For the natural man is an enemy to God

Mosiah 3:19 has long been my favorite scripture. I was pleased to learn many years ago that it was also one of the favorite scriptures of Elder Neal A. Maxwell. I think I have maybe half of Elder Maxwell’s nearly thirty books in my library.

Elder Maxwell wrote so much about discipleship. He also was the epitome of humility and submission. The man was an intellectual genius but wrote in such a way that the focus was never on him; it was always on the Savior.

FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) was renamed the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship in honor of Elder Maxwell. It is a fitting tribute. He loved scholarship. Bruce C. Hafen, who has also served in various capacities in church education, wrote a wonderful biography of Elder Maxwell appropriately entitled “A Disciple’s Life.” It was and is a welcome addition to my library when published in 2002. Elder Maxwell died in 2004.

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)

Elder Maxwell has pointed out that the word “submit” is used several times in this verse. It is closely correlated to the act of yielding, in this case to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. The natural man has no desire to be submissive to anybody let alone to the loving encouragement of a God who only has his eternal happiness in mind. The natural man views submissiveness as a weakness.

Said Elder Maxwell, “Significantly, submissiveness, that reverent expression of enduring, is mentioned twice. Giving enduring extra emphasis is capped by directing that we ‘submit to’ and endure ‘all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.’ Much of enduring well requires this reverent submissiveness. ” (If Thou Endure It Well, 1996, p. 33)

“Spiritual submissiveness is so much more than bended knee or bowed head. Submissiveness also checks our tendency to demand advance explanations of the Lord. The submissive soul will be led aright, enduring some things well while being anxiously engaged in setting other things right—all the time discerning the difference.” (Willing to Submit, Ensign May 1985)

“Personal righteousness, worship, prayer, and scripture study are so crucial in order to “[put] off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19). ” (General Conference, Oct 2000) “One is not only to endure, but to endure well and gracefully those things which the Lord “seeth fit to inflict upon [us].” (BYU Speeches 27 Nov 1979) Almost everything I read from Elder Maxwell on this verse indicates that he equated putting off the natural man with submissiveness and patience.

“How can there be later magnification without some present deprivation? Except we are thus tutored, how else shall we grow spiritually to become the men and women of Christ? In this brief mortality, therefore, reveries are often rudely elbowed aside by tutoring adversities! Meanwhile, as faithful children, the challenge is: Will we prove ourselves, in King Benjamin’s phrase, “willing to submit?” (BYU Speeches 4 Feb 1990)

“In the journey of discipleship we lose our old selves. The natural man and the natural woman are “put off,” and then we find ourselves having become more saintly (see Mosiah 3:19). We see such saintliness all about us in the Church—quiet, good women and men, not particularly statusfull, who are becoming saintly. This is what should be happening in the lives of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ” (BYU Fireside, 27 March 1994)

“Brothers and sisters, no wonder the divine direction is for each of us to “becometh as a child” (Mosiah 3:19). Such saintliness will sustain us as we cross our Sinai, including in those moments when we must “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Such submissive stillness is necessary, because the process of consecration is not one of explanation. (General Conference May 1996)

You can read more about Elder Maxwell’s profound understanding, interpretation and instruction on this verse in his Conference talk of November 1990, “Put Off the Natural Man, and Come Off Conqueror.” This marvelous verse characterized the life of a great disciple. By following the advice of an angel as delivered to a Book of Mormon prophet, a man became an apostle. By doing the same, can we at least expect to be saved in the Kingdom of God?

1 thought on “For the natural man is an enemy to God”

  1. Love the post. My son listed Mosiah 3:19 on his missionary plaque, which now hangs in my home. He has been home a year. One of my favorite books is: “The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book” by Cory Maxwell. Under the heading of “Natural Man” one quote reads: “Facing up to gospel truths is not easy for the natural man, since he prefers playing in his local sandpile rather than contemplating the cosmos and thereby seeing God ‘moving in his majesty and power.'”Somehow I would like to think living the gospel makes us better scientists. We do not always live up to the ideal, however.

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