Somewhere in my reading this verse from Hebrews 3:13 was referenced. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” The phrase, “deceitfulness of sin” caught my attention, and I’ve had a hard time letting it go.
In the Book of Mormon we read about the importance of having opposition in all things, and the truthfulness of the man we call God is no exception. His truthfulness also has its opposite. As I dug through some Conference talks I noted that in just one talk by Elder Bernard P. Brockbank, he mentions no less than five times that there are only two options or forces in the universe from which we can choose. If we don’t choose the one then we have automatically chosen the other. There is no middle ground or alternative.
I think that one fact, that there is no other alternative available to us, is almost more than we can comprehend. Surely there is something in between the two choices. Here are a few of his comments from his conference talk. The references for all the talks are at the bottom of the article, along with a link to listen to the podcast of the article.
The Lord has commanded and warned man to obey and hearken unto his voice or to be subject to the power and dominion of the devil. …
It is very important to know that Satan has power to deceive men and to blind men and to lead men captive at his will, even as many as will not hearken unto the voice of the Lord. …
“And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.” (Moses 4:3–4.) …
Because of failure to hearken unto the voice of God, they were subject to the influence of the devil and were cast out.
No man is free who is not master of himself. True freedom of agency exists with the observance of God’s laws. Keep in mind that good and evil can never be amalgamated into one. They are at opposite ends. They do not abide in harmony within a person. One tendency will prevail over the other, for as Jesus taught:
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:24.)
There is no middle road.
There is no third option. This is where the deceitfulness of Satan comes in. He would have us believe that we are free to choose something other than what our Father in Heaven or Christ would have us choose, and still be good and blessed for it. Elder Stapley also said:
All things good come from God. All things evil come from Satan. Brigham Young explained it this way:
“There are but two parties on the earth, one for God and the other for the world or the Evil One. No matter how many names the Christian or heathen world bear, or how many sects and creeds may exist, there are but two parties, one for heaven and God, and the other will go to some other kingdom than the celestial kingdom of God.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe, 1966 ed., Deseret Book Co., p. 70.)
The stark reality is that according to the prophets and the scriptures, if we are not strictly doing the will of God, we are following Satan.
I want to make myself as clear here as possible. Following Satan does not necessarily mean slaughtering goats on a satanic altar or murdering children. ANYTHING outside the good that comes from God is in Satan’s camp. We can be “good” people, but not keeping our covenants and still fall short of our goal.
If we are talking about just being a decent kind of a person who is kind and generous, but has faults, and even a vice or two, we are still in Satan’s grasp. Let me explain. Our goal is to return to our Father in Heaven. That means the highest level of the celestial kingdom. That requires covenants and obedience to those covenants for the duration of our mortal lives.
Anything falling short of what will qualify us for the celestial kingdom is still damnation. The only ones who will progress for eternity, increasing in glory, are those who are celestialized as couples and families. All others in any other kingdom will be blessed with great joy and gladness for eternity, but will remain single and alone, and stopped in their progression. They are damned. These are all those who are in the Terrestrial kingdom and all those in the Telestial kingdom.
Elder Brockbank made this observation, “Godliness in man goes undeveloped without the words of God and his program.” We cannot become godly without the covenants that come with “God and his program.” Any other situation results in the same ending, being cut off from the presence of the Father for eternity. Since that is the ultimate goal then we must assume that anything less than returning home is unacceptable.
Satan doesn’t have to plunge us into the blackest abyss of depravity if all that is required to keep us out of God’s presence is to get us to cling to any habit that would prevent us from going home. It could be the love of gaming, the use of any addictive substance, pornography, lying, pride, laziness, lack of belief, having a critical spirit, etc. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it has his desired outcome, that of preventing us from reaching our full potential as a child of God.
Elder Stapley used this quote from Brigham Young in his Conference talk:
How far does our agency extend? Brigham Young answered this question by saying: “There are limits to agency, and to all things and to all beings, and our agency must not infringe upon that law. A man must choose life or death. … the agency which is given to him is so bound up that he cannot exercise it in opposition to the law, without laying himself liable to be corrected and punished by the Almighty.
