Does Charity Prevent Sin?

By | June 6, 2017

Affection is defined as a gentle feeling of fondness or liking.

Love can be defined as an intense feeling of deep affection.

Charity is different from these. It is much more useful in our efforts to keep covenants and return home with honor.

In the Bible Dictionary, charity is defined as, “The highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection; [charity is] the pure love of Christ. It is never used to denote alms or deeds of benevolence, although it may be a prompting motive.”

I’m sure there are many reasons why charity matters, but I have chosen to write about just one of them.

Charity and Sin Prevention

A significant reason charity matters is because, unlike affection and love (which have the potential to be used for self-serving and sinful purposes), charity prevents sin.

1st Peter 4:8 says, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”

When I first read that verse, my mind associated the word “cover” with the word “forgiveness,” as in those who have charity will be forgiven for a multitude of sins. While that sounded really nice to me, and while I don’t doubt charity plays a role, we already know that forgiveness for sin is conditioned upon repentance. I’m thankful that I noticed that the Joseph Smith Translation restored a couple of important words to the verse.

In the Joseph Smith Translation of 1st Peter 4:8, we read, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity preventeth a multitude of sins.”

The world enjoys reminding people of religious faith that Jesus said, “love one another,” but it seems the meaning of that statement and of what follows it is lost on the world.  Jesus said, “love one another as I have loved you.”

The love the world preaches and exemplifies is too often used as a battering ram to breach fortifications and normalize and standardize sin. While it’s true that our Charity-filled Christ did associate with sinners (after all He is the only sinless One), it’s also true that He never celebrated, condoned, or accepted our sins, neither did He desire to participate with us in them. He always led people away from sin and onto the path of faithfulness, frequently demonstrating that charity is patient.

Jesus didn’t ask people to entrench. He invited them to repent.

The person for whom charity is operative will increasingly lose the desire to entertain sinful thoughts, to commit sinful acts, and to support others in doing so. They will feel powerful motivation to live righteously, to teach others to live righteously, and to rejoice in the truth.

Have you ever read what Paul and Mormon wrote about charity with the concept of sin prevention on your mind? Let’s read Mormon’s words through the lens of charity as a motivation so powerful that it can prevent sin.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.

We know that charity is the pure love of Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life. When I read about His sinless life, I usually think about sins of commission. Jesus didn’t lie, cheat, steal, or engage in other sins. He didn’t even entertain the temptation to sin. His perfect love was the perfect antidote. And the more charity is operative for us, the more the antidote will work in our lives.

Beyond being perfect at abstaining from sins of commission, because of His perfect love He also “went about doing good,” teaching the gospel and treating with compassion the widow, the elderly, the little ones, the poor, the sick, and the otherwise vulnerable, putting his own safety in peril. His crowning expression of charity was His Atonement. He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” His willingness to suffer unfathomable pain and to die for each one of us was the greatest act of long-suffering, kindness, and selflessness.

Consider how the Atonement of Jesus Christ affects you. In those moments when you stand all amazed, do you feel gratitude? Do you feel loved? Do you feel astonished that Jehovah would choose to suffer persecution, torture, the full weight carried in the atonement, and a brutal death to save YOU? Do you feel more inclined to love Him, to listen to what He has to say, to trust Him, and to follow Him? Do you feel a desire to repent, to change, and to become like Him?

I believe that hungrily learning about Jesus Christ and then feeling His love and having that pure love grow within is a safe and sure path to sincere repentance, forsaken sin, and forgiveness. As the Savior said, “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” And a forsaken sin results in a lot of prevention.

Another way charity can prevent sin is illustrated in the book of Mosiah. When Alma the Younger and the four sons of Mosiah were rebelling against God and leading others into sin, an angel visited them because of faithful prayers. The angel, addressing Alma, commanded them to stop their wickedness and to remember all the great things the Lord had done for his people. This experience initiated real repentance. Alma and his friends were changed. And I know they were filled with charity. How do I know? Let’s read the evidence. After the conversion of the sons of Mosiah, this was the feeling of their hearts:

“Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thought that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.”

I recognize that feeling as being charity.

And we know the outcome of their charity-driven mission to declare salvation to the Lamanites. Lamanite Kings were converted — as were the Lamanites in seven lands and cities — and religious freedom was proclaimed.

There were many challenges along the way. But, because of charity, which never faileth, these redeemed servants persisted and brought many others to God. And since we’re looking at charity through the lens of preventing sin, consider how much sin was prevented. These Lamanites were so deeply converted and had such pure love in their hearts that, like Jesus Christ, they were willing to die rather than harm their brethren when war reached their lands. And then their brethren, when they witnessed this astonishing display of pure love, were affected by it and joined with them. A deeply rooted, multi-generational cycle of pride and violence and sin was broken by charity, the pure love of Christ.

Jesus Christ’s pure love prompts cycles of change of heart, repentance, redemption, forgiveness, faithful obedience, and miraculous progress in the lives of those so influenced.

Another way charity can prevent sin is how it can produce sincere forgiveness. 

