Cleansing the Inner Vessel: The Process of Repentance


As I read the scriptures, I often think about upon the powerful message of the Apostle Peter when he said, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.” (1 Pet. 4:17.) In our own day, the Lord has said, “Vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth. … And upon my house shall it begin.” (D&C 112:24–25; italics added.) What kind of judgments does the Lord have in mind? Why do the scriptures say that the cleansing will begin with the Church, rather than with the wicked?

The scriptures reveal that the Lord will save his greatest wrath and condemnation for those who appear religious on the outside, but who are actually full of evil within. Speaking to Jewish religious leaders, the Savior said, “Cleanse first that which is within the cup. … Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matt. 23:26–27.) Similarly, the great Book of Mormon leader, Moroni, wrote, “God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first.” (Alma 60:23.)

President Ezra Taft Benson left little room for doubt that these warnings apply to us. He declared, “All is not well in Zion. … We must cleanse the inner vessel, beginning first with ourselves, then with our families, and finally with the Church.” (General Conference, April 1986.)

President Benson has made it clear that cleansing the inner vessel requires repentance: “My beloved brothers and sisters, as we cleanse the inner vessel, there will have to be changes made in our own personal lives, in our families, and in the Church. The proud do not change to improve, but defend their position by rationalizing. Repentance means change, and it takes a humble person to change. But we can do it.” (General Conference, April 1986.)

He has also identified three specific areas that need to be cleansed:

1. Sexual impurity, which he calls “the plaguing sin of this generation.” The Prophet Joseph Smith called it “the source of more temptation, buffetings, and more difficulties … than any other.” (General Conference, April 1986; Journal of Discourses, 8:55.)

2. Neglect of the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon. Such neglect has brought the Church “under condemnation” and has caused a “scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.” (See General Conference, April 1986; D&C 84:57–58.)

3. Pride, or wanting to be successful at any price. President Benson characterizes it as “self-will as compared to God’s will.” (General Conference, April 1986.)

Our first task in cleansing the inner vessel is to honestly evaluate ourselves. It is human nature to recognize the need for improvement in others and to overlook comparable or more serious weaknesses in ourselves. We often cannot see many of our own weaknesses, and we often will not admit our character flaws even when those who love us try to help us see them. Perhaps the Lord considered this when he referred to those who have eyes but see not, and ears but hear not. (See Mark 8:18.)

But our weaknesses should not cause us to despair. President Heber J. Grant wrote, “I do not believe that any man lives up to his ideals, but if we are striving, if we are working, if we are trying, to the best of our ability, to improve day by day, then we are in the line of our duty. If we are seeking to correct our own faults, if we are so living that we can ask God for light, for knowledge, for intelligence, and above all, for His Spirit, that we may overcome our weaknesses, then, I can tell you, we are in the straight and narrow path that leads to life eternal. Then we need have no fear.” (Gospel Standards, Salt Lake City: The Improvement Era, 1943, pp. 184–85.)

How can we cleanse our own “inner vessels”? The Lord has given us a way. One day in an institute class I taught, we talked about how class members could improve their self-esteem by listing their strengths. A student suggested a unique way to improve ourselves and our self-esteem. He quoted Ether 12:27, where the Lord says, “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

As we evaluate ourselves to find areas in which we might repent or improve, we can go to others we trust and ask them how we can progress. As my student pointed out, we can also go to the Lord in humble prayer and ask him to reveal our weaknesses and to help us turn those weaknesses into strengths.

When the sincere disciple of Christ becomes aware of his weaknesses, he will chart a course toward improvement, as President Spencer W. Kimball counseled. (See The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, pp. 233–36.) Such a course may be painful at times and may require the assistance of others. But the process of repentance is essential to salvation and eternal life—and it is much easier than the involuntary cleansing that the Lord may invoke at some future time if we don’t repent.

As we repent and improve our lives, we can better consider how to improve as families and set goals that will purify our thoughts and our homes, lead us to greater understanding of the scriptures, and eliminate pride. We can then follow the same process in our Church quorums, organizations, and classes, in order to strengthen our wards, stakes, and communities.

One way of setting such goals might be listing areas in which we feel we need cleansing, and setting a goal in each area. Below are some examples:

Repentance is a main theme of the scriptures. It is necessary if we hope to overcome the problems we face in these latter days. We need to be morally pure in order to receive needed inspiration from the Lord. We need to be serious students of the scriptures in order to fight the worldly teachings of our time. And we need to develop humility in order to overcome selfishness.

It is comforting to know that we have a living prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, who directs our attention to areas of our lives that need improvement.

I have always sustained the living prophets, partly because I have received a personal witness that each is called of God. That personal witness regarding President Benson came Saturday morning, 5 April 1986, as I sat watching the first session of general conference on television with my family. As President Benson concluded his comments, I thought, “Surely the Lord has spoken to the Latter-day Saints. Now the responsibility is ours to listen and obey—to cleanse the inner vessel!”

 

Self

Family

Church

SEXUAL IMPURITY

Purify my thoughts by not reading inappropriate novels, or watching TV programs that are sensual.

Carefully screen TV programs and movies we view to avoid those that glorify immorality.

Strengthen the young men in my teachers quorum with some special lessons on modesty in behavior, language, and dress.

NEGLECT OF THE SCRIPTURES

Read the scriptures 10–30 minutes daily before bed or at lunch time and record feelings in journal.

Spend one hour on Sunday reading the Book of Mormon as a family.

Set up a quorum reading chart to encourage study of the scriptures.

PRIDE

Be more open to suggestions from my wife and children on how I can be a better father.

Have some family discussions on ways we can improve our fasting experience and contribute more to the needy.

Seek to befriend our new Protestant neighbors and help them feel a part of the neighborhood and ward social activities.

[illustration] The Pharisees Question Jesus by James J. Tissot

Larry Tippetts is an instructor at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City. He serves as Gospel Doctrine teacher in the Granite First Ward in the Sandy Utah Granite View Stake.