Morality and Modesty

Eternal Marriage Student Manual, (2003), 219–36

Modesty reflects an attitude of humility, decency, and propriety.

—President N. Eldon Tanner

Selected Teachings

President Spencer W. Kimball

“Immorality does not begin in adultery or perversion. It begins with little indiscretions like sex thoughts, sex discussions, passionate kissing, petting and such, growing with every exercise. The small indiscretion seems powerless compared to the sturdy body, the strong mind, the sweet spirit of youth who give way to the first temptation. But soon the strong has become weak, the master the slave, spiritual growth curtailed. But if the first unrighteous act is never given root, the tree will grow to beautiful maturity and the youthful life will grow toward God, our Father. …

“The early apostles and prophets mention numerous sins that were reprehensible to them. Many of them were sexual sins—adultery, being without natural affection, lustfulness, infidelity, incontinence, filthy communications, impurity, inordinate affection, fornication. They included all sexual relations outside marriage—petting, sex perversion, masturbation, and preoccupation with sex in one’s thoughts and talking. Included are every hidden and secret sin and all unholy and impure thoughts and practices. …

“Conscience tells the individual when he is entering forbidden worlds, and it continues to prick until silenced by the will or by sin’s repetition.

“Can anyone truthfully say he did not know such things were wrong? These unholy practices, whatever may be their unmentionable names with all their approaches and numerous manifestations, are condemned by the Lord and his church. Some may be more heinous than others, but all are sin, in spite of statements to the contrary of those who falsely pretend to know. The Lord’s prophets declare they are not right.

“The world may have its norm; the Church has a different one. … The world may countenance premarital sex experiences, but the Lord and his church condemn in no uncertain terms any and every sex relationship outside of marriage. …

“Since courtship is prelude to marriage and encourages close associations, many have convinced themselves that intimacies are legitimate—a part of the courting process. Many have cast off bridle and harness and have relaxed the restraints. Instead of remaining in the field of simple expressions of affection, some have turned themselves loose to fondling, often called ‘necking,’ with its intimate contacts and its passionate kissing. Necking is the younger member of this unholy family. Its bigger sister is called ‘petting.’ When the intimacies have reached this stage, they are surely the sins condemned by the Savior. …

“Who would say that he or she who pets has not become lustful, has not become passionate? Is it not this most abominable practice that God rebuked in his modern reiteration of the Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it’ (D&C 59:6).

“What, may I ask you, is like unto adultery if it is not petting? Did not the Lord recognize that this heinous sin is but the devil’s softening process for the final acts of adultery or fornication? Can a person in the light of the Lord’s scriptures pursue the path of petting with clear conscience? Can anyone convince himself that this is not deep sin?

“We must repeat what we have said many times: Fornication with all its big and little brothers and sisters was evil and wholly condemned by the Lord in Adam’s day, in Moses’ day, in Paul’s day, and in our own day. The Church has no tolerance for any kind of perversions. The Lord has indicated his lack of tolerance, stating:

“‘For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance’ (D&C 1:31).

“When the scriptures are so plain, how can anyone justify immoralities and call them love? Is black white? Is evil good? Is purity filthiness?

“That the Church’s stand on morality may be understood, we declare firmly and unalterably, it is not an outworn garment, faded, old-fashioned, and threadbare. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and his covenants and doctrines are immutable; and when the sun grows cold and the stars no longer shine, the law of chastity will still be basic in God’s world and in the Lord’s church. Old values are upheld by the Church not because they are old, but rather because through the ages they have proved right. It will always be the rule” (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 95–96).

President Ezra Taft Benson

“Watchmen—what of the night? We must respond by saying that all is not well in Zion. As Moroni counseled, we must cleanse the inner vessel (see Alma 60:23), beginning first with ourselves, then with our families, and finally with the Church. …

“The plaguing sin of this generation is sexual immorality. This, the Prophet Joseph said, would be the source of more temptations, more buffetings, and more difficulties for the elders of Israel than any other. (See Journal of Discourses, 8:55.)

“President Joseph F. Smith said that sexual impurity would be one of the three dangers that would threaten the Church within—and so it does. (See Gospel Doctrine, pp. 312–13.) It permeates our society” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, 3, 6; or Ensign, May 1986, 4).

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“We live in a world that is filled with filth and sleaze, a world that reeks of evil. It is all around us. It is on the television screen. It is at the movies. It is in the popular literature. It is on the Internet. You can’t afford to watch it, my dear friends. You cannot afford to let that filthy poison touch you. Stay away from it. Avoid it. You can’t rent videos and watch them as they portray degrading things. You young men who hold the priesthood of God cannot mix this filth with the holy priesthood. …

“And while I speak of such matters I want to give emphasis again to the matter of pornography. It has become a $10 billion industry in the United States, where a few men grow rich at the expense of thousands upon thousands who are their victims. Stay away from it. It is exciting, but it will destroy you. It will warp your senses. It will build within you an appetite that you will do anything to appease. And don’t try to create associations through the Internet and chat rooms. They can lead you down into the very abyss of sorrow and bitterness. …

“You young men who plan to go on missions must recognize that sexual sin may keep you from that opportunity. You may think that you can hide it. Long experience has shown that you cannot. To serve an effective mission you must have the Spirit of the Lord, and truth withheld does not mix with that Spirit. Sooner or later you will feel compelled to confess your earlier transgressions. Well did Sir Galahad say, ‘My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure’ (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Galahad [1842], st. 1).

“My dear young friends, in matters of sex you know what is right. You know when you are walking on dangerous ground, when it is so easy to stumble and slide into the pit of transgression. I plead with you to be careful, to stand safely back from the cliff of sin over which it is so easy to fall. Keep yourselves clean from the dark and disappointing evil of sexual transgression. Walk in the sunlight of that peace which comes from obedience to the commandments of the Lord.

“Now, if there be any who have stepped over the line, who may already have transgressed, is there any hope for you? Of course there is. Where there is true repentance, there will be forgiveness. That process begins with prayer. The Lord has said, ‘He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more’ (D&C 58:42). Share your burden with your parents if you can. And by all means, confess to your bishop, who stands ready to help you” (“A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Ensign, Jan. 2001, 7–8).

“If they want to get involved in pornography, they can do so very easily. They can pick up the phone and dial a number with which they are familiar. They can sit at a computer and revel in cyberspace filth.

“I fear this may be going on in some of your homes. It is vicious. It is lewd and filthy. It is enticing and habit forming. It will take a young man or woman down to destruction as surely as anything in this world. It is foul sleaze that makes its exploiters wealthy, its victims impoverished.

“I regret to say that many fathers themselves like to hear the siren song of those who peddle filth. Some of them also work the Internet for that which is lewd and lascivious. If there be any man within the sound of my voice who is involved in this or who is moving in this direction, I plead with you to get it out of your life. Get away from it. Stay away from it. Otherwise it will become an obsession. It will destroy your home life. It will destroy your marriage. It will take the good and beautiful out of your family relationships and replace these with ugliness and suspicion.

