Last evening we had a wonderful experience with Brother and Sister Eyring and their family. They spoke with fondness of how wonderful you are. I sincerely pray that each of you will feel of the love that Sister Arnold and I have for you, and that you will join us in seeking the “fulness of the Holy Ghost” so that you will feel more than you hear.
A few days before each general conference, the General Authorities and auxiliary leaders gather in an auditorium in the Church Office Building. We sit at the feet of prophets and apostles and are taught by them.
Near the conclusion of one of these training sessions, President Henry B. Eyring, a member of the First Presidency of the Church, invited each one of us to experience an increase of the Savior’s image in our countenance prior to returning to the next general conference in six months. I promise you that I sat up and took notice! This invitation to experience an increase of the Savior’s image in our countenances has had a profound effect on my life.
We are all aware of the account in the Book of Mormon when Alma asked the members of the Church: “Now behold, I ask of you, my brethren [and sisters] of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”1
Ponder with me this question: What am I doing to increase the Savior’s image in my countenance?
Let’s review an incident that occurred involving John the Baptist.
When the disciples of John the Baptist came to him expressing concern that John’s followers were now seeking out Jesus, instead of continuing to follow John, John responded:
“I am not the Christ.”2 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”3 What a profound seven-word sermon. Let’s ponder for a moment this phrase—“He must increase, but I must decrease”—and liken it unto ourselves.
First, we know that John the Baptist remained true to his mission and his testimony, and continued to fulfill a ministry that spanned three dispensations.4 So how did John decrease? Did his importance decrease? Did Jesus’s love for him decrease? Did his usefulness in God’s kingdom decrease? Of course not! Just as John recognized that Christ must increase in his life, so too must Christ increase in our lives so that we can become, as the Savior taught, “Even as I am.”5
What might need to decrease in us? Notoriety? Selfishness? Pride? The natural man? The Guide to the Scriptures teaches us that the natural man is “a person who chooses to be influenced by the passions, desires, appetites, and senses of the flesh rather than by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Such a person can comprehend physical things but not spiritual things…Each person must be born again through the atonement of Jesus Christ to cease being a natural man.”6
Ponder this question. Does your spirit, which was created by your heavenly parents, rule your physical body, or does your physical body rule your spirit? How can you tell? The Apostle Paul, speaking to the Corinthians, explained this very important concept:
“There is … no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”7
Satan is working overtime to have your physical body rule your spirit and “mind the things of the flesh.” Sexual transgressions, including pornography, are unclean things. Pornography in any of its forms—including Internet images, verbal messages, sexting, magazines, and anything like unto it—clearly violates the law of chastity.
Satan would have you think that pornography is not affecting anyone but you, that no one else will know, that you can quit anytime, or that when you are married, you can do whatever you want and it certainly will not affect your marriage. Each of these examples are untrue. Pornography is worse than any plague I have witnessed in my entire life. It is destroying the lives of many children, youth, young adults, prospective missionaries, husbands, and wives.
In the most recent October 2015 Ensign, Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke clearly on the issue of pornography. He counseled:
“Pornography … is destructive of spiritual sensitivity, it weakens ability to exercise priesthood power, and it harms precious relationships…
… Scientists have discovered that sexual images produce chemicals in the brain that reward sexual feelings, which then encourage more attention to sexual behavior.”8
We should do everything possible to create a safe environment that drastically reduces access to pornography and other sexual triggers, and we encourage those in need to seek support from priesthood leaders, groups such as the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program, aids on the Church’s website, and, as needed a trusted counselor or therapist who has had special training and success in treating such issues. If you are involved in any type of pornography, please go see your bishop. He will lovingly help guide you through the needed steps to help you repent and heal.
Oftentimes pornography use can lead its victims down the path of other sexual transgressions. Concerning moral transgressions, including the sin of viewing pornography, the prophets have clearly spoken when they taught, and I quote: “Never do anything that could lead to sexual transgression. Treat others with respect, not as objects used to satisfy lustful and selfish desires. Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is involved in sexual transgression.”9 Could there be any clearer instruction?
