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“The dog bit Johnny.” With a little syntax magic; “Johnny bit the dog,” the whole meaning changes. Well, at least the dog thought so! If we understand the Syntax of Sin, we might better understand both how to resist it and how to repent for it. Sin is a process not an event. One usually doesn’t begin by committing sin, there are other steps, which together might be called the Syntax of Sin.

Prisoners are suffering the consequences of having done something wrong. The criminal acts for which they were convicted are called sins of commission. And, in general, sins of commission are things that even the best of us do (or commit) that are wrong; we commit sin. It is obvious that we do not jump to sins of commission immediately.

What other kinds of sins are there? Sins of omission come to mind. Sins of omission are things we should be doing that we just don’t do. We omit, or don’t do, certain beneficial behaviors.

“Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17

Sometimes, we think “Oops! I didn’t do that!” when we know we should have done something but didn’t. Like morning prayer and scripture study. It is, therefore, a sin of omission.

There is also another kind of sin that we hardly ever think of as such. These we call sins of disposition. These are the feelings or attitudes that we have, that we shouldn’t have, that are negative, harmful, or that simply keep us from good things. These are the ones that King Benjamin referred to.

“I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin… But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds…ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”   Mosiah 4:30

The sins of disposition are the “thought sins”. In the next chapter, his people declare that they “have no more disposition to sin.” In the Sermon at the Temple, the Lord elevated sins of disposition to the same level as sins of commission.

“Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit adultery; But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.” 3 Nephi 12: 27-28

These thought and attitude sins, or sins of disposition, are just as harmful and destructive as the commission and omission sins. But how are these sins are related. How is the omission sin related to the commission sin? How is the disposition sin related to the omission and commission sins?

If we saw that we were having a hard time keeping the Sabbath, which is a sin of omission, or if I know I should control my temper but I don’t, which is a sin of commission, I might ask myself, “What am I not doing that leads me to the doing?”

Let’s take the example of acting out my temper. If I stomp off and yell a few things that I wish I hadn’t, throw and break some things, but feel badly with how I acted, however, keep doing it, I am sinning. I wish that I could get over these temper tantrums. These are sins of commission. Perhaps after many unsuccessful attempts to control temper, one might ask, “what are some things when omitted from my life, lead me to be reactive?” We might include personal prayer, and scripture study; our daily devotional that builds our relationship with Father, as omissions. When we don’t strengthen ourselves daily with these habits, we are more “trigger happy”.   I am quicker to react in anger, much more than I would be otherwise.

What question might you ask yourself to overcome acting out your anger? After a bit of analysis, you might ask, “Is there a connection in what I am not doing with what I am doing? When you realize the results of your behavior, when you have omitted these blessings in your life, and you want them back, you try changing your omissions to include these practices.

Often the effort to correct omissions works for a short while but then the new behavior is crowded out by other priorities or even more enjoyable activities. Sometimes, people have good intentions, “I will study the scriptures right after I get all my homework finished.“  Sometimes, just as you are sitting down to study, the doorbell rings and your friends want you to go with them. Your response might be, “Well, I was just going to sit down with my scri…. Oh, never mind, I will study when I get home.” Off with the friends, we go! We inevitably get home late, and we are tired.

When I first started reading the scriptures daily, frankly, a few days were rewarding, but most days I was just fulfilling a duty–boredom. I would read and think that I already knew this story. I already knew what Nephi was going to do next, ho-hum. What is the sin of disposition in that particular case? Is there one? Is the thought, “the scriptures are boring,” a sin of disposition? It certainly is, if the solution isn’t sought after; if problem thinking presides over solution thinking. When you think how many thoughts we have like this, you may wonder if we ever have a day without sin. And, we literally don’t.

We need the Savior more than we ever, ever imagined. When I look at my actions and see that this attitude is keeping me from scripture study, yet I choose to live with it every day, this is a sin of disposition.  If I change my scripture study skill level so as to make it more meaningful, my attitude will then change. I cannot keep thinking the same thing over and over and expect different results.

What we have seen is the path to sin, or the syntax to sin: sins of disposition leading to sins of omission, which then lead to sins of commission. What we don’t sometimes understand is that walking the path to repentance isn’t just a matter of stopping the sin of commission. All three types of sin affect both our spirits and our bodies. The Law of Moses made spiritual death physically visible. Just like sins of omission lead to sins of commission so the physical effects of sins affect our spirits and vice versa. Understanding the syntax of sin, at both the physical and spiritual levels, is empowering.

