Moroni 7:12-17 – Avoiding sin in a world of grey – LeGrand Baker

Moroni 7:12-17

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

I would like to approach these verses differently from the previous ones. In our discussions of verses 1-11, I first asked how this applies to high school seminary students, then asked how it applied to Mormon’s mature priesthood audience. I would like to reverse that and begin by discussing how it might have been understood by Mormon’s “beloved brethren.”

Remembering that Mormon and his friends were surrounded by an intense and violent apostasy, and that Mormon’s subject so far in this sermon had been about priesthood legitimacy, it is easy to see that when speaking of that apostasy and those apostates, Mormon was completely accurate in ascribing to the devil the origin and success of those damnable doctrines. (No “woops,” that’s an appropriate word here!)

However, these verses are not so easily applied to the everyday lives of high school seminary students because “all things” in verse 12 seems to be too inclusive to fit comfortably into their complex world. “All things” leaves no place for shades of grey, even though the teen age world is mostly grey. There is little question about right and wrong when they understand what the Church says they should do and not do. But the church does not address “all things” and the young people are bombarded with multiple teachers who give multiple options to multiple unanswerable questions.

Paul’s warning is very apt:

8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air (1 Corinthians 14:8-9).

While some teachers may speak with clarion tones, others, including their teenage contemporaries, speak with muddled discourse. That is equally true with adults. King Benjamin was not talking to just the teenagers when he said,

29 And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them (Mosiah 4:29).

Most teenagers live in world of grey, but I suppose most adults do also. As an example, I recall back in the early 1970’s when I attended General Priesthood Conference in a stake house. Several speakers “addressed the youth,” and focused on keeping the word of wisdom and avoiding petting in order to also avoid premarital sex. After the meeting was over I happened to walk out behind a group of boys who looked to be about 16 or 18. One of them said, loud enough that the others could hear, “What a stupid meeting. None of us do those kinds of things, but it almost felt like some of those guys were accusing us. We came to be ‘uplifted’ and we didn’t need to hear that stuff again.” Another boy replied, “Yea, why do they always talk about young men’s sins? Why don’t they ever talk about old men’s sins instead?”

That gave me pause. His question was legitimate, and at least part of the answer is not hard to come by. The young men’s sins the speakers emphasized are easy to catalogue and define. But not so with the old men’s sins: avarice; manipulative dishonesty in business affairs; infidelity; a studied desire to avenge; unfair competitiveness in climbing the social, corporate, or academic ladders of power and prestige. Those sins are so well shrouded in various shades of grey that they give the sinner all the wiggle room he needs for self justification. Such sins are not easily definable until they become unlawful.

In the world, different human cultures and subcultures have their own definitions of what is right and wrong. Each one has its own standards and its own rules about how far people can deviate from those standards without being punished. The upshot is that in a country as large and diverse as the United States there is no universal moral standard of excellence. Some subcultures encourage moral and decent people, but for others the standard is “whatever floats your boat,” or “its OK as long as you don’t get caught.”

In all cultures, there are two kinds of sins. There are the real ones that violate our eternal Self and damage the soul. (Gospel principles and commandments are a sure way of identifying what those are.) And there are cultural sins that are defined by what some people think other people should be and do. In many cases, one is more apt to be socially ostracized or even punished for committing cultural sins than from committing real ones. {1}

All sins, whether the real or cultural, originate in one’s brain (the ancient scriptures would have said “in his heart”). Some stay there. The real ones that do stay in the heart act like a canker to corrode and then destroy one’s Self. Those that become the motives for actions, become more dangerous when they move from the heart to the tongue or to the hands. There, they impact the well-being of others. That is when the culturally unacceptable ones become unlawful.

Even though Mormon was talking to his “beloved brethren” about the differences between their own priesthood authority and the pretended authority of the apostates, his words can apply to our everyday world as well. There is a solution for us, of course, and that solution is the same as it was for them: Listen to the prophet and obey the prompting of the Holy Ghost. A major function of the Holy Ghost is to help us define the real sins, to teach us how to avoid them, and to help us have the strength to live pure lives.
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FOOTNOTE

{1} Two places where I have discussed the nature of evil and the difference between real and cultural sins are:
In this website, “3 Nephi 12:10-12 — persecution and persecuted,”
In Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, chapter “Alma 14: The Origins of Good and Evil”

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