“To you young men, and to the young women who are your associates, I plead with you not to befoul your minds with this ugly and vicious stuff. It is designed to titillate you, to absorb you into its net. It will take the beautiful out of your life. It will lead you into the dark and ugly” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2000, 68–69; or Ensign, Nov. 2000, 51).

Stand safely back from the cliff of sin.

Consequences of Obedience or Disobedience

Jacob 2:28–29, 33

The Nephites were warned that if they did not live the law of chastity, they would not prosper in the land. Violation of the law of chastity brings “a sore curse, even unto destruction.”

Helaman 13:38

Those who seek happiness in the lusts of the flesh will not find it because doing iniquity is contrary to the nature of happiness. Compare with Alma 41:10, “Wickedness never was happiness.”

3 Nephi 6:16–18

The Nephites became so morally corrupted that they were “carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should.”

Doctrine and Covenants 121:45

Virtue, when combined with charity and faith, gives you confidence in your relationship with God and allows the doctrines of the priesthood to “distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.”

Elder Spencer W. Kimball

“Among the most common sexual sins our young people commit are those of necking and petting. Not only do these improper relations often lead to fornication and abortions—both ugly sins—but in and of themselves they are pernicious evils, and it is often difficult for youth to distinguish where one ends and another begins. They awaken lust and stir evil thoughts and sex desires. They are but parts of the whole family of related sins and indiscretions. …

“Because of the seriousness of this sin [homosexuality] it carries a heavy penalty for the unrepentant. The offender may realize that disfellowshipment or excommunication is the penalty for heavy petting, adultery, fornication and comparable sins if there is not adequate repentance, yet he often supposes that because his acts have not been committed with the opposite sex he is not in sin. Let it therefore be clearly stated that the seriousness of the sin of homosexuality is equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery; and that the Lord’s Church will as readily take action to disfellowship or excommunicate the unrepentant practicing homosexual as it will the unrepentant fornicator or adulterer” (Miracle of Forgiveness, 65, 81–82).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“Those who mock the traditional moral values should heed this lesson of history from the Durants:

“‘A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume both the individual and the group’ (Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968], pp. 35–36).

“Lasciviousness wrongly celebrates the capacity to feel, so that people lose their capacity to feel! Three different prophets in three different dispensations bemoaned those who became ‘past feeling’ (see 1 Nephi 17:45; Ephesians 4:19; Moroni 9:20). … Gross sin not only dulls the feelings, it also impairs the intellect” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1993, 95; or Ensign, May 1993, 77).


1 Timothy 4:12

“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“I am not disposed to discuss in this forum the merits or otherwise of sex education in the public schools. But in passing, I am inclined to agree with one who was recently quoted in the newspaper USA Today: ‘More sex education in public schools will not reverse the damaging legacy of the sexual revolution unless the clear message is premarital chastity and marital monogamy.’ … (Tottie Ellis, “Teaching about Sex Endangers Children,” 16 Mar. 1987, p. 12A)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 58; or Ensign, May 1987, 47).

President N. Eldon Tanner

“Modesty in dress is a quality of mind and heart, born of respect for oneself, one’s fellowmen, and the Creator of us all. Modesty reflects an attitude of humility, decency, and propriety. Consistent with these principles and guided by the Holy Spirit, let parents, teachers, and youth discuss the particulars of dress, grooming, and personal appearance, and with free agency accept responsibility and choose the right” (“Friend to Friend,” Friend, June 1971, 3).

Elder L. Tom Perry

“President [Spencer W.] Kimball delivered a great talk many years ago at Brigham Young University entitled ‘A Style of Our Own.’ He encouraged us not to be among those who would follow worldly, immodest styles, but to have the courage to dress in a way which will send a message that our standards are different. Our dress will reflect the way we intend to live, founded on principles of the gospel of our Lord and Savior. It is impossible to expect a child who has been taught to love to dress in the immodest style trends of the day, to then change overnight to an entirely different wardrobe when they enter a Church university or a missionary training center, or when they are married in the temple, or even when they dress for the Sabbath day. Modest, proper styles must be taught almost from birth” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 88; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 75).

Elder James E. Faust

“In forsaking the great principle of modesty, society has paid a price in the violation of a greater but related principle—that of chastity. The purveyors of the concept of irresponsible sexual relations that degrade and brutalize the participants have grossly masqueraded and completely missed the purpose of these divine gifts” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, 8; or Ensign, May 1981, 9).

Modesty in Thought

Mosiah 4:29–30

“I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.

“But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.”

Doctrine and Covenants 121:45

“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.”

Modesty in Language

Proverbs 15:26

“The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.”

Matthew 12:36

“I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”

Modesty in Dress

President Spencer W. Kimball

“Style is blamed for those extremes, but we wonder again if there might not be some satisfactions, sexual and otherwise, in what seems a wanton disregard of modest decency. Are the very scant bathing suits worn for style or to shock or stir or tempt? Can there be in all these expressions total innocence and total modesty? …

“We cannot overemphasize immodesty as one of the pitfalls to be avoided if we would shun temptation and keep ourselves clean” (Miracle of Forgiveness, 227).

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“Now comes the craze of tattooing one’s body. I cannot understand why any young man—or young woman, for that matter—would wish to undergo the painful process of disfiguring the skin with various multicolored representations of people, animals, and various symbols. With tattoos, the process is permanent, unless there is another painful and costly undertaking to remove it. Fathers, caution your sons against having their bodies tattooed. They may resist your talk now, but the time will come when they will thank you. A tattoo is graffiti on the temple of the body.

“Likewise the piercing of the body for multiple rings in the ears, in the nose, even in the tongue. Can they possibly think that is beautiful? It is a passing fancy, but its effects can be permanent. Some have gone to such extremes that the ring had to be removed by surgery. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have declared that we discourage tattoos and also ‘the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes.’ We do not, however, take any position ‘on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings’—one pair” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2000, 70–71; or Ensign, Nov. 2000, 52).

Elder James E. Faust

“I was struck by the lack of self-esteem revealed in the manner by which so many people now clothe themselves in public. To attract attention or in the name of comfort and informality, many have sunk not only to immodesty but to slovenliness. Against their own self-interest, they present themselves to others in the worst possible way” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, 8; or Ensign, May 1981, 9).

Modest Behavior

2 Nephi 15:20

“Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

Articles of Faith 1:13

“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

President Ezra Taft Benson

“Modesty in dress and language and deportment is a true mark of refinement and a hallmark of a virtuous Latter-day Saint woman. Shun the low and the vulgar and the suggestive” (“To the Young Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 83).

