Feast upon the Word Blog

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Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 5: Principles of True Repentance

Posted by KS on March 7, 2015

While I assume our ward is behind most in the Church, I decided it would be helpful for me to write up my thoughts before teaching tomorrow. Hopefully it will spark some interesting conversation here in the Feast community as well!

The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.

I remember this quoted when I was a teenager and I always liked it. I really liked the line “Christ takes the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums.” I got the idea: real, lasting change in a situation only happens with people change. As I’ve gotten older, the part that strikes me is the claim that Christ actually can change people, a point President Benson emphasizes over and over again in this lesson.

Question: How often do we, as leaders, teachers, friends, or parents, try to shape human behavior? It is easy to pick on “the world,” but how often do we do the exact same thing?

Another question: How can we help change human nature? Can we? Is that up to God to do? What can we do to point people to God so that He can change their very nature? Perhaps this will be answered as we look at the examples of leaders like Alma and King Benjamin.

Therefore, repentance means more than simply a reformation of behavior. Many men and women in the world demonstrate great willpower and self-discipline in overcoming bad habits and the weaknesses of the flesh. Yet at the same time they give no thought to the Master, sometimes even openly rejecting Him. Such changes of behavior, even if in a positive direction, do not constitute true repentance.

This is a golden quotation. Becoming a better person is a byproduct of repentance, but it isn’t repentance itself. I think he’ll make this clearer in the next section.

When King Benjamin finished his remarkable address in the land of Zarahemla, the people all cried with one voice that they believed his words. They knew of a surety that his promises of redemption were true, because, said they, “the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, [and note this] that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2.)

I love the story of King Benjamin and his people. To me it is the clearest explanation of how someone’s heart can be changed. Here, I think President Benson’s point is mainly that hearts can be changed. He goes on to say next:

Can human hearts be changed? Why, of course! It happens every day in the great missionary work of the Church. It is one of the most widespread of Christ’s modern miracles. If it hasn’t happened to you—it should.

“Of course!” he says. :) Of course.

Question: Do we have that same reaction? Do we believe that a change of heart is necessary, and possible now? Not a end perfection, but a genuine change of heart, so that we no longer desire to do evil? How can we know if our hearts have been changed? Are we precisely the same sort of people that Alma talked to in Alma 5?

(I had no idea that Alma asked over forty questions, by the way!)

…in the fifth chapter of Alma he asks over forty crucial questions. Speaking frankly to the members of the Church, he declared, “I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14.)

He continued, “If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26.)

Those are two all-inclusive questions: have you been born of God yet? And if you have, do you still feel it?

I think sometimes the idea of a change of heart or a rebirth is confusing we think it means the same thing as being perfect. We feel that if we’ve had a change of heart, we wouldn’t make any more mistakes. Or, further, I won’t have a change of heart until I stop making so many mistakes.

Question: What is the difference between having a change of heart and being perfected in Christ? Alma assumes that people can be changed, but not carry that change with them. How can we recognize moments when our hearts are changed?

Another question: How can we keep from losing that change of heart?

King Benjamin says that,

Mosiah 4:11…as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

4:12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.

The first change of heart came when they came to a knowledge both of God’s glory and of God’s love, and he suggests that by remembering those two things perhaps we can retain that feeling.

I think Nephi is trying to talk about this same problem:

2 Nephi 31:19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

31:20 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.

Just like for Alma’s people, and for King Benjamin’s people, I think Nephi is teaching that his people also need to realize that there is a process of retaining that initial change.

So if the process of having eternal life or becoming perfect might take a lifetime, I think it’s clear from this lesson that a changed heart doesn’t need to take that long. It can happen soon — today, tomorrow, next week, next year, but soon.

He says, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.” (Rev. 3:20.) Note that He does not say, “I stand at the door and wait for you to knock.” He is calling, beckoning, asking that we simply open our hearts and let Him in.

Alma 34: 31 says,

Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.

The last section of the lesson emphasizes that not everyone will have dramatic or spectacular moments like Alma the Younger or Paul. While I think it’s important to realize not everyone will see an angel, I think it’s important to not dismiss the application of these stories too quickly.

For example, with Alma the Younger, the changing of his heart didn’t take place when the angel came. His father taught and prayed for him for years. Alma had learned a lot but wasn’t ready to accept it yet. When the angel came, he didn’t have to believe anything. Laman and Lemuel saw an angel and heard the voice of God, but they didn’t experience a mighty change of heart. While the angel’s visit might have started the process, Alma’s heart changed a little later:

Alma 36:17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

 19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! … (23) and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God.

His change of heart came because of his faith in Christ, not because of his dramatic experience (see also Enos 1:8). I think we all have experiences that open the door for us to have that mighty change of heart; but the change will only take place if we have faith in His ability to save us.

Can we really let Him change us? Do we really believe He can save us, and wants to? Can we recognize God’s glory, our weakness, and God’s love so deeply that we pass through the middle of the hourglass and come out the other side, reborn, and very happy? :)

We can; as Ezra Taft Benson put it earlier:

Can human hearts be changed? Why, of course! … It is one of the most widespread of Christ’s modern miracles. If it hasn’t happened to you—it should.

I pray it happens to each of us — and that we afterwords hold steadfastly to Christ’s merits and repent as necessary until we are finally safely in His presence!

4 Responses to “Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 5: Principles of True Repentance”

  1. Mike Smith said

    Karen, thank you for posting your remarks on the lesson, I will use them in my lesson prep.
    I have missed the posting and am glad you started & I hope it continues thanks Mike

  2. Karen said

    Mike, I am glad they were helpful. I hadn’t realized how little has been posted here lately and I will try to write more often now.

  3. el oso said

    Excellent insight. I used some of this in my lesson today.

  4. Steve Warren said

    Sorry I’m too late to say anything that can contribute to your lesson. I would, however, like to offer a few thoughts on the first ETB quote.

    Re: “The world would shape human behavior”

    Good people are constantly trying to shape human behavior. Trying to shape behavior for the better is commendable. On a very basic level, if parents didn’t try to shape behavior, their kids would never be potty trained and would try to grab all the toys. Our behavior is constantly being shaped for the better by good people, and if we aren’t trying to shape behavior for the better, we need to repent.

    When we go to the temple, our behavior is shaped (or at least reinforced) by the appearance and behavior of others in the temple as well as by the physical environment inside and outside the temple. I don’t want to see clutter, dirty windows and weeds at the temple.

    Of course, our efforts to shape behavior have the best prospects for success when they are connected to the light of Christ.

    I hope your lesson went well.

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