There are those who, reading certain scriptural descriptions about the nature of man (such as that man is "carnal, sensual, and devilish," Alma 42:10) brush by these scriptures hurriedly, even nervously, because they feel so uncomfortable upon reading them. Such readers may feel, wrongly, that these scriptures sound much like a Calvinistic denigration of man. Such offended readers may even say those adjectives do not sound like most of the people they know. The same brush-by occurs regarding the numerous scriptures concerning "darkness" and "light."
There is a danger, however, in ignoring these scriptures and the profound message they contain. Calvinism focused unnaturally on the natural man and lacked the lifting dimension contained in the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with its exalting perspectives and sweeping promises. Though these scriptural insights concerning the natural man may seem to put us sternly in our place, when they are combined with the fullness of the gospel, we are shown our immense possibilities and what we have the power to become. Are we not wiser to understand our fallen nature and then, with equal attention, to be taught about how we can be lifted up? Indeed, for one to ask "Where do we go from here?" he must know where "here" is!
Let us, therefore, pause and examine the "natural man" and seek to understand what it is that we must put off.
First of all, the natural man is an enemy to God." (Mosiah 3:19.) This means that such individuals would (whether fully understanding the implications of their own resistance or not) oppose the ultimate purpose of God for mankind, which is, as we know, "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39.) Given our eternal interests, the natural man therefore is not our friend either, even if, at times, we seem quite at home with him.
Instead of becoming a saint, being childlike and willing to submit to our eternal Father, the natural man is rebellious and insists on walking in his own way. He is childish instead of childlike.
It should not surprise us that such coarse, spiritually unrefined individuals cannot receive the things of the Spirit but are shut out from the very light that could show them, if they were willing, how to put off the natural man. The seeming shutters on the windows of heaven are but the natural scales on our own eyes. Paul said it well: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14.)Therefore, only to the extent that we are willing to put off the natural man do we have any real hope at all of becoming saints. It is the putting off of the putting off that is our real problem. If, however, one can begin to understand his position in this world and his relationship to our Heavenly Father,it is not too late. . .
When we begin to put off the natural man and move, however slightly, toward sainthood, we will find ourselves almost at once beginning to be stretched conceptually. It becomes possible for us to know things we did not believe it possible to know. "And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent." (Alma 26:21.)
We thus become eligible to receive "the things of the Spirit of God" which the natural man cannot receive. (See 1 Corinthians 2:14.) The greater our yielding to the enticings of the Spirit, the more we are stretched conceptually and experientially. This was the case with Moses, who was highly developed spiritually. Being shown by God His creations, Moses declared that he had been shown things which he "never had supposed." (Moses 1:10.) When Moses observed after this marvelous experience that "man is nothing," this surely was not a reflection on man, "God's greatest miracle," but a placing of man in the vast perspective of God's creations and a realizing, even so, that we are God's exclusive work and his greatest glory. What a marvelous rejoinder Moses' vision is to those who superficially seize upon adjectives like carnal, sensual, and devilish as a means of excusing themselves from any effort to be otherwise!
Saintlike individuals seem to be so rare that we have almost ceased thinking about what living in a society of saints would be like. Such a people existed for several decades. There was real peace, real freedom, prosperity without poverty, an absence of envy, lying, violence, whoredoms, and lasciviousness; "surely there could not be a happier people." (4 Nephi 1:16.)
Some may freely say that they do not wish to meet the terms set down by God for achieving such ideal conditions. But given the fact that God is there and these are His terms, we are not able to reorder these realities of universe to multiply the options. Our choice is to seek to establish His righteousness or to rebelliously continue to walk in our own way.
We are free to choose, to obey or not to obey, to come to terms or not to come to terms with the Lord. But we cannot revise the terms. And even the refusal to come to terms with God will, ere long, be an option no longer open, for every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is the Christ. Even those who have lived without God in the world will finally confess that God has dealt justly with them. (See Mosiah 16:1.) Once we have come to terms, however, then come the steps toward sainthood. And mere steps they are, as we learn to become submissive, humble, meek, patient, and full of love. (Mosiah 3:19.) This process of putting off and becoming, however, requires the constant light of the gospel so that we can see and understand what we are doing.
One recurring theme of the gospel (with the commandments representing light and evil representing darkness) raises an interesting possibility, namely, that (with some exceptions) those who sin do so because they are in that darkness which envelops the natural man. Had they been in light and had they been able to foresee the multiple and awful consequences of their sins, they usually would not have done what they did! Unfortunately, the morning after does not occur the day before.
Jesus warned us that evildoers hate light that illuminates their iniquity. (See John 3:20.) Some foolishly think that if they merely cover their eyes, they can cover their sins. We lessen the light, however, when we focus on only a portion of the gospel to the exclusion of any other part. The truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ belong to each other. To focus on one commandment to the exclusion of another can cause doctrinal distortion and behavioral incompleteness. One cannot take from the gospel of Jesus Christ a single truth and have it prosper. Some have so tried in vain with the so-called social gospel, and others, to their sorrow, with apostate variants of marriage. We need the wholeness of the gospel to make us whole.
