Sunday, July 22, 2012

Resisting Evil Not Possible Without Sacrifice

I have a young friend who is currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is not unlike all who undertake their service, but one thing sets him apart from all the rest - he is brutally honest with himself and does not shrink from expressing himself as few can. A sample:

"I'm not going to lie. I really didn't think a mission would be this hard. I honestly thought that after all I have been through that it would be easy, that it would be a break from the world. I thought that all my sins and temptations would just vanish away and that I would easily completely focus on the Lord. Well, what a surprise to me when all of a sudden the same problems I've had for years are still here! Those same temptations and same desires are still lingering around. I pray every day for the strength to do better, but it seems the more I pray the harder it becomes. . ."

C.S. Lewis
When I read his letter, I was immediately reminded of the insight of C.S. Lewis:

"No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means - the only complete realist."

I believe there are few of us who have not been exposed to evil and the misuse of agency by others. When others sin willfully and we are parties to their poor choices, we are often drawn in by their experiments with evil and their enticements to participate are sometimes difficult to resist. To reject those temptations requires sacrifice.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
What is it we sacrifice by resisting temptations? Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it well:

"So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed! Such is the 'sacrifice unto the Lord … of a broken heart and a contrite spirit,' (D&C 59:8), a prerequisite to taking up the cross, while giving 'away all [our] sins' in order to 'know God for the denial of self precedes the full acceptance of Him."
(“Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,” Ensign, May 1995, 66).

And what is meant by "taking up the cross?" This:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.
And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself of all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments.
Break not my commandments for to save your lives; for whosoever will save his life in this world, shall lose it in the world to come.
And whosoever will lose his life in this world, for my sake, shall find it in the world to come.
Therefore, forsake the world, and save your souls; for what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (JST Matthew 16:25-30).

And why sacrifice the sins of this world in the hope of eternal reward? It's giving up the short-term pleasures of the flesh for long-term eternal life. And what does it mean to obtain eternal life? Those who have received the priesthood and entered into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage have covenanted with God the Father, and He with them. This is the answer:

All they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him. And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood' (D&C 84:35-39).

Once again from my missionary friend:

"I pray every day for the strength to do better, but it seems the more I pray the harder it becomes. My faith is lacking but I don't know how to fix it. I really don't think I've ever felt the Lord's help in my life. I'm sure He's been there, I just don't know when. It seems like I went through everything on my own. I know I had family there, but there have been times where I have prayed with all my strength and nothing happens. I want the faith that I need to be a missionary, but I don't know how to find it. I've been studying the scriptures trying to find it, but it doesn't tell me how to get it."

Actually, that's not true - the scriptures DO tell us how to feel the Spirit of the Lord, and what it means to have His Spirit with us to guide us, comfort us, and assure us of the hope for eternal life. Nephi is the best example, followed closely by Paul, who essentially says the same thing (see Romans 7:24). I call it "Nephi's lament," and he sounds just like you:

Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. (2 Nephi 4:16-18).

Let's also look at his father Lehi, who reminds us it is an absolute essential that we encounter and deal with opposition in this mortal existence:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness, nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no lie neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. . .
And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
Wherefore, God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. . .
And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents. (2 Nephi 2:11; 15-16; 21).

We become mortal at birth, subject to sin and death. The seeds of both are sown in our mortal bodies. Christ's atonement rescues those who repent of their sins (avoiding death of the spirit), and saves all from death through the resurrection of the body (avoiding the effects of the death of the body):

O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. . .
But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.
O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.
O how great the holiness of our god! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it. (2 Nephi 9:10; 18-20).

When we choose Christ, and sacrifice the enticements of evil that are routinely presented to us, we are sacrificing something that appears to be "sweet" on the surface but always turns to bitterness and sorrow later.

Korihor is an example of one who learned the lesson the hard way: "And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus wee see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell." (Alma 30:60).

So to the question of how we may feel the Spirit of the Holy Ghost in our lives. I know of no finer explanation and description of the workings of the Holy Spirit than the one given to Hyrum Smith through the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I believe what He said to Hyrum may apply to all of us. Why do I say that? Because we all have the same gift that was given to Hyrum - the gift of the Holy Ghost:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be done unto you; and, if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.
Say nothing but repentance unto this generation. Keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.
Behold, thou hast a gift, or thou shalt have a gift if thou wilt desire of me in faith, with an honest heart, believing in the power of Jesus Christ, or in my power which speaketh unto thee;
For, behold, it is I that speak; behold, I am the light which shineth in darkness, and by my power I give these words unto thee.
And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good — yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;
And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive. (D&C 11:8-14).