Satan would deceive you by trying to convince you that the advice of the prophets is old fashioned, outdated, and no longer applies, and besides it is no big deal to be immoral—you are young and can quickly repent. The prophet Nephi warns us of the consequences of thinking we can premeditate sin and then quickly repent:
“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.
… Nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, … 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.
Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines.”10
Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated:
“We are concerned that some people…say, ‘I’ll just have a few free ones, and then I’ll repent quickly and go on a mission [or get married in the temple], and everything will be all right.
… Members of the Church who commit serious transgressions knowingly and deliberately, relying on their supposed ability to repent speedily and be ‘as good as new’ … want to experience the sin but avoid its effects.”
There are no shortcuts to repentance or quick fixes.
And “the Holy Spirit of Promise [must put his] divine stamp of approval … upon our ordinances and covenants … [and he] cannot be deceived.”11
Those who feel they can break the commandments, leaving those persons they use or abuse with scars of depression, lowered self-esteem, and—at times—a lifetime of emotional disarray, and then feel they can quickly repent and be immediately forgiven with few if any consequences are sadly mistaken.
If anyone, or anything, is influencing you to decrease the image of Christ in your countenance, you must recognize that force and do as Joseph of old did when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife. You must flee! I love the word flee! Get out! Fire in the hole! Danger! Run! You can do that. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said regarding pornography, once you flee, “do not leave a forwarding address.”12
And what miraculous things happen when, through the Atonement, we can repent, be cleansed, and receive forgiveness. The word Atonement describes the setting “at one” with those who have been estranged (removed from a customary environment13), and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. To be reconciled means “to restore to friendship or harmony14.” When we are removed from God’s presences because of sin, all of us require reconciliation with God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement (removal from God’s presence), and therefore the purpose of the Atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin and allow us to be reconciled and eventually live once again in God’s presence. The natural man decreases within us as the Savior increases. We let our light shine so that others may glorify Him. He increases not only in influence and power generally, but He also increases in us. We become like Him, “the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters15 who desire to have the Christlike characteristics that He exemplifies. We can actually become not simply a better version of ourselves but as He commanded us to be—“Even as I am.”
How do we begin to receive His image in our countenance?
President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, when speaking at a mission presidents’ seminar, taught to begin with the end in mind, with [our] minds focused on the temple.16
If you begin with the end in mind, what is your vision of yourself? Would it surprise you that it might be somewhat the same vision if you begin with the beginning in mind?
In the beginning, we were born of heavenly parents, raised in the mansions of our Father17 for thousands of ages,18 received our first lessons, including the plan of salvation, which included the Fall, the Atonement, our purpose for coming to earth, and the challenges we might face to strengthen us and draw us closer to God.19 We received gifts and talents to be multiplied,20 and then God picked the time and the place we would be born.21
Life with our heavenly parents can be both our end and our beginning, and we can begin, or continue, our transformation with both the end and the beginning in mind. But our ending does require us to strive throughout our mortal experience for Christ to increase in us, so that we receive His image in our countenance. Because of our mortal experience, our end can be more glorious than our beginning as we qualify for exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
Today I would like to share two stories that I hope will illustrate the principles we have been talking about thus far.
Story number 1 is a true story about my friend Doug. I tell you this story with his and his family’s permission.
Doug learned there are no shortcuts to repentance or quick fixes.
Much like many of you, Doug was a faithful youth who grew up surrounded by goodly parents, family, and Church leaders. As a youth, he loved the temple and enjoyed going there.
When Doug turned 16, he began his first job, where he worked with people who had values different from those he had been taught. Gradually, Doug turned away from the gospel altogether, and many poor decisions led to various life-threatening addictions. His family realized that after many years of continuous efforts, it would be very difficult to save Doug, who had changed to the point that his countenance was hardly recognizable.
Feeling the deep terror that only parents who have had children take such a path understand, and having exhausted every avenue possible, Doug’s parents put his future in the hands of the Lord.
Ironically, the help they were seeking came when Doug was arrested for selling drugs and put into solitary confinement as a suicide risk. Then a miracle occurred! Doug’s heart began to change and, much like the prodigal son, “he came to himself.”22 After wading through much tribulation and working hard to overcome his addictions, experiencing the true “godly sorrow [that] worketh repentance,”23 which involves personal suffering, Doug experienced the change true repentance brings, and he once again began the process of increasing in Christ. Eventually, his countenance began to change.
