I’m going to ask you to participate in a brief experiment. Start by standing in front of a mirror and reciting out loud to yourself the 13th article of faith\. You may remember it as the longest and last article you memorized as you were preparing to advance from Primary.
Analyze your feelings and mannerisms as you voice the words “We believe in being honest, true, chaste”; “we hope all things”; “we seek after these things”; etc.
Do you feel a little removed or distant from the expression of belief being made? Do the words seem to apply more to we than to me? Do they possibly convey a group but not a strong individual sense of conviction?
Now repeat article 13 again. But this time, personalize it by substituting and emphasizing the pronoun I wherever the pronoun we appears. Say the words slowly and thoughtfully: “I believe in being honest, true, chaste”; “I follow the admonition of Paul”; “I have endured many things”; etc. Do you detect a difference? Does it feel more like a part of you, something you truly accept and are personally committed to?
There is a critical difference between living our lives by rules and standards that seem imposed on us and living by standards that we regard as our own. Adopting as our own the standards of conduct God’s prophets have established is an important part of growing up and becoming converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For most young people it involves a gradual process of spiritual maturing during which the gospel standards become something we are, not just something we believe or do.
This important transition begins when we decide to make the gospel of Jesus Christ—God’s plan for our lives—our own personal plan for life. If we seek to obey the standards, requirements, and commandments which are included in God’s plan, we will come to know they are true (see John 7:16–17). If we then do our best to make right choices and to repent of mistakes and sins, we eventually experience what the scriptures refer to as a “mighty change” in our hearts (see Alma 5:14–26). At this point, standards are no longer a source of irritation or even something we reluctantly tolerate. Instead, they become our friends, and we appreciate and embrace them. In a sense they are us!
When we reach this milestone in our spiritual progression, some wonderful blessings and consequences will follow. Most importantly, we will experience the joy and peace of conscience that come as a result of worthiness. The earliest memory I have of the relationship between keeping God’s standards and experiencing happiness is associated with my own baptism. I recall the anticipation I felt as I awaited my eighth birthday and how sincerely I tried to exercise faith in Christ and repent of any wrongdoing. When the memorable day came, the ordinances themselves were most impressive. I vividly remember the warm water enveloping me and the equally warm spiritual feeling I later had as I was confirmed and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. The joyous feeling of being clean and close to God meant so much to me that I vowed I would never sin again. Unfortunately, my youthful good intentions failed a few days later when I responded in frustration to my older brother’s teasing by uttering what my parents had warned me was a “naughty” word. Much to my dismay, my ever-vigilant mother overheard me and came dashing out of the house with fire in her eyes! She marched me down a path to our dairy barn where my father kept a basin of water and a bar of soap. Pushing my head toward the basin, she began vigorously scrubbing my mouth out with soap, all the while impressing upon me her desire that I “never use such words again!”
Although it has been more than 50 years since that humiliating moment, I still remember perfectly the deep sadness I felt because I had offended my brother, my mother, and, most serious of all, my Heavenly Father. I learned then a lesson that the First Presidency has taught and which has been reconfirmed many times in my life: We cannot do wrong and feel right (see For the Strength of Youth, 4).
Through the years, I have also come to understand that the joy I experienced at the time of my baptism, and many times since, depends upon loving relationships with God, family, and others. God provides standards to protect those relationships from the damage that naturally accompanies sin. For example, sexual activity outside of marriage is enticing to some because it seems to offer closeness and belonging as well as pleasure. However, in reality it damages our relationship with God, brings pain to family and other loved ones, and cheats those who take part in it.
Another desirable consequence of accepting the gospel plan and its standards as our own is that we become more concerned about where we are going, or with the upward direction of our lives, than about how far we can go in pressing against and testing the outer limits of God’s laws. Young people who are becoming truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ are not interested in distinguishing the severity of their sins by using terms like heavy or light, petty or grand. Instead, they know by the Spirit that “the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16), and they strive to avoid sin in all its forms. The idea of deliberately sinning now with the intent of repenting later is quickly rejected by them as being offensive to their Heavenly Father and contrary to His plan for happiness.
As our commitment to the gospel and its standards deepens, our understanding of God’s purposes is enlarged and our feelings about temptation and sin change. In our early years, some temptations may actually appear enticing, and we may struggle with exercising our agency in right ways. Indeed, we may make some mistakes. Thankfully, the gospel provides a way for us to repent and obtain forgiveness. As we progress in choosing and doing the right, we will eventually join King Benjamin’s people in having “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Through obedience, growth even beyond this desirable state is possible—to that condition attained by the Saints in Alma’s day who became so devoted to God and His ways that they “could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence” (Alma 13:12). What a wonderful result of obeying divine standards!
Another wonderful benefit of living according to standards we have internalized is that we gradually eliminate hypocrisy from our thinking and our behavior. The English word hypocrisy comes from a Greek word which means playing a part upon a stage. Until standards become part of our basic character, we sometimes play the role of a religious person without really being one. As we search for our true identity, we may behave like chameleons, frequently changing colors to blend with our surroundings. We act one way at school, another at church.
To most people, however, nothing is more appealing than someone who is “genuine” or “real,” and no one is more genuine or real than a young Latter-day Saint whose behavior consistently matches his or her standards. I know many young Latter-day Saints who live with this high degree of personal integrity. I have met them all over the world, and regardless of language or skin color or dress, they are similar in many ways. They are at peace with God and themselves. They are quietly confident and generally content with their natural abilities and endowments, even though they may not be among the smartest or the most attractive or athletic. They have close and satisfying relationships with God, family, and a variety of friends. Peer pressure really isn’t a factor in their choices between right or wrong. By making God’s standards their own, they have already decided how they will respond when temptation beckons. They also realize that in doing right they are not alone but are part of an ever-growing number of young Latter-day Saints the world over who love God and uphold His standards.
When we feel the closeness to God that comes with keeping His standards, we do not want to do anything to offend Him. Joseph’s experience in resisting Potiphar’s wife is a powerful example of this truth. His moral courage came from his relationship with God, as illustrated by his words: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).
When God feels as close and real to us as He did to Joseph, we will no longer view the gospel simply as a set of rules or standards to be obeyed. We will move to a higher plane and realize that our loyalty is really to a living, loving Father in Heaven who wants us to become like Him and to share eternally with our families in all He has. We must never forget that we are now becoming what we will one day be. His standards will help us become what He is. God bless us to succeed—on His terms!