The Sin of a Saint
The format of this short study will take the form of a series of questions and answers. The reader is encouraged to try and ponder their own answers to the questions before reading the provided answers. In so doing, it is the prayer of the writer that the spirit of God will enlighten the mind and confirm the teachings presented herein.
What makes sin a sin?
The scriptures teach that “sin is not imputed when there is no law,” (Romans 5:13) or, more explicitly stated, “where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation” (2 Nephi 9:25). Thus sin, or condemnation, cannot exist in the absence of law or knowledge of law (see D&C 45:54). And what constitutes knowledge? The scriptures again instruct: “He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things” (D&C 93:28), showing that knowledge is an accumulation of truth and light1; the scriptures also show that the inverse is true: “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:20). Indeed, the choice to love darkness cannot be made in the absence of light, for the one defines the other by way of contrast (see 2 Nephi 2:11), therefore sin—condemnation for acting against knowledge—may be defined simply as choosing darkness over light.
Per the forgoing definitions, the greater one’s views—or in other words, the greater one’s knowledge or light—the greater one’s sins, or condemnation, may be. As the Lord stated, “He who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3). Thus a person clothed in truth and light receives a greater condemnation for the same sin as committed by another who possesses no knowledge of his wrongdoing. Truthfully, it is worse to be at the top of the staircase looking down than it is to be at its bottom looking up; or put another way, the same stone makes a bigger splash when thrown from a higher place. Thus Esau’s sin was not in buying a mess of potage—anyone can and sometimes should do that—but it was in selling his birthright to do so!
Selling something for money is not inherently evil in a world that uses money as a liquid means of transferring goods2, but selling a God-given token for money, trading things not of this world for the things of this world, is imputed as one of the greatest sins. For one, the Lord has commanded that we are to care nothing about the illusory pecuniary affairs of life that serve only to distract from the Gospel way (3 Nephi 13:19-33); but, that teaching aside, it is a blatant choice of darkness over light to remit possession of anything given of God, to, in essence, receive a precious pearl and then cast it to the swine. But how does one sell a token—an intangible thing received in covenant—for money? To answer that question, another question must be asked:
What is a token?
In holy writ, a few examples exist to furnish the reader with a solid notion of what a token may be:
- Noah’s Rainbow: God covenanted with Enoch that He would bless the posterity of Noah and not send floods again upon the earth to cover it. The token of the covenant is the rainbow.
“And I will establish my covenant with you, which I made unto Enoch, concerning the remnants of your posterity.… I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth…. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself” (Genesis 9:11[JST],13,21[JST]; see also Moses 7:50-52).
What is learned?
A token is a physical reminder of the terms of a covenant; a token is not something that did not exist before, but it is a thing—any thing: a gesture, an object, a sound, a sight—leveraged for the sacred purpose of remembrance, even if it is presented in vision, dream, or reality.
- Circumcision: God covenanted with Abraham and his descendants that he would give them a physical inheritance upon the celestial earth in the land of Canaan.
“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant…. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God…. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you…. And my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people” (Genesis 17:7-8,11,13-14).
This token also became known as a law, whose outward performance was no longer required after the resurrection of Jesus Christ according to His own words: “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God.… the law of circumcision is done away in me” (Moroni 8:8, emphasis added). As Paul explained:
“A man is not a Jew[, a descendant of Abraham,] because he is one outwardly, nor is circumcision only outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew[, a descendant of Abraham,] because he is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise does not come from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29, Berean Study Bible edition, emphasis added).
Thus, those claiming Abraham as their father must be circumcised in heart, according to the spirit of the law, but Christ has fulfilled the necessity of the physical token.
What is learned?
Physical tokens are not salvific in and of themselves, and one’s possession or receiving of them does not constitute the keeping of the covenant of which the token is set as a reminder—in short, receiving a token is not necessarily commensurate with keeping a covenant. Tokens are not eternal; covenants are.3
- Kirtland Temple Greeting: A presiding priesthood holder covenanted with those he sought to teach and instruct in the Kirtland temple that he would “receive [them] to fellowship, in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be [their] friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever” (D&C 88:133). He would do so in the following manner:
“With uplifted hands to heaven, yea, even directly, salute his brother or brethren with these words: Art thou a brother or brethren? I salute you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in token or remembrance of the everlasting covenant…. Amen. And…they shall salute the president or teacher with uplifted hands to heaven, with this same prayer and covenant, or by saying Amen, in token of the same” (D&C 88:132-133,135, emphasis added; note the use of ‘token’ as a synonym of ‘remembrance’4)
What is learned?
