The purpose of the Atonement of our Savior is to bring us back to a state of oneness with our Father and His Beloved Son. Faith in Him requires a steadfast and humble recognition of His tender love for us. He knows our weakness and asks only that we follow Him and remain “faithful over a few things.”1
Unfortunately, too many lose their faith because of Satan’s plan of deception. “Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations.”2 The purpose of this lesson is to help us avoid the pitfalls of deceit Satan puts in our way so that we might “continue steadfast” as followers of Jesus Christ.
If you have ever swung a slingshot around your head you know how powerful centrifugal force can be. A stone fired from David’s sling killed the great Goliath where he stood. Similarly, the Devil exerts centrifugal force on the followers of Christ, trying to get us to fly off the path. It takes a good deal of strength to remain on the path when that kind of force is applied. Fortunately, our Savior can provide the strength we need if we will rely on Him for it.
Here are some of the centrifugal forces that Satan applies to us:
- Misunderstanding of the role of the Prophet
- Worldliness (in particular business, political, and financial scheming)
- Looking beyond the mark
- Unhealthy spiritual experimentation
- Intellectual pride
Let’s examine each of these.
Misunderstanding the Role of the Prophet
The Prophet Joseph Smith reflected on the centrifugal forces that cause many to spin out of control and lose their faith:
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen [see D&C 121:40].3
Joseph was often challenged by Church members who thought their wisdom or insights were greater than those of the Prophet of the Lord. Elder George A. Smith recalled: “There was a prevalent spirit all through the early history of this Church, which prompted the Elders to think that they knew more than the Prophet. Elders would tell you that the Prophet was going wrong. . . . the Church was constantly afflicted with such a class of men.”4
As in the early days of the Church, many today fall into the same snare. Members who are shallow in their faith go along with the Prophet up to a point. But the Lord made it clear: “No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses. . . . I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.”5
And again: “There is none another appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he [Joseph Smith] be taken.”6
Worldliness (in particular business, political, and financial scheming)
Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned about this centrifugal force:
For true believers, the tugs and pulls of the world-including its pleasures, power, praise, money, and preeminence-have always been there. . . the harmful things of the world are marketed by pervasive technology and hyped by a media barrage, potentially reaching almost every home and hamlet. All this when many are already tuned out of spiritual things.7
The slick allure of wealth and power has brought about more than one apostasy. The pressure for worldly success leads too many into bigger houses, shinier cars, boats, and bank accounts, often built on a sandy foundation of debt. They work so hard to maintain their lifestyle that they have little time for the temple, for family, or for quiet communing with the Lord. In the words of Elder Maxwell, as disciples of Christ, “if we see a stretch limousine pulling up, we know it is not calling for us.”
But the threat is not only external. Particularly contemptible are the efforts of some inside the Church to prey on others in so-called “affinity fraud,” using their Church membership to cheat fellow members of their money. These are truly the hypocrites condemned by the Lord, and we should be on guard against them-and doubly on guard against becoming one of them. The Lord warns:
Wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment. Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power. . . . but the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off. . . . Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.8
Proverbs tell us that the Lord is displeased by proud looks.9 Jesus was tender with sinners, understanding of the weak, but had little patience with the proud. He reserved His strongest judgments for the hypocrites who saw themselves as better than others. Elder M. Russell Ballard notes this insight: “If we study the life of the Savior, we find that he was very hesitant to label his brothers and sisters as publicans, sinners, or adulterers. . . . It is interesting to me to note that the one label that he did apply was that of hypocrite.'”10
Elder George A. Smith recalled the case of a brother who, because of his wealth and status, considered himself entitled to special privileges. At the Kirtland Temple dedication, he said, “The congregation was so large that we could not all get in; and when the house was full, then, of course, the doors were closed, and no more admitted. This caused Elder Frazier Eaton, who had paid seven hundred dollars toward building the house, to apostatize, because he did not get there early enough for the meeting.”11 Even though the dedication was repeated the next day for those who could not attend the first day, this did not satisfy Frazier Eaton.
Looking beyond the Mark
I was recently in a stake conference meeting where a visiting General Authority asked an intriguing question: “Is it possible to be too religious?”
He didn’t answer the question directly, but by the context of his remarks I knew what he was driving at. Some people become so “holier than thou” that they ride their sanctimonious hobbyhorses right out of the Church. Elder Quentin L. Cook has said:
Another sign of spiritual immaturity and sometimes apostasy is when one focuses on certain gospel principles or pursues “gospel hobbies” with excess zeal. Almost any virtue taken to excess can become a vice.
Certain members have wanted to add substantially to various doctrines. An example might be when one advocates additions to the Word of Wisdom that are not authorized by the Brethren and proselytes others to adopt these interpretations. If we turn a health law or any other principle into a form of religious fanaticism, we are looking beyond the mark.
