During Mosiah’s reign, many of the rising generation—those who were little children at the time of King Benjamin’s final discourse—did not believe in the teachings of the Church and refused to call upon the Lord. These unbelieving youth influenced other members of the Church to commit serious sins. Many of these transgressors were brought before Alma, the leader of the Church. Alma did not know what to do at first, but he asked the Lord for guidance on how to judge the disobedient members. The Lord revealed the process that Alma should follow in holding members of the Church accountable for their sins.
Have students imagine what it would be like to be the bishop of a ward with members who have committed serious sins and are unrepentant. Ask students to silently ponder what they would do in this situation.
What problems could arise if you did nothing to address the actions of these Church members?
Explain that Alma, the leader of the Church, faced a similar challenge. As students study Mosiah 26 today, encourage them to look for principles and doctrines that help them better understand the role of priesthood judges, such as bishops and branch presidents (and, for Melchizedek Priesthood holders, stake, district, and mission presidents). Also ask them to look for principles and doctrines about seeking forgiveness.
Invite a student to read Mosiah 26:1–2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a choice many young Nephites made.
What choice did many of the rising generation make? (They chose not to believe the traditions of their parents.)
Invite a student to read Mosiah 26:3–6 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the results of the unbelief of many in the rising generation.
What were the results of their unbelief?
Consider the following statement: “It became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church” (Mosiah 26:6). What do you think this means? (It was necessary for Church members who had sinned to be judged and held accountable.)
Summarize Mosiah 26:7–12 by explaining that those who had sinned were brought before Alma. Nothing like this had happened before in the Church, and Alma did not know what to do. He decided to send the transgressors to King Mosiah to be judged. King Mosiah returned them to Alma and instructed Alma that he should judge Church members who sinned against the laws of the Church. As king, Mosiah would judge those who committed crimes against the laws of the land.
Invite a student to read Mosiah 26:13 aloud. Ask the class to look for how Alma felt about his responsibility to judge those who had sinned.
When Alma felt troubled about his duty to judge the transgressors, what did he do?
Invite a student to read Mosiah 26:14–19 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord said that might have brought comfort to Alma.
What words or phrases might have brought comfort to Alma? Why?
Summarize Mosiah 26:20–28 by explaining that Alma learned that in the Lord’s Church, the Lord sets the conditions for who shall be received into Church membership (see verses 20–22). Alma also learned that because the Savior suffered for the sins of all people, the Savior sets the terms on which we may receive forgiveness for our sins (see verses 22–23).
Write the following verse numbers on the board:
Invite a student to read Mosiah 26:29 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord said that people must do to be forgiven.
What is the meaning of the phrase “confess his sins before thee and me”? (You may need to point out that in this verse, the word thee refers to Alma, who was an authorized servant of the Lord holding priesthood authority and keys. Explain that the Lord taught Alma that, for there to be complete forgiveness of a major transgression, the sin needed to be confessed twice and forgiven twice. You may want to point out the two different confessions: “if he confess his sins before thee [the priesthood leader] and me [the Lord]” and the two different people needed to grant forgiveness: “him shall ye [the priesthood leader] forgive, and I [the Lord] will forgive him also.”)
What principle can we learn from verse 29 about what we must do to be forgiven of our sins? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: If we confess our sins and repent in the sincerity of our hearts, then we will be forgiven. Write this principle on the board next to verse 29, and invite students to consider marking the phrases in this verse that teach this principle.)
When someone has committed a serious sin, why do you think the person is required to confess to the Lord and to the appropriate Church leader?
Explain that bishops and branch presidents hold priesthood keys to help those who have sinned seek forgiveness. While only the Lord can forgive sins, priesthood leaders play a supporting role in helping people receive that forgiveness. They keep all confessions confidential and help those who confess throughout the process of repentance.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Jesus Christ has prescribed a very clear method for us to repent and find healing in our lives. The cure for most mistakes can be found by seeking forgiveness through personal prayer. However, there are certain spiritual illnesses, particularly those dealing with violations of the moral law, which absolutely require the assistance and treatment of a qualified spiritual physician. …
“If you ‘awake to a sense of your awful situation’ [Ether 8:24] and wish to return to full spiritual health, see your bishop. He holds the keys and can help you along the pathway of repentance” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Key to Spiritual Protection,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 28).
