Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Elder Neal A. Maxwell On the process of personal progression

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) served as a Seventy from 1976-1981, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until his death from cancer in 2004.
"Since we have been told clearly by Jesus what manner of men and women we ought to become—even as He is (see 3 Ne. 27:27)—how can we do so, except each of us employs repentance as the regular means of personal progression? Personal repentance is part of taking up the cross daily. (See Luke 9:23.) Without it, clearly there could be no 'perfecting of the Saints.' (Eph. 4:12.)
"Besides, there is more individuality in those who are more holy.
"Sin, on the other hand, brings sameness; it shrinks us to addictive appetites and insubordinate impulses. For a brief surging, selfish moment, sin may create the illusion of individuality, but only as in the grunting, galloping Gadarene swine! (See Matt. 8:28–32.)
"Repentance is a rescuing, not a dour doctrine. It is available to the gross sinner as well as to the already-good individual striving for incremental improvement.
"Repentance requires both turning away from evil and turning to God. (See Deut. 4:30; see also Bible Dictionary, s.v. 'Repentance.') When 'a mighty change' is required, full repentance involves a 180-degree turn, and without looking back! (Alma 5:12–13.) Initially, this turning reflects progress from telestial to terrestrial behavior, and later on to celestial behavior. As the sins of the telestial world are left behind, the focus falls ever more steadily upon the sins of omission, which often keep us from full consecration."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Repentance," General Conference October 1991
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Maxwell points out clearly that in order to find a "regular means of personal progression" and work towards our image of eventual perfection, we require regular and consistent repentance. Rather than being a "dour doctrine" (relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance), we should find repentance to be a joyful rescue and a means of increasing light, hope, and joy. The effects are profound:

This is a fascinating thought. The more we repent, the more holiness comes to us; and the more unique and individual we become in the process, as our personal gifts and traits are allowed to expand and thrive. On the other hand, one who is bound by sin loses that ability to shine; he or she just tends to blend into the crowd of similarly-limited people struggling to survive.

The additional insight offered here is that repentance initially can require "a 180-degree turn" as we replace a false or harmful behavior with one that is in line with God's wishes for us. But as we progress and expand, we find that repentance focuses more on small course corrections, refining and honing our path (overcoming the "sins of omission", adding more of the elevated behaviors) so that we are ever-more focused on Him.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

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