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Lesson 34: Moral Cleanliness

“Lesson 34: Moral Cleanliness,” Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A (2000), 250–55

“Lesson 34: Moral Cleanliness,” Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part A, 250–55

Lesson 34

Moral Cleanliness

The purpose of this lesson is to help us understand the importance of being morally clean.


In today’s world there are many different standards of morality. These standards often change with time and circumstances. By contrast, God’s standards of moral cleanliness never change, for He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The scriptures tell us that “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21). The Apostle Paul wrote:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17). Our bodies are sacred. The Lord has given us bodies for a divine purpose, and He expects us to keep them clean and worthy to receive His Spirit.

The Power to Create Life Is Sacred

It is important for us as holders of the priesthood to keep ourselves morally clean, for the blessings which are most important to us are linked to our moral cleanliness. One of God’s many powers is the power to give life. He has shared with us His power to create life by allowing us to bring children into the world. Because this is a divine power, He has commanded all of His children to use it correctly and reserve it only for marriage. He has also told us that the desire behind this great power must be controlled and used within the bounds He has set. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught, “Much of the happiness that may come to us in this life will depend on how [we] use this sacred power of creation” (see “Why Stay Morally Clean,” New Era, July 1972, 4–6).

Elder Richard G. Scott taught:

“Within the enduring covenant of marriage, the Lord permits husband and wife the expression of the sacred procreative powers in all their loveliness and beauty within the bounds He has set. One purpose of this private, sacred, intimate experience is to provide the physical bodies for the spirits Father in Heaven wants to experience mortality. Another reason for these powerful and beautiful feelings of love is to bind husband and wife together in loyalty, fidelity, consideration of each other, and common purpose.

“However, those intimate acts are forbidden by the Lord outside the enduring commitment of marriage because they undermine His purposes. Within the sacred covenant of marriage, such relationships are according to His plan. When experienced any other way, they are against His will” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 50; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 38).

Moroni tells us that virtue is “most dear and precious above all things” (Moroni 9:9). We must keep ourselves morally clean so we can establish our own families in righteousness and live in peace and harmony.

God’s Law of Moral Cleanliness

God has never changed His laws and commandments concerning sexual sin, although man has tried to change them to suit his own pleasure. The law of chastity means that a man must not have intimate physical relations with anyone except his own wife. The Lord has commanded, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). The law of chastity is not limited to just adultery, however. It extends to all improper uses of the divine power of procreation. Among the other ways man misuses this sacred power are fornication (including living together without marriage), homosexuality, abortion, and masturbation.

Chastity also includes cleanliness in thought and modesty in dress. The scriptures tell us that our actions are the result of our thinking (see Proverbs 23:7). We must keep our thoughts virtuous and be modest in our dress, speech, and actions.

  • Have the previously assigned class member tell the following story by President Kimball.

“Sin, like a journey, begins with the first step; and wisdom and experience teach that it is easier to resist the first temptation than later ones, when a pattern of transgression has begun to develop. This is demonstrated in the story of the lark. Sitting in the high branches of a tree safe from harm, he saw a traveler walking through the forest carrying a mysterious little black box. The lark flew down and perched on the traveler’s shoulder. ‘What do you have in the little black box?’ he asked.

“‘Worms,’ the traveler replied.

“‘Are they for sale?’

“‘Yes, and very cheaply, too. The price is only one feather for a worm.’

“The lark thought for a moment. ‘I must have a million feathers. Surely, I’ll never miss one of them. Here is an opportunity to get a good dinner for no work at all.’ So he told the man he would buy one. He searched carefully under his wing for a tiny feather. He winced a bit as he pulled it out, but the size and quality of the worm made him quickly forget the pain. High up in the tree again he began to sing as beautifully as before.

“The next day he saw the same man and once again he exchanged a feather for a worm. What a wonderful, effortless way to get dinner!

“Each day thereafter the lark surrendered a feather, and each loss seemed to hurt less and less. In the beginning he had many feathers, but as the days passed he found it more difficult to fly. Finally, after the loss of one of his primary feathers, he could no longer reach the top of the tree, let alone fly up into the sky. In fact he could do no more than flutter a few feet in the air, and was forced to seek his food with the quarrelsome, bickering sparrows.

“The man with the worms came no more, for there were no feathers to pay for the meals. The lark no longer sang because he was so ashamed of his fallen state.