Doug forgot himself and began serving others in the Addiction Recovery Program. As Doug began increasing in Christ, the Savior’s image became more evident in his countenance. Doug began keeping the Sabbath day holy and attending church, where he met a truly extraordinary young woman, whom he married, and they are now raising a beautiful family. Like Alma the Younger, Doug became “[a] new creature.”
What a wonderful thing happens, through the Atonement, as we diligently strive to overcome the natural man within us and as we seek to walk after the things of the spirit instead of the things of the flesh. We truly experience “life and peace”24 as we desire to have the Christ-like attributes that He exemplifies. We can actually become as the Savior commanded us to become—“Even as I am.” We can do this.
Story number 2
When President Nelson was young, he attended church without his parents. His biographer writes that “it became a source of increasing concern … to be reared in a family where the daily application of the gospel was not a high priority.” Young President Nelson worried that perhaps they would never be sealed as a family in the temple.
He “remembers the day he was looking through the home’s storage room and found some bottles of alcoholic beverage. In righteous indignation, and perhaps as an indicator of his growing testimony, he smashed the bottles on the cement floor of the laundry room, pouring their contents down the drain.”25 He clearly understood the blessings we receive when we live the Word of Wisdom and recognized early that the body is a temple.
But his career as an internationally renowned heart surgeon and medical researcher did not come easily. Because of advanced training and military service, the time between President Nelson getting his doctor’s degree and going into practice was 12½ years. During those long and lean years, the Nelsons welcomed their first five children.
Of his financial struggles as a newlywed, he remembers: “Finances eventually became so straitened that [my wife] Dantzel took a second job, working evenings as a clerk in a music store downtown. Once, when there was too much month at the end of [our] money, [we] found [our]selves in the hole by about forty-three dollars. On this occasion, [I] picked up Dantzel after school and took her to the LDS Hospital, where [we] each sold a pint of blood for twenty-five dollars. This gave [us] enough cash to retire [our] bills. As the needle was withdrawn from Dantzel’s arm, she said, … ‘Don’t forget to pay tithing on my blood money!’”26
Sister Arnold and I started out in about the same financial condition as President and Sister Nelson. I met Sister Arnold at BYU. After dating for a few months, I decided I wanted to ask her to go steady, so I bought some Neil Diamond tickets and asked her to go to the concert with me. On the way from Provo to Salt Lake, I asked how she would feel about not dating other boys for a time. She thought for what I felt was eternity at the time and then replied, “I guess we can try it for a little while.” On the way home from the concert, I asked her to marry me.
When we got married a few months later, we had a mere $42 to buy all our furniture. My mother bought us a bed for our wedding present, and the rest of our furniture we purchased from an older woman who was moving into an assisted living center. She gladly sold us all of her very old furniture for the $42.
I must admit that most of it looked like Moses had drug it through the Red Sea. The table and chairs were badly worn. The washer and dryer looked as though they had not been used in years, but, to our surprise, they both worked. The couch had only three legs. This actually turned out to be a blessing because my brother Robert gave us an old TV, and when you turned it on, the picture on the screen was on exactly the same slant as the three-legged couch.
At the age of 37, I was called to be a mission president in Costa Rica and Panama, we had six children under the age of 11.
In our last general conference, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke to the young adults about marriage.
He reminded you, “The track that leads to marriage passes through the terrain called dating!”27 Often I hear the young single adults say things like let’s just “hang out” for a few years, get a degree, get a good job, or buy a car before ever considering marriage.
President Nelson, whom I testify is a prophet, seer, and revelator, chose to move forward in faith, get married, and have children while finishing his college education. You can do that. He became a renowned heart surgeon who spent his early years repairing and strengthening diseased and defective hearts, and in his later years, he has become an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, ministering to those with wounded hearts and inspiring millions to have a mighty change of heart.
What can we do to increase in Christ and receive His image in our countenance?
