M. Russell Ballard
Even before you came to earth, you made promises to Heavenly Father. Keep them, and He promises marvelous blessings in return.

You Promised

We live in a world awash in moral pollution, including drugs, violence, foul language, and pornography. Videotapes, films, and television promote illicit sex as normal. Debates rage to make abortion acceptable.

Because of this flood of filth, some of you may not understand our Heavenly Father’s plan well enough to appreciate how important living a morally clean life is if you want to enjoy peace, happiness, and self-esteem.

But when you understand the truths of the gospel and commit to live them, you will gain the spiritual guidance you need to be young men and women of purity, integrity, and faith. Yes, you face difficult challenges. But remember you do not face them alone. There are people who love you and want you to be happy, who want the very best for you. Most especially, your Father in Heaven loves you and wants you to have joy and happiness.

When you entered the waters of baptism, you promised you would “humble [yourselves] before God, … and witness before the church that [you] have truly repented of all [your] sins, and are willing to take upon [yourselves] the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by [your] works that [you] have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of [your] sins” (D&C 20:37).

Many of you were baptized when you were eight years old. Even though you may not have realized at that time the full importance of this promise, you are still under this covenant. Your Heavenly Father has promised in return that He will give marvelous blessings to those who keep His commandments and endure faithfully to the end. The Apostle Paul wrote that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

I remind you young men who have been ordained to the priesthood that you have made an additional covenant with God, a sacred promise that you would honor your priesthood faithfully (see D&C 84:33–42). We are pleased to know that many of you are true in every way to your priesthood covenants and are preparing yourselves to receive the Lord’s promised blessings. Unfortunately, we know also that too many young men of the priesthood pay little attention to the serious nature of their sacred promises made with Heavenly Father.

Let me explain why you young men and women must keep your covenants you have made with God.

In the premortal world before we left the presence of Heavenly Father, He warned us about new experiences we would have in mortality. We knew we would have a physical body. Never having been mortal before, we had no experience dealing with the temptations of mortality. But Heavenly Father knew and understood. He charged us to control our mortal bodies and to make them subject to our spirits. Spiritual power over the influence of Satan comes to us by keeping the commandments of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Being here on earth for the first time in our eternal existence, we are away from the protective presence of our Father in Heaven and are subject to the influence of Satan and his followers. Remember that Satan even tried to tempt the Savior. After Jesus was baptized, He went into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days. Satan chose that moment during Christ’s hunger and physical weakness to tempt Him. But Jesus did not succumb; He stood firm.

Satan will seek to tempt us at times and in ways that exploit our greatest weaknesses or destroy our strengths. But his promises of pleasure are short-lived deceptions. His evil design is to tempt us into sinning, knowing that when we sin we begin to move away from Heavenly Father’s promised blessings toward the misery in which Satan and his followers languish. By sinning we put ourselves in Satan’s power.

We understand the struggles you face every day in keeping the commandments of the Lord. The battle for your souls is increasingly fierce. The adversary is strong and cunning. However, you have within your physical body the powerful spirit of a son or daughter of God. Because He loves you and wants you to come home to Him, our Father in Heaven has given you a conscience that tells your spirit when you are keeping the Lord’s commandments and when you are not. If you will pay more attention to your spiritual self, which is eternal, than to your mortal self, which is temporary, you can always resist the temptations of Satan and conquer his efforts to take you into his power.

You must be honest with yourself and remain true to the covenants you have made with God. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you can sin a little and it will not matter. Remember, “the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31).

Some young men and women in the Church talk openly about sexual transgression. They seem to forget that the Lord forbids all sexual relations before marriage, including petting, sex perversion of any kind, or preoccupation with sex in thought, speech, or action. Some youth foolishly rationalize that it is “no big deal” to sin now because they can always repent later when they want to go to the temple or on a mission. Anyone who does that is breaking promises made to God both in the premortal life and in the waters of baptism.

The idea of sinning a little is self-deception. Sin is sin! Sin weakens you spiritually, and it always places the sinner at eternal risk. Choosing to sin, even with the intent to repent, is simply turning away from God and violating covenants.