In Moses 5, in the beginning of the chapter, Adam and Eve begin to bear their children. Then, their children begin to have children. So, within a few verses Adam and Eve are grandparents. They have been worshipping God and offering the firstlings of their flocks, since the beginning.   Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. His offerings of sacrifice were a regular occurrence.

Eventually, Adam learned that symbols are a means whereby the Holy Ghost can teach in response to questions. Adam begins, as a result, to hold Family Home Evenings, just as we are commanded to do in our day. It has been said that some family home evenings are war that begins and ends with prayer. It is in that context that we get this scripture.

“And Satan came among them, saying; I am also a son of God: and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual and devilish.” Moses 5:13

Adam and Eve were feeling discouraged. You start your family gathering and the next thing you know, you have competition. What is surprising is that the children go with the competition, according to the verse. Why? Curiosity is a driving part of our character. It is one of those drives that we forget can act like an appetite. Note in the scripture, that man became from this time carnal, sensual, and devilish. What if that is telling us about the syntax or process and not an event?   What if carnal had something to do with sensual, which had something to do with devilish?

Let’s define them. What does it mean to “be carnal?” The dictionary definition is: “relating to …bodily pleasures and appetites.” The root of carnal is flesh. The carnal man is the natural man. We start to see carnal as those things that are normal and are part of our fleshly make up. This includes the appetites; curiosity, imagination, laziness, power, possession, recognition, and reproduction are just some examples. These are things for which our physical body and our physical brain hunger. How many of you like to eat? But, how many of us only eat for survival? There must be other reasons why we eat. Why? It is enjoyable. It tastes good. We like things that taste good, sometimes to a fault. Appetite satiation comes with sense-stimulation. Can you see what can happen? As soon as the sense stimulation becomes the reason for eating, it can become a “sense”-ual experience. We can end up habituated to “celebrating the senses.” Soon, we may just start hungering for that stimulation regardless of the need. Then we are headed toward addiction.

You can see that moving from carnal to sensual is a pretty easy process. All of us have experienced it. Remember the third piece of strawberry shortcake? Or that piece of candy that you know you shouldn’t have eaten, but it was free and lunchtime and even though you knew that it wasn’t good for you, you ate it anyway. We can be driven by our senses.

If you were Satan, would that be important to you? If you wanted to control human decision, could you use that to your benefit? What would you do? Sometimes we think that Satan tempts us to great evil, but 1 Nephi 2:28 tells us how he leads us.

“And others will he pacify and lull them away into carnal security… – and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell…until he grasps them with his awful chain, from whence there is no deliverance.” 2 Nephi 28:21-22

Satan leads us “carefully down to hell,” not suddenly. He starts with the sin of disposition. He can whisper words like “There is good stuff in the candy bar and it’s little and it is only this once. It is not evil.” We never expect ourselves to become obese or have an addiction to sugar. It is only one piece, but once we get that pleasure center stimulated, it can grow first to habit and then to an addiction. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it is becoming an addiction because it is such an incremental process. You can see how the children of Adam and Eve could become carnal, sensual and devilish, not as an event, but gradually right in front of their parents. Instead of Cain being another son, he ends up becoming “Master Mahan,”[i] a follower of Satan and a murderer. He was led along through feeding his carnal desires. Ancient writings tell us that Cain’s carnal desire was his love of control.[ii] He even was forcing the ground to produce larger and better food, until he thought his produce was better than any lamb that Abel was raising. His pride grew, and he had an appetite for recognition. He had the appetite to be more than acceptable. Soon, Satan had power over him. [iii]

Father Lehi warns his sons:

And now, my sons, I would that ye should …not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.” 2 Nephi 2:27-29

What is it that gives Satan the power to captivate? The “will of the flesh” is his access point. What are the words we would use today to define “will of the flesh?” Instincts, tendencies, appetites, etc.

We can see how human beings “grow” their appetites through uncontrolled satiation into “a ring in the nose of the bull” satanic access handle. Elder James E. Faust said, “The devil is not smart because he is the devil; he is smart because he is old.”[iv] Satan has had a lot of experience with human nature.

“It is further written that Satan has no power over men or women, except that power which he gains over them in this world.” Joseph Fielding Smith

One of the purposes of this earth life is to train our spirits. The physical body has the capability of programming, or writing reactions and responses, into our spirits. Once we have finished earth life, we will have programmed our spirits. If Satan has never gained power over us here on earth, he will never have power over us in eternity.