“It behooves us to be careful, and not forfeit that agency that is given to us. The difference between the righteous and the sinner, eternal life or death, happiness or misery, is this, to those who are exalted there are no bounds or limits to their privileges, their blessings have a continuation … they increase through all eternity; whereas, those who reject the offer, who despise the proffered mercies of the Lord, and prepare themselves to be banished from his presence, and to become companions of the devils, have their agency abridged immediately, and bounds and limits are put to their operations.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, pp. 63–64.)
Just as God always tells us the truth, meaning that what he tells is always meant to bless us and help us make good choices, so too Satan never tells us the truth in any form without its outcome intending to hurt us in some way.
Richard C. Edgley, former first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric gave a Conference talk wherein he listed just a few of the justifications (lies) Satan tells us to get us to choose poorly.
Justifications offered by Satan
“Everybody is doing it.”
“Nobody will know.”
“It is not really hurting anyone.”
“It won’t hurt just this once.”
“You can repent later and still go on a mission and be married in the temple.”
“Christ atoned for your sins; He will forgive you.”
I had to think about his last entry. It is true that Christ atoned for each of us. It is true that He will forgive us. But the lie embedded in this sentiment when it comes from Satan is that we are free (without consequence) to continue to sin because we can always be forgiven later. The implied notion is that the sin won’t have any affect on us. This lie completely ignores the fact that almost every sin becomes an addiction, because sin creates habits, habits that hurt us.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton gave two great quotes from a Conference talk. The first one references D&C 10:25-26:
… we can’t hide behind the father of lies and say, “Satan made me do it.” All he does is tell us, “This is no harm,” and then he lets us catch ourselves in our own snare.
The second quote is about a common lie people would like to believe. They would like to mask everything in shades of gray that, if true, would make discerning the truth nearly impossible.
There are some who would have us believe there is no right or wrong—that everything is relative. We must never allow ourselves to think proper conduct and decision making are found in a convenient path somewhere between right and wrong.
Lest you think I am totally gloom and doom, following are some words of encouragement from these same Brethren. If choosing good over evil was not possible, the Lord would have been truthful and told us. But it is possible, and here are some tips.
In referring to the temptation of Christ found in the New Testament, Elder Brockbank said:
Satan was rebuked and defeated by Jesus because Jesus knew and used the word of God—the commandments of God as recorded in his holy scriptures. Jesus hearkened unto the voice of the Lord.
Elder Brockbank also said:
Jesus counseled, “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.” (D&C 10:5.)
Elder Stapley reminds us that having to face the lies of Satan are an important part of our growth and spiritual maturity.
“And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.” (D&C 29:39.)
He also reminds us that not every decision we make using our agency is a do or die proposition. We need to seek the good. That should be our focus. “What are we doing with our agency? Are we drawing close to God, or away from him?”
Finally, Brother Edgley offers these two bits of encouragement.
We may come from humble circumstances, have limited education, and may even have what we consider unimpressive worldly accomplishments. And because of Satan’s deceit, we may at times feel unimportant, insignificant, or incapable. But let us never forget—we are the ones chosen to hold the priesthood of God, we are His called, ordained representatives, and that makes us somebody. …
I testify that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10) and wickedness never will be happiness. I further testify that happiness and self-worth will come only from living the principles of Him who created the plan of happiness.
Satan has an entire arsenal of tools to trip us up and deceive us. But we have something bigger, better, and stronger. We have the Holy Ghost. We have a member of the Godhead as our constant companion. We have the blessings of the priesthood. With the Holy Ghost at our side we can recognize the lies as we hear them, and he can help us learn how to get out of the situations Satan would try to put us in to compromise our good intentions.
The Lord has not left us defenseless, but we always need to remember that the choices we make from day to day will lead either to eternal life (life with God) or eternal death (life anywhere other than with God). Satan doesn’t have to get us to be truly wicked to have won the battle. All he needs to do is to prevent us from returning home.
By praying, fasting, and studying the word of God, from any source, we can gain strength, awareness, and wisdom that will protect us from the deceptions of the Adversary.
Here are the Conference talks referenced above in their entirety.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.