I have long believed that the true purpose of our lives is ‘simply’ to train our flesh to submit to our spirit. As with most eternally important goals, it sounds simple when you break it down to that point – but it is far less easily accomplished. As humans, we are the sum of two parts: our eternal spirit, literal offspring of Heavenly Parents, and our flesh bodies created by our earthly parents.
Our flesh wants what it wants; to be given pleasure and to avoid pain. Our spirits want to return to the home it knows. Once combined, our bodies and our spirits are at odds and we are commanded to master our physical body and submit to the spirit if we expect to gain Eternal Life. While the world teaches us to satisfy our flesh, the Lord commands us to listen to our spirit.
The problem is the flesh seems to scream like an unhappy baby, unable to communicate for what it wants, while the spirit whispers to our soul its needs. The training we need requires discipline. As with all training, the more we practice we put in, the better we get. If we exercise our spirits enough, the overpowered whispers can become stronger and easier to hear and obey. On the other hand, ignoring the spirit and indulging the flesh can make us deaf to the spirit – this is when we become a ‘Natural Man’ and an enemy to God.
Being an ‘enemy to God’ sounds harsh and we live in a time when the brutal reality is unpopular. What does it mean to be an enemy to God? He is perfect and asks us to become like him. The two ingredients (flesh and spirit) required to become like Him are at odds, so it stands to reason that ignoring Him in favor of satisfying our flesh, which is a willful choice, would put us at odds with Him. When He refers to His voice to us as ‘enticings of the Holy Spirit’ it appears to me He is attempting to help us understand that, just like the screams of our flesh, His spirit ‘tempts’ us to do what is right in order to overcome the enemy, our flesh.
In today’s world, the flesh is used in every aspect of life in an attempt to drag us away from our eternal potential. To further weaponize the flesh, the world has now successfully created an atmosphere where anyone who suggests the flesh should submit to the spirit can be cast into one of the many categories, and the world labels one as unloving or even hateful for such exhortations. To propose a person can and should control their sexual urges before marriage is archaic and outdated. To suggest that acting on same-sex attraction can be overcome is hateful. To point out that God’s Kingdom is a patriarchal government is suppressive. Pornography is accepted as normal to the world regardless of the negative results to our spiritual health and physical relationships.
What can we do to ‘put off the natural man’ and what does it mean to ‘become a saint through the Atonement of Jesus Christ?’ As I mentioned previously, the desires of the flesh scream at us while the spirit whispers. We live in a world that caters to the bassist flesh desires. Sex is used to sell everything from shaving cream to cars. We cannot watch a show or movie these days without some sexual innuendo – whether blatant or subtle. It seems there cannot be a new series or film without the homosexual element being interjected. The days of feeling safe watching network TV before a certain hour are over. TV-MA ratings give license to all who produce these shows to include anything and everything that used to make a movie rated ‘R’ or worse, and they are available 24/7 on every device we carry. As radical as it sounds, as media has become reliably dangerous, it may be time to remove it from our lives. Putting off natural man means rooting out the things in our lives that detract from our ability to hear and recognize the voice of the Lord. Putting off the natural man means being different from the other people in the world, it means being peculiar. Likewise becoming a Saint requires we stand out from the rest of the world. While all men and women alive have the right and are invited to become saints and work towards Eternal Life, many will forfeit this right in exchange for satisfying the flesh.
Included in the formula of the verse in Mosiah is the instruction to ‘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.’ We live in an era when the very idea of being submissive and humble is insulting to many. There are some extremist movements – even within the Church – that decry the traditional patriarchal order as demeaning to women and submitting to our Father in Heaven’s eternal roles is somehow outdated. Gospel principles are twisted and turned ugly in the name of equality. False ideas of what equality look like are marketed with the sole intent of stirring up discontent and dragging souls away from the truth.
Humility, I feel, truly is the most important trait mentioned in the verse. Humble men and women are easily entreated, easily corrected, and easily taught. Proud men and women seek to correct those who preside over them and preach false doctrine and sow discontent to others. Pride is at the root of all sins, including those that lead to apostasy. We see so many today who use social media platforms to spread their false beliefs to a previously unreachable number of people. A single insignificant person with the ability to produce ‘hot takes’ and gain followers can now gain the power and notoriety so many humans covet and use it for evil rather than for good.
I truly believe the purpose of this life, if broken down to its most basic elements, is for us as spiritual, eternal beings, to allow our spirits to train our flesh and overcome the natural man that dwells in each of us. If we can make this happen, if we truly reach a point of listening to the voice of the Lord more often than that of our flesh, we will be changed beings. We will look and act differently than the rest of the world. We will be a peculiar people as the Lord requires us. Overcoming our flesh is a very personal undertaking, no one can do it for us. But by following the blueprint King Benjamin gave us and through hard work, we may become spiritual beings.
“Spirituality” -Elder Dallin H. Oaks, October 1985
“Addiction or Freedom” -Elder Russell M. Nelson, October 1988
“Overcome…Even As I Also Overcame” -Elder Neal A. Maxwell, April 1987
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