“…same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” Alma 34:34

What did Alma just tell us? “The spirit is influenced by the body and the body is influenced by the spirit.” When we allow our bodies to gain control over our spirits negatively, we are giving Satan access to our spirits. Otherwise, our spirits are in control. Literally, Satan has no power over our spirit until our body takes control of our spirit. Once we understand how the body takes control of the spirit and how the body is susceptible, we begin to see the steps he uses, or the syntax, in the process. We want to abort it as quickly as we can.

“Do not let any of us imagine that we can go down to the grave not having overcome the corruptions of the flesh and then lose in the grave all our sins and evil tendencies. They will be with us. They will be with the spirit when separated from the body.

“It is much easier to overcome and serve the Lord when both flesh and spirit are combined as one. This is the time when men are more pliable and susceptible.” (Melvin J. Ballard , Three Degrees of Glory; 1926, pg. 14)

So, repentance on the other side of the veil is really difficult. It is harder to program your spirit without the body. It is not impossible to repent but very difficult. Imagine that your spirit is standing there, and your body has died. The body with its spirit is like having a computer with its disk drive, but then your computer dies. You want to change the information on your disk drive, but you have no computer. How would you do it? It would be very difficult. The body is a great gift to us! Literally, we are writing into our spirits the capacities, the strengths, the reflexes, the personality, and the character of the “who we are going to be” in eternity, particularly as we face the challenges that come to us.

“If we are faithful to our religion, when we go into the spirit world, the fallen spirits (Lucifer and the third part of the heavenly hosts that came with him, and the spirits of wicked men who have dwelt upon this earth, the whole of them combined) will have no influence over our spirits.” (Discourse of Brigham Young P. 379)

We can get through this life successfully and righteously. It doesn’t mean perfectly. It means faithful to our covenants and die faithful to those covenants. Then the whole force of evil, wherever it is in the universe, can never again have power over us. That is the gift of the human body. That is the gift of this earth life, the gift to understand what we are doing while we are here in relationship to our “becoming.”

Most of us don’t think about the reality that we have two brains, that we have two hearts, and so on. We have a physical body created after the image of our spirit body. Sometimes we are at war, with one brain fighting with the other brain and we struggle to try to reconcile the conflicting wills. These, as we think about that relationship between the physical and the spirit body, become very important if we are going to understand the process of sin and the process of repentance. The following quote answers our primary question of the syntax of Satan’s influence.

“Many think that the devil has rule and power over both body and spirit. Now, I want to tell you that he does not hold any power over man, only so far as the body overcomes the spirit that is in a man. . . The spirit is influenced by the body and the body by the spirit.“ Discourses of Brigham Young

Satan has no power over our spirit unless… our body overcomes the spirit. How does that happen? We don’t just agree to let the evil one come take control of us. How does that happen according to President Young? We allow our bodies to control our spirits. Satan’s whole goal is to somehow enhance and repeat our physical and bodily experiences until our bodies are addicted to them, knowing full well that our spirits are likewise addicted. Then he can lead us because of the addiction, like pulling on the ring in the nose of a bull, as we have said. If he can get us to that point, he knows our body will overrule our spirit.

What are the implications? How did Satan get power over spirits before earth life if he doesn’t have power over some after earth life? (That is, if we conquer him here on earth.) Those who followed Satan chose to follow him? He had power over them through accusation and persuasion. His powers of persuasion were the same there as they are here. We were given a tool that gives us power over Satan. What was that tool? Our body is that tool. Our bodies literally give us power over him unless he can gain power over them.

“We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body; the devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior, he asked to go into the herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine’s body to having none. All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not.” Joseph Smith, Jr. Extracts from William Clayton’s Private Book, pp7-8) (emphasis added)

We come down to earth and are learning to operate our bodies. If Satan can get our bodies, through appetites or addictions, to control our spirits, rather than the other way around, then Satan takes control of our spirits. If we gain spiritual power over our bodies then they become our instruments of strength, and that gives us control. In the pre-mortal life, when we did not have a body, we were on equal terms with Satan. He did not have power over us. He just tried to persuade us. He can literally take power over us on this earth, if he can control our bodies. The way he does that, is by enticing us to cause our bodies to dominate our spirits. Addicted people have lost their agency by unwittingly, yet voluntarily giving it away. The further into the Syntax of Sin we progress, the weaker that agency becomes. Why?