Put on the Whole Armor of God

President Harold B. Lee

President Harold B. Lee

President of the Church

Stand Ye in Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee, 330–39

The Apostle Paul demonstrates his great ability as an inspired teacher as he pictures each of us as a warrior being clothed with the essential armor to protect the four parts of the human body which apparently Satan and his hosts, by their vigilant spy system, have found to be the most vulnerable parts through which the enemies of righteousness might make their “landing,” as it were, and invade the human soul. Here are his inspired teachings:

“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

“And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

“And take the helmet of salvation. …” (Ephesians 6:14–15, 17.)

Did you note carefully the four main parts of your bodies to be guarded:

  1. 1.

    A girdle about your loins.

  2. 2.

    A breastplate over your heart.

  3. 3.

    Your feet shod.

  4. 4.

    A helmet on your head.

These instructions take on full significance when it is remembered the loins are those portions of the body between the lower ribs and the hips in which are located the vital generative organs, and also that in the scriptures and other inspired writings the loins symbolize virtue or moral purity and vital strength. The heart suggests our daily conduct in life, for as the Master taught:

“… out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man … bringeth forth good things: and an evil man … bringeth forth evil things.” (Matthew 12:34–35.)

The feet typify the course you chart in the journey of life. The head, of course, represents your intellect.

But now pay careful heed to the fabric from which the various parts of your armor are to be fashioned.

Truth is to be the substance of which the girdle about your loins is to be formed if your virtue and vital strength are to be safeguarded. How can truth protect you from one of the deadliest of all evils, unchastity? First, for a definition of truth: Truth is knowledge, so the Lord tells us, “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” (D&C 93:24.) Now consider for a few moments the essential knowledge which will put to flight immorality, the ever-present enemy of youth:

Man and woman are the offspring of God and created after His own image and likeness as mortal beings. One of the first commandments given to our first mortal parents, “to multiply and to replenish the earth,” has been repeated as a sacred instruction to every faithful and true Latter-day Saint young man and young woman married in holy wedlock. To the end that this sacred purpose of parenthood be realized, our Creator has placed within the breast of every true man and woman a strong mutual attraction for each other, which acquaintance ripens in friendship, thence through the romance of courtship, and finally matures into happy marriage. But now mark you, never once has God issued such a command to unmarried persons! Indeed, to the contrary; he has written high on the decalogue of crime and second only to murder the divine injunction, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (which is unquestionably interpreted to mean all unlawful sexual association, inasmuch as the Master used interchangeably the words adultery and fornication in defining sexual impurity, and it has been severely condemned in every dispensation by authorized church leaders).

Those who make themselves worthy and enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage in the temple for time and all eternity will be laying the first cornerstone for an eternal family home in the celestial kingdom that will last forever. Their reward is to have “glory added upon their heads forever and forever.” These eternal truths, if you believe them with all your soul, will be as a girdle of armor about your loins to safeguard your virtue as you would protect your life.

But now again may I put you on guard as to Satan’s methods used in an attempt to destroy you. The Lord, after giving us the definition of truth quoted above, said this: “And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.” (D&C 93:25.)

When you are prompted to immodesty in dress or to unclean or obscene speech or brazen conduct in your courtship, you are playing Satan’s game and are becoming the victim of his lying tongue. Just so, if you allow the vain theories of men to cause you to doubt your relationship to God, the divine purpose of marriage, and your future prospects for eternity, you are being victimized by the master of lies, because all such is contrary to truth, which saves you from these perils.

Now, what about the breastplate which will safeguard your heart or your conduct in life? The Apostle Paul says that breastplate shall be made of a stuff called righteousness. The righteous man, although far superior to his fellows who are not, is humble and does not parade his righteousness to be seen of men but conceals his virtues as he would modestly conceal his nudity. The righteous man strives for self-improvement knowing that he has daily need of repentance for his misdeeds or his neglect. He is not so much concerned about what he can get but more about how much he can give to others, knowing that along that course only can he find true happiness. He endeavors to make each day his masterpiece so that at night’s close he can witness in his soul and to his God that whatever has come to his hand that day, he has done to the best of his ability. His body is not dissipated and weakened by the burdens imposed by the demands of riotous living; his judgment is not rendered faulty by the follies of youth; he is clear of vision, keen of intellect, and strong of body. The breastplate of righteousness has given him “the strength of ten—because his heart is clean.”

But to continue with your coat of armor. Your feet, which are to represent your goals or objectives in life, are to be shod. Shod with what? “With the preparation of the gospel of peace.” The apostle who wrote that phrase certainly knew life from actual experience—“preparation of the gospel of peace”! He knew that preparedness is the way to victory and that “eternal vigilance is the price of safety.” Fear is the penalty of unpreparedness and aimless dawdling with opportunity. Whether in speech or in song, whether in physical or moral combat, the tide of victory rests with him who is prepared.

The old philosophers understood the importance of having this preparation begin in the formative period of life, for we are admonished to “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6.) To point out this same truth one old adage declared: “If you follow the river you will reach the sea,” and another suggests a warning: “Following the course of least resistance makes men and rivers crooked.”

Embodied in the gospel of Jesus Christ are the straightforward negative injunctions divinely given to the great lawgiver of Israel, Moses—“Thou shalt not … !”—to be followed later by the positive declarations in the Sermon on the Mount, which outline a veritable blueprint for your course through life. The gospel plan enjoins us to the observance of prayer, to walk uprightly, to honor our parentage, to keep the Sabbath Day holy, and to refrain from idleness. Happy is that one whose feet are shod with the preparation of these teachings from his youth to withstand the evil day. He has found the way to peace by “overcoming the world.” He has built his house upon a rock, and when the storms come, the winds blow, and the rains do beat upon the house, it will not fall because it is founded upon a rock. (see Matthew 7:24–25.) Such a one is not afraid; he will not be overcome by a surprise attack, for he is ready for any emergency: he is prepared!

And now finally to the last piece of the prophet-teacher’s armored dress. We will put a helmet upon the head. Our head or our intellect is the controlling member of our body. It must be well protected against the enemy, for “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7.) But now in order for this helmet to be effective, it must be of an exquisite design. It must be of a super-material to be effective in our eternal conflict with the invisible enemy of all righteousness. Ours is to be the “helmet of salvation.” Salvation means the attainment of the eternal right to live in the presence of God the Father and the Son as a reward for a good life in mortality.

With the goal of salvation ever in our mind’s eye as the ultimate to be achieved, our thinking and our decisions which determine action will always challenge all that would jeopardize that glorious future state. Lost indeed is that soul who is intellectually without the “helmet of salvation” which tells him that death is the end and that the grave is a victory over life, and brings to defeat the hopes, the aspirations, and the accomplishments of life. Such a one might well conclude that he may as well “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

The conclusion reached by a committee of eminent divines appointed to investigate the cause of the wave of “student suicides” which swept over the country a few years ago was very significant. The summary of their findings declared: “The philosophy of the students who took their lives was such that they had never given religion serious thought, and when a test came they had nothing to hold fast to.”

