Putting Off the Natural Man and Becoming Saints | Elder Carl B. Cook

Putting Off the Natural Man and Becoming Saints | Elder Carl B. Cook


Brothers and sisters,
it’s nice to be with you. You are an amazing sight. Being here today reminds me
of an experience I had a few years ago. Sister Cook and I were
asked to speak in another university setting, and when my
mother-in-law heard about it, she said,
“Oh, aren’t you scared?” Actually, I was a little scared,
but feeling somewhat curious, I asked her,
“Why should I be scared?” She said, “Because students
are so intelligent!” I’m sure that was a wonderful
compliment for the students, but it didn’t say much what
my mother-in-law thought of me and
my intelligence! Today, I realize
that I am speaking to a group of very intelligent
and educated people, but I am not scared
because the topic I would like to address
is applicable to each of us in a very personal way. It is how we can put off
the natural man or the natural woman
and become Saints through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is something I have
been working on for many years– and battling with overcoming
the natural man. But I am determined
to never relax, retreat, or retire from the fight. The natural man or woman
is the mortal part of us that allows the physical,
the temporal, or our own desires
to overcome our inherent spiritual goodness
and our desires to become like our Heavenly Parents. Of course, the fight will
not be won immediately. It is a daily battle
for each of us, and we are dependent upon God
and Jesus Christ to help us change our nature. We are taught in
the Book of Mormon: “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.” I actually had a horse
that helped me appreciate the amazing process of change. When our children were young,
my wife and I looked for a gentle,
well-broke children’s horse. Our neighbor had such a horse,
but he would sell us kind and gentle Bob
only if we bought his other horse, Stubby. The names alone
describe the horses. Eventually,
we decided to purchase both horses in order
to acquire Bob. Sure enough,
Bob was wonderful, and Stubby ended up being,
as expected, a stubborn, strong-willed,
obnoxious animal that consistently acted up
and caused trouble with the other horses. Because of our
limited number of horses, I usually ended up
riding Stubby during our family rides. He was defiant. When I tried to turn right,
Stubby fought to go left. If I wanted to gallop,
he would buck or crowhop. I decided to do all I could
to help bring about a change in Stubby’ s disposition. I gave him consequences
for bad behavior and rewarded him
for good behavior. I rode him side by side
our well-behaved horses. I rode him frequently
and groomed him often. Over time,
after many rides and somewhat to my surprise,
Stubby began to soften. He submitted more readily
to the saddle and bridle, and he was less determined
to have his own way. He began allowing me
to guide and control him without resistance. At times, he even seemed
to enjoy our time together. As Stubby’ s
disposition improved, he surprisingly
became my horse of choice. He was energetic and
had good stamina. He was not at all
hesitant or fearful in challenging situations,
and in a group of other horses, he led out without needing
to be urged on. Over a period
of 10 to 15 years, Stubby developed into
an exceptional lead horse. I was very grateful
that I hadn’ t given up on him during those earlier
challenging years. In fact, Stubby made
such a turnaround that we changed his name
to Spinner. When I walked to the pasture,
Spinner was quick to come to me. He recognized me
and seemed eager to please. He responded
to the gentlest commands. I could ride him easily
without a saddle or even a bit in his mouth. We spent many
pleasurable hours together. He was very gentle
and became a favorite horse of our grandchildren. He took care
of our granddaughters, and he tolerated our grandsons. Please, don’ t try that
on your uncle’s horse. We would say,
in horse lingo, that he was well broke. Spinner gave up his
natural will and aligned his will with his
owner’s will, or his master’s, will. Spinner underwent a major change
or transformation, but it took time, patience,
and a lot of work. Through this process of change,
Spinner’ s life improved immensely,
and so did mine! It broke my heart when
he passed away this past spring. We buried him
in a place of honor, marked with a hitching post
and his halter. In a similar,
though much more meaningful, way, we are invited to change,
to submit ourselves to God, who is our Master. In the New Testament, we read:
“Submit yourselves “therefore to God. “Resist the devil,
and he will flee from you.” “Draw nigh to God, and he
will draw nigh to you.” President Ezra Taft Benson
described some of the blessings that come to us
as we draw nigh to God and align our will with His. He said:
“Men and women who turn “their lives over to God
“will discover that He can make “a lot more out of their lives
“than they can. “He will deepen their joys,
“expand their vision, “quicken their minds,
“strengthen their muscles, “lift their spirits,
“multiply their blessings, “increase their opportunities,
“comfort their souls, “raise up friends,
and pour out peace.” Blessings do come
as we submit our will to Heavenly Father,
and the more fully we submit our will to Him,
the richer the blessings. They may not be the blessings