Paul discussed alienation from the life of God that results from darkened understanding through ignorance, because of "the blindness of their heart." Paul then noted that such individuals were desensitized, because in their celebration of sensuality, they had "given themselves over unto lasciviousness." (Ephesians 4:18-19.) He concluded: "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness." (1 Thessalonians 5:5.) There is nothing in the night, therefore, that will encourage us to put off the natural man. But everything about light so insists on our pressing forward toward becoming saints!
Not only must each of us so change, but to keep fully the second commandment, we must help others do likewise. This requires us to perform practical duties such as friendshipping and fellowshipping, since we can make no greater contribution to another mortal than to help him become worthy of eternal life, which is God's greatest gift. This involves us, inevitably, in work for both the living and the dead.
We must be more ready than we now are to receive the hundreds of thousands of converts who are putting off the natural man and are coming into the light-from all circumstances, heralding what President Spencer W. Kimball has called an era of major growth for the Church. This scripture will be worth even more pondering in the days ahead: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind." (Matthew 13:47.)
Some will have said to their dark past, their behavioral Babylons, "We bid thee farewell." They have learned that without the decalog there is decadence. Other newcomers will have learned that it is not good for man to be alone, and will have ceased trying to live without God in the world. (See Alma 41:11.) Still others will come out of the kingdom of the devil, which the Lord, as promised, will shake in order to stir some therein to repentance. (See 2 Nephi 28:19.) From such tumblings, souls come to us bruised but believing, having made their way courageously through guerilla territory, searching for spiritual liberty even as forces in the world relentlessly seek "to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries." (Ether 8:25.)
New arrivals are not asked to renounce their country or that which is good in their culture. All must, however, let go of the things that injure the soul, and there are some such things in every life and in every culture.
When all these individuals have come from so great a distance to join the Church, surely we can go a second mile in friendshipping and fellowshipping them. If with quiet heroism they can cross the border into belief, surely we can cross a crowded foyer to extend the hand of fellowship. Has it been so long that we have forgotten our first anxious day at a new school or our timidity in a new town?
Happily, among the hundreds of thousands of recruits will be mingled precious returnees who, like the prodigal son, have come to their senses. Filled with tender resolve, they too need a warm welcome. Let us emulate the father of the prodigal son who ran to greet his son while the son was still a great distance away, rather than waiting and then asking the son skeptically if he had merely come home to pick up his things!
Let us involve newcomers quickly in the Lord's work. They have been called to His vineyard not just to admire but to perspire not to "oh and aah," but to "hoe and saw." Let us make of them friends, not celebrities; colleagues, not competitors. Let us use their precious enthusiasm to beckon still others to come within the light. Let us listen lovingly and encouragingly as all newcomers utter their first halting public prayers and give their first tender talks, feeling unready and unworthy but so glad to belong. We can tell them, can we not, that the sense of inadequacy never seems to go away?
The Church is for the perfecting of the Saints, hence new arrivals are entitled to expect instant community but not instant sainthood either in themselves or in others. It takes time and truth working patiently together "in process of time" to produce the latter in all of us. We are a people in process, to whom the Lord has said, "Zion must increase in beauty, and holiness." (D&C 82:14.)
The Lord has said of His laborers, "Blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion." (1 Nephi 13:37.) Seemingly ordinary people have been called to do extraordinary chores, and as we work, we notice each other's weaknesses. Hence all are urged to succor the weak, to lift up the hands which hang down, and to strengthen the feeble knees. (See D&C 81:5.) As we carry our much lighter crosses, we too stumble only much more often.
If there are disappointments, let us not turn away from Zion; rather, let us remember Peter's immortal interrogative of the Savior, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (John 6:68.) There is no other way out of this mortal maze, no other "plan of happiness." (Alma 42:8.) Let all of us be filled with quiet wonder, but also with quiet determination at the marvelous things we have been called to do. Nephi said, "For the Lord shall comfort Zion... Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody." (2 Nephi 8:3.)
As we build a holier and a more beautiful Zion, with "the voice of melody" we will sing those lyrics-"All is well, all is well" but at times as a reassuring sob as well as a song, awaiting the day Isaiah promised when such "sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (Isaiah 35:10.)
The Savior will be in our midst. He will lead us along, saying, "Fear not, little flock" and urging us to do good even when we are badly done by. Indeed, we will find that putting off the natural man and becoming saintlike are both done best when we are in the company of and in cooperation with those who are doing likewise!
So it is that we find that the working out of our salvation is a day-by-day and deed-by-deed thing. Yes, there are moments that matter much more than others, including those in which a soul's salvation can be said to hang in the very balance. But even those big moments come into being because of the accumulation of small thoughts and small actions, such as a growing selfishness that causes an erring mother to leave a family in search of fulfillment. Regularized, mental fantasy may present, finally, a real choice between fidelity and breeching the seventh commandment. But the big moment does not usually strike suddenly; when it comes, it is not so much a case of the first instance as more of a last chance to reject with finality that which has massed ominously but gradually.
Hence there ought to be as we regularly, even routinely, work out our salvation a quiet sense of earned encouragement and of being a worthy laborer in the vast vineyard, perspiring but inspiring. A laborer who has put off the natural man is discernibly moving toward sainthood by becoming pure and spotless.
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