Primary Source: November 15th, 1994 BYU Devotional – Elder James E. Faust
When it comes to living our lives, we have a lot of choices placed before us. We have our choice of schools to attend after high school, or even a choice of career path. Spiritually speaking, we have a choice to make. When viewing the world around him, even Joshua in the Old Testament dealt with this same question. In Joshua 24:14-15 he was speaking prior to his death and reflecting on the different choices that he made in his life when he recorded this often quoted passage:
14 ¶Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.
15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
When Jesus Christ was ministering personally on the Earth both in the Old World and in the Book of Mormon lands, he made a rather declarative statement that leaves little room for confusion. A statement that invites the one who hears it, to search their heart and make an assessment of where they are at in their life. In Luke chapter 16:13 or in 3 Nephi 13:24 we read: “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.” The bible dictionary teaches us that the word Mammon is aramaic for “riches.” In other words, this scripture is saying that you cannot serve both God and the things of this world.
In my time with FairMormon, and even for some years prior to volunteering, I would come across a variety of people that seemed to struggle with this idea. When I say struggle, it isn’t something that they consciously notice. To a certain extent, we all will have time in our lives where it seems like we might be serving one more than the other. But there are those who Try to Serve the Lord without Offending the Devil. It is a concept that was addressed by Elder James E. Faust at a BYU devotional back in 1994. I want to share some of his council with you, not only because he says it better than I could, but also because it is important to hear the voice of the Lord’s chosen apostles. They have been blessed with the ability and spiritual capacity to guide us through some tough questions we might have about how to approach our lives. Here are some highlights from that presentation.
In the great universities of the world, one does not often choose to speak of the influence of Satan. Perhaps it is not cool to address this subject, but I choose to do so anyway. Someone said in these few words: “I have heard much about the devil. I have read a great deal about the devil. I have even done business with the devil, but it didn’t pay.” Your generation lives in a day when many things are measured against the standard of social or political correctness. Today I challenge that false doctrine of human behavior. The influence of Satan is becoming more acceptable. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “The devil is most devilish when respectable”
It is not good practice to become intrigued by Satan and his mysteries. No good can come from getting too close to evil. Like playing with fire, it is too easy to get burned: “The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission” (see Joseph F. Smith, GD, p. 373). The only safe course is to keep well distanced from him and from any of his wicked activities or nefarious practices.
However, Brigham Young said that it is important to “study . . . evil, and its consequences” (DBY, p. 257). Since Satan is the author of all evil in the world, it would therefore be essential to realize that he is the influence behind the opposition to the work of God. Alma stated the issue succinctly: “For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil” (Alma 5:40).
My principal reason for choosing this subject is to help young people by warning them, as Paul said, “lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). We hope that young people, unfamiliar with the sophistries of the world, can keep themselves free of Satan’s enticements and deceitful ways.
I owe my text to Elder Marion G. Romney, who, at a BYU devotional in 1955, stated: “Now there are those among us who are trying to serve the Lord without offending the devil.” This is a contradiction of terms. President Romney goes on:
Must the choice lie irrevocably between peace on the one hand, obtained by compliance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and contention and war on the other hand? [Marion G. Romney, “The Price of Peace,” Brigham Young University student body, March 1, 1955, p. 7]
Yogi Berra is reported to have said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” But it doesn’t work that way. The Savior said,
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. [Matthew 6:24]
Today many of us are trying to serve two masters: the Lord and our own selfish interests, without offending the devil. The influence of God, our Eternal Father, urges us, pleads with us, and inspires us to follow him. In contrast, the power of Satan urges us to disbelieve and disregard God’s commandments.
In another address President Romney continues:
The consequences of [mortal man’s] choices are of the all-or-nothing sort. There is no way for him to escape the influence of these opposing powers. Inevitably he is led by one or the other. His God-given free agency gives him the power and option to choose. But choose he must. Nor can he serve both of them at the same time, for, as Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters: . . . Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” [Marion G. Romney, CR, October 1962, p. 94]
Here then is the challenge, in what issues do we see this “riding the line,” or trying to serve the Lord without offending the Devil. One current issue that is causing some discord or one where one may feel that is walking that line, is the issue of Homosexuality or Gay marriage. Elder Faust addresses the issue this way:
The Church’s stand on homosexual relations provides another arena where we offend the devil. I expect that the statement of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve against homosexual marriages will continue to be assaulted. Satan is only interested in our misery, which he promotes by trying to persuade men and women to act contrary to God’s plan. One way he does this is by encouraging the inappropriate use of sacred creative powers. A bona fide marriage is one between a man and a woman solemnized by the proper legal or ecclesiastical authority. Only sexual relations between husband and wife within the bonds of marriage are acceptable before the Lord.
Any alternatives to the legal and loving marriage between a man and a woman are helping to unravel the fabric of human society. I am sure this is pleasing to the devil. The fabric I refer to is the family. These so-called alternative lifestyles must not be accepted as right because they frustrate God’s commandment for a life-giving union of male and female within a legal marriage as stated in Genesis.
