- was impatient with my children when they didn’t complete their chores,
- had judgmental thoughts about a friend during a conversation,
- made a veiled sarcastic jab at my spouse when I was annoyed at him,
- put off reading my scriptures and praying so I could watch tv,
- promised a friend I would return an item that was lent to me, failed to do it, and then lied about why,
This was all before noon. That was not one of my best days, or my worst. It was simply a day filled with the regular mundane parts of life, and for me (and you) that means sinning. While I consider myself a “good person” I am also a person. On any given day I am weak, selfish, lazy, unkind, dishonest, and untrustworthy. In fact, all of us, are in varying different degrees. And while my list of short comings isn’t anything that will land me in federal prison, it is enough to separate me from God.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
You see the message this scripture is trying to teach us is that we are creatures built with a dual nature. We desire good, want to think of ourselves as good, but we often choose to feed the impulses that lead to sin. What’s worse is that almost all of the time we KNOW that we are choosing evil but we still do it! The times we choose the better path we are rewarded with the edifying companionship of the Holy Ghost and the confirmation that we have made the right choice. We are remarkably similar to the dogs in Pavlov’s research on behavior. The more interaction we have with the Holy Ghost the more we are “conditioned” to desire that companionship, thus helping us loose are natural inclination to feed the base urges of the natural man.
The Holy Ghost ennobles us to think beyond base tendencies that would otherwise dominate us. This member of the Godhead is keenly qualified to access the advanced reason and logic centers of our brains found within the prefrontal cortex.
“The prefrontal cortex is located in the very front of the brain, just behind the forehead. In charge of abstract thinking and thought analysis, it is also responsible for regulating behavior. This includes mediating conflicting thoughts, making choices between right and wrong, and predicting the probable outcomes of actions or events. This brain area also governs social control, such as suppressing emotional or sexual urges. Since the prefrontal cortex is the brain center responsible for taking in data through the body’s senses and deciding on actions, it is most strongly implicated in human qualities like consciousness, general intelligence, and personality.” – WiseGeek.org
In opposition to this is the amygdala at the center of our brain, controlling base of emotions like fear and aggression. Other senses connected with this portion of the brain include recognition of food and potential sexual partners. It is easy to conclude that this is the physical manifestation of the “natural man.” While these base instincts are necessary for survival, they do not provide the depth, meaning, or purpose we need to be truly fulfilled as individuals; thus the necessity to “put off the natural man/woman.”
To completely submit our will to God is the only answer, but we can’t do it half way. We can’t hold back a section of our heart hoping that He won’t notice our secret closet of guilty pleasures. We must acknowledge we sin more than just by omission and own our flawed nature. It is this act of humility that leads to repentance. Please do not misunderstand me in thinking that we must always dwell solely on our inadequacies. This too can be a trap that will keep us from repentance. We all are filled with great potential as sons and daughters of God. We cannot allow Satan to convince us that we have ever sinned past the point of forgiveness.
Instead I am advocating for a truer form of self honesty. In my own life I have found great personal growth when I have been willing to ask myself the hard questions.
What really motivated my sinful behavior?
What about this particular bad habit to I find pleasure in? Is it really worth the joy that I am sacrificing?
Who’s good opinion am I trying to win? God or my peers?
What small act can I do right now to help me change my sinful desires?
Have I prayed for strength and really meant it?
It is no coincidence we use the word “forsake” when speaking of sins. Forsake means to abandon or renounce, with the intent of never returning. Conversley we are promised that God will not forsake us. (1 Sam. 12:22, Nehemiah 9:31, Psalms 9:10, 1 Nephi 21:14, Doctrine and Covenants 88:83) By trying to identify WHY we sin instead of WHAT the sin was, we can more decisively identify the root causes of our sin and have a lasting change of heart. It is my hope that I can daily look deep within my own heart and exclaim with the people of King Benjamin,
“…because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”
God’s forgiveness is real. It is necessary, and it’s available to everyone, even me.