Some who are not authorized want to speak for the Brethren and imply that their message contains the “meat” the Brethren would teach if they were not constrained to teach only the “milk.” Others want to counsel the Brethren and are critical of all teachings that do not comply with their version of what should be taught.12
The Book of Mormon cautions that those who “look beyond the mark”-that is, seeking in their pride to excel above others-“must needs fall.”13
Unhealthy Spiritual Experimentation
In the early days of the Church, some members became caught up in what might be called “spiritual experiments,” preoccupied with counterfeit revelations or competing prophets. For example, Elder George A. Smith spoke of a group at Kirtland who pretended to receive their own revelations: “A false spirit entered into them, developing their singular, extravagant and wild ideas. . . . Letters would come down from heaven, they said, and they would be put through wonderful, unnatural distortions.” On one occasion, he recalled, one of these people “got sight of one of those revelations. . . . he started after it, and ran off a steep wash bank twenty-five feet high, passed through a tree top into the Chagrin river beneath. He came out with a few scratches, and his ardor somewhat cooled.”14
This unfortunate tendency still exists among some Church members. I have acquaintances who have been led out of the Church by the so-called revelations of some spiritual counterfeit who claimed a greater authority than the Lord’s acknowledged Prophet.
We need never be unclear about whom to follow. The Lord has said, “He that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained.”15 In plain terms this means that “it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by someone who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.”16 I’ve been continually amazed at the inability of some to understand such simple words.
The force of science and rationalism is often pitted against faith in the Lord. Many have come to the indefensible conclusion that they must choose one or the other. In choosing the way of intellectual pride, they wander into a dark, sterile world devoid of meaning. They lose the warm, loving connection with the Holy Spirit enjoyed by those who follow the Savior. Elder Glenn L. Pace tells this story of a missionary experience:
I remember teaching an extremely intelligent woman who had a hard time accepting anything until she had nailed down every intellectual loose end. However, at long last we heard her say, “I cannot deny this feeling any longer.”
She joined the Church and was very happy for the next few years, but she gradually let her intellectual doubts creep back in and ultimately left the Church.
Fifteen years went by, and she came to visit our family. We took her to Temple Square. As we started up the circular ramp leading to the statue of the Savior, she paused and tearfully said, “Here comes that feeling again. My heart still yearns for what my mind won’t accept!”17
I have spent my professional life in academia and the business world. I have two graduate degrees. I have many questions, but I have found that when I study the scriptures, when I go the Lord in prayer, and when I am patient, those questions get answered in remarkable ways that I never expected. The Lord does not want us to take things on blind faith-on the contrary, He expects us to search deeply and patiently and prayerfully, and He will in His own time manifest the truth of all things to us.18
To those who are intellectually impatient, listen to the Lord’s quiet voice: “Ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now: ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me.”19
How to Discern Truth from Deception
These centrifugal forces affect us all in one way or another. But we can know by the Spirit the difference between teachers of truth and teachers of deception. The Lord has given us this guidance: “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived.”20
He that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances. He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances. And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you. And again, he that is overcome and bringeth not forth fruits, even according to this pattern, is not of me. Wherefore, by this pattern ye shall know the spirits in all cases under the whole heavens.21
Those who are prayerful, contrite, humble, and obedient are entitled to the revelations of the truth. The Lord blesses them in ways that He cannot bless the self-important, conceited, and disobedient who set themselves up as sources of wisdom.
Why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.22
Often in my life I have found the need to be edified by the Spirit. When edification hasn’t come, it is due to my own failure either to be compliant with the Lord’s will or to be patient. But when it does come, even in my poor experience, the light of divine revelation is unmistakable, as anyone can testify who has felt its warmth.
In the end we get to choose to build our lives on the sands of deception or on the rock of truth. Let us all accept the Lord’s tender invitation: “I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.”23
1 Matt. 25:21.
2 DC 52:14.
3 Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 518.
4 George A. Smith, “Historical Discourse,” Journal of Discourses 11:7.
5 DC 28:2, 7.
6 DC 43:3.
7 Neal A. Maxwell, “The Tugs and Pulls of the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2000.
8 DC 50:6-9.
9 Prov. 6:17.
10 M. Russell Ballard, “Taking Time to Care,” New Era, Oct. 1986.
11 Smith, “Historical Discourse,” 9.
12 Quentin L. Cook, “Looking Beyond the Mark,” Ensign, Mar.2003.
13 Jacob 4:14.
14 Smith, “Historical Discourse,” 4.
15 DC 43:7.
16 DC 42:11.
17 Glenn L. Pace, “Do You Know,” Ensign, May 2007.
18 Moro. 10:5.
19 DC 50:40-41.
20 DC 52:14.
21 DC 52:15-19.
22 DC 50:21-23.
23 DC 50:44.