By heeding the words of the Savior, the scriptures, and modern-day prophets, we can learn how to increase in Christ, integrating the Savior’s teachings into our very beings by doing what He did, becoming more like Him each day, and decreasing the natural man within ourselves over time. There are many examples we can follow as we study the life of the Savior that will help us increase in Christ. Let me share just two of many.
Example number 1
The Savior taught us to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”28 We can do that. When speaking about Sabbath-day observance, President Nelson posed the question, “What sign do I want to give to God?”29
For me, one of the most spiritually uplifting times that helps me to increase in Christ and feel very close to Him is when we have the opportunity to partake of the sacrament each week. Perhaps when you partake of the sacrament, you could ponder the meaning of the Atonement in your personal life. I know that if I am going through a difficult time, it helps me to think about our Savior, who suffered not only for my sins but also suffered for my pains, afflictions, sicknesses, and temptations of every kind—“that he may know according to the flesh how to succor [you, me, and all of] his people according to their infirmities.”30
During the sacrament prayer, we hear the great promise each week: “That they may always have his Spirit to be with them.”31 The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that when you have the Holy Ghost with you, He “will teach [you what] to do and where to go; …[He] will whisper peace and joy to [your] souls, He will take malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all evil from [your] hearts; and [inspire you that your] whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God.”32
Example number 2
The Savior literally fed thousands and gave living water to multitudes that were thirsty. How blessed we are to have the law of the fast. It feeds our spirits and gives us the opportunity to consecrate our fast with a generous fast offering, which literally does feed thousands who are hungry and provides other essential needs. We can do that.
What happens as we increase in Christ, thus allowing us to receive His image in our countenance? We can experience—usually gradually—a physical manifestation of the spiritual reality that Christ is increasing in us. The Savior declared “that all [people], must be born again; … changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures.”33
As our spirits increasingly direct the natural man, we can someday be prepared to enter the presence of God. The temple is a place where we can learn how to be comfortable in the presence of God. The celestial room in the temple represents being in the presence of God.
As I conclude, may I ask, “What will your story be?” Did you know our stories of how we are becoming more like Christ are being recorded in heaven in our book of life, which, in one sense, is “the sum total of one’s thoughts and actions.”34 “When [our] book of life is opened on the Day of Judgment, [our] bodies will show what law [we] have lived.”35 Will we have lived a telestial, terrestrial, or celestial law?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks teaches: that the three-fold degrees of “good, better, and best” even have their counterparts in the kingdoms of glory for which men and women will qualify in the Day of Judgment.36 We can say that it is good to be in the terrestrial kingdom with the “honorable men of the earth” who receive the glory and “presence of the Son.”37 It is better to make and keep the baptismal covenants that are necessary for the glory of the celestial kingdom, where God the Father reigns.38 But it is best to receive eternal life in the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom, which is called the “fulness” of the Father, or exaltation.39 This comes only by making and keeping all the covenants of the temple, including the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.40
Today, I extend the same invitation President Eyring extended to the General Authorities. I invite each one of you to experience an increase of the Savior’s image in your countenance prior to our next general conference. I know the Holy Ghost will guide you in your journey.
I testify that Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son, and that the Church was restored. The Book of Mormon is true. The Savior lives. He guides His Church through our living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, whom I testify is a prophet who holds all the priesthood keys here on the earth. I know that God our Father deeply loves us, listens to us, and wants us to return to our heavenly home. I know He lives. I know that Christ is our Redeemer, our Advocate, our Friend. Of that I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, our Master, amen.
1. Alma 5:14.
2. John 3:28.
3. John 3:30.
4. See Bible Dictionary, “John the Baptist.”
5. John 17:14.
6. Guide to the Scriptures, “natural man.”
7. Romans 8:1–2, 5–6.
8. Dallin H. Oaks, “Recovering from the Trap of Pornography,” Ensign, Oct. 2015, 32, 34.
9. For the Strength of Youth (2011), 36, emphasis added.
10. 2 Nephi 28:7–9.
11. James E. Faust, “The Enemy Within,” Ensign, Nov. 2000.
12. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Place No More for the Enemy of My Soul,” Apr. 2010 General Conference.