Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 9: Overcoming Temptation

“Chapter 9: Overcoming Temptation,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (2011), 80–89

“Chapter 9,” Teachings: David O. McKay, 80–89

Chapter 9

Overcoming Temptation

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Court him, and you will soon have shackles, not on your wrists, but on your soul.1


As a young missionary in Scotland, David O. McKay attended a meeting conducted by James L. McMurrin, a counselor in the European Mission presidency. During the course of the meeting, those in attendance witnessed several manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit. About 70 years later, in a priesthood meeting, President McKay recalled: “I remember, as if it were yesterday, the intensity of the inspiration of that occasion. Everybody felt the rich outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord. All present were truly of one heart and one mind. Never before had I experienced such an emotion. …

“Such was the setting in which James L. McMurrin gave what has since proved to be a prophecy. I had learned by intimate association with him that James McMurrin was pure gold. His faith in the gospel was implicit. No truer man, no man more loyal to what he thought was right ever lived. So when he turned to me and gave what I thought then was more of a caution than a promise, his words made an indelible impression upon me. Paraphrasing the words of the Savior to Peter, Brother McMurrin said: ‘Let me say to you, Brother David, Satan hath desired you that he may sift you as wheat, but God is mindful of you.’ [See Luke 22:31.] …

“At that moment there flashed in my mind temptations that had beset my path, and I realized even better than President McMurrin, or any other man, how truly he had spoken when he said, ‘Satan hath desired thee.’ With the resolve then and there to keep the faith, there was born a desire to be of service to my fellowmen; and with it came a realization, a glimpse at least, of what I owed to the elder who first carried the message of the restored gospel to my grandfather and grandmother, who had accepted the message years before in the north of Scotland and in South Wales.”

President McKay concluded this story for the young men of the Church with counsel that is applicable to all: “I ask God to continue to bless you. … Do not let temptation lead you astray.”2

Teachings of David O. McKay

We must guard ourselves and our families against the influence of the adversary.

Trees that can stand in the midst of the hurricane often yield to the destroying pests that we can scarcely see with a microscope. Likewise the greatest foes of humanity today are the subtle and sometimes unseen influences at work in society that are undermining the manhood and womanhood of today. The test, after all, of the faithfulness and effectiveness of God’s people is an individual one. What is the individual doing?

Every temptation that comes to you and me comes in one of three forms:

  1. A temptation of the appetite or passion;

  2. A yielding to pride, fashion, or vanity;

  3. A desire for worldly riches or power and dominion over lands or earthly possessions of men.

Such temptations come to us in our social gatherings; they come to us in our political strivings; they come to us in our business relations, on the farm, in the mercantile establishment; in our dealings in all the affairs of life we find these insidious influences working. It is when they manifest themselves to the consciousness of each individual that the defense of truth should exert itself.

The Church teaches that life here is probationary. It is man’s duty to become the master, not the slave of nature. His appetites are to be controlled and used for the benefit of his health and the prolongation of his life—his passions mastered and controlled for the happiness and blessing of others. …

If you have lived true to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and continue to do so, happiness will fill your soul. If you vary from it and become conscious that you have fallen short of what you know is right, you are going to be unhappy even [if] you have the wealth of the world. …

In their yearning for a good time, young people are often tempted to indulge in the things which appeal only to the baser side of humanity, five of the most common of which are: first, vulgarity and obscenity; second, drinking and petting; third, unchastity; fourth, disloyalty; and, fifth, irreverence.

Vulgarity is often the first step down the road to indulgence. To be vulgar is to give offense to good taste or refined feelings.

It is only a step from vulgarity to obscenity. It is right, indeed essential, to the happiness of our young people that they meet in social parties, but it is an indication of low morals when for entertainment they must resort to physical stimulation and debasement. Drinking and petting parties form an environment in which the moral sense becomes dulled, and unbridled passion holds sway. It then becomes easy to take the final step downward in moral disgrace.