I suggest that the devil takes some delight every time a home is broken up, even where there is no parent to blame. This is especially so where there are children involved. The physical and spiritual neglect of children is one of the spawning grounds for so many of the social ills of the world.
Sometimes these issues are not so charged. Sometimes these issues involve matters of temptations and personal conduct, and not necessarily social issues. Elder Faust continues with this counsel:
I now turn to milder ways of not offending the devil. Nephi has given to us the pattern or formula by which Satan operates:
And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. [2 Nephi 28:21–22]
C. S. Lewis gave us a keen insight into devilish tactics. In a fictional letter, the master devil, Screwtape, instructs the apprentice devil Wormwood, who is in training to become a more experienced devil:
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. . . . It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. . . . Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. [The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1961), p. 56]
So-called small sins include the challenge to the “sin laws” that seek to control forms of gambling, alcohol, and drug consumption. Some who wish to appear broad-minded say, under the guise of not imposing religious belief, “I don’t drink or gamble, but I don’t think we ought to have any laws to control others that wish to.” This completely ignores the health and social costs to society of the vices. They foolishly argue that laws cannot control human behavior. My long legal career has led me to conclude that all criminal laws have a moral basis.
I now come to some even milder forms of trying to serve the Lord without offending the devil. Having a temple recommend and not using it seems mild enough. However, if we live close to a temple, perhaps having a temple recommend but not using it may not offend the devil. Satan is offended when we use that recommend, going to the temple to partake of the spiritual protection it affords. How often do we plan to go to the temple only to have all kinds of hindrances arise to stop us from going? The devil has always been offended by our temple worship.
I want to add my own voice to the principle and importance of temple work as a way to help protect us even from our own desires that might not fall in line with God’s principles. When one spends time on the internet or in reading material that some would call anti-mormon, or even material that is is critical of the Church, the leaders of the Church, or otherwise, it can take a toll on our spiritual immune systems. It starts to wear people down and bring a sort of unhappiness into their lives that slowly creeps in, poisoning the spirit of peace. It is the power of the temple and temple service that can cast aside that anger, and helps us to find a place for the peace that comes from feeling close to the Lord.
Elder Faust concludes:
I wonder how much we offend Satan if the proclamation of our faith is limited only to the great humanitarian work this Church does throughout the world, or to our beautiful buildings, or to this great university, marvelous as these activities are. When we preach the gospel of social justice, no doubt the devil is not troubled. But I believe the devil is terribly offended when we boldly declare by personal testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he saw the Father and the Son; when we preach that the Book of Mormon is another witness for Christ; when we declare that there has been a restoration of the fullness of the gospel in its simplicity and power in order to fulfill the great plan of happiness.
We challenge the powers of darkness when we speak of the perfect life of the Savior and of his sublime work for all mankind through the Atonement. This supernal gift permits us, through repentance, to break away from Satan’s grasping tentacles.
We need not become paralyzed with fear of Satan’s power. He can have no power over us unless we permit it. He is really a coward, and if we stand firm, he will retreat. The apostle James counseled: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). And Nephi states that “he hath no power over the hearts” of people who are righteous (l Nephi 22:26).
Satan has had great success with this gullible generation. As a consequence, literally hosts of people have been victimized by him and his angels. There is, however, an ample shield against the power of Lucifer and his hosts. This protection lies in the spirit of discernment through the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift comes undeviatingly by personal revelation to those who strive to obey the commandments of the Lord and to follow the counsel of the living prophets.
I emphasize that fasting and prayer is a great way to receive the moral strength and spiritual strength to resist the temptations of Satan. But you may say this is hard and unpleasant. I commend to you the example of the Savior. He went into the desert, where he fasted and prayed to prepare himself spiritually for his ministry. His temptation by the devil was great, but through the purification of his spirit he was able to triumph over all evil.
I testify that there are forces that will save us from the ever-increasing lying, disorder, violence, chaos, destruction, misery, and deceit that are upon the earth. Those saving forces are the everlasting principles, covenants, and ordinances of the eternal gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. These same principles, covenants, and ordinances are coupled with the rights and powers of the priesthood of Almighty God. We of this church are the possessors and custodians of these commanding powers that can and do roll back much of the power of Satan on the earth. We believe that we hold these mighty forces in trust for all who have died, for all who are now living, and for the yet unborn.
I pray that we will dedicate our lives to serving the Lord and not worry about offending the devil. I also pray that through the spreading of righteousness, the evil hands of the destroyer might be stayed and that he may not be permitted to curse the whole world. I also pray that God will overlook our weaknesses, our frailties, and our many shortcomings and generously forgive us of our misdeeds. I further pray that he will bring solace to the suffering, comfort to those who grieve, and peace to the broken-hearted, and I leave this witness and testimony and blessing with you in the holy name of Jesus Christ. Amen.