“This is how unworthy habits possess us—first painfully, then more easily, until at last we find ourselves stripped of all that lets us sing and soar. This is how freedom is lost. This is how we become enmeshed in sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 214–15).

Controlling our thoughts, dressing modestly, and obeying the commandments of our Heavenly Father are ways we can keep ourselves pure and develop worthy habits.

When Alma’s son had committed fornication, Alma told him, “Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?” (Alma 39:5).

We need to know and understand clearly the seriousness of immorality. We must not only live clean lives ourselves, but must also teach and encourage moral cleanliness in others, especially our children.

  • How can we teach our children to be morally clean?

Priesthood Power in Moral Cleanliness

No one can transgress the laws of chastity and expect to find peace unless he sincerely repents of the sin. The Book of Mormon tells us that the Holy Ghost will not dwell in unclean tabernacles (see Helaman 4:24). And if we lose the power of the Holy Ghost, it is impossible for us to use the priesthood authority bestowed on us. The Lord said, “And let all things be done in cleanliness before me” (D&C 42:41). When we are morally clean, the Holy Ghost can work through us to help us exercise our priesthood power properly. In this way, the priesthood is a great protection against sin. As we use it righteously, we not only serve others effectively but also obtain power to turn away from temptation. Elder A. Theodore Tuttle gave an example of how unrighteousness prevents us from using our priesthood authority:

“A foolish young man had been interviewed for a mission,” wrote Elder Tuttle, “and even though he was asked some very direct questions, he answered them with lies. … Then he went out and tried to teach the gospel. That, of course, was the final test, and the test in which he failed. The missionary found out he could not do missionary work without the Spirit of the Lord. … So this missionary had to repent and … set himself right with those who had interviewed him before the Spirit of the Lord would be with him” (“Men with a Message,” address to Seminary and Institute faculty at Brigham Young University, 1958, 2).

President Spencer W. Kimball gave some counsel that could have been helpful to the missionary in the above story. He taught that “any dating or pairing off in social contacts should be postponed until at least the age of 16 or older, and even then there should be much judgment used in selections and in the seriousness. Young people should still limit the close contacts for several years, since the boy will be going on his mission when he is 19 years old” (“The Marriage Decision,” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 4).

President Kimball also explained that “among the most common sexual sins our young people commit are necking and petting. Not only do these improper relations often lead to fornication … and abortions—all ugly sins—but in and of themselves they are pernicious evils, and it is often difficult for youth to distinguish where one ends and another begins” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 65).

  • How would President Kimball’s counsel have helped the young missionary?

Keeping ourselves chaste and virtuous allows the Lord to bless us with spiritual power. Sometimes, however, we make mistakes. If this has happened, we should talk to our branch president, bishop, or mission president about it. He will advise us and help us to repent.

The Lord is as anxious to forgive us when we confess our sins as He is to help us remain morally clean. He knows our weaknesses and will provide a way for us to resist temptation. (See 1 Corinthians 10:13.) As an added help, He has sent prophets to guide us and teach us how to live the standards He has given us.

If we do whatever is necessary to become morally clean before the Lord, we will be able to “stand with confidence—unafraid and unashamed and unembarrassed—in the presence of God. This is the promise held out to every virtuous man and woman” (Gordon B. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 66; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 73).

  • How does our example of moral cleanliness influence the attitudes of our children? What can we do to set the proper example?

As priesthood bearers, we cannot carry out spiritual duties unless we are morally clean. The best way to accomplish this is to keep our bodies and minds pure and remember the sacredness of the power of procreation. If we set an example of obedience to the moral laws, our children will learn the importance of moral cleanliness and strive to remain morally clean themselves.


The Lord has given us commandments to make us happy. Whenever we obey a law of God, we receive a blessing; but whenever we break a law, we suffer the result of our action. Living morally clean lives can benefit us in many ways. A clean, moral life promotes happy homes and marriages. It keeps us from feeling distrust and remorse. It keeps us worthy to serve the Lord. It permits us to go to the temple. It allows us as priesthood bearers to exercise the priesthood effectively in behalf of others. Most important, it helps us be worthy to dwell in Heavenly Father’s presence throughout all eternity.


Take the necessary steps to be morally clean.

Discuss with your family the importance of moral cleanliness and how to be morally clean.

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. Read Gospel Principles chapter 39, “The Law of Chastity.”

  2. Assign a class member to read or present the story told by President Kimball about the lark.

  3. Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.