General Principles, Specific Choices
March 2023

“General Principles, Specific Choices,” For the Strength of Youth, Mar. 2023.

General Principles, Specific Choices

How do you apply general principles in specific situations in your life?

young woman under a magnifying glass

Illustration by Josh Talbot

Here are three quotes from three different prophets. See if you can detect a similar theme:

“O be wise; what can I say more?”

“I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin.”

“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”

It seems that prophets give us the principles of the Lord’s gospel and then leave it to us to live them. They don’t give us every last detail. So, how do we take their teachings and apply them?

How Do You Apply Prophets’ Teachings?

Prophets give us commandments from the Lord. They also teach us principles and guidelines that help us apply eternal truths and commandments—for instance, in the For the Strength of Youth guide.

But members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes wonder about the details—the specific things we should do to best live gospel principles and commandments. For instance, people may wonder exactly what type of clothing shows proper respect for their bodies. Or they may wonder what exactly they should do on the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

General principles may be applied in different specific ways by different people, but we can seek the Lord’s direction as we approach our individual choices so that we can draw closer to God.

A Helpful Pattern

President Russell M. Nelson once explained how he approached choices about keeping the Sabbath day holy:

“I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, ‘What sign do I want to give to God?’ That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear” (Apr. 2015 general conference [Ensign or Liahona, May 2015, 130]).

The way President Nelson approached this specific question can show us a general pattern for making choices about commandments and guidelines. Here’s one way you could express it:

You can follow this pattern with any commandment or guideline—the Word of Wisdom, media and entertainment, music, sexual purity, and even tithing. It takes some work, but it’s worth it.

As you study these things, you can read what the scriptures and modern prophets say about them, ponder, and pray to Heavenly Father. The Holy Ghost can then help you and inspire you to make good choices.

What about Others’ Choices?

Notice that President Nelson didn’t tell us what specific choices he made about the Sabbath day. He showed us how we could make our own choices. You might make many of the same choices he did. But the main point is to try to draw closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ through our choices.

If you notice someone else in the Church who doesn’t do everything exactly the way you do, you don’t have to worry about correcting them. As Reyna I. Aburto, former Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, once said, “Let us follow the Savior’s path and increase our compassion, diminish our tendency to judge, and stop being the inspectors of the spirituality of others” (Oct. 2019 general conference [Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2019, 58]).

You can embrace the correct principles taught by prophets. You can point others to the Savior, His love, His compassion, and His commandments. You can read the For the Strength of Youth guide. You can try to live a faithful life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, be a good example, and share your spiritual experiences.

If you focus on loving God and loving others, you’ll be guided to make the choices that will help make you and others happy.