In contrast to the tragic picture, the one who confidently looks forward to an eternal reward for his efforts in mortality is constantly sustained through his deepest trials; when his bank fails, he does not commit suicide; when his loved ones die, he does not despair; when war and destruction dissipate his fortune, he does not falter. He lives above his world and never loses sight of the goal of his salvation.

Our intellects, so protected, must always measure learning by the gospel criteria: Is it true? Is it uplifting? Will it benefit mankind? In the choices of life—our friends, our education, our vocation, our companion in marriage—all these and more must be made with an eye single to eternal life. Our thoughts must “smell of the sunshine” if our association would be inspiring and uplifting. If we would refrain from murder, we must learn not to become angry; if we would free ourselves from sexual sin, we must control immoral thought; if we would avoid the penalty of imprisonment for theft, we must learn not to covet. So taught Jesus, the Master Teacher and our Savior. (see Matthew 5:21–28.)

“O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.” (2 Nephi 9:28.)

Children of the covenant who have upon their heads the helmet of salvation are not as these. The thrill of victory is within their grasp.

But now may I call your attention to one significant fact concerning the armor with which you now have been clothed. You have no armor whatsoever to protect you from the rear. Does this suggest yet another quality essential to this eternal conflict with “spiritual wickedness in high places”? Evidently no one can win this battle running from the enemy. The contest must be face to face. There must be no retreat. So came the clear-ringing counsel of the First Presidency to our boys during the last World War: “Boys, keep yourselves clean! Better die clean than to come home unclean.” Courage and determination and continual aggressiveness to the right are the essential qualities for the battle of life, else all the armor in the world suggested for our protection would be of no avail. Thus equipped within and without, we are now ready.

But wait a moment! Are we to have no weapons with which to fight? Are we to be mere targets for the enemy to attack? Let’s read now what Paul, the great apostle-teacher, said about our weapons:

“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

“And take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:16–17.)

May I attempt to describe briefly that shield of faith? Faith is a gift from God, and blessed is the man who possesses it. “He who carries the lamp will not despair,” wrote one of the great industrial leaders with reference to a business crisis, “no matter how dark the night. That lamp I call faith.” Suppose we examine a few of life’s problems to see just how effective the shield of faith can be.

In what we might liken unto a great “pincer movement” of enemy forces to encircle us, we are being surfeited with the doctrine that we can get “something for nothing.” When the smoke of the present frenzied social conflict has cleared away and the carnage resulting therefrom carefully counted, we shall have had proved again that we cannot get something for nothing and continue to prosper, and that the habit of giving instead of getting is the way to happiness. Then our faith in those tried and trusted virtues of thrift, self-sacrifice, and frugality will have triumphed over the vices of reckless spending, selfishness, and a disregard for decent standards of common civic virtue and morality.

It was the faith of our pioneer fathers that prompted them, as they pitched camp to begin a new settlement, to devoutly invoke the blessings of Almighty God upon their efforts. They prayed for the rains to come, for the fertility of the soil, for protection against destructive forces to the end that their crops would grow and that a harvest would be gathered. When a bounteous harvest came, they thanked God; for the protection of loved ones, they gave recognition to an Omnipotent Power; in death and sorrow, in floods and in storm, they saw the workings of a Divine Will. Out of such faith there was born in them, and can be likewise in you, a conviction that “a man and the Lord are a big majority in any test.”

If we have faith in our kinship to a Great Creator, we recognize by that same token our relationship to man. Such faith banishes hate in time of war and supplants therefore a sympathy for our enemy; the envies and jealousies of human society become, in the white light of faith, merely the growing pains of a family of children growing up to maturity and to a better understanding of how, as grownups, they should act. By faith we surmount daily obstacles and disappointments, and our defeats we thus interpret as necessary for our experience and development; we realize that to be thrown upon one’s own resources is to be cast into the lap of fortune where our faculties undergo an unexpected development. With faith we become pioneers for the generations yet unborn and find ourselves becoming joyous in the contemplation of service we may render to our fellowmen even though the reward be but a martyr’s crown.

Note now how the “shield of faith” and the “sword of the spirit which is the word of God” work together, perfectly coordinated as weapons in the hands of one who has upon him the “armor of righteousness.” The scriptures declare, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17.) Just as one in hand-to-hand combat with only a shield and without a sword would soon be overcome, just so without the word of God from the scriptures and by revelation, our faith becomes weak in the face of modern destructionists who call themselves “liberals.” Shielded by faith, the commandments known as the Decalogue from Mount Sinai are transformed from mere platitudes of a philosopher to the thundering voice of authority from on high, and the teachings of the scriptures become the revealed word of God to guide us to our celestial home. Obedience to civil law would become a moral and a religious obligation, as well as a civic duty, if we believed that “the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. …” (Romans 13:1–2.)

Armed with the word of God, the shattered dreams of youth and the frustrations which result from the stresses of war and the vigors of life do not embitter us or stifle our ambitions or prompt us in our despondency to cry out in despair, “Oh, what’s the use?” Guided by faith taught by the word of God, we view life as a great process of soul-training. Under the ever-watchful eye of a loving Father, we learn by “the things which we suffer,” we gain strength by overcoming obstacles, and we conquer fear by triumphant victory in places where danger lurks. By faith, as the word of God teaches, we understand that whatever contributes in life to the lofty standard of Jesus—“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)—is for our good and for our eternal benefit even though into that molding may go the severe chastening of an all-wise God, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (Hebrews 12:6.)

Thus schooled and drilled for the contest with the powers of darkness and with spiritual wickedness, we may be “troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9.)

“The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

“Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” (Romans 13:12–13.)

Youth of Zion, put on the whole armor of God!

Our intellects … must always measure learning by the gospel criteria: Is it true? Is it uplifting?

By faith we surmount daily obstacles and disappointments.

The Law of Chastity

President Ezra Taft Benson

President Ezra Taft Benson

President of the Church

In Brigham Young University 1987–88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, 51–54

Do not be misled by Satan’s lies. There is no lasting happiness in immorality. There is no joy to be found in breaking the law of chastity. Just the opposite is true. There may be momentary pleasure. For a time it may seem like everything is wonderful. But quickly the relationship will sour. Guilt and shame set in. We become fearful that our sins will be discovered. We must sneak and hide, lie and cheat. Love begins to die. Bitterness, jealousy, anger, and even hate begin to grow. All of these are the natural results of sin and transgression.

On the other hand, when we obey the law of chastity and keep ourselves morally clean, we will experience the blessings of increased love and peace, greater trust and respect for our marital partners, deeper commitment to each other, and, therefore, a deep and significant sense of joy and happiness.