When, instead of high moral principles, a life of immoral indulgence is chosen, and man or woman gets far down in the scale of degeneracy, disloyalty is an inevitable part of his or her nature. Loyalty to parents becomes quenched; obedience to their teachings and ideals abandoned; loyalty to wife and children smothered in base gratification; loyalty to Church impossible, and often supplanted by sneers at its teachings.3

Temptation often comes in [a] quiet way. Perhaps the yielding to it may not be known by anyone save the individual and his God, but if he does yield to it, he becomes to that extent weakened, and spotted with the evil of the world.4

Satan was cast down because he tried to replace the Creator. But his power is still manifest. He is active and is prompting at this moment the denial of God’s existence, of the existence of his Beloved Son, and denying the efficacy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.5

The enemy is active. He is cunning and wily, and seeks every opportunity to undermine the foundation of the Church, and strikes wherever it is possible to weaken or to destroy. … God has given the freedom of choice. Our moral and spiritual progress depends upon the use we make of that freedom.6

Satan is still determined to have his way, and his emissaries have power given them today as they have not had throughout the centuries. Be prepared to meet conditions that may be severe, ideological conditions that may seem reasonable but are evil. In order to meet these forces, we must depend upon the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, to which you are entitled. They are real.

God is guiding this church. Be true to it; be loyal to it. Be true to your families, loyal to them. Protect your children. Guide them, not arbitrarily, but through the kind example of a father, and so contribute to the strength of the Church by exercising your priesthood in your home and in your lives.7

Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints carries with it the responsibility to overcome temptation, to battle error, to improve the mind, and to develop one’s spirit until it comes to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.8

The adversary tries to strike at our weakest point, but we gain strength as we resist him.

You cannot tamper with the Evil One. Resist temptation, resist the Devil and he will flee from you. [See James 4:7.]

The Savior on the Mount gave us the greatest example in all the world. … Just after the Savior’s baptism, he was led up to the mount that is known now as the Mount of Temptation. I do not know whether that is where he stood, where he fasted for forty days, or not. But it was on some mount that he went, and after … forty days, the Tempter came to him, so we are told, and as the Tempter always does, he struck at him in what the Tempter thought was his weakest point.

After [Jesus had] fasted, the Tempter thought he would be hungry, and the first temptation, you will remember, was, “If,” and he said it sarcastically, “If thou be the Son of God,” referring to the testimony of the Father when he said, “This is my beloved Son,”—“If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” And there is a stone there in that area which is not unlike a Jewish wheat-loaf, so that would make the temptation of it appeal all the stronger. Christ’s answer was: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:3–4.)

The next temptation quoted scripture also. It was an appeal to vanity, an appeal to gain ascendancy over our fellows: “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down …” (from a pinnacle of the temple) “… for it is written …” (and the Devil can cite scripture for his purpose) “… for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” And the answer was, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (Matt. 4:6–7.)

The third temptation was of love of wealth and power. The tempter took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him the things of the world and the power thereof. He was not sarcastic in this temptation. He was pleading, for the resistance of the Savior had weakened the Tempter’s powers. He showed him the things of the world. “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Rising in the majesty of his divinity, Jesus said: “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” And the Tempter slunk away. [See Matthew 4:8–11.] …

There is your story. … Your weakest point will be the point at which the Devil tries to tempt you, will try to win you, and if you have made it weak before you have undertaken to serve the Lord, he will add to that weakness. Resist him and you will gain in strength. He will tempt you in another point. Resist him and he becomes weaker and you become stronger, until you can say, no matter what your surroundings may be, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Luke 4:8.)9

With his disciples just before Gethsemane, … [Jesus] said, “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, …

“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (John 17:11, 15.)

There is your lesson. … You are in the midst of temptation, but you, as Christ on the Mount of Temptation, can rise above it.10

As we live the gospel and exercise self-control, we receive joy and peace.

As long as the Adversary to truth is free to exercise dominion in this world, we are going to have attacks, and the only way to meet those attacks is to live the Gospel.11

This gospel gives us a chance to live above this old world and its temptations and, through self-control and self-mastery, to live in the spirit, and that is the real life here and hereafter.12

May we realize as never before that mastery of one’s personal inclinations is the heart of the Christian religion and of all religions. By nature the individual is selfish and inclined to follow his immediate impulses. It requires religion, or something higher than an individual or even a society of individuals, to overcome the selfish impulses of the natural man. … Self-mastery comes through self-denial of little things. Christ in these singular words said: “… whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25.)