A token may be a combination of gestures and/or words. A token serves not only as a remembrance but as an acknowledgement before God of one’s duty and obligations, or in other words, the terms of the covenant entered into. A token may be established as needed in association with covenants entered into between God and man, or between men (men and women) alone. A token, when presented, constitutes the invoking of the associated covenant.
Having taken a cursory examination of a few known tokens and their respective functions it can be shown that a token is a sign5—a physical gesture, phenomenon, or even phrase—that is invoked in remembrance of a duly established covenant. Again, it is something that is used to represent the acknowledgement of responsibility—it is the receipt or certificate of a covenant with its attendant blessings or cursings.
Upon this foundation, a greater understanding may be built as to how it is that a person can sell a token for money. But first one more thing must be clearly understood: what is money? Of course, there is the literal definition, but if one were to talk of things spiritually, the question is:
What does money signify?
In the scriptures, the Lord often talks of “riches” in two distinct senses: one in an eternal sense, the other in a temporal. The latter is never a positive or desirable designation. The former, however, is good, but, unsurprisingly, is not in reference to worldly wealth whatsoever. For example, in the Book of Mormon it is taught that:
“Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:18-19, emphasis added).
But is the prophet Jacob here referring to worldly wealth when he says ‘ye shall obtain riches’? The Lord through Joseph Smith taught, “Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (D&C 11:7, emphasis added). The reader can determine their own conclusion by the spirit of God.
The other usage of ‘riches’ in scripture is in reference to that “filthy lucre” that “will canker your souls”—actual money (1 Timothy 3:3,8, D&C 56:16). Typically this designation of ‘riches’ is a general reference to “Babylon, the same which has made all nations drink of…the wrath of her fornication” whereby “the merchants of the earth are waxed rich” (D&C 35:10; Revelation 18:3). To love and desire ‘Babylon’ is to commit spiritual ‘fornication’ with the world1, hence James calls such “adulterers”: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). In short, the Lord has commanded “lay aside the [riches] of this world, and seek for the [riches] of a better” (D&C 25:10).7
What is learned?
Money, as a symbol of things spiritual, signifies the ways of the world, and to “seek after it” is to live after “the way of the world.” The Lord, as owner and creator of all things, promises inestimable “riches” to those who seek to live after the way of His life.
With a proper understanding of the significance of both tokens and money, it may now be possible to answer the important question:
How does one sell a token for money?
It is done by first agreeing to live according to a Heavenly manner and then, despite that covenant, living after an Earthly manner instead. The tokens sold represent covenants to live in a certain manner, a manner spiritually higher than that enjoyed previously; after promising—by a sign even—to live in such light, living instead in a diminished manner constitutes loving “darkness rather than light” (John 3:19; D&C 10:21), which is the definition of sin. The key to understanding the direness of this situation is that the lifestyle that constituted normalcy prior to receiving a token was necessarily composed of varying degrees of inherent wickedness (scripturally, being “of the world”), and to continue to live in that “normal” manner, though previously harmless, becomes the very fetters of Hell.
In other words, “no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62), for the Babylonish activities that once comprised daily life cannot continue to be entertained without simultaneously rejecting the covenant invitation to leave the world; once the token is received, the covenantee is set in a higher spiritual place to act for him or herself, a place where the same small stones of sin make a bigger splash than they did from a lower place.8 As the Gospel scholar, Hugh W. Nibley, so succinctly taught, the effect of that larger impact is to be brought more directly into the devil’s power:
“In the teachings in all the scriptures and in the House of God we are given to understand that there are certain things we must do and certain other things we must not do. The alternative to doing what God commands us to do, especially after our expressly agreeing to do such, is to be in Satan’s power, for he is granted the authority to ‘deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice’ (Moses 4:4). There can be no compromise here; there is no third way” (Nibley, Hugh, “But What Kind of Work?”, Approaching Zion, Deseret Book FARMS: Salt Lake City (1989)).
