The prophet Nephi identified two common strategies the devil uses to tempt us:
Strategy #1: Don’t worry about the future.
Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.2 Nephi 28:7 (See also Isaiah 22:13, Luke 12:16-21.)
It is good to focus on the activities of each moment and not to be constantly living in the future or in the past. (See 3 Nephi 13:34, Matthew 6:34.) But that is not to say that we shouldn’t care about the future consequences of our present actions. We should care as much about our future self as we do about our current self, and we should make choices which will not only bring joy today but always.
Strategy #2: It’s a little sin.
And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.2 Nephi 28:8
If he can’t convince us to ignore the future entirely, Satan will try to convince us that “little” sins don’t matter. They’re hardly sins at all, merely indiscretions. Maybe God will simply overlook them, and we can pretend they never happened.
But that’s not how it works. As Alma later explained to his son Helaman, “The Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16). (See also Doctrine and Covenants 1:31.) If our goal is to become like our Heavenly Father, we need to overcome all of our sins, not just the ones that we consider big enough to “count.”
In a revelation Joseph Smith received in 1829, the Lord described a third strategy. After paraphrasing part of Nephi’s words, the Lord added the following:
Strategy #3: I’m not the only one.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, wo be unto him that lieth to deceive because he supposeth that another lieth to deceive, for such are not exempt from the justice of God.Doctrine and Covenants 10:28
“Everyone else did the same thing,” will not work as a defense at the Final Judgment. God will not accept that argument. The fact that another person or group is willing to engage in deception, personal attacks, or other unethical behavior does not excuse misbehavior on our part.
The good news is that the Savior’s light can overcome all of the confusion caused by these and other strategies. I love the words of Oliver Cowdery about the effect of being in the presence of an angel of God:
Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind.Joseph Smith—History, endnote
Today, I will strive to align my thoughts and decisions with the will of God. I will avoid justifying misbehavior in myself and others. Instead I will seek the light of Christ which can help me overcome every weakness and error, so that I can be prepared to return to God’s presence.