The purpose of the Atonement of our Savior is to bring us back to a state of oneness with our Father and His Beloved Son. Faith in Him requires a steadfast and humble recognition of His tender love for us. He knows our weakness and asks only that we follow Him and remain “faithful over a few things.”1
Unfortunately, too many lose their faith because of Satan’s plan of deception. “Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations.”2 The purpose of this lesson is to help us avoid the pitfalls of deceit Satan puts in our way so that we might “continue steadfast” as followers of Jesus Christ.
If you have ever swung a slingshot around your head you know how powerful centrifugal force can be. A stone fired from David’s sling killed the great Goliath where he stood. Similarly, the Devil exerts centrifugal force on the followers of Christ, trying to get us to fly off the path. It takes a good deal of strength to remain on the path when that kind of force is applied. Fortunately, our Savior can provide the strength we need if we will rely on Him for it.
Here are some of the centrifugal forces that Satan applies to us:
Let’s examine each of these.
Misunderstanding the Role of the Prophet
The Prophet Joseph Smith reflected on the centrifugal forces that cause many to spin out of control and lose their faith:
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen [see D&C 121:40].3
Joseph was often challenged by Church members who thought their wisdom or insights were greater than those of the Prophet of the Lord. Elder George A. Smith recalled: “There was a prevalent spirit all through the early history of this Church, which prompted the Elders to think that they knew more than the Prophet. Elders would tell you that the Prophet was going wrong. . . . the Church was constantly afflicted with such a class of men.”4
As in the early days of the Church, many today fall into the same snare. Members who are shallow in their faith go along with the Prophet up to a point. But the Lord made it clear: “No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses. . . . I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.”5
And again: “There is none another appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he [Joseph Smith] be taken.”6
Worldliness (in particular business, political, and financial scheming)
Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned about this centrifugal force:
For true believers, the tugs and pulls of the world—including its pleasures, power, praise, money, and preeminence—have always been there. . . the harmful things of the world are marketed by pervasive technology and hyped by a media barrage, potentially reaching almost every home and hamlet. All this when many are already tuned out of spiritual things.7
The slick allure of wealth and power has brought about more than one apostasy. The pressure for worldly success leads too many into bigger houses, shinier cars, boats, and bank accounts, often built on a sandy foundation of debt. They work so hard to maintain their lifestyle that they have little time for the temple, for family, or for quiet communing with the Lord. In the words of Elder Maxwell, as disciples of Christ, “if we see a stretch limousine pulling up, we know it is not calling for us.”
But the threat is not only external. Particularly contemptible are the efforts of some inside the Church to prey on others in so-called “affinity fraud,” using their Church membership to cheat fellow members of their money. These are truly the hypocrites condemned by the Lord, and we should be on guard against them—and doubly on guard against becoming one of them. The Lord warns:
Wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment. Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power. . . . but the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off. . . . Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.8
Proverbs tell us that the Lord is displeased by proud looks.9 Jesus was tender with sinners, understanding of the weak, but had little patience with the proud. He reserved His strongest judgments for the hypocrites who saw themselves as better than others. Elder M. Russell Ballard notes this insight: “If we study the life of the Savior, we find that he was very hesitant to label his brothers and sisters as publicans, sinners, or adulterers. . . . It is interesting to me to note that the one label that he did apply was that of ‘hypocrite.’”10
Elder George A. Smith recalled the case of a brother who, because of his wealth and status, considered himself entitled to special privileges. At the Kirtland Temple dedication, he said, “The congregation was so large that we could not all get in; and when the house was full, then, of course, the doors were closed, and no more admitted. This caused Elder Frazier Eaton, who had paid seven hundred dollars toward building the house, to apostatize, because he did not get there early enough for the meeting.”11 Even though the dedication was repeated the next day for those who could not attend the first day, this did not satisfy Frazier Eaton.
Looking beyond the Mark
I was recently in a stake conference meeting where a visiting General Authority asked an intriguing question: “Is it possible to be too religious?”
He didn’t answer the question directly, but by the context of his remarks I knew what he was driving at. Some people become so “holier than thou” that they ride their sanctimonious hobbyhorses right out of the Church. Elder Quentin L. Cook has said:
Another sign of spiritual immaturity and sometimes apostasy is when one focuses on certain gospel principles or pursues “gospel hobbies” with excess zeal. Almost any virtue taken to excess can become a vice.
Certain members have wanted to add substantially to various doctrines. An example might be when one advocates additions to the Word of Wisdom that are not authorized by the Brethren and proselytes others to adopt these interpretations. If we turn a health law or any other principle into a form of religious fanaticism, we are looking beyond the mark.
Some who are not authorized want to speak for the Brethren and imply that their message contains the “meat” the Brethren would teach if they were not constrained to teach only the “milk.