Do Mormons believe God forgives us for our sins? Yes, they do, but they don’t believe it is a passive process. A person can’t go through life sinning and expect to have no responsibility and no consequences. When we fall short of God’s expectations for us, as we all do, we must repent in order to be forgiven.
The repentance process is made possible by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe Jesus Christ took our sins on Himself and suffered for them, making it possible for us to repent and to be forgiven. His resurrection made it possible for us to also be resurrected and to live forever.
This atonement could be done only by Jesus Christ. Had He refused, life would have been meaningless because no one could have returned to God. God allowed atonement as the perfect merger of justice—requiring a price be paid for sin—and mercy—required for salvation.
Jeffrey R. Holland, a Mormon apostle, explained that some gifts resulting from the atonement are universal and unconditional. We receive redemption from Adam’s fall so we are not accountable for his choices (although there are some lasting consequences, such as death) and we are all resurrected and live forever. Everyone receives these gifts, even those who reject the Savior. Of course, just living forever isn’t what most Christians hope for. They want to live forever with God.
Elder Holland explains:
“Other aspects of Christ’s atoning gift are conditional. They depend on one’s diligence in keeping God’s commandments. For example, while all members of the human family are freely given a reprieve from Adam’s sin through no effort of their own, they are not given a reprieve from their own sins unless they pledge faith in Christ, repent of those sins, are baptized in His name, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and confirmation into Christ’s Church, and press forward in faithful endurance the remainder of life’s journey. Of this personal challenge, Christ said,
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, The Atonement of Jesus Christ)
Most religions accept that certain actions are required to activate the full measure of salvation. For instance, nearly all feel that one must accept Jesus Christ as his or her Savior. Many feel a specific faith or type of Christianity must be accepted. Many also believe baptism is required. Few would suggest that you could say you accept Jesus Christ but spend your life robbing banks or committing murder—and still have that admission of faith accepted by the Savior. Jesus said that if we love Him—and love is the most important part of accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior—we must keep the commandments. He also warned that merely saying the words was not enough. Keeping the commandments is required.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21, KJV of the Bible)
Elder Holland also reminds us that we can never earn salvation, no matter how righteous we are:
“Of course neither the unconditional nor the conditional blessings of the Atonement are available except through the grace of Christ. Obviously the unconditional blessings of the Atonement are unearned, but the conditional ones are not fully merited either. By living faithfully and keeping the commandments of God, one can receive additional privileges; but they are still given freely, not technically earned. The Book of Mormon declares emphatically that “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.”
Mormons believe the atonement also saves those incapable of repentance, including babies and young children, those who do not reach a mental age of eight due to disability, and those who are unable to know right from wrong. They do not believe a loving God would punish people for not doing something they are not capable of doing.
Mormons then, do believe we can be forgiven for our sins. Once we are capable of doing so, we are required to complete the repentance process—recognition of sin, sorrow for sin, confession, restitution as far as possible, asking forgiveness, and forsaking the sin. The atonement, however, is what makes it possible to repent. We cannot repent without its saving power.
Watch this video about the atonement of Jesus Christ: