“A Shield against Evil,” Ensign, Jan. 1996, 28
In every dispensation of time, prophets of God have been commanded to warn his children of the influence of evil among them. In the latter days, we have been blessed not only with living prophets but also with revealed scriptures to teach the faithful how to overcome this evil. President Ezra Taft Benson declared: “The Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. … It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day.”1
Ever since Satan was cast out of the presence of Heavenly Father in the premortal existence, he has been the enemy of our Father, who is the author of all righteousness. By contrast, the Book of Mormon tells us Satan is the “father of all lies” (2 Ne. 2:18; Ether 8:25) and the “author” or “master” of all sin (Hel. 6:30; Mosiah 4:14). It is his purpose to make all of our Father’s children share in his own misery. The Book of Mormon teaches us how he gains power over mankind as well as how we can avoid his snares.
The adversary’s worldly snares are as varied as the weaknesses of men and women. Following are some of those that the Book of Mormon warns us to avoid.
Relying on Worldly Wisdom
When we lack gospel knowledge or rely upon our own wisdom, we may be more easily led into evil. Many “plain and precious” truths have been taken away from the Lord’s teachings given in earlier times, making it possible for people in our day to “stumble” spiritually (1 Ne. 13:29) unless we learn to live by principles revealed again in the Book of Mormon and other modern scripture. It is part of “that cunning plan of the evil one,” however, to convince people when they are learned in worldly ways that they do not need the counsel of God or his prophets (2 Ne. 9:28).
Sherem, the anti-Christ, was able to deceive many Nephites in the time of Jacob because of their lack of scriptural knowledge (see Jacob 7:1–3, 23). Likewise, today some individuals by their smooth words and learning may deceive members of the Church. These modern Sherems call for such things as modifications in Church doctrine and liberalized moral standards. They call into question the decisions and directions of the Lord’s anointed servants, and some members are led into inactivity and even apostasy by these people because they do not search and understand the scriptures as illuminated by the light of the Spirit.
Satan and those who follow him also use their deceptive influence to change people’s perception of evil. Isaiah wrote, “Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil” (2 Ne. 15:20). The Book of Mormon is full of examples of this value switch by those who professed principles that were exactly opposite of the truth, from Laman and Lemuel to King Noah to the Gadianton robbers. Our society is no different. The great value switch takes place in our music, movies, marriages, dress standards, and many other areas. That which is wholesome, modest, or uplifting is often ridiculed or demeaned, and the things of greatest value are called worthless or unrealistic by many.
Anger and Contention
The influence of evil also stirs people up “to anger against that which is good” (2 Ne. 28:20). The more wicked part of the Lamanites, for example, became so angry toward their brothers and sisters who had been converted to the gospel of Christ that they sought to kill them (see Alma 24:1–2, 19–22, 30; Alma 25:1).
An increasingly wicked world not only perceives evil as good but also harbors anger and resentment toward righteous people and principles. Elder William Grant Bangerter of the Seventy, now an emeritus General Authority, summarized this situation as follows: “In doing these wicked things [adultery, indulgence in pornography] they [who participate] suggest that it is not so bad anymore. Since so much of the world accepts these actions, if we resist them or speak out against them, we will be scoffed at. We will be called prudish, Victorian, puritan, and self-righteous, as if we had become the sinners.”2
Contention is a form of anger that can be especially dangerous when it finds a place within our hearts. The Savior warned, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention” (3 Ne. 11:29). The spirit of contention leads to family conflicts and neighborhood disputes. It is also the wind that fans the flames of war and strife between nations.
Seeking Happiness in Sin
In today’s world, evil influences and people also teach that there is happiness in iniquity. Samuel the Lamanite warned the Nephites of the fate that awaited them if they continued in their quest to find happiness in sin:
“Behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head” (Hel. 13:38)
The Book of Mormon offers many examples of people like King Noah and Corianton who learned that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Yet all around us today, advertisements, movies, and books portray evil as the source of happiness. Alcohol, drugs, and infidelity are represented as bringing easy and immediate pleasure and satisfaction. These scenes of artificial bliss in the media entice many to do evil. Seldom do we see portrayed the pain, sorrow, and suffering caused by sin.
