The period of life called youth is an extremely critical time. It is during these early years that the essential patterns for our entire lives are set. The desires we develop for right or wrong, the tastes, the ideals, and habits developed during our first 15 to 20 years tend to stay with us.
In spite of some opinions to the contrary, my experience over the years leads me to believe that there was never a time when the majority of our youth have more sincerely sought to learn and live the truth than at present. At the same time I believe there was never a time when the adversary has provided more enticements, more subtle temptations, and more false justifications for wrongdoing than now.
In the adversary we are faced with an enemy who is anxious to deceive and mislead us. He is also called Satan, the devil, the destroyer, the evil one, perdition, Beelzebub, and other names that point out his opposition to God and Jesus Christ and to all those who seek righteousness. Let us briefly consider (1) some characteristics of the adversary, (2) how he operates, (3) what he tries to get us to do, and (4) how we can resist him.
Satan lives. We must realize that he lives just as certainly as God lives and as we live. Those who teach that there is no devil are either ignorant of the facts or are deceivers.
The devil has appeared to many people. He visited Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Again, as the Savior was beginning his ministry, Lucifer appeared to him and tried to destroy him through temptation—and failed. As a teenager Joseph Smith felt the power of Satan when he first called upon God in vocal prayer.
“I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me. … Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.” (JS—H 1:15.)
Other members of the Church have testified that they have seen Satan or have felt his awesome power.
Able enough to convince one-third of the spirit children of God, Lucifer is known to have a persuasive and compelling personality and has developed great administrative skills. (See D&C 29:36–38.) In the pre-earth life he was so important as to be “an angel of God” who “became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.” (2 Ne. 2:17; see also D&C 76:25.)
That which Satan sought as being “evil before God” was to force all men to do the will of God. Using compulsion or force he offered to “save” every person, and for so doing he demanded the honor and the glory that belongs to God. In contrast to Satan’s proposition, the Lord’s plan permitted individual progress by giving us the right to choose between good and evil.
Using his superior knowledge, his unique powers of persuasion, half-truths, and complete lies, the evil one uses the spirit children who followed him, plus mortal beings who have yielded to his evil ways, to wage his war against the Saints, and they will, if they can, influence us to become critical and to rebel against God. And thus he destroys the souls of men. (See D&C 10:20–22.)
“Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about.” (D&C 76:29.)
In this war against the Saints, Satan does not hesitate to use power. “Force,” President David O. McKay has said, “emanates and comes from Lucifer himself.” (Gospel Ideals [Improvement Era publication, 1953], p. 302.) Satan often rules people through dictatorships and other forms of compulsion and force. When Satan’s power is strong in government, severe restrictions are imposed on worship, travel, communications, and other precious rights and activities. Even where more democratic governments operate he remains active in sponsoring criminal gangs, witchcraft, Satan worship, evil and secret organizations, and other groups that run counter to the principles of the gospel. These groups all attempt to use force and fear to achieve their ends.
However, if force will not achieve his ends, Satan is quick to use more subtle and enticing means. He presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, with great charm and grace. He is very careful to integrate himself into the favor of the powerful and influential among mankind. He unites with popular movements and programs, only to use them as a means of doing that which ultimately oppresses and takes away God-given freedoms. (See Discourses of Brigham Young, [Deseret Book Co., 1954], p. 69.)
Satan will not ordinarily appear himself to do his dirty work. Rather, he will most often act through friends or acquaintances in whom we have confidence. Being disobedient themselves, they will attempt to persuade us to violate the standards of the Church and the commandments of God. Moreover, Satan will, as President Joseph Fielding Smith has written, “place thoughts in our minds and … whisper to us in unspoken impressions to entice us to satisfy our appetites or desires and in various ways he plays upon our weaknesses and desires.” (Answers to Gospel Questions [Deseret Book Co., 1972], 3:81.) This the prophet Nephi beheld in our day and, enlightened by the Spirit of God, wrote of it:
“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Ne. 28:8, 21.)
Satan tries to lead people away from our Heavenly Father and to persuade them to worship him. In this effort he has been enormously successful. He declares himself to be the God of the world, and he has the support and adoration of those who abandon or reject the sacred teachings of the gospel and follow the ways of the world. Satan’s followers almost universally ridicule those who attempt to follow God’s commandments. Thus, to resist evil requires courage and self-discipline sufficient to choose the right in all circumstances. The reward for this is peace within.
For example, I think of a young boy who, rather than join his companions one night in an unbecoming escapade, chose to walk more than six miles to his home while his friends in the car proceeded to carry out their sinful plans. I imagine that boy slept well when he did arrive at home, not only because of the long walk, but also because he had earned peace of mind. No doubt his parents were proud of him. Truly, “a wise son maketh a glad father.” (Prov. 10:1.) It requires no great moral courage to run with the pack, so to speak.
One of the most infamous snares set out by the adversary is that of unchastity. The power to bring forth children is God-given. If it is guarded and held sacred, it will result in happiness and blessings beyond measure. But if it is desecrated and polluted through illicit use, it will eventually bring sorrow, misery, and regret.
During the last world war, in October 1942, the First Presidency of the Church issued a warning to the Latter-day Saints, and to all people in general, against the dreaded sins of unchastity. Among other things they said:
“The doctrine of this Church is that sexual sin—the illicit relations of men and women—stands in its enormity, next to murder. … You cannot escape the punishments and judgments which the Lord has declared against this sin. The day of reckoning will come just as surely as night follows day.”
In an address given recently to some 15,000 youth, President Spencer W. Kimball said it is time a spade is called a spade and all premarital intimacy called sin. He told them that lust is often disguised under the premise of love.
“At the hour of sinful indulgence, pure love is pushed out one window while lust sneaks in the other; … you have accepted the doctrine which the devil is so eager to establish that illicit sex relations are justified … and are beyond any moral consideration.”
In addition to the snare of immorality in all its forms, Satan welcomes young people into his kingdom through such sins as lying and stealing; violations of the Word of Wisdom, especially drinking, drug abuse, and smoking; failure to keep holy the Sabbath day; and even disobedience to parents.
We can gain complete power to resist the evils caused by Satan through adherence to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may have the Holy Ghost as a companion. When he is within us, Satan must remain without. Study, prayer, faithful living of the commandments of the Lord, and the discharge of Church obligations and duties, coupled with support of the family in home evenings and other spiritually uplifting programs, can provide the basis for having the Holy Ghost as a constant companion.
We must realize, however, that mistakes will be made by each of us. Just as temptations are an ever-present reality in this life, so is the possibility of repentance and complete forgiveness when earnestly sought.
We ought to repent as quickly as possible from our every sinful act before we lose the ability to repent. We must remember, too, that even though complete repentance brings forgiveness and washes us clean, it is better never to sin at all; for in sinning we retard our progress, notwithstanding the perfection, the loving mercy, the kindness, and the forgiveness of the Lord, our God. (See Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, [Deseret Book Co., 1941], 2:144–45.)
President Spencer W. Kimball has assured us that the youth of these latter days are chosen and uniquely called to come to earth at this time. They can find happiness and can achieve spectacular success through living the gospel of Jesus and do more mighty and wonderful deeds for God than any previous generation. “An awareness of the existence, the power, and the plans of Satan, together with a compelling and vibrant testimony of God, of the gospel, and of the plans of our Father, given through Jesus Christ, his Son, and living prophets, can help them achieve unprecedented accomplishments, which will affect their lives eternally.”
Yielding to Satan’s influence always results in unhappiness and eventually in failure to achieve our purpose on earth, while obedience to God’s laws gives assurance of peace, comfort, and ultimate success.