We must not be misled into thinking these sins are minor, or that consequences are not that serious. One of the most sobering statements about being unchaste is that of Alma to his son Corianton: “Know ye not, my son,” he said, “that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?” (Alma 39:5; emphasis added). Very few of us will ever be guilty of murder or of the sin against the Holy Ghost. But the law of chastity is frequently broken, and yet it stands next to these other sins in seriousness in the eyes of the Lord.

My beloved brothers and sisters, are we living in accordance with these scriptures? Do we clearly understand the seriousness of sexual sins? Do we constantly stress the blessings that come from obedience to this law? I say again, as have all the prophets before me, there is one standard of virtue and chastity, and all are expected to adhere to it. What the Lord says unto one, He says unto all: “Ye must practice virtue and holiness before me continually” (D&C 46:33).

Six Steps to Prepare and Prevent

There is an old saying that states: It is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent. How true that is of the law of chastity. The first line of defense in keeping ourselves morally clean is to prepare ourselves to resist temptation and prevent ourselves from falling into sin.

For those who are pure and chaste, may I give six steps that are steps of preparation and prevention, steps that will insure that you never fall into this transgression:

  1. 1.

    Decide now to be chaste. The decision to be chaste and virtuous need only be made once. Make that decision now and let it be so firm and with such deep commitment that it can never be shaken. Don’t wait until you are alone in a parked car or caught in a compromising situation to decide to be chaste. Decide now!

  2. 2.

    Control your thoughts. No one steps into immorality in an instant. The first seeds of immorality are always sown in the mind. When we allow our thoughts to linger on lewd or immoral things, the first step on the road to immorality has been taken. I especially warn you against the evils of pornography. Again and again we hear from those caught in deep sin that often the first step on their road to transgression began with pornographic materials. The Savior taught that even when a man looks upon a woman to lust after her, or in other words, when he lets his thoughts begin to get out of control, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart (see Matthew 5:28, D&C 63:16).

  3. 3.

    Always pray for the power to resist temptation. Temptation will come to all of us. It will take many forms and appear in many disguises, but the Lord has given us the key for resisting it. He said to the Prophet Joseph: “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work” (D&C 10:5). It should be part of our daily prayers to ask the Lord for constant strength to resist temptations, especially temptations that involve the law of chastity.

  4. 4.

    If you are married, avoid flirtations of any kind. Sometimes we hear of a married man going to lunch with his secretary or other women in the office. Men and women who are married sometimes flirt with and tease members of the opposite sex. So-called harmless meetings are arranged or inordinate amounts of time are spent together. In all of these cases, people rationalize by saying that these are natural expressions of friendship. But what may appear to be harmless teasing or simply having a little fun with someone of the opposite sex can easily lead to more serious involvement and eventual infidelity. A good question to ask ourselves is this: Would my spouse be pleased if he or she knew I was doing this? Would a wife be pleased to know that her husband lunches alone with his secretary? Would a husband be pleased if he saw his wife flirting and being coy with another man? My beloved brothers and sisters, this is what Paul meant when he said: “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

  5. 5.

    If you are married, avoid being alone with members of the opposite sex whenever possible. Many of the tragedies of immorality begin when a man and woman are alone in the office or at church or driving in a car. At first there may be no intent or even thought of sin. But the circumstances provide a fertile seedbed for temptation. One thing leads to another, and very quickly tragedy may result. It is so much easier to avoid such circumstances from the start so that temptation gets no chance for nourishment.

  6. 6.

    For those who are single and dating members of the opposite sex, carefully plan positive and constructive activities so that you are not left to yourselves with nothing to do but share physical affection. Once again this is the principle of filling one’s life with the positive so that the negative has no chance to thrive. When young people are left to themselves for long periods of time with no specific planned activities, often they turn to necking and petting to fill the empty hours.

Five Steps to Repair and Repent

But I realize that there may be some, even now within the sound of my voice, for whom the counsel to prepare and prevent is too late. You may already be deeply entangled in serious sin. If this is the case, there is no choice now but to repair your lives and repent of your sins. To you I would suggest five important things you can do to come back to a state of moral purity.

  1. 1.

    Flee immediately from any situation you are in that is either causing you to sin or that may cause you to sin. When Joseph of Egypt was entrapped by Potiphar’s wife alone in the house, it would have been easy for Joseph to have rationalized. After all, he had not encouraged her. After all, he was her servant. After all, it would hurt her feelings if he refused. Had Joseph stood there and rationalized, he could easily have fallen. There is a great lesson in how he did respond. The scripture says, “And he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out” (Genesis 39:12; emphasis added). He fled and got him out. My beloved brothers and sisters, if you are currently in a situation where your moral purity is being or could be compromised, follow Joseph’s example. Flee from it and get yourself out. You cannot linger in sin and expect to have success in repentance.

  2. 2.

    Plead with the Lord for the power to overcome. One of Satan’s most effective strategies with those he has lured into sin is to whisper in their ears that they are not worthy to pray. He will tell you that Heavenly Father is so displeased with you that He will never hear your prayers. This is a lie, and he says it to deceive us. The power of sin is great. If we are to extricate ourselves from it, especially serious sin, we must have a power greater than ourselves. No one is more anxious to help you flee from sin than your Father in Heaven. Go to Him. Acknowledge your sin, confess your shame and your guilt, and then plead with Him for help. He has the power to help you triumph.

  3. 3.

    Let your priesthood leaders help you resolve the transgression and come back into full fellowship with the Lord. Certain sins are of such gravity that they put our standing in the Church in jeopardy. Sexual sins are among those of such seriousness (see D&C 42:24). Full repentance of such sins requires that we not only confess our sins and resolve them with the Lord, but that we also do so with the Church. This is done through appropriate priesthood leaders. The bishops and stake presidents have been appointed by revelation to serve as watchmen over the Church and as judges in Israel. While only the Lord can forgive sins, the priesthood leaders play a critical role in the process of repentance. Even if we are disfellowshipped or excommunicated, it is a beginning step in the process of repentance, and the sooner one begins, the sooner one can find the sweet peace and joy that come with the miracle of forgiveness.

  4. 4.

    Drink from the divine fountain and fill your lives with positive sources of power. It is not enough simply to try to resist evil or empty our lives of sin. We must also fill our lives with righteousness. We must engage in activities that bring spiritual power. I speak of such activities as immersing ourselves in the scriptures. There is a power that flows into our lives when we read and study the scriptures on a daily basis that cannot be found in any other way. Daily prayer is another source of great power. Fasting for specific strength or special blessings can strengthen us beyond our normal ability. Christian service, church attendance, service in the kingdom—all can add to our storehouse of strength and power. We must do more than simply remove the negative influences from our lives. We must replace them with righteous activities that fill us with the strength and determination to live as we should.

  5. 5.