Ignorance of Evil
Along with these false concepts of happiness, Satan spreads the rumor that there is no devil (see 2 Ne. 28:22). Evidence of the denial of Satan, and of the false security it leaves in people’s hearts, is abundant. There are those who profess belief in the gospel yet live as though Satan were not real. In violating the laws of God—the principles of chastity or of honoring the Sabbath day, for example—these people give Satan power to destroy their souls.
There are others who would say that the idea of a devil is nothing but a creation of designing men who want to use fear to keep people under their control. This intellectual denial of Satan is like stepping into a boxing ring and convincing oneself there is no opponent while being continually pummeled by the opposition. “We Latter-day Saints need not be, and we must not be, deceived by the sophistries of men concerning the reality of Satan,” warned Elder Marion G. Romney, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (later a counselor in the First Presidency). “There is a personal devil, and we had better believe it. He and a countless host of followers, seen and unseen, are exercising a controlling influence upon men and their affairs in our world today.”3
In addition, “the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray” (2 Ne. 32:8). Satan desires to block our communication with God. He does all he can to cause us to forget or forego our prayers, lulling some away through complacency. He convinces others that they cannot pray because they have committed serious transgressions.
Apathy, or the “all is well” (2 Ne. 28:21) syndrome, is another snare to be avoided. “The peril of this century,” declared Elder David O. McKay (later, President of the Church) when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “is spiritual apathy.”4 This spiritual apathy, complacency, and procrastination all lead to spiritual weakness and leave us dangerously susceptible to the ravages of temptation and sin. Failure to actively seek righteousness can cost us our exaltation as surely as choosing wickedness.
Nephi warned us that Satan and his followers will “justify in committing a little sin” (2 Ne. 28:8). Rationalization of sin is one of the adversary’s most successful tactics in today’s society. It is frequently used to excuse what some see as lesser degrees of evil. We often hear phrases like the following: “This music isn’t that bad compared to the really heavy stuff”; “The prices were too high anyway, so we didn’t tell the clerk he undercharged us”; or “These days any movie has some of that in it.”
Nephi wrote that the devil would lead many “by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever” (2 Ne. 26:22). A flaxen cord would be made of fine, light-colored fiber manufactured from flax—its individual strands soft and thin and easily broken, but as a cord, soft to the touch yet strong and unyielding. If we continually rationalize our involvement with “little sins” we are being subtly, ever so gently, led away by Satan until eventually we will become bound with his “strong cords.”
Vain and Worldly Things
Pride, power, and riches also lead many away from righteousness. Mormon wrote that among the Nephites who lived just before Christ’s coming, “Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world” (3 Ne. 6:15). In the days of Alma the Younger, people in the Church also became proud because of riches and vain things of the world. This led them to ridicule one another and persecute those who did not believe as they did (see Alma 4:6–8).
Unfortunately, for many people in today’s society, pride and prestige seem all-important. Materialism causes people to sacrifice spiritual goals in worldly quests for positions, possessions, and power. Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who lived in exile for many years, warned that while his people suffered oppression under communism, the people of the Western world have been oppressed by materialism, and thus, he said, “I could not recommend your society as an ideal for the transformation of ours.”5
In summary, all the ways and means Satan uses to drag us down cannot be numbered, as King Benjamin declared (see Mosiah 4:29). Satan may not get us to commit adultery, murder, or rob a bank, but then he doesn’t have to do that to cause us to set aside our exaltation. All he has to do is cause us to be turned away from the things that matter most.
How, then, can we possibly resist the adversary and fend off his temptations to commit sin? We must understand several principles and act on them.
In the end the devil will not support his own (see Alma 30:60). We can apply this principle by reminding ourselves that Satan promises great rewards and yet ultimately leads us to sorrow, misery, and destruction. In the Book of Mormon, we see repeated examples of those who fail or are overthrown because of wickedness. Though Satan is the author of that wickedness, we are taught that his reaction when we sin and suffer is laughter and rejoicing (see 3 Ne. 9:2; Moses 7:26).
If we have been lulled into carnal security, we must shake off our spiritual lethargy. Lehi pleaded with Laman and Lemuel:
“O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. …
“Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness” (2 Ne. 1:13, 23).
