What Is the “Natural Man?”

The angel who visited King Benjamin promised that his message would fill Benjamin and his people with joy. His core message was that Jesus Christ, “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity,” would come to earth and suffer for our sins, making salvation possible for us (Mosiah 3:1-10).

After sharing this good news, he explained the implications for two groups of people: those who sin in ignorance and those who intentionally rebel against God.

  1. Ignorant – Some of the wrong choices we make are a function of our mortal bodies. We don’t know better, and our mortal bodies provoke us to actions that are not in harmony with God’s laws. The Atonement of Jesus Christ pays the full price for those cases in which we have “ignorantly sinned.” Little children fall into this category. They are pure and innocent, but they may still do things that are wrong. “In Adam, or by nature they fall,” and “the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins” (Mosiah 3:11, 16).
  2. Intentional – Other wrong choices are deliberate. We know what we should do, but we choose differently on purpose. We harden our hearts and rebel against God. The remedy for these sins is the same, but something is required of us before we can receive the gift. We chose to sin, and now we must humble ourselves, repent, and have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Through this change in attitude, we become as little children (the first group), which makes us receptive to the gift: a remission of our sins (Mosiah 3:11, 17, 21).

Both types of sin are prompted by what the angel called “the natural man.” Because of our mortal bodies (which affect our emotions and our thoughts as well as our actions), we are all prone to make mistakes, to do things that are wrong. But once we know better, once we understand that something we are doing is unwise or damaging, we are responsible to seek the help we need to overcome these tendencies. We do this by becoming like the small children we once were: adaptable, receptive, responsive, willing to receive help from God. In the words of the angel:

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 Juan A. Uceda told a story of a reconciliation between a father and a daughter who had exchanged unkind words. They were able to overcome their hurt feelings, and the relationship was healed, because they both recognized that they had succumbed to the “natural man,” and had acted in ways that were not right. They were both willing to humble themselves, admit their mistakes, and trust that God could help them overcome their natural responses and act in ways that were more appropriate.

As Elder Uceda taught, God will help us take the actions we need to take to overcome the “natural man:”

He teaches us to be submissive, or in other words, to yield to the will or power of the Lord. “Go and say, ‘I am sorry.’”
He teaches us to be meek, or in other words, to be “mild of temper; soft; gentle; not easily provoked or irritated; yielding; given to forbearance under injuries.”
He teaches us to be humble, or in other words, “lowly; modest; meek; submissive; opposed to proud, haughty, arrogant, or assuming.”
“I am sorry. I apologize for what I did.”
He teaches us to be patient, or in other words, “having the quality of enduring evils without murmuring or fretfulness” or “calm under the sufferance of injuries or offenses.”
He teaches us to be full of love. “I love you, and I don’t want to hurt you….”
I bear witness of the reality and power of the Savior’s Atonement to cleanse, purify, and make us and our homes holy as we strive to put off the natural man and follow Him (“He Teaches Us to Put Off the Natural Man,” General Conference, October 2010, bold and underline added for emphasis).

Today, I will remember that God wants to help me overcome the “natural man.” When I choose wrongly, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I will follow the counsel the angel gave to King Benjamin. I will strive to become like a little child. I will choose to be submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love. I will submit my will to the will of God, knowing that He is willing to make me a saint, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

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