Those who have even made the attempt to do good are feeling and embracing the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. We slide back and forth on a horizontal plane between good and evil in this life, but when we are looking up on a vertical plane for help from heaven, and when we are imbued and infused with the Spirit, we are transformed spiritually. We become "born again," and we cannot say we have never felt the Spirit.

Oliver Cowdery was given similar guidance about how to embrace and recognize the Spirit of the Holy Ghost in this revelation. It likewise may be applied to each of us:

Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.
Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion;
Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.
Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.
Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above —
And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.
Make not thy gift known unto any save it be those who are of thy faith. Trifle not with sacred things.
If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;
Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.
I tell thee these things as a witness unto thee — that the words or the work which thou hast been writing are true.
Therefore be diligent; stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be for the word's sake.
Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him. Be patient; be sober; be temperate; have patience, faith, hope and charity.
Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.
Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:5-23).

Whenever we feel peace, goodness, happiness, joy and hope, we have felt the Spirit of the Holy Ghost giving comfort and guidance, assurance and peace. The Spirit drives away all the evil spirits who are sent to torment, tempt, try and test us. As our spirit communes with and takes direction from the Spirit we overcome temptations and progress toward eternal life. Here's another useful description from a revelation to Brigham Young:

If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful.
Fear not thine enemies, for they are in mine hands and I will do my pleasure with them.
My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.
Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear;
For my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite, and to the condemnation of the ungodly. (D&C 136:30-33).

The key is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Read Ether 12 and compare Hebrews 11. I've also found another useful key in 1 Nephi 15:8-11. This was Nephi's counsel to his rebellious brothers:

And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?
Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? — If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you. 

Did you catch the steps? 1) Don't harden your heart; 2) ask in faith; 3) believe you will receive; 4) diligently keep the commandments; 5) THEN these things are made known unto you.

The scriptures are full of how we may acquire, feel and keep the Spirit. In it all, when we follow these simple instructions the Lord gives to all of us, we are kept on the straight and narrow path, we are clinging to the iron rod (which is His word in the scriptures and through the living prophets), and we are in the way leading toward eternal life. We will still struggle, slip and make mistakes because it is our mortal nature to do so, but there is weekly healing available to us at the sacrament table each Sunday, where we may be renewed spiritually through humbling ourselves, repenting, and committing to do better each day. That is the path of the true disciple.

Lastly, be patient with yourself in your attempts to resist evil. You are literally trying to kill and bury your old man of sin, which is the fulfillment in fact that is only symbolized in the waters of baptism (a watery grave). Study Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 2:11; 3:9 for other examples from Paul's writings. Nobody knew more about the "thorn in the flesh" than Paul, then ask yourself, "What is my thorn?" I'll guarantee you it is the sin you love most. Whatever it is, the grace of God is sufficient for you too if you are humble, meek and teachable, oh, and repentant. (See Moroni 10:32-33). Being "born again" does not happen for most of us like the flipping of a light switch. It is a lifetime pursuit and we must be as patient with ourselves as our Father in Heaven is with us. All harvests require time, especially the change of heart you are seeking. We must continually sacrifice the things of this world in pursuit of the things of eternity in exchange.

The end of that path of discipleship is beautifully described by Nephi in Helaman 10:4-7. It is the same promise God makes to each of us when we are endowed in the temples. His voice may come to us in the same way it spoke to Nephi, when we follow the same steps:

Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.

We are admonished "be not weary in well-doing." (D&C 64:33).

We are told, "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground." (D&C 8:2-3).

The day will come, I would say to my young missionary friend and to each of us, when you may bear this witness:

And you have that which is written before you; wherefore, you must perform it according to the words which are written.
And now I speak unto you, the Twelve — Behold, my grace is sufficient for you; you must walk uprightly before me and sin not.
And, behold, you are they who are ordained of me to ordain priests and teachers; to declare my gospel, according to the power of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and according to the callings and gifts of God unto men;
And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it.
These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words. (D&C 18:30-36).

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