To understand agency loss requires that we understand the syntax of sin or the order in which we begin to engage the physical body in the decision-making process. Our children or colleagues may tell us that they are committed to keeping the Word of Wisdom, for example. They are sincere, but then will often disappoint us. If we do not watch ourselves, we will show so much disappointment that they may become discouraged. Instead, we need to let their failure become an indicator of their capacity and what kind of resource-help they might need. We can help them access the Atonement by helping them make capacity commitments. Stephen Covey taught that the more often they make and keep commitments the stronger their agency becomes.

The Natural Man and His Appetites

We know that we all have appetites. In our earlier discussion, we likened those appetites to “handles” Satan works to grasp in order to exercise control over us. We know that we are still at war with the evil one. Fortunately, Heavenly Father has protected us with, as shown in this visual metaphor, “the commandment doors”.

These doors are securely shut, and Satan cannot get to us as long as we keep each of those doors locked. What is the lock and what keeps them locked? Heavenly Father has commanded us to not do certain things and he has set boundaries in satisfying our appetites. As long as we keep his commandments and remain within those boundaries, Satan cannot grasp our “appetite handles.” So, what keeps the doors locked and keeps us safe from evil influences? Obedience to those commandments is literally the key to safety from Satan.   As long as those doors are locked, and even if we bump up against them occasionally, if we obey, they stay locked. We are safe. That is very powerful! Then Satan cannot use our human bodies against us, nor can he overpower us. That tells us a lot about the body.

Unfortunately, we have the keys to each of those doors as part of our nature. Imagination, peer pressure, curiosity and all of our normal appetites within our physical bodies are the keys to these doors. Even though, God commands us not to do certain things, our habits and appetites, like curiosity, tempt us to thoughts, visualizations, and actions. We sometimes feel like, “I would really like to! I can imagine how awesome it would be!” Because these keys are so readily available to us in the form of our curiosity or our imagination, the reality is that a visual trigger is all that it takes for us to unlock the doors. With growing appetites, we expose ourselves to the effects of this “ring in the nose of the bull” imagery. “…and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Nephi 28:21)

His malicious leadership begins simply with our closing our heart to truth coupled with our self-assured pride. The process progresses until addiction results.

“And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell”. Alma 12:11

Can we close the door, and loose the chains? The good news is that we can, through our repentance.

“Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we…can build spiritual fortifications between ourselves and any past mistakes that Satan attempts to exploit.” (Elder Richard G. Scott, Oct 2013, Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ)

The bad news is that once we have unlocked the door, it is sometimes very, very difficult to lock it again. This means that if you have allowed curiosity to taste the sin, from then on, that door will be closeable but probably not lockable, especially on your own. The people of Ammon had to bury their weapons at the risk of death, so as to avoid an even worse prospect, the captivity of their previous addiction. The solution though simple may take patience; complete obedience, and thorough repentance (more on this later).

Your brain is something you have never actually seen but its function and chemicals are key in the addiction process. We are not going to go into a lot of physiology because it can get complicated. It would be helpful, though, to have a general understanding of those functions. When we feel happy, it is because the little nucleus (accumbens) in the front of the midbrain is receiving the happy chemicals (dopamine). Even spiritual experiences will include that nucleus. When you feel euphoria from the spirit, the nucleus accumbens is receiving chemicals from a nucleus in the back (Ventral Tegmental area or VT). Hence, your body can feel what your spirit is feeling, (Though experience will help you differentiate emotion from the Spirit voice). It is those two areas we want to focus on.

In the normal, healthy brain, the brightly colored areas in this image mark the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward center. Red indicates a high number of receptors for dopamine, a brain chemical that transmits sensations of pleasure; yellow and green indicate few receptors. People short on dopamine receptors have difficulty feeling joy.

In the upper left is a normal brain with normal kinds of responses. We will address the brain chemical, dopamine, which is not the only chemical of the brain, but a good exemplar. Under normal circumstances, the brain produces dopamine at a relatively constant rate, and only a portion of its dopamine receptors are occupied at any given time. But under the influence of a mood-altering drug like cocaine, (or sexual highs or eating binges) the brain releases an avalanche of pleasure–inducing dopamine.

