The 4th Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as written by Joseph Smith, reads:
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are:
First, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ;
Third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins;
Fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The first principle of the Gospel is Faith which leads to action, which is where Repentance comes in, the next topic of discussion.
Repentance is turning around. It means changing direction or changing our lives. In the context of the Gospel to repent is to turn back towards God by giving up the behaviors and life patterns that are contrary to God’s will and instead doing God’s will and living a good or Godly life.
Repentance is a daily process, however. It can be seen as a method of self-improvement. The steps of repentance can be listed as follows:
1. Recognize Sin.
You first have to see what in your day went wrong or what could use improvement.
In the area of the Gospel, to recognize sin you need to know what the commandments of God are and understand what he expects of you. Then if you transgress one of those laws then you realize it is a sin or against God’s way.
You should feel troubled by what you did. If you have the right spirit within you, if you have a conscience so to speak, then you should feel bad for what you did. You should let your sins trouble you enough so that you want to make a change. Just like we experience physical pain when there is something wrong with us physically, when there is something amiss spiritually, we feel a sense of guilt or remorse. We have a sense of spiritual pain. This leads us to seek for a solution to the problem that causes this disease of the spirit.
3. Forsake your sin.
The next step after you have recognized what you did wrong and you feel bad for doing it, is that you obviously should take steps to not repeat this mistake. This is not very easy to do. Many times our “sins” are parts of our daily habits and it is not easy to break these habits. We may need to learn to replace a bad habit with a good habit, fill the void so to speak. We may need to change our environments or life circumstances in a way to avoid doing certain things we don’t want to continue doing. There are myriads of ways to change our habits and change our actions, but this is what we need to try to do.
4. Confess sins
We need to confess or acknowledge our sins to God and to whomever else needs to know about what we’ve done. In some cases in the LDS church such as in cases of serious sins, we must confess them to the Bishop who is the authorized spiritual representative and leader of our ward or local congregation.
We must remember that if we hide something that we’ve done wrong from God or from others if it affects others, that we cannot really repent of that wrong if we do not honestly acknowledge that we have done a wrong. And when we confess our wrong to those to whom we are called to confess, those people can help us in our repentance process. It also helps us to appear more honest and humble, and shows we are willing to make it right, whereas if we hide something we’ve done wrong, it appears that we are just trying to ‘get away with it’ and not necessarily improve.
5. Make restitution.
Once we have recognized our sins, felt bad about them enough to make a change and have acknowledged to others what we have done and have resolved not to do it again, sometimes we need to make restitution or make things right if we have caused damage of some kind. We have to do what we can to repair any damage we may have caused. Sometimes this is easier than at other times. There are certain sins that are considered serious in part because restitution is not fully possible. Examples would include breaking the law of chastity or murder. Once you have committed these acts there is little you can do to restore what was lost. There are things you can do to try to make things somewhat better, but some things cannot be fully restored. Therefore, these are especially serious.
6. Receive forgiveness and forgive others.
Once you have gone through the steps of repentance you need to accept the forgiveness offered through the Atonement of Christ. At this point you can let go of the guilt and replace it with love and gratitude to the Savior. But at the same time, you must be willing to forgive those who have done wrong to you. For if you do not forgive others, you cannot expect forgiveness for your own sins. You cannot get what you do not give.
7. Keep the commandments of God.
The last step of the process is to continue on the path by keeping the commandments of God, including forsaking the sin you have just repented of. When you truly repent, you are changed inside and your spirit turns to God so that you seek to do good continually and sin is abhorrent to you. Of course, none of us are perfect and we will continue to make mistakes, but we must continually strive to replace the bad with the good and do our best to keep the commandments of God.
It is a lifelong struggle to work towards perfection, but that is our ultimate goal and the principles and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are designed to do just that.