There are many examples that can be drawn of what this sin appears like in practice—that of selling one’s tokens for money. A few examples will suffice to emphasize the normalcy, subtlety, and inconspicuousness of this sin peculiar to a saint. These examples represent common situations in which many saints find themselves, and if they seem harsh it is on purpose—many deny Celestial birthright blessings by messes of pottage such as these:
- A sister missionary is endowed and receives the token of a priesthood garment—a reminder—meant to be worn at all times. After her mission, she associates with other garment-wearing individuals, some of whom have forgotten the meaning of the covenants they entered into, and who begin to justify the occasional garment-less outdoor outing (as if exposure to the world God created is the exception to wearing His garment at all times). Prevailed upon by the wicked traditions of her friends, the returned missionary begins to find times in which she justifies not wearing the garment to suit modern, worldly fashions—for recreation or exercise. Before her reception of the garment token, the wearing of such clothing would have been immodest; after its reception, however, going back to such fashions is the grave sin of selling her tokens for money. (The same may be said of makeup or hairstyling.)
- A young man receives a token in a holy temple concerning the Law of the Gospel at the behest of his parents. Before going through with the ordinance, his parents had purchased a big-screen TV that was often left on playing their favorite television shows. After the ordinance, in order to celebrate, his parents take him to the movie theater and watch a PG-13 summer hit. Though unable to watch movies or television as a missionary, during which time he experienced some revelations by the spirit, the young man’s post-mission life is a mirror of his parents’ post-endowment life, full of all manner of television programming and movies depicting immoral content. In this entertainment-indulged lifestyle, his revelations cease. Before the reception of sacred tokens, his watching of worldly media would have been a waste of his God-given intelligence; after their reception, however, following the mistaken tradition of his parents’ entertainment choices constitutes the grave sin of selling his tokens for money. (The same may be said of a person’s choice of music.)
- A return missionary is given a smart phone to help him “keep in touch” with his family while he is away at college. Before long, apps and social media flood his personal time, his attention effectively stolen by the popularity of his digital portrayal of himself through selfies and other pictures calculated to look appealing to his female followers. In this blurred and ever churning mental state, his thoughts are all too frequently on his own desires and interests, like going to the gym to work out, but he usually remembers to read a verse or two of scripture just before shutting his brain down at night. Having been through the temple, this returned missionary has forgotten the seriousness of the token regarding consecration of all his time and mental energy to God. Before receiving that most sacred token, making such devotion of his time to his smart phone—and what it connects him to—would have been idol worship, placing the focus of his works upon it instead of God; after receiving it, however, failing to consecrate himself to God through ceaseless prayer and daily feasting on the word of Christ is tantamount to consecrating himself to the devil, under whose silent power he is, which always comes of selling one’s tokens for money. (The same may be said of a person’s worship of body through devotion to “going to the gym” and other addictions to “working out.”)
- A young woman is engaged to be married and a group of already married and, importantly, already endowed and sealed women—friends and family—organize a bridal shower in her behalf. In the party, the young woman is given all manner of salacious gifts from these exemplary matriarchs. After her sealing ceremony, prior to which she received the token of chastity and virtue, the young woman turns to her gifts as a guide for what should be expected in intimacy with her husband; the apparent takeaway is “anything goes.” Before the reception of sacred tokens, this married couple’s foray into the world of unnatural affection would have been an occasional descent into darkness; after, however, they come under the lustful power of the dark one and, having sold their sacred tokens for money, the light and revelation of Heaven is grieved.
And we come full circle with this last example:
- A young woman is given two messages all her life by her parents: (1) you ought to have a career to be counted among the groundbreaking, intelligent women of this generation, and (2) to be a mother is a noble endeavor. Through years of schooling and sitcom brainwashing, the thought of being “noble” in the eyes of offspring pejorates as the ideal of being seen as “intelligent” in the eyes of the world enlarges. At last, however, she decides to serve a mission and receives important tokens through solemn and serious covenants in the temple. Her experience causes her to reflect upon and reconsider the depreciated value she began to place upon motherhood. But, later in college, she is again taught that without a career she can have nothing—even with a family in tow. Paralyzed by fear yet pressured by perceived necessity, she later marries a returned missionary who possesses the same lack of values.9 The man does a good job of delivering the riches of this world to the young woman’s longing for earthly security, with no eternal security of being able to save her in eternity. Before receiving tokens pertaining to the sovereign command to multiply and replenish the earth, the young woman’s pursuit of worldly success would have been a selfish exercise of survivalism in a cruel world; after receiving them, however, the same prioritization of career over family is to follow expressly the teachings of Satan, under whose full power she has submitted herself to through the sale of her tokens for money. Having forsaken the pursuit of her covenants, her end is not mere loneliness but, described in another word, damnation.