With so much of the chemical available, practically all of the brain’s dopamine receptors become activated at once. The result is euphoria for the user, but the brain is overwhelmed and tries to dampen the effect by switching off some if its dopamine receptors in order to protect the production centers in the VT. Under persistent and repeated demand, the chemical production center atrophies so it is dysfunctional and cannot produce the chemical quantity demanded. Additionally, when the drug wears off, the user is equipped with fewer functioning receptors, so his mood will be lower than it was before he took the drug. Thus, begins the negative feedback loop that leads to addiction. As dopamine receptors progressively shut down, drug users must ingest ever-larger quantities in order to get high and will feel increasingly unhappy when the drug leaves their system.

You notice that there is no red left at all in the addicted brain. The brain is now diseased. The capacity for happiness and hope is seriously reduced, the deeper one digresses into the Syntax of Sin. You can see the various addictions, including food-binging and its resultant obesity. As one considers how the brain responds and physiology is affected, we can realize how understanding the Syntax of Sin can perhaps generate the motivation required to stop sinning and the patience required for the repentance process.

The effect on the physical body is a visual example of what is happening to our invisible spirit physiology, as well. Let’s examine the interesting, scriptural process that addresses this loss. There are basic components of our pre-mortal selves referred to as truth and light.

“Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth…. Intelligence, or the light of truth (or in other words light and truth), was not created or made, neither indeed can be….” DC 93:23, 29, 36

Then, the tools satan uses to affect that spirit physiology, so as to cast his chains, are explained. He takes away light and truth using two insidious tools:

“And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the traditions of their fathers.” D&C 93:39

One of them is “disobedience” or sin. Sin or disobedience takes away light. The other is “the traditions of our fathers” or family influences. If Satan can’t tempt or influence children who are under 8 years of age, he strives to tempt and influence the parents to establish traditions that feed physical sensations contrary to the bounds the Lord has set resulting in the loss of light.

We are beings of light. We need light and truth to continue to progress as children of our Father in Heaven. Light is part of who we are, light and truth are what make up intelligence and our spirit bodies. (See DC93:23-37) So, sin makes you less intelligent. You can see, now, how that happens and how literally we disable our brains with this disease as we sin and become less capable of not sinning. The more we sin, the less capable we are to resist sin. We literally give up agency. In the syntax of disposition, omission, and commission sins, you can see, the earlier we begin the process of not going beyond divine boundaries, the easier it is. If I can take stock of what inappropriate thoughts begin cascading into omissions and consequent commissions and take steps at the “thought” level, obedience is so much simpler. If we understand this process, we gain power through the capacitating exercise of agency as early in the syntax as possible.

One striking example comes from a study detailing that of those young people who started dating at age 12, 97% of them become sexually active before marriage. Of those that waited to date until 16, only 20% became sexually active before marriage.

Here is a table of several of the brain nuclei that are important in the pleasure, happiness and joy centers. These are the ones that receive the dopamine, the serotonin, and the oxytocin that the brain creates naturally. Cocaine affects three of those centers. Methamphetamine affects three of them. Obesity affects two of them. Sex addiction affects every single one. It damages them as noted above. You can think of other addictions and other appetites. They would fit somewhere on that table as well.

In reviewing the Syntax of Sin cycle, one of the stirring questions is, can the brain effects of sin be undone? The good news is that it can. The bad news is that it cannot be done alone. This syntax is how all sin affects us, whether we are talking about addictive substances, the movies that we see, or the food that we eat, in ways and quantities that offend divinely revealed boundaries. As we encounter addicts of drugs, alcohol or pornography, we are dealing with those who have unwittingly diseased and damaged their brain. We are not dealing with someone with whom you can set a commitment and ask that they will stop their behavior. They might verbally tell you that they will make the commitment to stop and for a week or, so they do really well in keeping that commitment. Because of the physical changes of addiction, they soon relapse into their destructive behavior. In the words of Stephen Covey, “The more often you break a commitment, the weaker your ability to make and keep a commitment becomes.”

This is a serious problem for them. In most cases, as a result, they must have help to restore their agency before they can choose to partake of the miracles of the Atonement, which can heal them.

One of those commandment doors is the Word of Wisdom. Many will love the gospel, but grasped by the chains of their addiction, debilitated in their ability to choose and follow-through, they won’t be able to keep their commitments and will relapse back into their pervious debilitating behavior. Unfortunately, this can happen over and over again.

