What’s the Difference Between a Saint and a Sinner?

What’s the difference between a saint and a sinner?

It’s really simple. Are you ready?

A saint repents. And then sins, and repents again. And then makes another mistake, and (you guessed it) repents again. I’m not talking about a person who laughs at sin and continues to do it, knowing that they can “just repent later”, but real people, with real addictive behaviors, working each day, hand-in-hand with God, to repent and try to be better.

You may think that I’m being trite, but I’m not.

A sinner either thinks that there is no need for repentance (is in denial that there is such a thing as sin) or thinks that he/she is so bad that they are incapable of God’s love, or is mad at God and doesn’t want anything to do with Him … right now.

All of it is a matter of the heart. Let’s go to the scriptures to see what the Lord has to say  –

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:18).

I love that one. I love that the Lord wants to sit down and “talk shop” with us, “let us reason together“.

Here’s another one I love. This is for when the devil tells me that there is a quota on repentance –

But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven (Moroni 6:8).

Here’s one for when the devil tries to tell me that I’ve gone beyond the point of repentance, that the Lord is so disgusted with me that He doesn’t want to be around me –

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). 

And if that doesn’t work, I like this one –

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

But perhaps, one of my favorite scriptures of all, and the reason that saints go on repenting, and trying to be better –

Behold … I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love (Doctrine and Covenants 6:20).

A saint has felt the love of God in the most quiet reaches of the heart, in a place where no one else has access, and then desires always to have that love with them. Being a disciple of Christ is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard work.  But the rewards are peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23).

And here is the best part of this whole discussion. You and I and everyone around us can change from a sinner to a saint at any moment. Right now in fact. It is a matter of the heart. Going to God and confessing (telling Him what we did wrong) and forsaking (promising to not do it again), and if we mess up, confessing and forsaking again until we get better and better at making the distance between the sin and the repentance smaller and smaller. Until, eventually, we decide that we love God more than the sin and so we choose to pray through the temptation instead of committing the sin and praying after. Then, we begin to change our lives … to not be where the temptation is so readily available, to replace the bad in our lives with good.

We can do it. The Lord believes in us. I know that is true.

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, …
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand (How Firm a Foundation, Hymn # 85).

The Difference Sinners and Saints

Curse these computers!!! 😉 I wrote a completely different post on my phone, and for whatever reason, it didn’t update on the site before I published it.  My apologies!  What follows is the post that I originally intended.

On a walk yesterday, I had a wonderful discussion with some friends about modernistic and post-modernistic movements and the arts.  One of the most interesting parts of the discussion was about a musical that teaches the recently well-worn concept about human existence –  that “good guys” do bad things and “bad guys” do good things.  This is not a new concept, and an argument that is very often used to “justify” a person’s standing – “well, those guys did this and they’re supposed to be good, so I’m okay”.

This mentality breeds complacency and will never be a worthwhile argument until this idea is added to the conversation – that the only difference between a Saint and a Sinner is that one continually repents and works on forsaking sins, while the other doesn’t.

After all  we are told –

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23).

and –

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy (Mosiah 4:19).

When I taught Seminary, I found a scripture that taught me an amazing principle about the atonement – And I pray the Father in the name of Christ that many of us, if not all, may be saved in his kingdom at that great and last day (2 Nephi 33: 12, emphasis added).

That phrase – “if not all” seemed to leap out of the page at me.  All of us…everyone could be saved by the atonement of Christ  – hinviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile (2 Nephi 26:33).  The only thing that can keep one out of the Kingdom of God is his or her own choice.  It’s a question of the heart and humility.

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel (Article of Faith #3, emphasis added).

That’s why it is vital to finish out the conversation about “good guys” doing bad and “bad guys” doing good.  Because Saints are only considered “good guys” because they continue to go to God and continue to try to be good despite (sometimes often) falling short.  A sinner does not, but the good news of the gospel is that a sinner can become a Saint any day of the week.

Repentance and Forgiveness – A Fresh Start

I love watching my daughter grab new sheets of paper and draw and erase and re-draw.  Why? Because with every page, she is getting better at drawing.  She’s learned what she did wrong, and is trying it again.  With each new artwork, she learns new skill, gains experience and is on her way to becoming an artist.

What does this have to do with repentance and forgiveness? Everything.

