Paul taught, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Nonetheless, we can repent of our sins and be redeemed (Mosiah 27:24). Repentance is the divine principle of change. It’s turning away from our sinful ways and embracing a new way of life that’s aligned with God. When we repent, we feel deep sorrow for our wrongful behaviors and commit to change. We seek forgiveness from God in order to become spiritually clean. With our changed life, comes the comforting blessing: “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42, emphasis added). The Lord made a similar promise through the prophet Ezekiel when he said,
“But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live” (Ezekiel 18:21-22).We can find relief in the promises that He will neither remember nor mention our sins when we sincerely repent. Imagine, we can put the past behind us and look forward to a new life free from the effects of sin. The Lord also promised that, “He shall surely live, he shall not die.” While we will all experience death someday, the Lord is saying that we won’t suffer spiritual death or be cut off from the presence of God if we repent. We can live in God’s presence throughout eternity.
Isaiah described what happens to our sins as we repent. When the Lord forgave him of his sins, Isaiah wrote,
“ Wo is unto me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar; And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged" (Isaiah 6:5-7, emphasis added).What a beautifully symbolic description of the way the Lord removes or purges the effects of our repented of sins. Purge means to cleanse or purify. The seraphim are symbolic of the Holy Ghost whose ministry it is to purge, cleanse, purify or remit our sins from us through the Atonement of Christ. When the Lord looks upon us after this purging, He no longer sees our sins staining our soul; we are cleansed through the Atonement. This may be why He doesn’t remember our sins or mention them; we have become clean, and He no longer sees them.
Having our sins removed, we no longer feel guilt and shame. Perhaps the only guilt we feel is that we no longer feel guilty. Isaiah made this promise to the House of Israel, "Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed; neither be thou confounded, for thou shalt not be put to shame; for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy youth..." (3 Nephi 22:4, emphasis added). This is our promise also. The Atonement of Jesus Christ can heal the sinful soul and swallow up that awful feeling of shame and sense of reproach.
Many ask the question: If the Lord doesn’t remember my sins, then why do I?
The prophet Alma provides valuable insight into the process of repentance, forgiveness, and this very question of remembering our past sinful acts.
As a young man, Alma attempted to destroy the church of God (Mosiah 27:8-9). While he was going around trying to tear down the church, an angel appeared to him and told him to repent and change his ways or else he would be destroyed (Mosiah 27:11-17; Alma 36:11). Torment and guilt racked Alma’s conscience as he realized his precarious spiritual standing. This awful pain continued until the moment Alma pleaded for mercy and asked for forgiveness. He then felt redemption through the Atonement (Mosiah 27:18-26). He completely changed his life and he went on to become a great prophet and witness of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
Twenty five years later, Alma recounted his experience to his son Helaman. Although the years had passed, he still remembered his sinful past and what he had done. The Lord had not wiped his memory clean. He was able to recount the struggle to repent. He described the pain, torment, and suffering that his sins had caused him. He related how the Lord had forgiven him. He told Helaman, "And now I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more" (Alma 36:19, emphasis added). He no longer felt the anguish of conscience, distress, and spiritual pain. Joy replaced guilt and shame. He could recall the pain he had felt at the time but it was a non-painful memory for the Spirit through the Atonement of Christ had removed the torment and pain caused by the anguish he had felt twenty five years earlier.
It is not a realistic expectation that after having repented and been forgiven that we will forget our sins. The memory of Alma’s past enabled him to testify of power of the Atonement. It is the same for each one of us. We can also testify of the blessings of the Atonement. We can vividly testify that we can be forgiven and the guilt, shame, and reproach can be removed. By remembering we can also learn from past mistakes so that hopefully we won’t fall into the same snares again. Perhaps this is why are memories aren’t wiped clean when we are forgiven.
I am thankful that I can repent and move forward.