When we hear the words temptation and sin, we generally think of blatant and serious transgressions. However, the temptations the adversary uses to entice us to follow him are often subtle. Few people would deliberately choose a course of action they knew would lead to unhappiness. The adversary knows this, and attempts to present his temptations as effective and easy methods of attaining happiness. They are counterfeits for the truth.
The adversary's objective is to lead us away from the true path to freedom and happiness that the Lord has given us. His counterfeits may seem innocuous, but we face real dangers when we accept his substitutes for the truth. Some of these dangers include:
- By appearing to address our needs, they keep us from making efforts to obtain the good things they counterfeit. They distract us from the truth, or make it appear unnecessary.
- They promise to fill a need easily, without requiring us to develop the character required to receive real blessings, cheating us of opportunities for growth. The very purpose of mortal life is to become more like God. Personal growth prepares us to receive blessings and use them properly.
- Because following the true path to happiness requires self-discipline, patience and faith, once we have grown accustomed to chasing counterfeits, giving them up for the real thing can be very difficult. We tend to make a brief effort to follow the truth, but seeing no instantaneous results, turn back to the counterfeits. Although their results aren't enough to satisfy us, we are tempted to pursue them because they are more immediate and thus seem more sure. But the only surety is that they lead us away from the fullness of God's blessings.
- One of the challenges of mortality is to subject our bodies to our spirits, our spirits being guided by faith and the light of Christ. Many counterfeits attempt to fake the experience of spiritual blessings by reversing this relationship. They teach the spirit to look to the flesh to fulfill its needs, severing our connection to the "true vine", which is Christ, thus corrupting the soul. If we consider how following counterfeits disconnects us from Christ, it becomes clear how critical it is not to become involved with them. Once severed from the source of truth and light, we become more susceptible to the deceptions and temptations of the adversary in other and more serious matters. If we subject our spirits to our flesh, we go "contrary to the nature of God; therefore, [we] are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness." (Alma 41:11).
- Because our efforts at chasing counterfeits do not bring the promised rewards, they weaken hope and result in despair. The harder we work for them, the more discouraged we become, mistakenly believing that our failure to achieve success and happiness is the result of not trying hard enough or being good enough.
The adversary has counterfeits for many of the good things for which we should be seeking. Examples include:
Pride vs. self-worth and self-confidence
Until an individual understands the true worth of their soul as a actual child of a living God, they will not have a sure foundation on which they can stand with confidence. No amount of worldly wealth or accomplishment, and no degree of supposed superiority over their fellow beings can provide a foundation that will hold in all circumstances. Eventually these things will fail. When we build our foundation on Christ, we build on "a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall." (Heleman 5:12). Haughty pride is a temporary and poor substitute for a correct sense of one's own value.
Being feared vs. being respected
The word "respect" is abused by those whose demands for deference are backed by the threat of force. There is an vast difference between deference that is shown out of fear and that which comes from love and admiration. True respect is earned through the consistent display of strong character. Fear is the substitute used by men of weak character.
Lust vs. love
This is the classic example of a counterfeit, substituting a hormonal response for true devotion. Considering the flood of filth that has inundated our entertainment media, how critical it is that we teach our children to understand the difference, and reject this insidious counterfeit, and to ensure that we do not allow its influence into our homes!
Control vs. faith
Some seek to create a sense of security by gaining control of their environment--by saving up lots of money, gaining influence over others, etc. While it is certainly important to do what we can to provide for ourselves, we simply cannot control everything. Far greater security comes from putting our faith in the arm of God than by trusting the arm of flesh. When we believe in and follow Christ, we can have the complete assurance that, come what may, our needs will be taken care of. Not only will God protect us from many troubles and dangers, but even if God allows tragedy to strike in our lives, even if our mortal lives are lost, we can rest assured that our eternal needs will be fulfilled completely.
Moral ambiguity vs. the atonement
The antichrists of the Book of Mormon taught a counterfeit philosophy which is still common today--that freedom from guilt comes by rejecting the existence of good and evil. Those who accept this philosophy may succeed in dulling and ignoring their consciences for a time, but ultimately they will recognize and suffer for their sins if they do not repent. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches the only way that we can truly be freed from guilt--forgiveness and purification through repentance and obedience to the ordinances of the gospel, which is made possible by the atonement.
Partial truth vs. full truth
It is important to recognize that true principles misunderstood or misapplied can be counterfeits for truth. Failings caused by misapplication of truth explain some of the hostility toward religion seen in advocates of philosophies contrary to the gospel. For example, if we teach our children to feel guilt for their sins, but do not adequately teach them how to have their guilt "swept away" (see Enos 1:6) through repentance and the atonement, we may be unwittingly pushing them toward philosophies which teach that there is no such thing as sin, and that it is only important to be able to forgive oneself.
Leisure and ease vs. fulfillment
A common illusion in our day and age is that we can find happiness in a life of leisure and ease. The truth is that we are far more content when laboring daily in a cause we believe to be important enough to spend our entire lives on.
A few more examples of counterfeits include: junk food vs. healthy food (consider the promises in Doctrine and Covenants section 89), the philosophies of men vs. the gospel, and nationalism vs. patriotism.
I once saw a bumper sticker that said, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." Those who teach people to chase after counterfeits are advocating exactly the sort of philosophy this bumper sticker exposes--peddling ignorance as a way to avoid the cost of education, when it is education that gives one the power to earn. They deny the value of paying an up-front price for a long term benefit.
Likewise there is an up-front cost for doing good. It requires effort. It demands that we make our choices based on eternal perspectives rather than allowing ourselves to be controlled by the impulse of the moment. It requires self-restraint. But ultimately, the rewards of righteousness--of this education in good and the power of truth--are far less expensive than the limitations that result from sin. Ignorance of the truth, of effective methods of achieving goals, is far more confining than complying with the laws that will bring us the ends we desire. When we know that God's laws are not arbitrary, but are designed to lead us naturally to greater happiness, we see that the truth really will make us free.
We would do well to examine our lives and consider whether we are trying to use counterfeits to fill our needs. Where we find that we are, we can commit to changing our lives so that we develop the godly attributes necessary to fill those needs.
Take some time to consider the good things you desire, and what might be used as counterfeits for them. Are you working for the counterfeits or the real thing? Consider principles, both true and false. For the true principles, what counterfeits may the adversary attempt to substitute for them? For the false principles, what might they be counterfeiting? (What motivates people to choose them?) What sacrifices may you need to make in order to turn from counterfeits to truth? What can you do to keep your eyes on the blessings promised to the righteous? The scriptures and the words of our modern prophets hold answers to many of these questions.
As we succeed in turning our eyes from the enticements of the adversary to the promises of the Lord, and living our lives in harmony with the true principles of his gospel, we will find the promises of Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 fulfilled:
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated--and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated."