“Can a person repent through personal communication with the Lord, or must he see his bishop?”
Answer/ Jerry Taylor
This question actually contains two parts, and the answer to both parts is yes. In his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, President Spencer W. Kimball (then of the Quorum of the Twelve) wrote: “Many offenders in their shame and pride have satisfied their consciences, temporarily at least, with a few silent prayers to the Lord and rationalized that this was sufficient confession of their sins. ‘But I have confessed my sin to my Heavenly Father,’ they will insist, ‘and that is all that is necessary.’ This is not true where a major sin is involved. Then two sets of forgiveness are required to bring peace to the transgressor—one from the proper authorities of the Lord’s Church, and one from the Lord himself. This is brought out in the Lord’s clarification of Church administration as he gave it to Alma:
“‘Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also’ (Mosiah 26:29; Italics added.)” (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, p. 179).
To understand the second half of the question, it would be helpful to know the purpose of confession. We read in the Doctrine and Covenants that the spirit is much like the body, only that the matter which constitutes the spirit is “more fine or pure” (D&C 131:7). If we suffer major trauma to the body we visit a doctor, and he will prescribe a course to make us whole again. The same holds true for an injury or insult to the spirit. In order for the spirit to heal properly, part of the therapy is confession.
Recently our seven-year-old son, Wade, had his appendix rupture. The infection had spread throughout his abdomen, yet from outward appearances nothing seemed seriously wrong. Without proper medical care and attention he would have surely died. Like a person who has a serious physical illness, the spirit cannot heal itself after a major transgression without confession. The spirituality of a person can only remain weak, somewhat hesitant in fulfilling its immortal purpose, and could even wane and die.
Perhaps a point can also be made that as we do not visit a doctor for every little scratch, also we should not confess every “minor” sin to the bishop. President Brigham Young counseled, “Do not tell about your nonsensical conduct that nobody knows of but yourselves” (in Journal of Discourses, 8:362). The key is that we must be able to honestly differentiate between major transgressions and “nonsensical conduct.”
In The Miracle of Forgiveness, President Kimball has given us clear guidelines to help us in this decision: “The transgressor must have a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit’ and be willing to humble himself and do all that is required. The confession of his major sins to a proper Church authority is one of those requirements made by the Lord. These sins include adultery, fornication, other sexual transgressions, and other sins of comparable seriousness” (p. 179).
If you are uncertain whether a personal transgression lies within this definition, you should discuss it with your bishop. He will give you wise counsel and keep confidences.
The very best time to talk to your bishop about a transgression is right now. Call and make an appointment to visit him in his office. He is always available to help and counsel ward members.
It is also the privilege of all young men and women in the Church to have a regular interview with their bishop. On these occasions he will make inquiries concerning worthiness. It is important that these questions be answered truthfully. There may be a strong temptation to lie about transgressions to avoid embarrassment, but President Kimball has issued a stern warning against such an action.
“Those who lie to Church leaders forget or ignore an important rule and truth the Lord has set down: that when he has called men to high places in his kingdom and has placed on them the mantle of authority, a lie to them is tantamount to a lie to the Lord; a half-truth to his officials is like a half-truth to the Lord; a rebellion against his servants is comparable with a rebellion against the Lord; and any infraction against the Brethren who hold the gospel keys is a thought or an act against the Lord. As he expressed it: ‘For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth my father.’ (D&C 84:36–37.)” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 183).
The scriptures repeatedly underscore the importance of confession to the proper authority in cases of serious transgression.
“Behold, 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” (D&C 58:42–43).
“And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them [Alma] did number among the peoples of the church;
“And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out” (Mosiah 26:35–36).
“But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord” (D&C 59:12).
In chapter 13 of The Miracle of Forgiveness President Kimball explored this question in greater depth. You would do well to read that chapter thoroughly. Toward the end of that chapter is a promise that offers hope to the troubled soul.
“Confession brings peace. How often have people departed from my office relieved and lighter of heart than for a long time! Their burdens were lighter, having been shared. They were free. The truth had made them free” (p. 187).
“What should I do when an evil thought enters my mind?”
Answer/ Ronald A. Dalley
All conscious acts—creative ones, righteous ones, or evil ones—are born from our thoughts. There never has and never will be a willful act that did not first begin as a thought.
Thoughts originate from three sources—from within us, from the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and from the evil sources around us provided by Satan and his hosts as they “whispereth in our ears.” “And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Ne. 28:22).
The importance of our thoughts, then, cannot be emphasized enough. As Proverbs tells us: “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). During his earthly ministry, the Lord taught that for us to lust in our hearts is a serious sin. We must, therefore, learn to recognize the source of our thoughts and control them accordingly.
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve explains that our minds can be compared to a stage that is forever being played upon by our thoughts, which are the actors. Always lurking in the wings are those thoughts whose intent is to attract our attention, upstaging our good thoughts, telling us that they are not bad, that there is “no devil,” until, if we let them, they take complete control of our minds, thus driving out the gentle, uplifting Spirit of our Heavenly Father, making us dull and insensitive to the things of the Spirit. Thus does he bind us “with his awful chains” (see “Inspiring Music—Worthy Thoughts,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 28).
However, if we truly love the Lord, we will want to control our thoughts. Indeed there can be no deep spiritual progression until we are able to discipline our own minds. The Savior was teaching this principle, I believe, when he said we should not look upon one another in lust, or we should not covet. If we control our thoughts, we will also be able to master our actions.
Now there is not a person alive who has not, at some point in his life, had an inappropriate thought enter into his mind, primarily because Satan has the power to help put it there. The test, however, is whether we allow it to stay there, to linger, performing its evil deed until the Spirit of the Lord cannot abide with us.
What should I do when an evil thought enters my mind? Almost all Church leaders, at one time or another, have addressed this basic question. As a result many different methods for controlling the thought processes have been cited. Some suggest that when we have an evil thought we should review in our minds the words of a favorite hymn. Others suggest doing the same thing with one of our favorite passages of scripture. One of my favorite passages of scripture to use in such cases is Doctrine and Covenants 121:45–46 [D&C 121:45–46]:
“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth.”
Other possible approaches might be to read the scriptures or a book by one of the Brethren. The point is, do something! Supplant the evil thought with something pure and wholesome. Find something that works for you and use it. But remember it takes effort. It takes a desire to control our own thinking. If we truly love the Lord, we will do it. In addition, avoid as nearly as possible unholy places, unwholesome music, friends who do not uphold similar standards, and entertainment (movies, television, etc.) that depicts immorality and vulgar language.
As you do this, you will drive away the unclean, evil thoughts; and the more you control your own thinking, the more you are in control of all that you do, until you are able to “lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins, and take upon you my whole armor, … that ye may be able to stand” (D&C 27:15). Thus Satan and his hosts with their subtle whisperings will have no power over you.
If we love the Lord, we will want to become masters of ourselves that we might help further his purposes here on earth. For us to do this, we must control our thoughts.