Explain that if students have questions about which sins should be confessed to the appropriate Church leader, they should speak with their bishop or branch president.
What do you think it means for someone to repent “in the sincerity of his [or her] heart” (Mosiah 26:29)?
Invite students to read Mosiah 26:30 silently, looking for another principle about repentance and forgiveness. Ask students to report what they find. Write the following principle on the board next to verse 30: As often as we repent the Lord will forgive us. Invite students to consider marking this principle in their scriptures.
How could this principle comfort someone who is struggling with a particular sin?
How might someone try to twist this truth to mean something different than it does? (You might clarify that it is wrong to use this truth to justify the attitude that says, “It doesn’t really matter if I sin, because I can always repent.” This attitude mocks the suffering and price paid by the Savior to atone for our sins.)
Invite a student to read Mosiah 26:31 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a principle about repentance and forgiveness that is also a warning. Ask students to report what they find. Write the following principle on the board next to verse 31: If we choose not to forgive others, then we bring ourselves under condemnation. Invite students to consider marking this principle in their scriptures.
Why do you think it is important for us to forgive others?
Invite a student to read Mosiah 26:32 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord told Alma to do with transgressors who chose not to repent of their sins. Invite students to report what they find, and write the following principle on the board next to verse 32: If we choose not to repent of our sins, then we will not be numbered among the Lord’s people.
Explain that not being numbered among the Lord’s people, referred to today as excommunication, is the most serious possible outcome of Church discipline. Church leaders carefully consider many factors before excommunication or any other form of Church discipline takes place. In addition to considering how serious the transgression is, Church leaders consider the various purposes for Church discipline: to help a person repent, to protect those who would be negatively affected by a person’s actions or the spreading of that person’s beliefs, and to protect the integrity of the Church’s teachings. (See “Church Discipline,” mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-discipline.)
How do you think excommunication, or any other form of Church discipline, could help a person?
As you discuss how excommunication or any other form of Church discipline can help a person, consider inviting a student to read aloud the following statement:
“Church discipline is an inspired process that takes place over a period of time. Through this process and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, a member can receive forgiveness of sins, regain peace of mind, and gain strength to avoid transgression in the future. Church disciplinary action is not intended to be the end of the process. It is designed to help Heavenly Father’s children continue in their efforts to return to full fellowship and the full blessings of the Church. The desired result is that the person make whatever changes are necessary to repent completely” (“Church Disciplinary Councils,” True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 38).
Invite a student to read Mosiah 26:33–34 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Alma did after the Lord taught him these principles of repentance and forgiveness.
According to these verses, what helped Alma judge the members of the Church according to God’s will? (The commandments of God and the word of the Lord. Point out that Alma wrote down the words of the Lord so that he could preserve them and refer back to them.)
Explain that priesthood leaders receive guidance on how to help members of the Church repent, including how to administer Church discipline, by studying and understanding the commandments of God contained in the scriptures and the words of the prophets, by following guidelines given by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and by receiving inspiration and revelation from the Lord. This guidance allows priesthood leaders to provide personalized help to the sinner while also protecting innocent people and the integrity of the Church.
Explain that Mosiah 26:33–37 recounts how Alma followed the Lord’s instructions, judged the Church members who had sinned, and brought order to the Church. Invite students to read Mosiah 26:35–37 silently, looking for the results of Alma’s efforts to follow the Lord’s counsel. Ask students to report what they find.
Share your testimony that as we repent and live righteously, we can have peace in our hearts and prosper spiritually.
Invite students to review the list of principles on the board. Ask them to ponder and to write in their class notebooks or study journals how they might apply these principles in their lives. Encourage them to act immediately on any promptings they may receive to repent, so that they can be forgiven and enjoy the peace that Heavenly Father wants them to experience.