[Given by Kyle Du Moulin in April 2019 Stake Conference.]
For my talk today, I have felt inspired to speak on the topic of obeying the commandments of God and how this can be possible for all of us. Obedience to God’s commandments is a subject of importance to all of God’s children. In order to obey the commandments, we must understand what sin is and from what source we can obtain power to overcome it. Perhaps you are presently struggling with a sin or many sins, which, through your best efforts you have not been able to overcome. Today I will address what we must do to keep all of God’s commandments and overcome sin and even addictions.
There is perhaps no counsel more frequently given in the scriptures than that associated with obeying the commandments. Our obedience to the laws that God has implemented is critical to obtaining eternal life. As a consequence of the Fall, all of mankind was placed in a condition where we can know good from evil, and, through our agency, be given the chance to choose between them. Because of our fallen state, a conflict wages within each one of us who seeks to obey the commandments. This conflict is between the natural man or woman and our better self—our spirit—which desires to do God’s will.
One of the great challenges of mortality is learning to yield the desires of our natural state to the will of God. In order for our will to be swallowed up in the will of the Father, we must experience a mighty change of heart. As we experience this change of heart, the conflict between our natural state and our desires to obey God’s commandments will be resolved. In the process of time, we will be able to obey the commandments and our desires to commit sin will diminish and ultimately be overcome. In order to remove the turmoil and suffering caused to those who struggle to obey the commandments, the desire to commit sin must die within us.
Our desire to commit sin is a symptom of a deeper problem. This problem is a heart that is not yet fully converted unto the Lord. When seeking to overcome sin in our own lives, we must treat the sinner, not the sin. In order to alter a behavior that is contrary to God’s will, we must get to the root of the problem. When the true problem—in this case an individual’s heart—has been truly changed and fixed, then the corresponding destructive behaviors will cease on their own. The process of being changed from our natural state is called being “born again.” In the third chapter of the Gospel of John (verse five), Jesus teaches: “… Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Your ability to overcome temptation is directly linked to the health and condition of your spirit. The health and condition of your spirit is determined by the amount of light you bring into your life. The presence of the Holy Ghost is a source of spiritual light and has the power to overcome darkness and evil. Anything that reduces our light will weaken our ability to overcome evil. Perhaps you may find there is an absence of light in your own life. To illustrate the relationship between darkness and light, I use an analogy: if I were to walk into a dark room and turn on the light, there would never be an occasion where light would fail to overcome darkness.
Our need to be under the constant influence and direction of the Holy Ghost is greater than ever. President Russell M. Nelson has stated: “The assaults of the adversary are increasing exponentially, in intensity and variety.” In the most recent conference, the prophet also stated, “The battle with sin is real. The adversary is quadrupling his efforts to disrupt testimonies and impede the work of the Lord. He is arming his minions with potent weapons to keep us from partaking of the joy and love of the Lord.” If the adversary is quadrupling his efforts, then we must at least quadruple ours. Anything that diminishes our ability to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost will likewise diminish our capacity to obey the commandments and bear our temptations. Even small things which slowly erode our spiritual strength can, over time, have dramatic effects and eternal consequences.