    Remember that through proper repentance you can become clean again. Moroni taught that “despair cometh because of iniquity” (Moroni 10:22). Those who are caught in immorality may be experiencing the devastating effects of despair. But there is an alternative. For those who pay the price required by true repentance, the promise is sure. You can be clean again. The despair can be lifted. The sweet peace of forgiveness will flow into your lives.

Finding Joy

The words of the Lord through Isaiah are sure: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

And in this dispensation the Lord spoke with equal clarity when He said, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).

As I said earlier, when it comes to the law of chastity, it is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent.

My beloved brothers and sisters in the gospel, our Heavenly Father desires nothing for us but to be happy. He tells us only those things that will bring us joy. And one of the surest principles given by God to help us find that joy is the law of chastity.

I pray with all my heart that you will consider most solemnly the joyful consequences of keeping this law and the tragic consequence of violating it. And I do this in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Office of the First Presidency

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

Standards of Morality and Fidelity

We call upon members to renew their commitment to live the Lord’s standard of moral conduct. Parents should teach their children the sacred nature of procreative powers and instill in them a desire to be chaste in thought and deed. A correct understanding of the divinely appointed roles of men and women will fortify all against sinful practices. Our only real safety, physically and spiritually, lies in keeping the Lord’s commandments.

The Lord’s law of moral conduct is abstinence outside of lawful marriage and fidelity within marriage. Sexual relations are proper only between husband and wife appropriately expressed within the bonds of marriage. Any other sexual contact, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual and lesbian behavior, is sinful. Those who persist in such practices or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline.

We remind you of scriptures that make clear the relationship between one’s thoughts and actions (see Matthew 15:19; Mosiah 4:29–30; Alma 12:14; 3 Nephi 12:28; D&C 121:45). There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior. However, such thoughts and feelings, regardless of their causes, can and should be overcome and sinful behavior should be eliminated. This can be achieved through faith in God, sincere repentance, and persistent effort. The help of others may be needed. We commend and encourage those who are overcoming inappropriate thoughts and feelings. We plead with those involved in such behavior to forsake it. We love them and pray for them. We are confident that through repentance and obtaining needed help, they can experience the peace that comes from conforming their lives to God’s teachings.

Individuals and their families desiring help with these matters should seek counsel from their bishop, branch president, stake or district president. We encourage Church leaders and members to reach out with love and understanding to those struggling with these issues. Many will respond to Christlike love and inspired counsel as they receive an invitation to come back and apply the atoning and healing power of the Savior (see Isaiah 53:4–5; Mosiah 4:2–3).

Sincerely your brethren,
Ezra Taft Benson
Gordon B. Hinckley
Thomas S. Monson
The First Presidency

Our Moral Environment

Elder Boyd K. Packer

Elder Boyd K. Packer

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In Conference Report, Apr. 1992, 91–95; or Ensign, May 1992, 66–68

I have been a General Authority for over thirty years and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for twenty-two. During those years I have interviewed I don’t know how many, surely thousands, of members of the Church and have talked with them in intimate terms of their worthiness, their sorrow, and their happiness. I mention that only in the hope that the credential of experience may persuade you to consider matters which have us deeply worried.

Moral Environment

Today I speak to members of the Church as an environmentalist. My message is not on the physical but on the moral and spiritual environment in which we must raise our families. As we test the moral environment, we find the pollution index is spiraling upward.

The Book of Mormon depicts humanity struggling through a “mist of darkness” and defines the darkness as the “temptations of the devil” (1 Nephi 8:23; 12:17). So dense was that moral pollution that many followed “strange roads” and “fell away into forbidden paths and were lost” (see 1 Nephi 8:23–32).

The deliberate pollution of the fountain of life now clouds our moral environment. The gift of mortal life and the capacity to kindle other lives is a supernal blessing. Its worth is incalculable!

The Spiritual Environment

The rapid, sweeping deterioration of values is characterized by a preoccupation—even an obsession—with the procreative act. Abstinence before marriage and fidelity within it are openly scoffed at, marriage and parenthood ridiculed as burdensome, unnecessary. Modesty, a virtue of a refined individual or society, is all but gone.

The Tempter

The adversary is jealous toward all who have the power to beget life. He cannot beget life; he is impotent. He and those who followed him were cast out and forfeited the right to a mortal body. His angels even begged to inhabit the bodies of swine (see Matthew 8:31). And the revelations tell us that “he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27).

With ever fewer exceptions, what we see and read and hear have the mating act as a central theme. Censorship is forced offstage as a violation of individual freedom.

That which should be absolutely private is disrobed and acted out center stage. In the shadows backstage are addiction, pornography, perversion, infidelity, abortion, incest, and molestation. In company with them now is a plague of biblical proportion. And all of them are on the increase.

Society excuses itself from responsibility except for teaching the physical process of reproduction to children in school to prevent pregnancy and disease and providing teenagers with devices which are supposed to protect them from both.

When any effort is made to include values in these courses—basic universal values, not just values of the Church, but of civilization, of society itself—the protest arises, “You are imposing religion upon us, infringing upon our freedom.”

Freedom to Choose

While we pass laws to reduce pollution of the earth, any proposal to protect the moral and spiritual environment is shouted down and marched against as infringing upon liberty, agency, freedom, the right to choose.

Interesting how one virtue, when given exaggerated or fanatical emphasis, can be used to batter down another, with freedom, a virtue, invoked to protect vice. Those determined to transgress see any regulation of their life-style as interfering with their agency and seek to have their actions condoned by making them legal.

People who are otherwise sensible say, “I do not intend to indulge, but I vote for freedom of choice for those who do.”

Flawed Argument

Regardless of how lofty and moral the “pro-choice” argument sounds, it is badly flawed. With that same logic one could argue that all traffic signs and barriers which keep the careless from danger should be pulled down on the theory that each individual must be free to choose how close to the edge he will go.

No Free Agency

The phrase “free agency” does not appear in scripture. The only agency spoken of there is moral agency, “which,” the Lord said, “I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” (D&C 101:78; italics added.)

Heeding the Warning

And the Lord warned members of his Church, “Let not that which I have appointed be polluted by mine enemies, by the consent of those who call themselves after my name: For this is a very sore and grievous sin against me, and against my people” (D&C 101:97–98; italics added).

Because the laws of man, by and large, do not raise moral issues, we are taught to honor, sustain, and obey the law (see Articles of Faith 1:12) and that “he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land” (D&C 58:21).

The Right to Speak Out

When a moral issue does arise, it is the responsibility of the leaders of the Church to speak out. Gambling, for instance, certainly is a moral issue. Life is a moral issue. When morality is involved, we have both the right and the obligation to raise a warning voice. We do not as a church speak on political issues unless morality is involved. In thirty years and thousands of interviews, I have never once asked members of the Church what political party they belonged to.

