To understand why repentance is crucial, we must first understand the nature of God, and our relationship to Him. Once we understand who He is, and who we are, we will begin to appreciate repentance, and why it is so important. I have a friend who told me that her family believes that it is a "slap in the face of Jesus" to say that we need repentance. Somehow they believe that it takes away from His atonement. But to really understand what repentance means, is to understand why it is crucial in the plan of salvation.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE GOD
To understand repentance, we must first understand what the word "God " means. Inherent in this word is the understanding that God is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), merciful, kind, and just. To cease to be any of these things would be a contradiction of the very meaning of "God". God has many other godly traits, some of which I will discuss further.
WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD
An important teaching to understand is that we are the literal spirit children of God. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with that we may be also glorified together." Romans 8:16,17 As our parent, God wants us to grow and develop and to become more like Him. What parent would give rules to a child and then not expect them to keep them? And what parent would not give consequences for disobedience? Because He is our Heavenly Father, God wants us to become better people. Repentance is essential for us to change and overcome our weaknesses of character.
GOD GIVES LAWS, REWARDS, AND PUNISHMENTS
From the beginning of time, God has given commandments. He has also established that there will be a punishment for sin. If there were no punishment, then the law would not be able to be enforced. In the Book of Mormon, this principle is explained; "And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement—
And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away." 2 Nephi 2:10. 13
GOD IS JUST
One of the key points about the nature of God is found in the Book of Mormon, "...the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance." Alma 45:16 If God permits sin, any any degree, He ceases to be just. Justice requires a penalty for sin. Some may say that Jesus Christ already paid that penalty, and that no more is required of us. But by wiping out the sin, with no expectations for repentance on our part, Christ's atonement would not help us to overcome the personality traits that caused us to sin in the first place. So requiring repentance is actually more just, and more merciful.
GOD IS MERCIFUL
Repentance not only allows us the chance to change, it helps us to learn to overcome the traits that caused us to sin in the first place. Without this process of change, we could not learn to overcome our weaknesses. Repentance, therefore, makes Christ's atonement merciful. Christ has already paid the price for the sin, but we must access it through repentance. By repenting, and truly changing, we become better creatures, and are less likely to sin again. This is a gospel of improvement. This is a gospel that helps us to become more like God. If we were allowed to simply follow along and sin, but be forgiven without any consequence, then we would not change, and God's plan for our growth would be frustrated. True mercy happens when we are allowed the chance to change.
GOD IS THE SAME YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND FOREVER.
Another trait of God is that He is constant. In the Book of Mormon we read, "For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?" Mormon 9:9 We can always count on God to fulfill His promises. We can always count on God to remain unchanging in the way He treats us.
God has always given commandments, and has always expected us to obey them. If we are obedient, we will be rewarded in heaven. If we are not obedient, we must suffer the punishment.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma gives a discourse about the subject of repentance, with relation to justice and mercy. I will quote only a part here: