Fullness of the Gospel: Putting Off the Natural Man


The Fullness of the Gospel Series this month is called ‘Putting Off the Natural Man’. Another good one, I would like to provide my regular review, with a bit of a twist.

First the article makes mention of the various general philosophies of human nature. The three are:

1 – people are basically good.
2 – they are fundamentally evil.
3 – they are neutral.

They then present the idea that through modern day revelation that we now know that we have a dual nature.

There are some scriptures provided that describe the physical side of our natures which come from our flesh and bone bodies. ‘All mankind became a lost and a fallen people’ (Alma 12:22) as a result of the fall. And ‘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’. (Mosiah 3:19)

For the spirit side of our nature D&C 93:38 is given, ‘every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning’.

President David O. McKay and Elder Melvin J. Ballard are quoted regarding the battle between the spirit and the body. The Ballard quote is used to move to the idea that we can nourish and strengthen our spirits and in time put off the natural man. This idea that people can change in a fundamental way and overcome the weaknesses of the flesh is given. There is a neat quote from Ezra Taft Benson where he says that the world attempts to change behavior, but Christ can change human nature.

Now for the twist. Have the good folks at the Ensign – and elsewhere got this right? In general I think they do, but I don’t quite buy everything I have heard within the church as an absolute in this area. Allow me to explain.

The Mosiah 3:19 verse troubles me a little if it is taken as an absolute. ‘An enemy to God’ has always seemed a bit much to me. Should we look at the mortal flesh and bone body as the enemy of God? As an evil thing? Are we not also taught that the body is a temple by Paul and others?

I tend to look at the body as being neutral. Matter organized. Perhaps an amplifier of feelings. The will of man is tied to the spirit/intelligence is it not?

Also the idea that spirits are perfect and innocent, as the D&C 93:38 might suggest, seems a bit much if taken as the beginning of our mortal life. Perhaps at one point intelligences were innocent – ‘in the beginning’. Whenever that was. But some spirits were noble and great, and I would assume others were not.

I tend to look at the spirit as being whatever the spirit has chosen to be. We perhaps have the examples of the preexistent Christ as one extreme example and Satan as the other.

So am I all screwed up with my opinion of a neutral body and a spirit that is ultimately what it chooses to be? I think the Ballard quote in the article speaks to this in a way.

He expresses that Satan works through the temptations of the body. He says that Satan will work through ‘the flesh, because it is made up of the unredeemed earth, and he [Satan] has power over the elements of the earth’. Ballard also says that the aid that the Lord gives us ‘will come to us through the spirit that dwells within this mortal body’. Perhaps this explains things better. Does this suggest a big tug-of-war with Satan and his followers pulling on our bodies in one direction, and the Lord and his angels pulling on our spirits in the other? Perhaps.

I still prefer to think of a neutral body with a free will spirit that can choose good or evil as explained in 2 Nephi 2. Perhaps this is not really a significant difference.

Don’t get me wrong. Understanding that we have a spirit and a body is a wonderful help. And knowing that we can overcome the weaknesses of the flesh and put off the natural man is a beautiful truth. This is an excellent article and I do not want to detract from it. Hopefully my opinions thrown in will generate some discussion that can straighten me out on this ‘enemy to God’ body and ‘perfect innocent’ spirit issue I have if I need it.

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12 Responses to “Fullness of the Gospel: Putting Off the Natural Man”


  1. 1 Connor Boyack July 10, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    I think that the body is neutral (in and of itself, it does no evil thing), but is disposed to do evil, if the spirit is not there to lift it up and restrain it.

    This is (slightly) illustrated by entropy. Left to themselves, things will ultimately lead to chaos and disorganization. Only when there is a higher power that intervenes do things organize and behave.

    Thus, left to itself (with no spirit to restrain and control it), our neutral body will go down the carnal path.

    Perhaps this is because of all the wicked spirits cast down to this earth, that are seeking bodies? If our spirit is not actively controlling our (neutral) body and making an abode therein, then perhaps the evil spirits exert more control and force within that (neutral) body, leading it do commit evil acts?

    My 2¢.

  2. 2 Wade July 10, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    Interesting questions and insights Eric.

    You pose the question: ‘An enemy to God’ has always seemed a bit much to me. Should we look at the mortal flesh and bone body as the enemy of God? As an evil thing?

    I think you may be misreading/misinterpreting Mosiah 3:19. It says the “carnal man” is an enemy to God, not the physical body. I think there is a fundamental difference there. It is pretty obvious, I think, that the body by itself is neutral (just the raw elements). But, as Lehi taught, God created things “to act, and things to be acted upon”. By itself, the elements that make up our bodies cannot act; only coupled with intelligence, or spirit, can they act. If a person’s spirit is separated from God’s spirit, the forces of evil will have sway with that person’s body.

    By default, every mortal being is separated from God’s presence and therefore from the full presence of His Spirit, or influence. In this “natural” state, we are carnal because our bodies are influenced by the forces of evil. Only when we “yield” to the Spirit (i.e. take affirmative action to choose the things of God), can we begin the process of being good.

    Now, as to your point about spirits being “innocent”: I side with you here. It’s completely illogical, and frankly I think absurd, to believe we came into this world on the same spiritual playing field. I do think each of us was innocent (and it is very critical to notice the DC 93 verse mentions the word AGAIN) when we were born. However, I don’t think it means what most might think it means. That is, I think we were innocent as to this sphere of existence — we have a new beginning, a clean slate if you will.

    Also, I think a key concept in conjunction with this whole discussion is the difference between justification and sanctification. For example, an ex-convict is completely justified after serving his full sentence — he has officially paid his debt to society by serving his time — he is just before the law. However, this does not mean the ex-con is sanctified, i.e. purified from his natural tendancy to commit crime. This is why many ex-cons go on to commit more crime after being justified.

