Only one perfect person has walked the Earth—this was Jesus Christ. The rest of us are bound to sin. We are, each of us, imperfect people; and you won’t stop sinning as you get older. What we can do is keep striving to be better. This means repentance. In the doctrine of the Mormon Church (officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), repentance is essential to our salvation and to our happiness. Without repentance, we carry around our guilt and sins on and on, but repentance allows us to be forgiven of those sins. God won’t remember them any more against us, so we don’t need to carry them around.
What repentance involves is more than just feeling bad, though. Recognizing that you’ve sinned is the first step, and a lot of people don’t ever reach that; instead of recognizing their sins, they try to justify their actions to themselves. It doesn’t ever quite work, but if people at least try to feel justified, they think they can keep doing what they’re doing.
Repentance is about change. The point of repentance is to be better than you were. It’s not enough to say a quick apology to God about the sin and then thoughtlessly sin again. True repentance is more than that.
So, first recognize the sin. This means that we need to be aware what sin is, of course. We should study the scriptures and the words of the prophets and make sure we’re in line. Are we spending too much time goofing off when we could be productive? That might not be a Ten-Commandment-style sin, but repentance can cover more than those. Again, we should always be trying to be better. Who wants to stay the same from day to day? We can always be better, in Mormon belief.
After recognizing the sin, we must feel sorrow for having committed it. This sorrow should be beyond guilt. There’s wallowing sorrow and there’s helpful sorrow. Helpful sorrow comes from a real desire to change—not from self-disgust, not from resentment, not from getting caught. We are sorrowful because we haven’t been as righteous as the Lord would have us be. We are sorrowful for disappointing Him.
Then, because we don’t want to disappoint the Lord further, we forsake our sins. We don’t decide to just sin every once in a while when we really feel like it or when we think we can get away with it. We have to honestly want to not make the same mistake again, and then not do it. This might be just about the hardest part. Our weaknesses make us prone to certain sins, but we can overcome our weaknesses with the help of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
We must also confess our sins. All sins need to be confessed to the Lord, but very serious sins need to be confessed to the bishop, in Mormonism. These serious sins are sins like adultery or other sexual sins, which take more effort to repent of because of their seriousness. However, the extra effort is necessary, and you’ll feel all the better after for it, even if confessing to the bishop isn’t ever easy.
Lastly, if our sin has hurt someone else, you need to make restitution: if we’ve stolen, we need to give back what we stole; if we lie, we need to tell the truth; if we’ve caused damage, we need to apologize. This cleans us from the stain of the sin and makes our relationship with the offended better.
Forgiveness is part of repentance, too. At the end of the process, we need to forgive ourselves, but we also need to forgive everyone who wrongs us. It’s God’s place to judge, not ours. We can’t ever decide that we were offended or hurt too much to forgive. We can’t decide that someone’s sin was too great. The Lord commands us to forgive, and so we should.