Lessons from the Old Testament: In the World but Not of the World
February 2006

“Lessons from the Old Testament: In the World but Not of the World,” Ensign, Feb. 2006, 53–55

Old Testament

Lessons from the Old Testament:

In the World but Not of the World

Elder Quentin L. Cook

Sodom and Gomorrah have actual and symbolic significance representing wickedness in the world. The Lord appeared to Abraham and said, speaking of those who lived in Sodom and Gomorrah, “Their sin is very grievous” (Gen. 18:20). Their sinfulness was so great, and those who were righteous so few, that God destroyed these two cities of the plain. The great prophet of our own day, President Gordon B. Hinckley, has stated: “All of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah haunt our society. Our young people have never faced a greater challenge. We have never seen more clearly the lecherous face of evil.”1

Separating evil from our lives has become even more essential since our homes are wired to bring much of what the Lord has condemned into our own living rooms if we are not vigilant. One of the most difficult challenges in our lives is to be in the world but not of the world (see John 15:19).2 Gospel doctrine makes it clear that we must live in this world to achieve our eternal destination. We must be tried and tested and found worthy of a greater kingdom (see 2 Ne. 2:11; D&C 101:78). We must do as Abraham did when he pitched his tent and built “an altar unto the Lord” (Gen. 13:18) and not do as Lot did when he “pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Gen. 13:12).

Being a Light to the World

In early 1969, at the height of the “flower children” period in San Francisco, California, the Bay Area was a magnet for drug use and all manner of promiscuous and sinful conduct. A concerned stake president asked the leadership of the Church if Latter-day Saints should be encouraged to remain in the Bay Area. Elder Harold B. Lee (1899–1973), then a senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was assigned to address the issue. He met with a group of priesthood leaders and told them the Lord had not inspired the construction of the Oakland California Temple only to have the members leave. His counsel was for members to create Zion in their hearts and homes, to be a light to those among whom they lived, and to focus on the ordinances and principles taught in the temple.3

We cannot avoid the world. A cloistered existence is not the answer.4 In a positive sense, our contribution to the world is part of our challenge and is essential if we are to develop our talents. President Brigham Young (1801–77) said, “Every accomplishment, every polished grace, every useful attainment in mathematics, music, and in all science and art belongs to the Saints.”5

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) challenged members to accomplish more, stating, “We must recognize that excellence and quality are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and about life and about God.”6

To accomplish the above, members of the Church need to be involved in the world in a positive way. How then do we balance the need to positively contribute to the world and to not succumb to the sins of the world? (See D&C 25:10; D&C 59:9.) Two principles will make a significant difference.

1. Let people know you are a committed Latter-day Saint.

I learned the importance of this early in my career. After finishing my education at Stanford Law School, I sought employment at a particular law firm. No members of the Church were associated with the firm, but the firm was made up of lawyers of character and ability. After a morning of interviews, the senior partner and two other partners invited me to lunch. The senior partner inquired if I would like a prelunch alcoholic drink and later if I would like wine. In both cases, I declined. The second time, I informed him that I was an active Latter-day Saint and did not drink alcoholic beverages.

I received an offer of employment from the firm. A few months later, the senior partner told me the offer of the alcoholic beverages was a test. He noted that my résumé made it clear that I had served an LDS mission. He had determined that he would hire me only if I was true to the teachings of my own church. He considered it a significant matter of character and integrity.

In my years in San Francisco, I knew some members who avoided letting their associates know they were Latter-day Saints. Invariably they were drawn into compromising situations that could have been avoided had they forthrightly declared what they believed. They symbolically pitched their tents toward Sodom (see Gen. 13:12).

2. Be confident about and live your beliefs.

In our personal lives, we should avoid the evil “temporal pursuits of mortality”7 and the destructive “behavioral and intellectual fashions of the world.”8

A derogatory comment occasionally made about members of the Church is: “They are like sheep waiting to be told what to do by their leaders. Why can’t they think for themselves?” While this comment may sound plausible on its face, the truth is that faithful Latter-day Saints, in a thoughtful and prayerful manner, study the doctrines and principles in the scriptures and in the counsel from living prophets and then seek to receive a confirming witness from the Holy Ghost. They don’t have to make every heartbreaking mistake in life. They know what is right and what is wrong. They don’t have to decide over and over again how they will live. They can benefit from the life experiences of all those generations that have preceded them and from instructions from our Father in Heaven and His anointed servants. They can turn away from temptation.

We inevitably must make choices. If we know the doctrines and principles of the gospel, we can make wise decisions. If our lives are pure, the Spirit will guide us. Then we will be able to symbolically pitch our tents toward the temple (see Gen. 13:18) and the covenants we have made to the Lord, and we will be in the world and not of the world.


  1. “Living in the Fulness of Times,” Liahona, Jan. 2002, 6; Ensign, Nov. 2001, 6.

  2. See L. Tom Perry, “In the World,” Ensign, May 1988, 13–15.

  3. Personal notes from meeting; see also D&C 115:5; Harold B. Lee, “Your Light to Be a Standard unto the Nations,” Ensign, Aug. 1973, 3–4.

  4. See Gordon B. Hinckley, “Don’t Drop the Ball,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 48.

  5. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 196.

  6. “The Gospel Vision of the Arts,” Tambuli, Feb. 1978, 5; Ensign, July 1977, 5.

  7. C. Richard Chidester, “Worldly, Worldliness,” in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. (1992), 4:1587; see also Alma 4:8.

  8. Neal A. Maxwell, “Overcome … Even as I Also Overcame,” Ensign, May 1987, 70; see also D&C 121:34–35.

Photography By Robert Casey, except as noted; photography posed by models

Photograph of classroom by Craig Dimond