we expect, but they will always be
the blessings we need. It is possible to submit
our will to God anywhere, anytime. One setting that is
particularly conducive is while serving
a full-time mission, where there are fewer
worldly distractions. We are able to consecrate
all of our time and attention to His work
and to focus on what He would have us do,
instead of what we may otherwise choose to do. I recently read a letter
from a missionary, Sister Wilde, who had been serving
in the Houston Texas East Mission for less
than six months when Hurricane Harvey hit. In addition to their usual
missionary work, she and her companion
and other missionaries worked for days
tearing out damaged walls, floors, and sopping-wet carpet,
sometimes working from 9:00 in the morning
until 7:30 at night. Though her work
is very challenging, Sister Wilde described
her experience as “one of the most incredible
things I have ever done in my life.” She said,
“What a blessing it is to be a part of God’s work.” I cannot begin to express
the way that my mission has changed me. The Lord can do amazing things
with us when we give ourselves over to Him.” I have experienced
similar feelings in my life. I know that the joy
Sister Wilde experienced is real–
and available to each of us– as we submit our will
and align ourselves with God. In order to experience this joy,
we must learn to follow the enticings of the Spirit,
the things of God, rather than the enticings
of the adversary, or the things of
the natural man. Because of the Father’ s
gift to us of agency, we choose daily
which enticings to follow. In Matthew 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.” And, as my Grandma Jenny,
who was a true cowgirl, used to say,
“You can’t ride two horses at the same time.” The adversary entices us to
be lazy, complacent, discouraged, indifferent,
and doubting. Other of his enticements
include giving in to appetites of the flesh,
such as pornography, breaking the Word of Wisdom,
not living the law of chastity, or engaging in
other immoral practices. If we are wise,
we ignore and shun those enticements. We exercise self-control
and develop the capacity to avoid them. If we are injured by them,
or if we become ensnared by them,
we escape through repentance and faith
in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement. Though some things may take
time to overcome, nothing is impossible–
including repudiation of sin, repentance, forgiveness,
and healing. Another enticement
of the adversary that can keep us from submitting
fully to the will of our Father in Heaven is pride. President Ezra Taft Benson
described pride as “the great stumbling block.” One sign of pride
is pushing back or turning away from God,
or others who invite us to do God’s will. Invitations may come
from parents, friends, teachers, Church leaders,
the scriptures, and sometimes the Spirit. They may be invitations
to stop doing things we shouldn’t be doing,
or they may be invitations to do something that God
would have us do. A resistant
and prideful condition is described well
in the Book of Mormon: “Behold, they do not desire
that the Lord their God, who hath created them,
should rule and reign over them;
notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy
towards them, they do set at naught
his counsels, and they will not
that he should be their guide.” In other words,
pride says, “Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t try to control my life.” When we rebel,
or turn our backs toward God, we are actually turning
our backs on true joy and happiness. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said,
“Only by aligning our wills with God’s is full happiness
to be found.” Elder Maxwell also taught
that we may mistakenly think that by letting our will
be swallowed up in the will of God,
we lose our individuality. But the Savior is asking us
only to lose our old self in order to find our new self. It is not a question
of losing our identity but of finding our
true identity. Using a cowboy’s words,
I would say that God asks us to give up a penny
in order to receive a dollar, and a dollar
has some obvious advantages over a penny! Pride, that sinister,
grievous, subtle, disrupting, insidious, menacing, rotten,
natural man attribute, constantly pulls us
to focus on ourselves, our looks, our talents,
our desires, our goals, our passions–
me, me, me. We look inward
rather than outward– toward others or up to God. Pride focuses on what I want
instead of what others want or what God wants. The antidote for pride
is humility. It is humbling ourselves
and putting God’s will above our own,
seeking what He wants instead of what we want,
and aligning our will with His. One challenging aspect
of replacing pride with humility
is recognizing pride for what it is. As President Benson described,
we often sin in ignorance. I find that when
I lose the Spirit, or feel distant from God
from others, pride is often at the
root of the problem. I have found it helpful
to ask myself, “Is it my pride that
is causing this conflict?” When there is tension
in a relationship, I ask, “Is it pride?” When I am not getting along with my leader,
“Is it pride?” When I am not getting along
with those I am called to lead, “Is it pride?” When I shrink from correction, “Is it pride?” I find that, inevitably, when I ask myself
the question, “Is it pride?”