    Similarly, there is a difference between being justified by the atonement when we were born into the world, and being purified on certain levels when we came into the world. Some spirits came into the world virtually spotless (One came completely spotless), and others have come with a lot of baggage.

  3. 3 Wade July 10, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    I know, I know, Mosiah says the “natural man” not “carnal man”; but either way, I think you get my point.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson July 11, 2006 at 5:47 am

    Conner:

    Thanks for your comments here. I am interested in the notion of being ‘left to itself’. We have examples of spirits without bodies in the preexistent state and again in the spirit world. Do we have examples of bodies without spirits? Like Zombies? Does not a spirits always control a body if there is any life to the body?

    You also mention ‘the spirit is not there to lift it up and restrain it’. Are you speaking of the individual spirit, or the Holy Ghost here. I feel the individual spirit has the ability to control the body however the individual sirit chooses to control it, being enticed by either good or evil influences.

    Wade:

    I think you make a great point in distinguishing between the ‘natural man’ and the physical body. These are not necessarily the same thing. I think it is important for us to keep this distinction in mind.

  5. 5 Connor Boyack July 11, 2006 at 6:22 am

    No example comes to mind of spiritless bodies. Yes, bodies always possess the spirit they were assigned. But in the case of demonic possession, what happens? There are multiple spirits (the assigned one, and then one or more evil ones) within that body.

    In that case, it is apparent that the evil spirits have dominated the main spirit in that body. It is my opinion that this is caused by a “weak spirit”. If our spirit body does not actively exert control and dominion over our bodies to subdue them and restrict them, then the wicked spirits will have power to influence our bodies as well. This is just a thought I have on it, and hardly firm doctrine.

  6. 6 OKIE July 11, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Well, I’m glad you guys worked that out…
    A body without a spirit isn’t any more evil than the yogurt I’m eating. It’s merely a vehicle. We know this. Yet coupled with a human spirit it is still not evil. Money is not evil. Yet when you put a mortal man in a position where he has access to unlimited cash, he can choose to do good, choose to do bad or choose to do nothing.
    I can’t see the spiritual world obviously, so I don’t know how the forces of evil influence us. Do they spiritually poke us? Can we spiritually “hear” their infernal coaxings? I don’t know. I feel however that they have no effect on our body, but it’s our spirit that reacts to them.
    A third of our bretheren chose the wrong path before any of us recieved a body. What caused their doubts? What caused lucifer to be so selfish? We don’t know, but we’ve been held accountable for choices made there. I have heard said that certain church leaders have said that in that preexistence that there were no “Fence Sitters”. God’s children were for or against the plan. I can agree with that. But we have also been taught that we are individuals and that we had a progression of learning there. Spirits progressed. Some had greater light than others. We therefore can assume we all have different levels of spiritual strength. Therefore different abilities to resist teptations.
    We arrive her part of God’s plan.
    Since God’s plan is His plan, and by His nature perfect, we can therefore say we are part of a perfect plan. That means the parts we play, the parts evil, howling spirits play, the part my yogurt plays are all part of this perfect plan. We arrive here, We do, to join with a mortal body to face our tests that we’ve been promised will never be greater than we can handle. We, our spiritual selves, make choices that though may be influenced by stimulus is soley held accountable to our own nature. We make those choices. If you choose evil or good, you very well may be showing the true nature of YOUR spirit. When you accept the Lord into your life and are cleansed by Him, you maybe showing your eternal character. “The Devil Made Me Do It” isn’t going to wash at the judgement bar.

  7. 7 Connor Boyack July 11, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Blaming the devil, as you say, doesn’t hold much water. However, we are responsible for how much spiritual power we exert, how we control and use our body (in both action and dress/appearance), and to what extent we let ourselves be tempted and influenced by the devil and his “angels”.

    So, ultimately, the responsibility is ours. Our body is imperfect. WIthout a spirit, it won’t commit an evil act, just as okie’s yogurt wouldn’t either. However, if we let our spirits grow weaker (either through acts of c/omission or if this is a result of our level of progression in the pre-mortal existence) then we let our bodies become more easily influenced by and susceptible to the power of the devil.

  8. 8 Anonymous July 11, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    The spirit of Man is free to choose its destiny, but I think you may need to consider why this is so. Lehi said that it must needs be that there is an opposition to all things. To be able to choose we need to be enticed one direction or the other. The natural man is a result of the Fall of Adam, the light of Christ is a result of the atonement. Man now has a choice which direction to go in simply because he can be enticed one direction or the other. This is the entire point of why we are here in my understanding. What the exact metaphysical nature of the fall is that makes the natural man an enemy to god I am not sure I could delineate, but for now, I think it is enough to know it is there.

  9. 9 Eric Nielson July 12, 2006 at 5:53 am

    Okie

    Thanks for your thoughts here.

    Was yogurt created spiritually before it was created physically?

    I agree with most of what you said, in general the responsibility is ours.

    I don’t know who said that there were no fence sitters in the preexistence. My first reaction to this is that it is a bunch of hogwash. I believe there will be fence sitters throughout eternity.

    ‘if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice’.

    Conner

    Well said.

    anonymous

    Your right of course.

  10. 10 OKIE July 12, 2006 at 9:16 am

    This is fun… –

  11. 11 Wade July 12, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Anonymous:

    What the exact metaphysical nature of the fall is that makes the natural man an enemy to god I am not sure I could delineate . . . .

    I think this scripture is instructive. If you read what Brigham Young had to say about this verse, it becomes more enlightening.

  12. 12 Wade July 12, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Mike:

    Are you aware of your invitation??? I haven’t received an e-mail from you yet — read the comments on the “journal” post.


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