What is learned?
There is a constant theme throughout the cases above: the examples of the previous generation, or merely those who have gone and made the same covenants before, lend in great degree to the unwise actions of the individuals making their own covenants. This is what is referred to by the scriptures as “the wicked traditions of the fathers.” In full consideration of the terms of one’s covenants, it ought to become clear that a break from the lifestyles of previous token bearers may be required to fully honor one’s own covenants. Selling a token for money is seldom an overt effort on the part of the saint, but it is marked by an affinity for the comforts and ways of the world. The curses of being under Satan’s power are seldom experienced as the “pains of a damned soul” in mortality (Alma 36:16); it is, however, marked by a conspicuous absence of gifts of the spirit, stagnation of light and truth, and an ebb in revelation.10 Truly, the damned are lulled in comfort.11
In conclusion, it has been demonstrated that sin can only be accounted unto man by knowledge, and the more knowledge that is had the weightier that sin is accounted. Unto such as have no law, Christ intercedes freely, but when a knowledge of Him is deliberately set aside, the conditions are different:
“[Christ’s] blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam [A] who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or [B] who have ignorantly sinned. But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ…. The time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God,…only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:11-12,20-21, emphasis added).
If the day has arrived when ‘a knowledge of a Savior’ is worldwide, then it is also the day when ‘none shall be found blameless’ without obedience to the Gospel. If such meager information as ‘a knowledge’ is sufficient to condemn the nations, how much greater the condemnation of those who are taught by that Savior and yet are friends with the world!
In short, where truth is taught, damnation is sown if neglected. And, as the holy temples of God are the only places upon the earth where a fulness of truth is taught, if neglected by them who hear those words12, entering those doors will sow only a fulness of damnation—the promise is that if they do not walk up to every covenant made at the altars of the temple, they come under Satan’s very power! Such forget the primary token taken upon themselves of sacrifice, without which no man or woman can please God.13 Therefore, there is not a people upon the face of the earth more deserving of either damnation or eternal glory than those claiming to be Saints in the latter day.14
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
“…See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven” (Hebrews 12:14-17,25).
- All people who come into the world begin with a minimum reserve of light or basic, innate knowledge of good and evil, referred to scripturally as “the light of Christ” (see Moroni 7:16-18, also D&C 84:45-46).↩
The oft spoken proverbial phrase “money is the root of all evil” is a misquoted or wrested verse of scripture. Money in and of itself is not the root of all evil (though it may be a temporary subset of it); according to holy writ, it is the “love” of money that is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The Greek word for “love of money” is φιλαργυρία (philarguria) whose meaning is not so much to love money (who would admit to that?) but, more simply, “the desire for more than is sufficient for one’s needs,” as Augustine noted: “We should understand avarice, which is called philarguria in Greek, both regarding silver or coins and regarding all immoderately desired things whenever one at all wants more than is sufficient” (Saint Augustine, On Free Choice III, 17, n. 48 [PL 32:1294], emphasis added).↩
In what is considered to be one of the most ancient Christian writings, The Song of Deliverance (Das Lied von der Erlösung), so named by the German theologian, Erwin Preuschan, the doctrine of the preexistence is clearly set forth including a comission given by Heavenly Parents for their child to go down into Egypt and snatch a pearl from a dragon (the child, Egypt, and the dragon being prototypical of each of us, the Telestial world, and satan, respectively). Before leaving his royal home to complete his mission, the child leaves his kingly robe and crown beneath his throne to be reclaimed if he is successful. When the child finally overcomes the dragon and returns home, he presents the pearl—which represents sacred tokens—and receives his royal clothing in return. The lesson is this: to obtain the priestly robes beyond the veil, one must present their tokens intact, meaning their respective covenants were fully observed. This necessary interaction, aside from its symbolism, is an actual exchange.↩
Inasmuch as every covenant has an associated token to act as a ‘remembrance,’ the words of the prayer uttered in the sacrament ordinance take on an interesting significance: “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in [token] of the body of thy Son…. Bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in [token] of the blood of thy Son” (D&C 20:77,79).↩
