This 4th of July marks the signing of one of the most important documents in the history of the United States of America. That document was the foundation of over 200 years of sovereignty and liberty. That document is the Declaration of Independence, and on July 4th, 1776, it was signed by 55 men who had high hopes, as well as some reservations, for what the future of the country had in store.
This week, after getting reacquainted with this amazing document, I learned something else about it. I found that it helps me understand a certain aspect of the gospel, namely my constant war against sin and the natural man.
Let me present to you the Declaration of Independence from the Natural Man.
In the Declaration, it talks about the need and the right to separate from the oppressive British government. It then goes on to describe various ways that the crown has abused its power and caused strife in the American colonies. While reading this, I thought about the natural man. I thought of the oppression I suffer because of my mistakes and weaknesses. They truly are a burden to me, and I simply can’t progress with the natural man holding me back. I think Neal A. Maxwell put it best when he said:
“The natural man is truly God’s enemy, because the natural man will keep God’s precious children from true and everlasting happiness. Our full happiness requires our becoming the men and women of Christ.”1
The Declaration makes a clear and penetrating point; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”2 What Neal A. Maxwell was stating is that the natural man inhibits our pursuit of happiness. It inhibits our becoming the men and women of Christ. How does it do that? The natural man turns inward instead of outward. When we choose to be influenced by the passions, desires, appetites, and senses of the flesh rather than by the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we are choosing death, slavery, and perpetual unhappiness. “To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life eternal” (2 Nephi 9:39). We understand very well the oppression of sin and the injustices of the natural man, but the Declaration of Independence had something very interesting to say concerning most people’s’ response to these abuses. “…all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”2 We get used to suffering to the point where we don’t right what’s wrong. Can the same be said for our complacency with sin or unrighteous behavior?
So, what is to be done? Well, the Declaration tells us. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”2 My friends, it is time to declare independence. Neal A. Maxwell asserts that it is what we must do:
“Just as Jesus warned that some evil spirits would come out only with “prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21), the “natural man” does not come off without difficulty either. Of this personal battle, the Lord has urged us to so live that we would “come off conqueror” (D&C 10:5). But we cannot “come off conqueror,” except we first “put off” the selfish, natural man!”1
How do we do it? Well, here are three examples of things you can do to declare independence from the natural man.
1. Recognize the abuses
The whole point of a Declaration of Independence is to “declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”2 Make a list. Spell it out. Make it perfectly clear how the natural man besets you. Where are your weak points? Where do you want to improve? How has the natural man made your life harder? How would putting off the natural man make it easier? How has sin enslaved you? How can you be made free? You want to make it perfectly clear to yourself and to the adversary the exact reasons WHY you are choosing to be rid of your natural man. What has the Declaration of Independence done for our country? It’s just an old document written for different times. Why does it matter? Because years and years of freedom fighting, liberty seeking, and happiness pursuing have come from it. It’s our foundation that we have been building on for over two centuries. So what is your foundation? How will you gain your freedom? Put it in writing, and base every decision in life off of what you have declared.
2. Declare independence every week during the sacrament.
The sacrament was instituted as a way for us to renew our covenants we have made with God. That means that every week we have a chance to recommit to being men and women of Christ. It’s just the strategy we need to put off the natural man. Every time we take the sacrament, we become that much closer to our eventual independence from the natural man. THIS IS A BIG DEAL. God has provided us with a weekly opportunity to put off the natural man. This is a must-have strategy in our battle for independence from sin. As you partake of the sacrament, pray that you won’t fall into the trap of the natural man. Reaffirm your resolve to becoming a man or woman in Christ.
3. Secure the blessing of liberty for yourself and your posterity.
In the pursuit of our our freedom from sin, we will be laying the groundwork for our future. If we develop within ourselves a consistency in putting off the natural man, it will be seen by our families. It is imperative that you set the example of a person doing their best to put off the natural man and secure their liberty from all things carnal, sensual, and devilish. Your example will set the pace for those that come after you, for those who look up to you.
The Founding Fathers built this country with us in mind. They strived to create a country they would be proud to leave for their children. Aren’t we striving to provide the same thing for our posterity? A home and family we can be proud to leave them with? That comes from consistency in overcoming selfishness and the natural man. Putting off the natural man is a lifelong battle, so is every cause for freedom, and our founding fathers realized that. They did their best to provide a place where their children could learn and grow and, hopefully, achieve more than what their fathers could.
In 1877, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers came to the Prophet Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple and said, “We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.”3 They then requested that their work be done for them, which President Woodruff completed without hesitation, along with the work of 50 other distinguished figures in history, adding up to 100 souls in total. Their long fight in declaring independence from the natural man and from sin was that much closer to being complete. They needed the ordinances we have in order to become men of Christ, and that is what they did. And that is what we all must do. Let us take a lesson from our founding fathers and no longer droop in sin, but let us rise up and come off conqueror, for we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. (Romans 8:37.
1 Put Off the Natural Man, and Come Off Conqueror, Neal A. Maxwell Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Conference Address (October 1990)
2 Declaration of Independence (U.S. 1776)
3 Wilford Woodruff: 4th President of the Church, Presidents of the Church Student Manual, (2012), 70