Because the normal function of the chemistry centers of the brain have been compromised, this has become an unrelenting cycle of try-relapse-try. Unfortunately, this problem has escalated to extreme seriousness with higher numbers than ever before, particularly in sex addiction in consequence of multiplying media triggers resulting from our societal degradation. One study from several universities indicated that 87% of all campus students had serious exposure to repeated pornography and that 60% of those were addicted. Those were your average, typical college campuses. Even at BYU, the percentage is too high. These damaged brains, needing treatment, must have additional help in escaping the chains.

Another difficult side effect of the sin cycle has to do with the brain chemical called oxytocin. Oxytocin produced by our brain is released into the system mainly during at least two important times. One is when a mother knows her baby needs to nurse. The baby is hungry, and mom hears the cry. Her system is flooded with the oxytocin. Her milk “lets down” so she is able to feed her baby. The other time is during the intimate relationship between a man and a woman. The brain chemical again is released into the system. In both situations, it has the same end effect. It creates a powerful bonding. It is called the “bonding chemical”. When it flows richly in our brains, we feel bonded to whomever or whatever we are with. Our creator wisely knew that this would lovingly bond a mother to her child. This is why it was created. It is good and right. This brain chemical bonds a husband and wife in a loving relationship.

Imagine the situation where an individual, viewing pornography on the Internet or magazine. That person experiences the same chemical response and the oxytocin is released but the bonding occurs with the process used, the viewing, and not to any someone. Bonding occurs, then in an evil manner, not the way God intended. It can become so bad, that when the individual gets married, hoping ignorantly that everything will be better, they find they don’t bond with their companion, having learned to get that euphoria quickly and more easily, than through the complexity of human relationships. Similarly, a baby duckling will bond to a rubber duck if it is introduced to it first, rather than its own mother. Many addicts think marriage will help them lose the desire for the former misconduct, but unfortunately, that alone is not the solution. The good news is that once they break that cycle, with patient repentance, which may include counseling, the normal cycles can be restored. Many times, it is literally like going through hell to reach the point of brain healing, so normal and natural bonding can become part of their covenant relationship.

Finally, it would be wise to note that brain-chemical addiction is at the root of almost all sin. Recently, Meridian author and social scientist, Joseph Grenny, made this important observation:

“I think most of us miss the main point of the Word of Wisdom. While the incident that initiated the revelation may have involved sacred meetings held on spittle-stained floors in choking clouds of smoke, the revelation itself doesn’t list warnings about unhealthy substances as the Lord’s primary purpose. He doesn’t immediately dive into the evils of alcohol, hot drinks, or tobacco. Instead He warns that: “In consequence… of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I… forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom…

The warning is about conspiracy not physiology. The Lord is warning that in the last days men will conspire in various ways to seduce us into surrendering our agency. Substances will be the vehicle of conspiracy.

If we define addictions too narrowly, we replace wisdom with smugness. We reason that our “little” habits are nothing like those dirty drug addicts or disgusting porn users. I’ve come to believe that while our various addictions may differ in degree, they exact precisely the same kind of costs.

Let’s define addiction as: any habit that reduces agency by trading impulses for blessings. With that definition in mind, what are some of your addictions? What highly impulsive habits do you have? And what price are they exacting in foregone blessings?” [v]

Understanding both the nature of our bodies, the syntax of sin, and the protective purpose of divine boundaries, will empower us to both guard and strengthen the personal agency for which this pre-mortal and mortal battleground were designed as a preparatory state in order that we might be perfected by Jesus Christ.[vi]

So what does the syntax of repentance look like?



[i] Moses 5:31

[ii] It is significant that in the oldest traditions and records of the human race all those men who turned against God and man are represented at the same time as making war against the animals, the birds, and the fishes, and destroying the forests and defiling the pure waters. This is told of Satan in the beginning, of Cain, of Ham, of Nimrod… of Nebuchadnezzar, of Esau, of Caesar… and so on, all of whom sought dominion over others, over all others, and to achieve it in only one way—by force. The code name for such an order of things and such a program is Babylon.

Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, edited by Don E. Norton [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., FARMS, 1989], 13 – 14.)

[iii] Moses 5:18-30

[iv] President James E. Faust, Conference October 1987, “The Great Imitator”

[v] Joseph Grenny; Meridian Magazine, February 22, 2018; Addiction: The Spiritual Battle of Our Time

[vi] Alma 42: 10 Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state.

Alma 42:32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