Whenever you forget self and strive for the betterment of others, and for something higher and better, you rise to the spiritual plane. If, in the moment of quarreling, in the moment of temptation to find fault with another, we will lose our self-centered self for the good of the Church of which we are members, for the good of the community, and especially for the progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we will be blessed spiritually, and happiness will be our reward.

“What though I conquer my enemies,

And lay up store and pelf!

I am a conqueror poor indeed

Till I subdue myself.”

[Author unknown.]13

A person who indulges his appetites, either secretly or otherwise, has a character that will not serve him when he is tempted to indulge his passions.14

What a man continually thinks about determines his actions in times of opportunity and stress. A man’s reaction to his appetites and impulses when they are aroused gives the measure of that man’s character. In these reactions are revealed the man’s power to govern or his forced servility to yield.15

Actions in harmony with divine law and the laws of nature will bring happiness, and those in opposition to divine truth, misery. Man is responsible not only for every deed, but also for every idle word and thought. Said the Savior:

“… every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36.)16

All good things require effort. That which is worth having will cost part of your physical being, your intellectual power, and your soul power—“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matt. 7:7.) But you have to seek, you have to knock. On the other hand, sin thrusts itself upon you. It walks beside you, it tempts you, it entices, it allures. You do not have to put forth effort. … It is like the billboard advertising attracting you to drink and to smoke. It is like the message that comes into your very homes with the television and radio. … Evil seeks you, and it requires effort and fortitude to combat it. But truth and wisdom are gained only by seeking, by prayer, and by effort.17

Let us ever keep in mind that life is largely what we make it, and that the Savior of men has marked clearly and plainly just how joy and peace may be obtained. It is in the gospel of Jesus Christ and adherence thereto.18

May God grant that as we are seeking the further establishment of the kingdom of God, that we may instruct our young people, and the members of the Church everywhere, to resist temptations that weaken the body, that destroy the soul, that we may stand truly repentant as we were when we entered the waters of baptism; that we may be renewed in the true sense of the word, that we may be born again; that our souls might bask in the light of the Holy Spirit, and go on as true members of the Church of Jesus Christ until our mission on earth is completed.19

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • President McKay used the analogy of strong trees that could withstand great storms but were destroyed by microscopic pests that entered in (see page 82). In what ways can this analogy apply to our battles against temptation? (See pages 84–85.) What can we do to avoid inviting temptation into our lives? How can we strengthen children and youth against the increasing temptations in the world?

  • In what ways might temptations differ, depending on our individual situations? What can we do to help each other resist temptation?

  • What can we learn from the account of the Savior withstanding Satan’s temptations? (See Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13, including the footnotes with excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation; see also D&C 20:22.)

  • In what ways does the pleasure of yielding to temptation differ from the joy of following the Savior?

  • How does Satan try to use our weaknesses? (See pages 84–85.) How can we overcome our weaknesses through Jesus Christ? (See also Ether 12:27.)

  • What can you do to resist and overcome temptations that often beset you? Why is it essential to establish our values before we find ourselves in tempting situations?

  • In our efforts to follow the Savior and resist temptation, how can it help us to remember that “no man can serve two masters”? (Matthew 6:24).

  • How do righteous and wholesome thoughts help us overcome temptation? What can we do to develop the self-mastery and self-control of which President McKay often spoke? (See pages 86–88.)

Related Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 1:12–17; 2 Peter 2:9; 1 Nephi 12:17; 1 Nephi 15:23–24; Helaman 5:12; 3 Nephi 18:18–19; D&C 10:5


  1. Gospel Ideals (1953), 352.

  2. In Conference Report, Oct. 1968, 86.

  3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 7–8.

  4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1911, 59.

  5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 9.

  6. In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 6.

  7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 97.

  8. Gospel Ideals, 503.

  9. In Conference Report, Oct. 1959, 88.

  10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 11.

  11. In Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 90.

  12. In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 153.

  13. In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 133; paragraphing altered.

  14. In Conference Report, Apr. 1968, 8.

  15. In Conference Report, Apr. 1967, 8.

  16. In Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 33.

  17. In Conference Report, Oct. 1965, 144–45.

  18. In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 9.

  19. In Conference Report, Apr. 1960, 29.