the Spirit whispers, “Yes, it is!” I am grateful for the Lord’ s mercy and kindness
in helping us overcome our weaknesses. It is not easy to ask
the question “Is it pride?”
or to accept the answer. But recognizing pride seems
to be the first step toward overcoming it. We can then identify
what we need to work on, humble ourselves,
plead for forgiveness, let our pride go,
and align our will with God’s. Yes, the enticings
of the adversary are real, but the enticings
of the Holy Spirit are also very real–
and powerful! As we are obedient and yield
to the enticings of the Spirit to pray,
study the scriptures, and serve others,
we begin to see who we really are–
from God’ s perspective and not just our own. We feel God’ s
pure love for us and recognize
our infinite worth. We can feel comforted,
valued, and lifted. And often,
the enticings of the Spirit and our feelings
of God’s love will prompt us to repent
and change and become better. I had an experience as
a young man in which I felt a distinct “enticement”
to change. This experience helped me
understand the difference between who I thought I was
and who I really am in God’s eyes. During a temple recommend
interview prior to my mission,
the bishop asked, “Are you honest in your
dealings with your fellowman?” I paused for a moment,
evaluated my honesty from my point of view,
and thoughtfully responded, “Yes.” I went to the temple
and then to Germany to share the gospel of
Jesus Christ with others. As I studied the scriptures,
taught the gospel, and served God,
the influence of the Holy Ghost increased in my life. My thoughts and attitudes
began to change. I had an increased understanding
of God’s expectations of me. As Preach My Gospel describes,
I began “forming a fresh view of God,
myself, and the world.” One evening my companion
and I were teaching a lesson on honesty,
and an experience came to my mind
that occurred before my mission. As a 16-year-old,
I fixed up an old ’46 Chevy truck
to drive to school and work, but it was an ongoing challenge
to keep it running. One day when a friend and I
were driving along a country road,
we noticed a truck similar to mine,
discarded in a field next to some old equipment. The old truck
was partially dismantled and rusting away,
but it had a part that was missing on my truck. Since the truck in the field
appeared to be abandoned, I rationalized that surely
no one would miss the part. My friend encouraged me,
and we removed the part from the abandoned truck
and put it on my truck. I justified my actions
by reasoning that the owner didn’t really need the part,
and I did. In the mission field,
I was teaching investigators that stealing
is taking something that doesn’t belong to you. My experience of taking
that once-insignificant rusty truck part
was brought forcefully back to my memory. Suddenly I was pained
by my having taken the part. I knew it was wrong. The Spirit helped me understand
that from God’s point of view, I had not been honest. I began repenting
and asking God for forgiveness. I realized that to be a true
disciple of Jesus Christ, to teach gospel principles,
and to testify with power, I must be living
those principles. From a cowboy’ s perspective,
I knew I had to have both feet in the stirrups. This incident was on my mind
for the remaining 18 months of my mission. When I returned home,
it was a great relief to find the owner of that old truck,
reimburse him for what I had taken,
and complete my repentance. At last, I felt clean
and I was filled with joy and peace. I learned a valuable lesson
from that experience. There is only one way
to assess our honesty, or any other aspect
of our conduct, and that is from God’ s
point of view– not our view,
our friends’ view, or the views of people
in our community– including
the online community. Heavenly Father helps
us identify areas in which we need
to repent and improve. He can help us recognize
and comprehend our true worth. Rather than gauging our value
by comparing ourselves to others,
or by our perception of how others may view us. We can look to Him
to be our judge. This may take
particularly focused effort, particularly in the media-rich
environment in which we live. There is public scrutiny
with each photo that is posted, each comment that is made,