Physical and Moral Laws

There are both moral and physical laws “irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world” (D&C 130:20) which man cannot overrule.

For instance, do you think a vote to repeal the law of gravity would do any good?


Suppose a law decreed that all children would be taken from their parents and raised by the state. Such a law would be wicked but probably could be enforced. Such things have been done before.

But suppose an article of that law stated, “Within fifteen days the mother will cease all emotional ties to her child.”

That provision is absolutely unenforceable. No matter how severe the penalty or the number of enforcers, it is absolutely unenforceable because it contravenes both natural and moral law.

No matter if fifteen weeks or months or fifteen years were allowed, it cannot be enforced! It may work with animals, but “all flesh,” the scriptures teach, “is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts” (1 Corinthians 15:39). It cannot be made to work with human mothers. Never!

A man-made law against nature would be as impossible to defend as a law annulling love between mother and child would be impossible to enforce!

Children of God

No greater ideal has been revealed than the supernal truth that we are the children of God, and we differ, by virtue of our creation, from all other living things (see Moses 6:8–10, 22, 59).

The Evil Idea

No idea has been more destructive of happiness; no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak and mischief; no idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals, compelled to yield to every carnal urge.

Animals are not subject to moral law. Nevertheless, while by and large they are promiscuous in responding to their mating instincts, their mating rituals have set patterns and have rigid limitations. For instance, animals do not pair up with their own gender to satisfy their mating instincts. Nor are these instincts expressed in the molestation of their offspring.

The source of life is now relegated to the level of unwed pleasure, bought and sold and even defiled in satanic rituals. Children of God can willfully surrender to their carnal nature and, without remorse, defy the laws of morality and degrade themselves even below the beasts.

Most Abominable

If we pollute our fountains of life, there will be penalties “exquisite” and “hard to bear” (see D&C 19:15), more than all of the physical pleasure ever could be worth. Alma told his son Corianton, “Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?” (Alma 39:5).

The code for moral law is found in the scriptures, stated as simply as, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). The scriptures speak in general terms, leaving us free to apply the principles of the gospel to meet the infinite variety of life. But when they say “thou shalt not,” we had better pay attention.

The only legitimate employment of the power of procreation is between husband and wife, man and woman, who have been legally and lawfully married. Anything else violates the commandments of God. From Alma, “If ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled” (Alma 5:58). …


In the battle of life, the adversary takes enormous numbers of prisoners, and many who know of no way to escape and are pressed into his service. Every soul confined to a concentration camp of sin and guilt has a key to the gate. The adversary cannot hold them if they know how to use it. The key is labeled Repentance. The twin principles of repentance and forgiveness exceed in strength the awesome power of the adversary.

I know of no sins connected with the moral standard for which we cannot be forgiven. I do not exempt abortion. The formula is stated in forty words:

“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.

“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:42–43).

I Will Remember Your Sins No More

However long and painful the process of repentance, the Lord has said:

“This is the covenant … I will make with them. … I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;

“And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 10:16–17; italics added).

Civilizations, like Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed themselves by disobedience to the laws of morality. “For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction” (2 Nephi 26:11; see also Genesis 6:3; Ether 2:15; D&C 1:33; Moses 8:17).

God grant that we will come to our senses and protect our moral environment from this mist of darkness which deepens day by day. The fate of all humanity hangs precariously in the balance.

And may we have the protection of Him who is our Father and our God, and may we merit the love and blessings of His Son, our Redeemer, in whose name, even the name of Jesus Christ, I bear witness, amen.

Personal Purity

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In Conference Report, Oct. 1998, 98–102; or Ensign, Nov. 1998, 75–78

Personal Purity

As modern winds of immorality swirl luridly around them, I am concerned for any of our youth or young adults who may be confused about principles of personal purity, about obligations of total chastity before marriage and complete fidelity after it. Against what is happening in the world they see and hear, and hoping to fortify parents as they teach their children a higher standard, I wish to speak today about moral cleanliness. Because this subject is as sacred as any I know, I earnestly pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me in remarks that are more candid than I would wish to make. Today I know how Jacob in the Book of Mormon felt when he said on the same topic, “It grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech.”1

In approaching this subject, I do not document a host of social ills for which the statistics are as grim as the examples are offensive. Nor will I present here a checklist of do’s and don’ts about dating and boy-girl relationships. What I wish to do is more personal—I wish to try to answer questions some of you may have been asking: Why should we be morally clean? Why is it such an important issue to God? Does the Church have to be so strict about it? How could anything society exploits and glamorizes so openly be very sacred or serious?

A River of Fire

May I begin with a lesson from civilization’s long, instructive story. Will and Ariel Durant have written: “No man [or woman], however brilliant or well-informed, can … safely … dismiss … the wisdom of [lessons learned] in the laboratory of history. A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; [but] if he is unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he … understand[s] that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.”2

A more important scriptural observation is offered by the writer of Proverbs: “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? … Whoso committeth adultery … destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away.”3

Why Is Sexual Purity So Important?

Why is this matter of sexual relationships so severe that fire is almost always the metaphor, with passion pictured vividly in flames? What is there in the potentially hurtful heat of this that leaves one’s soul—or the whole world, for that matter—destroyed if that flame is left unchecked and those passions unrestrained? What is there in all of this that prompts Alma to warn his son Corianton that sexual transgression is “an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?”4

By assigning such seriousness to a physical appetite so universally bestowed, what is God trying to tell us about its place in His plan for all men and women? I submit to you He is doing precisely that—commenting about the very plan of life itself. Clearly among His greatest concerns regarding mortality are how one gets into this world and how one gets out of it. He has set very strict limits in these matters.

Fortunately, in the case of how life is terminated, most seem to be quite responsible. But in the significance of giving life, we sometimes find near-criminal irresponsibility. May I offer three reasons why this is an issue of such magnitude and consequence in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Doctrine of the Human Soul

First is the revealed, restored doctrine of the human soul.

One of the “plain and precious” truths restored in this dispensation is that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man”5 and that when the spirit and body are separated, men and women “cannot receive a fulness of joy.”6 That is the reason why obtaining a body is so fundamentally important in the first place, why sin of any kind is such a serious matter (namely because it is sin that ultimately brings both physical and spiritual death), and why the resurrection of the body is so central to the great triumph of Christ’s Atonement.

The body is an essential part of the soul. This distinctive and very important Latter-day Saint doctrine underscores why sexual sin is so serious. We declare that one who uses the God-given body of another without divine sanction abuses the very soul of that individual, abuses the central purpose and processes of life—“the very key”7 to life, as President Boyd K. Packer once called it. In exploiting the body of another—which means exploiting his or her soul—one desecrates the Atonement of Christ, which saved that soul and which makes possible the gift of eternal life. And when one mocks the Son of Righteousness, one steps into a realm of heat hotter and holier than the noonday sun. You cannot do so and not be burned.

