Elder Carl B. Cook Tells BYU Students to “Put Off the Natural Man or Woman”
Contributed By Valerie Johnson, Church News staff writer
- Pride pulls us to focus completely on self.
- The antidote for pride is humility.
- God and Jesus Christ help us change our nature.
“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.” —Elder Carl B. Cook of the Seventy
“Cowboy up and learn to put off the natural man or woman,” Elder Carl B. Cook, General Authority Seventy, urged students during his campus devotional address at Brigham Young University on October 10.
“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,” Elder Cook said. The fight will not be won immediately, he said, “and we are dependent upon God and Jesus Christ to help us change our nature.”
While his kids were young, Elder Cook bought two horses named Bob and Stubby.
“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,” he said.
Over the next 10 to 15 years, Elder Cook worked with Stubby, giving him consequences for bad behavior and rewards for good behavior. “Over time, after many rides and somewhat to my surprise, Stubby began to soften. He submitted more readily to the saddle and bridle. He was less determined to have his own way.”
Stubby became Elder Cook’s horse of choice, and due to his turnaround in behavior, he was renamed to Spinner. “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, or his master’s, will,” he said.
Blessings come as we submit our will to Heavenly Father, Elder Cook said. “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,” he said. “Because of the Father’s gift to us of agency, we choose daily which enticings to follow.”
The adversary is constantly enticing people to be lazy, complacent, discouraged, indifferent, and doubting. “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,” Elder Cook said.
One such enticement of the adversary that prevents one from submitting fully to the will of God is pride, which President Ezra Taft Benson described as “the great stumbling block.”
“When we rebel, or turn our backs towards God, we are actually turning our backs on true joy and happiness,” Elder Cook said. Pride pulls us to focus completely on self.
“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,” Elder Cook said.
Just as one cannot serve two masters, “as my Grandma Jenny, who was a true cowgirl, used to say, ‘You can’t ride two horses at the same time,’” Elder Cook said.
Just as the adversary entices others to follow him, the enticings of the Holy Ghost are real and powerful. Elder Cook said, “As we are obedient and yield to the enticings of the Spirit to pray, to study the scriptures, and serve others, we begin to see who we really are—from God’s perspective and not just from 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.”
Elder Cook shared how one such enticing of the Spirit prompted him to change while on his mission. While he and his companion were teaching a lesson on honesty, an experience came to his mind. When he was 16 years old, he found an old abandoned truck that was partially dismantled, which was similar to his own ’46 Chevy truck. It had a part that he needed. He and his friend who was with him rationalized that no one would miss the part, so they took it and put it on his truck.
“My experience of taking that once-insignificant rusty truck part was brought forcefully back to my memory,” Elder Cook said. “Suddenly I was pained by having taken the part. I knew it was wrong. The Spirit helped me understand that from God’s perspective, I had not been honest. I began repenting and asking God for forgiveness.”
Eighteen months later, when he returned from his mission, he found the owner of that old truck and reimbursed him for what he had taken, completing his repentance. “At last, I felt clean and I was filled with joy and peace,” Elder Cook said.
In this media-saturated world, each person is affected by public scrutiny that comes through social media. Elder Cook said, “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.”
In closing, Elder Cook said, “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.”
The BYU Women’s Chorus performs during the BYU devotional held on October 10, 2017, at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. Photo by Madeline Mortensen, BYU.