The presence of the Holy Ghost is a blessing from heaven bestowed upon us because of our desires toward change and right action. We increase in our light as the Holy Ghost dwells in us. This light is received line upon line, precept upon precept. For it is by small means that great change is brought to pass. Some of the things which will allow you to bring the Holy Ghost into your life include: diligently seeking and hungering after the word of God as found in the scriptures and teachings of modern day prophets; meaningful prayers filled with faith; real effort to align our lives with God’s will; and regularly attending the temple, for it is in the ordinances of the temple that the powers of Godliness are manifest. President Russell M. Nelson said in the 2018 General Conference: “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
We must experience the cumulative effect of regularly and consistently doing those things which bring greater light into our lives. Our righteous desires and correct actions will invite God’s spirit which will enter into our hearts and sanctify us. Through this sanctifying process, we will be made into a new creature. But this change is dependent on the condition and desires of our heart. Just as hard and dry clay cannot be molded into new forms, likewise a hardened heart cannot be altered. Before a mighty change can be wrought in us, we must offer for a sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Jesus Christ spoke of this shortly before His appearance to the Nephites. He said:
“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”
It is by the grace of Jesus Christ that the will of the flesh will be overcome as the Holy Ghost dwells in us. I call the effects of this process, “living in a constant state of grace.” Another term for this is, “taking Christ’s yoke upon us.” For without the sustaining grace of Jesus Christ, we have no power to overcome the effects of the Fall.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the power we can access in Christ, which will allow the will of our spirit to overcome the will of our flesh:
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:9-10)
In the Parable of the True Vine, Jesus Christ teaches us that without Him we have no power to do good works. He said:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
As we seek a daily portion of God’s spirit to abide with us, and offer for a sacrifice to the Lord a broken heart and a contrite spirit, in the process of time we will be blessed with a new heart. As this change occurs within us, our actions, our words, our thoughts, and the desires of our heart will be brought into alignment with God’s will. And the day will come when we can say, as did the Nephites when King Benjamin gave his address, that because of the Spirit of the Lord, a mighty change has been wrought in our hearts, and we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
While the idea of controlling (or coercing or manipulating) other people is clearly at odds with the principle of agency, the teachings of the scriptures, and the example of our Heavenly Father, controlling our own selves is very much called for—but, oh, so difficult. It’s one extremely difficult thing to control our own actions. It’s even more difficult to control our thoughts.
So often, thoughts come into our head, which are negative or harmful—sometimes even consciously unwanted and unwelcome. Sometimes unwanted thoughts come when we’re trying to fall asleep or return to sleep. Sometimes we think negative things about ourselves or are excessively or unfairly critical of ourselves. Sometimes we fill in the blanks of what we don’t know about other people’s actions by ascribing negative motives to them. Sometimes we feel anxious and our heads get full of all manner of unreal “what if” scenarios that make the anxiety even worse. Sometimes we consider sinning in some way (“It won’t hurt if I just tell this one little fib”) or have immoral thoughts flash into our minds. Or maybe anger gets the best of us and we marinade in thoughts of administering “justice.”
Speaking of which, there’s another challenge for us in responding correctly outwardly to the negative emotions that sometimes spontaneously erupt within us. How do I react when somebody says or does something unkind to me? How do I react when a child errs, sins, disobeys, or otherwise disappoints me? How do I react when my spouse frustrates me? How do I react to feelings of selfishness or tiredness or loneliness?
I am very much intrigued by the scriptural statement that says the Savior “suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.” I am, in fact, in total awe of that. Does it mean that wrong or negative or even sinful thoughts came into his mind but he was able to simply let them pass through him without giving them any attention or even pausing to consider them? Does it mean that he, too, was subject to negative emotions but that he never reacted wrongly to them? My mother reminds me all the time to “Act. Don’t react.” Perhaps the Savior never reacted but always acted—and those actions were motivated by love for others. Perhaps he was always in control. There’s really no “perhaps” about it; he was in control.
I might argue that the greatest gift any of us has is agency. “Acting” means that we stay in control of ourselves enough to make thoughtful, conscious decisions. “Reacting,” at least as my mother has used that term, means conceding or deferring our agency. “Being acted upon” means failing to use our agency altogether. Clearly the goal is to remain in charge of myself and to always act upon thoughtful choices. I have disciplined my children both in “acting” and in “reacting” modes. There is a huge difference! I feel very positive about the former—and very ashamed of the latter.
I have heard President Scoresby talk about Matthew 5 and his thoughts about what the Savior was teaching when He said to turn the other cheek, to walk two miles when compelled to go one, to give up your cloak, too, when already forced to give up your coat. His idea that the Savior is teaching us to remain in charge of ourselves, even when we are being victimized, is helpful to ponder.
Surely, living happily includes controlling myself and not compromising my precious gift of agency. I should like to become much better at this.
Suffering temptation—whether through unproductive thoughts or through emotions that might easily lead my behavior in poor directions—is not going away. Even the Savior suffered temptations (plural). My goal is to learn to give no heed unto them; to let them pass by or pass through; to keep my mind focused on choosing actions—and even thoughts—that will leave me and others in the happiest places possible; to act and not to react or surrender control of myself. Tough task, but pursuing it is surely a significant part of living after the manner of happiness.