In Ezekiel, the Lord teaches that Sabbath observance is a sign, or token, of a covenant: “I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them…. Hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God” (Ezekiel 20:12,20; see also Exodus 31:13). This understanding can enhance Sabbath day observance by considering one’s actions as the honoring of a sacred token given one by God, that He is recognized as one’s God. As President Nelson has taught: “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” (Russel M. Nelson, “The Sabbath is a Delight,” Conference Report, April 2015).↩
A definition of “fornication” in the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary included: “Idolatry; a forsaking of the true God, and worshipping of idols.” Hence loving—or thinking more about—the things of this world more than the one true God is a form of spiritual infidelity. “The riches, or the good things of this life…a little of this world’s goods, sometimes blind the mind and becloud the spirit of a person. Go to the child, and what does its joy consist in? Toys, we may call them, something that produces, as they think, pleasure; and so it is with our youth, our young boys and girls; they are thinking too much of this world; and the middle-aged are striving and struggling to obtain the good things of this life, and their hearts are too much upon them” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 18, p.235); see also footnote 2.↩
Note: to be able to accumulate money is not a sin in itself; for some it is a God-given gift, but, as with anything given of God, it must be completely consecrated to the building of His kingdom and not one’s own (see Matthew 19:16-26).↩
See the blog post Yet They Shall Come Forth in the First Resurrection.↩
“Careerism is the determination to reign in hell rather than serve in heaven. ‘From the moment a person starts treating his life as a career, worry is his constant companion…. Careerism results not only in constant anxiety, but also in an underdeveloped heart…. The careerist constantly betrays himself, since he must ignore idealistic, compassionate, and courageous impulses that might jeopardize his career.’ ‘Perfect love casts out all fear,’ said the Lord, but who wants that if it jeopardizes one’s career? Satan’s promise to split Adam and Eve was accomplished when God declared, ‘My people have sold themselves for gold and silver’” (Nibley, Hugh, “Patriarchy and Matriarchy”, BYU Women’s Conference Address, 1 Feb 1980).↩
“The powers of darkness prevail upon the earth, among the children of men, in the presence of all the hosts of heaven—which causeth silence to reign, and all eternity is pained” (D&C 38:11-12; see also 121:37 and Helaman 4:14,23, emphasis added). “When our conduct hedges up the way of angels how can they bless us?…How can they help us work out our salvation?” (Brigham Young as quoted by Elden J. Watson, Brigham Young Addresses 1870-1877, 6 vols. [unpublished], 6 [1 June 1876]).↩
“Ay, and [comfort] becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires. / Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron. / It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh. / It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels. / Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral” (Gibran, Kahlil, The Prophet, “On Houses”).↩
When people are “taught…even then are they found no more blameless in the sight of God…. [Those teachings] shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged” (Mosiah 3:22,24, emphasis added).↩
“It is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God” (Lectures on Faith 6:7).↩
“What is to be done then? Are we to be perfect before taking upon ourselves sacred tokens in the temple?” No, those who make covenants must rely upon the grace of Christ to fulfil the terms of those covenants; but just because one cannot be expected to live rightly by one’s own merit is no reason to not try at all. And this is the point: one must avoid the pitfall of relenting to Babylon at the first sign of opposition after entering into covenants (usually when one first steps foot outside the temple); instead, do “all [you] can do” to live up to the terms of the covenants and the promise is that Christ’s grace will attend (2 Nephi 25:23), or, as Moroni puts it, “if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then [and only then!] is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ (Moroni 10:32, emphasis added). It is no coincidence that Mosiah taught that to become a true saint, one must first put off “the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19), which is the essence of the Law of the Gospel and its attendant token. Further ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood prefigure the change into sainthood, or “the power of godliness” (D&C 84:19-21), which is betokened through the body and grace of Christ (see Hebrews 10:19-22).↩