A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to overcome temptation. A friend of mine asked me to consider the following question: How much power does the devil have over us? Does he have any power at all if we choose not to listen to him?
It’s a good question, and the Book of Mormon clearly states that the answer is “no.”
Nephi taught that, during the Millenium, Satan will have no power specifically because no one will listen to him:
And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth (1 Nephi 22:26).
And Mormon’s characterization of Captain Moroni teaches the same principle:
Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men (Alma 48:17).
That is not to say that we have nothing to worry about. As Lehi taught his sons, the devil is miserable, and his goal is to make us miserable too (2 Nephi 2:18). In his dream, Lehi saw the effects of the temptations of the devil, symbolized by a “mist of darkness” which caused many people to lose their way (1 Nephi 8:23, 1 Nephi 12:17).
The prophet Abinadi taught that, if we persist in our carnal nature, consistently sinning and rebelling against God, then the devil has power over us (Mosiah 16:5). And the Savior gave the following counsel: “Ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him” (3 Nephi 18:15).
The devil tries to make evil things seem good and good things seem evil (Moroni 7:12-14, 17). He can even appear as an angel of light, in an attempt to deceive us (2 Nephi 9:9, Alma 30:55, 2 Corinthians 11:14). But he can’t force us to sin. We are free to choose for ourselves.
Joseph Smith taught, “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him; the moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, “Chapter 17: The Great Plan of Salvation“).
But what about Joseph Smith’s experience in the Sacred Grove as a 14-year-old young man? Before he saw the Father and the Son, while he knelt alone in prayer, he was “seized upon by some power which entirely overcame [him], and had such an astonishing influence over [him] as to bind [his] tongue so that [he] could not speak” (Joseph Smith—History 1:15).
I think this unusual experience served as a teaching moment for the young prophet. Just as he experienced what it was like to be in God’s presence, he also learned by firsthand experience about the power of the adversary. He learned that God’s power is greater than the power of the devil and that God’s power uplifts us, while the devil’s power drags us down.
The devil’s power is real, but as Lehi taught his sons, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we are not subject to that power unless we choose to be:
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself (2 Nephi 2:27).
Today, I will be grateful for the freedom God has granted me. I will remember that the devil has no power over me unless I give it to him. I will be vigilant and pray for guidance to recognize and overcome the temptations I face, so that the devil cannot drag me down.