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).

Having Charity for God

Last Sunday, I was blessed to speak in church with my sister and brother (the speakers called out sick with only 24 hours of notice) and our bishop (my sister’s husband) called in favors with the three people in the ward that he knew would be eager and able to speak at such short notice.  When our bishop introduced the change, he said that his other option was to call up random ward members.  I got a big “thank you!” mouthed from a friend in the congregation. 🙂  Amazingly enough, for those of you that know my family, we ended the meeting two minutes early.  But, the most wonderful part about it all, was that it was my Dad’s birthday (he would have been 69) and I wonder if he was able to be there.

I wanted to share my talk here (again, slightly altered due to the change of formats).  We were assigned faith, hope, and charity and I got to speak on charity.  Some of it ties together with the talk that I gave at my dad’s  funeral (which was on the previous post) and so I thought I’d continue the conversation here.

Charity quote

My dad had a rule at my house that we were supposed to park into our driveway backwards.  From the time that I began to drive at age 16, that family law really bugged me.  I would constantly disregard the regulation, and sometimes even needle him about it.  For example, as a young adult, I was traveling in Washington DC and found some parking stalls with a posted sign that read, “Do not back in.”  I took a a silly-faced picture with it and, of course, gave it to him.  Over the course of the next few years, I rarely ever backed into the driveway at all.

One day, in sheer exhaustion, Dad said to me, “Laryssa, don’t you respect me at all?”

It touched me.  I began to think of what a little thing it was for me to do, and what it would mean to my dad if I began to follow it.  Since then, to show my love for him, I have been regularly backing into the driveway (except for that odd occasion when I know I’m going to run in and go out again soon). 🙂 

With that story in mind, I decided to talk about a different aspect of charity, that is, having charity for Heavenly Father.  There is a story in the scriptures that always touches my heart with compassion.  It’s when the prophet Enoch is talking with God who has shown Enoch all of His creations, and then begins to weep.  Enoch can’t understand it.  He essentially says, “You are God, why would you cry? You have made all of these amazing creations, creations without number, why then, are you weeping since you are, and have, and do so much?”

“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;” (Moses 7:32-33 emphasis added).

That idea just brings me to tears.

I am the primary chorister in our ward, and as I was trying to settle the kids down to sing the song, I am a Child of God, I told them that as a mommy, I go in every night to check on my babies.  I don’t want to wake them up, but I just love watching them sleep and thinking about how much I love them.  Then I asked the kids if they thought that maybe sometimes our Heavenly Father checked in on us from time to time, not wanting to disturb, but loving us.  Then I asked them to sing the song reverently.  A little Sunbeam (three-year-old) looked up and whispered, “Can we invite Him to come to our house tomorrow?”  That’s the faith and love of a child toward God.

But things happen as we grow into adults, which turn our hearts away and make us capable (and sometimes able) to sell God for silver and gold (see 3 Nephi 27:32).  A while ago, in a Relief Society lesson, the teacher said, “raise your hand if your life has turned out the way that you had planned.”  Not one hand went up.

So here we are, as adults, trying to deal with the plateful of mess – that combination of the consequences of our and other’s use of agency combined with the occasional “act of God” – that is our life.  In that state of disillusionment and unfulfilled dreams, we are asked to love our neighbor as ourselves and to have charity for all, as the Savior would.  When all we want to do is sit in a corner and lick our wounds, this challenge can seem daunting.

There is a way to do this (amazingly!) and it comes from something that Joseph Smith said, The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 428–29, emphasis added).

When we go through these experiences, we learn a measure of compassion that we could have gained in no other way.  As we draw near to our Father in Heaven, humbly submitting to His will even as a child doth submit to his father (see Swallowed up in the Will of the Father) we can learn those things that give us charity, and at the same time, draw from the source of all Light and Truth. But submission requires obedience, and as Elder Shayne M Bowen stated, (when talking to his children) “I don’t want to answer ‘why,’ I just want you to do it because you love me.”

So, perhaps we should pick our “parking in backwards” item, the thing that we hold back from our Father in Heaven, and begin to submit in that area, simply because we love and respect Him.  Then, as we have charity for Him, we will be endowed with the ability to love our brothers and sisters.