When we look at earth life as a time to practice and learn, then we allow ourselves to be involved in the process of becoming a better human, and hopefully, a better man or woman of Christ.

My Dad coined a phrase that he used when I was young.  It was “fresh start.”  Let me give you an example of it in action –  “I know that you’ve just yelled at me because you were stressed out.  Shall we have a fresh start to the conversation?”

That simple idea, led to something amazing – a feeling of safety with my parents.  I knew that I could make mistakes, try again, and be better.  I knew that I could mess up and still be loved.  It gave me an extraordinary amount of self-confidence in my relationship with them.

Later, my Dad added to the idea by asking us (after an argument, etc.) if we were friends again, or friends still.  The intent of this question was to elicit the answer – friends still, because if we said that we were friends again, it implied that there was a time in which we weren’t friends.  He never wanted that.  Even in difficult moments, he strove for our relationship to be one of love and closeness, and though at times we would hurt or anger each other, there was an underlying thread of friendship and love that held us together.

Today, I listened to a program on the Church’s radio station about forgiveness, that got me thinking about fresh starts.  I wanted to paraphrase a section, but I recommend the entire episode to you.  You can listen to it by following this link.

There was a man sharing an experience about the time when he was the bishop of  a ward which had several priests (young men aged 16-18) in it.  One particular evening, a young man from his ward came to his door in the middle of the night.  This boy had committed a serious sin, and sought counsel and hep from the bishop.  The loving bishop spent the night talking with and helping the young man (who was very concerned about his own future and the consequences of the mistake that he had made).

The young man made the necessary changes to find and receive full forgiveness and the bishop went on to talk about all of the priests from the ward, five in all, who went on to serve missions and marry in the temple.  The bishop said that of all of the boys, he couldn’t remember which was the one who had committed the sin (the one who he had counseled with into the night).  Years later, the bishop was visiting the old neighborhood and tried again to remember which young man it was.  An impression came to his mind.  A voice said, “My son, I’ve forgotten it, why should you remember it?”

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.  Doc. & Cov. 58:42

Is there anything better than that?

Here it is again –

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18

Here’s the Savior, inviting us to have a “fresh start.”  Inviting us to be “friends still.”  Inviting us to have a loving relationship with Him.  To forge an underlying bond of friendship and love that will hold us together even in difficult times.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

If we can look at our mortality as a time to improve rather than a time for perfection, we can become perfect (Matthew 5:48) in time.

 So, become better.  Practice repentance.  Practice forgiveness.  Start fresh.  Learn to have confidence in your relationship for the Savior, for He careth for you (1 Peter 5:7).

Grace: The price has been paid, the opportunity has been opened.

I had a wonderful Sunday School lesson today.  At the beginning, the teacher decided to stray from the lesson momentarily and share an excerpt from a talk that he had come across.  I am so thankful that he did.  It was worth the trip to Colorado to learn (of course road trips and visiting with family and friends is fantastic as well).  I think that acquiring gospel knowledge is like putting together a gigantic puzzle.  There are parts that you are working on, and then you get that one piece that illuminates the area that you had been focused on.  Today, I got one of those pieces.

It was from a talk by Brad Wilcox, BYU Professor and Sunday School General Board member, given at a BYU Devotional, 12 July 2011.  The  talk is entitled,  His Grace Is Sufficient and the full transcript can be found here.

He began by discussing a conversation that he had with a female student about grace.  I quote from the talk here (excerpts of the talk will be in italics) –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Cover Us

She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”

She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.

She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

He went on to draw on a paper two dots – one that represented God, and the other her, and asked if she would draw a line to God that represented how much was her part.  She drew a line just over her dot to which he answered, “Wrong.”   He said the following:

“The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a
few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we
plan to stay there.”

Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 3 Nephi 28:35).

“So what’s the difference?” the girl asked. “Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required.”

“True,” I said, “but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ’s requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason.”

Then he went on to provide a fantastic analogy, one that really resonated with me –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Transform Us

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. … Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.

In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange forhis paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149; emphasis in original).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”

I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”

They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”

I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”

Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to. …

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us — part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.

Think about the difference between a person who has just started practicing the piano, and someone who has been playing for years.  What’s the difference?  Practice.  What’s the difference between someone who has just started to learn a language and someone who has been speaking it for years?  Practice.  But remember that the more effort you put into the task, the better you will become.  Can you imagine what a lifetime of someone trying to put the teachings of Jesus into practice would be like?  Brother Wilcox then began a section that I think is so important to understand because we all live in the world.  The world (as Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it) is a laboratory for learning to be Christlike.  And it can be a very harsh lab, very real, and very difficult –

Christ’s Grace Is Sufficient to Help Us

“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice?  I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?

Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace.

There are young women who know they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and they love Him. Then they <graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don’t understand grace.

There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, “I hope they call me on a mission,” and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “This is stupid. I will never do it again.” And then they do it. The guilt is almost unbearable. They don’t dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, “I can’t do this Mormon thing. I’ve tried, and the expectations are just way too high.” So they quit. These young men don’t understand grace.

I know returned missionaries who come home and slip back into bad habits they thought were over. They break promises made before God, angels, and witnesses, and they are convinced there is no hope for them now. They say, “Well, I’ve blown it. There is no use in even trying any more.” Seriously? These young people have spent entire missions teaching people about Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and now they think there is no hope for them? These returned missionaries don’t understand grace.

I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don’t understand grace.

In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13). …

As dark as our trials, sins, and mistakes may appear, we can always have confidence in the grace of Jesus
Christ. Do we earn a sunrise? No. Do we have to be worthy of a chance to begin again? No. We just have to accept these blessings and take advantage of them. As sure as each brand-new day, grace—the enabling power of Jesus Christ—is constant. … The task ahead of [us is] never as great as the power behind [us].

Now, doesn’t that make you fell more confident in your ability to become something great with the opportunity that has been so greatly given.  It does for me.

Old-School Honor Code

Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni House, BYU Campus

I came across an article several months ago that I just loved.  It was by a CBS Sports national columnist discussing the BYU honor code.

Old-school BYU wins with honor code and without sex,

by Gregg Doyel, April 20, 2010.

He was blown away that students in this day and age would live the rules of the school.  Here are a few excerpts from the article:

This one’s on me, because I had no idea. Brigham Young University has been around for more than 100 years, and it has been competing at the highest levels of college athletics for decades, and I simply had no idea that BYU was competing and even winning with an honor code straight out of the 16th century.

How does BYU do it? How does BYU attract enough recruits to field a competitive football team, one good enough to go 43-9 over the last four years?

The heck with a football team. How does BYU attract enough recruits to field an offensive line?

Truth is, I understand how BYU does it. The Mormon faith is enormous in Utah, and it extends around the world, to more than 13 million at last count. The BYU student body isn’t completely Mormon, but close. Roughly 98 percent of the undergrads are said to be Mormon, and that’s a huge school with an enrollment of more than 35,000. In fact, according to a story in U.S. News and World Report last month, BYU is the most popular school in the country based on one enrollment figure: More than 78 percent of the applicants accepted by BYU choose to attend the school, beating out Harvard’s 76 percent success rate.

In other words, people really, truly want to go to BYU. Tens of thousands of them. And they know ahead of time what awaits them — or rather, what doesn’t await them. No sex. No beer, even for students of legal age. No cigarettes. No cursing, either.

You’d think this sort of thing — that honor code, the story about Unga’s withdrawal from school — would hurt BYU on the recruiting trail, but it hasn’t yet and I bet it won’t now. You or I might not want to live that way, but that isn’t the point. Thousands of kids do.

I used to think an Ivy League team winning a game in the NCAA Tournament, as Cornell did this season, was one of the most amazing feats in college sports. Now I know better. Cornell does it with kids willing to attend school without a scholarship, true — but BYU does it with kids willing to not have sex.

The full article can be found here.

I love it.  I love to see the shock and awe.  I love to see people trying to live better lives.  I believe that the youth will rise up and meet the standard that is given to them when people have faith in them to do so.  It’s good for them.

I heard on the radio today that BYU is playing in the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) now, and they are working out a new schedule because the college won’t play football on Sunday.  The conference is honoring and respecting BYU’s commitment to keep the Sabbath day holy.

Way to go BYU! Keep up the good work.

I’m sure there are many that will point out flaws, exceptions, and moments where standards aren’t kept.

The exception however,  does not negate the rule.

I think that it is wonderful that there are millions of people who try to live their religion and when they fail to do so perfectly, they try, try again.

Being a good human being, is just like mastering any other skill in life – it takes practice.