S. Kent Brown
Question from our “Ask an author” page: If I am continually repenting, then why do I need to partake of the sacrament?
Your question is very perceptive. Why, indeed, do I need to partake of the Sacrament if I am in a more or less continual state of repenting?
In my view, at times repenting and partaking are parts of a whole and at other times they are not. That they are integrated can be seen in the prohibitions against partaking the sacrament if a person is in serious need of repentance (see for example 1 Corinthians 11:26-30; 3 Nephi 18:28-29). In such cases, as you know, a person needs to complete the steps of full repentance before partaking of the sacrament.
Repentance, of course, stands independent of partaking of the sacrament when, for instance, a person is approaching the kingdom of God through faith and preparing for baptism.
The need for regular, repeated acts of partaking of the sacrament rests in the nature of covenants that a person makes with the Lord. In the first act of covenant making, a person enters into an agreement with the Lord that he or she will fulfill a divinely mandated series of actions for the remainder of the person’s life (for example, see Mosiah 18:8-10). The highest payoff for the person’s mortal life, as you know, is that the Lord will “pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon [that person]” (Mosiah 18:10).
The question follows: Is an initial covenantal act enough to ensure that the person will follow the terms of the covenant all of his or her life with the result that the Lord pours out his Spirit regularly and consistently on that person? I suppose that this is possible in a theoretical sense. But mortal experience demonstrates that this does not happen.
At the heart of sacred, religious covenant making stands the requirement of renewal. On one level, this renewal served as a regular reminder to those under covenant. This can be seen, for instance, in the regularized, repeated sacrifices at the ancient Israelite sanctuaries. One of the purposes of such sacrifices was to spiritually cleanse the temple; another was to make certain that those who came to worship at the temple were properly cleansed. If the temple and those who came to the temple were fully cleansed, then the promise was that the Lord himself would come to that place and to those people: “the King of glory shall come in [the sanctuary]” (Psalm 24:7, 9). The worshipers would enjoy His presence, the capstone of their mortal experience.
In the case of partaking of the sacrament, the act is one of covenantal renewal and reminding. A person renews and refreshes the relationship with the Lord that was established in the first covenant that consisted of baptism. Besides refreshing the covenantal promises that the person made that he or she would always pursue a life of obeying the Lord’s commandments, etc., commandments that any normal person does not constantly and fully obey over time, the covenantal promises from the Lord are also renewed: “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them” (Moroni 4:3; 5:2).
The required repeated character of the sacrament comes from the Savior Himself. This becomes apparent from the Joseph Smith Translation and from Third Nephi. In JST Mark 14:21, 24, the requirement is implicit in Jesus’ words to the Twelve, “as oft as ye do this.” In Third Nephi, the requirement is explicit: “this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you” (3 Nephi 18:6).
I trust that this answer helps.