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All We Can/Could Do Is Repentance (Alma 24)

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 26
They “Never Did Fall Away” (Alma 23-29)




In 2 Nephi 25:23, Nephi writes concerning the purposes of teaching among the Nephites, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

Some modern writers have expressed concern about this passage because they assumed it meant that a person would receive grace only, sequentially, after all they could do, so that grace was either absurdly postponed or in some way contingent on us accomplishing the absolute limit of what was humanly possible. These interpretations are, on their face, absurd because they reflect an understanding that would have made no sense to Nephi, the writer who, despite failings (2 Nephi 4:26-27), had full confidence that he could look to the Lord for redemption despite such flaws (2 Nephi 4:31-35).

In this case, however, we can do better than merely point out the flawed interpretation by comparing to other Nephite scriptures to get an idea of how they might have understood the idea of “all [that they] could do” and what that concept could mean for the ability of people to receive divine grace. Perhaps the best discussion of this phrase comes when the king of the Lamanites is speaking to his people who have repented in response to the teaching of Ammon, Aaron, Omner and Himni and their brethren, beginning with Alma 24:7,

7 Now, these are the words which he said unto the people concerning the matter: I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren, the Nephites, unto us to preach unto us, and to convince us of the traditions of our wicked fathers.
8 And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.
9 And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.
10 And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.
11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—
12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.

Reading this, I find that there are several illustrations of the functioning of divine grace. First, sending missionaries; these missionaries were sent on their way by an angelic rebuke and because their own repentance made them desire to keep others from facing the hell that they almost received. Thus, the grace which Christ extended to them continued through them in sharing the gospel. Second, in verse 8 it mentioned that the Lord has given them a portion of his Spirit to soften [their] hearts. The Spirit prepares people to receive truths, including about their own sins, that they would not otherwise be able to face or receive. By this means they were able to recognize and acknowledge their sins in verse 9. This then led them to, third, repentance, and this is key. Repentance leads directly to divine forgiveness and the removal of guilt from their hearts through the merits of Jesus Christ. This also positively identifies the referent of “all we could do”. It was “all [they] could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away [their] stain.”

This then provides a fine example for us in our own need for repentance. We need to be brought to a point where we are ready to recognize and acknowledge our faults. We need to repent of them and put our trust in “the merits of [the] Son.” And we can have them utmost assurance of receiving divine forgiveness and grace if we truly follow this pattern. Like the Lamanites, as we do this and as we become clean, the work of the Spirit also builds in us a desire to avoid sin and not turn return like a dog to his vomit or like a sow to her wallowing in the mire, but to take steps to accomplish a lasting change as thus we see with the Lamanites burying their weapons and their associated temptations to prevent relapse.

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