This is a topic that I have long thought needed to be addressed. I am hoping to write a few pieces on it in addition to what is covered in my book on the atonement.
It is bound to be an unpopular topic, but I really think it needs to be stated. The point is that when we sin we give the adversary a measure of power and influence in that area of our life in which we sinned.
If we understood that sin gives Satan power over people, the world around us would make a lot more sense. A woman writes a blog about how she has decided not to wear leggings because she has decided they aren't modest. She gets ridiculed by sources far and sundry. Why? She didn't say nobody else could do so. She didn't say it should be a law.
Anyone who honestly sits back and looks at this can tell that it doesn't make proper sense, and yet it happened. Why?
For just a moment, let's take a quick look at a brighter side of the picture.
Anyone who does their family history has likely felt tugs at their ideas, pushing them to research for another child, to research a parent, or some such thing.
Joseph Smith taught that our dead try and gather their descendants to the truth when he said "... angels come down, combine together to gather their children, and gather them." (Teachings, page 159). Notice that he said the angels gather their children, meaning their descendants. The spirits of our dead ancestors can influence us. We may not physically "hear" their voice, but some measure of what they say enters our thoughts as we grow sensitive to them. The more we hearken, the more we become sensitive to them and are inspired by them our family history research.
But the spirits of our departed ancestors aren't the only spirits who seek to influence us. We know that an entire third of the host of heaven is here in spirit form tempting us. Just as with the spirits of our departed dead, whose voices we become more sensitive to as we listen, so also the rebellious spirits we hearken to gain influence as we listen to them. They gain a measure of power over us whenever we listen to them instead of to God.
And if we don't understand that, the world is a different place altogether.
So why does one woman writing that she has decided to be modest whip up such a frenzy, even among people who are otherwise doing good things? Because even if good otherwise, they are not people who believe in modesty. They are used to hearkening to spirits that tell them that modesty is no matter, and while there is no rational reason one other woman's choice should anger them, it does anger the tempters they are used to paying heed to, and so they turn around and mock and take notice and criticize her.
We all know that Joseph Smith wrote that
JSH 1:23 ..though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.
Why would the claims of an obscure boy of no moment excite such energy to oppose him? If we don't realize that sin gives the adversary power and influence in people's lives it makes no sense. But if we do, we are not at all surprised to see such a thing taking place.
We read in the Book of Mormon that:
2 Nephi 28:20 For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
21 And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
22 And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.
Who are these people that the devil flattered, or whispered that all is well to? The prophet? Well the devil could, and surely he tries, but it does him no good. In one who does little wrong, the adversary has little influence. It was the people who were used to listening to the devil's temptations, who are used to hearkening to his temptations to sin, who the devil can easily flatter and lull, or stir up to anger against good things. And where does this power and influence come from? He gains this power and influence when they hearkened to his temptations to sin and do wrong instead of listening to God's commandments to the contrary. Joseph Smith said "The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power." (Teachings, page 181)
How can the devil "rage in the hearts of the children of men"? Can he just do that to anybody? No, that is possibly through the influence and power he gains over those who hearken to his temptations. It is by sin that he gains such power and influence over people, and most dramatically so by the more serious sins,
And we see that in the world around us now. Those who didn't understand this believed that when the "love and tolerance for perversion" crowd got the upper hand they would bring forth their promised universal love and tolerance for everyone. Those who knew the doctrine better knew that particular crowd was moved by the adversary and that once they got the upper hand, love and tolerance would be the last thing they would show for truth and right.
Now there is a lot more to this whole topic. I address the topic in great detail in my book on the atonement because understanding the nature of sin does a lot to bring the atonement for sin into sharper focus.
But I did think I should at least write a bit or two about it elsewhere. There are so many foolish and dangerous things being said and done because we don't understand this.