The Lord said, “Ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” I know that forgiveness doesn’t always come easy. But I also know that deciding within to desire to feel able to forgive is a first step of faith. And when the motivation just isn’t there — when saying, “I forgive you” would feel like empty words — we know the missing ingredient. The missing ingredient is charity. But we can ”pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [w]e may be filled with this love,” and nurture a desire to forgive by remembering Jesus Christ and feasting on His words. We can reserve a place in our hearts for forgiveness and warmly welcome it in when it comes. Not only will the grudge be uprooted from the heart, but it may be that forgiveness affects others in a way that brings the love of God into their life in greater measure.

It’s clear that charity matters. And prophets have long taught us that we ought to have charity. The question, then, is —

How can I feel more charity more often in my life?

Mormon gives one answer. He wrote, “Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with [charity], which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Another way to feel charity is through repentance.

Godly Sorrow

When I think of repentance, godly sorrow comes to mind. We learn from Alma that repentance hurts — perhaps the more serious the sin’s effect, the more painful the hurt. And because repentance hurts, sometimes we treat it like fire — we don’t want to get too close for fear of feeling burned from the heat. But, unlike fire, the pain in repentance isn’t because repentance damages us.

The pain in repentance is a necessary part of the process that heals our wounds. In order for that healing to really take place, God will persuade our hearts and minds of the gravity of the sin and how the sin has affected us, affected others, and affected our relationship with God. And that can hurt. It gnaws at you and instructs you and causes you to weep with remorse and with the realization of how the sin impacted Jesus, yourself, your family, others in your life, and your relationship with God. And when that sorrow begins to be carried in love, you know it’s godly sorrow. It’s the kind of sorrow that provides sincerity in repentance. And it convinces you that you can’t overcome your sins and make restitution alone; you need and you welcome the help of Jesus Christ. And you sincerely desire to be forever changed.

Godly sorrow brings you to the feet of the Savior where, noticing His scars, you know and understand that your sins caused Him, the individual who showed you more love and compassion than any other ever could, unfathomable pain. And, whether you remember the words or just understand the meaning behind them, you feel Jesus Christ’s loving reminder that, “I command you to repent . . .lest . . .your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. 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; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father . . . I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

His love is so plain when He tells us that He suffered incredibly difficult things for us and warns us that if we aren’t willing to sincerely repent we’ll suffer those same things later.

And when, by the power of the Holy Ghost, we gain something of an understanding of His sufferings and His perfect love, our hearts can be changed and we can gain a sincere willingness to lay aside our sins and to follow Him, because we have His love in us. Our guilt and our sorrow is replaced by marvelous joy that can only come by way of overcoming through Jesus Christ.

Without godly sorrow, repentance is merely going through the motions. With godly sorrow, repentance can produce serious progression.

Enos’s Example

Enos’s experience is an example of charity that comes after faith in God and experience with Jesus Christ’s loving atonement. After mighty prayer that lasted all the day and into the night, God told Enos that his sins were forgiven him and that he would be blessed. Enos said, “And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away. And I said: Lord, how is it done? And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them. . . . and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites.

What happened because of repentance and God’s forgiveness? Charity happened. Enos began to feel a desire for the Eternal welfare of his brethren and his enemies.

We see that repentance is a powerful impetus for charity to become, within us, a motive for emulating Jesus Christ.

Beware of the Insincerity of Hypocrisy

It’s important to note that we can’t always identify charity simply by deeds that appear good on the surface. When it comes to charity, what’s happening in our hearts and minds matters. I believe it’s important to be aware of this because Satan has counterfeits and does, through words and deeds that have the appearance of good on the outside, try to misdirect our trust and ultimately deceive. Jesus strongly warned against the hypocrisy of insincerity. He said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” He also said, “. . . when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.”

On the other hand, I feel confident in saying that people with the gift of charity WILL be found doing good deeds. The exact nature of the deeds might vary. Not everyone has the same capabilities or lives in the same environment around people with the same needs. People who are filled with charity may be well-off or destitute, disabled or able-bodied, or in captivity or free, and their service may be easy to see or nontraditional and go unnoticed by most others. But, all charity is noticed by God. And to those who strongly desire to help others but for whatever reason find themselves incapable or must serve differently than desired, King Benjamin gives a comforting word. He said, “All you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give. And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless.”

Feast on the Words of Christ

The second suggestion I have for developing charity is to feast on the words of Christ.

When I begin to feel selfish, angry, or vengeful, I am eventually reminded that I need to return to the words of Christ. And when I, with sincerity, feast on His words, both those that He personally said and those said through His prophets, I am reminded by the Spirit of His love. And being exposed anew to His love, charity is reignited in my heart.

After teaching the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, Nephi said, “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”

I believe in Jesus Christ. I need Him, and I want Him in my life. My witness that He lives came by the power of the Holy Ghost, and when my witness is renewed and strengthened it happens by that same power.

During His mortal ministry, because of His pure love, Jesus suffered long, was kind, envied not, was not puffed up, did not seek to gratify the carnal man, was not easily provoked, thought no evil, and rejoiced not in iniquity but rejoiced in the truth. With charity, Jesus bore all things, believed all truth, had a perfect brightness of hope, and endured. . . . And He still does today.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with His love, which the Father hath bestowed upon all who are His true followers; that ye may become the sons [and daughters] of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.

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