From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Matthew 4:16 (17)
Perhaps people do not really change very much. Old Testament prophets called the people to repentance. John the Baptist and Jesus told the people of their day to repent. Nephi and the Book of Mormon prophets preached repentance. And many of the early Latter Day Saints were instructed to preach repentance:
I command you that you preach naught but repentance...until it is wisdom in me. DC 18:2 l
They shall go forth into the regions round about, and preach repentance unto the people. DC 44:2b
Take upon you mine ordinances, even that of an elder, to preach faith and repentance, and remission of sins, according to my word, and the reception of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. DC 53:2b
Surely this is a day in which repentance is needed as sorely as at any time in the past. Many deny the very existence of sin. Others preach that no repentance is necessary. How then do we in this day understand the call to preach repentance? I believe that the promises are the key.
Jesus often used the promises as a way to call sinners to repentance.
Blessed are they who shall...come down into the depths of humility, and be baptized in my name; for they shall be visited with fire and the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit, who come unto me; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And again, blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. And blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth. And blessed are all they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. And blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. And blessed are all the pure in heart; for they shall see God. And blessed are all the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:4-11 (3-9)
Was Jesus calling the people to repent? Of course he was! He was telling them to be humble, to be baptized, to come to him, and to be meek. He was telling them to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers. But he did not just list the conditions of repentance. Rather, he associated each condition with a blessing that would result when the condition was fulfilled. Those who were baptized were to receive a remission of sins. Those with poor spirits who came to him would receive the kingdom of heaven. Those who were mourning when they came would be comforted. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness would be filled with the Holy Ghost. Those who were merciful would obtain mercy. Those who were pure in heart would see God, and the peacemakers would be called the children of God.
The fact that Jesus was thinking of all these conditions given in this sermon as commandments is made clear in the following statement:
Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so to do, he shall in no wise be saved in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach these commandments of the law until it be fulfilled, the same shall be called great, and shall be saved in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:21 (19)
When Jesus commanded his disciples to preach repentance, he told them to teach by the promises.
Go ye into the world, saying unto all, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come nigh unto you ... Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened. Matthew 7:9,12-13 (7-8)
I was driving one night in Kansas during an ice storm when I lost control and skidded off the interstate and into the median. No one was hurt, but the car was buried up to its axles in snow and was facing the wrong direction. I tried to push the car back to the road, but there was not enough traction. I tried digging around the tires with my hands without much success. Fortunately a young man with a shovel came along before very long and we were able, after about an hour of digging and praying and pushing, to get the car back on the road and into the nearest town. What if the young man had come to us and said, "You silly people, don't you know that you are not supposed to be stuck in the median facing the wrong way? Turn the car around and go to town!" That would not have been very helpful at all. I knew I was stuck, and that I had no way to get out on my own. Instead, he provided a way to get back to the road and into town, for which I was very grateful.
Repentance is that same way. Most of the time, it is not very helpful to tell someone simply that they need to change what they are doing. Rather, we need to help them see a way to repent, and to help turn their lives around. This is where the promises come in. If we can come to someone who recognizes a need in their life, and if there is a promise whose blessing meets the need, then we can share with them the promise. The condition gives a way to start, and we can be confident that God wants them to have the blessing. We have been told:
Let my word be preached to the bruised and broken-hearted as well as to those enmeshed in sin, longing to repent and follow me… My Spirit is reaching out to numerous souls even now and there are many who will respond if you, my people, will bear affirmative testimony of my love and my desires for all to come unto me. DC 153:9a,b
But is it really God's plan to use the promised blessings as an inducement to keep the conditions? I think so. Listen carefully to the way in which Peter claims that we become partakers of the divine nature.
[By his divine power] are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. II Peter 1:4
In other words, God gives us promises so that we will be able to take part in his divine nature! After listing a number of conditions in the next few verses, Peter gives the promise that
If ye do these things, ye shall never fall; For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. II Peter 1:10-11
Another affirmation that God intended for us to respond to His promises is recorded in the Book of Mormon.
The people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another; And they had all things common among them, therefore they were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift... And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them. IV Nephi 1:3-4,12
Note that these people were blessed according to the promises. The exciting thing is that all the promises that were made to the people in Peter's day and in the Book of Mormon are available to us now. They wait only for us to fulfill the conditions.
Every "condition of repentance" spoken of in the scriptures is contained in a promise from God. Listen with new ears to the familiar scripture about the worth of souls, and notice that it is through the conditions of repentance that we come to God.
Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him on conditions of repentance. And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth. Wherefore you are called to cry repentance unto this people. And if it so be that you should labor all your days, in crying repentance unto this people, and bring save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! DC 16:3
God gives us promises which contain conditions and blessings. He makes the promises because He wants to give us the blessings. But we cannot obtain the blessings unless we fulfill the conditions of the promise. It is fulfilling the conditions that is called repentance. When we repent, then God can give the blessings, and we become part of the kingdom of God.