Please, never say: “Who does it hurt? Why not a little freedom? I can transgress now and repent later.” Please don’t be so foolish and so cruel. You cannot with impunity “crucify Christ afresh.”8 “Flee fornication,” Paul cries,9 and flee “anything like unto it,10 the Doctrine and Covenants adds. Why? Well, for one reason because of the incalculable suffering in both body and spirit endured by the Savior of the world so that we could flee.11 We owe Him something for that. Indeed, we owe Him everything for that. “Ye are not your own,” Paul says. “Ye [have been] bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”12 In sexual transgression the soul is at stake—the body and the spirit.

The Ultimate Symbol of Total Union

Secondly, may I stress that human intimacy is reserved for a married couple because it is the ultimate symbol of total union, a totality and a union ordained and defined by God. From the Garden of Eden onward, marriage was intended to mean the complete merger of a man and a woman—their hearts, hopes, lives, love, family, future, everything. Adam said of Eve that she was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, and that they were to be “one flesh” in their life together.13 This is a union of such completeness that we use the word seal to convey its eternal promise. The Prophet Joseph Smith once said we perhaps could render such a sacred bond as being “welded”14 one to another.

But such a total union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with solemn promises and the pledge of all they possess—their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams.

Can you see the moral schizophrenia that comes from pretending you are one, pretending you have made solemn promises before God, sharing the physical symbols and the physical intimacy of your counterfeit union but then fleeing, retreating, severing all such other aspects of what was meant to be a total obligation?

In matters of human intimacy, you must wait! You must wait until you can give everything, and you cannot give everything until you are legally and lawfully married. To give illicitly that which is not yours to give (remember, “you are not your own”) and to give only part of that which cannot be followed with the gift of your whole self is emotional Russian roulette. If you persist in pursuing physical satisfaction without the sanction of heaven, you run the terrible risk of such spiritual, psychic damage that you may undermine both your longing for physical intimacy and your ability to give wholehearted devotion to a later, truer love. You may come to that truer moment of ordained love, of real union, only to discover to your horror that what you should have saved you have spent, and that only God’s grace can recover the piecemeal dissipation of the virtue you so casually gave away. On your wedding day the very best gift you can give your eternal companion is your very best self—clean and pure and worthy of such purity in return.

A Symbol of the Relationship with God

Thirdly, may I say that physical intimacy is not only a symbolic union between a husband and a wife—the very uniting of their souls—but it is also symbolic of a shared relationship between them and their Father in Heaven. He is immortal and perfect. We are mortal and imperfect. Nevertheless we seek ways even in mortality whereby we can unite with Him spiritually. In so doing we gain some access to both the grace and the majesty of His power. Those special moments include kneeling at a marriage altar in the house of the Lord, blessing a newborn baby, baptizing and confirming a new member of the Church, partaking of the emblems of the Lord’s Supper, and so forth.

These are moments when we quite literally unite our will with God’s will, our spirit with His spirit, where communion through the veil becomes very real. At such moments we not only acknowledge His divinity but we quite literally take something of that divinity to ourselves. One aspect of that divinity given to virtually all men and women is the use of His power to create a human body, that wonder of all wonders, a genetically and spiritually unique being never before seen in the history of the world and never to be duplicated again in all the ages of eternity. A child, your child—with eyes and ears and fingers and toes and a future of unspeakable grandeur.

Probably only a parent who has held that newborn infant in his or her arms understands the wonder of which I speak. Suffice it to say that of all the titles God has chosen for Himself, Father is the one He favors most, and creation is His watchword—especially human creation, creation in His image. You and I have been given something of that godliness, but under the most serious and sacred of restrictions. The only control placed on us is self-control—self-control born of respect for the divine sacramental power this gift represents.

Control Sacred Procreative Powers

My beloved friends, especially my young friends, can you see why personal purity is such a serious matter? Can you understand why the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles would issue a proclamation declaring that “the means by which mortal life is created [is] divinely appointed” and that “the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife”?15 Don’t be deceived and don’t be destroyed. Unless such powers are controlled and commandments kept, your future may be burned; your world could go up in flames. Penalty may not come on the precise day of transgression, but it comes surely and certainly enough. And unless there is true repentance and obedience to a merciful God, then someday, somewhere, the morally cavalier and unclean will pray like the rich man who wished Lazarus to “dip … his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”16

The Peace and Renewal of Repentance

I have declared here the solemn word of revelation that the spirit and the body constitute the soul of man, and that through the Atonement of Christ the body shall rise from the grave to unite with the spirit in an eternal existence. That body is therefore something to be kept pure and holy. Do not be afraid of soiling its hands in honest labor. Do not be afraid of scars that may come in defending the truth or fighting for the right, but beware scars that spiritually disfigure, that come to you in activities you should not have undertaken, that befall you in places where you should not have gone. Beware the wounds of any battle in which you have been fighting on the wrong side.17

If some of you are carrying such wounds—and I know that you are—to you is extended the peace and renewal of repentance available through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. In such serious matters the path of repentance is not easily begun nor painlessly traveled. But the Savior of the world will walk that essential journey with you. He will strengthen you when you waver. He will be your light when it seems most dark. He will take your hand and be your hope when hope seems all you have left. His compassion and mercy, with all their cleansing and healing power, are freely given to all who truly wish complete forgiveness and will take the steps that lead to it.

Glorify God in Body and Spirit

I bear witness of the great plan of life, of the powers of godliness, of mercy and forgiveness and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ—all of which have profound meaning in matters of moral cleanliness. I testify that we are to glorify God in our body and in our spirit. I thank heaven for legions of the young who are doing just that and helping others do the same. I thank heaven for homes where this is taught. That lives of personal purity may be reverenced by all, I pray in the name of purity Himself, even the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.


  •   1.

    Jacob 2:7; see Jacob 2 and 3 for the full context of his sermon on chastity.

  •   2.

    The Lessons of History (1968), 35–36.

  •   3.

    Proverbs 6:27–28, 32–33.

  •   4.

    Alma 39:5.

  •   5.

    Doctrine and Covenants 88:15.

  •   6.

    Doctrine and Covenants 93:34.

  •   7.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 139; or Ensign, July 1972, 113.

  •   8.

    See Hebrews 6:6.

  •   9.

    1 Corinthians 6:18.

  •   10.

    Doctrine and Covenants 59:6; italics added.

  •   11.

    See especially Doctrine and Covenants 19:15–20.

  •   12.

    1 Corinthians 6:19–20; italics added; see also verses 13–18.

  •   13.

    See Genesis 2:23–24.

  •   14.

    See Doctrine and Covenants 128:18.

  •   15.

    “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.

  •   16.

    Luke 16:24.

  •   17.

    See James E. Talmage, in Conference Report, Oct. 1913, 117.