One day I considered the records we have of faithful disciples who eventually fell away from the gospel, and it made me wonder if I might ever do the same. I have no intention of ever abandoning my faith…but then that seems to be true of so many that do. And to be clear, I’m not talking about halfhearted disciples who were never invested in the message of the gospel, and unsurprisingly sifted out over time. I am speaking of spiritual giants, ones who it appears had so much more depth of spirit than I ever have, yet somehow still lost their grasp on it.
Judas walked with the living Savior, Solomon was blessed with the wisdom of God, nine of the ten lepers had their bodies restored by a miracle, Lucifer was a son of heaven. These were the elite, the greatly blessed, the glorified…and still they fell. If even these were subject to gravity, then how can I ever hope to defy it?
In times past I have thought up some answers to these questions, but I would like to take a formal study to see what deeper insights the scriptures can provide. The gospel is one of hope, and so I am convinced that I can find the encouragement I need to address this concern.
Judges 16:6, 15-17
And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.
And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.
And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
Tell me wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee
She pressed him daily, so that his soul was vexed unto death; That he told her all his heart
Samson had a weakness. But it wasn’t his hair, it was Delilah. Personally I’ve never been able to see Samson as some idiot who failed to recognize what Delilah was doing. Far more likely to me is that he was entirely aware of her malicious intentions, but even so he loved her, and was “vexed unto death” so that he didn’t care whether he lived or died anymore. In the end he could only choose life or Delilah…and he submitted to her destruction.
It might seem ridiculous to so willingly elect self-harm, but really it is all-too common. I’m sure we all know men who were noble and good, until they gave in to the bottle. And we all know women who were beautiful and confident, until they denied their bodies food and nourishment. I can honestly say that I have given into my weaknesses while fully knowing that they were destroying me.
In other words, we all have our personal weakness, our slippery paths that lead from greatness to brokenness. Even if we are strong as Samson, the opportunity yet remains to lose it all. No matter how spiritually powerful we may become, we never stop having to choose between life or Delilah.
Proverbs 13:20, Matthew 5:16
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed
That in which we prolong our association tends to rub off on us. I began this study with the question of “if so many valiant souls fell from the gospel, then what chance do I have?” This question, though, chooses to restrict its consideration to only the tragedies that are found in the scriptures. If we limit our view in this way, then of course we will start to grow cynical and doubt ourselves. If we become obsessed with observing Judas, we run the risk of forgetting that there was also a Peter.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works
I believe this is part of the reason why Jesus commanded his faithful disciples to shine forth. There will always be depressing examples that discourage us, and that pessimism needs to be actively beat back with a light of hope. Yes, there are those that tried and failed, but let us not forget that the scriptures also overflow with positive examples: men and women that came from humble beginnings, became spiritual giants, and held their faith to the end. There is sufficient reason to be an optimist, if we will just allow ourselves to focus on it.
If the paths of doubt and hope can each be well justified, then why not choose the better part?
2 Timothy 1:7, John 14:27
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power
Peace I leave with you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid
It might be natural for us to try and weigh the odds of our remaining faithful, to question whether we have the “right stuff” and can hold out valiant. But such a spirit of uncertainty is not divinely approved. Many a soul runs into trouble when they start to question if they have the capacity to be good, creating for themselves a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Rather we are reminded that God gives a spirit of power, and of peace.
We are commanded to be faithful in all things (1 Timothy 3:11). Most often we speak of being faithful as being loyal, but the composition of the word literally means “full of faith.” And included among the “all things” that we should have full faith in…is ourselves. When I feel God’s spirit I feel a confidence in myself, an assurance that I am made in His image and that I am good. That isn’t to say that I don’t need help, only that I know God believes in me, so I should, too. The “right stuff” is in me, I don’t need to worry about that. I just need to get out of its way and let it shine forth.
Moroni 10:20-22, 1 Corinthians 9:10
Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair
If we are unable to live in hope of our success, then all our discipleship will crumble in despair. If I have no hope of triumph, how could I act in faith? It would feel like a vain effort, and I would consign myself to inevitable ruin.
Hope is therefore not just some nice virtue to make our lives more pleasant, it is absolutely essential for our spiritual survival. For many, the entire struggle of discipleship is the struggle to simply maintain their hope.
He that ploweth should plow in hope
In which case one must understand that hope is not some vague thing that you either have or don’t have. Hope, like faith, can be exercised, can be cultivated, and can be grown. We must dare to hope, work ourselves up to it, strive for it continually. Even if you have only a little hope, plow and thresh in it, and the promise is given that you will partake of more.
Matthew 28:19-20, Philippians 4:13, Joshua 1:9
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.
Go ye and teach all nations, and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
The very last passage in Matthew is that of the Savior calling his disciples to spread the gospel to all the world. It was a joyful call, but also one that was fraught with danger. Many of the disciples would ultimately lose their lives for this cause.
How does Jesus encourage and inspire them in this great undertaking? How does he give them confidence that they can even succeed? With the assurance that they will not be doing this work alone, he will be with them…always…even to the end of the world.