To awake from Satan’s sleep we must put on the armor of righteousness. President Marion G. Romney declared: “During these closing years of Satan’s power, he is frantically using every conceivable means to deceive and corrupt us.
“There has never been a time since the world began when obedience to Paul’s charge, ‘Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,’ was more imperative than it is today.”6
To put on the armor of righteousness requires more than lip service to spiritual things; we must be willing to put them first in our lives.
• To keep from being overcome by the adversary, one must watch and pray. Several times in the Book of Mormon we are told to watch and pray always to overcome Satan’s temptations (see Alma 13:28; Alma 15:17; Alma 34:39; 3 Ne. 18:18). The act of watching might be compared to serving as a goalie in soccer or hockey, being continually on the alert for scoring attempts by the opposition. Just as the goalie cannot afford to relax on defense, neither can we afford to flirt with temptation and expect to be victorious. Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (later, President of the Church) used the same type of analogy in the following insight about Satan and his forces: “There are carefully charted on the maps of the opposition the weak spots in every one of us. They are known to the forces of evil, and just the moment we lower the defense of any one of those ports, that becomes the D Day of our invasion, and our souls are in danger.”7 Thus, we have great need to watch and be on the defensive against the adversary.
We are not capable of overcoming Satan alone. Because he remembers the premortal existence, he may know things about us that even we do not yet understand. Therefore, we must pray continually for the sustaining help of our Heavenly Father in overcoming his influence and that of his followers. President Brigham Young taught, “The men and women, who desire to obtain seats in the celestial kingdom, will find that they must battle with the enemy of all righteousness every day.”8
• To effectively overcome the influence of evil, we must understand how vital it is to hold to the rod. In answering Laman and Lemuel’s question about the meaning of the rod of iron seen in vision, Nephi said to his brothers that “it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Ne. 15:24).
Holding fast to the word of God means understanding the principles found in the scriptures and incorporating them into our daily lives. Mormon promised that any who were willing could “lay hold upon the word of God,” that it would help us overcome the “cunning and the snares” of the devil, and that it would “land [our] souls … at the right hand of God in the kingdom of Heaven” (Hel. 3:29–30).
• In our efforts to resist the adversary’s influence, we must remember that we are free to choose our own course of life. Samuel the Lamanite taught:
“Remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.
“He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death” (Hel. 14:30–31).
The ideas that “the devil made me do it” or “I couldn’t help myself” are simply false notions and excuses for our own poor choices. “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him,” the Prophet Joseph Smith said. “The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.”9
• It is possible to bind Satan in our lives now.
Many have thought that Satan could be bound only by chains or by being cast into outer darkness. Nephi, however, taught as he looked forward to the Millennium that Satan would be bound in a different way during that blessed period after the Savior’s second coming. “Because of the righteousness of his people [the children of the Holy One of Israel], Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth” (1 Ne. 22:26).
“How, then, will Satan be bound during the Millennium?” asked Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It will be by the righteousness of the people. … It is not that men cannot sin, for the power is in them to do so—they have their agency—but it is that they do not sin because Satan is subject to them, and they are not enticed by his evil whisperings.”10
A change of heart and a will to live righteously can bind Satan. Thus, in the Book of Mormon we find accounts of those who had received a mighty change in their hearts and could say, “We have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2; see also Alma 19:33).
The Book of Mormon provides a classic example of an individual who in large part bound Satan in his life. In Alma 48:11–13, we read:
“Moroni was a  strong and mighty man; he was a man of  a perfect understanding; yea, a man that  did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul  did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery;
“Yea, a man whose  heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessing which he bestowed upon his people; a man who  did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people.
“Yea, and he was a man who  was firm in the faith of Christ.”
The qualities of Captain Moroni identified by number in the verses above all contributed to his ability to bind Satan in his life. Mormon, who abridged this record, was so impressed that he added: “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:17).
The qualities listed above, if acquired and developed, can help us to defend against the influences of evil around us. Captain Moroni obviously understood the things that he and his people needed to do to overcome the adversary in their lives, and he led by example. The Book of Mormon teaches that we can ward off evil in the same way. It stands as a witness to us that we can bind Satan in our lives.