son of Perdition if they then choose evil anyway.

    In contrast to light and knowledge, or eternal progression, are Christ-like attributes which are
    meant to help us along in our progression. Things like faith, humility, compassion, gratitude, testimony, hope, charity, and love. While often described as something that “grows” (faith is like a mustard seed), this is only referring to the capacity of these to increase, but they can also decrease. Faith can be lost, testimonies can waiver, love can die out. Just as a mature tree can not return to being a sapling, the true growth of eternal progression is not reversible. We can stop moving forward, we can even get off the path all together, but we can not return to the innocence of not knowing the truths that we have attained. And no matter when or where we stop progressing, that it the standard to which we will be judged in the end.

    So back to the parable (Luke 7). The debtor who was forgiven of more and therefore loved the Lord more, had an increase of the Christ-like attribute of love, and probably faith and testimony as well. These attributes are not the same as eternal progression. They can help and motivate us to progress, they are even the fruits of our progression, but they are not the same thing. Having them, even in abundance, is not the same as attaining eternal life.

    Man, I need to be able to write shorter comments. Sorry you guys. Maybe this is why I’m mostly a lurker:)

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  53. Thanks for your reply, Katie. I understand where you're coming from now, and based on that perspective your remarks make complete sense. I just happen to have a very different point of view about the meaning of eternal life.

    You said: The debtor who was forgiven of more and therefore loved the Lord more, had an increase of the Christ-like attribute of love, and probably faith and testimony as well. These attributes are not the same as eternal progression. They can help and motivate us to progress, they are even the fruits of our progression, but they are not the same thing. Having them, even in abundance, is not the same as attaining eternal life.

    On this point I completely (and respectfully) disagree. I believe the ultimate point of life and progression is to increase in love and faith, and that the more we attain the more we know God, and that knowing God because we are like unto him is the very essence of eternal life. "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."

    In sum, I see (and have experienced) a direct connection between knowing darkness and knowing light. Gaining such knowledge is a tremendous yet necessary risk. And I believe mortality began with one woman's choice to take that risk.

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  54. Katie wrote:

    "Our spiritual journeys are completely individual and it isn’t a matter of being “in front” of or “behind” anyone else, it is only a matter of being behind where you could have been."

    I don't understand what you're saying here, Katie. You make it sound as though "eternal progression" is some kind of conveyor belt.

    Look, I think we can all agree that it is better not to sin. But we all do. It seems fruitless and even a little mean-spirited to try to distinguish between "big sins" and "little sins" in a context such as this. The truth is that I know many people who made serious mistakes in their lives who have repented fully and who, I believe, are just as far, if not farther, along in their "eternal progression" than those of us who have never done anything requiring a confession to the bishop. Does that mean we encourage our young people to get out there and sin a little so that they can develop more depth of character? Of course not! But nor does it mean we make those who have stumbled feel as though they will be forever behind where they could have been. Were opportunities lost? Probably. Were other people hurt? Almost certainly. The stumblers understand better than anyone the price they've paid. But the beauty, the power of the Atonement is that all can be made clean, all can be restored.

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  55. I was composing my response when KLS posted hers, so I didn't see it until now.

    Yes, I suppose that's the real issue: defining "eternal progression."

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  56. Let's borrow Katie's metaphor. If progression means forward movement along a straight line, I agree wholeheartedly that sin halts progression (in that particular area of development), and only repentance can enable it to resume. But here's the thing: when you leave the path by sinning, and then come back via repentance, you don't return to the point of departure. It's impossible to return to that same place, because the journey back to God from wherever you'd strayed (whether a few steps or many miles away) transforms you in profound ways. When you rejoin the path, you're far ahead of where you'd once been. I won't argue that you're farther along than you would've been if you'd never left–surely the experience of sin and repentance is not some kind of cosmic shortcut. But I will argue that you're not behind, either. You've simply had a different kind of growth experience.

    That's my two cents. Thanks for the food for thought, Katie. Glad you've come out of lurkdom!

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  57. "but you will never get as far with sin stopping you at certain points, as you would have through obedience."

    is this in reference to sins unrepented for? otherwise, false. the highest glory attained will be done so by repentent sinners (otherwise known as saints). perfect obedience in this life is counter to mortal possibility.

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  58. This post and the comments following are another example of why I love Segullah.

    My two cents (which are only echoing so many of you):

    Sin is sin. Every single sin, no matter if it is as "big" as adultery, or as "small" as holding anger in our hearts toward a brother or sister, alienates us from eternal life with our Father in Heaven. Period. When we start ranking sins, we miss the point. The point is that (as Melissa says) we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The only way to be reconciled to Him is to accept the sacrifice and gift of grace and mercy the Savior offers us.

    Do some sins have larger consequences to them on earth? Of course they do, and maybe that's important to teach our children more than that some sins are harder to repent of than others. (I actually have had a harder time repenting of some of my sins of character than I did of some of the bigger things in my past.) We can say that the consequences of sex before marriage will certainly lead to a lack of the Spirit in our lives, but may also lead to pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other problems in relationships. We can teach them about the results of dishonesty, unbridled anger, choices to break the Word of Wisdom, and along the way, teach them that the Atonement covers each and every one of these sins, but that the consequences on earth will remain. If you drink and drive and kill someone, repenting of breaking the Word of Wisdom and making the choice to drive while intoxicated won't bring back that life, nor will it get you out of jail, but Christ will have paid for your sin, you will be reconciled to our Father, and you will qualify for eternal life.

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  59. I think a very important part of a sinner/repentant process that needs to be remembered and addressed, and a very valuable lesson to teach our children is that lesson taught in 2 Nephi.
    "if there be no righteousness there be no happiness". The only way to be happy and experience joy is through obedience. Thankfully there is the atonement and through repentance that joy can be found again. From someone who has gone through that process I want to remind those out there, yes we gain strength, growth, and empathy but lost precious time and blessings while living an unrighteous life. The unhappiness is terrible, painful, and not worth trading a moment of our limited time on earth for what could have been a joyful blessed and progressive time.

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