In 3 Nephi 9, the Nephites deal with the aftermath of the great destruction that occurred at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As they sit in total darkness, the voice of Christ is heard across the land by all of the people. Jesus points out that all of the destruction is the result of the sins of the people — He then tells them how they need to proceed at this point in order to be forgiven of their sins. Now that Jesus has served as the final sacrifice, the Law of Moses has been fulfilled and sacrifices will no longer be necessary. Instead, the people are now instructed to make a different type of sacrifice:
“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 9:20)
What are a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and what do they have to do with serving God?
Speaking in general terms, a broken heart is a way of describing the condition we are in when something has happened that has changed our path in life and we mourn what we previously had or what we could have had if we had stayed on the original path.
A common example of the above occurs when someone you love is removed from your life, whether through the breakup of a relationship or through death. Your heart is broken as you miss what you had with that person.
But there are other ways our path in life can be altered. Our own mistakes or sins can change the course of our life. Sometimes, the consequences of our sins can put us in a place that is vastly different from where we could have been otherwise.
There are various ways we can react when this happens. We can try denying that we’re in a bad place or assume that there’s nothing that could have been done to prevent it. We can try blaming others or bad luck for our situation. None of these reactions constitute a broken heart.
On the other hand, when we recognize that our life has gone off the rails to some extent and that our own choices or actions have caused the condition, then we’re in a position to truly miss (mourn for) the life we had or could have had and realize we could have it now if not for our own actions. This is the broken heart that Christ is referring to.
It’s when we have this type of broken heart that we’re ready to turn to the Lord. When we do, it doesn’t mean everything magically gets fixed, but the Lord does forgive us for our sins and gives us the comfort of knowing that God is now in control of our life. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
A contrite spirit typically follows the type of broken heart described above. People who are contrite accept guilt for their actions and are willing to do whatever it takes to make up for it in some way. Another word for “contrite” is “repentant.” People who carry a contrite spirit are in the right frame of mind to repent of their sins and to make a promise to serve God for the remainder of their lives — thus, they are able to truthfully answer “Yes” to these two questions as they enter the waters of baptism.
A broken heart and a contrite spirit — these constitute the “sacrifice” that the Lord expects from sinners. They’re a necessary combination to be converted and embark on the path of serving God.
“The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalms 34:18)
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.