and every “like” that is given. Each of us is affected by the
posts and comments of others, whether they are
positive or negative. The great and spacious
building, the pride of the world,
seems to no longer be confined to a building. The pride of the world
today has no walls. It has infiltrated
cyberspace. I suggest that it is
more important than ever to look to God and
let Him communicate to us our worth and the value
of our contributions, rather than looking to others. We can let Him influence
our decisions– what we wear,
where we go, whom we go with,
and what we do. His “likes”
will be accurate, consistent, and much more merciful
than the “likes” we may or may not
receive from the rest
of the world. In His eyes and in truth,
we are of infinite worth. In fact,
He sacrificed His perfect, holy, and Only
Begotten Son in order that our souls might
be saved and that we might
return to Him. Let God be the audience
that we look to please, not those in the
great, shapeless, black hole of cyberspace. Let us pray to Him and
check for His inspiring messages. Let us look to Him,
our Creator and our Eternal Father,
in all things. The path of repenting
and changing is a path that each
of us can follow, no matter our situation. It is a joyful path,
full of blessings. It is a path that we
walk with the Savior, and as we do, we come
to better understand His great
power, mercy, and love. We better comprehend who He
is, and therefore who we are, and who we have the
potential to become. The path of repentance
is the path that leads to becoming a Saint. The first step along the
path is to exercise faith in God
and pray to Him with real intent,
sharing our heartfelt feelings. We may feel a desire
to repent of our sins, to be cleansed and be healed. We may also be filled
with resolve and strength to change and to progress. The Spirit will guide us,
and Jesus Christ will help us along the path. It took approximately
15 years for Spinner’ s nature to change
significantly. Because horses live only
an average of 25 to 30 years,
it actually took him about 50 human years to change. I hope it doesn’ t take me
that long to transition
some of the things I am working on. How about you? Heavenly Father doesn’t
expect immediate perfection. He accepts our efforts, but
He would not have us delay. He would have us come
unto Him now and work to become “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.” He wants us to be His. Discipleship can at
times be challenging, but if we have faith
and cultivate the Spirit, we can cowboy up, and learn to put off the
natural man or woman without
becoming irritated, frustrated,
or discouraged. It can be a joyful process. I love the scripture in
the Book of Mormon that describes this pattern
of living and progressing: “They did fast and
pray oft, “and did wax stronger
and stronger in their humility “and firmer and firmer in
the faith of Christ, “unto the filling their souls
with joy and consolation, “yea, even to the purifying “and the sanctification
of their hearts, “which
sanctification cometh because of yielding their
hearts unto God.” My message today
is an invitation, an invitation for each of us to
see ourselves as God sees us, yield our hearts to Him, align our will with His, and
change. We can ask ourselves:
“Am I stuck as a Stubby, or am I becoming a Spinner?” Am I following my own
course, my own agenda, and striving to please myself,
or do I desire to please God? Am I attempting to satisfy
the appetites of the natural man or woman, or am I striving to
please my Master? Heavenly Father can
help us answer these questions. He can also help us in our
quest to improve and become more like the Savior. I know as we submit and yield
our hearts to God, He will bless us. Jesus Christ sets the perfect
example for us. His only desire is to fulfill
God’s plan. God’ s work is His will. God’ s work is His work. They are one. Even when faced with
making the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus submitted His
will to His Father, saying, “Not my will, but
thine, be done.” I bear testimony
that through Jesus Christ and His Atonement,
we can do all things– including putting off the
natural man and becoming Saints. In the name of
Jesus Christ, amen.

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