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me
Be not afraid, neither dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest
When we consider the challenge of discipleship, we may very well doubt that we can meet its demands. Yes, we have what it takes to try…but to succeed? Going back to the original question of this research: what chance do I, as I am, have of remaining forever faithful? Well… none.
But what chance does Christ have of remaining faithful forever?
So long as we think that we have to maintain our faith on our own, then our fears of failure are completely warranted. We won’t be able to do it! But if we accept that he will be the one strengthening and preserving us, then any fear is completely unfounded. Our success is guaranteed. The only question, then, is on which foundation are you building: yourself, or him?
Isaiah 28:10, Matthew 6:34
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Precept upon precept; line upon line
It is easy when reading the stories of the saints to wonder how you could ever measure up to their great example. But it isn’t fair to compare yourself at the beginning of your journey to them at their end. Moses was not born as a prophet and lawgiver, he spent nearly a full lifetime growing into that role. Young Moses might not have been ready to stand up to the entire Egyptian nation and rescue all of the Hebrews…but he was ready to stand up to one soldier who was beating one Jew (Exodus 2:11-12).
So long as you are fighting down complacency and actively progressing, then it is alright to not yet be able to do all things. Just take it one line at a time.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
I think the fear that we might fall away is simply the recognition that we are not yet ready to bear all things. And that is true, we are still unfinished vessels. But God is not going to ask the world of you today.
There is such a thing as preparing for the future, but there is also such a thing as fretting over things unnecessarily. You do not have to succeed today in tomorrow’s trials. If you do not feel ready to face a sacrifice like Abraham’s, that is fine. Simply ask if you are ready to face the sacrifices that are actually before you right now. I have found that I always am.
There was a part of me that wondered if I ought to conduct this study at all. I wish to be cautious about ever introducing a new doubt to a mind that has never considered it before. What if there is a reader who never questioned their ability to hold firm, but now that I have given them the idea they can’t get rid of it?
But then I ask myself, who is there among us that has never questioned our ability to hold firm? Perhaps the way that self-doubt has chosen to phrase itself in my heart is different from how it has for you. I asked myself “if other spiritual giants could fall, what chance do I have?” but you might have asked yourself the same question in a different way.
Either way, though, the matter of self-doubt is universal, and so I felt I did not need to be shy of addressing it. The message of the gospel is one of hope and triumph, because it is able to directly answer these questions of despair and defeat. I will share what ways I have found that it does so in this study.
Our Fears Come From Our Weakness
Back when I was dating the woman who would become my wife, we had a conversation about her nephews and nieces. They were young children then, and she spoke of how much she loved them, and how she was delighted by the boundless confidence that they showed. They had a certainty that they were important and powerful. She observed that such feelings tend to fade in children, though, and she wondered why, and she wished it could be prevented.
I, too, wish that the innocence of children could forever remain unshattered…but I think that that is impossible. Each one of us, even the most innocent and brilliant of children, is flawed in our own way. And in a fallen world every flaw is eventually exploited in a way that crushes our hearts. We will fail, and we will know that that failure came about because of our weakness.
Where it was once effortless to believe in ourselves, our default state becomes far more cynical after being beaten down by the harsh realities of life enough times. Pessimism starts to sound synonymous with wisdom, our bright future is splashed with bleak colors, and it becomes supremely difficult to believe in ourselves for anything lasting and good.
Judges 16:17- He told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
Moses 1:10- And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.
Our Weakness Make Us Humble
Despair is a natural result of defeat, but it is not the only possible result. There is, also, the possibility for humility. To be humble is not to put oneself down, but rather to see oneself as one really is. And what one really is is flawed…but still good.
Where youthful innocence might be totally aware of one’s goodness, but oblivious to the fact of also being flawed, despair goes to the other extreme of totally seeing one’s flaws and becoming oblivious to the fact that one is also still good. Humility strikes the correct balance between the two, still able to appreciate the inherent worth in every soul, but acknowledging that that worth is currently limited from its full expression.
The appreciation of one’s goodness gives us hope, while the appreciation of one’s limits makes us open to receiving help. Both of these elements are necessary for one to be teachable. If one feels they are already perfect they will not be open to receiving the Lord’s help, and if they have no hope they will not either.
Moroni 10:22- And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
James 4:6- But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
Our Humility Leads Us to the True Strength
And finally, if one is humble, then they can be receptive to God’s grace lifting them back to where they were before. Even lifting them beyond it.
To recognize the inherent flaws of mortality and to doubt the strength of men, even to doubt the strength of oneself, is not amiss. But that should never make one doubt the strength of God coupled with a willing soul. The only time that man has ever failed was when he tried to stand alone. He fails if he tries to stand alone from the beginning, he fails if he tries to stand alone after having walked with God for a time. One must ever remember that they are good and capable of doing good, but also that they will forever need help along the way.
Men and women can take sincere pride in knowing that they have the capacity to become a worthy vessel. They can show joy at being one that is pure and refined. But they should remain humbled by the knowledge that they are still only the vessel. They might be utilized as a conduit for good, but they are not the good that pours forth. So long as they keep that distinction in their mind, they can walk with God and never fall.
Mark 10:18- And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Alma 26:12- Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.