Gratefully, many of you young men honor your priesthood and many young women “stand for truth and righteousness” as stated in the Young Women’s motto. We commend you for your fidelity and integrity.

For those who have strayed, the Savior has provided a way back. But it is not without pain. Repentance is not easy; it takes time—painful time! You deceive yourself if you believe you can break the promises you have made with Heavenly Father and suffer no consequence.

Most of you know of an inspired pamphlet prepared for you by the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles, entitled For the Strength of Youth (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1990). It contains guidelines to help you measure your moral conduct. I urge you to read every word over and over again so you will understand what the Lord and His church expect of you. Carry the small wallet-size summary card with you. Read carefully the section in the pamphlet that teaches principles of sexual purity and follow the counsel with exactness.

Those of you who have been unwise and have transgressed should read and pray about the section on repentance.

Stake and mission presidents and bishops and branch presidents recently received instructions from the First Presidency on recommending worthy and qualified members for full-time missionary service. We expect them to follow the instructions precisely and to teach you, your leaders, and your parents these long-established principles. Missionaries must be morally clean and spiritually prepared to serve the Lord in today’s world. Your leaders and your parents will do all in their power to help you avoid any sin that could disqualify you for service in the kingdom of God.

I encourage you to take time each week to be by yourself, away from television and the crowd. Have your scriptures with you and as you read, ponder, and pray, take an honest look at your life. Evaluate where you stand with the promises you have made with Heavenly Father. If you have a problem, talk it over with the Lord in earnest and humble prayer. Counsel with your parents; they will help you. Your bishop and your Young Men and Young Women adult leaders will help. They love you and want you to be at peace with yourself so you can partake of the sacrament worthily each week.

When all is said and done, however, only you know if you are living true to your covenants made with God. When the day comes for you to attend the temple, you will be grateful you followed the counsel of the Lord and chose to be morally clean.

May God bless each of you young men and women with a pure heart and a sincere desire to serve the Lord worthily. I know that if you will have the courage to keep your covenants and follow the counsel of your parents and Church leaders, you will have the desire and the strength to live worthy lives. You then will be prepared for your responsibilities in your homes, in the Church, and in your communities, and will be prepared to return to your Heavenly Father.

For the Strength of Youth—A guide to help you keep your promises

“We want you to know that we love you. We have great confidence in you. Because of that, we talk to you frankly and honestly. …

“God loves you as He loves each and every one of His children. His desire, purpose, and glory is to have you return to Him pure and undefiled, having proven yourselves worthy of an eternity of joy in His presence. …

“We counsel you to choose to live a morally clean life. The prophet Alma declared, ‘Wickedness never was happiness’ (Alma 41:10). Truer words were never spoken!

“You cannot do wrong and feel right. It is impossible! …

“We pray that you—the young and rising generation—will keep your bodies and minds clean, free from the contaminations of the world, that you will be fit and pure vessels to bear triumphantly the responsibilities of the kingdom of God in preparation for the second coming of our Savior.”

For the Strength of Youth, pp. 3–5

“Some people knowingly break God’s commandments. They plan to repent before they go on a mission or receive the sacred covenants and ordinances of the temple. Repentance for such behavior is difficult and painful and may take a long time. It is better to not commit the sin. Certain sins are of such gravity that they can put your membership in the Church and your eternal life at risk. Sexual sins are among those of such seriousness.

“Where choices have already led to sexual impurity, repentance is the way back. Talk to your parents and your bishop. They love you and will explain to you how to repent and put your life in order again. Follow their counsel.

“The miracle of forgiveness is real, and true repentance is accepted by the Lord. Full repentance of some sins requires that we not only confess and resolve them with the Lord but that we also do so with the Church. The bishop and stake president have been appointed by revelation to serve as judges in these cases.

“Only the Lord can forgive sins, but these priesthood leaders can assist the transgressor in the process of repentance. … If you have sinned, the sooner you begin to make your way back, the sooner you will find the sweet peace and joy that come with the miracle of forgiveness.”

For the Strength of Youth, pp. 17–18

[photo] Photography by Phil Shurtleff